Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Food and the New Year

Inspired by my in-laws' copy of Fierce Food, I am going to make an effort to eat more things outside of my comfort zone this year. The reason is not because it makes me better in any way. It may by crazy to eat a locust, but I see most new foods as an experiment, after all if other people eat and enjoy these seemingly strange ingredients, why can't I? And on the whole, trying gross food is cheaper and (hopefully) safer than drugs, you know, without any of the moral, legal, behavioral issues, and other such trivial matters. Well, there are chapters in the book on human placenta and live monkey brains, but the live monkey brains dish is basically exposed as a hoax, and anything with the word human in the name is not classified as food in my book.

I did start my fierce food journey with a $3.49 purchase of Gustaf's double salt licorice. I actually like licorice, but more than 1-2 pieces of this at a time fills my nose with Ammonia fumes, making it hard to enjoy the candy. The "salt" in salt licorice is ammonium chloride, which is more commonly used in cleaning products, glues, and in medicines as an expectorant and diuretic. In addition to the heady fumes, ammonium salts are an irritant to the stomach lining and may induce nausea and vomiting. Back to the candy - I would like to try another brand just for comparison sake, but will stick to Sour Patch Kids the next time I need a sour candy treat.

Not a fierce food, but a dearly beloved food, waffles, will also be a bigger part of my 2009, thanks to my mom's gift of a waffle maker. A tradition of Saturday mornings waffles would be a thing of beauty, especially if I can get the wifey into the fun of making them with/for me!

Finally, here's an article about cast iron cookware. I love using cast iron, and in addition to buying a few pieces, my wife and I were both blessed with cast iron passed along from our grandmothers. Not only is it great to cook with, it can also serve as a bludgeoning weapon (a la Grosse Pointe Blank) should the need arise.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Really? Bush, Congress not conservative?

Just as I was beginning to think that privatizing profits and socializing losses has always been a major tenet of the Republican party, the linked Washington Post article reveals the following:

"We can't be a party of small government, free markets and low taxes while supporting bailouts and nationalizing industries, which lead to big government, socialism and high taxes at the expense of individual liberty and freedoms," said Solomon Yue, an Oregon member and co-sponsor of a resolution that criticizes the U.S. government bailouts of the financial and auto industries.

Dumbfounding, encouraging, and infuriating all at the same time.

Is this a signal of changes to come, or simply the cry of a powerless few within an increasingly irrelevant political party? Only time will tell, but as long as the corporatists are in charge or in office, there remains little hope.

On an unrelated note, in case there is anyone out there reading this blog, I highly recommend the Spengler articles found at the Asia Times Online. They are always rich in information, insight, and opinions about economic and social matters. This week's article is no exception, and explores how demographics impact the economy.

Monday, December 29, 2008

From an Atheist's Mouth:

Another British newspaper, another interesting editorial.

Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

Mr. Parris ends with the following:

Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted.

Sounds great. Mr. Pariss sees Christianity as an improvement on the tribal beliefs systems in Africa. But why, if he sees the positive transformation of humans and societies that Christianity can provide, does he remain an atheist? I suspect the author to have a strong Marxist view of religion. From Karl Marx's Contribution to Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right:

Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification... Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

Yes, and Christianity is the good stuff. Maybe Pariss would like to get Africa hooked on the good stuff, at least long enough to extract its benefits, but it seems for him that Christianity remains solely a fantastic means to an end. If it were any more than fantasy, he would perhaps take the matter a little more personally.

Still, on the whole, seeing this acknowledgment of the positive aspects of Christianity is a welcome development in light of all the attention the pathetic harangues of Hitchens, Dawkins, and company have received.

UPDATE: The New York Times follows with its own religion is good and transformative and stuff - you know, if your silly enough to believe in that sort of thing - story.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Probably My Only Pro-Bush Post

From the UK's Telegraph comes an editorial on Bush.

A quote of interest:

Much of the condemnation of his policies though is driven by a venomous hatred of Bush's personality and leadership style, rather than an objective assessment of his achievements.

