Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hurricanes Cause a Lack of Proportion

People here in Waco are preparing for the worst as hurricane Rita churns towards Houston. In fact, these people are going to such extremes as stocking many days' supply of food and water as well as hoarding flashlights and batteries, if not evacuating the city altogether. And its all just a big game. In fact, its ridiculous. Originally the path of the hurricane had it projecting Tropical Storm strength winds into Waco -- possibly. Overnight that changed and now we're not expected to get more than heavy rain and thunderstorms. From this I can conclude a few things:

1. Hurricanes cause people to lose all sense of proportion.
2. Pretentious rich people think that disaster and evacuation are fun.
3. Everyone who is not rich and pretetious in Waco (and some who are) either don't have access to the internet or are too ignorant to know how to go to or the National Weather Service.

Their actions are absolutely unfounded. My classes are cancelled tomorrow because of the hurricane. Now, I'm not going to complain about getting out of class, but the hurricane isn't even expected to make landfall until Saturday. Even yesterday they were saying that it would make landfall late Friday night. Given that it is currently moving about 9MPH, projecting Tropical Storm winds about 175 miles from the center, and that Waco is somewhere around 300 miles from where it is supposed to make landfall, we wouldn't expect to feel any noteworthy effects until late Saturday morning (it would take about 13 hours for the strong winds to reach us). Most classes here end before 3pm -- well before the hurricane would even make landfall. But still people are packing up and heading north (and I hope west, otherwise they're moving straight into the path of the hurricane) or stockpiling goods like its Y2K -- with about the same end result, I'll bet: lots of extra food that sits on the shelf until you move out. Anyway, some people are getting pretty crazy here and I think its crazy that they're getting crazy. But it comes back to my previous point, people who aren't actually going to be harmed think that disasters are fun, so they're pretending that we're at risk. Plus I don't think we can rule out the good old Texas desire to not be left out. "What, you had to evacuate your home in Houston? Oh, yeah, well we're all evacuating here, too. What, did you think that just because you're from a city on the coast directly in the path of the hurricane that somehow you're the only ones that are at risk? Us folks hundreds of miles inland well to the west of the projected path of the storm are suffering too." Or something like that. I don't know, maybe I'm wrong and the apocalypse is coming in the form of something named Rita. If that's true I probably won't ever write on this blog again. Otherwise I'll probably keep making fun of Texans -- especially rich pretentious Texans.

On a small tangent, my brother said that he read a meterologist's website claiming that the Russians developed a weather machine and sold it to the Japanese Mafia (is there such a thing?) who are now using it to create not only the hurricanes, but strange clouds in Montana. Those mafia types, they're always sticking it to us! What with those strange clouds and all. They're so spiteful!
It is notable, however, that a good deal of US oil refineries stand to be damaged by these storms (Katrina and Rita) since they are all in coastal areas of Louisiana and Texas (oil refining is pretty much all that Galveston and Texas City do, and they're two of the first cities that are going to be hit by the hurricane. They also get hit by big hurricanes just about every year -- I can't figure out why people still live there). If there were some rational way that hurricanes could be man-made I wouldn't rule out a conspiracy, although I don't think that the Japanese Mafia would be my primary suspects.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Oil Companies Playing Games?

The recent hike in gas prices has confused me a great deal. Its not that the price went up dramatically after Katrina -- that makes sense. We lost oil production infrastructure and therefore supply was lower without demand changing much. So prices went up. What confuses me is that they're going down now. Not that I mind, it just seems odd to me. I suppose its possible that the production we lost has been regained, but that seems unlikely since there hasn't been enough time for any large-scale repairs and many of the areas ravaged by Katrina are still on watch if not evacuated because of hurricane Rita. So why are prices going down now? It seems to me that there are only three options:
1. The oil companies raised prices based on public perception rather than reality, and there was not much damage done to production infrastructure. Prices went up because the average person believed that production had been hurt so they were willing to pay more.
2. Oil companies are basing prices on predictions of future production, making it more like the stock market than an actual product. They thought there was going to be a shortage in production so they raised prices. The shortage didn't happen and so prices are going back down.
3. The damage was small and in areas that are not threatened by Rita so production did go down significantly but its already been fixed. This seems like the most reasonable explanation except that right after Katrina hit everyone was talking about the extensive damage done to as much as 16% of our oil production infrastructure. Of course, this is pretty important to our country, so maybe we can get a lot fixed in three weeks. I'm really not sure.

