Archive for August, 2009

Tutu on “Religious Human Rights and the Bible”

August 29th, 2009 8 comments

I few weeks ago I wrote a post discussing health care as a right.  Since then I have had several good conversations with people from across the political spectrum on what constitutes a “human right” and what the implications are of such a delineation.  Last night I came across a 1996 article by Archbishop Desmond Tutu (a hero of mine) entitled Religious Human Rights and the Bible.  In just a few short pages he frames the question brilliantly by exploring how the Christian worldview calls us to understand the importance and dignity of each human being.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Tutu begins by acknowledging that religion (especially Christianity) has led to oppression and injustice.  Yet, he is quick to counter by pointing out the narrative of Scripture calls for a different view of things.  He bases his argument on the implications of the creation story where all humanity is uniquely created in the image of God.  He says:

The Bible claims for all human beings this exalted status that we are all, each one of us, created in the divine image, that it has nothing to do with this or that extraneous attribute which by the nature of the case, can be possessed by only some people… We must therefore have a deep reverence for the sanctity of human life… The life of every human person is inviolable a gift from God.

Being created in the image of God is not just about identity Tutu contends, it is also about calling and purpose.

The [Biblical Narrative] declares that the human being created in the image of God is meant to be God’s viceroy, God’s representative in having rule over the rest of creation on behalf of God.  To have dominion, not in an authoritarian and destructive manner, but to hold sway as God would hold sway–compassionately, gently, caringly, enabling each part of creation to come fully into its own and to realize its potential for the good of the whole, contributing to the harmony and unity which was God’s intention for the whole of creation.

When we understand ourselves and others in light of our connection with God, it requires a different response to questions about humanity and the rights of all persons.

[This understanding] imbues each one of us with profound dignity and worth… In the face of injustice and oppression it is to disobey God not to stand up in opposition to that injustice and that oppression  Any violation of the rights of God’s stand-in cries out to be condemned and to be redressed, and all people of good will must be engaged in upholding and persevering those rights as a religious duty.  Such a discussion as this one should therefore not be merely an academic exercise in the most pejorative sense.  It must be able to galvanize participants with a zeal to be active protectors of the rights of persons.

Even if we capture the depth and breadth of the implications of this understanding of God and his people, we are still faced with the fact that humanity was given the freedom to choose right or wrong, good or evil, obedience or rebellion.  We must not only understand who we are in light of our creator, we must also walk the delicate line of what it means to embody this reality.  Tutu explains:

We are created to exist in a delicate network of interdependence with fellow human beings and the rest of God’s creation.  All sorts of things go horribly wrong when we break this fundamental of our being.  Then we are no longer appalled as we should be that vast sums are spent on budgets of death and destruction, when a tiny fraction of those sums would ensure that God’s children everywhere would have a clean supply of water, adequate health care, proper housing and education, enough to eat and to war.

Tutu contends that it is only when we are willing to first understand ourselves and others in light of our relationship with God and our role as bearers-of-the-image-of-God, that we are truly able to to grasp the dignity, worth and inherent rights of all persons.  He concludes:

The biblical understanding of being human includes freedom from fear and insecurity, freedom from penury and want, freedom of association and movement, because we would live ideally in the kind of society that is characterized by these attributes.  It would be a caring and compassionate, a sharing and gentle society in which, like God, the strongest would be concerned about the welfare of the weakest, represented in ancient society by the widow, the alien, and the orphan.  It would be a society in which you reflected the holiness of God not by ritual purity and cultic correctness, but by the fact that when you gleaned your harvest, you left something behind for the poor, the unemployed, the marginalized ones–all a declaration of the unique worth of persons that does not hinge on their economic, social, or political status but simply on the fact that they are persons created in God’s image. That is what invests them with their preciousness and from this stems all kinds of rights.

Tutu’s analysis is poignant and thought provoking — especially for Christians.  It is not adequate to define human rights in terms of the constitution or any body of law.  Likewise, we cannot base our decisions on what is right on economic models or political ideologies.  Instead, we must ask a different sort of question. We must inquire as to how we can love and care for all people — all of whom are created in the image of God.

All marks of emphasis in quotations are mine. Religious Human Rights and the Bible was originally published in Volume 10 of the Emory International Law Review.  You can download the complete file here from The Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University.

