I’m Lovin’ It?

Morgan Spurlock decided to eat three meals a day for 30 days at McDonald’s. The result? A gain of 25 pounds, a 65-point cholesterol spike, vomitting, toxic liver, depression and headaches. According to the New York Post, this was all for his documentary, “Super Size Me,” which he’s entering in the Sundance Film Festival.

After stories like this and books like Fast Food Nation, I wonder why I even consider eating fast food. Yet I still do.

Risky But Ingenious Ventures

Today is the first day of the Chinese New Year, and the Year of the Monkey, according to Chinese tradition. Predictions for the Year of the Monkey include “success even in impossible ventures,” “inventions and improvisations galore,” and even if we don’t try “we will be carried forward by the surging tide of the Monkey’s natural talent for learning and advancement.” Tradition also says the Monkey will “urge us to gamble, speculate and embark on risky but ingenious ventures.” It’s interesting to note that the American Revolution began in 1776, the year of the Fire Monkey.

I feel like Dilbert

I had to send a fax today and discovered that Office Max and Kinko’s charge $1 per page to send a fax. What kind of a rip off is that? It wasn’t even a long distance fax. For $70 you can buy your own stinking fax.

Which I’m probably going to do. Anyone have any advice on buying an all-in-one printer/scanner/fax/copier? I have no need for color, mainly speed and the ability to scan decent stuff, make black & white copies, and send faxes. A laser printer seems like the best choice, though they’re almost twice as much as the inkjets. Ouch. Anyone have any advice on lasers vs. inkjets for the home office?

(if you’re wondering, yes, my computer purchase is getting closer and closer, and I’m realizing my parallel port laser printer that’s served me dutifully for ten years will become useless, as will my scanner. That leaves me with a decent color inkjet, though my need for a scanner, fax, and copier, as well as the lack of usefullness for color are making me consider an all-in-one. )

Men are from Mars

A view from NASA's Mars Rover, SpiritOf course during the State of the Union address that I just so eloquently blabbered about, I was reading about Mars. As you probably know, U.S. President George W. Bush gave this sweeping vision for a manned-mission to Mars. He basically proposed junking current NASA missions that involve things like the lame-o space station (what does that thing do anyway?) and robotic exploration, in favor of expensive, dangerous, and headline-grabbing adventurous manned exploration.

It’s a pretty bold vision, it costs a lot of money, and who knows if it’s going to happen. But either way you come down on the issue, I find it incredibly fascinating to think about.

Time gives an overview of the proposed mission, including an overview of how possible moon missions fit in, how Bush plans to pay for it, and an opinion piece about why we shouldn’t go to Mars.

The whole Mars discussion has prompted all sorts of out-there thinking, including proponents of a one-way mission to Mars and thoughts about what we might do on Mars (like use plutonium to heat the atmosphere to more human-friendly temperatures).

Despite how out-there it might be, I love all the sci-fi theorizing. What would a colony on Mars look like? What would they do? Is it just a bunch of boring scientific experiments, or would they actually be mining minerals and things of use. Would Mars become a scientific mecca, or another example of humans mucking up nature (or would our pollution efforts finally meet their match — a planet so inhospitable a little bit of carbon monoxide won’t make any difference)?

It’s especially interesting to compare all the challenges and dangers of space exploration to early exploration on our own planet. Sure, Arctic expeditions are dangerous, but at least you don’t have to bring your own oxygen.

State of the Disunion

Considering some of the comments of late, I have a hard time not commenting on tonight’s State of the Union address by President George W. Bush.

Whitehouse.gov ScreenshotThinking my wife would be watching the latest episode of America’s Next Top Model, I tried to watch the speech online. Apparently the Whitehouse web site was going to webcast the speech. Two minutes before the speech began I couldn’t find any indication on the site of how or where to access the webcast. Thankfully, even UPN opted to cover the speech, so I was able to watch it on old fashioned TV. Now that the speech is over, I see two little Real and Win icons which launch the webcast, though no text to indicate as much. Did anybody else try to watch the speech online? Any success?

