Three A.M. Thursday #2

Wherein Elwood shares his late night musings.

Business Idea: Shrodinger’s Veterinary Hospital & Pet Cemetery—Because You Never Know if Fluffy is Gone for Good

When cockroaches are dying, do they go toward the light?

Were there ever Samsing and Samsang televisions and cell phones?

Business Idea: Bottom’s Up—Fairmont’s first gay nightclub.

If they were all California girls, their maternity wards would be overrun.

Do rock stars daydream about having office jobs?

But why male models?

I wonder if the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop is prime.

Business Idea: Assault Brand Batteries—Guaranteed to Beat the Competition

My Dell is running slow. I wonder if there is a farmer in there.

Three A.M. Thursday, entry #1

Wherein Elwood shares his late night streams of consciousness with the world.

Would Miss Manners keep her name if she got married?

Which is more fun to say—pickle, or cucumber?

Why do power supplies have to be plugged in?

Product Idea: Calffeine—The Energy Veal!

Can food be refrigerated if it was never cold in the first place?

Shouldn’t Victoria’s secret have gotten out by now?

Do elementary particles grow up and become Universe-ities?

Did John Lee Hooker ever get the reds?

If six was nine, I’d have to take math again.

If I close my eyes forever, will it all remain unchanged?

Probably not. Ozzy should know better.

Have I driven a Ford? Lately?

Let me think, that rental car in AZ. . .no, it was a Chevy. Guess not. . .

Do good balls of fire get jealous toward great ones?

All the lonely people, where do they all come from?

I’m pretty sure there is a loneliness factory next to the controversy manufacturing plant.

Is that in New York?

Yep, 1211 Avenue of the Americas.

Which would I rather be—a tree, a rock, or a lake?

Does streak-free window cleaner still work if you are naked?

Are my filing cabinets self-aware? Do they like me?

I wonder what bumblebees taste like . . .

Bitter beer batter. Say It five times fast.

I like turtles. .

And sleep.


Zzzzzz. . . .


Ten Things I’m Unlikely to Say

  1. “You know, the birthers do have a point. . .”
  2. “This Macbook is definitely worth the extra dough.”
  3. “Hey kids, let’s take a trip to the Creation Museum!”
  4. “No need to see a mechanic, I can fix it!”
  5. “I think I’ll try the Atkins diet.”
  6. “Sorry, can’t make the WVU game. I’m going to see Carmen instead.”
  7. “More coleslaw, please!”
  8. “Man, learning to play the guitar is easy!”
  9. “I’ve had this same lawn mower for ten years and it still works great!”
  10. “Honey, put your top back on, I’m trying to watch Glenn Beck!”

Golf vs. Gulf

Though I have tried to swear the stuff off for good, I cannot help but to take the occasional swig of AM Talk Radio. And, like nicotine, I know it is actually a poison, not good for me or anyone else. Nonetheless, against my better judgment I tuned in for the Rush Limbaugh program on my way to class on Thursday. The show had a guest-host by the name of Mark Belling, who used his awesome psychic ability and insight into the lives of Al and Tipper Gore to let America know what really went wrong in the marriage. You see, Tipper knows the truth about Global Warming. Eventually, she could not hold it in and she finally told old Al what a crock his books, film and life’s work really are. Belling’s evidence? Tipper’s crusade against vulgar music lyrics! It should be plainly obvious operation to one supposedly liberal stronghold in the music industry should be expected to feed into another—that of environmental science and climatology. If only Sherlock Holmes had such powers of deduction!

After class, I decided to take a measured dose of Sean Hannity, figuring 15 minutes ought to do it. It turns out the show is mostly additives. Of the 15-mintue block, 6 minutes were the not the program, but the top of the hour local and national news, another 30 seconds or so was the theme song that contains the line “let the right be wrong” without a hint of irony, and 4 and another 4 and a half minutes was spent on commercials, two of which claimed to be able to reduce my credit card debt by half (bookended by pleads about personal responsibility by the host, also without irony). No phone calls were taken, so that leaves a five minute monologue. About half of that was spent on the Sestak controversy, in which the White House is accused of asking a potential senate candidate to consider dropping out of a race in order to avoid a costly primary. This controversy is somewhat legitimate, especially if Sestak was offered anything of value, but it strikes more me as a tempest in a teapot, as evidence of quid pro quo has been less than forthcoming. For the time being, the Administration maintains that Sestak was asked to participate in a voluntary advisory role rather than engage in what the DNC may consider a waste of party time and resources in a Primary. That seems more like the type of conversation that happens in every organization, everywhere, all the time, as a means of accomplishing anything or allocating scarce resources, so it hardly screams “SCANDAL,” but time will tell. When your only narrative is that the DNC=bad and you have three hours to fill, finding fault in such minutia is pretty much standard operating procedure.

