A Sea Change in the Roman Catholic Church

Pope Francis is a wonderful change for the Roman Catholic Church and represents a sea change in Church history.  He is the first Jesuit Pope.  The Jesuit Order was founded by St. Ignatius Loyola as a post-Reformation reform movement within the Roman Church, the “shock troops” of the Counter Reformation.

He is the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere and the first Pope from the Western Hemisphere.  Since 40% of all Roman Catholics now live in Latin America, it is time that the Roman Church recognizes this new reality.  Instead of yet another European Pope from a continent where the church is dying, we now have a pope from a land in which the Church is thriving and growing.

The Roman Church is a global communion.  It must never again be just an Italian club, or even a European club.

The Roman Church can never be the “catholic” church until it comes to grips with the last six hundred years of history and admits that there are also Christians in the world who do not accept the Bishop of Rome as their Spiritual Sovereign.  The word “catholic,” means “according to the whole.”  The Roman Church is not the “whole” Church, but only its largest part of it.  Let us pray that Pope Francis will recognize that fact even if his predecessor did not.

And while many of us non-Roman Christians do not accept the Pope as our Spiritual Sovereign, that does not mean that we will not support and pray for him in the leadership of the Roman Church. We can work with him if he is willing to work with us.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, known to his friends and his flock as simply “Mario”, is a truly humble man.  In his former life as Archbishop of Buenos Aires he gave up his palace and occupied a small apartment.  He gave up his limousine and depended on the bus or subway to get around.  He had a profound sense of ministry to the poor, and is known for his saintly acts such as kissing the feet of AIDS patients.

The selection of the name of “Francis” is a stunner in its own right.  Let us hope and pray that St. Francis of Assisi will indeed be the guiding force of this new era in the Roman Church.

Francis of Assisi was a humble man of God.  He had no use for the church hierarchy and essentially managed to ignore them.  Francis was too busy loving Jesus to worry about rank or status or power.  Although highborn, Francis gave up all of his worldly goods so as not to be distracted in his spiritual pursuits.  He is the patron saint of the animals and of the ecosystem.  What a beautiful expression of God’s love as the world is presently in the worst extinction event in 65 million years.

May God bless and guide the new Pope.  May he have a long and productive reign.  And may he never turn from being a reformer of the Church, a servant of the poor, a genuine man of God, and a humble servant of the Lord.

The Catholic Church and Marital Intimacy

If the Roman Catholic Church really wanted to strengthen marriage, as it says is does, the first step would be to allow married couples to make love freely and as often as they so desire.  There should be no rules constraining that joyous intimacy and no fear of unwanted pregnancies.

A celibate priesthood cannot begin to understand the bonds of love that are created by the powerful and joyous encounter of marital intimacy.

The impact of lovemaking is vastly larger than its utilitarian function of mere procreation.  If a married couple makes love an average of three times per week over forty years, they will make love six thousand two hundred and forty times (assuming that the predominance of those intimate embraces will have occurred in the couple’s younger years.).   And from that love-making the couple will have produced an average of 2.1 offspring.  This could best be understood as one successful conception for every three thousand joyous encounters.

I think of my current marriage.  My wife and I married in our late fifties.  We fell in love and wanted to spend the rest of our lives together in intimate partnership.  There was no chance of procreation.  There was some child rearing involved as I still had a minor child from a previous marriage, but that is a different issue.  I cannot understand why the same opportunity should not be available for same-sex couples as well.

If marriage is only about procreation, then couples seeking to be married should be required to prove their fertility.  And then, if there are no offspring within a certain time frame, i.e. five years, the marriage should be annulled.

As the church so erroneously believes that sex is to be reserved only for procreative purposes, it also prohibits any sexual expression for the single, the GLBT community.

Sexuality is God’s gift to us all.  It is given to young and old, gay and straight, married and unmarried.  How strange it is that a church would make the suppression of sexuality to be seemingly its highest aim.  Should not the church focus its energies and its efforts elsewhere?

Should not the Church of Rome spend its spiritual capital where it could do more good?  Are there not injustices to overcome?  Is there not poverty and oppression?  Is the world not filled with violence, and particularly violence against women?  Are children not dying of preventable diseases, most of them water-borne do to a global lack of clean water and sanitation facilities?  Is there not slavery and human trafficking in the modern world?  Are we not destroying the planet by plundering its resources as if there were no tomorrow?

Does not the Roman Church have any better place to focus its time, energy and spiritual capital than in its futile attempts to restrain the expression of sexual love?  The Roman Church continues to make itself more and more irrelevant as it continues its backwards march into the Fifteenth Century.

