Thursday, February 28, 2008

trickle down, trickle up

I understand the principles and how Reaganomics is supposed to work, but I don't buy it. Haven't for years. The divide between blue and white collar classes grew tremendously during the Reagan-Bush years, because while the rising tide might have lifted all boats, it lifted the yachts much higher than it lifted the rowboats and rafts.

Let's call it what it is: It's giving favors to the wealthy. I don't see that as particularly compatible with a Kingdom of God mindset.

I'm not sure over the long haul that all boats have been lifted, nor am I convinced that Reagan's trickle-down policies deserve all the credit they get for getting the economy going again. The economy is a complex system, and it's reductionist to the point of absurdity to credit the recovery of the economy in the 1980s solely to an economic policy that favors the wealthy over the working class.

There are other factors to consider, including efforts by the Fed during the Carter years to reduce inflation, and the sharp decline in oil prices owing to supply shocks in the Middle East that led to a vast increase in the amount of oil on the market. You're my age; I'm sure you recall the days of gas rationing and can imagine the constraints that placed on travel and transportation, and the palpable relief we all felt when rationing ended. He may have been president when that happened, but I don't think Reagan deserves credit for changes in the oil market.

Nor does Reagan deserve credit for Fed policies that had been in place well before he was elected to the presidency. I recall in 1984, though I was only entering ninth grade, some of the debate as to whether Reagan should be credited for the economic recovery, or if it should go to Carter, though I can't say that I was attentive enough to the issue at the time to understand the arguments involved.

Did trickle-down economics have some role in the economic recovery? It's possible; still if you make that money available to the neediest members of society, it also is reinvested, in their neighborhoods, both in terms of purchases and in terms of long-term capital improvements and investments, with start-up businesses and such. And it'll eventually trickle its way up to the "lucky ducks" at the top of the pond too.

Reaganomics also assumes that the wealthy and the corporations will spend their money here in America to increase their wealth. The flow of manufacturing jobs and industry to India, Mexico and especially China reveals that to a pretty bad assumption.

I know how the free market is supposed to work. I took economics years ago. I know how Reaganomics is supposed to work.

But the market doesn't work that way. It's predatory, and by the time supply and demand correct things like overreliance on fossil fuels for our transportation needs, it's too late. Gas has passed $3 a gallon in most of the country and is climbing higher, and our government officials feel like congratulating themselves on tough new mileage requirements that are weaker than any major market elsewhere in the world already requires at a minimum.

The Constitution set up government to protect us from tyrrany. I say that includes the tyranny of corporate America as much as from tyranny of government, or any other form of tyranny that can exist.

economic policy

I just read a fascinating column from the Washington Post by Harold Meyerson about what politicians can do to mess up the American economy, such as failing to have a national industrial policy beyond "Leave the businesses alone, and they'll do what's best for America."
In the late '90s, unions and liberals opposed permanently normalizing trade relations with China. But orthodox economists and even more orthodox editorialists heaped scorn on all these ideas, which died quiet deaths -- even as the governments of nations that have supplanted us as the world's manufacturers (most notably, China) adhered to domestic content regulations and invested heavily in strategic industries, to the betterment of their citizens.

Today, 20 years after we decided not to have an industrial policy, we have an industrial base that employs an ever-smaller number of Americans. What has kept us afloat during the current decade hasn't been our productive capacity but the inflation of our assets -- the rising value of our homes, against which we've borrowed to purchase the things we could not afford out of our stagnant paychecks. To the extent that the United States had a macro-economic strategy, it was Shop Till You Drop.

So we've shopped. And now we've dropped.
Read the entire column

Obama has suggested boosting America's economy with "green collar" industry, by having the government invest in that much the way it once invested in steel and other heavy industry. It makes sense to me.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

shipwrecking the u.s. economy

Hey, everyone! It's time to ruin the U.S. economy.

As President Bush and our congressional representatives repeatedly have reminded us, it's our patriotic duty to keep on spending money so our economy can stay afloat. That's why the government is issuing $12.5 billion in tax rebates: so we'll spend it and stimulate a sluggish economy.

It follows, then, that if you're honoring other economic principles of thrift, investing and saving money, adopting a pay-as-you-go attitude, do-it-yourself-ing, and delaying needless purchases, that you are unpatriotic and working to undermine the economy further. So, it's time to list ways that each of us is hurting the U.S. economy. Tried and true, or bold and experimental, it doesn't matter. Just list away.

