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Series: Devotions from Darwin

Posted by Chris on March 7, 2010

I’m going to start another series of posts (perhaps I’ll even finish it?) inspired by reading The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin’s famous work that at least popularly is considered the introduction of the theory of evolution.  First, I want to explain a) my beliefs about evolution, that is, my biases and preconceived ideas apart from reading the book, because I know that people expect one to approach a book like his either as a huge fan or critic, and b) to explain why I decided to read this book in the first place.  I would assume that very few people read it these days, in fact, that many proponents of evolution have never read it.  And I think that’s okay.

My beliefs about Evolution

  1. Micro-evolution: I believe in.  I’m not aware of anyone who does not.  As far as I understand it, micro-evolution is the idea that species evolve and adapt over time while remaining one species.
  2. Intermediate evolution (a term I’m making up) I believe.  I would not have thought of this without reading the first part of the book.  Darwin spends a lot of ink talking about the debates that naturalists had about defining variations v. different species.  Take a breeder of pigeons.  He is likely to provide a list with many species of pigeons, because small differences are very acute to his perception, whereas a general naturalist might only define a few species of pigeons but with each having sub-variations.  Ultimately, Darwin says, whether something is called a species or variation is immaterial to his greater argument about the origin of species, because he is after what causes these variations. I don’t think anyone should argue with this idea either, because Darwin writes extensively about domesticated animals, and we have seen all around us that man can do much to determine the characteristics of animals just by selective breeding.  (incidentally, this is how Darwin came up with the term “Natural” selection for the process behind evolution).  Thus, intermediate evolution results in the development of new species but within the same genus (category).
  3. Macro-evolution, generally (not of people).  I am unsure.  My answer is that it depends on some historical and theological answers that I also don’t have (see below).  If I was putting money on it, here’s what I’d say.  I would say yes, that animals have evolved beyond small variations, but on this taxonomic chart,
    Biological classification chart

    Thanks to whoever stole this from a textbook.

    it would not be at the not-life to life or kingdom levels, but perhaps somewhere in the class to family levels.  In other words, the pigeon and condor may share a common ancestor, but not the jellyfish and the robin.  Maybe that’s really stupid intellectually and faithless theologically, but I’m just being honest.  And as I said, I’m unsure– this is a guess, placing odds in the middle.   It’s not something I’m very interested in.

  4. Macro-evolution (as the source of human life & the greater universe).  On one hand I’m unsure, but I also feel stronger about it.  Furthermore, there’s a large dose of agnosticism in my view on human evolution.  I’m going to break my answer down into two parts: one scientific/practical (what I think actually happened), one theological (what it means).  You may not care that much about my long-winded answers.  Feel free to scroll to the next bold heading to see why I decided to read the book.  I do give a summary of each view in italics at the end of each section.

a) SCIENTIFIC ANSWER . For starters, I know relatively little about evolution– I’ll know more after I finish this book.  Nothing is off the table to me.  I will entertain anything from “young-earthers” (the idea that God created the earth in a literal 6-day period ~6000 years ago) to more moderate Creationists, to backers of Intelligent Design, to evolutionary biologists that say we came from monkeys.  My theological view could fit with all of them.  Well, except that I don’t know the differences between ID and Evolution all that well– if the only difference for some is whether or not God is guiding it, then I’d stop at ID.  Neither my scientific nor theological view would consider a scenario that leaves God out.  Because of my theological view, I am agnostic as the scientific answer wouldn’t affect me that much.  My agnosticism is not naivety or snobbery or fear.   Again, I’ll give what I find most likely– once again, the middle ground.  I’ll take an earth older than 6,000 years, more like millions or billions or however old the universe is.  I’ll take the Big Bang because of the ever-expanding universe.  And if I was being really crazy, I suppose that there were two kinds of human beings: There were some that were chosen/created directly by God as the ancestors of his covenant people (Adam), and others that were created either simultaneously or pre-existed Adam.  Adam did not evolve from monkeys.  Concerning other potential people, I cannot and will not hazard a guess as to whether they evolved from other primates.  So to summarize: The universe has a finite life; the earth was created as part of the creation/expansion of the universe; people were not necessarily created physically through one man, Adam, from dust (though I don’t rule it out).