Today in Europe, there are more Muslims in the mosques on Friday nights than there are Catholics in mass on Sunday mornings.

Something has to change.

Raising Children Around Food

There are a few key rules about raising children around food that will vastly improve your children’s health and wellbeing for a lifetime.  These rules are simple, effective and based upon common sense.  But I have found in my life that common sense can be anything but common.  The reason for this is that people too seldom think about what they are doing, and in this case, how it affects their children.

1.       Keep your refrigerator and pantry stocked with healthy food choices.  Junk food that should not be a part of your child’s daily diet should never be kept in stock at home.  This includes such things as sodas and other sugary drinks, heavily sugared breakfast cereals,  candy bars, potato chips, and a host of over items too numerous to mention.  Snacking options should include fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grain products.  A healthy after school snack might be an apple or celery with peanut butter or hummus instead of a candy bar or potato chips.  This is not meant to say that you cannot have pie a la mode on Thanksgiving, but only that this should not be a daily occurrence.

 2.       Never force your child to clean his or her plate.  I can tell you from my own childhood that this was a major source of lifelong food anxiety.  Even at age sixty, I still have trouble pushing back from a plate with food remaining.  Rather, instruct your child to eat until they are full, and then stop.  This will teach them self-regulation which is critical to proper appetite management.  Do not worry that your child ate the chicken but left the broccoli.  Forcing them to eat the untouched broccoli will only force your child to overeat and cause a serious food anxiety in the process.  And here you do not need to worry about your child getting a balanced diet.  Studies have shown that children will eat a balanced diet over the course of a week or so without any parental intervention.

 3.       Avoid fast food restaurants entirely.  These places are the poster children of poor nutrition.  The food served there is chemically engineered to be addictive.  It is dense in salt, sugar, fat, cholesterol, and calories while being essentially devoid of nutritional value. 

 4.   Never under any circumstances use food as a reward or punishment.  This has to be the worst food related mistake that a parent can make.  Food is first of all nutrition, and is essential to human life. It is also a source of pleasure, but that does not mean that it should be used as a reward.  Using food as a reward creates a food anxiety that can have lifelong effects.  Adults, when they are hurting, have been taught to seek relief in “comfort foods.”  When they are happy or successful they have been taught to celebrate by binging.  Both of these states are based in food anxieties and not in nutritional needs.  Using food as punishment is likely to be even more destructive.  I cannot imagine a parent saying to a child, “Clean your room or we will not take you to see the dentist.”  So why would a parent say, “Clean your room or no supper for you tonight!”  The withholding of food for disciplinary reasons is child abuse pure and simple.

The Use of Assault Weapons

Assault Weapons

The cacophony of the gun debate has been escalating since Sandy Hook.  This hit an apex with Alex Jones appearance on the Piers Morgan show on CNN.  Jones acted like a rabid animal, screaming abuse and rage.  This is a man owns fifty guns, but on that day what he really needed was a straitjacket.

Why does anyone need a military style assault rifle?

It is hard to conceive that a civilian needs a military style assault rifle under any normal circumstances.  There is no need to pump thirty or even a hundred rounds into a deer.  So why are these weapons so popular?  I can come up with only two reasons to own an assault rifle:  to deal with extreme situations of civil unrest, and to wage war on the government.

Let’s start with civil unrest.  In 1992 during the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, there were shopkeepers on the roofs of their shops with assault rifles to protect their property from rioters and looters.  This was a seemingly defensive use of these weapons during a time when the police were powerless because of the state of civil unrest.

Widespread looting, assault, arson and murder occurred during the riots, and estimates of property damage topped one billion dollars. The rioting ended after soldiers from the California Army National Guard, along with U.S. Marines from Camp Pendleton were called in to stop the rioting. In total 53 people were killed during the riots and over two thousand people were injured.

  “1992 Los Angeles Riots.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 01 Sept. 2013. Web. 09 Jan. 2013.

The problem with using assault rifles to defend private property is that it could lead to an escalating arms race.  Instead of defending their shops against rioters throwing rocks and bottles, the shopkeepers could have  faced rioters armed with assault weapons.  Do we then need rocket-propelled grenades (RPG’s) to defend against assault rifles?

There are other times of extreme civil unrest where an assault rifle would come in handy.  In the event of a major disaster people may need to seek survival shelters.  Such a disaster could be anything from a nuclear blast to an asteroid impact.