1. Thrift. I love to read. Always have. I've been known to go to a bookstore and plunk down $60 or $70 in a single visit to feed my addiction. Alas, in my zeal to destroy the U.S. economy, I am no longer buying books for myself. I'm borrowing them from the library, and from friends who I know have them. Worse, I'm encouraging others to follow my footsteps in irresponsibility. I recently started a book club, and lent my copy of our first read to two other people so they didn't buy copies. That's $14 I kept away from economic stimulus. I do the same with movies too.

2. Delaying needless purchases. I have no cable or satellite TV, nor high-speed Internet. I probably keep about $80 to $100 of economic stimulus locked up in savings, debt reduction or utilities by skipping out on these. And that's just the immediate loss to the economy. When you consider that I also miss all those commercials for movies to see, restaurants to eat at, cars to buy, wireless phone service to subscribe to, and everything else, I'm probably withholding thousands of dollars from retailers and service providers each year. True, we do occasionally buy a season of a favorite TV show -- we just bought Season 3 of "Battlestar Galactica," for instance -- but since a season of a show costs less than a month of cable TV, it hardly works out. (On the other hand, the lack of commercials makes the show much better to watch.) I also have no cell phone, none at all.

3. Do-it-yourself . I can bake pizza for eight for less than $6, make two loaves of bread for less than $1, and make more than 200 chocolate chip cookies for less than $5. Food even tastes better this way. By not buying from Pizza Hut, I save around $30; by not buying bread at the supermarket, I save more than $4; and by not buying Chips Ahoy, I save about $23, give or take. And there's not even any high fructose corn syrup in my baking, which means I'm saving even more money on medication by not developing diabetes or other weight-related health problems. I have a date with the bathroom sink this weekend to fix an annoying pipe leak; God only knows how many hundreds of dollars I may be keeping from the economy if I fix that by myself. Admittedly, this isn't all it's cracked up to be if you don't know what you're doing, but it's still a good place to start.

4. Savings and investment. When we get our tax rebate, we plan to invest some of it for retirement, and use the rest of it to pay down our debt. Similarly, once the car is paid off, we plan to redirect those car payments toward debt. (For the record: mortgage, college loans, and a home-equity line of credit we used to repair the roof and add insulation to the house. No month-to-month credit card debt.)

All things considered, I am extremely unpatriotic.

I tag the following people to share how they're wrecking the economy:
Indigo, Zero, and Anthony

And because I'm sure Canada must have an economy worth wrecking, I also tag JJ

Monday, February 25, 2008


Off the top of my head, I can't think of many decisions Jesus made as leader of his merry band that are recorded in Scripture. A lot of them are "Geez, we're bushed. Let's get out of here and go somewhere no one knows us" or "Hey, let's feed these people."

The better example of "headship" is what Paul outlines in his epistles: mutual submission. Do what your wife needs you to do, serving her wholeheartedly, and let that be your main concern, not whether she's "respecting your headship."

I knew a guy a several years ago who was getting married and said something nice about having that "as a trump card" for when they had a disagreement. I don't recall my exact words, but the gist of it was that merely feeling that you have the right to have your way because you're the Head of the Family reveals that you are not mature enough to warrant getting your way. Your concern as a married man has to be how you can serve your wife's interests and desires, not the proper ways to express your authority as the husband.

lame-brain feel-good measures

I belong to a homeschooling co-op, and over its e-mail list I just received a happy, bubbly e-mail that's got me seeing red.

A group called Earth Hour is urging everyone to sign up for an intiative to "show support for fighting globa warming" by having as many people as possible turn off their lights for one hour at the same time. The person forwarding this empty feel-good measure notes, "Last year all of Sydney Austrailia did it and they conserved 10% of their energy in just one hour! Spread the word!!!

I kid you not. Who the heck comes up with lame-brain ideas like this?

For those who think this is a great idea, let me stress that I'm sure this is a heartfelt gesture, but as gestures go, this one isn't even a token. The electricity we use to light our houses when it's dark is a fraction of the energy we use during that hour. While these people are merrily pretending they've cut their energy consumption by 10 percent, every appliance they have plugged in -- even the ones they have turned off -- will continue to bleed energy off the grid.

I doubt the electric companies will even notice, even during that one-hour window.

Most of the stuff people bandy about for ways to reduce our energy usage and fight global warming is baby steps, and most of them are baby steps we don't want to take because they're too hard. You know: baby steps like "Don't drive a sport-utility vehicle" or "buy energy-efficient light bulbs."

Heck, the U.S. Congress recently voted to raise fuel efficiency standards for the first time in decades, over howls of protest from American automakers, to standards the rest of the world already beats.

