Monthly Archives: October 2013

Be Careful, Employee, What You Write

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Six employees of a sheriff’s office in Virginia lost their jobs for liking and commenting on the Facebook page of their boss’s opponent. The US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in their favor, saying a “Like” on Facebook is protected free speech. A lower court judge had differentiated between hitting the “Like” button and posting a full comment.

What if I “Like” a page of some organization whose values don’t agree with those of the denomination I work for? What if some of my constituents made a stink about it?

I once interviewed Paul Rees, an evangelical leader, who mentioned that he subscribed to a liberal Protestant publication. When I raised my eyebrows at the mention of that publication, he told me, “I don’t agree with them, but I want to know what they’re saying.” Could he have been blackballed because of that subscription?

I’ve read books by atheists, to better understand how they view my faith. Could I be labeled as guilty by association? The political punditocracy certainly majors on this, drawing obscure connections and decreeing, “Guilty!”

Suppose I “Liked” an LGBT Facebook page. My intent might be innocent enough–just trying to keep abreast of what they are saying. But suppose I also posted on that LGBT page positive comments about LGBT lifestyles. Okay, that could get me in big trouble with my church constituency. Could it get me fired? Possibly.

Could I win a court challenge, claiming free speech? Possibly…but I would hope not. A Christian organization should be able to enforce its beliefs.

Just some musings from the intersection of technology and free speech.

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The Plural Curse

“Tootsie Roll’s.” I saw it written that way on TV this morning. I don’t like starting my day in a grumpy mood, but sometimes I am overtaken by forces beyond my control.

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Columbus Day Appropriate

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How to celebrate Columbus Day: walk into somebody else’s house and tell them you live there now.

(Yes, I stole that from somebody else.)

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When Helmets Collide

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Football players wear helmets. In violent collisions–which is pretty much the essence of football–helmets sometimes touch. And when helmets touch, defenders get blamed.

When defenders get blamed, they get fined.

So here’s what the NFL needs to do, and where things are probably headed. I present two options:

  • Institute flag football rules for quarterbacks. Hang little flags on their hips. When a defender pulls a flag, the quarterback is “sacked.”
  • Institute touch football rules for quarterbacks. If a defender touches the quarterback with both hands, he’s tackled. This would have taken away the Giants’ first Super Bowl win, when Eli Manning escaped from a bunch of defenders, but hey, safety first.
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The Hastert Rule and Government Gridlock

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I really despise the Hastert Rule, also known as the “majority of the majority” rule. It’s named after former Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert, but Newt Gingrich started it during the 1990s.

The Hastert Rule basically means that unless a majority of the Republican Congressmen favor something, it won’t come up for vote. That prevents bipartisan bills, whereby a group of Congressmen from both parties cobble together a majority of Congressmen to get something passed.

So, let’s say 100% of Democratic Congressmen favor something, and 49% of the Republicans favor it. That means, potentially, that 75% of Congressmen favor the bill. Theoretically, they represent 75% of the American people.

BUT, they need 51% of Republicans for the bill to come to a vote. So, even though Congressmen overwhelmingly favor the bill, John Boehner won’t bring it to a vote. Complicating the situation currently are other dynamics, whereby, within the majority, you seemingly need a majority of the Tea Party Congressmen to pass something. I don’t quite understand why the Tea Party members have so much power.

Nancy Pelosi, the only Democratic Speaker since the 1990s, didn’t follow the Hastert Rule. John Boehner himself has violated it several times. But for the most part, it rules the day. And it helps make government even more dysfunctional. Thank you, Republican Party, for this wonderful contribution to American politics.

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Writing Class: the Simple Sentence Structure

Today, class, let’s talk about sentence structure.

I could have written, “Sentence structure is the subject I’d like us to talk about.” But that’s not nearly as straightforward as, “Let’s talk about sentence structure.”

Subject-verb-object. Or subject-predicate, since a sentence can consist of only a subject and verb (“You rock!”). Either way, it’s called the simple sentence structure.

“Christians love potlucks.” That’s as clear as it gets.

Yoda would say, “Love potlucks Christians do.” Cute, but not as clear.

Don’t use the simple sentence structure all the time, or your writing will feel choppy. I’ve come across folks who did that. As an editor, I had to mess up their relentlessly straightforward prose to inject rhythm and flow. You need rhythm and flow. But when you’ve got a key point to emphasize, something you want to make utterly understandable to readers, express it with subject-verb-object.

In emails, I always state a request using a simple sentence. Hanging phrases and clauses around the request, with multiple commas, just blurs the request. Likewise with important points in letters, on our websites, etc.

“I’d like to have lunch with you next week.”