Anyone with a survival shelter will need weapons to defend it from encroachment.  Any survival shelter will have limited supplies of food, water, energy and other necessities.  An influx of outsiders would metaphorically swamp the lifeboat.  This again raises the threat of an arms race.  If everyone owns assault rifles, then we could expect to see roving bands of heavily armed desperadoes who would stop at nothing to find shelter and supplies.

The second use of assault weapons would seem to be the ability to wage war on the government.  Scratch a gun extremist and you are likely to find an anarchist under the skin.  Much of the rhetoric of the extremist gun crowd seems to be about why we need guns to keep the government at bay.

These folks would like to return to the days of the old west, where disputes were settled by six shooters.  If someone wrongs you; do not take him to court; just shoot him.  And, if the sheriff shows up just shoot him too.

When you listen to the rhetoric of the extremists among the gun advocates, it is clear that they want their weapons in part to prevent any tyranny by the government.  So, if the government passes any law, regulation or tax that these extremists do not support, they feel that they have the right to oppose the government by means of deadly force if necessary.

While American history is full of anarchical sentiments, the Second Amendment had a much different purpose.

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

During the Revolutionary War, General Washington did not have a standing army to command, but only a collection of local militias.  It was the legal obligation of every able-bodied man to own a rifle, and to use it in the defense of the nation. The country did not want to have a standing army due to the potential for tyranny that such a standing army could represent.  Militias in the Eighteenth Century were the only way to provide for the common defense of the nation.

Thus, the purpose of the Second Amendment was not to arm civilians against the government, but rather, to arm citizens for the defense of the nation.

If we believe that citizens have the right to wage war against the government then we would have no government at all.  We would become a failed state such as Somalia or Columbia wherein unelected warlords usurp the functions of government and enslave and tyranize the citizenry.

Divine Paradoxes

Paradoxes are common in both cosmology and in theology.  Indeed, this shared quality demonstrates how these two seemingly diverse endeavors are really quite similar, if not two sides of the same coin.

A photon can act like either a wave or a particle depending on what is being tested, or what question is being asked.

Relativity and Quantum Mechanics both are needed to describe the universe, and yet these two views of the cosmos cannot live together in harmony.  Relativity describes the very large, while Quantum Mechanics describes the very small.  These theories clash in such arenas as black holes, where very large massed converge in very small spaces causing the mathematics to break down.

Matter can be thought of as frozen or congealed energy.  The rock in your hand feels solid and permanent, but is really only a lump of frozen energy.  And it is not permanent at all, but ephemeral.   One common understanding of dark energy is that all atoms will be eventually ripped apart and normal, baryonic matter will be no more.

The speed of light is the cosmic speed limit, except that this speed limit does not exist for space itself.  The theory of Inflation, first proposed by Alan Guth, requires that at the Big Bang space expanded vastly faster than the speed of light.  This means that the universe is vastly larger than our horizon.  We can see 13.5 billion light years in any direction, because that is the age of the universe and is as far back in time as we can see.  But if we could stand at that horizon, we could see an additional 13.5 billion years further on.  Our Universe seems to be paradoxically both bounded and boundless.

Even our Universe may not be all that there is.  String Theory and M (or ‘Brane) theory suggest that our Universe is not alone.  Rather, the image of our Universe is more like one soap-bubble among countless others.

Theology is impossible without paradoxical thinking. Jesus is fully human and fully divine.  Unless a believer can fully hold to these paradoxical understandings then they have not understood the incarnation and what it means.

The Holy Bible was written over some 1,400 years by hundreds of human hands.  They represent many different viewpoints and cultural epochs. They record the spiritual saga of the Jews and the early Christians, written from a human perspective.  And yet somehow there is divine inspiration to be found within.

The Universe was created according to the laws of science.  It was formed from the Big Bang, evolved according to inflation, general relativity, special relativity, quantum mechanics, plate tectonics, evolution, genetic mutation, chaos theory, random chance, fractals and a host of other scientific
principles, known and unknown.  And yet somehow it was created by God and filled with God’s logos, or divine order that permeates all things.

Fractals Geometric Pattern

A good example of this divine logos is the concept of fractals.  Fractal math describes how large items can be structured by simple repeating patterns.  The architecture of a leaf is a fractal pattern with cells and veins growing out of the repetition of simple patterns.  The arrangement of the limbs and branches of a tree are also derived from fractal patterns.  Fractal patterns can create vast and elegant constructions from a few simple codes.  This coding can be computer code or DNA.  Coastal redwood trees can grow to over 360 feet in height.  One of the joys of living in Northern California is walking through forests of these giant trees that grow to form living cathedrals. And yet, through the miracle of fractal algorithms, the seeds of these magnificent trees are no bigger than a grain of rice.