Smoking Prevention, Big Tobacco and a ban on Clove Cigarettes

August 26th, 2009 18 comments

It is not just a rumor.  As of September 22nd, it will be illegal to sell clove cigarettes in the United States.  On June 11, 2009 the Senate passed H.R. 1256, The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, with a vote of 79-17.  The next day the House approved the same bill 307-97. (Who said bi-partisanship was dead?!?!).  On June 22 President Obama signed the bill into law.

Here are some of the things the act does:

  • Creates a tobacco control center within the FDA and gives the FDA authority to regulate the content, marketing and sale of tobacco products.
  • Requires tobacco companies and importers to reveal all product ingredients and seek FDA approval for any new tobacco products.
  • Allows the FDA to change tobacco product content and includes a ban on flavorings besides tobacco and menthol.
    • Worthy to note that the ban on flavorings applies to cigarettes only. Pipe tobacco, cigars, and the like are not included.
  • Calls for new rules to prevent sales except through direct, face-to-face exchanges between a retailer and a consumer.
  • Limits advertising that could attract young smokers.
  • Requires cigarette warning labels to cover 50 percent of the front and rear of each pack, with the word warning in capital letters.
  • Bars the use of expressions such as “light, “mild” or “low” that give the impression that a particular tobacco product poses less of a health risk.
    • It is worthy of note that the bill makes no provisions that ban the import of the banned items for personal consumption, only for “sale or distribution”, meaning that the law as it relates to the import of the items in question remains unchanged.

For the most part the regulations require tobacco companies to jump through a few more hoops and be a bit more forthcoming.  There is however one industry that will be completely shut down by this law: the clove cigarette (kretek) industry.  Once the bill goes into effect 3 months after being signed into law (September 22, 2009), it will be illegal to sell cigarettes with any flavoring other than menthol.

Djarum Blacks. A popular clove cigarette that will soon be banned under new legislation.

You can read the pertinent text of the bill below.

SPECIAL RULE FOR CIGARETTES.—Beginning 3 months after the date of enactment of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, a cigarette or any of its component parts (including the tobacco, filter, or paper) shall not contain, as a constituent (including a smoke constituent) or additive, an artificial or natural flavor (other than tobacco or menthol) or an herb or spice, including strawberry, grape, orange, clove, cinnamon, pineapple, vanilla, coconut, licorice, cocoa, chocolate, cherry, or coffee, that is a characterizing flavor of the tobacco product or tobacco smoke. Nothing in this subparagraph shall be construed to limit the Secretary’s authority to take action under this section or other sections of this Act applicable to menthol or any artificial or natural flavor, herb, or spice not specified in this subparagraph. ~Sec 907.a 1 A of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Bill

What makes this so reprehensible is the fact that the big tobacco companies have been pushing for this legislation.  While it appears to seek to curb products that would be appealing to youth, the truth of the matter is this bill is designed to block competitors of the traditional tobacco dealers.  Just look at the exception of menthols.  Why is that flavor not included?  The answer is simple: because people like Phillip Morris make way too much money to risk pissing them off.  The irony of the matter really comes out when you start looking at statistics.  Are kids using cloves and vanilla cigarettes a “gateway” to “harder” products like Marlboro Reds?  No!  Just read this analysis from Sarah Torribio.

Statistically, however, the flavor kids consider tastiest is straight-up tobacco, in the form of Marlboro brand cigarettes (produced by Philip Morris). Some 81 percent of established teen smokers consider Marlboro to be their ticket to flavor country, according to a February 12 article.

The next most popular flavor is mint, in the form of menthol cigarettes (Philip Morris produces a wide variety of menthol cigarettes, as well). A recent survey by the American Legacy Foundation turned up the following stats: Menthol cigarettes are preferred by 81 percent of black teens, 32 percent of white teens and 45 percent of Hispanic teens.

In 2007, high school students were surveyed about their smoking habits. Twenty percent of teens surveyed said they had smoked in the last month, according to the American Lung Association website.

A relatively small number of these had smoked clove cigarettes (6.8 percent of the 20 percent who had smoked) and candy-flavored bidi cigarettes (1.7 percent).

Philip Morris’ reasons for this stipulation are as clear as the numbers. Menthol cigarettes, which add up to 28 percent of cigarettes purchased in the United States, are used by a significant number of teenagers and an even more significant number of minority youths.

Thus, clove cigarettes (which represent .09 percent of all cigarettes purchased in the United States), and flavor cigarettes (which have an even smaller market share) are a red herring.

