Monday, March 29, 2010

Can you keep the rocks from crying out?

This week was Palm Sunday, marking the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the beginning of the end of His earthly ministry, and the start of our Easter season.  Like many churches, we passed out palm leaves and waved them during the service, this year in particular there was a march around the inside of the building, singing and waving.  A few things struck me during the service.  As we read the story of the entry, there is a line that jumped out this year.

 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!" "I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." (Luke 19:39-40)

I have attended several different churches over the years, and admittedly, none of them have been of the crying out variety .  Not that there is anything wrong with that, being a rather introverted individual, it's usually a good match.  But as Jesus' words above tell us, there are times when nothing short of loud, raucous celebration will do.  In this case, we have the fulfillment of a 500 year old prophecy (Zechariah 9:9-10) debatably to the day (some interpretations of Daniel's 70 weeks Daniel 9:24) that is reason enough for celebration that even if there were no people shouting, the very earth would be shouting. 

We have a great deal to celebrate everyday, should we be out waving palm branches every day?  Every week?  Is there something to be said for such actions, or would that be moving into ritual?  Psalm 51 tells us that "You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." (16-17) The point of worship is not our actions, it is our motivation.  If we raise our hands or shout only because it is what everyone else is doing, or only because it is tradition, it is no different than the rich people Jesus humbled by pointing out the widow's offering of her last coins (Mark 12:41-44)  By the same token, if the urge to shout rises inside us, and we hold back for fear of embarrassment or breaking tradition, is that any different?

Easter is a season full of tradition and ritual in virtually every church.  Palm Sunday, Easter egg hunts, Good Friday, sunrise services, and communion among them.  As we go through the season, let us ask ourselves, are we performing out of obligation?  Or are we looking for the greatness in everyday and every action that calls out the kind of celebration that makes the very rocks want to cry out?

Monday, March 22, 2010

My Healthcare Reform Rant

Like about 90% of America, I'm talking about health care reform.  The Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, on a late night Sunday vote, passed their sweeping plan.  Some celebrated, some mourned.  I'm in the second group.  This bill is a major loss for all Americans, and if attempts to defeat it before it goes into full effect (in 2014, conveniently in time for Obama's re-election campaign) fail, the damage may be irrevocable.

"But what about all the wonderful things in the bill?"  For argument's sake, I'll say that there are. (No I don't believe there are, but like I said, this is for the sake of argument)  Even if economic impossibilities like forcing insurance companies to accept everybody, regardless of their health conditions are a good thing, the biggest problem in this bill is the federal mandate that all citizens purchase health insurance.  This mandate goes against all of the principles of the Constitution.  There is nothing put forth in the Constitutional powers of any part of the Federal government that give them the authority to force the citizens to purchase anything.  Look at your history, and you will see that it required an amendment to those original powers to allow the Feds to tax our income. 

That is a massive problem.  As I said, even if the other parts of the bill were good, no good is worth this kind of shredding of the basis of our freedoms.  Hopefully some of you will say "What about W's Patriot Act?"  Go for it, I will tell you that was a reactionary bill shoved through by both the President and Congress without the much needed thought that should have been put into it, and faces many of the same arguments.  Back on track, giving the Federal Government the power to force the citizens to purchase a good or service is not democracy, a representative republic, or capitalism.  It is tyranny.  It is not rule by law. 

Have we reached a point where Americans no longer value the principles that made this the greatest nation on Earth?  Have we reached a point where "feel-good" actions, regardless of their infeasibility, are more important than our freedoms?  According to Obama and the Democrat party, yes.  According to most public opinion polls, we have not.  Despite much celebration from some loud groups, there is still resistance.  States are readying lawsuits and even amendments to their state constitutions to defend against this attack on freedom. 

Our argument is not, nor has it ever been that there are not improvements that can be made to our health care system.  Our argument is that first, more government intervention is not the solution, and two, that improvement does not require throwing out the principles of our nation.  Federal mandates to purchase anything, whether it is health insurance, smart cars, or anything else is exactly the type of tyranny that our Founding Fathers fought against, that brought so many millions of people to Ellis Island with tears in their eyes, that drives people to struggle across the Gulf of Mexico to reach Florida from Cuba.