This is very true, and I have been guilty of this myself. I am no fan of the exiting President, but I am sick of the piling on of criticism that Bush has received from everyone and in every form. They might as well rename the Comedy Channel to the Anti-Bush Channel, with just about every comedian, cartoon program, and faux news commentator taking repeated cheap shots at Bush. And it is not even funny anymore. How many "Bush is dumb" or "Bush can't talk" skits does anyone really need to see? I think a decent knock-knock or chicken crossing the road joke would be a little fresher and original at this point.

The Bush-bashing is partially a result of a media and nation afraid of nuance. By most of what you read and hear, you would think there are only two sides to any issue, and that you have to choose between two clear alternatives. Pro or anti-Bush, Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative, Christian or Anti-Christian, Carnivore or Vegetarian, Red Sox or Yankees. The fact is, issues are a lot messier than that, and I say that is a good thing.

So, while I am not a supporter of Bush or the Iraq war, I am not blind to or unappreciative of any positive impact resulting from them. It is still to early to know how Bush's presidency will be remembered, and the writer of the editorial piece may be overly optimistic about the prospects for democracy in Iraq, but I hope in both instances he is right. It would mean that the lives of thousands of Americans would not have been sacrificed in vain, and that America, as messy as its leaders and actions may be, can still work to protect and serve the people within its borders and throughout the world.

PS - I often enjoy the Telegraph's opinions. They are at times refreshingly honest and politically incorrect, and provide interesting perspective to things American. Also, the issues the UK faces today may be what America faces tomorrow. Take this article, for example.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Hope, Love, Salvation, Family & Community - Christmas is a wonderful time to remember what really matters. Happy Birthday Jesus.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Carmina Burana? Really?

The linked Telegraph article deals with China's decision to ban Western religious music. What I don't understand is how Carmina Burana fits into that equation:

Cai Jindong, a Chinese-born conductor and professor of music at Stanford University in the United States, was asked to drop a section from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, an arrangement of raucous Latin and German medieval songs, which he conducted in Shanghai in August.

Not really Latin and German medieval songs, but Latin and German poems set to music by Carl Orff in the 1930's. It is laughable to put Carmina Burana into the category of religious music, given that the full title in English is Songs of Beuern: Secular songs for singers and choruses to be sung together with instruments and magic images.. Coming to a church near you!

Back to the point of the article, I find it an interesting development. It is clear that the Chinese government does not know how to respond to the explosion of Christianity in its country, torn between taking advantage of the obvious social benefits while fearful of its power.

As a fan of Bach, Handel, and Mozart, it is sad to see the restrictions against music as beautiful as Bach's St. Matthew's Passion or Handel's Messiah. At the same time, I understand the move.

Most people in America today do not seem to have an open ear for this "antiquated" style of music anymore, but the glory and spirit present in so many Christian masterpieces is obvious to those who listen. A favorite exhortation of mine from Jesus was "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." I like to think that not only was he being sensitive to the deaf, and maybe a little sarcastic to everyone else, but also talking about a way of listening to really understand the message he was giving. I still remember hearing the Hallelujah Chorus the first time, and my wife thought I had lost my mind the way I fondled my recent purchase of a German import recording of St. Matthew's Passion and insisted on having her sit there while I listened to the entire first half. I can imagine how Chinese citizens, in a country going through such tremendous change, could hear and be affected by the divine message proclaimed within not only the text but woven into the music of these Christian works. And so I understand a fretting government wanted to limit the power these pieces can exercise over its people, or more perhaps more appropriately, God's people.

Monday, December 22, 2008

St. Nick and Pawn Shops

There is an interesting article in Christianity Today about the real person and bishop now known as Saint Nicholas, and who served as the basis for the fantastic creation of Santa Claus.

"He was known for his generosity and his goodwill because he was very rich," Rosenthal said. "He literally, by the end of his life, gave away all of his fortune. Many stories talk about the fact that he was so generous that he became known as the 'Gift Giver."'

Church leaders emphasize that Nicholas' generosity was motivated by his Christian faith, that he was following Jesus' command to love others, to help those who are suffering and to do one's good deeds in secret.

