Monthly Archives: October 2012

The People We Count Don’t Have Caller ID


A comment on Morning Joe, this morning, made me laugh.

They were bashing the polls. Some showed Obama up by wide margins in certain places, and they didn’t believe them. Other polls showed Romney with a big national lead, and they didn’t believe that.

Finally, Lawrence O’Donnell put it in perspective.

He said pollsters always claim they are talking to registered voters, or likely voters. “But let’s be truthful about who they are polling. They are talking to the last people in America who are still taking unsolicited phone calls.”

Ha!

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Who Knew Chinese Laborers Were So Sarcastic?

This Saturday Night Live skit, from last week (Oct 13, 2012) was hysterical. Has some real truth about the way Americans complain about petty things. Wait for the “diabetes” line. It busted me up.

(If you get this post by email, you’ll probably need to click on the title to view the video.)

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The Easily Misled Masses

According to a Pew Forum survey, 17% of registered voters still believe President Obama is a Muslim (49% say he’s a Christian, 31% don’t know).

Back in 2008, just 16% of conservatives believed Obama was a Muslim. But today, a full 34% of conservatives believe he’s a Muslim.

Please allow me to begin banging my head against a cement wall. Where are they getting that?

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What Little I Know

Sometimes I’m reminded of how little I know.

Each week, the New York Times Book Review includes an interview with some author, in which that author talks about what he’s reading now, favorite authors, over-rated books, etc. This week it was Jeffrey Eugenides, who is evidently a well-regarded author, but I’d never heard of him. Sadly, the same is true of many of the authors they choose. So as much as I consider myself well-read, I’m apparently not.

Eugenides is asked, “What’s the last truly great book you read?” (Most weeks, the author is asked that question.) He mentions “The Love of a Good Woman,” a collection of short stories by Alice Munro. He said, “There’s not one story in there that isn’t perfect. Each time I finished one, I just wanted to lie down on the floor and die. My life was complete.” He mentions Munro’s characterization, her storytelling, and her technical inventiveness.

I’ve read one or two Alice Munro books. They were fine. I know that if I read those short stories, I would probably be bored. I wouldn’t be seeing the things Eugenides sees. And I know a whole lot more of what to look for than most people.

Then Eugenides stuck in the knife. “Whenever I try to read a thriller or a detective novel, I get incredibly bored, both by the language and the narrative machinery.” Well, that’s mostly what I read, thank you–detective novels and thrillers. On the other hand, maybe in this case I’m the one who knows what to look for. He’s meddling in MY world.

But I don’t think that’s the case. Very doubtful, in fact.

Now, let’s expand this concept to include all the other things I know on only a surface level. Economics. Theology. Photoshop. What my wife is thinking and feeling. Foreign policy. Military strategy. Speaking technique. Pretty much everything, in fact.

Tonight–in a half hour, in fact–is the second presidential debate. Both candidates will say things that sound good and reasonable to me, but which, in fact, are outright lies or severe distortions. But I won’t recognize it. A pundit will come on afterwards and explain what I missed, and it will sound like an illuminating explanation. But that pundit will also be outright lying or severely distorting. And I won’t know recognize that, either.

And the next day, I will transport my ignorance to Facebook, where I will make statements that sound definitive, but which are based on lies and distortions I heard from the candidates–lies and distortions that still sound reasonable to me. And those Facebook statements will be further mangled by my own biases, which I will adamantly deny having.

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What Really Happened in Benghazi

The Atlantic contains a riveting account of what really happened in Benghazi. It’s the verbatim briefing of a State Department official who talked to the various people involved. He sets the context, and then gives a blow-by-blow, and very detailed, account of the entire episode. You can also read the entire briefing, with Q&A from reporters.

The article gave me a whole different view of the event–and a much more believable, and certainly more credible, account than what we’ve heard. There were some heroic acts by our security personnel. A daring drive through Benghazi streets. Our security people were outnumbered, but they were not unarmed. And there was plenty of confusion. Ambassador Stevens simply got lost in the mayhem, and the repeated attempts by security personnel to find him failed. But he was probably already dead in the safe room.

Right-wing media groups have said that Ambassador Stevens was tortured and sodomized. That didn’t happen. The torture information came from the Libyan Free Press, a pro-Kadaffi group, and has been repeated by a Republican congressman from Arizona. Stevens actually died of smoke inhalation, as initially reported. This account makes that pretty clear.

I don’t know why the right-wing media accepts stuff like this so easily. They’ll tell you, “Here’s what the mainstream media won’t tell you.” But the reason the mainstream wasn’t reporting this is because IT DIDN’T HAPPEN. I’m dismayed that FoxNews considers a pro-Kadaffy website to be authoritative. At least the “lamestream” media has more discretion than that.

I have read and heard so much nonsense about this event.

As the State Department briefing shows, it was a very sudden attack by armed men. Al Qaeda? Maybe. The White House should have gotten its story straight–they definitely bungled it–but this is a story with lots of murkiness.

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Impossible Math


The September 17 BusinessWeek mentioned that the government takes in $1 trillion in income tax revenue, but gives up another $1.1 trillion in tax deductions. That includes:

  • $47 billion in charitable giving (I thought that figure would be higher. Disappointing.)
  • $89 billion in mortgage interest.
  • $118 billion in retirement savings.
  • $131 billion in employer-provided health insurance.

