Sunday, September 30, 2007


Some things never go out of style. Take the shell game for example. You may have seen this game—or a variation of it such as “3 Card Monte”—on the midway of a fly-by-night carnival. The concept is very simple: the slyly smiling con artist running the game shows you a pea, puts it under one of three shells lined up in front of you, mixes up the shells with lightning fast moves, then challenges you to find the pea. You are certain you followed the shell with the pea and you confidently point to it. He lifts the shell to reveal it is empty! Stunned you try again—same result, no pea! No matter how many times you try it, the guy’s hand is always quicker than your eyes.

They must teach this game at orientation classes for politicians. Many political leaders do this regularly. Our taxes are collected for worthwhile and noble purposes. Yet, so many of those promised noble services are never delivered while our taxes never seem to be sufficient. Like the shell game operator, no matter how carefully government operations are watched by the public, we never can find the elusive pea of fiscal responsibility.

Which brings me to the situation in my state of Maryland. We are told that there is a $1.7 billion deficit in this year’s state government budget. Our erstwhile Governor O’Malley has proposed that the solution is raising taxes and finally getting approval for state-sponsored slot machines.

When an individual or family faces a budget deficit—more month than money—they look at both sides of the budget equation. They look at ways they can get more income. They also look at ways to reduce spending in order to restore budget balance. Individuals and families recognize they can’t do everything they’d like to do and still live within their means. They make hard spending decisions based on what is more important to them. In this way, they learn to live within their income.

Government always looks at ways to get more income—taxes and gambling are always the prime methods. However, I never hear discussion about reducing spending. It’s as if the thought never occurs to the smartest minds in Annapolis. It seems our political leaders are never willing to acknowledge they can’t give us everything everyone wants. Their solution is to keep the shells moving, all the while taking more money out of our pockets. As I said, some games never go out of style.

Governor O’Malley has called for a special session of the legislature to enact this latest round of shell manipulation. It’s great timing for such action. Most of us will pay no attention to what’s going on in Annapolis. We’ll be too busy getting ready for Thanksgiving and Christmas to notice the games being played with our money in Annapolis.

In my next posting I want to talk about shell game of state-sponsored gambling.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


I find the idea of time travel fascinating. It was a key element of storytelling in one of my all-time favorite television series The Twilight Zone, the original created by Rod Serling not the lame imitation of a few years ago. Classic time travel stories take a person unexpectedly from the familiar surroundings of their own time to places either in the past or the future.

Rev. Samuel Madden is considered one of the first writers to tell a time travel story, Memoirs of the Twentieth Century: Being original letters of state under George the Sixth written in 1733. Others from Mark Twain to Washington Irving to Charles Dickens to Isaac Asimov to Robert Heinlein to Woody Allen have joined Madden and Serling in writing about time travel.

All those stories seemed wonderfully fanciful. But maybe not. Quantum theory suggests the possibilty of time travel. Who knows if it might be possible to step through a time portal and find yourself suddenly in another time, another place?

Which leads me to the point of this: when would you go if you could travel anywhere in time to the past or the future?

I love history so there are many historic moments in the past I would love to visit. Some of them are:
· As a Christian there are many moments from the Bible I would love to visit: the Garden of Eden, to see Noah building the Ark, the parting of the Red Sea, and the confrontation of David with Goliath. Most of all I would love to be there at daybreak on the first Easter morning when Jesus emerged from the tomb.

· One of my heroes has always been Davy Crockett. I would like to be in the Alamo when Davy and the others make their heroic last stand against Santa Anna’s army.

· I would love to be there on July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong steps off the landing pad of Eagle and onto the surface of the moon.

There are also moments in the past that are only meaningful to me that I’d love to visit—or revisit.

· How thrilling it would be to witness the moment my parents met for the first time. I’d love to see them as teenagers who meet having no idea what the future has in store for them.

· I’d give anything to go back in time and sit around my Mom-Mom Collins’ Sunday dinner table with my family. Though we were poor, that table was filled with wonderful homemade dishes of every description, with her fried chicken at the center. The joy and love around that table was priceless.

· I’d love to be in the Midway Drive-in Theatre on a hot early June night in 1968 when I met Karen, my future wife. It would be embarrassing to see how awkward and slightly intoxicated I was but it would be worth it to see how gorgeous she was—and still is.

Time travel is intriguing to think about. Regardless of the mechanics—a visit from Christmas Ghosts or sitting in a sleigh surrounded by blinking lights—the concept is awesome to consider. These are some of the times to which I would travel. Let me ask you: when and why would you go in time? I’d really be interested to hear from you.

Sunday, September 9, 2007


My local newspaper, The Daily Times [Salisbury, Maryland], ran a front page story today that was hardly a scoop. It tells the sad story of the rapidly fading corporate remembrance of the events of September 11, 2001.

In the years immediately following 2001, September 11 was marked by well-attended memorial events, both secular and religious. But in more recent years, poor attendance resulted in the cancellation of most community 9/11 memorial events. I attended an excellent worship service today but their was no mention of the impending anniversary of the terrorists’ attack on America. This year’s observances shall be confined to first-responders’ organizations.