It was Hannity’s other topic du jour that, judging on the number or the rehearsal and repletion of the lines accompanying passionate paralanguage, is where Hannity senses the biggest opening in Obama’s defenses. Namely, that “Obama says that he is worried about the Gulf, but he is playing more golf than Tiger Woods.” This gulf v. golf meme was repeated ad nauseam in an astonishingly short time span, as the one thing that really proves that Obama is aloof and unconcerned. It is not hard to point out that Obama has seen to it that 17,500 National Guard Troops assisting with the cleanup, not to mention 1900 ships from the Navy, Coast Guard and private industry, and top engineers from around the world consulting on the matter. But hey, why let facts get in the way? I cannot help but think that even Hannity fans have to wonder in amazement at the inherent contradiction of at once claiming that the government in general and Obama in particular is incompetent and that we would all be better off with as little intervention as possible while also castigating the president for failing to spend more time at the Gulf Coast? More time to do what, exactly? Obama’s background is in law, not engineering. His security, press and support entourage would certainly get in the way. If he goes and sets up camp in New Orleans, he will be criticized for engaging in a photo op instead of worrying about the economy and the wars.

Sure, the Gulf spill is a crisis, a big one at that, but it is not one that benefits from meddling by people who lack the expertise to solve it. Nor does it do much good for Obama or anybody else to stop living his life until the leak is stopped. If Hannity is like most of us, at some point in his life he has had a friend, family member or colleague who suffered from prolonged illness. Perhaps the person was slowly dying or required round the clock medical supervision, novel cures and experimental treatment. And no doubt Hannity did what any good friend would do, which is offer moral (and possibly financial) support while ensuring that the people with the sufficient skills and expertise were doing everything possible to relieve suffering and find a cure. He would be there physically at first and visit regularly, particularly if anything took a turn for the worse. What he or no one else would do is put life completely on hold for months on end, hanging around the hospital, hounding doctors and demanding impossible results. He did not stop going to work, spending time with his family or engaging in any leisure activity whatsoever. Such behavior would not be an indication of concern or empathy so much as obsession bordering on personality disorder.

Look, I know that Hannity and a lot of people are less than thrilled with Obama’s election. But disagreements over his policies should not translate to universal criticism of every single action or inaction. Like his predecessors, Obama is president 24×7. He is never off of the job. He is president on the golf course and in the oval office, at home in Chicago and abroad on an official visit. He is entitled to have guests, be they personal friends or sports teams, supporters or celebrities. I had a chance to spend a week with a CEO of a multinational firm, ostensibly for a week of leisure activities. I found that nobody with that level of responsibility is ever far from the job. The phone never stops ringing, and the problems never stop cropping up. If Hannity thinks someone should completely put life on hold to deal with the crisis, he should volunteer to try it himself. Take action, even if it is just something menial, like cleaning birds. Get off the air, refrain from all leisure and relationship and stay in Louisiana until the leak stops completely, likely in August. Don’t go home to your wife. Don’t go to a movie or visit a friend. Focus 100% of your waking energy on doing something, anything, to show that you really are concerned. Pester the Coast Guard and BP for answers if you like.

I think it goes without saying that Hannity knows this. He just can’t help himself. He knows damn well that Obama’s presence or absence 10 miles from the spill in LA does no more good than his presence 1100 miles away in DC. The problem is the equivalent of a cancerous growth 5000 feet under the ocean’s surface. It needs the equivalent of a doctor, not an executive. For a Christian, Hannity sure can’t follow the Golden Rule very well. I can’t imagine he would appreciate being criticized for every date with his wife, every game of golf, every dinner with a friend, or every day off work. So which is it, Sean? Do you want the government to intervene or not? Is Obama sufficiently competent that his action would be helpful or would it just be an empty gesture if he showed up? I know you want to have it both ways, but it is simply impossible for Obama to be wrong in every conceivable instance. There is nothing patriotic about outrage. There is nothing constructive in knee-jerk criticism. If you are confident that you know a better way to handle the spill, please, enlighten us. It’s not like you don’t have four hours a day to explain your plan. By my reckoning, Obama has never spent that much time giving press conferences and speeches in a week. If you have a plan, I will tune in anxiously to hear it. If not, try playing a round of golf or two. It might help you relax.