John Calvin, the founder of the Reformed Tradition, wrote that to study the creation is to study the creator.  His words provided the theological foundation for all of modern science.  Cosmology links science and theology.

We live in a Universe that is beyond all comprehension.  And yet, the paradox is that we can learn to comprehend it.  And that might be the ultimate paradox.

America’s Gun Violence

America’s Gun Violence

Let’s start with the fact that there are 300 million guns in the US, or almost one gun for every man, woman and child.  There have been thirteen mass killings using guns in 2012, and the year is not even over yet.

UPDATE:  There have now been FOURTEEN mass shootings in the US in 2012, and the year STILL is not over.

Even the NRA is now proposing “solutions” to this crisis and I am glad that they are!  We need to come together in civil discourse to discuss solutions, welcoming all parties so that somehow we can get beyond the partisan bickering and break the impasse of gun violence.

This is a complex problem with many facets.  There are no easy answers or bumper sticker solutions.  Solving this problem will take a mutual effort and the willingness for everyone to give up their “talking points” for the broader public good.

Gun Toting-Vigilantes

Wayne LaPierre of the NRA has said that a good guy with a gun is the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun.  If only the world were that cut-and-dried, with good guys wearing white hats and bad guys wearing black hats.

Think about the Trayvon Martin case.  Here, the “good guy” is out on neighborhood watch, protecting his neighborhood from the “bad guys”, meaning African-American teen-aged boys. The tragic result of George Zimmerman’s vigilante justice was the death of a seventeen-year-old boy whose only crime was to go to the store to buy some Skittles while wearing a hoodie.

Zimmerman’s defense is now that Martin attacked him, and he shot Martin in self-defense.  This is to suggest somehow that Martin had no right to defend himself from the gun-toting thug who was stalking him.  Now, could someone please tell me who was the “good guy” and who was the “bad guy” and how are we supposed to tell the difference in a life-and-death situation?

Neighborhood Watch programs were designed to be extra eyes and ears for the Police Department.  There is nothing in this program to justify gun-toting vigilantes.  While some would argue that Zimmerman had the right to carry a gun on the street, no-one would suggest that he had any rights to make demands upon his victim, such as ordering him to halt.  He had no right to accost him, to question him, or to engage him in any non-consensual manner.  Is it any surprise, then, that Martin tried to fight him off?  And did not Martin have the right to use any force to repel his attacker?  What is clear to everyone is that if only Zimmerman had stayed in his truck, Martin would still be alive.

If we say that we want to be protected by gun-toting vigilantes, then how do we make sure that these people are qualified?  Should we require that they undergo police academy style weapons training?  Do we insist that they have continuous weapons training including target practice?  Without such training it is easy to see that these people would be a menace to society, and not a source of protection.

There was a recent episode in New York City where the police showed up to deal with a shooting.  The police ended up wounding nine innocent bystanders.  If the police do this much collateral damage, then just think how much damage could be done by untrained, undisciplined, gun-toting vigilantes.

We can envision a lock-down incident in a school.  The principal retrieves a gun from a locked cabinet in the school office.  The principal breaks the shrink-wrap on the box, pulls the gun out and starts reading the instructions.  The next step would be to find ammunition for the gun (stored in another locked cabinet for safety reasons).  Then, the principal would try to figure out how to load and fire the weapon.  When you think about it, this person is probably not the person that we want defending the school.

Now, imagine the situation at the Aurora Colorado shootings.  The theater is dark except for the light from the screen.  The movie soundtrack is full of gun shots and explosions.  Then the gunman enters and throws smoke bombs.  At first the audience thinks that the real violence is simply enhanced movie violence.  A few pro-gun folks have told me that what was needed was a few dozen armed vigilantes in the theater to stop the killer.  But it is hard for me to believe that this would actually be helpful.  Given the smoke and the darkness and the violent movie setting, the thought of more guns joining in the mayhem would seem only to increase the death toll, not to limit it.

Psychological Screening

One solution that everyone seems to agree about is that we need to keep guns away from crazy people.  No-one would disagree with that.  The problem is, however, how to we decide who is too crazy to own or have access to a gun?  Just like the “good guy” “bad guy” debate, it is not obvious at all who should be allowed access to guns.

The simple truth is that most of the recent shootings have been carried out by people with no criminal or psychiatric record that would preclude them from owning guns.  But just because a person has not yet been convicted of a serious crime, or been confined to a mental hospital, does not mean that they are fit to own and handle guns.