Why has this happened? It certainly didn’t happen following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. How can we so quickly forget such a cataclysmic event in United States history that occurred just six years ago?

It would be simple to find the answers in some sweeping analysis of society. However, I think the answers are much simpler; I think it is found in two of the primary causes of forgetfulness.

Stress: We all live in a stress-packed environment. No matter your age or occupation we are all under immense stress. If you are a student, you’ve got the stress of being socially accepted, studying to be able to pass the state examinations, and the hectic schedule of sports practices and music lessons. If you’re a parent, you’ve got all of your kids’ schedules to keep in addition to keeping your job so you can pay the mortgage, car payment, and credit card bills. Ask a farm family dealing with this year’s devastating drought, they can tell you about stress. If you’re a retiree, you’ve got the stress of worrying about your pension, your health, and trying to figure out how to fit into a world where everything is changing.

Get the idea? We are all so stressed with the challenges of real life that we can’t seem to take the time or have the energy to look at the bigger picture which includes the post-September 11th world in which we are living.

What’s more, if we keep the vivid memory of the ugly realities of 9/11, then we are forced to face the fact of how vulnerable we all are to such attacks today. Even after spending billions of dollars, it is doubtful that you and I are any safer from attacks by suicidal fanatics.
It would seem we’ve taken the Scarlet O’Hara approach to dealing with hard and uncomfortable facts: “I’ll worry about that tomorrow!”

Fatigue: A related problem to stress is fatigue. Fatigue and stress feed on each other like an emotion atomic reaction, one intensifies the other.

Everyone is fatigued these days. Like stress, fatigue afflicts every age group. Children are getting less sleep because of long hours of school, soccer, and homework. Adults find they have so much to do that the only way they can even come close to keeping all their commitments is to use time they would normally sleep. We are people who are physically exhausted—that’s one reason for the skyrocketing popularity of the new energy drinks and high-octane Starbuck’s coffee. In spite of these, fatigue causes us to limit ourselves to dealing with the most immediate and personal matters. We just don’t have the energy to worry about the world at large.

Another kind of fatigue that is also making us forgetful about 9/11: war fatigue. We have been fighting the Iraq War longer than we fought World War II yet a victorious conclusion seems nowhere in sight. Instead, it seems to be never-ending. We are weary of trying to fight terrorism by being in league with corrupt Iraqi politicians, an inept Iraqi army, and an Iraqi population that seems more devoted to settling ancient tribal grudges than they are to defeating global terrorists. We are simply tired of the Iraq War which we said we were fighting as payback for 9/11.

Remembering 9/11 only makes us more frustrated and fatigued, so we choose to stop remembering.

Until the next attack happens.

The words of philosopher George Santayana will echo on Tuesday “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Sunday, September 2, 2007

What You Will Not See In The Washington Post

What You Will Not See In the Washington Post
There are fewer things I find more offensive than biased attempts at political correctness. A recent example of by a virtuoso purveyor of biased political correctness, the Washington Post, is a prime example.

Berkeley Breathed is the cartoonist who produced the marvelous comic strip “Bloom County” during the 1980’s that featured biting satire in the velvet glove of humor. Several years ago, Breathed began producing a Sunday comic strip called “Opus” which continues offering his views on today’s world.

A couple of weeks ago he did the strip you see here which offers some subtle satire of the Muslim view of women. Religion and religious leaders have never been exempt from Breathed’s wit. Several weeks prior to this strip, he did a strip that had a sarcastic remark about the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.

Here is where the biased political correctness reared its head. Decision makers at the Washington Post decided the above strip was possibly offensive to Muslims and refused to publish it. However, they’d had no concerns about Christians being offended by the earlier strip that targeted the late Rev. Falwell. The juxtaposition of these two strips makes the bias all the more obvious.

The fact of the matter is that neither the Washington Post— nor any other mainstream media—have any hesitancy about offending Christians. But there is a growing fear among the media of offending Muslims. Why is that?

One writer said he thinks it is because they think there is the chance that an offended Muslim might just declare jihad [“holy war”] and set off a bomb. That is an extreme statement—certainly most Muslims are not bombers and terrorists. However, perhaps that much distorted stereotype is how the Washington Post pundits and other media elite think of Muslims.
Conversely the Washington Post knows there is no chance that Christians will respond violently to criticism or ridicule from a comic strip or editorial writer. The worst they can expect from Christians is a few angry emails.

I don’t think either strip should be censored. Do I like the ridicule of Rev. Falwell after his death when he can’t defend himself? No, but much worse was said about him during his lifetime yet he never let it stop him. I was not a great admirer of Rev. Falwell’s political activism—he was however a wonderful preacher—but he graciously accepted the rough and tumble nature of the public forum.
However, neither should we fear public critique of Muslim or other faiths. They are part of the public landscape. Furthermore, Muslims in other countries have no qualms about ridiculing and demeaning Christianity and anything remotely American. Therefore, they should expect and accept public critique, the kind that is not allowed in any Muslim-controlled country.

Biased political correctness is nothing more than the worse kind of prejudice in a thin disguise.