Monday, February 26, 2007

heavy wood

Yes, I think it's safe to say that Don Ross can play guitar:

He makes me want to play guitar...and I'm allergic to musical instruments...

(Hat tip: Little Green Footballs)

<>< TM

el paso

Here is the "western" part of Country and Western: Marty Robbins singing one of the greatest American songs ever written: El Paso.

Notice how Marty and the boys do this song justice, using nothing but their awesome voices. This was from back in the day when someone's musical talents were appreciated far beyond their stage antics.

<>< TM

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

dean's world: left vs right discussions

Interesting article from the Dean's World blog:

There is a reflexive, reactionary dislike of America that's become deeply ingrained in a lot of people on the left, and that tends to show especially strongly in wartime. There's a strong streak of contempt for America on the right as well (see The America Sucks Right), but it tends to be very muted when the country's at war.

I'd say those all add up to a left that acts more surly, nasty, and childish than the right these days. But it also tells me it's not likely to be that way forever.

All of this is why I try hard not to call anyone a liberal or a conservative anymore. Especially when I'm talking to, or about, individuals. It's why I try to talk about ideas rather than ideology. It's no secret that I lean Republican these days, but I'll vote for the right Democrat in a heartbeat. So to me, here's where you can tell the difference between a reasonable person and a jerk:

"You only say Z because you voted for X or you secretly believe Y." People who level such accusations don't want a discussion, they want a fight. They are looking for hidden motivations and conducting cheap armchair psychoanalysis, seeking to dismiss you and your positions thereby.

"You think Z? So that's why you voted for X or said Y? Hmm. I can't say I agree, but..." This is a person who wants to talk. They may be coming from the left, or the right, but more likely, it's from somewhere that doesn't fit that silly spectrum.
<>< TM

Friday, February 16, 2007

marrying your cousin could lead to terrorism

One of the most thought provoking articles I've come across this week is this one by Stanley Kurtz on National Review Online: Marriage and the Terror War: Better learn up on your anthropology if you want to understand the war.

Here is an excerpt:
The distinguished historian Bernard Lewis and political scientist Samuel Huntington have together popularized the notion that Muslims are scapegoating the West because of an underlying incompatibility between Islamic society and modernity. Lewis roots this incompatibility in the Muslim seclusion of women and also in the failure of Islam to separate church and state. Yet, in “Root Causes,” I show that the Muslim seclusion of women, and even characteristically Muslim church-state relations, are part and parcel of a distinctive kinship structure built around a preference for the marriage of cousins.
Well that explains a lot, doesn't it?

<>< TM

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

happy st. valentine's day, chicago style...

The St. Valentine's Day Massacre

No Valentine's Day would be complete without a reference to one of the most notorious crimes of the century: the 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre that took place in a warehouse/garage on the north side of Chicago. A good summary of it can be found here.

A good movie for celebrating this notorious holiday with your significant other would be this one:

Some Like It Hot is one of the greatest commedies in the history of American cinema, thanks to the three principle actors: Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Marilyn Monroe. Plenty of romance for the romantic types, and lots of commedy for those not too concerned about the romance. And the first "day" of this movie is Valentine's Day!

But the reason I picked this film is due to the opening sequence where Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon accidentally witness one of the most notorious crimes of the century: the 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

<>< TM

a book I need to read

A book I would like to read sometime in the future: The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke

Sadly, the occult influence on Nazism is little known or understood by most people, but it played a HUGE role in the philosophy and goals of the movement, including the extermination of the Jews.

<>< TM

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Butterfinger has a better idea

While shopping at the new Super Wal-Mart today, I happened to find a package of Butterfinger "Stixx" at the check-out counter. Needing a bit of an engergy boost after the marathon that is Super Wal-Mart, I bought a two-pack, though I normally don't buy Butterfingers, or any candy bars for that matter.

