“Why so delirious?”

There is something wrong. Maybe it’s societal, maybe it is just me, however something has come into the light greater than before. Something that does not bode well.

On July 20, 2012 a deranged 24 year old man by the name of James Holmes went on a shooting spree in Aurora, Colorado, during the opening night premiere of the new Dark Knight Rising movie. In his wake, he left 12 dead from age 6 through 51 and at least 59 injured, eventually being caught in the parking lot of the theater. He had no remorse, or at least it seems so.

Though there may not be that many people who read this blog, or have any pull in the blogging community. I would still like to personally give my heartfelt thoughts and prayers to those who passed, as well as those still recovering, and the families that are there with them. Fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters. Married, single, adults, and children. They were all affected, and in a way, so are we. As a society, many of us feel deeply for these victims, and those who loved them.

However, how much?

Though it is a tragedy, it is not the only thing wrong. This event has been grabbed by some and turned into a bastardized tool to further their own “feelings.” Some have simply cast aside the victims and their families with tautry condolences and half thought wishes, attempting to turn this into a political, or personal gain. Let me provide you with a few examples.

Instead of talking about/to/with the families, the children, the adults, the victims of this incident, some “journalists” have taken this “opportunity” to toss blame where none exists. ABC’s Good Morning America had Brian Ross on their show. He attempted to use shotty journalism and no source to speak of to throw blame on the Tea Party, for Holmes’s actions. He eventually had to walk it back after the “Jim Holmes” who was a member of the Colorado Tea Party had to prove that he was not the man they were looking for.

It was not only the media that did this either. Politicians are brazenly using this as a way to push gun control laws, often ignoring the fact that Colorado has strict restrictions on weapons, and that the theater was a “no-gun zone.” Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Michael Bloomberg (Mayor of NYC) both began to push rhetoric towards gun control and how it would have “saved lives.”

“Let’s stop wasting time and start saving lives, Congress must prioritize a ban on high-capacity gun magazines.”
– Sen. Frank Lautenberg

The problem that Sen. Lautenberg ignores is that high-capacity gun magazines would have had little affect on what Holmes did that night, the perpetrator was prepared for nearly any situation, and had reportedly swapped weapons midway through the shooting, obviously not slowing him down.

“Soothing words are nice, but maybe it’s time that the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they are going to do about it, because this is obviously a problem across the country”
– NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Interestingly enough, NYC still has a huge crimerate, yet has some of the most strict gun control laws in the country. What his statement appeared to be was little more than a shaky platform in which he could attempt to politicize an event that did not need to be politicized.

However, even these cases were not enough. The “Hollywood elite,” or at least those who think they are had to put their two cents in.  A couple of the most outspoken were Bill Mahar and Cher.  Both putting their own spin on the situation, yet not really mentioning anything about the victims themselves.

Bill Mahar, once again proves his indecency.

Bill Mahar, once again proves his indecency.

Cher, seems to prove how ignorant she truly is.

Cher, seems to prove how ignorant she truly is.

The problem isn’t only what these people say, but what they decide not to say. They ignore any inconvenient truths, they only decide to place one thing on the pulpit and ignore any opposition. I’m not going to try to make this a left-wing vs right-wing issue, but it is not looking well for one side, as the other has mostly had only kind words to the families, even talking about the need to look into mental health and how it is mismanaged.

On the political side, I would actually like to commend President Obama on his handling of the situation. He did not want to get in the way of the healing, yet wanted to let the families know that they were in his thoughts, and it seemed very heartfelt and sincere. Just as Mr. Romney’s remarks were. Their hearts are in the right place.

I would like to end this on a different note though.  My thoughts and prayers go out to those who are recovering, their families, and the families of those lost on that dreaded night. There is little that I can say to heal their wounds, there is little that I can do to bring back those they have lost, but my condolences go out all the same.

The Real Life of Julia

Good evening everybody.  Recently President Obama’s campaign team has released a “The Life of Julia” slideshow. It shows the things that the Obama Administration has done to help young women throughout their lifetimes. However, it also sends another message. That women are dependant on government. From cradle to grave, or as I’ve heard it before “from sperm to worm.”

The latest little campaign graphics have presented a picture of a young woman named Julia. The story begins at age 3, and ends at age 67, with her having lived life dependant upon government programs and reliance on her parents. What this shows me, though, is that there is an underlying perception that independant women are unable to do what they wish, how they wish, and should be encourage to let Uncle Sam help her out.

Well, I decided to make my own version of Julia’s life… below is a recreation of President Obama’s “propaganda” with a little bit more common sense and a few less half truths tossed in there.

I hope to follow this up later with some extra details on each picture.

I present to you:

The Real Life of Julia

Educating the “Educated”

“The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.”
-C.S. Lewis

Education is more than going to school, or going to college, or saying that you have a degree. Education is about actually learning something from those places. However, learning cannot be taught, learning can only be applied, and it can only be applied and built upon by the student. Knowledge can be taught, but even it is dictated by the source.

Education is crucial in a child’s development. It is also crucial in the development of a child’s sense of discipline, responsibility, and punctuality. It is important to remember that when you went to (or go to) school, you are not there to get indoctrinated, despite constant attempts to the contrary.

