Less Stuff Next Christmas

I have decided to make an earnest attempt to buy less mass produced, battery operated stuff next year for Christmas presents.  One thing I might give is chickens, cows, goats or buffaloes–through charitable organizations to poor families around the world, in the name of one of my loved ones.

I am also going to try to buy hand-made local craft items.  And I may try to make some gifts of my own.

I’ll tell you in twelve months how successful the plan turns out to be.

Aunt Norma

Our family lost my aunt, my father’s sister, Norma Snowberg, passed away this week.  The family has asked me to have the services Tuesday, December 22.

Aunt Norma was a strong woman.  There was never any doubt as to where she stood on any issue.  She grew up in the depression, the oldest sister in a large family.  She learned responsibility early, taking care of her younger sisters and brothers.

She married young; she and uncle Monty were both teenagers.  In fact, he told me they had to drive to Missouri for the wedding, because he was too young in Illinois.  I can imagine if you asked her why they married so young, she would have said,

We were in love, we had found our life partners, and we didn’t have any reason to wait.   When you find the love of your life, you get married.  When you get married you stay married.

I don’t think she would say people who have made a terrible mistake should stay married.  But she and uncle Monty were both committed to the marriage and to each other.  They loved and respected each other.  They moved forward and never looked back.

He was drafted within a few months after their marriage.  The expected draft was another reason for their early marriage.  If he didn’t come back, they would rather have a few months together than nothing.  They had 65 years together.

She found a church and became an active member wherever she lived.  I think she might also say,

If you believe in God, you go to church.  If you go to church, you support the church and do your part.

My cousins say there mom liked order and rules, but she also believed in freedom–she never liked to see an animal in a cage or in chains.  She was a housewife, homemaker and mother.  She enjoyed those roles and put all her energy and creativity into fulfilling them.  She was a modern woman, though, she would never expect the younger generation to be confined to traditional roles.

Uncle Monty was a home builder.  Aunt Norma took an active interest in his business.  When they came to visit us in Memphis about ten years ago, she had me drive her around the new construction sites to check out the work there.

I always enjoyed hearing stories of my elders and ancestors from her.  I will have to call on my cousins now to fill in any of the stories I have missed.

What Would Miss Kitty Do?

There’s gambling in Dodge City again. Our state’s leaders have been betting on gambling for nearly thirty years now.  First it was lotteries, then a dog track, then a horse track.  They have all been losing bets.

I grew up not far from the Woodlands dog and horse tracks.  They are almost deserted.  In the meantime, real businesses–restaurants and stores–have grown up in the same neighborhood.  Wyandotte County has experienced real growth in the past ten years with real, family-friendly businesses.  I often enjoy taking my grandchildren to T-Rex or Books-A-Million.

Now our state fathers want to put a casino in the neighborhood.

The state’s first casino opens today in Dodge.  Our legislators imagine that vacationers from both coasts will spurn Las Vegas and flock to the former home of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, and Miss Kitty herself to donate their money to our state’s economy.

Gambling is a tax on the poor.  The rich and famous may save up and budget for a lavish vacation in Las Vegas–although that city is being hit hard by the recession–but they are not going to come to Kansas to spend their entertainment dollars.

The one political fact that has been constant for the past thirty years is that you can’t raise taxes on the people who can afford to pay taxes.  It is unpatriotic to ask those who benefit most from the nations economy to contribute more.  It is unpatriotic to expect those with the most assets protected by the military to contribute a larger share to the military budget.  It is unpatriotic to ask those who need an educated workforce to contribute their share to the educational budget.  And if we tax the benefits of the bankers who ran the economy into the ground–who will be willing to run our banks anymore?

So politicians won’t raise taxes.  Instead they cut funding to education and programs for the elderly and the disabled.  And they come up with scams that they think will stimulate the economy and bring in revenue.  It’s time we call their bluff.

Wikipedia Trumps Snopes

Ben Witherington is not sure whom to believe.  His mother sent him a note from an individual who just learned from Wikepedia that Snopes.com is a mom and pop operation, not some vast news bureau or research institution.  And the writer learned that liberals try to discredit conservatives.  Ben is not sure he is buying the Snopes conspiracy theory.

Thucydides was right, most of us are too lazy to do any real research and get to the truth of an issue.

Can A Fallacy Ever Be Logical?

One of my former students was wonder on his blog if there is a formal name for a logical fallacy involving tone.  I thought it was a good question, so I did a little googling.  I like the list on the Nizcor Project.   Some of the common fallacies on the list have colorful names: the Red Herring, the Straw Man, Poisoning the Well, Ridicule, and the Gambler’s Fallacy.  Of course, using Latin always makes you sound more logical: I like the Tu Quoque (you too!) fallacy–it’s been used against many times.

If we really banned all of the fallacies from our discourse, there would be very little politics, advertising, or religious controversy.  In fact, maybe fallacies are essential to the national economy.

My wife Sonja took Frau Bridges logic class back in the 1970s, and she was the only student ever to ace the final exam.  Sonja really enjoyed symbolic logic–If P then Q, and so forth.  I gave up trying to win arguments with her a long time ago.

Frau Bridges was my German teacher a few years after Sonja was introduced to philosophy and logic by her.  Frau Bridges was a Holocaust survivor.  I only had one semester of German with her–one of my biggest academic regrets is that I didn’t continue for a least two years.  She was one of the best teachers I have ever had.

Here are two remarks I remember from her class.

In a European University the professor reads a lecture and never looks up from his notes.  In America you have to be an entertainer.

Here is how you pronounce the German -ch.  It is a beautiful spring day and you see a little girl in her pretty new dress.  She has fallen down and skinned her knee and ruined her dress.  Vat can you say but “Ach!”