There are countless people out there who are unstable, deranged, or otherwise mentally impaired.  Some are psychologically withdrawn; others have violent tempers.  There are racists, misogynists, homophobes, psychopaths, sociopaths, and a host of others who are a menace to society. There are criminals who have not yet been caught, and hence have no criminal records. There are terrorists motivated by politics, ideology, ethnicity, tribalism or other special group affiliations.  Meth addicts or other types of drug abusers can create extreme mayhem without warning.  We know that drunk drivers can wreak havoc on the roads.  Imagine a drunk with a grudge and a handgun and the damage that she or he could do.

Even “good guys” can snap.  They might be facing unbearable stress such as a loss of employment, or finding out that their partner is having an affair.  Or perhaps they are having a reaction to their medications.  Toxins, chemicals, allergic reactions, viruses, and some bacteria such as syphilis can affect the mental health of even the most stable of persons.  Something as common as diabetes can cause severe mood swings, violent outbursts, and even a condition resembling a drunken stupor.

I am sure that most of us could find five or six of our friends to vouch for our character and mental stability, but that would not make us safe.  The simple truth is that all of us are nuts, or at least all of us are vulnerable to going nuts.

In the Sandy Hook case, the shooter was using his mother’s weapons.  So, even if the shooter could have been stopped from buying guns, there would be no way of stopping him from acquiring guns from friends or family members.

All of this is to suggest that there is no practical method of keeping guns out of the hands of crazy people.

Rachel Held Evans — Shedding light on “Biblical” Values

I wanted to share with you a statement by the blogger Rachel Held Evans.  I love her way of reading scripture.  Her blog can be found at www.rachelheldevans.com and is well worth checking out.

As an evangelical Christian, Rachel has shown light on some of the more ridiculous claims of fundamentalism.  Particularly, she has shown very clearly how the fundamentalists have tried to usurp the Christian values discussion, and how they are trying to control our courts and legislatures in order to make their distorted values the law of the land.

10:00 PM ET

My Take: The danger of calling behavior ‘biblical’

Editor’s Note: Rachel Held Evans is a popular blogger from Dayton, Tennessee, and author of “A Year of Biblical Womanhood.”

By Rachel Held Evans, Special to CNN

On “The Daily Show” recently, Jon Stewart grilled Mike Huckabee about a TV ad in which Huckabee urged voters to support “biblical values” at the voting box.

When Huckabee said that he supported the “biblical model of marriage,” Stewart shot back that “the biblical model of marriage is polygamy.”

And there’s a big problem, Stewart went on, with reducing “biblical values” to one or two social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, while ignoring issues such as poverty and immigration reform.

It may come as some surprise that as an evangelical Christian, I cheered Stewart on from my living room couch.

As someone who loves the Bible and believes it to be the inspired word of God, I hate seeing it reduced to an adjective like Huckabee did. I hate seeing my sacred text flattened out, edited down and used as a prop to support a select few political positions and platforms.

And yet evangelicals have grown so accustomed to talking about the Bible this way that we hardly realize we’re doing it anymore. We talk about “biblical families,” “biblical marriage,” “biblical economics,” “biblical politics,” “biblical values,” “biblical stewardship,” “biblical voting,” “biblical manhood,” “biblical womanhood,” even “biblical dating” to create the impression that the Bible has just one thing to say on each of these topics – that it offers a single prescriptive formula for how people of faith ought to respond to them.

But the Bible is not a position paper. The Bible is an ancient collection of letters, laws, poetry, proverbs, histories, prophecies, philosophy and stories spanning multiple genres and assembled over thousands of years in cultures very different from our own.

When we turn the Bible into an adjective and stick it in front of another loaded word, we tend to ignore or downplay the parts of the Bible that don’t quite fit our preferences and presuppositions. In an attempt to simplify, we force the Bible’s cacophony of voices into a single tone and turn a complicated, beautiful, and diverse holy text into a list of bullet points we can put in a manifesto or creed. More often than not, we end up more committed to what we want the Bible to say than what it actually says.

Nowhere is this more evident than in conversations surrounding “biblical womanhood.”

Growing up in the Bible Belt, I received a lot of mixed messages about the appropriate roles of women in the home, the church and society, each punctuated with the claim that this or that lifestyle represented true “biblical womanhood.”

In my faith community, popular women pastors such as Joyce Meyer were considered unbiblical for preaching from the pulpit in violation of the apostle Paul’s restriction in 1 Timothy 2:12 (“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent”), while Amish women were considered legalistic for covering their heads in compliance with his instructions in 1 Corinthians 11:5 (“Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head”).

