Not Cease from Exploration

Thursday, September 18, 2014

How Religious Freedom Works in 2014

I've been trying to articulate my thoughts around a sense religious oppression that seems to exist in some quarters.  I haven't been very successful.  Then I saw this graphic and it all came together for me.

All the paranoia.

All the nonsensical complaining.

All of the fundraising disguised as whining.

Now let me be perfectly clear in one regard:  I do not believe that any religion should be forced to alter, change or modify any aspect of their creed simply because a government says so.  Well, within limits, and by "limits" I mean basically that no religion should advocate for the harming of children or animals.  Now if it involves consenting adults and it doesn't interfere with my life or yours, then more power to them.

Let's think about how this actually works.  In practice I don't think that conservative Christians should be required to accept same-sex marriage, in a religious context, by the government.  In reality though, for example, the Roman Catholic Church does not actually accepts many different types of marriages involving heterosexual couples anyway.  So no, the FBI will not be forcing priests to marry lesbians.  Sorry.  However, it seems that the converse is certainly not true, as many religious are trying to define the meaning of marriage from a civil context.  They can be slick about it, using words like "natural law" in their arguments, but it all ends up being the same point, simply that their religion is against same-sex marriage.

Let's take the discussion up a level.  There is a contingent in America's religious society today that feels threatened.  Why?  Because they once made the rules, and no one held them accountable.   Well that's not true, as they technically held themselves accountable.  Anyway, they could do and say whatever they wanted, hiding behind a one way mirror version of the First Amendment.  Note the key words "one way".  Now, it seems, elements of society have learned the same freedom that gives religious institutions an ability to criticize others also gives them the freedom to call out those same religious institutions as being sexist, racist, homophobic, etc.  The reaction by those religious institutions?  "Why it's persecution!"  I think that last phrase is code for "How dare they use our tactics against us!".

I realize that this plays out in some very subtle ways, and there is plenty of grey area to go around when it comes to how a concept like religious freedom becomes operationalized in a society.  At the end of the day though, while religion can claim a monopoly on the truth within the walls of its temples/churches/mosques/synagogues, that version of the truth ceases to exist at the building exit sign.  That's simply the way our American society was founded, period.  In the United States, religions don't get to make the civil rules.  That's for places like Saudi Arabia.  Has religion helped form our civil society?  It sure has, but "helped form" is different than "controlled by".

Speaking of forming and the role of religion in society, I know that there are many who want to claim that the United States is a Christian nation, but if that were truly the case, wouldn't the Constitution use the word "Christian" or "Christian Nation" at least once?  Wouldn't Jesus be mentioned at least once?  How about at least one reference to the "Bible"?  At best, our founding fathers left us with the words like "God" and "Creator" in our official founding documents as reminders of their mostly deist view of the universe.  As I understand it, many of the founding fathers had a basic distrust of organized religion, born in part out of experiences with state-sanctioned creeds in Europe.  History (both recent and not so recent) has shown the wisdom of their thinking in the separating of both church and state.  It's simply too bad though that some have a revisionist view of our nation's founding, used mostly as a fundraising tool, to claim that the founding fathers were a bunch of born-again conservative Christians.

Lastly we shouldn't forget the power of the almighty dollar.  A sense of persecution is the perfect fundraising fodder for the many religious groups out there in this day and age.  I've spent a few months listening to the local militant right-wing Catholic radio station, and the paranoia is inescapable, along with the appeals for money to fight "secular politicians and judges who want to take our freedoms away".  Again, it's as if there is legislation in front of Congress at this very moment that seeks to have the government name the next Pope.  It's borderline insanity when viewed from an objective perspective.  However, it's worth noting that "objective perspective" and "religious fundamentalism" are more or less mutually exclusive concepts.  Again, see theocracies such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.

At the end of the day, religious society in the United States needs to take a deep breath and ponder the following:
  1. No one is telling you how or what to worship in your church/mosque/synagogue or home. 
  2. No one is requiring you to like/approve of/enjoy those who are different than you.  You can hate all you want, as long as that hate doesn't interfere with someone else's pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.  
  3. No one else but you and those like you care about your religion.  Sorry, it's just not that important. 
  4. Your right to religious expression is not superior to the rights of those who wish to be critical of your religious expression.
  5. Your religion is free to ban, prohibit, regulate behavior and excommunicate followers to its heart's content, as long as it is completely understood that those actions are only valid within the context of that religion.
  6. If you want to claim the moral high ground, then you have to actually act the part; otherwise you're just another hypocrite.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

On the bleeding edge of Serbo-Croation automotive technology

All hail the zenith of Serbo-Croation automotive technology, the humble Yugo.