Aside from the technical hurtles, I found the speech mildly entertaining. My favorite part was when Bush said, “Key provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire next year,” and the Democrat side of Congress erupted in applause. Not to be outdone, the Republicans cheered as Bush finished his statement, “The terrorist threat will not expire on that schedule,” with an additional scowl to the Democrats. I don’t know enough about the Patriot Act to take a side, I just thought the reactions were funny. It’s almost as good as reality TV.

One comment I found especially odd, and it still puzzles me: “For diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible — and no one can now doubt the word of America.” Bush said these words after the example of Libya giving up its WMD programs after negotiations. But I wonder how Bush can possibly think America is credible in the eyes of the world when the tons and tons of weapons of mass destruction we went to war over are nonexistant. ABC panned to Secretary of State Colin Powell, and I wondered if the ABC director was thinking the same thing, remembering Powell’s display of intelligence before the United Nations.

Finally, there are these words on freedom:

We also hear doubts that democracy is a realistic goal for the greater Middle East, where freedom is rare. Yet it is mistaken, and condescending, to assume that whole cultures and great religions are incompatible with liberty and self-government. I believe that God has planted in every heart the desire to live in freedom. And even when that desire is crushed by tyranny for decades, it will rise again.

As long as the Middle East remains a place of tyranny, despair, and anger, it will continue to produce men and movements that threaten the safety of America and our friends. So America is pursuing a forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East.

A recent post of mine on poverty drew criticism that I contradict myself in supporting the rights of the poor in the U.S., while not supporting the rights of Iraqis brutalized under Saddam Hussein. Those comments seem to completely agree with Bush’s remarks above, but I think I see things differently.

I hear a call from the Bible to protect the innocent, care for the poor, uplift the downtrodden, but I also hear a call from the Bible — and especially Jesus — to be peacemakers. This is a debate I’ve had many times before, and I see no clear answers. Sometimes force is required to maintain peace and justice, but that’s a contradictory approach. There aren’t any easy answers.

Freedom and democracy are great things, but I guess I don’t see them as answers to the world’s problems. You can protect the innocent, care for the poor, uplift the downtrodden and promote peace and justice without the freedom and democracy we have in the U.S. Maybe I sound like an idiot. Freedom and democracy probably make it easier to do those things, but freedom and democracy aren’t the goal. Peace and justice are, so why not focus on them? You’re aiming for the wrong goal, and in attaining that goal you’ll have lost site of the true goal.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, as the verse goes, not on churches or sermons or pastors or books or doctrines or any of those things that can be wonderful in the walk of faith, but in and of themselves are nothing.

Maybe I’m totally off-base, but that’s my perspective at 10:21 p.m. CT on the eve of the State of the Union address.

Thoughts About Sermons

A conversation on sermons a few weeks back raised the question about their importance in church services. Today an article by Philip Yancey made me wonder about the history of the sermon. His introductory comments in a review of American Sermons hinted at the history of the sermon, indicating that the Puritans elevated it to the form it is today, and that Catholics and Anglicans at one time de-emphasized the sermon (Anglicans reduced it to a quarterly occurrence).

Obviously this entry isn’t full of rigorous academic research, but I am curious about sermon history now. It’s probably one of those things I’ll never get around to looking into, but I’m still curious.

Tammy Faye on Fresh Air

I caught parts of a Fresh Air interview with Tammy Faye Messner last night. Very interesting stuff. I think Fresh Air’s Terry Gross was a little perplexed by Tammy. She kept trying to ask somewhat difficult questions and get to the real meat of a fallen televangelist, and Tammy was being elusive as heck.