Memorial Day

When news broke that President Obama was planning to spend Memorial Day weekend in Chicago with his family rather than remain in Washington, DC and participate in the traditional wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, I braced myself for the inevitable deluge of pot shots from pundits, bloggers and Facebook friends who would make Obama’s location into a statement about patriotism and support of the troops, past and present. Anticipating that many would falsely report that Obama is the first President to be elsewhere on Memorial Day, I at first pointed out that it is actually quite common for a president to be elsewhere. The most recent “misses” were G.W. Bush in 2002, G.H.W. Bush in 1992, 1991, 1990, and 1989 (all four years!) and before that, Reagan in 1988, 1987, 1983 and 1981. Since Clinton was present at Arlington for all eight years, 9 out of the last 10 so-called “misses” of the Arlington ceremony by presidents were under Republican watch, including a span of six consecutive years under Reagan and G.H.W. Bush. If presence at Arlington on Memorial Day is to be our measuring stick for patriotism, the Republicans are in deep trouble. Of course, this is hardly fair, as there are a number of reasons that a president may not be present. Reagan was still recuperating from having been shot in 1981, and was out of the country for others. While G.H.W. spent three of his Memorial Day weekends vacationing with family in Maine, where he celebrated the holiday at the local VFW, G.W. Bush spent his “missed” year at Normandy, a location with equally strong ties to the holiday as Arlington.

But is not just the point? None of these men missed the holiday. All of them participated in some way, seeing to it that a top administration official, usually either the Vice President or Secretary of Defense was present to participate in the traditional wreath laying at Arlington, while most presidents participated in a ceremony elsewhere. President Obama did not miss Arlington, he chose to honor those buried at Lincoln National Cemetery, while Vice President Biden likewise honored those at Arlington. It is not as if Arlington National Cemetery is the only national cemetery; it is not even the largest. It is its proximity to Washington, along with Tomb of the Unknowns, that gives Arlington its place of prominence. Nonetheless, there are 146 such national cemeteries in this country, each worthy of the any President’s attention. Do the pundits really intend to imply otherwise? Is Lincoln National Cemetery somehow less dignified than Arlington? I’m sure some families and descendents of those buried at Lincoln would take issue with the logical end to this line of reasoning. I for one would be honored if the president or any high-ranking official chose to participate in a ceremony at West Virginia National Cemetery, where my grandfather was buried. In fact, I propose a new tradition—perhaps instead of focusing solely on Arlington, more high-ranking administration officials should see to it that as many national cemeteries are so honored on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day as is feasible. It would only take 18-19 officials, each covering a different cemetery on each Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day to cover all 150 locations each four year term. That seems to be keeping with the spirit of these holidays at least as much as a perpetual presence at one or a handful of places. I have little doubt, though, that even a gesture as noble as this one would be dismissed as political posturing and photo ops by certain pundits, especially if the first administration to implement the change were perceived to be liberal.

Which begs the question, do enough of us really take time to remember what Memorial Day is about? It is easy to lambast the pundits (who have made themselves the farthest thing from patriots in choosing to politicize a solemn ceremony and an ostensibly solemn holiday), but what of the rest of us? Is this a day of honor and remembrance, or a day of cookouts and an unofficial beginning of Summer? I have consumed my share of hot dogs on the last Monday in May, but not once have I visited a cemetery or been present for a ceremony of any kind. Veteran’s Day, likewise, is often a day to catch up on school work. I do generally make it to the Veteran’s Plaza in town then, but only because it is a good place to view the parade. I do not think that I am particularly lazy, irreverent or lacking in patriotism, but I do think that we in the United States have forgotten to how to mourn. December 7th is no longer a “date which will live in infamy.” Poll people at random about the significance December 7th and many will state that it is one of the last days to use Super Saver Shipping at Amazon for Christmas. The only reason we remember 9-11 is because the attacks are called by their date. If it were just the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, people would be probably searching for the date already. Many churches celebrate Palm Sunday and Easter, skipping right over Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Nobody seems to acknowledge the dark times anymore, even when they are quintessential elements of their Faith. Unlike Narnia, in the United States it is always Christmas and never Winter. I do not think it makes much complete people or a complete society. Maybe we should start the summer with fewer hotdogs and more tears. If we spend Monday in darkness, we may find that the sun shines all the more brightly on Tuesday.










Interest vs. Will

The contentious passage of the Health Care Reform bill late last night will certainly be debated and analyzed for some time to come. Polling nearly universally indicated that the majority of Americans opposed the bill’s passage, yet a majority of elected representatives in the House and Senate not only voted for passage, they employed some creative procedural maneuvering to ensure passage. This leads to a fundamental question, just what is the role of the legislative branch? Are the representatives tasked with representing the will of the people, or the interests of the people? If my car isn’t running well, it is my will that I pay as little as possible for repairs but it is in my interest that the car is repaired properly. With that in mind, what happens when people oppose a bill for the wrong reasons? Which is more fair, a bill that protects a minority against a clear wishes of a majority, such as with Civil Rights legislation or congress simply giving the people what they want, even if their will is based on bigotry, misinformation or some other form of bias?