But these "Stixx" type of Butterfingers are really good! In a stick that is about the size and shape of the traditional pretzel stick, Nestle has instead given us a Butterfinger bar, sans the bar. The resulting treat is light, crispy, and I think much better than a traditional Butterfinger.

In today's world, it seems that it isn't enough to have a food item in just one form, there has to be 10,000 different variations on a theme. A good example of this is what Nabisco has been done to the Oreo Cookie.

But the Butterfinger Stixx is not just another mindless variation on a theme, but, in my humble opinion, an actual improvement over the traditional Butterfinger bar. Kudos to Nestle for an idea that's actually well executed.

You can find out more about the "Stixx" here: Official Site of Nestle Stixx®

<>< TM

Friday, February 09, 2007

on being good

In an interesting comments discussion I had with TK of the Uncooked Meat blog, TK stated the following:

"Sure, I probably drink too much, and swear too much, but other than that, I'd like to think I'm a good person. And I suppose it's important that others, regardless of beliefs or lack thereof, to think that of me to. "

This comment made me realize that before I write any more articles about evil or Christianity, I need to cover the concept of goodness as it relates to human beings. The reason why this is important is that in order to have a conversation with anyone about belief systems, you must first establish what it is that they believe about goodness. One person's belief system might specify that it is "good" to avoid doing harm to anyone for any reason. Another person's belief system might specify that it is good to harm, and even kill, those who do not share your belief system, or at least pretend to share it. Hence, defining what is good must be paramount before going off into any other direction. I attempted to provide a very simplistic definition of goodness in the first part of my "the problem of evil" series on this blog. Eventually I will elaborate on the definition at some point in the not-too-distant future.

But for now, I want to concentrate on a related matter, and that would be the debate as to whether or not human beings are intrinsically good or evil. By intrinsically, I mean whether or not someone is born "good" or "evil." What you believe concerning intrinsic goodness or evil will shape quite a bit of the rest of your worldview, as I will soon demonstrate.

But first: are we born good, evil, or something in between? An interesting case could be made for any of the three, but I personally think it is quite obvious, when you give it a bit of thought, that we are born evil, but have the potential for goodness. In Christianity this can be expressed as the doctrine of Original Sin, where we are unable to be good, since we are born of a couple of rebellious young sinners: Adam and Eve. From birth, we share in their rebellious heritage, whether we want to or not.

But even avoiding Christian theology entirely, a case can still be made that we are born intrinsically evil, not good. All that one hast to do is read the newspapers, watch TV, observe life in an as objective fashion as possible, and see what the source of all our problems and difficulties are.

Often I've seen militant atheists blame all the troubles of the world on religion, and they honestly believe that if we were to do away with religion, everything would be just fine. Of course that's absolute nonsense, as most positive religions, like Christianity and Buddhism, have very high and challenging moral and ethical codes as a part of their systems, codes which when followed have brought forth a tremendous amount of blessings and advances, of which no other system can even come close. Just from Christianity has been born modern science, hospitals, orphanages, hospices, public education, universities, and various other institutions which we take for granted, or assume are the products of corporations or the government. History shows clearly that many of the great ideas in Western Civilization were born out of Christians applying their beliefs to the problems of society.

So where does evil really come from, if not religion? Simple: it comes from the selfishness and the self-righteousness that can be found in any human's heart. We are greedy, selfish people at our core, caring mostly about one thing: our self preservation and self-promotion, all else is a distant second place. All you need to do to prove this to your own satisfaction is have children.

Perhaps somewhere in history there was a child born who has always done the right thing, and has never had to be disciplined, but I'm not personally aware of any alive at this moment. Children, more so than anything else, can drive perfectly normal adults into full blown insanity, depression, and rages of anger that would never be seen except for the presence of children. Yes, even toddlers (especially toddlers!) can drive the most calm, collected, rational adult into a nervous babbling wreck within minutes.