By supporting this bill, big tobacco companies like Phillip Morris and R.J. Reynolds can appear to be taking a stand against underage smoking, while suffering no ill effects to their bottom line.  In fact, this bill helps them out by reducing the competition.  While I can certainly get behind many of the other elements of the legislation, this ban on flavorings does nothing to protect children and instead limits the choices of adults.  There is no evidence this ban will improve the health or decrease the smoking rate of Americans.  What it best illustrates is how effective big corporations are at shielding their profits because of effective lobbying.  For further analysis I recommend Up in Smoke: How the Tobacco Industry Shaped the New Smoking Bill.

Edward “Teddy” Kennedy Quotes

August 26th, 2009 No comments
"The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dreams shall never die." - Teddy Kennedy

"The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dreams shall never die." - Teddy Kennedy

Last night, on August 25, 2009, the US Senate lost one of its most famous/notorious members.  Edward “Teddy” Kennedy was serving his ninth term when he passed away after a fight with brain cancer.  At the time he was the second most senior member of the Senate and was the third longest serving senator ever.  After his older brothers John and Robert were assassinated,Ted made a name for himself as one of the most polarizing figures in congress.  He was always unapologetic for his strong liberal views and was consistent in his fight for civil rights for all people.  Love him or hate him, he was a figure to be reckoned with.  Here are a few quotes from Senator Ted Kennedy:

The Constitution does not just protect those whose views we share; it also protects those with whose views we disagree.

It’s better to send in the Peace Corps than the Marine Corps.

Frankly, I don’t mind not being President. I just mind that someone else is.

America will not be America until we free ourselves of discrimination and bigotry

War should be a last resort, not the first response.

It is possible to love America while concluding that it is not now wise to go to war, … The standard that should guide us is especially clear when lives are on the line.

Surely, we can have effective relationships with other nations without adopting a chip-on-the-shoulder foreign policy, a my-way-or-the-highway policy that makes all our goals in the world more difficult to achieve.

The nation lost a courageous woman and a true American hero. A half century ago, Rosa Parks stood up not only for herself, but for generations upon generations of Americans.

Our struggle is not with some monarch named George who inherited the crown. Although it often seems that way.

When we rebuild the land ravaged by the winds and the floods, we must rebuild it to be a more just and fair land.

Fixing the Blank Screen on my Macbook Pro – Deleting the sleepimage

August 24th, 2009 38 comments

In the midst of a super-busy week I experiencing a heart-sinking feeling: I opened the lid to my macbook pro and all I got was a blank screen.  Earlier in the day I had closed my computer to take it with me to meeting.  Every other time it simply went to sleep and then “woke up” when I opened the lid.  If I had left it unplugged for a while it would take a bit to start up, but this time I got nothing.  I tried charging it, but then when I tried starting it, I would get the start up sound, but then just a black screen staring at me.  It would accept some start up commands (like zapping the PRAM), but beyond that it was dead.  I thought it might just be the screen went out, but it was obvious no other functions worked (i.e. volume, keyboard brightness, etc.).

Blank Screen on a MacBook Pro (obviously not mine).

Blank Screen on a MacBook Pro (obviously not mine).

After trying everything I could think of, I finally found a message board that suggested it could be a corrupted sleep image.  After deleting the corrupted file, I was able to get things running.  It was such a frustrating and nerve-wracking experience, I figure I could go through the steps I took and hopefully save someone else some grief if encounter a similar problem.  Here is what I did to fix my problem.

  1. Start your macbook (pro) in target disk mode
    • Connect your computer another mac via firewire.
    • Start up the working mac and then press the power button on the mac that is not working
    • While it is starting, hold down the “T” key.
    • Your mac should show up as an external hard drive in the finder of the other mac
  2. Delete the Sleep Image
    • Open Finder in the working computer
    • Press CMD+Shift+G
    • Enter “/volumes/Your Computer/private/var/vm/” where “Your Computer” equals the name of the broken mac as seen in Finder.
    • Delete the “Sleepimage” file
      • I also deleted the “swapfile0” file which was there, but I am not sure if this is necessary.
    • Empty the Trash
  3. Delete the Extension files
    • Navigate to the /System/Library folder on the broken mac
    • Delete the “Extensions.mkext” file
      • I also deleted the “Extensions.kextcache” file which was there, but I am not sure if this is necessary.
    • Empty the Trash
  4. Eject the broken mac just like you do a regular external hard drive.
  5. Press the power button on your mac if it is still running and remove the firewire cable.