You want to start making a more realistic effort to reduce global warming? Okay, here's what you do: Either get a job near where you live, or take mass transit. Leave your church and start attending one where you live. Eat less meat, raise your own produce or at least buy from local farmers, refuse to buy any vehicle that gets less than 40 mpg, recycle everything you can, walk the kids to school instead of driving them, buy only energy-efficient appliances, and the next time you move, buy a small house rather than a spacious one.

Those are still only baby steps, but if you do those, you'll still be doing more than most of the rest of us in the West.

And you can even use your lights during that hour.

drawing class

This afternoon, I will have finished my first eight-week session at the art academy where Evangeline has been taking lessons the past few years. Rachel and I started drawing in January, and now we're done with the first round, save for critique week.
It's been an interesting experience. I've never felt I was much of a visual artist, and this experience has done a lot to remind me why I feel the way I do. I've had to relearn how to hold and how to sharpen a pencil, how to shade something, and, when you get down to it, how to make any drawing more advanced than a doodle of Scott Adams quality. I've also done this learning in the presence of children who receive continual positive reinforcement to keep them engaged, while I've been getting constructive criticism to help me learn. (And let me add that Rachel's been quick to tell me how much better than me she's been doing.)8
On the other hand, I have to admit that I'm getting better I finished a picture of a panda last week that's better than anything I've ever drawn, and even Evangeline gave me a thumbs-up Sunday evening on a picture I was working on.
I'm certainly trying to be productive. Although my only completed projects in class have been a drawing of the basic shapes and the aforementioned panda, at home I've attempted to draw my sneaker, two eggs, a coffee mug, and a birdseye view of the basic shapes.
That last was my idea, just to give myself a way to practice visualizing and using what we'd been taught. I don't have a digital copy to share, or I would do so, but I was mostly proud of how it turned out. My chief disappointment was that I placed the light source in the picture, and it simply looks like a flat circle in a world of cubes, cones and cylinders.
The sneaker was my first actual homework assignment. Ana was intending me to struggle with grayscaling and I did, even though I didn't know that's what I was struggling with. I thought I was struggling with drawing a dirty white sneaker with blue parts, using only a 2B pencil. How do you draw white with a pencil? How do you draw blue and not make it look like black?
I'm sure my artist readers are laughing in recognition of the struggle, which they dealt with years ago. Still, while that aspect of the drawing was a mess, I did do a decent job (I thought) with the lines of the sneaker itself. I drew it at an angle, included the laces and the eyeholes, and generally got its features in right, although I confess I deliberately left out a few eyeholes because it was taking too long and Rachel already had fininished hers.
The second assignment was an egg. I tried this one twice before I was satisfied, though Rachel of course whiz-banged hers out in about five minutes, complete with a bird popping out of the shell. The steady curvature of the egg made it difficult to get the lighting and the shading right, a problem that I finally realized was exacerbated by two light sources. After I killed the kitchen light, I could see the proper shading much more easily, and acted accordingly. I did still miss the darkest portion of the egg under the curve.
This was the last time "white" posed an impassable barrier to me, though. I realized after I used a sticky eraser to remove extra graphite from the drawing that my mind was processing the shaded areas as a form of white even though I knew that they really weren't. (But then, what is white anyway? When a shadow falls across white paint, we still see it as white even though it obviously has something dark falling across it.)
By this time I was deep in Pandaland, but Ana gave me the assignment of drawing a coffee mug. I undertook it with relish, and I think I did a good job, even though it's the blackest damn white coffee mug I've ever seen. Because of the angle the light came from -- overhead, to the left, and just behind me -- the mug and its handle had the dangest shadows that I had to duplicate on the paper.
I wish I had digital images to share right now, because it would make the entire discussion that much clearer. Maybe later on I can add some.
The chief problem I encountered here was with the character lines on the mug, the lines that mark the where the cup ends and the grounding begins, so that a two-dimensional drawing can have the illusion of being three-dimensional and standing up from a background.
My practice, which I have not yet completely broken from after about 33 years of not knowing better, is to give the character lines a uniform thickness, all around the edge of the picture, as though I'm drawing a coloring book. The lines are supposed to intrude into the shape at times, to show where the handle of the coffee mug attaches to the mug itself, for example -- and they're supposed to vary in thickness, sometimes even fading out entirely, to reflect how the light strikes the model.
I'm not there yet, as I was reminded with my drawing of the panda. It's brain-breaking work if you're not a visual artist by nature or custom, but I'm working on it.
I drew the panda using a technique called squaring the model. This is when you take a picture, overlay a grid onto it, and then lightly make a grid on your art paper before duplicating the picture on the new grid. I've heard the technique used to make larger- or smaller-scale versions of the picture, usually by drawing in the new grid whatever is in the original gride, block by block.
Not here. What Ana had me do was to mark with dots on my grid the points where the drawing would cross the grid lines, effectively creating a constellation that would serve as the basis for my image. And then I had to look at the model upside-down and draw not the panda, but the grounding. Ana called it rewiring my brain; I call it frying my synapses. Either way, it's supposed to help me recover the art brain that schooling drives out of us by forcing us to look at fixed shapes.
This is one technique, admittedly, and if I stay the course with the art lessons, there are others I will learn more of, such as how to use basic shapes to draw things free-hand. But knowing it was good enough for my nefarious purposes.
You see, my mother's birthday is coming up in a few months, as is Mother's Day. I'm already contributing to a present with my other brothers for the one, but not the other, and I have a hard time seeing the point to buying my parents things when they have everything they could want or need.
They do love the grandkids, though. And they love their sons.
So, I'm working on drawing an original piece of art or two, showcasing the girls, for my mother to hang up in the house somewhere. (Whether she will or not, I don't know, but given that I spent three hours making this so far, I sure hope she does.) I took a Chuck E. Cheese picture I have of Evangeline, and have been drawing a copy of it for her.
Again, I wish I had a digital copy to share now; perhaps later. It's not finished yet, but I like the way it looks, and even Evangeline -- usually my harshest critic on these matters -- likes it.
Those art lessons may pay off yet.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