b) THEOLOGICAL ANSWER. I know and care a lot more about creation theology than evolutionary biology.  I’ll admit to some snobbery here: I think it’s more important and more interesting.  I think that Creation Theology is a really big circle, of which evolutionary biology is a small part.  Creation theology comprises much more about human life, existence, and the future than just “how we got here.”  And no, I’m not talking about the Bible v. Evolution.  I’m talking only about what Genesis 1-2 teach vs. the theory of evolution.  Simply, Genesis 1-2 would be like a book, and the theory of evolution would be a section in a short chapter in that book.  Maybe it would get a bold heading.  What do I do with the Creation story (the six days)?  I don’t read it literally or allegorically.  I think the way that would best describe how I read it would be as a cross between a parable and a myth– each of those terms properly understood.  We think of parables as illustrations that teach a lesson, but the Greek word means comparison.  Thus, if Jesus tells a parable about types of soil, the point of the story is that Jesus is comparing soil to something (people) and the way seed grows in the soil to the way the Gospel grows in different types of people.  One would miss much of what is being taught if the lesson was thought to be simply: “Be good soil.”  Myths are not just made up stories about Greek gods.  Merriam Webster defines a myth as: “a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.”  Therefore, the word myth could just as rightly applied to a story of historical events that serves to explain a natural phenomenon, as a story about made up gods and how they judge people.  Before you send your hate mail, please re-read that definition.  Thus, myths are common in many traditional cultures and there are many similar myths because everyone has asked the same questions about life: Where do we come from?  Is there a God? etc…

So I believe that Genesis 1-2 is a myth in that it tells us what God wants us to know about creation.  A literal explanation alone would lack the richness of what we have.  Perhaps we do have a literal story, but that’s a BONUS, not the heart of the matter.  As a myth, it should be the source of our worldview about creation, mine which I will explain shortly.  I also call it a parable, because it is a passage of the Bible that comes alive along with other scripture through an amazing synergistic process.  I will give some examples of this as well.

So I don’t ask how the earth was created.  I find theological truths.  The origin of earth? Gen 1:1- “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  That fits with the Big Bang.  It fits with young-earthers.  It fits with the macro-evolution of species.  I won’t restate these points, but it’s the same for all the theology I’ll include below.  In verse 3, we get more specificity that leads people to speculate “how” or “how fast” God does creation: ” ‘And God said, Let there be light,’ and there was light.”  This is my best and favorite example of parable, and why Creation Theology is bigger than evolution.  In 2 Corinthians 4:6, we are reminded of the mythological explanation, and given the comparison: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”  What’s the better miracle: Jesus healing a blind man and giving him sight, or the salvation of John Newton, a former trouble-maker and captain of a slave ship who never lacked physical vision but wrote “I once was blind, but now I SEE”??  The light of the gospel is like the ceiling light of your bedroom, which gives you the ability to make sense of your surroundings, compared to our solar star which is like a book light that illuminates a paragraph or two in front of your face.  I better appreciate and understand the process by which God plants the gospel in my heart through this parabolic connection of Gen 1 and 2 Cor 4.  I worry less about whether God literally spoke english words, or caused a big bang, or whatever to make the sun, and how long it took, because when I’m reading Gen 1:3 I’m re-checking all the references to scripture that have nothing to do with the practical act.  Spend some time in the six days of creation, Genesis chapter 1.  Follow it all over your Bible.

Rather than give other examples, I’ll trust that the above is the best I can do to explain why I read Gen 1 as myth and parable.  Having that view enables me to worry less about the scientific and makes the scientific facts, whatever they may be, jive with my theological beliefs about creation.  However, I want to come back to the original topic, which is Evolution.  It cannot be addressed without addressing creation, because the two are inseparable in traditional Christian belief.  There are two versions of the creation of humans in Genesis 1-2.  The first, in Genesis 1, is very similar to the picture I drew about creation of light.  We learn that God creates man “in his own image”, commands him to be fruitful, etc… Genesis 2 gives the account about God creating man from the dust of the ground, and woman from his rib.

This second story is less like the first, than the first is a reflection of the other days of creation in Genesis 1.  However, I read it similarly.  The description of how God created man and woman is contained in 3 verses: 8, 21, 22.  But we get a lot of other good stuff: Mandates to care for creation; A tree that serves as a parable of our struggle between good and evil, sin and righteousness; the goodness of God to provide woman for man; and a theology of marriage.  My take away from the two creation events is that not only did God create man (or serve as the cause of the creation of man), but that it is a personal event.  Adam was personally known and cared for by God.  Thus, if people evolved from monkeys, there was at least a person chosen by God to be in communion with him, and God had to supernaturally act in this man’s life in some way to do it.  (I don’t consider this set of circumstances likely, remember).  In my practical belief, I explained that I thought there may have been other peoples on the earth that did not descend from Adam.  This is a scientific belief that I draw from the historicity of scripture– simply that Cain left the area where his parents lived, and feared that he might be treated with hostility elsewhere by other people.  To my knowledge, the Bible never says that all men literally descended from Adam.  However, the line of descent of God’s people in the Old Testament, and more generally, the point at which we begin tracing a spiritual heart of man is with Adam.  Thus, Adam introduces sin in the world, and condemnation (Romans 5:12).

