Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Horrible, Stinking, Rotting, Disgusting, Juxtaposition

Yesterday, a man was trampled by a crowd at a Wal Mart store in New York. And, when others tried to rescue him, THEY were trampled as well. In addition, four other people were injured, including a woman who was eight months pregnant.

When notified that the store would be closing, the customers became irate.

Tis the Season. This is why I have disliked Christmas for years - at least the commercialized, secular version we've come to know and love (or in my case hate) in America.

I cannot even articulate how disgusting and revolting this all is. I'm sure that a lot of other Americans are just as disgusted as I am. I'm sure how a lot will be written, or spoken of on television on how we've lost "the true meaning of Christmas".

All of it will be true.

This is certainly not the first time that things like this have happened in the pursuit of the ideal Christmas gifts. I remember a few years back, when grown men and women were fighting in the aisles over Cabbage Patch Dolls.

Of course, Jesus (Remember that guy? That is what the holiday is supposedly about.) always taught that the possession of things will not make us happy (from Matthew 6:19-21), and that these gifts that were so important to get today, will be unimportant tomorrow:

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

We continue to pursue those "things" though. But, the reality is, is that they haven't made us any happier. They've just brought mountains of debt, which now has had a hand in bringing the larger economy to a grinding halt.

Several of our fellow Americans are currently hungry or in need, and in the days, weeks and months to follow, several more will be swallowed up in the downward spiral of the economy. During this Christmas season when we eat a lot, drink a lot, and shop and spend money we can't afford to spend, are we thinking at all about "the least of these" (See Matthew 25:31-46) that Jesus taught us to care for?

The most disgusting thing is that for a man's life, this is what the shoppers were getting in exchange:

"Items on sale at the Valley Stream Wal-Mart included a Samsung 50-inch Plasma HDTV for $798, a Bissel Compact Upright Vacuum for $28, a Samsung 10.2 megapixel digital camera for $69 and DVDs such as "The Incredible Hulk" for $9."

Think about it. For a television, a vacuum, a camera and a DVD, a man is now DEAD.

That is all certainly a cruel juxtaposition when you take a look at the prophecy of the coming of the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), who would ultimately give his life for us:

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Wow. That is sobering.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Just for fun......

Take the quiz below.

This is a Civics Quiz sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI - not to be confused with Pakistan's Intelligence Agency).

This link is an article by Kathleen Parker reporting on the results of the quiz, and offering some great insight on possible remedies and what might happen in the future if our citizens are not properly educated with regard to Civics. It is probably best to take the quiz first and read the op-ed after, as Ms. Parker gives some answers away in the piece.

In the interest of self-disclosure, I took the quiz and got an 81. This made me unhappy, as I felt like I should have gotten 100%.

Below is the breakdown on the scores, which is very BLEAK.

One of the more frightening aspects is the gap between citizenry and "elected officials" (in the link it states that: "Of the 2,508 People surveyed, 164 say they have held an elected government office at least once in their life.")

The bullet points at the bottom of this link should make every American a little queasy (for example: "Seventy-nine percent of those who have been elected to government office do not know the Bill of Rights expressly prohibits establishing an official religion for the U.S.")

In her piece, Ms. Parker speculates as to what's responsible for the "dumbing down" of America.

"The ISI found that passive activities, such as watching television (including TV news) and talking on the phone, diminish civic literacy."

Passive activities could also include listening to talk radio.......

Ms. Parker then reports:

"Actively pursuing information through print media and participating in high-level conversations -- even, potentially, blogging -- makes one smarter."

I certainly believe that "actively pursuing" information, and participating in high-level conversations makes one smarter. I do not support the idea that blogging necessarily makes one smarter, given some of the blogs I have seen out there (hopefully not this one :-)). Some blogs I've read have been light on facts and comprehensive thought, and heavy on tin-foil hat conspiracy speculations.

The op-ed then reports:

"Civics courses, once a staple of junior and high school education, are no longer considered important in our quantitative, leave-no-child-behind world."

Not to mention that a lot of states are teaching to a "Standards of Learning" test, which focuses on memorization of "factoids" more than comprehensive, deep knowledge of subjects.

So, how are our colleges doing? After all, that is generally the standard in the business world to define if one is "educated" enough for employment (whereas in years past it was having a high school diploma):

"And college adds little civic knowledge, the ISI study found. The average grade for those holding a bachelor's degree was just 57 percent -- only 13 points higher than the average score of those with only a high school diploma."