conservatism and liberalism

Here's a news flash for everyone: Liberal is GOOD. Conservative is GOOD.

Simply put, liberalism looks to move us forward to a better future, a better world for our children and for ourselves, and it looks to right the wrongs that exist in our society and in ourselves. It is not a philosophy of bedwetters and crybabies as some have claimed it.

Also simply put, conservatism is a desire to hold onto what is good within our world and our society, to uphold our traditions and values, and to hold onto what makes us who we are. It is not a philosophy of heartless people who are fearful of change, as some have claimed it.

Both liberals and conservatives are concerned with justice and with fairness. Both groups want peace, prosperity, and on and on. Both groups want to have what our parents did: the belief that tomorrow will be a better day than today was.

Where we disagree in is where the problems are and how to fix them. Conservatives in the U.S. at times have had an appalling desire to hold onto things that should be got rid of, and at times liberals have been too eager to throw out the baby with the bathwater and excuse new injustices in their rush to correct old ones.

I don't believe either philosophy is inherently wiser, better, or godlier than the other, though I've met, talked with and even been related to a number of people, both conservative and liberal, whom I've wanted to ask, "How do you breathe with your head shoved that far up there?"

One of the things that I've admired about Senator Obama is that I think he's going to help us get past the last 20 years of self-righteous posturing about how The Other Side is ruining all that's Good, Decent and Righteous in America. Our national leaders have been fighting the battles of the Sixties way too long now.

possible consequences of an obama victory

1) "Soaking those of us who earn our money (by raising taxes on higher-income families)." Let's say that this is what happens as the result of any changes in the tax code an Obama administration pushes through Congress. How exactly does this differ from what the Bush administration has done for the past eight years, or what the previous Bush and Reagan administrations did not long before that?

Reagan's tax plan, widely celebrated through the Republican Party as the best form of taxes ever enacted, was originally called "voodoo economics" by his vice president before the name "trickle-down economics" caught on. It involves giving tax cuts to the wealthy -- during the last eight years, some very generous tax cuts -- forcing the tax burden downward, onto the working class and other people who "earn their money," yet I can't recall much outrage from you over that when the subject's come up. Quite the opposite, actually.

So if all Obama could accomplish would be to perpetuate the status quo, because the wealthy find loopholes and ways out of shouldering the share of the tax burden, and as a result he continues to soak the same people that the GOP has targeted, how is that a problem, when it's the approach conservatives have told us repeatedly works best?

My understanding is that Obama would prefer a trickle-up model, where money goes to the people who need it, allowing them to reinvest it in the economy directly, fueling new growth and creating jobs in sectors where the neediest members of our society stand to benefit the most from it.