I don't have kids yet, but how to talk about Santa Claus to our children, should we be so blessed at some point, is a topic my wife and I have visited on several occasions. She doesn't see any harm in re-creating the magic of Santa Claus, and for the most part I agree. I don't mind the fantasy and fun stories of Santa and his reindeer, but I do want it to be presented with a wink and a smile, not as matter of fact. I want to share and focus more on the story of the real Saint Nick, which brings much more power to the spirit of Christmas, and the reasons each of us should do good for others. I don't see the long term upside of convincing children of a magical denizen of the North Pole that caters to their wants and desires. And of course there is the eventual cold slap of reality when the child finds out (usually not by the parents) that the red-robed one does not exist.

"The problem with Santa Claus as it stands now is that it's a substitute for Christmas — Santa Claus instead of the crèche, instead of the manger, instead of the nativity scene," said Rosenthal. "This man we would find kneeling at the nativity scene saying, 'This is what I'm here to celebrate as well."

Hopefully by slowly transitioning from the fantasy of Santa Claus to the history and inspiration of Saint Nick, children can be allowed to imagine and dream, but also learn how gift-giving is part of keeping the Christ in Christmas.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Have you been exploited today?

Michael Lind, a founding member of the New America Foundation, believes the Civil War never ended, it just morphed. As much as many Southerners would love for the South to rise again, Mr. Lind may be giving them more credit than they are due.

The economic Axis is collaborating with the neo-Confederates against their common opponent -- the American Union. If they succeed, the losers will be not only non-Southern regions in the U.S., but the majority of Southerners of all races, whose interest in decent wages, good education, and adequate public services have almost always been sacrificed to the greed of the well-connected few by Southern statehouse gangs.

Thankfully, Mr. Lind provides and overview of the current civil war:

Today the division is no longer between slave and free states, or agrarian and industrial states, but between two models of industrial society -- the Northern model, based on adequate public service funding and taxation and unionization, and the Southern model, based on low-tax, low-service government and low-wage, non-unionized, easily exploited labor.

If this were satire, it would approach Jonathan Swift level hyperbole and dark humor. Alas, I think Mr. Lind is peddling his wares as truth.

Never mind that GM and Ford have had plants in the South for over 60 years, and have only recently begun abandoning them as they build new plants in Canada and Mexico. It is the mean ol' South that is trying to work with businesses to exploit low wage environments. Recent stories that non-union auto workers make wages that are competitive if not better than UAW workers quickly reveal the exploitation of Southern laborers is not as dire as Mr. Lind would have everyone believe.

What the facts do reveal is that US auto makers flat out stink at making a competitive product at a competitive price. They have lagged behind in styling, innovation, reliability, and just about every other measurable category. So who is to blame as US automakers stand at the brink of collapse? Certainly not the South.

If public service funding, taxation, unionization, and the resulting regulatory and financial burdens that follow are a good thing, a North vs. South economic war narrative may be just what is needed to draw lines in the sand for the troops that would fight for Mr. Lind's cause. After all, it sounds good, with its allusions to race, immoral Southern power brokers, and the fate of the great Nothern American culture hanging in the balance. Facts should never be allowed to get in the way of a good narrative.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

My Name is Justus Hommes

Not really. It is a pseudonym. I will be the first to admit that using a pseudonym is questionable since I don't anticipate many, if any, people reading this blog. Still, I plan to use this as a place to work through tougher issues, including religion, economics, and culture. While those closest to me know that I love debating every side of an issue and don't mind being considered crazy, I am wary of putting anything in writing because, as the title of this blog suggests, I am still seeking for the right words. I know very little about anything, but feel strongly that ideas are messy, and resist being defined by labels. About the only label I identify strongly with is Christian, but even that I hope to spend a good bit of time exploring and qualifying on this blog.

What of my nom de plume? Well, the name Justus is from the New Testament of the Christian Bible. There are three different men with this name mentioned throughout the New Testament, each portrayed positively albeit very briefly. Honestly, though, the idea that Justus can be played with as "Just us" or "Justice" geeked me out. The second name's meaning I'll leave as a very small mystery for now, but again the word play was a big factor, and a few Google searches should be enough for anyone to figure out the homage to a certain historic figure.

I am doing this blog for my own enjoyment, but welcome any readers and comments I may receive. I look forward to the challenge.