So to summarize, I think that the Creation account of Gen 1-2 shouldn’t be limited to an alternate or complementary narrative to the theory of evolution.  It explains much more about us, the Bible, and God.  Therefore, theology matters to me a lot more than evolutionary biology.  But, in order to make an attempt to explain my beliefs, I asserted the view of scripture that God created the universe and the heavens, and everything else.  This is stated as fact.  Furthermore, other parts of creation, such as light, can be viewed as a myth that explains the source while acting as a parable to give us a greater significance.  The greatest light God speaks into being appears in the darkness of our hearts, rather than over the darkness of the earth.  Finally, I view the 2 accounts of the creation of man with some uncertainty as to how God acted, but with certainty that God was responsible and again, that we learn many other things far superior to the methodology of creating man.

Why I decided to read the book

  1. Intellectual Curiosity.  I like to read some of these famous, influential books for myself.  Recently, I read The Prince by Machiavelli for similar reasons.  Not because I care that much about political or war strategies in Italy hundreds of years ago.
  2. To learn more about Evolution, but more specifically to learn more about the attitude of those who feel strongly about evolution.
  3. To have more credibility when talking to people who believe in Evolution.  And to be honest and self-centered, so that I could say to someone who is trying to cram it down my throat as a reason God doesn’t exist, “I’ve read The Origin of Species, have you?”  Not that it makes me smarter, or more interested in it, but to show that I’m not afraid of it and to give reason for the other person to stop and be as considerate and open-minded as I try to be.
  4. I got it for really cheap on the Amazon Kindle.  I would’ve never paid retail.  It’s important to note that I pay retail for very few books- most books I purchase come used from thrift stores or amazon.com.

All that being said, I had no intentions to blog about the book or all of this, until I read a passage in it tonight.  So now I’ll blog about that passage in the next post.  Click on the Devotions from Darwin category link for all posts under this topic.

Posted in christianity, Culture, Devotions from Darwin, literature | 5 Comments »

Seven Social Processes that Grease the Slippery Slope of Evil

Posted by Chris on March 8, 2009

  • Mindlessly taking the first small step
  • Dehumanization of others
  • De-individuation of self (anonymity)
  • Diffusion of personal responsibility
  • Blind Obedience to Authority
  • Uncritical conformity to group norms
  • Passive tolerance of evil through inaction or indifference

All of this in new or unfamiliar situations.

This was a list created by Philip Zimbardo.  You can view his TED talk here.  It’s about how circumstances determine evil rather than people being set as either good or bad apples.  His primary recent example is the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal.  What would drive people we thought were good soldiers to do this?  A combination of things opened the pathway, including superiors who turned a blind eye because they wanted to soften up the detainees for interrogation, being located in an area rarely visited, working the night shift, etc…

It’s not all grim as he also hypothesizes that the “Lucifer Effect” (also the name of a book he’s written) can also be wielded to turn people into heroes, rather than monsters.

If you’ve ever heard of the Stanford Prison experiment (very famous, perhaps infamous, psychology experiment back in the 60s or 70s), this is the guy who created and ran that experiment.  Check out the talk, it’s about 23 minutes in length.

Posted in Culture, links of the day | 1 Comment »

Ramblings on the swearing-in of President Obama

Posted by Chris on January 21, 2009

Today (his first day in office) he passed a series of orders that (so cnn.com says) mandate high ethical standards and transparency for his officials/appointments. It would be about time. I think he means it; not sure if it will happen. And I think it’s dangerous because to me, transparency is transparency. No secret wars, no propping up of dictators, no operating through proxies, no paying private military companies or paid foreign soldiers. Not only a lack of motives, but to me it means the presence of explanations—why we do something, of the factors involved in a decision, honest evaluation of decisions (and admitting mistakes). Thanks for setting the bar high, President Obama—but now I’m going to hold you to it.

The other things people are looking for him to do worry me or at least cause some hesitation. He seems poised to prepare a 16 month-ish withdrawal plan from Iraq—I’m glad he’s doing what he promised; I’m unsure of what the best thing to do is. Revoking the “Mexico City policy” aka the “Global gag rule.” (Google it). While I’m pro-life, I’m also pragmatic and democratic—the election of Obama is certainly an indicator of what a majority of Americans would think about this. This policy doesn’t directly impact lives, like abortion laws in the US, some I hesitate to protest based purely on moral reasons. It’s all about goals—and it’s pretty clear that it’s the goal of most of the wealthy, western world to have less people in the poor parts of the world. There are certainly understandable reasons for this (wanting to limit the effects of poverty, disease, etc…). I don’t share that goal, for both pragmatic and moral reasons, but primarily theological reasons that I don’t expect others to agree with and do not think should impact legislation/administration—the idea of the sovereignty of God; trusting it; and knowing that it’s good.

