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28 April 2008

Save Thee? Or Sell Thee? Part 3

For those just joining us, you can find Part 1 in this series by clicking here.

First, a little more background. To set the scene, I was raised here:

Yeppers, the buckle of the bible belt.

We didn't have Spring Break, back then it was known officially as Easter Break. We had prayer in school; and we had every Tom, Dick and Brother Bob Tilton trying to get us to go to their church on Sunday, with force, shame and cajoling if necessary.

And I went to more than a few churches too. Enough to form my opinion that a relationship with a higher power didn't need to occur under the supervision of a guy with slick hair, a crooked smile and big ol' donation basket. To each their own though; because on Sunday mornings between 9am and 12 noon, the streets and stores were always empty, so I guess every body got something out the experience.

Except for the beer stores and retail stores, they were all closed on Sunday too because of the infamous "Blue Law" created to limit people's choice to just church on any given Sunday. Interesting that all of that did so very little to engender folks into going to church more. So churches needed more sales tactics.

Back to the 10 Commandments

The 10 Commandments were reportedly scribed on Mt. Sinai by God and then given to Moses. They are held as the the guiding light for each follower to adhere to the teachings of their God. In no version of the 10 Commandments, be it Judaism, Christian, Samaritan, Islam and even the Atheist Moral Code, none of them require their followers to recruit other people into their religion. Each version is a one way dialogue between their God and the follower.

Later though, between the years of 1545 and 1563, there were around 250 Catholics who got together to add more policies and procedures to their followers to-do list. There were other sects within the Roman Catholic religion that wanted to contribute to these special conventions, but the leadership at the time kept switching the time and place to insure that only the chosen few were there to participate and that others in attendance were not allowed to vote. Some things never change; that sounds like a company I used to work for.

So these select folks from Spain and Italy decided a few other things, including the condemnation of other doctrines (Protestantism) and the defining of a few key Catholic doctrines.

Two telling and highly predictive decisions were cemented into Roman Catholic history after these pow wows:

  1. Church tradition - as defined by church leaders - was elevated to being an equal authority to the bible.
  2. Any Christian that sought to interpret the bible on their own was a heretic; the church's views on the bible were final.
The meetings closed with "Anathema to all heretics, anathema, anathema." Or more simply, curse the non-believers... So much for the connective tissue between religious beliefs, eh?


Fast forward to the fall of 1963. The Roman Catholics reconvened for what they called the Second Vatican Council. Among their goals this go around were to "renew the church" and to "create a dialogue with the modern world". You do see where this headed right? Their flock was already thinning and they needed to get them back - and then some - in order to sustain themselves. Enter the marketeers in robes.

One of the principle documents that came out of this council was called the Light of the Nations or formally, the "Lumen Gentium". It is here that the Roman Catholics went to the heart of the matter:

All human beings are called to belong to the Church...even with "those who have not yet received the Gospel," among whom Jews and Muslims are explicitly mentioned.

Oh my. So there it is.

Marching Orders

Roman Catholics by the billions, commanded by their leaders to go and bring others to the faith, er, their faith. In direct response to the church's desire to renew the church and create a dialogue with the modern world. It is important to note that nowhere in these new commandments - bound together with the original 10 Commandments which dictated whose God was in church - was any acknowledgement that these non-Roman Catholics actually wanted, needed or asked to be brought into their religion.

Seems that we don't have to avail ourselves or express a need to be recruited, they will come try to bring us to the faith whether we want to or not. After all, it is their renewal they are focused on, not ours. So, let the bible banging begin.

Bible Banging 101

Today, organized religion has become a sort of land grab of epic proportions. Each person in each community worldwide is subject to some type of sales pitch to convert you into the other person's religion. The more underprivileged the society, the more influence a religion can exert on a large scale via pilgrimages, missionary trips, church sponsored hospitals, etc. Kind of like Gatorade putting their name on giveaway sports bottles after a 10k race in hopes of increasing their visibility and gaining new paying customers. Marketing 101, yeah, we get it already.

So when acquiescent little missionaries with a gussied up media pass go to Afghanistan and get abducted while trying to convert a few thousand Muslims over to Christianity, excuse me if I don't feel much pity. (actions have reactions, dontchaknow) Patriots are dying over there in service to their country and people are voluntarily agitating the radical Islamist's by waving a bible at them? What were they thinking? It's called religious intolerance for a reason; and Islam sure doesn't have that market cornered.