God, in his infinite wisdom, gave us parents to beat, smack, and curse us into being good. Sadly, some have taken this job either too seriously, or there have been others who have not taken it seriously enough; causing their offspring to lead a life of evil rather than good. The children seemed to have picked up on the wrong lesson. This is part of the fun and danger of being a human being with free will: you can use it for either good or evil, depending on your state of mind.

So how can one's state of mind be foundational in a person's trek through life? Let me answer that by saying that though I think it's totally obvious that men are born evil, and spend a life time trying to overcome it, it is also obvious that there are many people with selective vision, who think that because we have the potential for goodness, then we are, in fact, good. Amazingly, one of the most striking paradoxes is that those who realize the evil in men's hearts are those who will most likely be virtuous; and those who take for granted that men are good will most likely turn out to be selfish, greedy pigs.

Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong, and any other "evil" figure you can think of had absolutely no illusions about themselves: they all thought of themselves as ultimate goodness, and by their power they were going to bring about some sort of utopia here on earth. If it just weren't for those poor, deceived folks who could not see their grand vision, and who had to be "taken care of" one way or another.

Those who think people are basically good (or at least believe themselves to be basically good!) will normally have little use for religion, and find their ultimate expression of goodness in government power and government programs designed to wipe away every evil from the face of society. After all, it's not that people are bad or evil, it's just that they've been poorly educated, or are too poor, or are just somewhat deceived as to how good we all are, and especially how good are those in political power over the rest of us are. These types want all sorts of education, social programs, and other government sponsored programs to bring about heaven here on earth, all the while blind to the realization that they are only making a more fertile atmosphere for evil to take hold.

Those who understand that people are basically evil, and understand themselves to be the most evil of all, don't look to the government to do anything but protect us from those who have chosen a life of evil. Hence a strong justice system and a powerful national defense are high priorities, for they know what can happen when evil triumphs. These people are very much religious, knowing that redemption can only come from a higher power, not from any man made institution. They are also very suspicious of government, in a healthy way, knowing that governments are only a good as the men who are in positions of power, and they know how quickly the nature of government can change just by a simple change of leadership. They have little use for social welfare systems, knowing that evil is not some circumstance of society, but resides in the heart of men. But they have great love and admiration for churches, religions, schools and charitable societies that do their best to encourage and even push men along the path of their potential goodness, something no government can do. And most importantly, they understand that the boring, old-fashioned traditional family; mom, dad and a handful of kids, is the greatest force for good on this planet, and needs to be protected and nurtured. That's not to say that families can't also be a force of great evil, just that in most circumstances, a strong family can be the best social welfare system a person can have.

Hence how you view human beings, either as being intrinsically good or evil (including yourself!) can have severe repercussions on all else that you are willing to accept as true. It could even be argued that your stand on this issue is foundational to all else in your life, including your religion and politics.

As for me, you already know that I do not view any human being as being intrinsically good, not even myself. The evil in my own heart has always been very obvious to me, and never, ever have I thought myself a good person, not for a single day. And yet, I know I do have the potential for goodness, that it can be developed and nurtured, and that this darkness in my heart can be ultimately overcome. But it's not going to come via education, work, government, nor any other man-made institution: it will only come about through a Devine transformation through the power of God.

But more on that in a future posting...

<>< TM

Monday, February 05, 2007

"you say sunni, I say shiite, let's just call the whole thing off"

An excellent article from the Get Religion blog that sheds a bit of light on the doctrinal differences between Shiite and Sunni Muslims: Meanwhile, back at the ranch (Yeah, it's a stupid title, but still a good post.)

It is CRITICAL for one to understand the Muslim religion in order to understand the motives of those who pursue terrorism. About 99% of the justification for terrorism comes from a very conservative reading of the Koran. The other 1% is disgust over Brad Pitt leaving Jennifer Aniston for Angelina Jolie. Really, what the heck was he thinking?

<>< TM

no surprise really...

According to an article in today's Sun-Times, McDonald's java tops Starbucks.