You are there to be engaged and to gain new knowledge about the world around you. You are there to learn how to participate and interact with other students. You are there to learn responsibility and realize the consequences of not meeting expectations, be them grades or assignments themselves. You are there to learn discipline, not to become a sheep ordered by a shepard with an iron fist, but a sense of respect for others, and those who are hired to teach you. You are ther to learn punctuality, when and where to be when it is requested of you, and again to realize the consequences of not meeting your part of the bargain.

You’re there to learn, not be given the answers.

Good is Good Enough

I saw an excellent quote on Google+ just yesterday that summed this up perfectly. I’ll paraphrase below:

1960s
Question: A logger sells a load of wood for $100, his operating costs were 4/5s of that total. How much profit did he make, if any?

1970s
Question: A logger sells a load of wood for $100, his operating costs were 4/5s or $80. How much profit did he make?

1980s
Question: A logger sells a load of wood for $100, his operating costs were 4/5s or $80. Did he make a profit? Yes or No

1990s
Question: A logger sells a load of wood for $100, his operating costs were 4/5s, or $80. This leaves $20 in profit. Underline the $20.

2000s+
Question: A logger sells a load of wood for $100, ignoring the environmental effects on surrounding wildlife and future effects on growth. It cost him 4/5s of that total, or $80 to do this, so all this destruction was for a measly $20. We will have a class discussion on the answer. (If you feel like crying, go ahead, it is ok.)

The last one may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the point is still made.  Education has only evolved in a technical aspect, new tools, new information, and new methods. The content, however, has been dumbed down. The mentality, that “everyone is a winner,” and that there are “no wrong answers,” has slowly crept its way into our educational systems.  This only artificially helps with graduation numbers, and looks great on paper. However, the number who graduate are less educated than those before them.

What this has led to is a plethora of “graduates” who have been given a diploma, not for success, or achievement, but for “trying.” These same students are then released onto an unsuspecting world, having been told “they are ready.” What exacerbates this problem, is that this happens not only at the grade school level, but into higher education as well.

We’ll get a little into my personal story here. I graduated high school, from a public school (having gone to public schools all my life), with honors, and had earned a scholarship to a local college. I had also been raised to push to be not only my best, but the best at what I do. It lead me to being disappointed in getting B’s on my report card, knowing good and well that a B was “good enough.” However, good enough, was not good enough for me.

This leads to the next problem that I see in today’s educational system. Parents.

Where teaching begins

Despite the fact that I may not agree with Ron Paul all that often, this quote really does make a lot of sense.

“Under the United States Constitution, the federal government has no authority to hold states “accountable” for their education performance…In the free society envisioned by the founders, schools are held accountable to parents, not federal bureaucrats.”
- Ron Paul

Home, it’s where the heart is. Not just the heart of the family, but the heart of morals, and the heart of learning. More and more, the education of children is moving towards that of the teacher and the school, and not with the parents. The responsibility has shifted from the home to the classroom. I’m not suggesting that all kids be homeschooled, but instead that when they come home from school the learning does not stop. I’m also not suggesting setting up lesson plans for the moment the kids get in the door, but for parents to actually become a part of their kids education, instead of just being the “parent or guardian” on a piece of paper alone.

My parents both worked full time while my brothers and I were in school.  In fact my dad was out of town a lot due to his job, but they were both involved with us, whether they had the time or not.  They also helped us set and stick to goals. Some goals may have seemed too high to achieve, but ever since I first read this quote, I have agreed with it.

“It’s better to aim high and miss, then to aim low and make it.”

When parent(s) start to get back into their kids lives, and not rely on the schools to do the work, we will have a more educated populace, no matter what policies go into place. There is a limit, however, to how involved a parent should get. I believe that even though kids may be young, and “easily molded,” they’re not stupid. I know that when I was a kid, I could often see through a lot of things. But a parent should be there as a foundation and someone that a student can come to with questions. They should also be there to encourage excellence, and ambition, as well as support there kids in case of failure. However, you learn from your mistakes and failures, and if you never had any, you have learned nothing at all.

The College Fallacy

College, that bastion of knowledge and learning…. pffffttt, hahaha, right.  I think Frank Zappa said it best:

“If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.”
- Frank Zappa

What was once a place for continued learning and a sanctuary to hone the concepts of critical thinking, is more often then not little more than “high school + more beer.” Unless you have a plan for your future, or even an inkling as to what  you want to do with your life, there isn’t a whole lot of reason for college. The general populace has been pulled into the illusion that a college education is this grand thing to have. To some extent, it is true if the plan is specialized and career-based, with a goal and future in mind. On the same hand, a discipline and focus on critical thinking, with less preaching and more teaching, would be beneficial via a college education.

However, on the other hand, book-smarts != smarts. Knowledge of a subject, and application of a subject are two completely different things. For example, I have yet to get my Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science, I’m about 3 or 4 classes away. So far, I have learned nothing more than what I had already learned on my own. I have actually helped teach one of the classes that I had, because I knew more, or at least as much, as the teacher did. Now, I’m not trying to brag, I am no genius, far from it, but when you put your focus into something, there are no excuses.

My current job is a perfect example of this. I do not yet have a degree, yet went from a third shift help desk call center position to a second level programming position, within 9 months. Why? Because I was willing to step out of my comfort zone and learn something on my own, and let my experience speak for me. I learned the program language being used over the course of about a month, on my own, with no college courses.