(image from

If you are not familiar with with Yugo, then you can read more HERE.

Anyway, and quite shockingly, the Yugo was the butt of many jokes.  Here are 10 of my favorites, plus a bonus.

Q:  Why does a Yugo come with a rear defroster?
A:  To keep your hands warm in the winter when you need to push it.

Q:  What do you call a Yugo at the top of a hill?
A:  A miracle!

Q:  What do you call the shock absorbers in a Yugo?
A:  Passengers.

Q:  What's the difference between a Yugo and a Ferrari?
A:  A Ferrari goes from 0 to 60 in 4 seconds.  A Yugo goes from 0 to 4 in 60 seconds.

Q:  A man walks into a auto parts store and says "I'll take a gas cap for my Yugo."
A:  The clerk says, "That sounds like a fair trade to me."

Q:  How do you double the value of a Yugo?
A:  Fill the tank up with gas.

Q:  Why don't Yugo's sustain much damage after a front-end collision?
A:  Because the tow truck takes the impact.

Q:  What's found on the last two pages of every Yugo owner's manual?
A:  The bus schedule.

Q:  How do you make a Yugo go faster down hill?
A:  Turn off the engine.

Q:  What do you do if your Yugo gets stuck in a swarm of killer bees?
A:  Stop pushing and get into the car!

True Story - In the mid-late 80's I was working in Southcentral Pennsylvania.  While driving near one of the many shopping malls in the area, I was listening to the local radio station's traffic report.  That report went as follows:

"There is a major back-up on route 30 that seems to be caused by a Yugo stuck on a wad of chewing gum."

Friday, September 12, 2014

From Psychology Today - 5 Steps to a clearer mind

You can read the article HERE.

As someone who has a notoriously cluttered mind, I'm going to have to give these steps a try.

This has always been something of both a blessing and a curse for me.

A blessing?
I love being interested in lots of different things, sometimes all at the same time.  For example, I was just cutting the grass while thinking about a pressing issue at work and my school work.  Mentally I am never bored.  In fact, it might be nice to be able to live to, say, 200 so that I could get around to everything I want to try in my lifetime.

A curse?
There are times when I just get too many conflicting thoughts happening all at once in my head.  It's not like a bunch of whispers, but rather a bunch of whispers and shouts, all moving at light speed.  It's not really voices either; think more like images and words circling around and around and around. The more tired I get, the less ability I have to sort it all out.

Here's to clear(er) minds for all of us.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Managing People and Time

I was participating in a meeting at work last week and the subject of a leader's effectiveness (or lack thereof) came up.  Inevitably, one of my co-workers brought up the tested and approved remedy of "well maybe they need better time management skills".  Have I mentioned how much I dislike that phrase?  Well in case I have not, I do, in fact, dislike that phrase.

You can't manage time.

The word "manage" implies control.  A big no-no in my book is also the phrase:

"Manage People"

Again, "manage" implies control.  Let that one sink in:  by saying "manage people" you are saying that you really wish to control people.  Nice concept that fails, in epic fashion, when faced with reality.

You can not control people.  Never, ever.

You may think you control someone, but that's an illusion.  At best, you may temporarily have some sway over someone's behavior, but that will not last.  Just ask any parent.  I'll also add that you may be allowed to think you control someone's behavior, but that's solely at the discretion of the person you think you are controlling.

The above is why I much prefer the term:

"Lead People"

"Lead" isn't about controlling behavior of others, it's about encouraging the behaviors required for mutual success in an endeavor (any endeavor).  Think about it:  Generals don't "manage" armies, they "lead" them.

So what can you "manage"?  Well you can manage a process, for example.  You can manage a piece of machinery as well.  As noted above though, I don't necessarily think you can "manage time", at least in the strictest sense of the word.  Why?  Well time is a constant, relatively speaking.  It will occur, and at at rate you can not change, regardless of your attempts at control.  The notion that you can "manage your time" is, as a result, a fallacy.