All this at a time of religious confidence being at an all time low; only 45% of Christians are confident in their church according to a Gallup Poll. (A truckload of weenie wagging priests tend to do that, too). By comparison, when President Bush's approval rating was this low, many Americans started revolting and calling for his ouster, started displaying hateful and divisive bumper stickers and started spewing anti-Bush rhetoric on blogs, websites, talk shows, emails, etc. Hmmm.

If we disagree with the president of our country loud enough, we get on CNN. But perhaps if we disagree too loudly with our church, we suffer eternal damnation so everybody stays quiet? What's the difference?

Similar to the fight over cable customers and satellite customers, churches have had to devise innovative ways to fill their pews. Seems the threat of eternal damnation doesn't carry the same panache as it once did, no matter how loudly they bang away.

Market Research

One of the ways is to identify who they have in their flock versus who they don't have and want. Red Rover, Red Rover, Can Johnny Come Over? But as previously mentioned, respondents are notoriously unreliable when revealing their religious tendencies, leaving a rather ambiguous array of numbers that can be interpreted - or misinterpreted - in many ways.

The other way of counting heads is to identify a category of people that have "not yet accepted the faith" (uh, their faith, that is). If this is you, then congratulations, you are labelled as "Unchurched". Kind of like unfit, unclean, unconscionable or unseemly, but instead: unchurched. Leave it to the church to label the very people they need for a renewal with a negative, impersonal label. Perhaps 'prospective community member' was already taken? Duh.

At least by successfully labelling people as being without (UN-whatever), then they can more easily introduce what their new prospect NEEDS (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Oh those clever spinsters! Hey, those regular fries are "UNfulfilling", so you should "Biggie Size" in order to feel full and complete....

Maslow Revisited

Remember our chat on Maslow's hierarchy of needs in our acclaimed Mating Growl series? Besides the basics of air, a Frito pie, a Snapple and some boot knockin'... among our next most notable needs are security in our morals and a feeling of belonging. Oh yeah, and financial safety.

If you think large for a moment (and if you are still reading, congrats you have already proven yourself to be a big thinker!), you can easily identify the messages in a Volkswagen commercial, a Air Conditioning commercial or a Health Club commercial as hitting on the very same themes. It is after all, all marketing. And again, marketing is all about identifying the needs (real or perceived or created) of your prospect and emphasizing your proposed solution.

Show Me the Money

Some groups are a tad more obvious than others in selling us the solution that they think we need.

We all have a standard of living, be it personally or organizationally. And to maintain and build upon that standard of living, we must sustain our ability to pay for them. We work to live, not live to work, right?

If you work at McDonald's and want to keep your franchise open, or open a new one; then you must make and sell more hamburgers. If you and your family want to keep and even build onto your current home, then you will not only have to maintain a steady, mortgage-sustaining income, but also seek additional income growth opportunities. Surely no one thinks a church of worship is any different?

The classic funding source for churches has been a pay-for-playing system: if you participate in the church, then you agree to tithe 10% of your income to that church as a way to sustain it. And exactly like health clubs who sign you up to monthly contracts with auto payments and know that you'll never return after 3 months; it is the paying that builds the big fancy chapels and supports the pastor's way of life, not the playing.

Remember the 50% of the poll respondents that claim to go to church but don't? Well, they also claim to pay their tithe (give 10% of their income to their church), but don't.

A study conducted by Barna Research showed that 17% of Americans say that they tithe to their church. But only 3% actually do. Yikes.

The people are leaving, and so is the money. Now what?!?!

Okay Then, Gimme the Money

Prosperity Gospel teaches that God wants his followers to be rich both spiritually and materially (oh, Maslow should be so proud of those marketers). And that presumably starts with God's #1 followers, the 'ministers' who collect the money since they routinely live a opulent lifestyle complete with jets, beach houses, fancy cars and the occasional mistress (or drug addicted mister, as the case may be).

Taking money from your peeps is generally referred to as theft, so the church had to find a way to offer something in return for the money they collect. Hey, how about protection from the evils of debt and a guaranteed protection from eternal damnation? Get in on this deal while its still available!

This is Your Church on Drugs

The pharmaceutical companies have been using this tactic for years.....sell the disease, then push the cure. Brilliantly manipulative.

Perhaps that is why the US government has initiated a formal inquiry into some of these juggernaut houses of worship. Maybe they can claim it's a commission for their fundraising services for the Lord?

One of these money grubbing preachers, Kenny Copeland has refused to cooperate with the inquiry - which was started after numerous complaints from the public by the way - said "The enemy is not going to steal what the Lord has won through this ministry". Praise the Lord and pass the guacamole Kenny. You are proving my point.