In the case of the Health Care overhaul, it really appears that while the majority polled as being opposed to reform, it also appears that the majority are opposed to bill that does not exist. Some who are opposed are worried that the bill will negatively affect the elderly, yet the AARP has endorsed it the bill. Strangely, this has not allayed concerns. Nor has the AMA’s endorsement been sufficient to overcome doubts about the quality of care. There has been no convincing the Pro-Life contingent that the bill does not provide any funding for abortion, despite clear language within the bill and an executive order by the President stating making it a violation of Federal Law to cover abortions. The bill continues to be touting by the right as a “government takeover” of health care, yet the bill consists primarily of subsidies for purchasing private insurance. That is no more a takeover of health care than Pell Grants and student loans are a takeover of education.

With this kind of rampant and deliberate misinformation, what is a representative to do? What happens when you try to have a town hall meeting concerning fine points and instead get accused of setting up “death panels” to kill grandma? What happens when people are shouting such nonsense as “keep government out of Medicare?” When shouts of “you lie” during a presidential address is rewarded with increased campaign contributions? When a pro-life Democrat is met with a shout of “baby-killer” for casting a vote for legislation aimed at improving the quality of life for those most in need?

Have we, as a people really become this distrustful of any and all expertise? Few of us are capable of analyzing the probable long-term effects and cost of such a massive overhaul, but it seems as though the groups that are qualified to evaluate it are being ignored in favor of partisan rancor and talk-show talking heads who make a living saying outlandish things designed to draw in higher ratings. The mistrust of expertise is seems to be coming more widespread. Do media personalities really know more about climate change than professional climatologists? Do Bible scholars really know more about the world past, present and future than geologists, biologists, cosmologists, archaeologists or historians?

I understand rugged individualism. As a free-thinker, I certainly do not endorse accepting information from an authority figure on the basis of authority alone, but come on! Maybe, just maybe, the lawyers crafting laws know a little more about the actual intent and consequences of a bill than talk-show hosts. Maybe, just maybe, the AMA and AARP know a thing or two about the effect on medical practice and the elderly, respectively. Congress may not be the most trustworthy entity in the country, but surely some of these other non-profit advocacy groups are worth checking into? They have nothing to gain by getting it wrong.

So, is it “elitist” to pass legislation against the will of the American people? I would say that it probably is, especially for the House of Representatives. I tend to think that it is the role of the Senate to represent our interests and the House to represent our will. That is why senators have longer terms. They should not get carried away in ill-advised, populist support or opposition to what they believe in their heart is the right action. The House, though, have short terms for a reason. If they fail to follow the will of their constituents, they should and will be voted out of office. They should have worked to get the American people on their side before casting their votes. Unfortunately, a calm, reasoned explanation does not get the kind of attention that a shock-jock shouting in front of a chalkboard commands in prime time on a “news” outlet. Talking points over megaphones and microphones drown out any attempt to properly inform the populace. It is increasingly difficult to find the truth at all, much less to act on it.
The well has been so poisoned that no water is safe to drink. One cannot merely have a different strategy and opinion on how to reach the same goal, he must be deemed a socialist, communist, fascist, Marxist liberal—all at the same time! One cannot suggest that fair trials are the cornerstone of our democracy without being labeled a terrorist sympathizer. One cannot question the strategic value of a war without denigrating the troops. For all the pictures of Obama with a Hitler-esque mustache and cries of fascism, there sure appears to be a lot of mindless propaganda coming from the other side. If there is a takeover of the government by an authoritarian mob, I suspect it will come from somewhere right of center. We liberal hippies don’t fight for anything. Skeptics can scarcely agree on any course of action. It is all we can do to get one representative in congress or one meeting with the president. Like Mr. Beck, I love my country, and I fear for it. The difference is that my fear is based in history and reality. He and his followers appear to fear the country and government itself. I can’t help but think that genuine attempts to improve the lives of Americans are more patriotic than mindless opposition to any and all change. Hopefully, reason will rise above the din of all this noise. Hopefully, our interest and will be one, and we will no longer have to ask the question of which to endorse. Until then, I feel for our elected representatives. Their lives cannot be easy. They are governing the ungovernable.

Truth for a Lie

The most charitable attitude one can take upon hearing a statement that is demonstrably false is that the person speaking is genuinely mistaken. However, if the person persists after having been shown that they are in error, the goodwill does and should vanish, as it is no longer a mistake, but a lie. The thing about telling lies is that whether they are to yourself or to others, the lies have nasty habit of finding you out. Especially heinous are lies about or in the name of God, as one claiming to represent absolute Truth should be especially careful about his claims and quick to correct himself should the truth become available.