Now, Mitt Romney says he wants to cut income tax rates for the wealthy by 20%. That, according to BusinessWeek, accounts for $251 billion in less revenue. Romney says he’ll pay for these tax cuts by closing loopholes. But, says BusinessWeek, the total of all deductions for the wealthy comes to just $165 billion. The specific loopholes he has in mind would come to considerably less than that.

So, Mitt: can you please explain how you’re going to make this work?

Here’s my take. THERE IS NO SOLUTION. We’re just way too deep into debt, too overdrawn in every way. There is no math that will work. And every possible cut will make some group of voters mad, so politicians will prefer doing nothing.

Which explains why both candidates are avoiding specifics.

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China Gets in the Navy Game


On September 25, China showed off its first aircraft carrier, named the Liaoning (after Liaoning Province). It was a ship discarded by Russia, just 70% complete, that China bought from Ukraine in 1998 and refurbished. They don’t yet have any planes capable of landing on it. So yeah, I’d say they’ve pretty much caught up with us.

Since 1995, China has acquired four retired aircraft carriers from other countries–one from Australia, three from Russia. They’ve also purchased aircraft carrier designs, and a Russian warship designer completed a design for China in the late 1990s.

In June 2011, China confirmed that they are building at least one aircraft carrier of their own design. They are also developing their own fighter capable of operating from an aircraft carrier.

So it sounds like they are pretty determined to become a naval power, and with no competitors nearby, they could dominate their part of the world.

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The Slide Toward Religious Uninvolvement

1 in 5 Americans (20%) now identify themselves as “religiously unaffiliated,” according to a new Pew Forum study. This category includes people who describe themselves as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular.” It was just 15% five years ago (and 7% 40 years ago).

These unaffiliated people are being called the “Nones.” As in, “None of the above.”

Other findings:

  • For people age 18-22, 30% are religiously unaffiliated.
  • 63% of the religiously unaffiliated are left-leaning, tending to support Democratic candidates.
  • The religiously unaffiliated are better educated than the general population.
  • They are very liberal (75%) in favoring abortion and same-sex marriage.
  • They don’t, as some assume, become more religious with age. If you’re nonreligious while young, you’ll likely stay that way.

I don’t like how the study grouped atheists and agnostics with persons who simply don’t claim a particular religion. Many of the latter are still spiritual. In fact, the study showed that two-thirds of the religiously unaffiliated say they believe in God, and 20% say they pray every day. So they haven’t abandoned God–just the church.

Less than one-third of the religiously unaffiliated are atheist or agnostic. They should be in a whole different category, IMHO, as persons who have rejected any involvement with God. But who am I to argue with professional pollsters?

Ed Stetzer says it’s a matter of nominal (in name only) Christians shifting to unaffiliated. Society no longer values having a Christian identity. He also points out that we may be on a slippery slope of sorts, where identifying yourself as a Christian, once (and probably still) a source of “societal advancement,” could become a source of “societal rejection.” That would be seismic.

He also notes that “seeker” churches won’t appeal to persons who have no religious background. “You can’t bring the Nones back to church–they simply don’t find it appealing.” He says that to reach the Nones, Christians must live consistent, exemplary lives among them. Simply inviting them to church won’t work. Well, we should be living such lives regardless.

Why are so many becoming nonaffiliated? One theory is that young adults became disenchanted with religion because it turned them off when evangelicals and Catholics became active in conservative politics. I don’t buy that. I’m sure it’s a factor with some people, but it’s not responsible for the whole trend.

I’m more inclined to view it as a product of the continued secularization of society. We’ve been on a continuum, for many decades, from being a predominantly Christianized culture to being a nonChristianized culture. We’ve been heading toward the European model. Lots of factors are involved. This study just shows that we are disturbingly far along that continuum.

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The Gospel Gets Americanized

This is an interesting, thought-provoking quote. It’s by Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the US Senate, quoted in the book The Church Between Gospel and Culture.

“When the Greeks got the gospel, they turned it into a philosophy. When the Romans got it, they turned it into a government. When the Europeans got it, they turned it into a culture. When the Americans got it, they turned it into an enterprise.”

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Some Stores are Just Too Big

During our breaktime discussion the other day, during which we solve the problems of the world, I learned that several of us share an aversion to big-box stores like Walmart and Meijers. They are just TOO big, and we don’t like going into them. You end up walking several miles just to get a couple needed items.

Here in Fort Wayne, the Walmart (Apple Glen) parking lot is impossible to navigate. It causes me all kinds of stress.

Meijers is more accessible, parking-lot-wise. Yet there’s something about Meijers that I especially dislike. I don’t suppose it’s any bigger than Walmart, but it SEEMS bigger. We rarely go to Meiers, even though it’s closer than both Walmart and Target. Just something about it. It seems too huge. And what’s with the silent J? Is that necessary?

Pam and I prefer going to Target. It’s a big store, too, one of those Super Targets. But for some reason, it doesn’t seem too big. Plus, we like those plastic red carts.

Then this morning, someone brought up how people dress at Walmart. Like, lots of pajama pants. Another coworker said that when he goes to the Target around Jefferson Pointe in Fort Wayne, it seems like people are dressed up. Wearing their Sunday finest just to go to Target.

Pam and I shop at that Target all the time. I’ll be paying more attention to how people dress.

I didn’t mention going to K-Mart, did I? There’s a reason for that.

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