This leads to what I have seen a lot of in the workplace as of late.  Companies have slowly been indoctrinated into the same mentality that the populace has; that a degree is important, no matter the experience. I see former students, who have graduated with “Computer Science” degrees, filling programming and engineering positions, who know little more than how to make a webpage. Again leading to the comparison between knowledge and application.

In the end, there are pros and cons with a college education. Even those pros and cons have their own pros and cons associated with them. Maybe I’m jaded, but I feel that unless you actually have a plan for your future, or even a sketch of a blueprint, college is not going to help you.

I hope to go a little deeper into this subject in a later article, including the rising student debt bubble, and how it got to where it is.

I’ll conclude with this. Education is important, and an educated populace is the only defense against any enemy, be it internal or external. Ignorance is bliss, but only to those who don’t want to make something of themselves.

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.”
- Michel Legrand

Our [Mostly] Binary Nation

We have a problem in the US.  This isn’t about economics, or about social programs, or even about the issues.  It is about our party system, and how it affects our citizen’s mentality towards politics.

So many individuals view folks as either a Liberal Democrat, or Conservative Republican.  This viewpoint completely ignores any of the “gray” that lies between the two parties, not to mention the differing views within each of the parties themselves.  It has lead to a binary view, and a proliferation of idealogues on both sides.

In reality, however, there is far more complexity to our country, and some folks simply don’t want to see it.  It is not the Left or the Right, nor is it 180°; it is 360°, with maybe even a Z-axis tossed in there. Off the top of my head, I have put together just some of the different combinations available.

  • Socially Liberal, Fiscally Social Democrat
  • Socially Liberal, Fiscally Conservative Democrat
  • Socially Conservative, Fiscally Conservative Democrat (ya, they exist)
  • Socially Liberal, Fiscally Social Independant
  • Socially Liberal, Fiscally Conservative Independant
  • Socially Conservative, Fiscally Conservative Independant
  • Socially Liberal, Fiscally Liberal Republican (ya, they exist)
  • Socially Liberal, Fiscally Conservative Republican
  • Socially Conservative, Fiscally Conservative Republican

These don’t even include the fact that the words Conservative and Liberal do not necessarily mean Republican or Democrat, respectively. In addition, it doesn’t even include Libertarians, or other much smaller parties (The Rent is Too Damn High Party is one of my favorites.) Sadly, though, this is not how the general public sees it.

This is due to a couple factors. Political rhetoric, and main stream media, or even worse, a combination of the two. I see skewed article titles that pull readers in, yet don’t actually get to a point until you read all the way through it. More often then not, the title is almost contradictory to the actual substance of the article.  This happens on both sides of the road; a great example of this is the polar opposites that are made up of MSNBC and Fox News. Both are part of the problem, just as other forms of media are. This, however, leads to a shift that is becoming ever more prevalent: citizen journalists.

Citizen Journalists: Pros & Cons

With the advent of more and more social techonology, more advanced phones and video recording equipment, and an increased intrest in getting the word out, citizen journalism has grown quickly. However, there are good and bad things about this.

Pros:

  • They’re everywhere.
  • They’re individuals (or small groups).
  • They’re not sponsored (bought).

Cons:

  • Not always trained.
  • Not vetted.
  • Do not always show the “whole story”. (Often out of context)
  • Often emotionally driven.
  • Often heavily bias.
  • Lacking in coordination with other citizen journalists (unless within a group).

Basically, there isn’t an easy method to see past the rhetoric, even with the advent of citizen journalists. They’re everywhere, often right in the middle of the action. However, being in the middle of the action often attributes to fierce emotions, and when often being emotionally driven, that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Nearly all citizen journalists are also individuals (or small groups), and not large organizations, and more often then not haven’t been swayed by the all mighty dollar. However, they are also not vetted, or proven, and lack any background check or leave out evidence if it is inconvenient (much like main stream media). Because of this, it is easy for a citizen journalist to be bias. I myself am not going to say that I am truly unbias. I have my opinions, and more often then not will happily relay them in my posts. I will, however, take in other viewpoints. Lastly, they are loosely connected, if connected at all.  This creates cells of ideology and snippets of news that leave out the big picture, or skew a story simply because of the absence of major points.

The problem is, these cells of ideology eventually become public view, despite the whole story never being told.

What are the alternatives?

Well, the only thing left requires much more work. It requires a want, by the public, to see the whole story. A need to actually want to see both (or multiple) sides of a story instead of being surprised when some TV station does a special on the “rest of the story”. It requires the American public to become more active in their own wellbeing, instead of waiting to be told what to believe or trust in. It requires research, beyond just an article, to learn how something has likely been spun by the media.

This is not a left or right thing, not a Democrat or Republican thing.  It is an American thing, and something that we need to realize and change.

Christianity vs Churchianity: The Religious Stereotype

I can’t remember if it was my dad or my grandpa who coined the term, but it is one of my favorites of all time.  Churchianity. It is the form of Christianity that has been so construed beyond it’s original purpose that the building has become more important that the Church (capitol “C” being the people themselves). It is the religion rather than the faith.

On a personal note, I am a Christian. I have faith that Jesus was the son of God, and an example to follow. That his teachings were not of an establishment, but of a true love for  humanity, and a want and hope to redeem it. If not for his love for humanity, why would he say, when on the cross, Jesus said to God, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” Luke – 23:34.