If everything goes like it should, your macbook (pro) should work like normal.  I immediately backed up all my important files and disabled sleep mode via the preferences pane.

Note: The first time I tried this I followed the directions found here, but it did not work.  I tried it again and deleted the additional files noted above and emptied the trash can and everything worked that time around. HT to for getting me in the right direction.

UPDATE: For me, this problem escalated from a one time thing, to a frequent occurrence, until finally I could not shut the computer off without getting the blank screen.  I took it to the IT Department at the University where I work.  They ended up sending it off to Apple who replaced the Nvidia graphics card.  Even though my MBP was out of warranty they replaced everything free of charge because this is a known issue for them.

The Tree of Ténéré

August 23rd, 2009 No comments

It is almost midnight.  I tried going to bed 3 hours ago, but I keep mulling things over in my head.  After an hour of staring at the ceiling I decided to get up and try to distract myself on the internet.  Hopefully my mindless surfing can serve to enlighten you.

As I was browsing a list of natural oddities in the world, I came across The Tree of Ténéré.

When it was still alive, this tree was the only vegetation in the Sahara within a 250 mile radius (That’s Bowling Green to St. Louis or Atlanta in all directions!).  As the Sahara dried out further, all other vegetation died… except for this tree.  A well dug in the area revealed the roots went down over 120 feet into the water table.  At the time, it was the only tree worthy of mention on major maps, and was a primary navigational tool for caravans.  An official in the area described it as such:

One must see the Tree to believe its existence. What is its secret? How can it still be living in spite of the multitudes of camels which trample at its sides? How at each azalai does not a lost camel eat its leaves and thorns? Why don’t the numerous Touareg leading the salt caravans cut its branches to make fires to brew their tea? The only answer is that the tree is taboo and considered as such by the caravaniers. There is a kind of superstition, a tribal order which is always respected. Each year the azalai gather round the Tree before facing the crossing of the Ténéré. The Acacia has become a living lighthouse; it is the first or the last landmark for the azalai leaving Agadez for Bilma, or returning.

Despite its noble existence, the tree came to an end in a very ignoble way.  In 1973 a drunk driver lost control of his truck and hit the only object in hundreds of miles.  After surviving (perhaps) hundreds of years of some of the harshest elements imaginable, this tree meets its end because some idiot has too much to drink and gets behind the wheel.  Unbelievable.  Surely there is a moral to this story.


Categories: Random Tags: , ,

Bulembu Swaziland: Enterprise supports Care

August 23rd, 2009 1 comment

Many of you know Beth and I are planning a move to Swaziland Africa in the next couple years (I wrote a 3 part series on how we made our decision, important information about Swaziland, and what we expect to do there).  Rather than going to “fix” things, we want to be a part of a community that is responding to needs.  We want to participate in something much bigger than us.  While we haven’t made any decisions yet, we have found a place that gets us very excited: The city of Bulembu.


Bulembu is situated in the mountains of northwest Swaziland right on the South African border.  In its prime there were 15,000 residents of this city, most of them employed by the local asbestos mine.  When the mine closed the city fell apart.  The population dropped to less than 1,000 and the infrastructure collapsed.  The entire city was bought by a development corporation who then sold it to a non-profit called Bulembu Ministries.  This organization is primarily made up of native Swazi leaders.  It is now the vision of the city to redefine and rebuild itself.

The vision includes a town where 10,000 residents are safe and have access to quality work and essential social services.  A town with the infrastructure and programs to provide ongoing care for 2,000 orphaned and vulnerable children with access to education, health services and family structures so they can develop into young adults and emerging leaders with hope for the future.

The rebuilding process in built around a plan for a fully sustainable city.  Rather than rely on outside aid, the people of Bulembu have a vision for place where the community enterprise completely supports community care.  Industries have been brought in (tourism, forestry, bakeries, etc.) to provide work for the local people.  Then, all of the profits go towards sustaining the orphanages, schools, churches, hospitals, etc.

Nearly every aspect of the city is built around shared opportunity and individual potential.  The orphanages are designed in a village structure so that children live in “families” rather than being shuffled around in large institutional settings.

The commitment is to provide holistic care for each child in a home, rather than in a large institutional orphanage. Each child lives in a refurbished home with a caregiver and 5 other children.  In this way, each child becomes a part of a caring family that will prepare them for a bright future filled with hope and to emerge as the leaders of tomorrow.  These new famlies will be the thread that restores the social fabric of a nation on the verge of collapse due to the AIDS pandemic.