I’m certainly not excited. That’s probably got more to do with my personality than my thoughts on Mr. Obama. I wouldn’t be excited if Mr. McCain were stepping into the office either. Either way, I was going to have a heavy heart (and that’s why, ultimately, I abstained from voting for president). I’d call my state of mind “dubiously hopeful.”

I don’t expect my life to be changed much by any of this. I realized during this election season that my local officials probably had much more to do with my quality of life—I don’t discount the importance of national elections, but it elevated for me the importance of making educated decisions about local and county elections. I do think my life may be adversely affected in a way I cannot easily perceive—the amount of debt we will ring up under Obama’s economic plan (I’m sure this would have happened some under McCain as well). It is our debt. It will be paid with my taxes, or cuts in my Mom’s social security, or cause us to have a less desirable relationship with our national creditors (i.e. China) during the course of my adult life.

In the words of Derek Webb in his song “King and a Kingdom”

My first allegiance is not to a man, a country or a flag; my first allegiance is not to democracy or blood. It’s to a king and a kingdom.

Some of the enthusiasm on the parts of many Americans is really weird to me, sometimes downright frightening. It made me very uncomfortable to hear “O-BA-MA” chants. Maybe I should look at sporting events and fans in the same cynical light, however, this seems far too significant and sober and real for this kind of exultation. Because I worry that it is intentionally much more than exultation; exaltation. He is just a man.

Of course, I am pleased that we have a black president. This is truly historic. Admittedly, I haven’t thought about it much lately. The economy and other things seem to provide opportunities for our president to make much more significant things happen, besides just being the first of a demographic category. Which is kind of cool.

I don’t get the religious/spiritual stuff that has gone on around this inauguration. Many were up-in-arms about Rick Warren’s invitation to pray (“How dare Rick Warren believe what he believe!). Atheists sued to remove the language of God. Mr. Obama had several people pray and went to a prayer service the next morning. I have not heard any liberals say or write negative things about Mr. Obama. Why is none of the anti-christian and anti-religion talk directed at him? Because he ascribes to a watered-down (my words), universalized (his words) version of the faith? He still affirmed that Jesus died for his sins, the thought which one British theologian dismissed as “cosmic child abuse” and the theological tenet that offends many and has offended many for 2000 years. In some ways, he’s what I always hoped for: a Christian who could affirm something like that and everyone love him because of all the other fruits of his life! But I really can’t believe that is the case. What’s the deal? Mr. Obama invited Rick Warren. He schmoozed with him at his church. He quoted scripture, invoked God, and cheered other invocations of God.

I want to develop a habit of praying for this man/administration/government. Not because of something inherent about him, but, it’s like important and stuff. I doubt I’m going to pray as fervently or want to prioritize like some I knew growing up (for whom praying for our “presidents and leaders” was near the top of the list) but at this time it’s needed. While I disagree with him strongly on some issues, I do believe that he is concerned with what works and overall is someone with a somewhat similar moral compass. I believe he’s open-minded thus I feel that praying that God would grant him discernment and wisdom and the proper understanding on certain issues is actually something he’s humble and flexible enough to submit to.

Posted in about me, Culture | Leave a Comment »

secondhand ear pollution

Posted by Chris on October 10, 2008

I’m sitting outside of Atlanta Bread Company, working on some various and sundry writing/studying things, and there are three middle-aged women carrying on somewhat loudly a few tables down.  Thankfully, I’ve been in the zone and have some music on so I’ve been able to tune them out.  However, a few moments ago, I shifted tasks, let down my guard, while one of them got especially riled up.

What do I hear?  Something I’d really rather not hear.

Oh, she got her tubes tied.  Because I was like, ‘When is she going to stop reproducing’?

What a disgusting thing to say, and likely about one of your friends or co-workers.  My town has taken the progressive step to ban smoking in all restaurants and bars to prevent the effects of secondhand smoke; it’s too bad we can’t ban this kind of insensitive, gossipy chatter.

Posted in about me, Culture | Leave a Comment »

New Ways to measure poverty: Black AIDS %

Posted by Chris on July 31, 2008

I’m going to combine two seemingly very different articles into a post on an interesting way to measure poverty in the US.

First, at Slate.com Tim Harford writes about what he calls “a sensible way to measure poverty.” Harford is the “undercover economist” and has a very enjoyable and interesting book on the practical applications of economics with the same name.  He talks about conventional methods of measuring poverty and proposes something new.