Pastors told wives to submit to their husbands as the apostle Peter instructed in 1 Peter 3:1, but rarely told them to avoid wearing nice jewelry as the apostle instructs them just one sentence later in 1 Peter 3:3. Despite the fact that being single was praised by both Jesus and Paul, I learned early on that marriage and motherhood were my highest callings, and that Proverbs 31 required I keep a home as tidy as June Cleaver’s.

This didn’t really trouble me until adulthood, when I found myself in a childless egalitarian marriage with a blossoming career and an interest in church leadership and biblical studies. As I wrestled with what it meant to be a woman of faith, I realized that, despite insistent claims that we don’t “pick and choose” from the Bible, any claim to a “biblical” lifestyle requires some serious selectivity.

After all, technically speaking, it is “biblical” for a woman to be sold by her father to pay off debt, “biblical” for a woman to be required to marry her rapist, “biblical” for her to be one of many wives.

So why are some Bible passages lifted out and declared “biblical,” while others are explained away or simply ignored? Does the Bible really present a single prescriptive lifestyle for all women?

These were the questions that inspired me to take a page from A.J. Jacobs, author of “The Year of Living Biblically”, and try true biblical womanhood on for size—literally, no “picking and choosing.”

This meant, among other things, growing out my hair, making my own clothes, covering my head whenever I prayed, abstaining from gossip, remaining silent in church (unless I was “prophesying,” of course), calling my husband “master,” even camping out in my front yard during my period to observe the Levitical purity laws that rendered me unclean.

During my yearlong experiment, I interviewed a variety of women practicing biblical womanhood in different ways — an Orthodox Jew, an Amish housewife, even a polygamist family – and I combed through every commentary I could find, reexamining the stories of biblical women such as Deborah, Ruth, Hagar, Tamar, Mary Magdalene, Priscilla and Junia.

My goal was to playfully challenge this idea that the Bible prescribes a single lifestyle for how to be a woman of faith, and in so doing, playfully challenge our overuse of the term “biblical.” I did this not out of disdain for Scripture, but out of love for it, out of respect for the fact that interpreting and applying the Bible is a messy, imperfect and – at times – frustrating process that requires humility and grace as we wrestle the text together.

The fact of the matter is, we all pick and choose. We’re all selective in our interpretation and application of the biblical text. The better question to ask one another is why we pick and choose the way that we do, why we emphasis some passages and not others. This, I believe, will elevate the conversation so that we’re using the Bible, not as a blunt weapon, but as a starting point for dialogue.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rachel Held Evans.

Now that the Election is over…

While I will confess to be a very partisan person, I chose never to engage in partisanship on this blog during the election.  There was already way too much partisan hatred and bickering.  There was already a cacophony of voices screaming insults and abuse at each other.  This is no way to run an election, or a country for that matter.  But now we need to sort things out and begin our journey forward.  To do this we must take a painful and honest look at our nation’s troubles, and figure out how we can best come together to solve them.

We need to find a way to come together as a nation and discuss our various issues and their best solutions.  In the present political climate any civil discourse seems impossible.

The Republican leader in the Senate said early on that the party’s primary goal was to prevent Barack Obama from being elected to a second term.  Such a stance can only be described as destructive defiance. It seems that the Republicans, and especially those of the Tea Party persuasion, tried to sink the ship of state because they were unable to set its course.  That is partisanship gone rancid.  Every proposal that Obama offered up, including his quest to find acceptable compromises, were shot down by intransigent Republicans.  And then, to add insult to injury, the Republicans viciously accused Obama of having a failed presidency. A failed Tea Party mutiny is a more apt description of the last two years.

In the kinder, gentler times in Washington, Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill declared that, “We are all friends here after 5:00 pm and on weekends.”  If only we could recapture such civility in today’s political life.

Our country is still in a mess.  There is no dispute about that.  We have rampant unemployment, soaring debts, a shaky, unfunded entitlement system, a collapse of the middle class, a large and accelerating gap between the haves and the have-nots.  The middle class is hurting and the poor are becoming ever more destitute.

We need tax reform, immigration reform, and regulatory reform.  We need to create jobs, rebuild our infrastructure, rebuild our economy, and rebuild our crumbling education system that was once the pride of the planet and the source of our great economic well-being as a nation that once allowed even our working classes to participate in the American Dream.

On the global front we are in the midst of the largest mass extinction in seventy-five million years.  We need to develop a sustainable economy that does not plunder the earth’s resources or endanger its future to power our economy today.  So, before we build pipelines to move shale oil down from Canada we need to stop and assess the environmental impact.  Sustainability must now be a key component of every decision.