The story goes that there was a priest, a rabbi and a prosperity gospel preacher at a bar discussing their collection plate disbursement methods. They all had rooms designated for such activity. The priest has a line drawn down the middle, he straddles the line and throws up the collection bucket...what lands on the left goes to God and what lands on the right goes to the priest. The rabbi has a circle, he stands in the center and throws up the offering, what lands in the center of the circle goes to God and what lands outside the circle goes to the rabbi.

The prosperity gospel preacher has a dot in the center of his designated collection distribution room. He throws up his bucket of collected riches ... and whatever God can catch, God can have.

Ouch. The next article in this series will address the rise of spirituality as a 'replacement' to organized religion, we'll discuss more tactics by the church to retain its members and finally, where we go from here.

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24 April 2008

Save Thee? Or Sell Thee? Part 2

For those just joining us, you can find Part 1 in this series by clicking here.

Religion in America

Back in 2002, the Pew research folks reported that "Religion is much more important to Americans than to people living in other wealthy nations. Six-in-ten (59%) people in the U.S. say religion plays a very important role in their lives."

Prompts one to wonder what questions they are asking since other research shows nearly 90% of the world's population participates in an organized religion. If the same people were asked, would we learn that while those 9 out 10 people actively participate in religion, only 6 out of those 10 do so because it is important to them? Thereby making 3 out of the 10 participating in religion, but it not being very important to them? Oh, never mind.

Many religious affiliation studies tout findings that break down with every respondent being religious, just some being more so and some being less so. This suggests quite clearly a flaw in their study since obviously 100 out of 100 people are not religious - by any definition - in America. See below.

Averaging the other studies, it seems that roughly 80% of ATRTRS's (Americans That Respond To Religious Surveys) are Christian. Unfortunately, these public opinion polls are usually wrong; see below. Nonetheless, the rest of the breakdown:

80-ish% - Christian
10-ish% - Non-religious
7 -ish% - Jewish
3 -ish% - others, including Muslim, Unitarian, Scientologist, Buddhist, Native American, etc.

Perhaps this is why it was such a gimme when a recent Harris Poll said that the bible was America's favorite book? But on the other hand, considering that the barely 1/2 of America had even read a single book in a whole year according to a study by the National Endowment for the Arts; picking the bible probably seemed like a safe pick.

Looking closer at those affiliation numbers, not even 20% of Christians go to church once a month. There is a more publicized figure of around 40% of church attendance, but it has also been determined to be more perpetuated myth than proven fact.

A few years back in Ohio, a couple of researchers went to a local Catholic Mass, every one, every week, for several months. And they counted each person. Then they got on the phone and conducted a phone survey of church members, asking specifics about if they had been to church. Guess what? The reported numbers doubled, which means that half of them were lying through their holy, non-tithing teeth (more on tithing later). This study has been replicated in other denominations in other areas with the same results. The truth to flat out lie conversion factor is 1 to 2. Can I get an Hallelujah?

No Child Left Behind?

Currently among youth's, 18 and younger, religious non-affiliation jumps to nearly 20%. And those youth that claim to be religious attend church even less frequently than their older counterparts.

People that identify themselves as Christians are doing so less and less each year, dropping almost 1% per year in total participation. And statisticians believe that all told, with the current shift away from world religions, that most Americans will self identify as non-religious or at least non-Christian in just 15-20 more years.

Break it Down, Michael!

So what does all of this mean? For starters, it means that I likely have nearly a 100% chance of pissing off at least everybody at least once during this series of articles.

It also means that whether we accept the numbers as presented or apply the 2-to-1 fudge factor, organized religion is facing a gradually diminishing flock of followers.

But where are they going?

Pew Hopping

The recent press release on religion I mentioned in the first article touts a finding that people hop between religions on their way to eternal salvation the way Frogger hops from safe zone to safe zone on his way across the highway.

For example, the 25% of America that is reportedly Catholic is not comprised of the same 25% of Catholics from say, 5 years ago. Those folks are now Baptists, or Muslims, or
Theosophites, or Agnostics. Or maybe even Frisbeetarian with a side order of Vegetarian. Seems that on average, the turnover rate among Catholics is one third of all their followers because they didn't like what they were being served ... and went elsewhere. Kind of like being disappointed with the steak tartare at the Western Sizzler and deciding to try The Bonanza, I presume.

Historically however, when the Pope did a headcount, roughly the same number appeared in church each Sunday. It turns out according to that according to Pew, it just wasn't the same people in the, you know, pew's.

Because like cellular service plans, Thursday night sitcoms and Jenny Craig, it seems that many people just aren't always that committed to just one brand to have their proverbial bread buttered.