The conventional methods include objective income threshholds used by governments such has the US poverty line, based on 1960s food budgets and since adjusted for inflation, and the European Union’s line of Below 60% of median income (meaning that it is statistically impossible to eliminate poverty).

Harford advocates the usage of subjective tests.  Every society, therefore, would measure poverty differently- not just a noticeable difference in income and wealth, but the standards of living.  A foundation proposes such a poverty measure, based on what is and is not necessary “to participate in society.”  Harford acknowledges that these measures will be controversial but argues that subjectivity is a strength, because as incomes rise, things like the Internet become necessary making those unable to afford it “poorer” (my word not his) than before.

In the other article, CNN reports that in some areas of the US, the AIDS rate of African-Americans** is greater than the rate of some African countries. (**The article uses “black”, “black americans” and “African-Americans”.  It seems like an important distinction.  If you’re going to compare the AIDS rate in America to that of Africa, it might be important that whoever does the study targets only American-born blacks.  Maybe it’s not?!  I don’t know.  But I am guessing that African immigrants have a different AIDS % rate– and it’s probably lower, actually, because I think the US  screens for that in immigration).  Of course, they look at the African countries with the lowest AIDS rates, but it is still alarming.  I’m rarely shocked or taken by surprise by such things but this honestly got me, I had no idea.

Comparing AIDS rates in Africa and the US is a bit of apples and oranges if you look at straight-up  statistics.  That is how I got in a situation where I thought of South Africa as a country with a very low AIDS rate, but am appalled to read that the black population of Washington DC has a 5% AIDS rate.

So here’s the question: is that bias unfair or Ameri-centric?  Certainly, many Americans care much less about those in Africa.  But according to Harford’s logic, it is not inherently biased to be more alarmed by the 5% of Washington DC than the 5% of South Africa.  First, there are the expectations– in one continent, you’re lucky to not have AIDS; the other, extremely unfortunate to have AIDS.  I will think a bit outside the box and give some other reasons.  In general, African life expectancy is lower, AIDS or no AIDS.  The CNN article reports that AIDS is the #1 killer of black women between 25-34.  Each case of AIDS takes many more years off life in the US than in Africa.  In Africa, AIDS acquisition and treatment is more of a problem because of other aggravating factors like lack of access to clean water, hunger, and other infectious diseases.  Without making light of the AIDS epidemic, in many cases it adds one more problem on top of many others, whereas in the US it single-handedly changes the direction and outlook of one’s life.

To look at the other side of this issue, even though you’re relatively “poorer” to have AIDS in the US, at the same time you’d much rather have AIDS here than in Africa.  Some live with HIV or AIDS for many years due to the superior health care and medicines universally available in the US.  In addition, everyday things like water and food help as well.  Furthermore, even though AIDS is much more common in Africa, culturally there is probably more stigma, even in light of the early homophobia that really cursed an AIDS diagnosis in the US.  I have heard and read firsthand accounts about how you do not discuss AIDS in several different African countries.  In the US, we have a negative socio-religious explanation for AIDS– irresponsible sexual behavior, even inherently immoral sexual perversion, is what causes AIDS.  Africa has its own, however, perhaps even more pernicious and scary to those who wish to avoid it: witchcraft.  Witchcraft, even in Christianized/Islamicized settings, lingers as an explanation for individual misfortunes.  Then, you can add the sexual immorality stigmas on top of that.

In conclusion, I’m not saying it’s better or worse to have AIDS anywhere; it’s unfortunate, sad, terrible–, whatever combination of words it takes to describe what’s going on.

But I wanted to use it as a case study of how we should look at poverty, especially in public policy and philosophical debate.  The way we act as individuals should not change that much.  We should be generous, sensitive, and desire to share in the sufferings of others no matter how relative or objective their “poverty.”  But philosophically, it’s helpful to consider the subjectiveness of poverty before making statements like “We should just be worried about people in our own country” or “How can you be so concerned about irresponsible people in America when there are so many AIDS orphans in Malawi?”.  Furthermore, it should impact the nature and goals of our public policy.  Does government have a responsibility mainly to its citizens to eradicate their problems, no matter how small or large?  Or should it set more moderate goals and then help other nations? (Which is the approach, in practice, of the US as far as I can tell).

After deciding on the goals of public policy, what is its nature?  What do we do?  Let’s say the US decides to only worry about infectious diseases within its borders.  In fact, we say that that it’s not biased to do so, because in part we want to limit our impact on spreading disease to other nations, and demonstrate our willingness to treat diseases brought by immigrants.  How do we concentrate resources?  Are the 5% of a poor population in a large city, who have many problems, the target of a multi-billion dollar campaign?  Or do we offer free Anti-Retroviral Therapy to any AIDS patient, the same amount, irregardless of where they live or what kind of medical facilities are available?