Poison in Jest

I guess we have to be careful what we say.  Not everyone has the same sense of humor.  One of my good friends, who grew up in Mississippi, said he thought the “Obama Psalms 109” bumper stickers are just a joke.  Nobody means the president harm; Southern Republicans just want one of their own back in office.  I’m still not persuaded; I am afraid there are a few unbalanced individuals who would take the words way too seriously.

On the other hand, I was re-reading an article from a year ago about one of my own students.  The Kansas State Collegian did a feature story about Jessica Long’s passion for all things Egyptian (here).  There was a small piece of the article I had missed when I read it last year:

Long said her friends are aware of her fascination with Egyptian history and even tease her about it. One evening, while playing “Would You Rather …?” – a game in which participants choose which extreme action they would rather take –  Long’s friends decided to test her devotion to Egypt.

They asked if she would rather “push the button” to destroy Egyptian artifacts or cut out her future child’s tongue. Long chose to save the artifacts.

Now, she said, whenever her friends are tired of hearing her talk about Egypt, they say, “Jessie, push the button!” She said they are also passing the inside joke on to new friends and students.

Well, it’s a game, maybe a sick game, but the answers shouldn’t be taken too literally.  I know Jessie, and I know she wouldn’t really cut out her (future) child’s tongue.  But some reader of the Collegian thought she was serious.  He commented that she is not a Christian because “God would never give her a passion like this because he is LOVE, not a materialist. Material things mean nothing to Him.”

Of course, God cares more about people than things.  I wouldn’t say material things mean nothing to God–the creator came up with the idea of material stuff.  But the relics of the past are a little bit more than material things.  They connect us with real people who lived on this same planet.  Our knowledge of ancient civilizations makes us richer.  And by the way, our knowledge of ancient Egypt helps us understand the Bible.  After all, our spiritual ancestors spent four-hundred years as guests in Egypt.

Cyrus Gordon once commented that Ephraim Speiser’s Anchor Bible Commentary volume on Genesis was a fine contribution to the series, especially with the insights from Speiser’s knowledge of ancient Mesopotamia (aka Iraq).  The book only suffered from the neglect of Egyptian sources, because, said Gordon, “Genesis is replete with Egyptian influences.”

Interesting Links

I enjoyed reading Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire a couple years ago.  The part about runaway speculation on Tulip Bulbs in Holland in the 19th century was fascinating.  In the chapter on marijuana, I think he exaggerate the comparison with cats and catnip.  Our cat Annie enjoys rolling in the catnip plant–but she doesn’t get stoned and she doesn’t lose all ambition to chase mice.  Still, I recommend the book and I’m looking forward to reading Pollan’s Carnivore’s Dilemma.  PBS has a video special on the Botany of Desire. Thanks to Baiba for the link.

Another link comes from Ursula of the Wabaunsee Book Club.  If you want to know who is funding your local politicians, go to Follow the Money.

If you are still wavering on rather global warming is a real problem, Dave Black has provided a link to a BBC page that gives the Pro’s and Cons.

Copenhagen Summit

My cousin Charlie is upset because his cable TV channels are not broadcasting the Bull Riding.  He says, “What else would Copenhagen be sponsoring that would attract so much attention?”

World’s Worst Job

Except for the money–the world’s worst job must be that of a football coach.  If a coach has a loosing season, he can pack his bags.  If he has a winning season, with more wins than losses, that’s not good enough, he has to win the championship.  If he wins the national championship one year, he has to repeat or he is a failure.

Except for the money–it’s a miserable job.  On the other hand, in most states, the football coach at the state university is the highest paid state employee.  I admit that sometimes when I see budget cuts in education, I resent the coaches salaries.  But then they remind me that athletics brings in millions to the university.  Of course, most of that money goes back into the athletic program.

But mainly I’m willing to live and let live when it comes to how people choose to spend their money.  I enjoy watching a good game once in a while.  My wife and I have been fans of Jayhawks basketball for thirty years.  When we moved into Kansas State territory, at first it was easy to split my loyalties.  K-state had not had a viable basketball program for years, but they did have a football team; so I could cheer for the Jawhawks during basketball season and the Wildcats during football season.  Lauren, the registrar at our college called me a Jaycat.

Then it got complicated.  For a season or two it looked like the wildcats were going to have a competitive basketball program and KU brought in a new football coach–Mark Mangino, whose presence on the sidelines was unmistakable.

I remember back twenty years ago when the football programs at both teams were pitiful.  I called their annual meeting the toilet bowl.  I remember hearing a joke–that Kansas and Nebraska were going to merge.  Nebraska would get all that wheat and Kansas would get a football team.

All those jokes faded, along with jokes about the new coach’s girth, when, miracle of miracles KU began to have a winning football program.  Two years ago coach Mangino  was on top of the world when his team won the Orange Bowl.  It would have been a perfect season had not the team not been bushwhacked in a border war with the perfidious Missouri tigers.

But this year as a mediocre season drew to a close rumors about the coach started to surface.  Internal investigations were being conducted.

Meanwhile it was time for the final game of the season, against Missouri.  It was an exciting game and with two minutes left the Jayhawks held the lead.  Then the coach called a series of bonehead plays.  The end result was an inglorious defeat and it was time for coach Mangino to pack his bags.

I felt sorry for him–except for all those millions he will take with him.  If it had been me, I think I could take the money and run.  I could live in relative seclusion and enjoy life with my family.  But I don’t think a person willing to live out one’s life in relative obscurity has the kind of drive and ambition it takes to be a winning coach.