2) "show international weakness." Again, I believe this is something the Bush administration has been doing already. Ever since that ill-advised invasion of Iraq, the United States has been remarkably impotent on the world stage. North Korea was able to jerk our chain with its nuclear program, essentially asking, "What are you going to do about it? You're already overextended in Afghanistan and Iraq." Iran has been able to flex its muscles and defy the United States repeatedly over its uranium enrichment program, because its leaders have known that we're already in too deep and overextended in Iraq to do anything about it.

What the lesson has the Bush administration shown the world with its swiftness to invade Iraq before we had settled the situation in Afghanistan? That we're impotent to work our will anywhere else in the world too, whether working toward any chance of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, or contending with rogue regimes like North Korea and Iran. (To say nothing of the mess we made in trying to influence elections in Central America.)

Drawing down our troops in Iraq arguably would leave us ready to deal with actual, rather than imagined, threats. All getting bogged down there accomplished was showing everyone that we're quick to go to war with leaders we don't like, but slow to have a plan for what to do next.

Friday, February 22, 2008

cuba, haiti and refugees

Are thousands of people every year risk their lives trying to escape Cuba -- just because they want more money? It's an interesting thought that I hadn't considered before, but I have to admit there's something to it.

Thousands of people risk their lives every year to escape Haiti, and for the most part what they're leaving for is economic opportunities, plain and simple. The political persecution -- such as it is -- for the most part doesn't seep into the fabric of everyday life there. Most people in Haiti are more concerned with having enough food to eat from day to day than they are with which group of boujwa is busy fattening itself on their backs this year.

The few that do worry about political persecution -- and they are there, of course, there always are in oppressive regimes, whether they be socialist, military or religious dictatorships -- are worried about that because they're in some way involved in the political process and dialogue, by running a radio station, printing a newspaper, or organizing political activities that are considered to be in opposition to the government du jour.

Cuba has the distinction of a better-respected lobby in the U.S., and of course it has that policy that lingers from our days of fearing the Great Red Menace.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

hooray for the rabbit

I hear there are some really great homeschooling curricula available for kindergarten. No thanks, I'll pass. I'm doing just great with Bugs Bunny.
Bugs Bunny, that quintessentially American wascally wabbit, is a homeschooling parent's dream. Not only is he a classical piece of Americana, not only is he is a laugh a minute in action, not only does he link my children to their parents and grandparents by common experience, he and his compatriots from the Golden Age of Looney Tunes provide the ultimate portal into everything a kindergartner needs to know.
You want history? Bugs Bunny fought Yosemite Sam at Bunker Hill, he sailed with Columbus on his voyage of discovery, and he matched wits with Napoleon Bonaparte. In harder-to-find cartoons, Dafft Duck fought the Nazis, Bugs Bunny sold war bonds, and


The lunar eclipse came to life in our kitchen Wednesday night, courtesy of a keychain flashlight and two cups.


The moon was eclipsed from 8:43 to 12:09 p.m. in our area, according to a notice we got a few months ago. During that time, as the moon moved progressively further into the earth’s shadow, its light dimmed and reddened. All in all, it’s quite a sight ― or at least it would be, if it weren’t so dang cloudy and bitterly cold outside.


Instead, we made our own lunar eclipse inside. We turned off the lights in the kitchen, plunging the room into darkness, and I shined the flashlight onto a cup that I explained represented the earth. It cast a long shadow across the table, where there was a second cup, which stood in for the moon.


I put the moon cup between the earth and the sun, and Evangeline immediately understood what was going on. “That’s a solar eclipse,” she said. And then I moved the moon around the earth so that it fell into the earth’s shadow, and explained that this is what happens during a lunar eclipse.


Evangeline wanted to know how that compared to the new moon, when the moon isn’t visible at all in the sky, so we moved the moon around, and showed how it would be visible from some parts of the earth, but not from others, but with a lunar eclipse, how it had fallen into the earth’s shadow.


Natasha by this time had found some pictures of lunar eclipses on Google Images, and the girls quickly fell to, seeing how a lunar eclipse would look when it didn’t involve plastic ups and a flashlight. Rachel even got why the moon turns red during an eclipse, because of a previous experiment we did where we refracted sunlight into its different colors.


Lunar eclipses occur up to three times a year; the next one we’re supposed to see from North America isn’t until Dec. 21, 2010. Hopefully it won’t be cold or cloudy.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

who needs a stairmaster?

Here's something LA Fitness doesn't want you to know: You don't need a gym to get lots of exercise.

The girls and I got plenty of exercise today doing something I'm sure a lot of mothers wish their kids would do less of: running around inside. With the temperature in the low 30s and Rachel already coughing something fierce because of a recent cold, it seemed unlikely that any of us was going to get out our restless energy, let alone give ourselves the sort of activity that doctors say is useful for maintaining heart health and that parents say is conducive to a good night's sleep.