If you are reading this and support the current heath care plans, please think about the cost, not just in money, lost jobs, lost industries, lost progress, if for no other reason than that those are theoretical.  Very likely, but still theoretical.  Giving any president or congress, republican or democrat, the power to force the citizens to spend their money on anything was not the intention of our Founding Fathers, and is a dangerous path to tread.  It is the path to tyranny, period.  If a central government can order the purchase of anything, and we lay down and accept it, that government can order anything.  They can order that what medicines and treatments are available to you.  They can order what products are available on your store shelves.  There are already tons of federal regulations on those things, barely held in check only by the people's power of free speech and voting. 

And those same powers are the only way we are going to hold onto what is left of those Constitutional fundamentals.  This bill is unconstitutional.  The People don't want it.  But it was still passed.  It was passed to cheers of "Yes We Can".  It was passed by more buyoffs and questionable deals than any bill in recent memory.  That reveals a great deal about the mindset of those presently sitting in power in D.C.  And what it reveals is not pretty to anyone who believes in the foundations of this nation.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Who was that masked commentator?

Anonymity, especially on the internet, is not a bad thing.  I enjoy my share of it.  There are numerous settings on our web browsers and web sites to help hide our identity.  There are all kinds of services, software, and extensions that don't let others know what we are doing (to various degrees).  One place anonymity is really annoying, and very much abused, is when commenting on important issues.  In an attempt to promote this wonderful scroll of continuing commentary (the exact opposite of our topic, but that's ok, I'm allowed) I've found some sites that will let you log in to comment on article with your blogger address.  Now, like most of us, I have read numerous news and entertainment pieces online, and usually ignore the comments underneath them.  People spew forth both gushing adoration and venomous bile in those comments section, often with no name but Guest to identify themselves.  No identification, no worries that someone might disprove your theory and make you look bad, or logically tear apart your impassioned argument and trace it back to you.  The Keyboard Kommandos strike from every side of every issue.  There are conservative ones and liberal ones, Christian ones and pagan ones, it is truly a unit that does not discriminate.

So what, you may think.  Big deal if some moonbat accuses the Tea Party of doing nothing but dragging down political discussion by calling them teabaggers and yokels.  That person just looks silly to anyone with a lick of common sense.  The issue is one of accountability.  When we aren't accountable for our actions, the quality of our actions drops.  If no one knows who is speaking, it becomes very easy to say anything, regardless of those statements truth or logic.  Don't believe me?  Go to your favorite newspaper site, or local newscast website or news channel site and find where the comments are.  There is likely all kinds of nastiness being thrown around especially on any slightly divisive issue, all with little or no paper trail to connect those comments to anyone other than a username.  It's not limited to the internet.  The Wichita Eagle has it's Opinion Line, where one or two lines are left on the answering machine and then printed with no name, and based on some of the stuff they print, I can only imagine the comments that are left that don't see print. 

My point is to ask that folks have the personal responsibility to attach your name to your comments.  It doesn't have to be your real name (sometimes that's an easy out if one happens to have a very common name).  It can be the user name you usually use, it can be your email address without the  If you are not willing to sign your name to your comments, that should be a good indicator that maybe a little editing is due.  Our Founding Fathers did not scrawl "Guest" at the bottom of the Declaration of Independence.  They put their names and in effect, their lives on that comment about the state of relations between the American colonies and the British empire.  They were willing to take responsibility for those words.  Words can and should have great power.  When we remove responsibility and accountability from our words, they lose that power.  

Monday, March 8, 2010

Capitolism, ROI, and Free stuff, oh my!

I am an avowed capitalist.  Not only because it is a far cry better than the alternatives, but because, just like freedom, the price is eternal vigilance.  A capitalist system doesn't stand if the people get apathetic about supporting competition, keeping the producers in check with their own knowledge and actions, as well as stay active in keeping the government from over-running the market.  When the people fail in the first, the producer's greed overruns everything, when we fail in the second, the government regulates business into the ground, or at least out of the country.