Major Branches within Christianity (via Wikipedia)

Major Branches within Christianity (via Wikipedia)

I have read several parts of the Bible, yet not the whole thing, I guess it is a goal of mine to see what all really is included. I have my own interpretations, just as the original authors had theirs. Yet, it is the interpretations that have created this monster known as religion. Here’s a great example, within Christianity alone there are approximately 38,000 different denominations, some big, some small, including both protestant and Catholic variations. Each of these “denominations” (the Catholic church considers itself “pre-denomination”, but for the sake of this post, it’ll be included), has it’s own methods, rituals, focus, and rules. Yet they all have one thing in common, belief in God and Jesus. On the other hand, they sometimes look like squabbling siblings.

1.21 jiggawatts (A little history lesson)

Let’s go back in time for a moment. One of the biggest problems with religion is dogma and naivety. You see, when Christianity was first founded, and headed by the Apostles themselves, it was persecuted severely. Simply because Christians (then known as Jewish Christians) did not pay homage to the Emperor of Rome as divine. Because of the sporadic, yet severe persecution, an organization of individuals was needed.  This was the first steps towards the establishment of Christianity.

At first these groups of Christians were very sparse, with little linking them together outside of their similar beliefs and leadership of the Apostles. It was at this time that New Testament canon aws becoming a more primary source of doctrine. Yet following the post-Apostolic age, despite the continuing diffusion of ideas and practices these groups began to unite, eventually becoming a favored religion in Rome by the end of the first century. This unification also lead to a separation from Jewish beliefs.

By the early second century this loose conglomeration of believers began to coalesce into what could be viewed as the Christian Church. Positions and heirarchies began to form; episcopos would become bishops, presbyters and elders would become known as priests, and deacons began to appear as leaders of the sick and poor. This further expanded into the third century, when Constantine first held the First Council of Nicea in 325, following the end of most persecution against Christians. This council was a difinitive moment, in that it was a council set forth to attain a concensus for all Christians.

Now let’s move forward a bit, further after the establishment of the religion and continued tweaking and changes in power and heirarchy. By the sixth century, connections to the original Roman empire were nearly nonexistant, and what was once the Roman empire had covered most of Europe and transformed into the Byzantine Empire. It was at this time that the Eastern and Western Empires had begun to split. With constant barbarian invasions plaguing the Western Empire, it began to fracture. The further north and west you went, the more diverse the Christian practices had become. An example of this being Ireland, having cultivated its own form of Christianity, known as Celtic Christianity completely independant of the rest of the “world.”

Christianity had grown up and evolved into a solid religion. But with such a large influence, came power, and as Uncle Ben would say, “with great power comes great responsibility.” It was here that Christianity had become much more than just a belief, but an Establishment.

When Naivety Leads to Death

Now we start to get to the meat of the subject. Around 1009 Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, had ordered the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This was the church built upon the hill where, historically, Jesus was crucified. I could only imagine the anger that this attack had created. By 1039, after paying exhorbitant sums be paid, al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah’s successor allowed the Byzantine Empire to rebuild the church. The damage had already been done though, and a deep seated anger was now present among Christians across the Byzantine Empire.  This is where I begin to see the naivety, or at least forgetfulness of what Christianity is. You see, the leaders of the Byzantine Empire began to realize the power that the bishops held. They began to realize the klout they had with the populous, and more often then not would work with the clergy to appoint someone loyal to them in the position of a bishop. This all leading to what is now known as the Investiture Controversy. A belief that the King of a nation had the “divine right to the lands and all within” was finally pushed away, but now with loyal bishops, it may not have been needed.

Not only did power provide responsibility, it also invited corruption.

Between 1095 and 1291, the leaders of the Byzantine Empire made a call for help in reestablishing access to Jerusalem from the Muslim Seljuk Turks. Jerusalem was considered Holy land to both Christians and Muslims (likely a topic for another post, as both religions, again, are interpretations of the same events). Because of this, the war that was on a very personal level for all that were involved. Because of the klout that the bishops held, and the general illiteracy and naivety of the populace, emotions were easy to stir.

Needless to say, this lead to several Crusades. These Holy Crusades decimated generations of both Christians and Muslims, at the whim of both the crown and the clergy. It is a very dark spot in the history of Christianity. Not without its merits, but also not without its problems.

Modern Day Naivety

Now, we’re back to the present day. There is a silent minority within Christianity. These are the believers who still realize the original purpose of Jesus’s teachings.  You see, knowledge is much easier to attain now-a-days, while common sense seems to be far more lacking… but knowledge isn’t always “the cool thing.” However, naivety appears on both sides of an argument when looking at this subject.

At one time, decades ago, common sense was what you worked with.  It wasn’t book smarts, it wasn’t degrees, it was experience and values. However, this also lead to a more happy-go-lucky populous, a society where “ignorance was bliss.” This too was taken advantage of, and created the stereotypes that are so feverishly held onto today, and used by religious or even political opponents.

Let’s look at a few examples:

“To be a Christian, you have to go to church whenever the doors are open.”

Well…. not really, at least in my eyes. There is an old saying (though I’m not sure how old), “Go to church on Sunday morning, and you love the church. Go to church on Sunday Night, and you love the preacher. Go to church on Wednesday night, and you love God.” I wholeheartedly…. disagree.