In a similar way, the schools are based on individualized instruction so each student can be taught the skills they need while developing their natural ability.

What really gets Beth and I excited is that this initiative was started and is sustained by local people with an amazing vision for what their city could be.  It is also a place where a diverse group of people are partnering together for a common good.  It is a place where we could be part of something much bigger than us with a long range vision for positive change.  We don’t know where specifically we will end up in a couple years, but learning about this city has energized us and reminded us why we want to move 8,000 miles away.

Here is a youtube video from the city as well as a few more pictures and links:




Top 10 Candies

August 19th, 2009 3 comments

Many of my last few posts have been pretty heavy, so I figure it was time to return to the lighter side of things.  A few weeks ago Beth and I completed a series of Top 10 lists.  In one of my those posts I revealed one of my favorite foods was candy.  I decided to go more in depth and explore my favorite candies.  Here is my top 10 list.

  1. Sour Watermelon Slices – A little slice of heaven.  My grandparents used to buy these a local version of these before the Sour Patch brand came out.  I can (and have) gone through a 2 pound box of these in24 hours.
  2. Nerds Jelly Beans – A relative new comer to the list as these have only been around a few years.  Nerds Coating over a jelly bean core… how can you go wrong?  My only complaint is that after about 100 or so of these they don’t seem to be as good.
  3. Air Heads – I can think of no other candy that manages to pack as much sugary sweetness into a wrapper.  I try not to buy the 6 packs because they don’t last.  I love letting them get soft in my pocket before opening them up.  Cherry and Watermelon are my favorites.
  4. Shock Tarts – I think they are called “Shockers” now, but whatever the name, they are excellent.  Another candy you can’t eat too much of, but I can easily go through a pack without blinking.  I have often ate so many that my mouth became raw.
  5. Nerds – A true classic.  I think some of my earliest candy memories involve Nerds.  I remember trying to hide a pack in my pocket and getting frustrated because they were too loud.
  6. SweetTart Jelly Beans – My favorite seasonal candy.  We usually buy 5-6 bags, but they only last about a month after Easter.
  7. Sour Patch Kids – These still remind me of the Movie Theatre where my brother and I would get these every time I would go.
  8. Dots – These are a love or hate candy (but not so much as JuJuBees, which I also love).  These have to be the most filling candy of all time.  I will eat a box and feel like I ate a meal.
  9. Giant Chewy Sweet Tarts – If we go only on eating enjoyment, it does not get much better than these.  However, I am always a bit disappointed by the packaging.  I feel ripped off when I only get a few of those large discs of sugary goodness.  In all honesty it probably for the best because I could eat 20 so without thinking.
  10. Sour Jolly Rancher Gummies – These are the newest addition to the list after I discovered them a few weeks ago.  These chewy bites taste just like Jolly Ranchers and are coated with sour sugar.  I went back a few days later and bought the remaining stock.

After going through this list a clear pattern is emerging.  I like sour chewy/gummy things and have a clear affinity for Wonka candy (By the way, Beth’s teaching partner Lara has the same addiction).  I am not big on hard candy (I crunch it immediately) and I don’t really like chocolate — but don’t get me wrong, if its sweet, I will eat it.  If you ever need me to help you out on a project, just know I work cheap.  I would gladly put in 8 hours of hard labor for a bag of the above mentioned candies.

So what about you… what gets your sweet tooth crying for more?


Categories: Family, Food / Drink Tags: , ,

Universal Health Care & Universal Education

August 18th, 2009 2 comments

This health care debate is getting out of control.  We seem to have reached the point where no one is listening anyone and both sides consistently descend into the type of demonization where everyone who doesn’t agree with you is a Nazi.  Therefore, it is not my goal to convince anyone to change their view on the issue, but rather to present a different way of looking at it.

Health Overhaul Protest

At the end of the day, there is one question under-girding this whole debate and no one seems to be approaching it directly.  Rather than arguing over the merits of a single payer system vs. co-opts, or arguing over how much government intervention is acceptable, we must first as this: Is healthcare a right? How you answer that question is going to determine how you approach every other question.