So, are the oil companies playing games with prices, or was the damage real but already fixed because we put so much into it because its vital to us? Someone with more information than me, please explain how this all makes sense.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Impotence of the Modern God

"God has no hands but our hands" -- I'll get to read those words every day for the next week or so when I drive past St. Matthew Evangelical Lutheran Church in Waco. The sentiment, however, is hardly confined to this one church. In fact, I would contend that many if not most "Evangelical" churches across the country would agree with the above statement. And I don't think that such arrogant and short-sighted theology can be separated from the typical evangelical mindset. This belief that somehow God needs us, that God can't do what he wants to without us, is appealing, but wholly wrong and mislead.

Its not difficult to understand where such a sentiment might originate. Paul, on many occasions, talks about the members of the Church being members of Christ's body. Furthermore, Jesus says that His disciples are like workers that God sends out into the fields to do His work. There are numerous examples of members of the church being exonerated to do work for God -- even the over-used and often misrepresented "great commission." The New Testament especially, although not solely, is full of commands that each of God's followers needs to do God's work. So it is understandable that they believe that we are to be like "God's hands" in the world. Martin Luther says that each Christian is to be like a "little Christ" to everyone he comes in contact with. It is a necessary and obvious conclusion that we, as Christians, are called to do in this world what God is doing.

However, the jump from that to the idea that God can do nothing without us is both illogical and unfounded. Personally, I believe that it is better to have hands than not, especially if there is some work that needs to be done with them -- that it is better to be able to do your work than to need someone else to do it for you. Therefore when Jesus says "I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him," it implies that God can do His own work, because He is greater than us. And therefore, in terms of this analogy, He has "hands" of His own.

Even apart from such inductive reasoning, any study of the Bible will show that God has more than enough means to do His own work. This is the same being who spoke into nothing and thereby created everything. This is a God who caused plagues and natural disasters to fall on any who stood against Him, when He saw fit. He also caused the walls of Jericho to fall, the Flood, and a number of other miracles -- not to mention the immaculate conception.

Some might argue that these were all pre-Jesus's death/Pentecost miracles and since then God has decided not to work in the world but to use us instead. This seems like a wholly stupid and unfounded conclusion to come to on its own, but there are more examples of God working apart from people in the later books of the New Testament. For example, there is the conversion of Paul, the very thing that we claim God needs us most for -- evangelism/conversion -- He does all on His own when He wants to. Furthermore, there is the death of Ananias and his wife -- which I bet is rather embarrassing to the same groups of Christians who believe that God has no hands, because they also tend to believe that God is big and cuddly and doesn't do things like strike people dead anymore. Obviously God still acts on His own behalf, even after Pentecost.

So, now that it has been established that their position is wholly without grounds in the Christian faith, I am interested in the causes and effects of such impotent theology in the modern church. It seems obvious that such theology gives a great degree of power to the individual. God cannot accomplish His desired goals without you. God needs you. I can see how this is appealing -- power is always appealing. However, an especially troubling conclusion is that God doesn't possess the power to affect the changes He desires in the world. That implies that God cannot help you in any way other than spiritual benefits. Furthermore, it means that much of what happens around us is out of His control. God no longer weaves us together in our mother's womb, He no longer causes the sun to rise and set and doesn't keep the cosmos in balance. We live in a system that was set up long ago and now runs out of control. That means that hurricane Katrina was an accident -- God watched in horror as it moved and destroyed lives, powerless to stop it without His hands. The world is out of control, and God can't help us. This theology is right in line with the Diests', believing that miracles are not true and God does not interact with the world in any tangible way. Indeed, in this way of thinking God is no longer omnipotent, but rather impotent. I think that this theology has shaped the way modern Christians think, and it has contributed greatly to their arrogance and their "white man's burden" approach to the world. It also explains their need to separate 'sacred' from 'secular' because the only way to keep yourself safe from the world is to stay away from it. Jesus promise that, "surely [He is] with you always, to the very end of the age" doesn't really offer a lot of comfort.

All that said, are there any more ideas on the causes and effects of such theology? I think that it is so commonly accepted today that we fail to question or examine it often, and I think we will all benefit form understanding where these Christians are coming from and where they are going if nothing changes.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Lazy Journalism

I hate it when Journalists are too lazy to do fact checking. I hate it even more when they use incorrect assumptions they hold because of laziness to make the main point of their articles. I hate it even more when they state their assumptions as fact and make ignorant readers even more ignorant. This is one such article.