Now, when speaking of truth and lies, it is important to distinguish between a fact and an opinion, as much discourse seems to revolve around the conflation of these distinct concepts. An opinion is subjective and open to interpretation. For example, I could say that the West Virginia University Mountaineer Football team is not playing to its full potential this year. The key to the opinion is its vagueness. How does one define “potential” when the games have already been played? On the other hand, it is a fact that the Mountaineers cannot win the Big East title this year. It is mathematically impossible. Fans who continue to shout “We’re Number One” after a loss mean well, but objectively they are misguided at best.

What concerns me lately is the number of demonstrable falsehoods that have been stated emphatically by certain Evangelicals and Fundamentalists of late. After all, one can only say so many things that are plainly and provably incorrect before he begins to lose credibility in all he believes and stands for. You will have to forgive me if fail to take your opinion seriously if you claim, with a straight face, that it is raining outside while standing in front of a window that reveals bright sunshine pouring through.

Getting down to business, let us examine a few key falsehoods that I encounter on a regular basis:

First up,The majority of Christendom rejects the Theory of Evolution. One would need a particular peculiar definition of Christianity and Christendom for this to be the case. Biblical literalism in the form of Young Earth Creationism is virtually unknown outside of the U.S. Evangelical community and its missionary offshoots, and it is not even a majority position in the U.S. Fully half of the Christians in the world are Roman Catholic, and the RCC officially accept Evolution as fact, as does the Anglican Communion and a substantial portion of the Mainline Protestant denominations, as well as many moderate Evangelicals. I suppose one could claim that more than two-thirds of the professed and practicing Christians at home at abroad do not actually belong to their own religion, but I think they would beg to differ.

Next is an oldy but goody, The United States is (or was founded as) a Christian Nation. I’m afraid not. There are substantial differences between a nation whose citizenry is predominately Christian and a Christian nation. If you do not understand the difference, think of it this way, if most people listened to The Beatles every week, would the United States be a “Beatles Nation?” A “Christian Nation” is one that has an official church or official government position on matters of religion. England and Denmark are Christian Nations, even if the majority of their populations do not attend church services regularly. The United States is a secular country, even if a substantial portion of the population is devout in its belief and practice. The difference is not merely academic; it has far-reaching consequences in matters of law and government policy. It would take a Constitutional Amendment to change the status, and given that the Freedom of Speech is tied in with the Establishment Clause, one would be on very dangerous ground in proposing such a thing and a long way from any philosophy that could be considered remotely conservative. If you are still in doubt as to the Founder’s intent or think this is merely an opinion, I ask you to consider the Treaty of Tripoli from 1797, passed unanimously by both Houses of Congress, and which literally states that “ the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

Last but not least, Proposed healthcare reforms include provisions for “Death Panels.” It really takes a special kind of hatred for the President and Congress to believe that either is interested in indirectly offing its own constituency. It is hard to imagine that anyone who utters such a thing could be taken seriously about much anything, but there they are—guests and hosts of talk shows, authors, politicians and certain celebrities, claiming this is so, without a hint of proof. The proposed bills have provisions mandating coverage for end of life counseling. The counseling is offered so that the patient’s own wishes can be codified, which helps to avoid legal confusion (a la Schiavo) and potentially wrenching decisions by those closest to the patient. Anyone who has been admitted to a hospital in the past several years has almost certainly been asked whether or not he has an advance directive and if not, if he is interested in information. Few would disagree that it is preferable that such plans and wishes be made clear by a calm person of sound mind than by a soon-to-be grieving relative. All these proposals due is guarantee insurance coverage for the legal and ethical counseling that goes into such decisions. This sort of coverage has been part of Medicare for many years and probably most private insurance policies as well. Think about it, is the AARP really going endorse a policy that contains even the faintest hint of anything that could even potentially lead to something as nefarious as a “death panel?” To turn a cliché, if it seems too bad to be true, it probably is. How anyone who says such things could be held in high regard escapes me.

These are but a few of the seemingly countless examples that will be dealt with on the blog in the coming weeks, months and years. For some reason, the subjects of science, religion, history and politics are especially prone to distortions, misunderstandings and outright falsehoods. If you catch me saying something that is demonstrably, factually incorrect, please do correct me. I am ever interested in uncovering and spreading truth in all its forms. I hope this is a value that we can all share.