For the last century we have generally assumed that education is a right of every American.  Before the mid 1800’s the school systems were nearly all private and it was not until the Reconstructionist movement following the Civil War that nearly the entire country offered “universal education.”  We have reached the point where no one questions the appropriateness of using tax dollars to ensure every American the chance to graduate high school.  Of course reform is needed, there are inefficiencies that need to be addressed, and problems the system faces; but no one is arguing we should cut off access to education just because people can’t afford it.  Again, this is because we assume education is a right every citizen is entitled to.

So what about health care?  If we think it makes sense to extend education to everyone, why not basic medical care as well.  After all, our Declaration of Independance understood the presence of certain inalienable rights including “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”  In my book, basic health care falls under the right to life.  And why wouldn’t it?  Do we really think the ability to be healthy should be a privileged only extended to the rich, those with good jobs, and those who are already healthy?  This is the debate we need to engage first before we get into the logistics.

Let’s jump back to the discussion of universal education because I think there are many parallels we can learn from.  First, both are expensive.  In America, according to the Education Department, we spend roughly 7% of the GDP on education — most of that comes in the form of tax dollars.  By comparison, health care consumes 14-17% of the GDP depending on which source you use.  Apples and oranges right?  Well not really.  If you look at countries with socialized medicine, their spending levels are dramatically lower.  Spain spends 7.6%, the UK spends 7.7% and Canada 9.6%.  [ASIDE: Did you know the average health insurance company spends 12% on administration, while Medicare/Medicaid only spend 2%]

Beyond just looking at cost, I think many of the charges leveled against universal health care can be dispelled by looking at our universal education system.  One of the most persistent questions concerning a “public option” has been how can fair competition exist a for-profit private company and a government entity.  The same question of competition could be asked of the education sector: How can any private education institution compete with public schools who offer free tuition?  If you ask me, private schools do just fine.  There are plenty of people willing to pay more for exclusive environments.  Just look at private colleges.  Even though they generally cost 2-3 times what a public university does, enrollment is still strong.  Why is that?  Because even when there is a free (or cheap) public option, people still want exclusivity and choice.  In a recent town forum discussion, a University of Colorado student asked Obama how private companies could be expected to compete with a government run plan.  That is a good question for sure, but the irony lies behind it.  This student is receiving a government subsidizes university education, and asking his question to a person with a degree from Harvard – the oldest private university in the nation, and coincidentally, the first corporation in our nation.  The costs are not even close.  UC tuition is 4-6K per semester while Harvard is 17K.  That is not fair competition is it?  Yet which school would you rather have a degree from?  When you offer a good product, there is always competition.

What about the rationing of care?  You would think that since the government is picking up the tab for everyone’s primary education, they would need to ration educational expenses — you know, get rid of the people that cost the most.  In practice, the opposite is true.  Special education students are given more resources and extra services despite the fact it is of increased cost.  Additionally, even though a public education option exists, parents have the option of seeking additional interventions on their own.  No one is kicking little Johnny to the street because he costs an additional $1,000 per year because he need speech therapy.

Our education system is not perfect.  There are blatant ineffeciencies and places where reform is clearly needed.  There are areas where we are not providing the services we should, and times where the government is overstepping its bounds.  But at the end of the day, people are not looking to throw out the whole system.  Why?  Because we think education is a right, and when we believe this we are willing to work with the system even if it is not perfect.

Considering health care a right is not some crazy liberal thought — it is widely held by the richest countries in the world.  The following countries have universal  health care: Afghanistan, Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Cuba, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iraq, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Oman, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.  We are not breaking new ground, we are simply exploring an understanding of human rights that is already commonly held in developed world.

When we argue against universal health care, we are arguing against the worth of another human being.  I am convinced in 100 years it will be as inconceivable to deny health care to people as it is today to deny education.

Sotomayor – Determiner of Truth

August 17th, 2009 6 comments
Sonia Sotomayor

Sonia Sotomayor

I am bit behind the news cycles with this post, but I did not want to miss the chance to comment on the role communities play in determining truth.

On August 6th, the US Senate confirmed Sonia Sotomayor as the 111th  Supreme Court Justice in the United States.  By all accounts her confirmation was relatively smooth sailing despite the partisan bickering found mostly on the fringes of the discussion.   With her 68-31 confirmation vote she became just the third woman and the first hispanic to sit on our nation’s highest court.  This selection process revealed a lot about our nation, but it also provided a lens through which we can view and understand the nature of “truth.”

While the confirmation hearings were generally calm, many lambasted her as being an “activist judge” and several organizations openly opposed her selection.  The most most notable was the NRA, who submitted an official letter calling her views on the 2nd amendment into question.