Posted in Culture, human rights, links of the day | Leave a Comment »

Running Diary of Saved by the Bell

Posted by Chris on July 16, 2008

For some reason, my body clock is being whack this week and I’m having a hard time sleeping to my alarm (which has been set 8 hours or less from my sleep time so I wanted to sleep until the alarm). Today, I awoke around 6:45. I’m still laying in bed but decided, maybe I’ll get up and just watch 30 minutes of uninterrupted TV with some cereal at 7:30, if there’s anything good on.

Well, it doesn’t surprise me that much that Saved by the Bell is coming on. I knew it used to be on at this time. What is kind of shocking is that it is on TWO different channels at 7:30. And it’s two really good episodes too- one is “Dancing to the Max”, aka the one where Lisa sprains her ankle and her and and Screech win doing “the sprain” dance. The other is “the gift”, where Screech is struck by lightning and I believe starts getting radio reception and predicting the future. Which to watch? I think I’ll go with the Dancing one because it’s one of the rare occasions on which Screech “gets the girl,” so to say, if I remember correctly.

A la Bill Simmons of ESPN’s Page 2, I will do a running diary to see just how I perceive the show after all these years.

7:30. My first complaint: the local FOX affiliate didn’t play the whole intro! No “when I wake up in the morning…” basically a fast-forwarded version of the end. How disappointing…

7:31. Slater is demonstrating to Kelly how he is a better dancer than Zack. He’s wearing an orange tank top tucked into gray sweatpants that looks like a leotard. Lisa is wearing a black jacket with a big daisy on the back- underneath is written “FLOWER POWER”.

7:32. Danny asks out Jessie. Zach overhears and turns to Camera 1: “Skip the dance and kiss all night? I could learn from Danny…”

7:33. First commercial break. The kids are all excited about the dance because Casey Kasom is coming! Is that guy still doing top 40 on Sunday mornings? How did he become so popular? I mean, the reaction his name got was as if you had told a group of middle school girls that Carson Daly was coming during his heyday as TRL host (did I just date myself?)

7:37. Band director: “Beautiful! Are you feeling what I’m feeling” Screech: “Yes, it was the fish sticks at lunch.”

7:38. I want a friend that I can call “Preppy.” I have a feeling my co-worker may hate my guts by the end of today.

7:38. Zack: “Jessie, I’m in big trouble.” Jessie: “Did you sell your parents’ house again?” Zack: “I can’t dance.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve never come close to having that conversation. We are left with our first big cliffhanger– can Jessie teach Zack how to dance? Will he win Kelly in a dance-off with Slater, or will he watch them win the contest, their “names touching” on the trophy?

7:42. Casey Kasom is wearing an extremely busy sweater.  We have our first Mr. Belding sighting and his tongue is hanging clear out of his mouth.  He lets Casey knows that he is the “Big Bopper” around Bayside.  The actor who plays Belding makes a cameo on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” as an old, overweight, retired gym teacher.  I saw that recently and I just couldn’t take it.

7:44. Screech is wearing a tux shirt and dancing with a doll to impress Lisa.  She already has a date for the dance.

7:45. Jessie shows Zack a step she “just invented.”  It’s like, not that original and stuff.  The stage is set for some magic between the two of them.  Jessie has a hilarious vision where every time a boy asks her to dance she grows another 6 inches, cowering over shorter boys who ask her to dance.  “Zack, you don’t know what it’s like to be a freak.”  “At least you’re the first person to know when it rains.”  Umm, I’m definitely not an expert in the ways of placating women, but even I wouldn’t have said that.

7:50. Dustin Diamond was a couple years behind the other actors.  You can really tell at this age, and especially when Screech is in the locker room with Slater in their gym clothes.  He is a waifish little boy.

7:51. Zack brings Jessie flowers from her front yard right before their last practice session.  She seems genuinely into him (of course, this looks like the same face she has on the movie poster for Striptease…)

7:52. Lisa’s date dumps her because he really wants to win the contest and can’t take the chance that her ankle will not heal in time.

7:53. Zack lets Slater have Kelly.  Zack wants Jessie for his partner.

7:54. They cut to the Max and the first person I see near the camera has a perfect mullet.  Remember, these are all supposed to be good-looking, popular kids.

7:55 They don’t show the prelims.  Only announce the finalists– first up is Slater and Kelly, “The Spandex Twins.” Number two, “The Powerhouse Preppies.”  Jessies looks like a Catholic schoolgirl who will later star in a movie about stripping.  They are being Slater on Max’s “Applause Meter.”

