Friday, February 29, 2008

I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.

I've been teaching a class at UC for 8 weeks now, but I'm still not officially an employee yet. I thought things moved slowly in big companies, but university bureaucracy takes it to a whole new level. Hopefully, I'll eventually get paid for all the time and effort I've put into this class-- I've certainly enjoyed the intellectual challenge, but not enough to do it for free.

Since the Adjunct Instructor position makes me a public employee of the state of Ohio, I had to fill out a Declaration of Material Assistance Form to ensure that I'm not a terrorist. The DMA form references the Department of Homeland Security's list of official terrorist organizations as designated by the U.S. Department of State.

OBVIOUSLY, I am not a terrorist. I am not a member of any terrorist organizations, and I would not knowingly give material aid to any terrorist organizations. Duh.

I find it surreal to think that our federal and state governments have developed a two-page form to seriously ask the following questions:
For each question, indicate either “yes,” or “no” in the space provided. Responses must be truthful to the best of your knowledge.
1. Are you a member of an organization on the U.S. Department of State Terrorist Exclusion List? Yes No
2. Have you used any position of prominence you have with any country to persuade others to support an organization on the U.S. Department of State Terrorist Exclusion List? Yes No
3. Have you knowingly solicited funds or other things of value for an organization on the U.S. Department of State Terrorist Exclusion List? Yes No
4. Have you solicited any individual for membership in an organization on the U.S. Department of State Terrorist Exclusion List? Yes No
5. Have you committed an act that you know, or reasonably should have known, affords "material support or resources" to an organization on the U.S. Department of State Terrorist Exclusion List? Yes No
6. Have you hired or compensated a person you knew to be a member of an organization on the U.S. Department of State Terrorist Exclusion List, or a person you knew to be engaged in planning, assisting, or carrying out an act of terrorism? Yes No

Who in their right mind would answer "YES"?!? Correction: Who in any state of mind would say YES to one of those questions?

Oh, wait, here's the kicker:
I hereby certify that the answers I have made to all of the questions on this declaration are true to the best of my knowledge. I understand that if this declaration is not completed in its entirety, it will not be processed and I will be automatically disqualified. I understand that I am responsible for the correctness of this declaration. I understand that failure to disclose the provision of material assistance to an organization identified on the U.S. Department of State Terrorist Exclusion List, or knowingly making false statements regarding material assistance to such an organization is a felony of the fifth degree. I understand that any answer of “yes” to any question, or the failure to answer “no” to any question on this declaration shall serve as a disclosure that material assistance to an organization identified on the U.S. Department of State Terrorist Exclusion List has been provided by myself or my organization. If I am signing this on behalf of a company, business or organization, I hereby acknowledge that I have the authority to make this certification on behalf of the company, business or organization referenced above.

"I guess I have to be completely honest, because I'm providing my signature at the bottom of the form." Everyone knows that terrorists prize their personal integrity enough to disclose their secret plans for destroying Western Civilization.

Unfortunately, my sense of mischieviousness is just enough to tempt me to check one of the "Yes" boxes, because I'm curious to see what would happen. Can you imagine the conversation with the government agents assigned to the case? "Which terrorist group did you provide with material support or resources? What kind of material support did you provide?" "Oh, I'm not telling you that. You'll have to figure that out on your own." (Fortunately, my senses of rationality and self-preservation are powerful enough to overwhelm my sense of mischieviousness and kick its butt.)

I shouldn't even joke about this sort of thing, least of all on a website. The government will probably be monitoring everything I write from now on, tapping my phone lines, and doing background checks to determine if any of my acquaintances are suspected terrorists.

(For the record, just in case any government agents ARE reading this, the whole "BP Refinery" thing was a JOKE. Besides which, my only involvement was reading the email sent from K.E. to A.N. Yes, I served as a personal reference for each of them when they applied for Top Secret security clearance, but I've already explained the whole situation to two different NSA agents, so it's time to let it go already.)

Seriously, I'd like to know what group of people sat in a room together and decided that this form was a good idea. How many hours have been wasted creating it, revising it, publishing it, training people on it, distributing it to all state-controlled Human Resource departments, getting employees and organizations to fill it out, and filing it away??? And who's really intent on destroying Western Civilization?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Capitalism & Consumption Factors

To continue on the Consumed theme, here's a couple of great quotes from a blog posting by Greg Boyd:
It’s hard to deny that capitalism is the best economic system around. It creates wealth far better than feudalism, communism, socialism or any other system one could name. But for all its advantages, capitalism has one major drawback that [Christians] need to be concerned about: It needs people to stay perpetually hungry for more. If Americans as a whole ever followed Paul’s instruction to be content with basic food and clothing and not pursue wealth (1 Tim. 6:6-11), the system would come to a grinding halt. The undeniable truth is that capitalism runs on greed.

For example, Americans enjoy a lifestyle that is about four times the global average. Yet we on average spend 97 to 98 percent of our wealth on ourselves – despite the fact that close to a billion people live on the threshold of starvation with 40,000 dying each day of issues related to poverty, malnutrition and preventable or treatable disease. This is greed. We are hoarding resources while neighbors lack adequate food, shelter and medicine.

As Jenn pointed out in her comment yesterday, economists estimate that people in developed countries consume 32 times more natural resources than people from undeveloped countries. The looming crisis comes from the fact that a lot of undeveloped countries are developing, and starting to catch up with our consumption factor. There are 2 billion people in China and India who are eager to live the same sort of lifestyle that we currently enjoy:
But the world doesn’t have enough resources to allow for raising China’s consumption rates, let alone those of the rest of the world, to our levels. Does this mean we’re headed for disaster?