Exactly one hundred fifty years ago, Charles Darwin published what he called an “abstract” entitled On the Origin of the Species, which explained what would became known as the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. Darwin anticipated that his findings would spark controversy, and he had made provisions to have his work published posthumously so that he would not have to deal with the fallout. Only after Alfred Russel Wallace reached the same conclusions did Darwin dare publish a work that Darwin viewed incomplete and somewhat rushed, even at about 400 pages. Darwin could scarcely predict that his “abstract” would go through six editions in his lifetime and become so foundational that future biologists would struggle to imagine working in their field without Darwin’s contribution.
In observance of the 150th anniversary, I took the occasion to skim through my paperback reprint of his first edition. Even to a layperson, it is easy to see why the book sold so well. Darwin’s prose is accessible but detailed and he displays an infectious passion for his work. More striking, though, is the notion then and now that anything in here could be remotely controversial. It seems strange that a work so well reasoned could be easily misrepresented and misinterpreted.
Few sane people with argue with any of Darwin’s basic premises, as they are pretty self-evident. First, there is variation within a species. This is plainly obvious to anyone who has seen more than one animal of the same species. Children are not clones of their parents and any litter of puppies shows variance in markings, size, strength and disposition. Next, there is a struggle for life, especially in the wild. Not every creature born will have the fortune to reach adulthood or to reproduce. Some will fall to disease, others to predators and some to accident and others to starvation before reaching maturity. Were this not the case, the planet would be overrun by rabbits in a few decades, leaving little room for anything or anyone else. Additionally, the planet has multiple environments, many of which are subject to change over time. This is also self-evident. It is why so many people groups have been nomads. Sometimes rivers flood or change their paths, sometimes there are droughts or natural disasters that permanently alter the landscape. I don’t think anyone would argue with these points any sooner than they would deny that 1+1=2.
Darwin’s primary observation was that these factors combine into a selective pressure wherein some offspring are statistically more likely to reach maturity than others. A fast cheetah is more likely to eat and a slow gazelle more likely to be eaten. Since some cheetahs are faster than others and some gazelles slower, it stands to reason that some cheetahs will starve and some gazelles will live long and happy lives. Darwin also reasoned that the pairing two fast cheetahs would increase the likelihood of fast offspring. He may not have understood genetics like we do now, but he noticed that characteristics were shaped by domestic breeders and that these characteristics tended to pile up over time, leading to unique breeds of dogs and flowers. It seemed likely that nature would also select attributes that increase the likelihood of survival. This, while not being self-evident, does make sense and provokes little misunderstanding or disagreement. After all, people groups who are native to areas near the equator tend to have darker skin than those who live farther North.
Darwin further reasoned a changing environment might cause a trait that was once neutral and rare to lead to a distinct advantage. For example, a predator with white fur might have an advantage over one with brown fur should its habitat see in permanent increase in snowfall. The predators with white fur would continue to interbreed while those with brown fur more be more likely to starve. Eventually, the brown variety would be rare to nonexistent. This of course follows from the first several points and provokes little disagreement.
Next we come to the notion of Descent with Modification. This is basically the notion that occasionally, a mutation will develop that brings about a trait that has not been seen before. Most of these will be very slight and most will be neutral or detrimental, but occasionally one will lead to a slight but distinct advantage. Perhaps a particular bird’s will hatch with a beak will take on a slightly different shape than any of its predecessors. Perhaps this shape is more suited to digging out insects or worms in this particular environment. While slight, the variation gives just enough advantage that survival and reproduction is more likely, and thus as with the white fur, the trait will become increasingly common in the population until the previously common variety of beak is rarely, if ever seen. Meanwhile, a neighboring population that subsists on a slightly different diet may also see a slight mutation that gives a slight, but definite statistical advantage. Eventually, one slight mutation here and another there will lead to populations distinct enough that the two are recognized as different species, which is to say that they no longer reproduce with one another. It is a very gradual process, something not normally observed in a human lifetime or perhaps even in a nation’s existence, but it does happen.
This is really all there is to Darwin’s theory of evolution. There is no expectation that there will be a one-generation leap from one species to another. There is no expectation of a crockoduck, no prediction that an ape will give birth to a human or vice-versa, only that every small changes will accumulate over time. Most people have no problem seeing how this works going forward in time. They understand that next year’s influenza will be of a slightly different variety than this year’s and that there are new varieties of bacteria that subsist on diets that could not have possibly existed in the past, e.g. those that digest synthetic material like Nylon.
What people don’t like, and what got Darwin into trouble, is the implication that the processes that are plainly seen going forward also work when going backward through time. Every population and species of life can be traced in principle to a previous variety that looks and behaves in ways increasingly distant from the ones presently observed. Tracing one’s own ancestry, he eventually finds a predecessor that is no longer recognizably human. This seems to be too much to take for some people, but logically, accepting that evolution runs forward but not backward is a bit like accepting that 2*5=10 but that 10/5 does not equal 2. It does not make sense to deny that a process we observe every day does not apply to us.
In Darwin’s day, as is the case today, some suggest that there is some type of distinction between micro and macro-evolution. That perhaps God created certain archetypal “kinds” and let evolution proceed from there. That might be easier to accept, but it is not what the evidence tells us. DNA shows current species converging back on common ancestors. Fossil evidence has universally supported the gradual adaption of traits and groups over long periods of time.