There is a need to go to a church building, and worship with other believers, it is a way to help support your own beliefs, and your own feelings, as well as those of others; however, a building is not where God resides. It is my belief, that he resides within us. Within our feelings, within our thoughts, within our actions. Because of this what we do, and how we act, is how we are representing God, not how many times we are sitting on a church pew.

In contrast though, I do not believe that the church is not needed. There are great things that the church building, as well as those who reside within it have done. Locally, several churches banded together to create an “Emergency Services” building, a combination of a thrift store, and a central location to assist families that needed help. Be it financial, food, or clothing. Another example being the many things that the religion, and churches, had done to preserve history, and science.

If not for catholic monks, most of written history would likely have been lost, or even further construed by word of mouth. The “scriptoriums,” present in many monasteries, provided a place for monks to work in peace and transcribe texts. This lead to the same practice by secular book stores, again, preserving history, as it had not been before.

If not for the works of a muslim scientist by the name of Alhazen on the need for consistent and controlled experimentation, and further expansion by the likes of a friar named Roger Bacon, who pushed for individual verification, the Scientific Method, as we know it today, may have never existed. However, even these things would be fought by a naive establishment, until much later.

Christians are bigots and haters.

One of the most hated words in my vocabulary… bigotry. It is used to denote a person, despite any evidence or history, as one who hates a certain creed or sexuality. More often then not it is used against anyone who believes in Christianity. Generalizations and stereotypes have become the norm in today’s society.  One person links something, on the web, and it is instantly associated with an entire group of people, in Christianity’s case, all approximately 2.2billion of them. The problem is, some of the stereotypes are very true, but not for the majority, yet that is ignored.

Our current society is slowly becoming a binary thinking organism. Either it’s all or nothing, there is no middle ground. Though, those of us who realize that there is middle ground, and realize that the thought process of all or nothing is asinine are ignored.

To some extent, I blame politics.  There are members of congress, on both sides of the partisan wall, that have somewhat extreme views, if not extreme, at least passionate views. Because of these individuals, media, and those who follow politics take the words they use and label those who happen to share the same religion, as one and the same.

This includes social issues such as sexuality, religion, poverty, etc.

On a personal level, I am a mostly middle ground type of person on social issues.

  • I have seen what people go through when in poverty. Yet, instead of whining about it, I’ll try to help those that I can. I also realize that there are those that simply cannot work, and then there are those that simply will not work. But that’s a whole other article.
  • I have had friends who were not heterosexual, yet I did not hate them or condemn them. My personal belief is that what happens in the bedroom is not my problem, and to some extent the government should have no say. However, with the current tax code, and the benefits of married couples, this gets muddled. My view continues to be that until it is scientifically proven, via consistent and verifiable studies, homosexuality is exactly that… a sexuality. There has been no evidence leading to genetic predisposal. The closest being effects of hormones in higher than normal amounts while in the womb, yet this has so far only been observed in women, and not been proven to be the final effect of their sexual orientation. Lastly, it is my belief that it is still an environmental, situational, or conscious choice. However, I have nothing against them, what they do in their bedroom, is not something I’m going to dig into, and in turn am not going to condemn either. I’m not without my reservations of the acts, but hey, I’m a straight guy.

When the “church” becomes more than a building

This is primarily what I’m going to be getting at. The most noticable, visual, and verbal parts of Christianity have moved far beyond what Christianity is about, yet preach it as gospel. The televangelists, some of the “new” evangelists, and “Fort God’s” have become what the public views as Christian. The big massive churches with thousands of members (one of the things I am not a fan of is “members”).

These visual components take a single verse from a single chapter, and write a sermon, ignoring any of the surrounding context.  They then take it as literal and spread it to those who are not willing to research it for themselves. These buildings become symbols that athiests (not all atheists, as true atheism is the utter lack of religion, and not the reprimand of religion) and political opponents, left or right, drool over. They have been labeled as the “Christian Conservatives,” which is absolutely false.

These mockeries of Christianity, have become businesses. Just as Jesus said in Matthew 21:12:

12Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13“It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’e but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’f

14The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.

Some of these “leaders” are exactly what Jesus saw while he traveled. It is these “leaders” that have created a false stereotype, unbeknownst (or worse yet, known) to them, that have given the rest of Christianity a black eye.

I want to finish with this. We are not here to tell everyone what they should believe. We are here to help those in need, who truly cannot help themselves. We are here to spread the word of God, not force it. We are here to be knowledgable of what we believe in, not naive and ignorant. We are here to learn and better ourselves, not to limit ourselves because a preacher said so. We are to learn from preachers, priests, pastors, and leaders, but not blindly follow. We are here to guide, yet to leave decisions to that of the individual. We are here to live with the consequences of our decisions, and not to lay blame on others for what we could have prevented.

We are here to have faith.

Welfare vs Entitlement

I have noticed a recent trend in post pertaining to Welfare, Food Stamps (SNAP), and other forms of social programs.  They have really gotten me thinking.  One especially, titled “My Time at Walmart: Why We need Serious Welfare Reform“, seemed to have exploded in the comment section, bringing out folks from all extremes.  Folks who berated the author for having no compassion, to those practically asking her to marry them they agreed so much, both sides tossing out Talking Points, with little to back them up; all the way to those, like me, who really enjoyed her article, and also understood that she was not generalizing all folks on Welfare as the “welfare queens” she mentions in her post.  In fact, she clears that up within the beginning of the second paragraph, though some seemed to have ignored it.  I believe that there is a sense of entitlement that will lead to fraud, and that those who understand where the assistance is coming from, and who is paying for it, will not feel they are entitled, and therefore not commit fraud.