If Mitt Romney ever had a plan to govern this country he refused to communicate it to the general public.  Every question directed to him was answered either by reciting his talking points or by attacking the president.

He spoke repeatedly about tax breaks for the millionaires and billionaires on the grounds that these are the job creators.  But this was also George W. Bush’s line.  It was a failure then and it would be a renewed failure again.  It might be a good idea to give tax breaks that spawn actual job creation.  But without such a linkage many of the rich would simply park their excess cash in their Swiss bank accounts helping no one.

There is already too much idle cash on the sidelines awaiting productive investment opportunities.  What is lacking is not excess cash, but rather consumer demand.  If you want to stimulate the economy and create jobs then put some extra cash in the pockets of the middle class so that they can go out and buy tires and refrigerators, thus creating demand and driving production.

Romney wanted to see financial regulations abandoned to free up business from government interference.  But we have had three major financial crises in recent history that were directly caused by the lack of effective government regulation:

  • The Savings and Loan Crisis in the Reagan era caused by deregulation of the thrift industry.
  • The stock market collapse of 2000-2002 caused by the complete failure of the Securities and Exchange Commission to regulate our financial markets.  Elliot Richardson, then the Attorney General of the New York was the only person even trying at that time to regulate the financial markets.  During this time of regulatory abdication, the predators, thieves and con-artists had their field day.  The rogues list includes such names as Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, and a host of others.  The financial losses from this event totaled over $5 trillion.
  • Finally, we had the global collapse of our financial markets due to the “liar loans” in 2008.  Mortgage companies would give loans to anyone who could fog a mirror.  These trash loans were then securitized with “AAA” ratings and sold throughout the global financial markets.  When this house of cards, built on corruption and regulatory abdication, finally collapsed, it created a global recession from which we have yet to extricate ourselves.

Does any of this sound like we need LESS regulation?

Romney never did explain how he could give tax breaks to the rich, increase military spending by two trillion dollars and balance the budget.  Such nonsense is what George H.W. Bush called “Voodoo Economics.”  He did speak of doing away with almost all federal programs that actually benefit the middle class and working poor.  In a frenzy of social Darwinism he would cut funding for Head Start, unemployment insurance, Pell grants and student loans. The millionaires and billionaires would prosper mightily under a Romney administration, while the rest of us would be floundering in debt and despair, and left with no rope to climb. Even Big Bird had his head on the chopping block.  Excuse me, but is not Big Bird about preschool education?  While government subsidies for public television do not pay for the production of Big Bird, they do go to sustain broadcasts of Big Bird to smaller, mostly rural communities where the need for such preschool education is critical.

And then there is the strange case of Obamacare that was at the center of Romney’s attacks.  Obamacare began as Romneycare in Massachusett.   So, how could Romney attack what was essentially his own plan raised to the federal level?

The American health care system before Obamacare was a disgrace.  The U.S. spends 17% of its GDP on healthcare, while no other country spends more than 12%.  And still our health care outcomes trail most of the world. The leading cause of personal bankruptcy in this country is from medical bills.  It would be hard for anyone to argue that our system did not need a major redesign.

Romney claimed that he would repeal Obamacare his first day in office.  But he never told us what he would do to replace it.

The Human Advantage

The Human Advantage

Primitive humans were at a distinct disadvantage in a world of lions and hyenas.  In a land ruled by fang and claw, early humans were unarmed.  Also, humans seemed to lack the basic strength and athleticism necessary to compete on the savanna.  Humans are slow runners being much slower than both their predators and their prey.  Humans can climb trees, but not very well.  We could never catch a monkey in the treetops.  We can swim, but not very well.  We cannot fly at all, putting the skies off-limits.

But even so, it is likely that homo habilis, the first tool users, were more scavengers and gatherers than hunters.  The bulk of food intake for all primates is gathering, and early humans would follow that pattern.

Habilis became skilled scavengers, giving them an advantage over other primates.  They found a way to take sustenance from recent kills even after these kills had been worked over by lions, hyenas and even vultures.  Humans were able to use rocks and large bones to crack the skulls of the kills to extract the brains.  Also, using the same techniques, humans were able to crack the bones of the kill to extract the marrow.  Both the brains and marrow were rich in fat, calories and proteins. And eating fatty brains provide nutrition for growing fatty brains.

And then, of course, there is tool use.  Tool use results from the synergy of bipedalism, binocular vision and opposable thumbsHabilis would have begun by throwing projectiles, sticks, rocks, bones or whatever was at hand.  At first this would have been mostly a defensive response to nearby predators.  Even a lion would run away confused after being pelted with rocks from a primitive human pack.  Later, as their skill levels and coördination improved, such pelting could take on an offensive role as well.  A well thrown rock could kill an animal, predator or prey, by a well-placed blow to the head.