Despite millions of man-hours spent gathering and collecting data by scientists both supportive and critical of Darwin’s ideas, no piece of evidence has served to discredit his suggestions and all, repeat all data and specimens have supported Evolution by means of Natural Selection. It is simply time to move on. There is no controversy. There has not been a serious controversy for decades. Evolution is a fact of life. It’s not a hypothesis, a conjecture, a hunch, a guess or a supposition. The pieces to this puzzle were there all along. Had Darwin not discovered evolution, someone else would have by now.
I for one find Darwin’s findings to be inspirational and fascinating. Evolution means that every single life form on this planet is related to every other life form on this planet. We share not only a planet, but an ancestor. I think our society can only benefit from this knowledge. It is at once empowering and humbling, this notion that despite nearly insurmountable odds, our species and we as individuals have arisen to study ourselves and the world while yet being very much a part of it. To the degree that we respect nature, we respect ourselves, and to the degree that we wander at it, will we understand ourselves and our purpose.

Happy Holidays

For as long as anyone alive today can remember, the period from mid-November through early January has been know as the “Holiday Season.” On its face, the reason for the moniker is obvious: there are several holidays of significance observed by substantial portions of the population during this time, including celebrations by the major monotheistic religions, including, Christmas and Advent, Chanukah, Eid al-Adha and (sometimes) Ramadan, as well as the more secular Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, cultural celebrations such as Kwanzaa and even pagan celebrations such as Saturnalia or the Winter Solstice.

Most educated people understand why so many significant cultural celebrations coincide during these six weeks or so. In the Northern Hemisphere, this is the time of year when the days grow shorter and the temperature plummets, when, in agrarian cultures, the harvest would have been complete and for there to be little left to do but to hunker down with friends and family and enjoy the fruits of the collective labor. Some of these holidays clearly share the same roots, while others have arisen independently, but the season is celebrated throughout much of the world for similar reasons. More succinctly, Jesus is not the (only) ”Reason for the Season.” The “Season” was here before he was born and it is still there in places that have never heard of him. Christians largely co-opted elements of several existing pagan celebrations, including the time of year to form a new holiday focused on Jesus’ birth.

Curiously, rather than take hear the biblical admonition to “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15), as our Christian predecessors did when forming the Christmas holiday in the first place, a significant number of Christians have begun to voice opposition to, and even fear of, the notion that different people are celebrating different events of their own cultural importance during this time. The American Family Association has gone so far as to maintain a “nice” and “naughty” list of retail companies, declaring those who specifically (and apparently exclusively) mention “Christmas” as being “nice” and those who choose a more inclusive “Happy Holidays” to be “naughty.” Those who mention Christmas in some, but not all advertising are accused of “marginalizing Christmas.”

Judging the morality of companies based on the frequency with which a retailer mentions a particular holiday not only smacks of xenophobia, it also leads to some obvious and glaring contradictions. For example, AFA lists Bed, Bath and Beyond as “FOR Christmas” and Victoria’s Secret as “AGAINST Christmas” (capitalization theirs.) However, these two outlets are merely different iterations of the same parent company. Are we to honestly believe that the same management is simultaneously “for” and “against” a federally recognized holiday? What exactly constitutes being “against” Christmas anyway? Are the stores not closed, do they not give their employees a paid day off? Would it not make more sense to rate companies on charitable giving, social responsibility or treatment of employees and customers?

Meanwhile, Best Buy and the Gap are taking all sorts of flack for attempting to acknowledge what the population at large has no trouble handling, namely that there are many specific holidays during this time of year. In Best Buy’s case, they have decided to eschew the generic “Happy Holidays” for specific, named holidays as they occur. Thus, this week’s circular wishes a Happy Thanksgiving and acknowledges the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which takes place on November 27th this year. This should hardly be viewed as an affront to American or Christian values but rather opportunity. When Jesus encountered at Samaritan woman at the well, he did not focus on their differences, even when she brought attention to their divergent places of worship and practices. He focused on her as a person. Culturally, it is important to recognize that while estimates as to the exact number vary, it is undeniable that there are a substantial number of Muslims in the U.S.– certainly more than a million and possibly as many as eight million. Even splitting the difference at 4 million or so, that is as many Muslims in this country as Presbyterians! The parallels between Samaritans of Jesus’ day and Muslims of ours should not be dismissed. More practically, a corporation the size of Best Buy likely has hundreds of Muslim employees and thousands of Muslim customers. Does it really make in business or moral sense to ignore such a group?