I believe that there may be a few points could be elaborated in the article on her behalf (though she hasn’t asked, I’ll go ahead anyway).

The author made a great many good points, and in her defense, they were simply observations from when she worked at a Walmart in Scarborough, Maine.  She did not state once, that all folks on Food Stamps or Welfare did these things she describes, nor did she have a problem with Welfare or Food Stamps in general.  Yet the comment stream exploded to the contrary.  Derogatory remarks and assumptions abound.

So, I’ve decided to expand a bit upon her article.  I hope to provide my point of view. As a side note though, I would also like to highlight how much gullibility, hipocracy, ignorance, and lack of reading comprehension seem to perpetrate a lot of the political comments.  It doesn’t matter what side of the party line they come from, “Talking Points” have become a bane on the existance of political debate.  But that will come a bit later.

What is Welfare, and types of Fraud

Well, by definition, welfare is:

Welfare refers to a broad discourse which may hold certain implications regarding the provision of a minimal level of wellbeing and social support for all citizens without the stigma of charity. [1]

The term itself has become a very broad subject, and in the public view actually covers several different programs.  In the public’s collective mind, it would include TANF, SNAP, WIC, and even in some cases disability and unemployment insurance; however, in reality these are separate programs.  In addition, Welfare has been associated with poverty, though to be honest, welfare was designed to be a temporary stop gap, and “social safety net” to assist folks when times get really tough.

SNAP

An example of this is SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), originally known as Food Stamps. This program is available to individuals who may or may not have a job, but fall within a certain income range, therefore qualifying them for assistance.  Specifically assistance in purchasing food.  It is administered by the US Department of Agriculture, but each state makes the decision as to how it is distributed.

SNAP Fraud

There are a few experiences that the author of the beforementioned article made, including the use of SNAP funds to purchase goods for a business.  In this case, there was a gentleman who ran a Hot Dog stand, and would come into WalMart to buy a lot of hot dogs, hot dog buns, mustard, and ketchup, etc., and pay for them with his EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card.  Each time he would make small talk about her coming to visit his hot dog stand, even handing her a business card.  So, in this case, this man is using taxpayer funded SNAP money to run his “business,” in turn converting taxpayer money into straight cash.  This, is illegal, and according to some of the comments from the author herself, she did turn him in, as she should.

However, other forms of fraud are harder to see, as well as harder to judge.  Some of them are in direct violation of the regulations set with SNAP, and others are moral decisions made by those on the program.  Let me elaborate a little bit on that.  SNAP is meant to purchase the necessities, basic sustinance for you and/or your family.  That is great, and a very good way to help those who really are caught up in a rough time, and need a little help.  However, the “moral” cases are harder to really defend.  A lot of the comments on the article continue to term the author as judgemental for accusing the folks using SNAP funds to buy steak, lobster, and premade cakes, yet they seem to not realize that these are not necessities, but “luxuries,” yet some feel they are entitled to it, and use the excuse of “what do you think that I shouldn’t be allowed to eat steak?”  There are folks, who are just above the poverty line, working, paying taxes, yet just out of reach of SNAP assistance.  There are even folks beyond that, just making it month to month, comfortable enough to not stress every minute, but not able to just go out and buy anything either.  These folks aren’t able to buy steaks or lobster, or sometimes even premade cakes from a store, because they have other obligations (rent, insurance, utilities, etc., each not subsidized), and have to still feed their families without assistance.  The moral issue here, is should those who are using money, provided from taxpayer funds, be eating better than those who are paying the taxes funding the program?  I would say no, I would say that they should at the least eat the same.  It would provide a sense of responsibility, as well as less of a reason to stay on SNAP.

Now, to make the point now, there are those who do not commit fraud (moral and literal), and truly need the assistance.  Maybe a family whose primary breadwinner had just lost their job, or a recently divorced family, or a family with dependants with disabilities, and in turn the inability to work and earn an income.  These folks are the ones that the program was designed for, the ones who respect and appreciate what has been provided to them, and understand that the government isn’t giving them this assistance, the taxpayer is.

As an extra bit of information, WIC or “Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children” somewhat falls under this category as well, however is far more regulated, and much harder to fraud.

TANF

This is what is known as the “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families” by definition, it:

Provides cash assistance to indigent [suffering from extreme poverty] American families with dependent children through the United States Department of Health and Human Services.[2]

This program is meant as temporary aid to impoverished families with fewer restrictions on what the money can be speant on.  It is meant to provide not only financial assistance, but also help with job placement in order to not require assistance.  Some states have implemented shorter time frames, however as a basis, there is a limit of 60 months that an individual can be on TANF. In addition to the 60 month limit, some states also limit the “adult” portion of the assistance, still allowing assistance to the children in these families.  Lastly, unmarried minor parents have to live with a responsible adult or guardian, and the paternity of children must be establish in order to receive benefits.

Below is a list with a more specific view of the program:

The purposes of the TANF program as described in section 601 of the Social Security Act are as follows:

  1. provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives;
  2. end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage;
  3. prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and establish annual numerical goals for preventing and reducing the incidence of these pregnancies; and
  4. encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.