Ms. Parker offers some recommendations, which I heartily agree with:

"The ISI insists that higher-education reforms aimed at civic literacy are urgently needed. Who could argue otherwise? But historian Rick Shenkman, author of "Just How Stupid Are We?" thinks reform needs to start in high school. His strategy is both poetic (to certain ears) and pragmatic: Require students to read newspapers, and give college freshmen weekly quizzes on current events."

She (Parker) also offers some frightening conclusions if we do not have an educated citizenry:

"Both Shenkman and the ISI pose a bedeviling question, as crucial as any to the nation's health: Who will govern a free nation if no one understands the mechanics and instruments of that freedom?
Answer: Maybe one day, a demagogue."

Thank goodness we're not there. Yet.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Meltdown, one month hence

Up front, a note that this might well be disjointed and fragmented. Lots of different things going on which all interact together, but do not flow well because they come from different sectors of the whole of the economy.

Just to let it be known up front.

To start, a month and a half has gone by since Henry Paulson predicted "financial Armegeddon" if we did not do exactly what he told us, in the time frame he told us.

The situation has not really improved too much, and now, Paulson said that what they originally wanted to do to avoid Armegeddon was probably not the right thing to do, and we need to shift course and do something different.

I don't know about any of my fellow Americans, but this does not engender a lot of confidence.

On top of that, it's starting to come to light that banks are not using the money so graciously loaned to them by their fellow citizens to loan money to "Main Street, and get credit flowing again, but they are using the money to pay stockholder dividends, bonuses, and to acquire other banks.

Every American should be completely filled with rage at this news. Instead we are kind of getting a shrug of the shoulders and an "Eh".

Why? Because frankly, we EXPECT to be screwed. We expect the government and the experts to screw up. There is no faith that it will be done right, and that is a shame. This is the financial equivalent of the handling of Hurricane Katrina. The lack of foresight is the equivalent of pre-9/11 when intelligence agencies were briefing that something big was going to happen, and FBI agents in Arizona and Minnesota were telling headquarters, "hey, we probably ought to check out these Arab guys taking flying lessons".

Isn't it shameful that you know they are going to piss your money away, but there is not one thing you can do about it?

Is there any surprise here? Giving these companies this money is like giving your crack addicted son or daughter $700 to pay the rent. What does that addict do? That addict BUYS CRACK. The addict does NOT pay the rent. It's kind of the same principle here. You give the folks who recklessly ran these businesses into the ground more money, expecting them to do the "right thing" this time. Why is there a surprise when the right thing is not done?

To me, the big story of the economy right now might not be the stock market, or this bailout, but companies like Circuit City going bankrupt, and Best Buy having "seismic" problems with their business. The story of consumer confidence and consumer spending.

To be frank, there is nothing that Best Buy or Circuit City sells that is a NECESSITY. They did pretty good for awhile, sold a lot of stuff, and made a lot of money. They got their money, because when you swipe that credit card, they get their money. So, we bought a lot of stuff, but we did not PAY for a lot of stuff. The economy seems to be telling us now that we don't get to buy any more cool stuff until we PAY for the stuff we have now.

We have lived for a long time, the lifestyle of the rich and the famous. Only we have done it on credit, and by not paying for it when we bought it. We have not saved money. We have just counted on something happening to be able to pay the bills when it came time to pay the bills. This was largely the issue with Sub Prime mortgages too.

Now, it is time to pay the bills and the money is not there. Additionally, to get the economy flowing again, consumer spending must be ramped up. But, guess what. The money is not there to ramp up consumer spending.

Pessimistically, I can not really see this ending any other way but bad. I think, at least for awhile the days of rapacious conspicuous consumption are severly curtailed, if not completely over.

The latest economic news being discussed (disgust) is the idea of bailing out the Big Three Auto Makers. There are a lot of arguments by economists, pundits and others, pro and con. These companies mostly were as poorly managed as the other companies we are bailing out. They guessed wrong every time they had a chance to look at market trends or energy trends. Not only did they guess wrong, but some would say that they willfully tried to push their vision onto consumers who were looking for more fuel efficient quality cars. This is why Toyota has been consistently moving up and doing better than the big three.

I do not know about this at all (bailing out the big three).

I do know that we need to really figure out what is going on, and get America back on the right track. Otherwise, we are going to be in deep trouble.

Now is not the time for small, timid thinking. Now is the time for audacious, bold thinking. Is our government up to it? They have not shown over the past several years that they were. I would be pleasantly surprised if this time they were.

See, I said it would be disjointed and fragmented. That must be caused by the anger.