7:56.  Now, Screech and Lisa’s new dance, “The Sprain.”  Lisa’s dance stands the test of time better than everyone else’s because of the little step moves.  They win.

7:57. Casey Kasem starts doing The Sprain.  Except, as he starts, he holds his arms out like the Karate Kid doing the crane kick.  AWKWARD.

That’s it folks.  Time to brush my pearly whites.

Posted in about me, Culture | Leave a Comment »

Old Testament understanding of time

Posted by Chris on July 13, 2008

This is part of a series. See the description and introduction and glossary.

Before I move on to the specific holidays, it is important to try and give and explanation of how the Israelites view “days”.  It is helpful for understanding the timeline as you read the text.  My explanation is based only on my own logic and some elementary understanding of Jewish tradition; therefore it probably contains some faults but as I stumbled over some timeline issues, especially studying the Feast of Unleavened Bread, these conclusions were helpful to my holistic understanding of what is happening.

The Jewish “day” starts in the evening, at sundown.  So, the Sabbath begins on Friday night and goes into Saturday.  Saturday night, which is on the same “day” in the time sense, is not the Sabbath.

In other words, there is a difference between what I’ll call “Jewish time” and “calendar time.”  Let’s say that a 2 day feast starts on the 15th day of the month, a Wednesday.  Wednesday morning is the first day of the feast.  But Tuesday night is also the first day of the feast, even though that is the 14th.  Yet, the feast will still end on the 16th.  So the feast takes place on 3 different “calendar time” days but only lasts 48 hours.  It takes place over 2 “Jewish days,” ending at sundown on the 16th.

We can see parallels in our own culture.  Christmas is not celebrated by children after their bedtime at 8 pm on December 25th.  But Christmas Eve might include reading stories, opening a gift, or looking in the sky to see a plane fly that parents can call Santa.  In a way, the Christmas celebration takes place for 28 hours, from the night of Christmas Eve until the bedtime on December 25th.

The next post will deal with Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread and this understanding of time is important for understanding the passage of the Festival.  It is important, if for no other reason, than to make sense of the Feast so that you don’t get confused and have unnecessary doubts (there are enough other things to be confused over!)

Posted in Culture, OT Law: Holidays | 1 Comment »

Some good links and gas mileage

Posted by Chris on May 24, 2008

Newsweek’s latest cover story,Growing Up Bipolar: Welcome to Max’s World follows a boy first given a bipolar diagnosis as an infant.

I think I found a new hobby.

First Lieutenant Ted Janis tells TrueHoop about playing pickup basketball in Iraq and the role it plays in helping the soldiers enjoy their time there.

The Department of Transportation reports that vehicle miles fell 4.3% in March, over March 2007. In fact, miles driven have been dropping since last November.

I have read/heard some people say that $4.00 is the price that would cause them to start changing their behavior. Well, $4.00 is here. Gas was $3.50 here 3-4 weeks ago… then it jumped to 3.89, then just jumped to $4.08. It looks like, as a country, we are already making some adjustments (although I wonder if the general economic problems have lowered spending enough to change driving habits rather than gas prices).

I’ve done several things. First off, I have been adjusting my driving habits for over a year, walking and biking some last summer, trying to be strategic about taking care of errands in one trip. Now, I walk more and luckily live very close to my current job.

Much of my motivation for these changes was not due to gas prices, but rather a desire to get exercise, reduce my carbon footprint, enjoy the outdoors. Lately, I’ve made further changes- to my driving itself — accelerating slower, turning my car off at long stop lights, coasting to red lights, etc… unbeknownst to me until yesterday, I was “Hypermiling.” It works, I’m guessing that I may end up getting 10-20% better gas mileage. It will be somewhat hard to measure for now because I made an uncharacteristically long trip out into the country, getting better mileage, and my next tank will probably include my drive to the airport in Springfield. But sometime in June I’ll be able to test the MPG I got last year driving around here vs. my current MPG.

What will you do?

Posted in about me, Culture, links of the day, personal finance | Leave a Comment »

Retirement benefits for ex-presidents

Posted by Chris on May 1, 2008

I always read the Tuesday Morning Quarterback article at espn.com, which is about much more than sports, by Gregg Easterbrook.
One of his items of interest is politics and one of his favorite rants about the retirement benefits and salaries federal politicians receive. This particular passage is very informative and persuasive from his
2008 Draft Review
.