Meanwhile, The Gap is taking heat for its light-hearted Old Navy ad that contains a “cheer” that dares mention Kwanza, Solstice and Hanukkah “celebrate whatever holiday you wanukkah!” This ad, according the AFA, warrants a full boycott by their members. To the “War on Christmas” crowd, this is an affront to their values, which apparently involve the exclusion of millions of people from the holiday season so that they can have their own holiday all to themselves.

Perhaps the wiser stance is to recognize that companies do not celebrate holidays, people do. Companies celebrate profit. It is not in there to exclude groups of potential customers on the basis narrow-minded groups. As people, we need to recognize that we are not only celebrating events of religious, historical or cultural significance but also each other. You can wish me a Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukah, Festivus, Solstice or Saturnalia, and I will return the favor and the sentiment. This is what the spirit of the holiday season has been about for millennia and I do not intend to have it wrecked by a group that is so insecure as to feel threatened by neighbors with different beliefs. Instead of decrying the Muslim holiday in the Best Buy curricular, why not find a Muslim family in real life or on the Internet and ask them about it? You might learn something. And maybe, just maybe, they will learn something to. A healthy dialogue never hurts anybody.


For those of you that are or have been married, recall for a moment the feeling you had when you first got engaged to be married. How your heart fluttered as you popped the question or received the ring. The jubilant announcements to friends, family, even strangers in diners were apt to hear about your love. You literally wanted the whole world to know. The excitement barely wore off as you made the wedding plans. The church or hall was booked, along with a caterer, a DJ or band, invitations ordered and addressed. You poured your life into the relationship and the event that would codify it publically.
Now, imagine that when you went to pick up the marriage certificate, you found that the county government had been infiltrated by a celibate cult, whose members hold marriage to be immoral. You move from office to office but it seems everyone is in on it. You can have the ceremony if you want to, but it will not be codified. Not in this county, anyway. How would you react? Who are these people, and why are the foisting their esoteric beliefs onto you? Certainly they have a right to practice the religion of their choice as they see fit, but not at your expense.

Forget the wedding for a moment. Imagine that a “Christian” extremist group carries out violent attacks across the country relentlessly for years. The military and civilian justice system seem powerless to stop them. The group becomes large enough and powerful enough that a full civil war breaks out. The next thing you know, the members of OPEC are sending troops, uninvited, to save us from ourselves. After all, we consume an enormous amount of their oil. An unstable superpower is bad for everyone, especially for those who are “different.” They assure us that they are only here to help. But while they’re here, they insist that alcohol consumption and R Rated movies be prohibited. Signs in Arabic may go up from place to place to help off-duty soldiers find their way. Since the terrorists attend church regularly, the OPEC army suspects and harasses everyone goes to church.

Which would bother you more, the terrorists that hijack your religion or the occupying army that views all of you with suspicion? Which is worse, the violent faction that you do not understand or the peacekeepers that do not understand you? Would the safety and security be worth the price? How long would you tolerate the foreign army before joining the militants who terrorized you before? At least they are from here. At least the speak English and wear Western clothes. Surely it would be easier to negotiate with people of a similar background than to rely on a third party that does not understand the culture at all.
These are the kinds of questions that we ask every kindergartner, yet we apply a different standard to ourselves as adults. When a child takes a toy without asking, every parent instinctively asks “how would you feel if he took your toy.” Most children understand the golden rule. Treat others how you want to be treated. Grown-ups sometimes miss the corollary–do not treat others in ways that you would not want to be treated. When a child takes an action that does nothing to benefit himself but that does demonstrably harm another, we call that bullying. We would not let any child justify said bullying by appealing to an authority, (“Tommy told me to”,) the wisdom of crowds (“EVERYONE picks on Billy”), or tradition (“second graders have always picked on first graders.”) No. We call it what it is and we punish accordingly, knowing that society cannot function if kids grow up treating other people that way.

Surely we as adult can hold ourselves to the standard we expect of kindergartners. The world is complicated, but it is not THAT complicated. Kids pick this stuff up. Sometimes doing the right thing is hard, like actually studying for that test. Sometimes the right thing is doing nothing at all, life refusing to pick on the fat kid to avoid being picked on. Sometimes doing the right thing involves compromises we would rather not make, like sharing a cherished toy with a kid that is sometimes mean in attempt to show compassion.

Nobody remembers the bullies of their childhood fondly. I submit that history is no more fond of grown- up bullies. Slavery, segregation, anti-miscegenation laws—all horrific, and all were justified at the time by people appealing to tradition, crowds or religion. Wars have been waged more for the reason to be right than to provide a strategic defense. The folly is always obvious in retrospect. Do we really want to go down these roads again? Would it not be nice to be remembered as the generation that got it right the first time?