Consumer Reports performed a taste-test between leading fast-food coffee giants McDonalds, Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, and Starbucks. The winner for the best tasting coffee: why McDonald's of course.

The reason I take pleasure in this is that I've ALWAYS much preferred the coffee at McD's to that of Starbucks, or anywhere else. I don't like their new "dark roast" as much, but it's still better than the coffee they serve elsewhere.

Though I normally don't pay much attention to Consumer Reports, I do feel some sort of metaphysical justification from this finding. Though I must say Starbucks does make a mean Toffee Nut Latte...yummy!

One chain not reported on, but both my sister and I think it the best coffee place, is Caribou Coffee...a Starbucks wannabe. They have some really good coffee, but the lack of a Big Mac or Egg McMuffin type sandwich to go with that cup of joe still gives McD's the edge.

<>< TM

we agnostics

The following was written by a former atheist and alcoholic in 1939:

This world of our has made more material progress in the last century than in all the millenniums which went before. Almost everyone knows the reason. Students of ancient history tell us that the intellect of men in those days was equal to the best of today. Yet in ancient times material progress was painfully slow. The spirit of modern scientific inquiry, research and invention was almost unknown. In the realm of the material, men's minds were fettered by superstition, tradition, and all sorts of fixed ideas. Some of the contemporaries of Columbus thought a round earth preposterous. Others came near putting Galileo to death for his astronomical heresies.

We asked ourselves this: Are not some of us just as biased and unreasonable about the realm of the spirit as were the ancients about the realm of the material? Even in the present century, American newspapers were afraid to print an account of the Wright brothers' first successful flight at Kitty Hawk. Had not all efforts at flight failed before? Did not Professor Langley's flying machine go to the bottom of the Potomac River? Was it not true that the best mathematical minds had proved man could never fly? Had not people said God had reserved this privilege to the birds? Only thirty years later the conquest of the air was almost an old story and airplane travel was in full swing.

But in most fields our generation has witnessed complete liberation of our thinking. Show any longshoreman a Sunday supplement describing a proposal to explore the moon by means of a rocket and he will say, "I bet they do it--maybe not so long either." Is not our age characterized by the ease with which we discard old ideas for new, by the complete readiness with which we throw away the theory or gadget which does not work for something new which does?

We had to ask ourselves why we shouldn't apply to our human problems this same readiness to change our point of view. We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn't control our emotional natures, we were a prey to misery and depression, we couldn't make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn't see to be of real help to other people--was not a basic solution of these bedevilments more important than whether we should see newsreels of lunar flight? Of course it was.

When we saw others solve their problems by a simple reliance upon the Spirit of the Universe, we had to stop doubting the power of God. Our ideas did not work. But the God idea did.

The Wright brothers' almost childish faith that they could build a machine which would fly was the mainspring of their accomplishment. Without that, nothing could have happened. We agnostics and atheists were sticking to the idea that self-sufficiency would solve our problems. When others showed us that "God-sufficiency" worked with them, we began to feel like those who had insisted the Wrights would never fly.

Logic is great stuff. We liked it. We still like it. It is not by chance we were given the power to reason, to examine the evidence of our senses, and to draw conclusions. This is one of man's magnificent attributes. We agnostically inclined would not feel satisfied with a proposal which does not lend itself to reasonable approach and interpretation. Hence we are at pains to tell why we think our present faith is reasonable, why we think it more sane and logical to believe than not to believe, why we say our former thinking was soft and mushy when we threw up our hands in doubt and said, "We don't know."

When we became alcoholics, crushed by a self-imposed crisis we could not postpone or evade, we had to fearlessly face the proposition that either God is everything or else He is nothing. God either is, or He isn't. What was our choice to be?

Arrived at this point, we were squarely confronted with the question of faith. We couldn't duck the issue. Some of us had already walked far over the Bridge of Reason toward the desired shore of faith. The outlines and the promise of the New Land Had brought luster to tired eyes and fresh courage to flagging spirits. Friendly hands had stretched out in welcome. We were grateful that Reason had brought us so far. But somehow, we couldn't quite step ashore. Perhaps we had been leaning too heavily on Reason that last mile and we did not like to lose our support.