The first sentence begins the ignorance: "John Roberts faces the unsettling task of reigning in strong-willed and experienced colleagues, including two men he beat out for the job of chief justice, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas." The idea that he "beat out" the sitting associate Justices is what really gets me. Later she states, "If confirmed, Roberts would become the junior member of the court, where the average age is 70. In a twist, he would be its administrative captain." And shortly after this, "But he has never attended a conference where the justices debate cases. The weekly meetings are open only to the nine justices. Roberts would run the sessions, and that requires keeping long-winded justices in line." Basically she is making the case that Roberts has a particularly hard job because he is going to be Chief Justice without ever having been an associate. She also tries to make the case that Thomas and Scalia may be upset about not getting the seat themselves. That might be true, but I hardly think it reasonable to say that "Bush picked the 50-year-old appeals court judge on Monday to succeed William H. Rehnquist, passing over conservative Supreme Court justices the president has praised in the past: Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas " -- passing over implies that it was at least in some way expected that they would be nominated for elevation. And even more absurd is the idea that, "In turning to Roberts, Bush avoided a nasty and lengthy confirmation fight but he may have miffed the sitting justices." Again, to be "miffed" these Justices would have to have thought they were in line for the job.

And now for the facts that make this article so absurd. I obtained these facts in less than 30 minutes searching the web using Google. In the history of the Supreme Court there have only been 16 Chief Justices. Of those 16 only 5 have ever been associate Justices (you can search through all the chief Justices at this link). One of those was John Rutledge who only served 4 months on a recess appointment before being rejected by the Senate. Additionally, he and Charles E. Hughes were not members of the court when they were appointed chief Justice (Rutledge retired in 1791 and was appointed chief in 1795. Hughes retired in 1916 and was appointed chief in 1930). That leaves only three men who were elevated from sitting associate Justice to chief Justice: Edward D. White (appointed chief in December, 1910), Harlan Fiske Stone (appointed chief in July, 1941), and William H. Rehnquist (appointed chief in September, 1986). Therefore it would be completely unreasonable to believe that president Bush would choose a sitting Justice to become chief. In fact, it would be more remarkable and out of synch with history if he did. The sitting Justices mentioned may indeed feel "miffed," but they have no right to feel such, because there is no history to show that they have been "passed over," but rather Bush has followed suit with most of history by leaving them associates. Further, it would be almost as historically similar to promote a retired associate than a sitting associated. So by that logic every previous associate Justice who is still alive (now I'm being lazy, because I don't know if there are any) should feel just as "passed over" as Thomas and Scalia.

Gina Holland is right -- Roberts does have a difficult task ahead. She is also right that Rehnquist's shoes are going to be tough to fill -- for anyone. However, she has absolutely no reason to insinuate that Roberts is going to have any harder a job than the 11 other chief Justices that were never associate Justices. And by stating such as though it were a fact she is causing already ignorant readers to become even more so. I don't know if Ms Holland is aware of the facts that I have presented, but her article makes absolutely no reference to them. And that is irresponsible journalism. In this case the inaccurate representation/lazy reporting is going to have little or no fallout. However, if this kind of thing is going on with these articles there is no reason to believe that the same practice is not being used for articles with far weightier implications and consequences (like the Time piece about Koran flushing that cost lives). Publications ought to strive to make their journalists produce works that are factually sound and give an accurate picture of the story. Otherwise they are going to quickly be replaced by blogs -- if you can't produce something better than some idiot with internet access why do I care about your article? Why on earth would I pay for it? If they don't have something unique and valuable to offer they will be replaced.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Watch: Reality Slip Away

"Watch: Death and despair in New Orleans" That quote appears exactly on right now. Some would probably classify me as a cynic, but I think that pretty much sums up our culture right there: "Sit back and watch disturbing images of other people suffering. Then go get some McDonald's and watch WWF or Nascar for the rest of the night." Okay, maybe I'm going overboard a little bit. I just saw that line on CNN and I couldn't help my disgust. Its just so insensitive, unfeeling, and inhuman. And we do it all the time. We replace entertainment with real suffering of real people. Maybe we have the decency to shake our heads and say "man, that sucks." But we continue to consume and consume, allowing the media to capitalize on tragedy time after time. The news sites right now are full of pictures of dead people -- as though we need a visual of a body to believe the story. To me its infuriating that the dead are shown so little respect and are used so casually. I don't know where I'm going with this except to say that it disgusts me, and I can't believe that CNN actually let something like that appear on their website.

I just read another video headline -- "'People are dying in front of us'" I couldn't repress the tagline: "And now they can die in front of you, too! Just click this link!" Seriously, though, we're looking at these people like specimen in a glass box. Look, theres some death and destruction. Ooh, and theres some angry and hungry people (also a video on CNN). And people dying in front of me over there. And finally a little dose of despair! This is great! Meanwhile on the other end are not actors or computer programs or dolls, but real people really suffering. While we watch and news crews film. Wonderful.

I might have more to say about this later.