Well, bollocks, I say. We're too imaginative to let a little thing like cold weather keep us immobile.

Rachel and I started while Evangeline was still at a play date downtown. I gave her a minute, and told her to see how many laps she could manage on the stairs. When she finished off at four, I gave it a try and began running as fast as I safely could, until at the end of seven trips back and forth, I was glad that she would get to go first on our next contest, and really disappointed at how far I've gone to seed.

Still, I had regained my breath by my turn -- thank goodness I'm not that far gone -- and followed Rachel's lead of running from the front door to the bathroom, and back. I beat her at this one, too, but Evangeline, back from her play date by this point, edged me out by one lap.

After that, it was more conventional exercises like push-ups and sit-ups, before we turned our attention back to the stairs.

We didn't go as far or as long as when I've taken the girls out on some marathon walks on past weekends, but by the time we had finished, all three of us had had a blast. We'd had a couple ticklefests, got a decent workout without needing a trip to the gym or needing to buy expensive fitness equipment like stationary bikes or Stair Masters. All we'd needed was the floor and the staircase that came with our house.

And if that's not good enough, I know the girls'll be happy to do this again tomorrow and any other day I propose it.

'if that king was to wake ...'

My dreams are trying to drive me crazy.


About a year ago, I found myself in the kitchen of St. Andrews on the Roundabout in  Rotorua, New Zealand. I realized I was dreaming because my sister-in-law, who has never been to New Zealand, much less to that church, was with me. Several months ago, I dreamed that I was back at my much-reviled former employer, talking with the editor in chief about why I kept having this nightmare that I was back there again.


And last night, it happened again ― almost. I realized I was dreaming, but my dream kept trying to convince that I wasn’t.


At the point where I first realized I was dreaming, I was getting ready for a formal ceremony of some sort, when I discovered I had failed to pack the requisite dress shoes, and in fact had nothing to go with my tux but a pair of red sneakers.


“This is a dream,” I told myself. “And when you’re in lucid dreaming, you can always change things.”


That’s what I’ve always read, but it isn’t true. I put those sneakers into a bag, and carefully visualized the black shoes I would need to complete my tux. I pictured the shoes, imagined how they felt, and even remembered where in the house I keep them, and then drew out the same red sneakers.


So much for lucid dreaming.


I suspect I was too embarrassed to go to the ceremony without the right clothes, because instead of attending, I spent the rest of the evening walking around the city, seeing various people about town, until I finally found the opportunity to discuss my predicament with someone sympathetic.


“I think I’m dreaming,” I told him. “I’m wearing my shirt right now, but a while ago, it wasn’t there, and before that, it was.”


“You could have just taken it off and put it back on again, and forgotten you had done it,” he said. I agreed that he had a point. “When you’re dreaming, there’s usually all sorts of weird things that happen to you. Have you noticed anything strange?”


Now I should point out that so far in this dream, in addition to packing those red sneakers, I was staying a hotel suite with Dame Maggie Smith and Paul Scofield. I had seen Myron and Jessica, two of my friends who are headed toward divorce, wandering about town; she was a street mime, and every time Myron went to talk with her, she turned away and ignored him. In addition to all that, sympathetic ear I had found was Dennis Quaid’s, on Church Street in downtown Nova Bastille.


“No,” I said. “I haven’t.”


“Well,” he said. “What about the world around you?”


Suddenly, that was it. The world around me disintegrated into streams of sand blown in the wind, and I shouted with joy, “I knew it! I knew I was dreaming!”


And completely expectedly, I woke up in a room with a white linoleum floor. I pushed the motorcycle Dennis Quaid had been riding in my motorcycle over to the fellow who owned it ― clearly, its presence in the room where I had fallen asleep had prompted its presence in the dream ― and made some sort of quip about my dreamself owing his dreamself rental money for its use.


The owner, incidentally, was the worship leader at the church we attend. I noticed for the first time that he had two fingernails on his right pinky, one at the fingertip, and one farther down, just at the first joint.


And that’s when Natasha woke me up, for real.


As I rehearsed the dream in my mind so that it wouldn’t fade from memory once I got going with the day, I recalled what my friend Myron had said back when I told him about my dream discussion with my editor in chief about the recurring nightmare: “You must have a really well integrated mind to be able to do that.”