It all comes back to control, and the one (and I will note only) human you can, in fact, control is you.  You can manage yourself.  In the end, it's not "time management" that some folks lack, but rather it's simply self-discipline.  I suspect  that in the world of soft-sounding business speak "better time management skills" sounds better than "better self discipline".  We like sounding better, don't we?  But sometimes in our efforts to not offend others we end up muddying our intent.  Sometimes a bit more precision in language would serve us all a little better.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Road Apples, #152

Yesterday...would have been my mother's 79th birthday.  To mark the occasion, I did something I have never done before (well not since she passed away), namely visit her grave.  I'm not going to "wax poetic"  writing about my mother for two reasons:  First, she was an incredibly hard, difficult, often times mean-spirited person.  Second, and despite what I just wrote, she'd be the last one to ever want someone writing glowing Internet stuff about her.  Besides, I don't believe, as a matter of well established personal philosophy, in the concept of dwelling the in past.  What's done is done, and the best days are always in front of us.  Anyway, Rest in Peace Mom.

Side note:  In the odd coincidences of life department, both my and Ms Rivers' mothers have the same birthday (although different years).  Small world.

Blogger Groove...In spite of concerns on my end for not having as much time or energy to write these days, my blogger units seem to be in good supply.  Perhaps I am just getting more and more efficient with my time (code for "I am not spending as much time simply goofing off").

Governor's Race...I was at La Festa Salmonella last Monday and I was surprised by what I didn't see, namely a ton of politicos wandering around.  Maybe I just hit the wrong day.  Oh well.  It did get me thinking that things have been mighty quiet on the impending election for governor this coming November.  You know, this is the one that Tom Corbett is going to lose.  Anyway, I'd like to see the governor do a bit more advertising, but let's face it, he simply doesn't have much in the way of ammunition.  He can, of course, always resort to lying (case in point:  his commercial that claimed that he actually INCREASED state education funding), but that stinks of desperation over the long term.  On second thought, maybe he should do more monster truck television spots.

IKEA...It's worth a minute or three of your life to watch the new IKEA commercial.

As a parody of the upcoming Apple mega-announcement, this is very well done.  I'll also note that IKEA is simply a great store.  If you've never been to an IKEA, then please do yourself a favor and make an IKEA pilgrimage.  My home office desk and surrounding stuff is mostly from IKEA, and I've never happier with furniture.

Bird-feeder...I've always wanted to erect a bird-feeder.  Now granted that this is not a challenge that falls into the difficult category, but rather in that of "things I just never seem to find time to do" column.  Well that ended yesterday.  The feeder is in place outside of the kitchen window, stocked with seeds.  Now all we need are birds.  Hopefully they will come, in time.  Finding the right kind of feeder was a bit of a challenge in that Ms Rivers and I wanted something relatively squirrel proof, yet not unwieldy in dimension.  Nothing at Wally World, but I did end up finding one at a home store that seems to do the trick.  Ultimately we will let the birds decide.

Yeah local sports team!...Ms Rivers and I walked down to the Wyoming Area football stadium on Friday night to catch most of the game between our local school and Scranton Prep.  I actually find the activity enjoyable.  Why?  Well first, it's nice to be able to walk down to the stadium.  It's a few blocks, but on a cool evening it's a nice experience.  Second, I've always enjoyed watching amateur sports.  I can't be bothered with the professional stuff, but watching a bunch of kids play football or basketball is fun precisely because you get to see the effort at work.  They make mistakes and they react.  Interesting stuff.  The score?  Wyoming Area was crushed by Scranton Prep.  It wasn't even close.

Home Improvement 101...Outside of erecting bird-feeders, I recently replaced a busted up window on our garage.  This is the same garage that had a non-functional door that I also replaced.  Anyway, if for no other reason than testosterone fueled manliness, here are before and after pictures.



(almost done)

(more or less done)

[Insert all manner of manly grunts and such here.]

Over the Fall I'll be working on the inside of the garage.  Next year I may end up siding it.  We shall see.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Privacy and the Right to be Stupid

Much has been written in the news and other dark corners of the Internet about the issue of on-line privacy.  Think "famous actress nudie photos leaded from Banana bCloud" and such.  Some of it is almost reported with a tinge of horror, as if someone's very existence has been violated to the core.  Anyway, just to kind of sort of maybe wade into this just a tad bit, here are a few random thoughts from me, someone who knows just enough to be dangerous when it comes to Internet security (and basic common sense).