Versus: “I don’t know what your schedule looks like, but if you’re interested and available, I would really appreciate the chance to have lunch with you sometime–say, next week?”

A request presented in a short, simple sentence is less likely to be overlooked. Rather, it’ll jump out at people.

Having said that, let me allow you, should you be so inclined, to leave. Or more directly: You are dismissed.

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The Tea Party is Playing Games with My Money

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At the end of the Bush presidency, we had that big market crash. I remember meeting with our investment guy and learning that my 401K had lost tens of thousands of dollars. Same with Pam’s retirement funds.

Well, since then our funds have steadily climbed back up–not to where they were, but they’ve been doing well. I know, the right-wing pundits tell us the economy is terrible terrible terrible under Obama. All I know is, our funds have been rebuilding, and we’re pleased.

But that could all come crashing down–again–next week. For our funds, and for your’s, too.

The Republicans are threatening to not extend the debt limit unless certain demands are made. Obama’s “gun to the head” metaphor is totally appropriate. “Unless you defund Obamacare, we’ll shoot the economy.” Some of the more irresponsible and ignorant Republicans are even saying that the debt limit is no big deal–that the US can forego paying its bills, and that the US credit rating can drop, and the economy will continue on just fine.

Tell that to my retirement account next week. Tell that to me after, again, Pam and I lose loses thousands and thousands of dollars of value because of Republican irresponsibility.

Thank you, Tea Party. Thank you, Ted Cruz.

I have no–zero, zilch, nada–patience for the Tea Party. Not so much a problem with their goals as with their attitude of all-or-nothing. They will never be satisfied.

A couple years ago, Obama and Boehner agreed to a deal that would have cut the deficit by 5 trillion. But when Boehner took it back to the House, the Tea Party wing killed it. They wanted more. This past Sunday, Boehner admitted to George Stephanopolous that he and the Senate had reached a deal some weeks ago that would have averted the government shutdown. But then they added defunding Obamacare, and now here we are. Boehner no doubt took the deal back to the House, and the Tea Party wing killed it, again.

It doesn’t matter what kind of a deal is reached with the President. The Tea Party will not be satisfied. They’ll always want more, and unless they get absolutely everything they could possibly want, they’ll be afraid of being accused of compromising.

It reminds me of anti-abortion legislation during the 1980s, when pro-life Congressman wouldn’t settle for compromises on abortion. I heard a very upset pro-life Congressman from that time say something like this: “We could have saved hundreds of thousands of babies, but the hardliners wouldn’t settle for anything less than saving ALL babies. And the result–we didn’t get anything. We should have saved the hundreds of thousands NOW, and then continued working to save the rest.”

The all-or-nothing mentality never works in divided government. It’s about compromise, about give-and-take. But that’s the mentality of the Tea Party.

And it’s why, sometime after next week when the US defaults on its debt, Pam and I will loses thousands and thousands of dollars of value in our retirement accounts.

Oh–and so will you. Even if you’re a big Tea Party supporter, you will lose, too.

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Healthcare.gov is Sick

I’m still unable to login to my account (assuming it was successfully created) at Healthcare.gov. Today I had some error messages I hadn’t seen before, so maybe that is progress. I think CNN should begin sending out a Breaking News Alert every time somebody successfully signs up for insurance. Just so we know it’s possible.

Healthcare.gov’s motto: “We’re not shutdown, but might as well be.”

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30 Kramers

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Two great political analogies during the “Winners and Losers” segment of the October 5 Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live.

Seth Myers said pf John Boehner having to deal with his Tea Party Congressmen: “You’re like Seinfeld if there were 30 Kramers.”

Co-anchor Cecily Strong then said of the problems on the Healthcare.gov website:
“You can’t campaign on the fact that millions don’t have healthcare, and then be surprised that millions don’t have healthcare. How can you not be ready? It’s like 1-800-FLOWERS getting caught off guard by Valentines Day.”

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Trying Not to Offend

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At break, we were talking about team mascot names. Why, one person asked, do we permit insensitivity to Nordic people by allowing a team to call itself the Vikings?

My high school was the Redskins, pretty much the only ethnic group NOT represented at my central-California mutt of a school. But today, no team would choose “Redskins” or other names which represent a people group in some way. Not PC.

It was suggested we could name all teams after animals. But then PETA would get upset.

So I suggested inanimate objects. You could have the Boston Doornobs. The Kansas City Spatulas. The Detroit Vacant Lots. The Minnesota Refrigerators. Stuff like that. Countless possibilities. Who could possibly be offended? And think of the merchandising possibilities?

Our local Fort Wayne baseball team is the Tin Caps, a name which offends nobody except the ghost of Johnny Appleseed.

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