And in the land of the Mega Church, not having steady customers can hurt the bottom line. So church leaders now more than ever must devise more plans on how to market, how to "witness" more potential converts, how to sell their service and their, ahem, faith, to the church hopping masses.

Sticky is as Sticky Does

The Pew Dude said: "...once you attract these folks, how do you root them within your own particular tradition when people are changing so quickly..."

Now, to the religious oriented out there, this may not be a secret at all. Remember, it has already been established that some religions will limit their followers options by codifying behavior that requires them to follow a certain set of guidelines.

But what they really mean is not tradition, like watching America's Funniest Home Videos on Friday nights, eating bagels and lox on Christmas morning or cheering for Notre Dame football on Saturday. Those are traditions. What they mean is institutionalizing people within the ever restrictive confines of their religion's policies and procedures. And to partially concede his point, there IS a tradition in organized religion to confine people - by whatever means necessary - into that religion's policies and procedures. Stick around and I will disclose those unsavory origins.

And like any Policy & Procedure manual, the passage of time merely create more opportunity for the meddler to add more to it. Sound familiar?

Remember the topic about the death of common sense (book by the same name is available on my recommended reading list)? The procedure for making bricks has been virtually the same since bricks were first invented. Clay, water, heat, etc. Yet the Regulatory Policy & Procedure manual has grown from a pamphlet to a phone sized document. Same dog, different fleas.

Oh, but I digress...

Next up, we will cover the little known path, yet crucial origin to today's "bible-banging", the selling of faith, role of "spirituality" and we will expose more guilt driven methods of the church.

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23 April 2008

Save Thee? Or Sell Thee? Part 1

Ah, the business of religion.

The studious folks over at The Pew Forum started looking under the hood of organized religion in America. What do you think they found?

Well for starters, they didn't look into religion because they were bored. They did at the behest of someone or some organization that thought they could benefit from the findings. As a non profit, you can be sure there was a charitable donation made to offset the trouble of constructing this study.

Religion has become one of the most divisive, controversial and polarizing topics of today. Why? How did this happen? Well, in the next few articles, let's take a closer look, shall we?


First let us take a look back to see how we got here.

re·li·gion [ri-lij-uhn], noun; a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

What may surprise some is that the origin of the word Religion as a label extends only back to the 13th century and is based on the Latin word re-ligare, which means to "re" (again) and "ligare" (to reconnect). Yes, fellow wordsmiths, same as in the 'thigh bone is connected to the shin bone' type of ligament. Religion, it seems, has more of a basis in connecting people than in dividing people, yet just the opposite is happening.

Religion has been a part of virtually every society throughout human history. And it is this fact that sets the stage for many if not all of the religious-based wars and skirmishes throughout history too. Kind of like the Pepsi sales rep trying to sell Pepsi in Atlanta, where Coca Cola is based; they should not be surprised if there is some push-back.

So even though the Christians, the Muslims and the Jews all have their feet entrenched in their belief system, perhaps they would be surprised to know that their chosen religions have more in common with each other than they have in contrast.

Besides all subscribing to similar versions of the 10 Commandments, all three of those religions make up 3.8 Billion followers of the Abrahamic religions, which claim Abraham aka Avraham אַבְרָהָם aka Ibrahim ابراهيم as a part of their consecrated history. Kind of like sports fans following the game of soccer because of a star like David Beckham, even if he also plays for a competitor's team.

Worldwide, religion takes on three main, often mutually exclusive, objectives:

  1. Religion "X" is the all knowing path to all things true - and therefore all else is untrue and stands in opposition.
  2. Religion "X" is a central part of the society's structure - like the Polygamists camps in Utah, the Amish communities in rural Pennsylvania, etc.
  3. Religion "X" is a path to a higher level of understanding of truth - which leaves open to interpretation, and intense debate, over exactly what is truth?
True is as True Does

Most truth is empirical in nature. I can touch it, so it is there. Bigfoot? UFO's? Talking bushes that are on fire? The evidence you can actually scratch and sniff is weak. So to believe otherwise takes a fair amount of trust...and faith. And the more we are asked to believe, the more trust and faith is required. Moses had a burning bush talk to him? (I will leave alone for now the research that suggests that Moses was actually under the influence of a psychedelic plant like the acacia and that he simply hallucinated the talking, burning bush). Coming back from being killed on a cross? Receiving 72 virgins after death? A day's worth of lamp oil lasting 8 days? In the absence of tangible evidence of the above, we - all of us - are left to decide if 1) we believe such stories based on our faith and trust in those that tell us it is true, or 2) we categorize such tales as superstition.