TANF sets forward the following work requirements necessary for benefits:

  1. Recipients (with few exceptions) must work as soon as they are job ready or no later than two years after coming on assistance.
  2. Single parents are required to participate in work activities for at least 30 hours per week. Two-parent families must participate in work activities 35 or 55 hours a week, depending upon circumstances.
  3. Failure to participate in work requirements can result in a reduction or termination of benefits to the family.
  4. States, in FY 2004, have to ensure that 50 percent of all families and 90 percent of two-parent families are participating in work activities. If a state reduces its caseload, without restricting eligibility, it can receive a caseload reduction credit. This credit reduces the minimum participation rates the state must achieve.

It is much harder to find any fraud with this program, as it is also used by states to assist in child support payments that a recipient is unable to acquire directly from the other parent.  The two systems use the same method in order to provide child support payments as well as temporary assistance.  Some fraud exists, but is harder to prevent or report, without being considered judgemental or cold-hearted, since you really cannot determine what “funds” are being used.

What is Entitlement

Now that we’re past most of the specifics, here’s where this article gets to the point. An entitlement is an expectation, a “fact of having a right to something.”  To an extent this is what some welfare programs are viewed as.  However, in reality, only Social Security and Medicare can actually be considered entitlements, as you pay into that system while you work, eventually being able to reap the benefits, upon meeting the requirements.

Despite there being some need for the other programs, they are not entitlements, not “rights.” Some would argue that the “pursuit of happiness,” as stated in the Declaration of Independance:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The statement is direct and to the point, you are provided the unalienable right to a “Pursuit of Happiness.” Happiness is not guaranteed, and never was, but the opportunities to achieve it are there, and cannot be hindered.  However, should also not be provided at the cost of another’s happiness.

Happiness, in this case, is a bit vague.  What constitutes happiness?  Is it monetary, or physical? Is it something earned or acquired, or is it something given?  Opportunities lead to happiness; however, the government should not provide opportunities to some and not others (see “all men are created equal,” which I will get into a bit later as well), they cannot pick winners and losers. We are all born with opportunities.  Some more visible, and easily acquired, but still available to all.  There comes an air of jealousy and anger, and a belief that opportunities are not equal. All opportunities are equal, but the path to them may not be. In my personal opinion, happiness is not money, or status, or klout, but rather a personal sense of worth. A feeling that what you have done, or what you have accomplished means something, and in turn helps those around you, be it just your family, or everyone around you (mankind).

Success

The sky's the limit... but expect turbulance.

However, that is not believed by everyone. Many public schools now, teach/preach that anything is possible, and the sky is the limit!….. however, they decide not to include the caveats that the sky is pretty darn high, and it is going to take a lot of work to get there.  Some schools have even removed the “ability to fail” allowing kids to try as many times as possible to get it right, even removing wins and losses from schoolyard games, or removing dodgeball cause it can hurt someone’s “self-esteem.” I assume that these changes are made to more easily pave the path to “happiness.” In reality, it ill-prepares the current generation from what the real world is like.  To the right is one of my very favorite images.  It’s a bit old, but makes a ton of sense, and proves that the sky is the limit, but you can’t just coast to get there.

Over time, this pandering to self-esteem, besides removing some parenting duties from parents, has led to a different view of how the world should work. As the picture shows, you cannot leave high school, or even college and expect a $60,000 job with a company car.  That is something that is acquired via proving yourself and showing ambition and initiative. I myself started at minimum wage, and pushed myself to learn more, do more, and show more. Eventually finding other opportunities, leading to even more chances to prove myself. This push to do better, is what got me to where I am, and continues to “allow” me to move up and ahead in my job.

The doors of opportunity aren’t locked, but they may be a bit big for their frame… so you gotta push a little.

Outside of physical or mental disabilities, legally, all men are created equal. With determination, and willingness to make sacrifices, everything can be made possible.  But it’s not going to happen at the drop of a hat. As I said above, this new viewpoints leads people to feel entitled to start at 3rd base, instead of having to take a chance at failure while at bat.

However, going any more in depth on that subject will likely come on a later post.  For now, I think I’ve got my contrast of the two subjects in place.

Conclusion….?

As a final word, at least on the immediate subject, there is a difference between welfare and “entitlement.”  There are families that truly need help.  Loss of a job, loss of a family member, loss of ability, they all happen often with little notice.  Unless you are prepared, it can be a very rough road. These rough roads, the truly rough ones, are what the programs are designed for. 

However, there are still those who believe that, since it’s there, they are entitled to it.  Not because they need it, but because it’s available.  Not because they are on a rough road, but because they want to cruise a little easier, and expect someone else to foot the bill.  These are not the majority, but they exist.

What are your thoughts?

The Demagogue

What is The Demagogue?

Sounds like some kind of evil demon or something. In reality, it can be much, much worse.  Something that I have seen more and more of lately is the proliference of demagogy and misinterpretations used in politics. By definition demagogy is:

A strategy for gaining political power by appealing to the prejudices, emotions, fears, vanities and expectations of the public—typically via impassioned rhetoric and propaganda, and often using nationalist, populist or religious themes. (via Wikipedia)

I understand that it has happened since the days of ancient greece, but with todays media outlets, it seems to be even more in your face, yet invisible at the same time.  What do I mean by that?  Well, it all boils down to ignorance.  I do not use that in a derogatory manner, but as a statement of what our great country seems to have slid its way into.  Unlike those on the left, I do not single out a single party or side to be ignorant, but instead encompass them all.