  1. Don't put your nude s*#t on the Internet (unless you actually want someone to see it).  This one should be a layup, but apparently it isn't for everyone.  Just don't do it.  Period.  Ever. 
  2. The Internet is not EVER a completely safe place for anything.  See item #1. Once content leaves your computer assume it could fall into anyone's hands.
  3. If you want to keep copies of stuff, make sure you keep those copies off-line.  While I have three on-line storage services for my stuff, all of my important files are backed up not onto one of those clouds, but rather onto a physical, removable, off-line mass storage device.  For the record, none of my "stuff" includes me being in the "buff".  Hey, that sounds like a rap lyric.  Yes, the backup process is manual, and yes it takes time.  Yes also that my mass storage device could be stolen.  I could also come down with Ebola, but seriously, we are talking general odds here folks, with the bottom line being that off-line storage is simply more secure than on-line storage.  
  4. Set basic standards for your public, on-line life (oh, and then follow them).  Maybe, just maybe, it's not important to share every detail of your life on the Facebooks.  If you do, however, want to share every detail of your life on the Facebooks, then please just know that you are surrendering every ounce privacy you think you may have to a company that is far more interested in profit than it is you.  Facebook is a business, it is not your friend.  
  5. Ask before you drag others into your on-line life.  Don't reference any family members or loved ones on-line unless they have given you permission to do so. 
  6. Pay attention to what you do when you are on-line.  On-line scams and hacks exist because the perpetrators of such things count on folks not paying attention.  Sadly, for example, this means actually reading all of those annoying pop-up boxes that appear when Java insists on it's 28th update for this month ("Oh, that's why I have that annoying toolbar on Internet Explorer.",).  This also means not clicking of that file that claims to be your winning ticket to $87,000,000 from the Irish sweepstakes.  Sorry, the only thing you have won is potentially a case of Internet Herpes.
 You can thank me later.  Now I'm off to Google image "Jennifer Lawrence".

Thursday, September 4, 2014

When the going gets weird: Fake Cell Phone Towers

This is worth reading.

This isn't Tin-Foil hat lunacy.  This is actual news reported on from multiple sources.  Worth your time to read.

In the end, the three primary questions are this:
  • Who do these belong to?
  • What are they being used for?
  • Who knew before now that these existed?
I don't think we will like the answers...any of the answers.  

Monday, September 1, 2014

Book Report & Quotes, Jim Palmer's "Notes from (Over) The Edge"

I just finished reading this book...

(you can link to to buy this book HERE)

...and I have a few thoughts.

Why this book?
I was reading something that I think my Facebook friend Mike Sporer posted a few months back that intrigued me.  What I expected was a book that would disassemble Christian belief systems.  That wasn't necessarily what I got.

Did I like it?
I'd give it about 3 out of 5 stars.

Would I recommend it?
I depends.  It might make sense to try reading Mr Palmer's first two books first.  I'm not sure I'm going to go that route, but we'll see.

What was compelling about the book?
I'd say three basic themes stuck with me after finishing the book:

  1. The notion that the way to God is found within each of us.  That sounds kind of new-agesque, but the book it self doesn't promote what I would consider "new age" philosophies.
  2. Our souls represent the Truth; human experience is just something we experience for a certain period of time in our existence.
  3. Religious traditions, dogma and the like don't do anything to help us see the truth within ourselves.  In fact, they are sometimes destructive in that regard.

What wasn't so compelling about the book?
One basic criticism:  Mr Palmer simply repeats the same themes over and over and over again.  I few times I would read the book and basically yell "I get it! Can we move on now?".  I fairness, Mr Palmer does note that this book represents his collective thoughts, written in a notebook.

Here are a few select quotes that can give you a flavor for the book:

Page 26 - "Jesus never said he would save or free anyone.  He did not say 'I will set you free.'  His exact words were 'When you know the truth, the truth will set you free'."

Page 41 - " have a body but you are not your body."

Page 44 - "You have a self-concept or self-image, which you made up in your mind, but it has nothing to do with your original Self.  The concepts you hold about yourself are learned.  Not one of them is actually your original Self."

Page 48 - "Truth is not something outside waiting to be discovered, it is an actuality inside to be realized."

Page 61 - "Show no preference to whom you can express compassion.  Have compassion for all human being equally."