Religious leaders have long understood that we have this choice too. Which is why the Roman Catholic Church for example, considers that being superstitious is a sin and is a violation of the first of the Ten Commandments which requires their God to be THE God, no questions asked. They claim it suggests a lack of trust in the divinity of their God and their Catechism (policy & procedure manual for Catholics) even calls superstition "perverse excess of religion" and "a deviation of religious feeling". Therefore, they have in essence removed the only other choice besides faith from their flock's decision making ability. Believe their stories, they are saying, or be cast out in violation of their organization's laws; laws written by their organization's founder: God no less. No pressure, huh?

Further to this holy pursuit of the truth, it is important to revisit the notion that there are those truth's that are strictly reality based and that exist and persist because people can not dispute their presence; i.e. it is daytime. Then there is the definition of truth that seeks to incorporate the thoughts, feelings and actions of those people describing the truth. It is here that we find the critical departure between what is (reality = truth) and what might be (objective reality = truth).

I submit to you that based on this, that the reported 88% of the world's population that claims to be religious must subscribe at least in part to the belief that truth is what they believe, and not necessarily what they can see.

So religion started out as a set of beliefs, defined by the needs of the society that we lived in. Maybe it involved a deity and maybe it didn't. People travelled and migrated in and out of other cultures with no real problems. It was a belief system that connected one another in a common purpose. In many cases as mentioned, however, that purpose also included the pursuit of a higher, as in unseen, truth. And the further down that unseen path each group got, the more they found their own truth (objective reality). And the more they believed in their own truth/objective reality, the more UNtrue other group's version of the truth became. And the more more untrue other groups became, the more territorial and intolerant religion became.

Yep, like it's etymological origin, there is a "connecting element" to this history alright, but unlike its original intent, it connects each instance to religion's predictable demise and not an eventual unification.

"The equal toleration of all religions ... is the same thing as atheism."
- Pope Leo XIII

And as you will soon see, history has dictated that atheists - and other non-Roman Catholics - should be labelled heretics and should be cursed.

In our next article in this series, Save Thee? Or Sell Thee?, we will further explore religion in modern times, Mega Churches, Spirituality, Prosperity Gospel and the business of religion.

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21 April 2008

Dumbest Kid in the World

A little boy enters a barber shop and the barber whispers to his customer, "This is the dumbest kid in the world. Watch while I prove it to you."

The barber puts a dollar bill in one hand and two quarters in the other, then calls the boy over and asks, "Which do you want, son?" The boy takes the quarters and leaves.

"What did I tell you?" said the barber. "That kid never learns."

Later, when the customer leaves, he sees the young boy coming out of the ice cream store. "Hey, son! May I ask you a question? Why did you take the quarters instead of the dollar bill?"

The boy licked his cone and replied, "Because the day I take the dollar, the game's over."


We tend to think because we are the adults, because we have walked more miles in our shoes, seen and done more in our days, ad nauseum, that we are always superior in intellect too. Well, of course we are silly. And we have the battle scars to prove it, right?

But, that doesn't mean there isn't a ton of things we can't learn from our younger generations. (Besides, I have on good authority that WE used to be the younger generation.)

10 things I have learned from my children:

  1. hearty praise is better than a pile of money.
  2. our mind can convince us that something (food, people, etc.) is poison if we let it.
  3. logic is a relative term.
  4. our prejudices and biases are learned, not inherited.
  5. some ingrained traits are called that for a reason.
  6. there is only one "first time' to see, do or experience something.
  7. success is also a relative term.
  8. anything that includes some fun is better than anything that doesn't.
  9. smiles and giggles are infectious.
  10. respect is a two way street.

So to Emily & Ethan....THANK YOU for the life lessons and for helping me be a better a man, a better step-dad and a better dad.


What has the younger generation taught you?

18 April 2008

Around the Horn...

What a carnival of news today.

And depending on how you like carnivals, it could be viewed as sugary sweet cotton candy, a thrilling ride on the Tilt-a-Whirl and memorable pictures in front of the pink unicorn.

Or it could viewed as pedophile Carnies lurking inside the Tunnel-of-Love, Coke bottles weighted at the bottom to prevent tipping and meth addicted fat ladies with nothing more than a box of Twinkies to look forward to.

Oh wait, you didn't think those sex offender types would miss an opportunity to work in such an unregulated, moving all-the-time, distracted-kids-running-free industry do you?

But I digress....