Our country is made up of several different kinds of people:

  • Those who “Don’t Know what they Don’t Know” (Ignorance is Bliss)
  • Those who “Don’t Know what they Know”
  • Those who “Know what they Know”
  • Those who “Know what they Don’t Know” (Ignorance is a Challenge)

Why do I split these groups as such, well this is why.  If you do not know what you do not know, then you are left with little knowledge besides what somebody tells you.  If you do not realize what you know, then, again, you are left to the whimsy of what somebody says, yet has some skepticism towards it.  If you know what you know, yet ignore what you don’t kn0w, you end up locked into a mindset, becoming a “so-called expert” in a subject, yet ignorant on points that may prove your belief incorrect.  Lastly, if you know what you don’t know, then you realize that there are other options, opinions, and other points of view, that may contradict with yours, but provide you with a springboard to discover them.  In turn you are able to integrate them with your beliefs, or at least understand where another person is coming from.

Most people are a combination of one or two of these.  But in today’s age of 24-hour news, a growing number are becoming those who either “Don’t Know what they Don’t Know” or “Don’t Know what they Know.” Because of this, more are being lead purely by headlines.  This is only excentuated by how sites and news is read by regular everyday folks. [1][2][3] Studies have shown that most people would rather scan an article, sometimes even going through the first paragraph, and moving on, instead of reading an entire article.

The Media Circus

News sources have taken full advantage of this, and usually attempt to “get their point across” in the beginning, leaving the rest of the article to sort out the details.  A little bit of a “shock factor.” Because of this, concepts contradicting the point trying to be put across is usually left for the very end, or burried somewhere in the middle of an article.  Since most folks are either going to be too busy to go through all the details, or simply don’t want to read the whole thing, misinformation becomes prevalent.

This is highlighted in the “Battle of the Broadcasters” between MSNBC and Fox News (just two examples). These stations are almost purely on opposite sides of the political spectrum.  Each one tossing mud at the other.  I am not going to say that I am unbias, because I do see far more “slams” from the left towards Fox News, then I do Fox News tossing mud back (not that it doesn’t happen). However, that is all that is really seen by the average viewer/user/reader. Nothing but a big circus of information.  Whichever side hits home best, is going to be the “right” side.

Stepping Up

However, there is light at the end of this media tunnel.  With the proliferation of “newsfeeds” and streams of content from nearly everywhere available, those of us who would rather have all our information together before debating something are able to properly cite sources, as unbias as possible. As I did earlier I’m not going to say that I am purely unbias, because that would not be true; however, I will say that I try to come at things from all sides.  Because of this, I am able to participate in discussions with evidence to back my beliefs or points.  But, like most things, it is not easy.  You have to actually do the research, but that is what proper journalism is, even if it is opinion based.

It is here that “The Demagogue” has no power.  It can roar and scream and pound its chest, but it will only end up looking like a fool. But there are consequenses. Facts can be skewed. If a proper method is followed, this can be avoided, but it is a tedious step to take.

The Many Shapes of “The Demagogue”

Let’s take one of the queen Demagogues for example, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. This dear woman, bless her heart, is adamant about what she believes in, whether it be true or not.  The problem, is since she is in a position of power, is that credibility and clout are easier to gain. Every time that I see her talk about those on the right, it is always the same thing, “they don’t like the poor, they want to kill social security and medicare, and want more money for the rich at the cost of the poor.”  By saying this, she “tugs at the heartstrings,” attempting to get the empathy vote on her side, yet cannot back up anything that she says, or at least has yet to do so with anything outside of her own opinions, or interpretations of snippets of information. This is the purest form of demagoguing in that it has no basis, yet is taken as fact because of her position.

Let’s take another example in Ms. Elizabeth Warren. Much like Ms. Pelosi, she will tug at the heartstrings, sometimes genuinely speaking of the working class, yet quickly turning to studies that she had done, ignoring any from other sources contradicting her. Her famous statement, touted by those on the left, “Nobody has gotten where they are on their own.” She then continues to lead into a rant about how companies, whether they are doing good or not, are only doing so because they are “shipping goods on roads that we paid for, and hiring workers that we paid to educate.” Yet there are a few facts left out.  In rebuttal to her statement, I would point out that each time that the company paid for gas for their trucks, they also “paid for those roads.” Yet that is ignored.  Just as the fact that she does not know that every one of those workers was in public schools, or if they went to college purely on government grants. Yet again, these nuances are ignored, and because she has become so popular, and pushed all the right buttons, is taken as fact.  This is not necessarily the purest form of demagoguing, but the most “malicious” for lack of a better word.  To know otherwise, yet ignore or leave out a fact because it is “inconvenient,” is not the way to properly make a point in your favor.

Slaying “The Demagogue”

Here comes the hard part. It is impossible to remove all propaganda, impassioned rhetoric, or forced appeals from public consumption. No matter which side of the aisle that you are on. However, it is possible to stand up against it.

I believe that we can stand up for what we believe in, and be passionate about it; however, unless you can back up your points, you best keep them to yourself.  Nobody wants to be preached to.