But my subject today is not economic systems, but one of the byproducts of them. Advertising is a fascinating product of capitalism.  A producer's objective is to move product.  Advertising encourages people to buy product.  It has developed into a massive industry in and of itself.  Polls and studies and data are all gathered, analyzed, metrics are generated, ROI (return on investment) is calculated, and various ad campaigns are launched or left on the cutting room floor.  The web has seriously changed the advertising landscape in a huge number of ways, one of my favorite being making "free stuff" more available.  The simple fact is that cost of the stuff given away pales in comparison to the value of moving up in the web searches and the increased value of the advertisers ad space (that ROI we mentioned earlier)  Now, 99.999% of the free money, free gift cards, free computers, free iPods offers that we see are fertilizer.  They typically require a long maze of filling in your data, usually several times, signing up for other free trials and newsletters, and usually just getting a larger slice of the spam pie for your trouble.  At worst these offers may be harvesting your data for identity theft purposes, or downloading malware/spyware/destructive viruses onto your computer.

There are a couple of places to go on the web where you can earn free stuff legitimately.  One I recently came across is  After seeing them featured in a short bit on the news (in a piece that evidently wasn't good enough to archive on the website) I figured what was the worst that could happen?  A little digging comes up with other positive reviews, as well as a B+ rating for the parent company Prodege LLC from the Better Business Bureau.  Regular readers (both of you :-D ) will notice a new widget to your right.  Feel free to use it or the link in the paragraph above.  The set up is very simple.  You sign up, use their search engine to look up stuff on Ye Olde Web, and random searches will earn you swagbucks, which can be redeemed for lots of nifty stuff from their catalog.  Yes, getting other people to sign up earns you bucks as well, hence the link and widget here.  Don't expect to earn a new blu-ray player in a week, but simple things like installing the toolbar and using it instead of your bookmarks to go to sites you frequent will slowly but surely fill your swag wallet.  By what I have found thus far, swagbucks doesn't seem to be aggregating your personal data for commercial purposes any more than Google, Yahoo, and Facebook are, so why not get a little bit of that advertising budget for your time?  

Another one I've been using longer is  Instead of actual merchandise you spend points on gift cards for various retailers.  They have a search option, but I usually earn my points simply by viewing the sponsor pages from the emails that are sent on a regular basis.  Because I'm not shopping online with their chosen merchants, or signing up for free trials, quotes and the like, it has been a very slow build up.  But it is building, and with a bit of concentration the points would add up much more quickly.  Now, the site is owned by Classmates Media Corporation, but an A+ and accreditation from the BBB overcomes that hurdle.  No, I'm not including a link because Mypoints doesn't offer points for referrals, they offer points for adding people to your network.  DM me on twitter or facebook or email me if you would like to sign up and score me a few points.   :-D

At this time, my spam intake hasn't jumped significantly since signing up for either of these sites.  I think it's safe to say I get more spam from my job hunt than both of these put together.  So there you have it, some free stuff for you that is the direct result of the evolution of capitalism.  Advertising dollars spent generating hits and higher search ranks flow from the producers pockets, and some marketers have figured out ways to get those dollars to the consumers for helping the producers.  Now if these marketers could just teach these wonderful free market ideals and results with those silly folks in D.C........

P.S. Like the rest of the world, I see the "I made six figures sitting on the beach in Maui and so can you!" ads all over the place.  Glancing at some, I've seen principles that make sense, and with a little diligence, have found a few that just may be marketable.  I don't think any of them will have me retiring in a year, but for a second stream of income, there are some promising and legitimate looking affiliate marketing, ad making setups out there that work.  As my research continues, expect those to pop up in here as well as the usual politics and religion.  I think making money online is rapidly joining the list of things you avoid talking to people about if you don't want an argument to start, just like religion and politics so it's a logical addition.