Page 83 - "The very moment you entertain the notion that peace and harmony are something you don't have that you must acquire, you have assured that there will be no inner peace and harmony.  The seeking itself will be a disturbance.  It is not necessary for you to seek inner peace and harmony because you ARE peace and harmony."

Page 87 - "Your original Self assumed a mind and body for a human existence.  Your body and mind will decay and one day stop functioning.  End of story.  That's part of the deal with being human, which you signed up for."

Page 129 - "But the idea that obedience, faithfulness and spiritual maturity should result in God blessing your life with favorable circumstances is false.  If this were true, God really missed the boat when it came to Jesus, who experienced levels of physical, mental, emotional, and psychological pain that few people ever have or will."

Page 135 - "Modern Christianity mostly revolves around the teachings of Saint Paul, and not Jesus.  The central seeds of Institutional Christianity contain little or no teachings of Jesus."

Page 136 - "The whole notion of Jesus bringing a new hierarchy ruled by the chair of Saint Peter is a grave distortion of the whole character, life, and teachings of Jesus.  Jesus' central message was about the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of men."

Page 139 - "Jesus never said...I have come to bring you a new religion..."

Page 170 - "Fear, guild, punishment, condemnation, and shame are never a legitimate means for engendering religious devotion.  Though they can be very an effective means of control and manipulation, or for achieving compliance, they are an obstacle to true enlightenment, and do great harm."

Page 171- "The fundamentalist 'Christina Gospel' damages children by telling them that they are born into this world intrinsically bad and repulsive to God.  They learn that their sinfulness is to blame for the brutalization, torture, and death of God's son."

Page 188 - "Religion made half of us afraid to die, and the other half afraid to live."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The hens are walking down North Washington Avenue in Scranton

Ever hear the expression "the hens are coming home to roost?"?  Well when it comes to Scranton's financial situation, they are now just a few blocks away from city hall.

This is the end.  There aren't enough assets to sell.  The Auditor General is just confirming what many have been saying all along:  Scranton is functionally bankrupt.

When the pension plans run dry, which they will, retirees who were sold a bill of goods...namely pension benefits that city leaders knew (or should have known) were unsustainable...will take legal action that will lead to a bankruptcy declaration.

Will it happen in 3 years?  I'm not sure.  The city could find something else to sell, or lease back, or hold a hunkering large bake sale for that matter, forestalling the inevitable for a bit longer.  In the end though, the gravity of Scranton's finances, where far more is spent than which is taken in, will force this issue to come to a boil.

Gloom and doom?  Hardly.  More like a reality that successive city mayors and council members have patently ignored for decades.

Mark my words:  this will not end well.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

High Anxiety

As I write this I am operating on maybe two hours of what would best be described as "low grade" sleep.  My stomach feels like it is becoming a super-massive black hole.  My neck is sore.  What's it all about?

High anxiety.

I am embarking on a new endeavor, and after my first experience I am feeling like I was just told I have three months to live.  It's all so horribly, horribly illogical; I don't feel well and I loathe the fact that I can't really articulate why I don't feel well.  

What if I can't do this?

What if I fail?

Who will be disappointed?

What if I embarrass myself?

What if I'm not as good as others think?

What if doing this takes up all of my free time?

I could go on and on and on, and the questions wouldn't make any more sense.  Yes, even I know the answers to the above questions:

Q: What if I can't do this?
A:  In fact I can.  Others have and I can too.

Q: What if I fail?
A:  There isn't a "fail" here, there is only a "try".  If it ends up not working out, then so be it.

Q: Who will be disappointed?
A:  For the people that truly matter in my life, no one.

Q: What if I embarrass myself?
A:  I already have a doctorate in embarrassing myself.

Q: What if I'm not as good as others think?
A:  It doesn't matter what others think, only what I think.

Q: What if doing this takes up all of my free time?
A:  It will not, and besides, I can make this work time wise.

You see though, therein lies the problem:  I know the answers but yet I still feel this way.  I suspect that, in the end, the only "cure" is to march forward.  Maybe, just maybe, what I am afraid of is simply being afraid.  That's a tough statement to make coming from someone like me, but as I often say, "it has the benefit of being true".  It's at times like this that I fall back on that great philosopher of modern times, Sylvester Stallone.

I can't think of a good way to end this posting, so I'll simply, well, end it.

Here's to trying.