Especially interesting parts included Tammy saying they never thought about money (Terry counters that they asked for money all the time; Tammy counters that they had to pay a staff of 3,000), Tammy defending Jim Bakker and saying the sex scandal was true but the financial scandal was fake, and the touch-and-go moment when Terry tried to ask Tammy how she could have married two people who both served jail time for financial fraud.

How Poor are the Poor?

Relevant magazine linked to an article from the Heritage Foundation on Understanding Poverty in America. The article questions how “poor” the poor really are, and it really confuses me. I’m mainly confused as to why Relevant linked to it. Sometimes they link to stuff that’s ridiculous or funny, and sometimes they link to stuff that’s straight-up serious. I’m not sure which way they’re taking this. But I guess how they take it doesn’t matter.

Frankly, the article pisses me off. It’s basically saying that those who live in poverty in the U.S. are actually pretty well off. They basically examined the government’s standards of poverty and took a look at those who meet those standards to see how bad life in poverty really is. Their conclusion is that it’s not too bad. It doesn’t say it explicitly in the article, but it’s pretty clear from the context on the site that it’s an effort to shoot down welfare.

Now I’ll admit that looking at poverty in America is a bit ridiculous. Compared to the rest of the world, the poor in our country are pretty well off. However, that doesn’t mean we can justify ignoring the problem, which is exactly what this article seems to be saying to me.

The article looks at a number of material considerations, like whether or not most poor people have a phone, a TV or a car, if they own a home and what condition it’s in, and whether not their children are eating properly. On all of these counts the “poor” come out pretty good.

I guess I’m just a bit miffed about the article. Most poor people I know have many of these things becase it’s a way to alleviate feelings of poverty (if we have a TV, we’re just like everyone else) or it’s a neccesity (try living without a car in an area with no public transit or getting a job without a phone). But just because the have a TV doesn’t mean they’re living it up. Many poor families would probably do better without a TV.

The article also argues that many poor families get by on what amounts to 16 hours of work per week, essentially accusing the poor of laziness.

I guess what really miffs me is everything I know about the poor through my wife. She works at a daycare center serving low-income families in what amounts to inner-city St. Paul. We live a few miles from the center on what you could call the edge of the ghetto. I see poverty all the time, and my wife interacts with it on a regular basis. While many of the families at the daycare center may have a TV or a car, that doesn’t mean they’re doing OK. And in many senses those families will do “OK,” meaning they’ll survive, but they’re often stuck in a continuing cycle of poverty. It breeds crime, gangs, and drugs. Even if they do have a TV, that doesn’t justify ignoring the poverty and allowing these problems to fester.

Her center opened a food shelf last year because government cuts made it hard for families to keep food on the table. Some kids will devour every meal they’re given at school because they don’t get enough at home. For many of these families poverty is a pride issue. They’d much rather suck it up and go hungry than admit they need help.

What’s really difficult is the welfare system. Many parents rely on goverment assistance to put their children in daycare. Without daycare, they can’t work. With recent goverment cuts, that daycare assistance was cut back and the center lost many families. What happens now? Rather than trying to get a job and get back on their feet, these families are forced to stay home because they can’t afford daycare. As a result, they’re back on welfare without a chance of moving on. At least with daycare assistance they had a job.

This article also ignored other ways poverty manifests itself. For the sake of pride a poor family might have a car, a TV, a cell phone, and own their own home and keep it in reasonable condition. But they might have no savings or any funds to turn to in an emergency. They probably have no life insurance or investments of any kind. If you look around their home they may have mattresses but no frames, a stereo but no paper to do homework on, or a TV but no books to speak of. I’m just making stuff up, but there are ways of cutting back and living on a minimal income that still inable you to enjoy some of the amenities of modern life.

I guess it just makes me mad when we try to write off poverty. Try talking to a poor man. Try living in a poor neighborhood. Try going hungry — not malnourished hungry, but skimping on a meal hungry. As minimal as those sacrifices may seem in the scope of things, they’re monumental comapred with how most of us live in America.