The next step in tool use would be a sharp stick.  A sharp stick became the missing claws of the humans.  Even a charging lion could impale itself upon a sharp stick wielded by the early humans.  And the nice thing about using sticks is that even if it is broken or lost in combat, the human remains uninjured and can continue fighting with a new stick.

The next step on the evolutionary ladder was homo erectus.  Erectus taller than habilis and with a larger brain size (900 cc vs, 440 cc).  While the skull of the erectus had ape-like features, the rest of their skeletons were very much like ours.  Erectus was the first species to travel out of Africa, ranging as far as Indonesia.  

Erectus were also pack hunters.  Humans resemble chimpanzees and bonobos in their basic morphology, but resemble wolves in their social structure.  Pack hunting, as displayed by lionesses on the savanna, provide a distinct advantage in hunting prey, especially the larger species.

Humans do, however, have one athletic advantage.  We can run for long distances.  Other predator species can run very fast in short bursts, but any long distance running is out of the question.  Erectus had the ability to run down and exhaust their prey.  This form of hunting can still be observed in Africa today.  While our bipedal design makes running very slow (Even my little Yorkie can run circles around me), our design is very efficient for distance running.

Walking upright uses one-fourth the energy than a chimpanzees four-legged gate.  When you watch a chimpanzee walk it looks awkward with too many moving parts and too many wasted motions.

Other savanna predators tend to overheat easily.  This forces them to rest after only a few minutes of exertion.  But our hairless bodies enable us to shed heat quickly.  Our bodies are long and lean and covered with sweat glands.  We have a high ratio of skin area to body mass.  Also, our vertical posture means that we absorb less heat from the sun while running.  All of these things help us to exert ourselves for long periods of time without by dissipating our body heat quickly and efficiently.

Distance running, combined with pack hunting, does provide us with at least one effective hunting technique.

The Critical Need for Financial Regulation


There have been three major financial meltdowns in the United States in the past few decades.  There was the Savings and Loan Crisis of the 1980’s under President Reagan.  There was the 2002 Wall Street Collapse and the Financial Markets collapse of 2008, both under President George W. Bush.   What these three events had in common was that they were all triggered by a lack of federal regulation of our financial system.


The Savings and Loan Crisis was created by the Reagan era push to deregulate businesses.  Thrift institutions were given the powers of commercial banks, but without the oversight given to the banks.  The result was a feeding frenzy of greed and mismanagement that caused the collapse of 747 out of 3,234 thrift institutions.


The collapse of the financial markets in 2002 was due to a total failure of the Securities and Exchange Commission to oversee the nation’s securities industry.  The only person who appeared to be trying to regulate the securities industry was Eliot Spitzer, who was then the Attorney General of New York.

The business failures caused by fraud and mismanagement were legion.  Enron, WorldCom, and Arthur Andersen were just a few of the most noted reprobates.

There was a culture of financial greed and deception like this country has never seen.  Most if not all the major money center banks and brokerage houses were knowingly selling trash securities to their customers and charging very high commission rates in the process.  Arthur Andersen was out teaching seminars on how companies could set up shell corporations and operate according to the Enron model.  Energy companies were shutting down power plants, creating artificial shortages of electricity.  They would then sell the “replacement” power on the spot market at enormous costs to relieve the “shortages”.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) refused to stabilized the market, and instead gave the predators free rein.


The collapse of our financial institutions has led to a world-wide recession.  This latest crisis was brought on by an institutionalization of corrupt loan practices.  It began with the birth of the “liar loans.”  Anyone who could fog a mirror was given a loan.  With housing prices building a bubble no one seemed to expect a burst.  People were given mortgage loans that they could not afford.  But the banks would tell them not to worry.  After all, with the way that real estate was escalating in price all they needed to do was to hold on to the property for several years and then sell it at a higher price giving them enough money to settle their debts and still have money left over.

Then these “liar loans” were securitized and given stellar ratings by the rating agencies.  It is as if the banks, rating agencies, real estate brokers, insurance companies, investment houses and government regulators were all working in collusion with one another. When the bubble burst there was nowhere to run.  These securitized “liar loans” were ubiquitous throughout the global financial markets.

These three recent financial crises should make obvious the need for strong and effective federal regulation of our financial markets.  We should know by now to resist the call for a reduction of regulation to spur business.  The results of such reductions will be to give the predators free reign to loot and pillage, while crippling our financial markets and destroying trillions of dollars in wealth.

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