That was natural, but let us think a little more closely. Without knowing it, had we not been brought to where we stood by a certain kind of faith? For did we not believe in our won reasoning? Did we not have confidence in our ability to think? What was that but a sort of faith? Yes, we had been faithful, abjectly faithful to the God of Reason. So, in one way or another, we discovered that faith has been involved all the time!

We found, too, that we had been worshipers. What a state of mental goose-flesh that used to bring on! Had we not variously worshiped people, sentiment, things, money, and ourselves? And then, with a better motive, had we not worshipfully beheld the sunset, the sea, or a flower? Who of us had not loved something or somebody? How much did these feelings, these loves, these worships, have to do with pure reason? Little or nothing, we saw at last. Were not these things the tissue out of which our lives were constructed?" Did no these feelings, after all, determine the course of our existences? It was impossible to say we had no capacity for faith, or love, or worship. In one form or another we had been living by faith and little else.

Imagine life without faith! Were nothing left but pure reason, it wouldn't be life. But we believed in life--of course we did. We could not prove life in the sense that you can prove a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, yet, there it was. Could we still say that whole thing was nothing but a mass of electrons, created out of nothing, meaning nothing, whirling on to a destiny of nothingness? Of course we couldn't. The electrons themselves seemed more intelligent than that. At least, so the chemist said.

Hence we saw that reason isn't everything. Neither is reason, as most of us use it, entirely dependable, though it emanate from our best minds. What about people who proved that man could never fly?

Yet we had been seeing another kind of flight, a spiritual liberation from this world, people who rose above their problems. They said God made these things possible, and we only smiled. We had seen spiritual release, but like to tell ourselves it wasn't true.

Actually we were fooling ourselves, for deep down in every man, woman, and child, is the fundamental idea of God. It may be obscured by calamity, by pomp, by worship of others things, but in some form or other it is there. For faith in a Power greater than ourselves, and miraculous demonstrations of that power in human lives, are facts as old as man himself.

We finally saw that faith in some kind of God was a part of our make-up, just as much as the feeling we have for a friend. Sometimes we had to search fearlessly, but He was there. He was as much a fact as we were. We found the Great Reality deep down within us. In the last analysis it is only there that He may be found. It was so with us.

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th edition
Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.
New York City, 2001, p 51-55

<>< TM

Saturday, February 03, 2007

go read this...

OK...stop reading this and go over to Chez's "Deus Ex Malcontent" blog and read the following article all the way to the end: The Part that Never Comes Home.

It would be somewhere around two years later that I would lie face-down on my bed, clutching a pillow, crying in a way I never thought possible -- feeling more pain, anger and helplessness than I believed my young life had the capacity to contain. I'd try to grasp what it's like to go to sleep one night and wake up to find that everything you love, everything you are, has been utterly obliterated. I'd want to know why a young girl who deserved a lifetime of happiness instead awoke one morning to a frightening, alien existence -- a treacherous shadow world, spawned by a few hours of infinite madness and violence. I'd want to know how someone finds a way back to the light -- back to life. To this day, many of those questions remain unanswered.

<>< TM

Friday, February 02, 2007

happy groundhog day!


To all the readers of the THEODICY blog, a hearty happy Groundhog Day!

I know of no better way of celebrating than watching the famous movie by the same name. Groundhog Day is one of the greatest films in American cinema, and has developed an especially strong following amongst religious leaders and theologians of various stripes, especially those of a Christian, Jewish, Buhddist or Hindu background.

What is it about the film Groundhog Day that rings so true with many positive religions? It is a story of transformation and redemption, and the greatest secret in life: the source of happiness is a life of generosity and love for others, even if they don't deserve it!

Go watch Groundhog Day, you won't regret it.

<>< TM
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