5.2 Earthquake rocks the Midwest - Just another headline to most, but earthquakes of this size that occur in populated areas make big buildings fall down and go boom. Most buildings outside of traditional earthquake zones are not engineered with an earthquake in mind so if major metropolitan areas like Chicago, IL (225 miles away), Louisville, KY (115 miles away), Indianapolis, IN (125 miles away) or St. Louis, MO (125 miles away) were impacted instead of rural Illinois, we would see an disaster of national prominence not unlike after 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina. And Chicago, with a central downtown residential population of over 115 thousand people, they will be at the center of an epic disaster if a sizable earthquake strikes in the middle of the night like this one did.

(note, as I write this, another 4.5 magnitude EQ event occurred just north of the earlier site, in addition to the several 2.5 after shocks). Buckle up folks!

Citigroup reports $5.1 Billion dollar loss, cuts 9000 jobs - Anybody surprised? We mentioned these whiz kids pin heads before, when they were borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, with apparently no sustainable means to pay it back. So here they are, a few months after borrowing $7.5 Billion dollars, now are still upside down another $5 Billion. Their method of making and then financing bad debt doesn't work for John Q. Citizen, so why did they think it would work for them? Anyone?

Pregnant girls in polygamist sect - 416 children, over 1/4 of them under age 4, were removed from this compound, which has been in operation in rural West Texas for several years after they 'relocated' from the 'scrutiny' of Utah officials. According to Texas officials, many of the children are believed to have been forced to have children of their own when they turned 13 years old. These kids only know one family, one way of life. However dysfunctional that life may be, the state is playing it by the book: child victims of legally defined abuse are taken into state custody. And now the polygamist's 'people' are in court trying to get their kids and kid's mama's back. But nobody seems to know whose kids belongs to who, so the state is asking the court to order DNA tests to create a family tree, however straight those branches may be.

You know who I haven't seen on the news? Yeah, those handful of 50+ year old men who were marrying and knocking up all these girls the first place. Why aren't they fighting for custody? Last I heard the head abuser dude ran his chicken turd little butt into hiding. Hmmm. Reminds me of the saying around these parts: Give 'em enough rope and they'll eventually hang themselves....

Busloads of legal eagles are there posturing for the cameras and pulling their best Gloria Allred impression (where is she by the way?). They will get their 15 minutes of infamy, the police will get criticized until the cows come home and the real victims, the children who never asked to be part of this, will go from a bad situation into a potentially worse one (separated by foster care in a foreign, modern society) while the scum who did this, the adult males who took advantage of these kids, will likely end up in Mexico or something starting over again.

Praying Passenger removed from Plane - the headline grabs our attention with a hint of prejudice. Oh my, the bible bangers will say, they are suppressing our rights to pray in public! As will the Muslims, the Jews and everyone else with a .org and a book about deities. The reality is though that the offender, a Jew in this case, would not sit down when instructed by flight attendants and ignored security requests. Oopsy. Whether you are praying, smelling like a sow, playing Nintendo or trying to squat in First Class, not playing by the posted rules on an airline gets you thrown off on to your tushy. Shame on the media for making it sound like it was about praying. (I will be taking on religion's role in our society in series starting soon....)

Sheriff charged with using inmates as sex slaves - The wolf in the hen house, law enforcement version. If the allegations are true, he will likely get his own cell....and will likely be turned into a sex slave his new cell mate, Ben D. Over.

Any other news that struck a chord with you this week?

The news prevails once again over fiction as more entertaining, or at least thought provoking. Stay tuned, there is MMTC (Much More To Come). I have a lengthy series I will unveil down the road that highlights decades of absurdity in virtually every industry. It was fun researching it and it will be fun reading it so make sure you and your friends have your free Feed available at the Feed Me! link on the right panel.

15 April 2008

Taxman Shmaxman

The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has.
- Will Rogers (1879 - 1935)

(sorry in advance to my international readers)

Hey, fellow Americans, have you filed your taxes yet?

If you're not in number overload, here are a few more numbers to chew on for the last day of tax filing for 2007:

  • 10% of us have trouble reading a calendar and will file for an extension. (Hint: April 15 comes at the exact same time every year.)
  • 10% of us wait until the last day, today, April 15th to file our taxes.
  • America's top 1% of all money makers - you know, the Grey Poupon folk - earn a whopping 21% of America's income pie. And for their trouble, Uncle Sam collects 39% of the nation's taxes from them too. All hail the middle class!
  • 140,188,000 hard working American citizens filed income tax returns last year and as measure of thanks, the IRS randomly audited 13,000 of us.