This makes the third time I’ve been able to carry on a discussion between my conscious and unconscious minds during a dream. The first time, it was a simple acknowledgment that I was dreaming; the second, it was something more like oneironmancy, as my unconscious mind explained why I kept having the same nightmare over and over. (I wish I could remember what the editor in chief had said, because it sure made sense at the time.)


And now, on the third time around, my dream is actively trying to thwart my efforts to realize what’s going on. It’s intriguing. I hope next time I get a little further in and see what I can find.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

'sen. clinton,' not 'hillary'

I noticed years ago that our culture is more inclined to formality where men are concerned, and presumptively informal with women. (And just generally inclined toward overfamiliarity in general, but that's another issue.) Very few people speak of "George"; even his detractors prefer to denigrate him as "Dubya" or "Shrub." No one has referred to Republican candidates as John, Mitt, Mike, Ron or anything else, nor have we referred to John or Barack. I don't see a particular reason to refer to the senator as Hillary either.

Why? Because it's more respectful, more formal, and more befitting the relationship we have with her. The Clintons are not close and personal friends of ours, they are not likely to come over to our houses for a cup of tea, and, when you get down to it, our chances of meeting them hover somewhere slightly above zero.

Sen. Clinton may be using her first name for a variety of reasons: to differentiate herself from her husband, to create the feeling of intimacy and familiarity with voters, or because it conjures more pleasant associations for her than the name of a small township in New Jersey off Route 78.

I don't believe anyone here has been uncertain who was being referred to when we use the name "Clinton"; and as has been pointed out, there are plenty of ways to make the distinction should confusion arise: Sen. Clinton and President Clinton, Mr. Clinton and Mrs. Clinton, former President Clinton and President-elect Clinton, and so on.

I think it's better to show Clinton the same formal respect that we show to her opponents and her other peers.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

david learn on camille paglia on hillary clinton

So a friend of mine asked me to read a column on Salon by Camille Paglia, about Hillary Clinton.

How does something that harsh and acidic warrant publication? It makes a bunch of assertions, fails to back any of them up, either with a pertinent comment from someone familiar with the situation or at least from some professional who can say "This is characteristic of blah blah blah situation"; and comes so laden with caustic language it was an effort to read it through to the end. Clinton's supporters aren't committed to her election effort, they're "mostly of adoring women, with nerdy or geeky guys forming an adjunct brain trust." She's not allowed to find football a ho-hum boring affair, no, somehow it's worthy of mentioning 20 years later that she had the unmitigated gall to read a book during a football game. (Ruddy resourceful of her, if you ask me. Wish I had thought to bring a book when I got conned into attending a college game. Our host spent two-thirds of the game somewhere else, and I nearly went into a coma from boredom watching a group of geology majors running up and down the field.)

My favorite irony: While Paglia with some justification castigates Clinton for her contributions to the sharp tone of the political debate the last 20 years, she seems oblivious to just how inexcusably sharp her own column is. If she really thinks Obama is setting a good example of how we should be, then she should follow his lead.

Here's a shocking possibility: Maybe she just doesn't like Clinton. I've met or covered plenty of politicians I found I just didn't care for as people, and I've known from personal experience (both sides of it) that if that dislike is intense enough, it becomes impossible to be fair, reasonable or objective about what they do. You've seen and commented on this yourself. Sometimes people have hated President Bush so intensely that he could end hunger worldwide and they would be up in arms for his impeachment because it relied too much on healthy food and didn't allow enough for chocolate and cola.

Given the extreme and visceral reaction Paglia has to Clinton, I'm unconvinced that there's anything going on here more sophisticated than old-fashioned hatred.

I don't see how this is printworthy. I'd send it back to Paglia and tell her to back up her claims and tone down the vitriol. Opinion or not, it has to be reasoned and reasonable.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

social longevity

No society lasts forever. Sumeria, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Rome, China, the Ottomans, the Aztecs, the Mayans, Spain, France, Britain, and yes, even the United States, all had a chance to dominate the stage for a while. These empires flare up for a brief moment, setting the stage and the auditorium ablaze with light and color, and then they sputter and go out. It doesn't matter whether they oppress women, men, blacks, Jews, caucasians, or some other group, no society survives that long, and most empires fade from pre-eminence after just a few centuries. (As Nately realized in "Catch 22," America won't even last as long on the world scene as the common frog.)