No, we could have a stable outcome in which all countries converge on consumption rates considerably below the current highest levels. Americans might object: there is no way we would sacrifice our living standards for the benefit of people in the rest of the world. Nevertheless, whether we get there willingly or not, we shall soon have lower consumption rates, because our present rates are unsustainable.

Real sacrifice wouldn’t be required, however, because living standards are not tightly coupled to consumption rates. Much American consumption is wasteful and contributes little or nothing to quality of life. For example, per capita oil consumption in Western Europe is about half of ours, yet Western Europe’s standard of living is higher by any reasonable criterion, including life expectancy, health, infant mortality, access to medical care, financial security after retirement, vacation time, quality of public schools and support for the arts. Ask yourself whether Americans’ wasteful use of gasoline contributes positively to any of those measures.

...which is just fancy economist-speak for "Money doesn't buy Happiness."

What I find most interesting about this topic is that Christian evangelists, economists, ecologists, and environmentalists are beginning to find common ground.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Consumed Economy

Every year, our church dedicates February & March to a 6-week-long special event. They encourage everyone to join a small group, they distribute study materials for each group and each individual, and they use the weekend services to set up the topics for individual study and group discussion each week. This year, approximately 40 other churches in the Cincinnati area have joined in as well.

This year, the theme is Consumed:
"Bombarded with the promises of savvy marketers and easy credit, we’re offered beauty, significance, security, and happiness in just six easy installments and low, low monthly payments. In the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, we often feel like we never have enough. But there’s another way. There’s freedom to be had in a more open-handed approach to our time, money, and possessions. In that freedom, we can discover what it means to be consumed with the One who designed us to be so much more than a cog in a consumer-driven economy. And that will change everything."

They've been planning this event for several months, and it couldn't be more timely-- It seems like every news story in the past couple of weeks has declared that the American economy is sliding into recession. Everywhere I look, I see indications of how unhealthy and toxic our consumeristic culture really is. Here are some things that have made me think deeply about this topic this week:

  • A quote about the definition of the word consume:
    "If you go back to [early dictionaries] of the English language, to consume meant to exhaust, to pillage, to lay waste, to destroy. In fact, even in our grandparents' generation, when somebody had tuberculosis, they called it 'consumption.' So up until this century, to be a consumer was not a good thing; it was considered a bad thing." --Jeremy Rifkin, American economist and founder of the Foundation on Economic Trends

    (I've always been vaguely uneasy with the "consumer" title. It makes me feel like a parasite. Now I know why.)

  • A blog discussion about the "prosperity gospel" that is being taught by some misguided churches.

  • A group of friends who are starting a charity and asking Americans to use their tax rebates to build wells in Africa to save thousands of lives.

  • An editorial column in the New York Times that suggests Go on a Savings Spree as a way to save the economy from recession:
    "Some research suggests that asset-holders behave more responsibly and are more civic-minded than those without wealth. After all, they have a stake in the future of the economy and their community... My own research suggests that having savings and investment equity is one of the best predictors of whether someone’s children will attend and graduate from college. Investing motivates people of all income levels to defer gratification and become knowledgeable about the economy and society."

  • An article in Newsweek explaining Why Americans Are Going Broke.
    "If consumers actually saved money and paid off their debt, could it hurt the U.S. economy?"
    "One reason we have all these problems is that we are supposed to. It drives our economy. If everyone had no debt and was into saving, then our economy—as it is designed today—would not be performing as well as it should, according to economists. But I think we have to ask: Would we as citizens be happier? I argue that we would."

  • A strange and thought-provoking article in Newsweek that documents a correlation between the prevalence of payday lenders (i.e. predatory lending) and the amount of political influence that conservative Christian groups have in certain areas. ("Things that make you go Hmmmm....")

Meanwhile, the government continues to tell us that the most patriotic thing we can do for our country is to spend money as fast as we can. It's our duty as Americans.

(For the record, I don't believe that the tax rebate checks will stop a recession. People aren't going to be spending them the way the government hopes-- I expect that the majority of average Americans will simply use the checks to help relieve some of the debt that they're already in. Even assuming that some folks actually spend the money on new purchases, most of those items will probably have been manufactured overseas, which isn't going to help the American economy. IMHO, If they really want to help the economy in the long term, they should be reducing the national debt and/or investing more in education so that we'll have a skilled work force for the future. But unfortunately, no one ever asks me!)

Everyone has a different spin on how the tax rebate checks can be put to best use. So the question is, what are YOU going to do with your tax refund check? Pay down some debt? Spend it? Invest it? Save people's lives? Comments are welcome!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Forget Billary vs. Obama vs. McCain vs. Huckabee... The best candidate is clearly Dave Barry.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Entitled Brats

Your indulgent parenting is spawning a generation of entitled hipster brats.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

What amazes me is that this little bit of common sense is no longer common:
Greg Ramey is a child psychologist with nearly 30 years of experience counseling families and children at Dayton Children's in Dayton, Ohio. He says the biggest change he's seen is that parents no longer want to act like parents. "Over and over, I see parents who try to be their kids' best friends," he says. "That's a flashing red light. Our kids don't need to be our buddies. They can like us when they're 30. Mostly what kids want is for a parent to be in charge."

Think about what the phrase "spoiled rotten" really implies. Would you want to be around a person whose character is atrophied, rancid, or decayed? Neither would anyone else. How have we come to view Indulgence = Love and Discipline = Abuse, when in fact the opposite is true?