Last year (2007), the average refund was $2255 smackeroos. Which is groovy until you realize that the government was holding your overpayment and collecting interest on it while you collected zilch. Kind of like sticking 2 grand in a coffee can for a gets you nothing.

The government collects $2.5 TRILLION dollars in tax payments, with almost 1/2 of that coming from individual taxpayers like you and me. That is a lot of .10 cent beers, fer sure.

But, each year, the IRS fails to collect - wait, are you sitting down? - $346 BILLION bones. Presumably, that is money that the tax cheats under-report or otherwise bilk our system out of receiving. Be assured though, that those same tax cheats are first in line to complain about demanding services from our government that are provided by those very same dollars. Irony knows no limits.

So let's break that down further....

  • If the US actually collected that money instead, it would offset the federal cost (state and local cost is extra) each year of the 37 million immigrants (legal and criminal/illegal) being in the United States. For the over 12 million criminal/illegal aliens alone, that is nearly $3000 per illegal, per year that could be better spent (if collected that is!). [A balanced and eye opening series on our country's immigration challenges is coming soon to Daddios Daily Dose. Be sure to sign up to be alerted when it is published].
  • $346 Billion would pay the interest payment (oh no, not principal, just interest) - for one year - on our nation's growing debt.
  • $346 Billion would pay for a year's worth of exports from Taiwan to the US, China, Japan and Europe. Yep, a flat panel TV for everyone!
  • $346 Billion is equal to the country of Norway's Oil Heritage Fund - which is no small matter since Norway is the world's third largest oil exporter behind Russia and Saudi Arabia. Norway is also the 5th richest country in the world (USA is 9th) per capita and has a flourishing economy because it invests its oil revenues and supports its home economy with the earnings. Hmmm.

Then there's this:

There is growing support for an alternative tax system called the Fair Tax. You might want to sit back down because the simplicity may otherwise blow you over. Under the proposed Fair Tax model:

We don't pay taxes on what we make, only what we spend. Ergo, we collect our entire paycheck and would pay approximately 23% tax on what we buy, like a gallon of milk. If you have your own cow, your calcium is tax free. :)

And then we get to spend tax day having a cocktail with a little umbrella in it with our friends and family instead of fretting over each deductible, complex tax form and new fangled regulation.

Under the Fair Tax, the government still gets their money as usual. They just wouldn't have to spend the estimated $265 Billion dollars per year in compliance costs to collect taxes under the current IRS system.

Interested readers can go here to learn more.

So, the economic babble for today must come to a close. I gotta go file my taxes....

11 April 2008

Between a Rock and a.....

Thousands of people were affected by violent spring storms this week. Where we live, it is a common occurrence to duck-and-cover at all hours of the day and night when these storms come raging through. Mostly, they are an exercise in, well, exercising our Emergency Plan, which is fine by me.

Seldom do we have trees from our front yard end up in our back yard, lose pieces of our roof, lose 90% of our perimeter fence, or have the acoustical equivalent of a freight train roar through our property. But we did this time; and we're lucky.

I have conducted many wide area searches for lost and missing people after tornadoes and hurricanes...the really bad ones too. Loss of life, property, the works. While people define devastation differently, I for one tend to place the bar on what constitutes "devastation" fairly high. No physical product of any kind is more important than the health and safety of my wife and kids. So any storm that results in me being able to still see their smiling faces is not all that devastating. I will leave the drama to others.

So here we are, cleaning up our mess, repairing our stuff, filing our claims and re-settling our lives. As anybody that goes through these types of things knows, it can be a bit distracting and for many, unsettling. Thankfully, we are surrounded by people that believe in 'neighbors helping neighbors', and that's a wonderful thing.

And then there are these scrote bags. The throng of 'ambulance chasing' jobbers that drive in from out of state with a ladder and a shtick. "Hey buddy, we can give you a free estimate on your roof damage, we can trim your trees, remove the debris and all for a price that can't beat, as long as you decide right now."

In search & rescue, these pin heads are referred to as "self-deployers"....commonly people that have a super dog (because it once found and dug up a bone in the back yard), no scruples and they are there to save the day with their heroics, particularly if those heroics can somehow be arranged to take place near the news cameras. Of course the original ambulance chasers are the lawyers that will tell you "if you don't have a problem (that we can sue someone over), then we'll give you one!" (for a 60% cut, plus expenses of course).