Stop subsidizing rich former presidents: Last year, TMQ complained that although former chief executives George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton are wealthy, both continue to take large amounts of presidential retirement benefits and other sweetheart payments — money forcibly removed from the pockets of taxpayers who are struggling to get by. Reader Zach Stanley of Boston points out this Politico story indicating the situation is worse than my 2007 item suggested. Clinton, whose recently released tax forms show he has made more than $10 million per year since leaving office, nevertheless has already claimed $8 million in retirement benefits (and he’s not retired), plus $3.2 million for office overhead, plus $420,000 for his phone bill. The later figure is difficult to take seriously; even if you yakked 24/7 on a satellite line to Tajikistan, it’s hard to believe you could ring up $420,000 in telephone charges. Is some of this money really going to staffers for Clinton’s speechmaking business? In public the very wealthy Clinton wags his finger about how the rich are shafting the average guy. He himself is shafting the average guy by claiming lavish tax subsidies.

All this is doubly vexing because the payments are made under the Former Presidents Act of 1958. That bill was enacted when news broke that former president Harry Truman was living on little more than his Army pension: As a matter of principle, Truman refused to give paid speeches, make endorsements or serve on corporate boards, because he believed such actions demeaned the dignity of the presidency. Phrases like “the dignity of the presidency” and “as a matter of principle” don’t seem to have much meaning anymore in politics. But the whole point of the Former Presidents Act was to enable previous White House occupants to live comfortably without having to sell their names. Now Clinton is selling his name like mad, while George H. W. Bush, who was born into wealth, demands subsidies too. Thank goodness the dignified Truman did not live to see this selfish spectacle of ex-presidential money-grubbing.

I guess in a way, I’m glad that many politicians generally take pay cuts- it is public service, after all. And there are probably many not-well-known representatives for whom their congressional salary is the highest of their career– I kind of like that too– they are “normal folk.”

No former federal politician should be destitute on the street (no one in America period, actually). I’m glad we had some funds available to help out Mr. Truman. I don’t expect former presidents to go “back to work” per se. But these other politicians?

After his failed vice-president run, John Edwards came to UNC and ran/created the Center for Work, Poverty, & Opportunity. I went to several of their events, he came and spoke to one of my classes. In other words, he was doing real work. I don’t call this “back to work”– it was a short-term thing, gathering information, and certainly gaining political capital. My point, though, is that I never saw anyone tripping all over themselves to get his attention. After another 2-4 years of this kind of “because I’m John Edwards” work, if he doesn’t get back in politics, should do more conventional work. (it sounds like I’m picking on him– this is just the best example I can think of. I expect he will do something political, like work at a thinktank, or lobby, maybe run for office).

He was a lawyer before, and apparently a pretty good one. Why not go and work for a legal aid firm? Better yet, use his fame and seek out class-action lawsuits. Some of them would probably make me glad, some would make me mad, but that’s his decision. Another thing he should love: representing low-income working families who are in a dispute with their health insurance company about coverage of a certain treatment. He could work for a think tank 3 days a week and bank that and do pro bono stick-it-to-the-man legal stuff on the side.

If Mr. Edwards reads this blog (Ha ha), remember me? I met you at the free tax assistance site in 2006 that was being done by an undergraduate group. C’mon man, we took our picture together, it was your idea, truthfully! (except that it was my idea). I’m not telling you how to run your life sir, just angling for a job in your posse… (you need a fiscal conservative to play devil’s advocate).

Posted in about me, Culture, ethics, links of the day | 5 Comments »

Wild Hog Motorcycle Rally

Posted by Chris on April 26, 2008

This weekend is one of extra-ordinary excitement in Helena as it is time for the annual Wild Hog music festival and bike rally. I went down there tonight to check it out, as I always wondered what it would be like to see Helena revived– folks walking around downtown, shops and clubs open that are normally closed.

This is not a huge event, although you are certainly aware of it. Throughout the day we heard motorcyclists revving their engines. I walked up to the gate to find out that there was a $10 admission. I really only wanted to see what it looked like and buy a funnel cake, if they had them, so I did not enter. I did talk to the people in charge of the entrance who were from the Little Rock chapter of the Christian Motorcycle Association. Apparently, CMA is huge and international- “my wife just got her membership and she’s number 131,000” I was told.

I was speaking with one gentleman about the music and he said that it was some guy who’s name I’ve already forgotten from Grand Funk Railroad– umm, yea, sorry, I’m not a fan of the Railroad. Then there’s a Lynyrd Skynyrd cover band. I said, “oh, I’m from North Carolina so I have to like Skynyrd a little bit.”

The line of the night was his response, given in a very thick southern drawl: “I’m from Alabama, so I have to like Lynyrd Skynyrd a lot.”

I was told that 4-5000 people will be here over the 2-day rally. The blues festival in the fall is much bigger apparently. Perhaps I’ll make it back one day for that as well.

Posted in about me, Culture | 1 Comment »