If you read the letter and followed the arguments against her, you will find the people who stood against her did so largely because the disagreed with the way she understood the law.  The reason they were so adamant in their opposition is because they realized at the end of the day, it does not matter what any individual thinks a law means, but rather, what the majority of the supreme court thinks it means.  The NRA and other conservative groups want like minded thinkers to be on the court because they realize the what the second amendment (and all laws) truly means is not static, but rather is interpreted.  Literally, the law means whatever the court says it means.  You can disagree, but you will be wrong.

It is interesting when you think about how the leanings of the courts affect this.  At certain times in our nation’s  history, the truth of the law was more conservative.  At other times, it was more liberal.  But what was constant is that legal truth was determined by the supreme court and the community of people who formed it.

Morality functions in the same way.  The only difference is the communities who determine it are much larger.  Think of misogynistic practices and slavery.  At one time these practices were considered acceptable and moral — but obviously this is not longer the case.  Did the morality of the acts change?  No.  Rather, the communities who determine morality changed (over time).

I have learned from many conversations that many people are not comfortable with this discussion — especially Christians who believe in the absolute truth of scripture.  The problem is that the meaning and “truth” of scripture have changed more often than our Constitution.  If you don’t believe me just read a survey of how various commentators have understood The Good Samaritan in the Gospel of Luke.

Truth is not individually relative.  That is to say, we all can’t go around making up what things mean.  But at the same time, it is dynamic.  Truth is determined by the communities who are willing to earnestly seek it.  It is my hope that each of us will take the question of truth seriously, just as we expect Sotomayor to seriously question what the truth of the law is in every case she is presented.

Garden Lessons Learned

August 14th, 2009 1 comment

As August rolls on, more and more rows in our summer garden come to their end.  Just yesterday the last of our sweet corn was harvested and the stalks cut down.  While the okra is still going strong, the tomatoes are reaching the end of their production, the zucchini is winding down (never really produced too well — too wet), the basil needs to be cut, and the only peppers left are the jalapenos.  The asparagus is growing up and hopefully will be ready to harvest next spring.  So far we have been able to track our gardening season along with Mikayla’s life — we planted most of the crops 2 days before she was born.  It seems like just yesterday the crops were first coming in and Mikayla was  beginning to sleep through the night.  We have come a long way.


Now that our third year of gardening is wrapping up, it is a good chance to look back on this year (and the others) and make note of the lessons learned.  Here is what I have learned from our mistakes, and accidental successes:

  • Each year we have started in a new location.  Every other year we have struggled with weeds, but this year we beat them early on.  We tilled in early April, then covered it with black plastic for two weeks to kill the grass.  When we pulled the plastic we tilled again and never had a major week problem.
  • It takes at least 4 dry days before you can till a garden.  Be on the look out starting in mid-march because there are only a few good opportunities.
  • When it comes to planting, while the average last freeze is April 20th around here, there is nothing wrong with planting into mid-May.
  • Get your transplants at the school greenhouses or the farmer’s market — they are exponentially cheaper.
  • Plant less squash and zucchini than you think you need, but more broccoli.
  • Don’t forget how freakin’ tall okra gets.
  • If you want a steady stream of corn, plant it in stages separated by about 2 weeks.  You can plant as late as June if you are willing to water.
  • If working with stage-planted corn, or small batches, you really need to pollinate by hand.  Cut a tassel or two off every other day or so and rub it on the silks.
  • It is better to harvest corn too early than too late
  • After the corn reaches 2′ you can stop weeding, but make sure you weed the first few weeks or it will affect the production.
  • Planting two tomato plants per cage doesn’t produce any more.
  • Bucket tomatoes (hung upside down) do in fact produce, but not nearly as much (25% or less) of a regular planting.
  • Don’t underestimate the weight of a tomato plant — use a cage and a tobacco stick or rebar to support it.
  • Broccoli gets bitter after the first cutting or two.
  • Okra can grow off the main stalk, so be sure to look carefully.
  • It is easier to weed every other day or so than to let things go for a week or more and try to catch up.
  • Asparagus takes a year to produce
  • You have to plant garlic the autumn before, so plan ahead — we have missed our opportunity each year.
  • It is a great experience to do community gardens, but it is less stressful to be able to walk out into your backyard to harvest or weed.

So what about you, what have you learned in your time gardening?