Simply, they are all driven by an arrogant commitment to doing what is best for them even if it is not necessary best for the mission.
Emily and I stood in our driveway watching truck after truck wheel down our street with these earnest little opportunists leaping from each vehicle like it was a Chinese fire drill to accost as many homeowners as fast as they could. When one of these turds saw us removing our own limbs from our house, you would have thought I ruined his Christmas with the look of dejection from an opportunity lost on his face....until he saw my elderly neighbors with a look of despair, a limp and a wallet in their hand that is.

It is not hard to find a reputable, licensed and competent contractor. And in doing so the costs are not even close to what it potentially costs to have some of these yahoos operating power equipment on your property.

I feel sorry for the folks that don't feel like they have any better options than hiring one of these unknown entities to climb on their roof or swing from their tree (have they even ever done this? Are they insured? What if they get hurt? What if they're (gasp!) not even legal?!?)

I also feel sorry for the reputable roofers, tree trimmers and fence builders, etc. that actually do it right. They market, the ask for referrals, they even cold call; but they don't come swooping in like a swashbuckler with a tall tale about their once in a lifetime solution, preying on people looking to recover sensibly from a destructive storm's aftermath.

So lay off the shtick fellas. Before someone takes a real stick and ....
Just a few more days until we kick off our next series. This time it is on religion and believe me Brothers and Sisters, you won't want to miss a single word. Plan on being informed, provoked, inspired, possibly irked, educated, amused and maybe even a tad thankful.

Be sure to sign up for free under the Feed Me! link on the right panel to be notified whenever a new article is posted. Until then, stay safe and have a nice weekend.

08 April 2008

Losers, Loathing & Lessons

"It's too bad losers or failures don't give seminars. Wouldn't that be valuable?" We could sit back and say, "Pete ... Henry ... Mary ... Jessica, you've screwed up your life for forty years. If I bring a notepad, and promise to take good notes, would you spend a day with me? Would you teach me all the things NOT to do?"
- Jim Rohn

I got one of those chain emails the other day where we are supposed to be thankful for all of our life's trials and tribulations. The logic goes that by having a throbbing stress headache, we shouldn't bemoan the pain and pressure; we should instead be thankful for having a job, or whatever, that gives us the stress in the first place. Right. And perhaps even be thankful for having enough grey matter in our noodle that still responds to stress by creating a mind altering head ache in the first place? There is of course a certain level of absurdity in focusing too much on what ails us; and the flashbacks to Great Aunt Ethel complaining incessantly about her gout lay testament to that.

BUT, as a parent who seldom lets a teaching moment go by without a mention, (or as Emily might say: Lectures Like it is Going Out of Style) the least desirable behaviors in others can also serve as helpful fodder for us to prove our point.

The anonymous scrote bag in the news who beat his wife, molested little kids or shot at the police are easy targets. They are known only to us for their misdeed. And demonizing them is easy, is fair game and is one-dimensional.

But what if the best lesson for how not to act is a little closer to home? A little less anonymous?

  • The relative who repeatedly lies, manipulates and undermines to get their way?
  • The associate who performs selfless acts in public, but is a conniving, vindictive and unstable bee-atch in private?

The easy (and trite) answer is that the truth will set us free, that character is what we do when nobody is looking and right is right and wrong is wrong. These are tenets I believe in and preaching them like gospel reinforces that belief, commitment and resolve. But as we have surely learned: preaching and practicing are different, dear brothers and sisters.

How about the appointed leader who beats their chest with grandiose plans of conquest, but whimpers when the the moment of truth arrives? Don't you loathe what some people do - or don't do - when they are in a position of leadership and they fail to act? Or worse, abuse that position?

"An army of sheep led by a lion would defeat an army of lions led by a sheep."
- Arab proverb

The best antidote for this is to of course prevent them from being in that position in the first place. In our own failure to act, we sometimes would rather brush aside (or promote, or ignore or placate, etc.) the undesired behavior in hopes that it will either self correct or at least be someone else's problem. Maybe that even appears to work sometimes.

But we already know don't we, for example, that liars that lie and that are not held accountable merely become more accomplished liars? What is the cost of addressing that behavior, regardless who it is? What is the cost of ignoring that behavior?

So how do you balance the importance of capturing the lessons learned from the misdeed of someone you know with the sensitivity of the potential cost of disrupting a previously harmonious and functioning relationship?

You have your D3 Feed, right? Lots of thought provoking & entertaining series are upcoming. We'll be talking common sense about families, religion, undocumented immigrants illegal immigration, elections, absurdity and anything else that needs a little Dose of Daddio to put it into perspective. Be sure you don't miss a single post by getting your own customized delivery of Daddio's Daily Dose. Click on the Feed Me! link on the right panel and choose your free method of delivery.