What can last is a people's identity, and that also has nothing to do with whether they're a patriarchy. Israel's identity began with the Exodus, probably around 1,500 years B.C., and during the 3,500 years since then, its identity has survived oppression at the hands of the Philistines, the sundering of the kingdom under Rehoboam, the destruction of the Northern Kingdom at the hands of the Assyrians, the Babylonian diaspora and the destruction of the temple, the Hellenizing ways of the Seleucids, Roman conquest, the complete and total destruction of the Second Temple and a second diaspora that scattered the Jewish people all over the earth from the reign of Marcus Aurelius until 1948, as well as God alone knows how many holocausts, ethnic cleansings, ghettos, blood libels, and what else.

That record of survival has nothing to do with patriarchy. It has to do with a celebration that happens every year, when children ask their parents "How is this night different from all other nights?" and God's injunction to Jewish parents to teach their children the Law of Moses to their children every morning when they rise and every night when they go to bed. Every day the sense of Jewish identity is reinforced, and that has enabled the Jewish people to remain the Jewish people despite everything that has happened.

So if we worry about the survival of the American identity, take the time to learn America's story and pass it on to kids around you. My girls know the stories of Jesse James, Casey Jones, and John Henry; for that matter, even before they could read, they'd heard the stories of Éowyn at Pelennor Fields, of Henry Jeckyll and Edward Hyde, of Beowulf and Grendel, and dozens of other stories that matter to me. We've even told them about the Trail of Tears and the other tragic stories of the American Indians (not just the "safe" ones like Squanto, Pocahontas and Sacagewea), because that is part of their heritage as well.

If you're worried about the demise of America as a society, then I say you'd best resign yourself to it. All societies perish, especially patriarchies, because God casts down the oppressor and frees the captives.

If you're worried that America's not having enough children -- and don't kid yourself, the only reason our population has continued to grow is because we continue to attract immigrants -- then address your attention to what we can do as a country to make having children more practical and more feasible for families that want to have more kids but can't afford to. (Working to end our culture of consumption would be a good start.)

Sunday, February 10, 2008


I think a lot of my discontent with the church over the spring, summer and even the fall, stemmed from profound dissatisfaction with the preaching, which was same-old, same-old.

But I also have not liked the worship here, for ages, because of its volume and its disconnect with me, with its unfamiliar tunes.

It’s a lot of what I was talking about with Natasha. The worship is scripted, with no real “jam session” quality. The music is melodies and lyrics I’m not familiar with, in a style that I do not feel at home with, and that change fairly regularly.

Here I think is the problem. Let me try it from this perspective. Brendan’s position is a worship leader. That means that he leads us in worship. It’s his job to stir the entire congregation into seeking God and expressing themselves in an attitude of worship toward God. This is a participatory experience, not a spectator one.

I’m going to compare this to the worship style we had at Saunders Station Presbyterian Church when I was a child. Worship at the time was done from a set of hymnals that the church had bought before we started to attend there, that collected hymns that had been mainstays of worship for decades if not for centuries. These were songs that we sang at different points in the liturgical calendar, year after year, and consequently they had a certain familiarity when they came back around.

Worship was led, not by a band, but by an organist. Nancy McNutt was a competent organist, if not an inspired one, and she played every song at the same tempo, whether it was “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” or “Amazing Grace.”

And yet for all the failings of that style of worship, there was no question that when she played, everyone in the congregation sang. It might be a song like “We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations” or “They’ll Know We Are Christians by our Love,” but everyone sang when it was time for the hymn. We might have sung without enthusiasm, but we sang, all of us, young and old, and you could hear our voices raised in song alongside the moan of the faithful old organ.

Compare that to the worship situation at churches across the country and probably throughout the Western world today. We have a team that gets up front with a drum set, a couple guitars, and in our case, a violinist. Worship mostly consists of the worship leader singing, and if anyone else sngs, they simply are following his lead, much as we follow the pastor’s lead during the sermon, in understanding the text.

I was at a community group meeting last Monday where two of the worship team sarted tapping on glass, on plates and on whatever else was available, with a pair of wooden skewers. It was, without a doubt, an act of spontaneous worship, an expression of the demiurge within us as it swelled up and burst forth like a geyser. It was, without a doubt, the finest worship I’ve had in any church setting in years.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

evangelical 'leaders' and mccain

I suppose everyone has heard that Jerry Decker of Families in the Spotlight has declared that he plans to sit the November election out if John McCain wins.
Decker's reaction to the three candidates -- in addition to his comments on McCain, he has mischaracterized Senators Obama and Clinton as "virulently anti-family" -- are deeply saddening, when you consider how badly he has tarnished not only the reputation of himself and Families in the Spotlight, but even of  the evangelicals whom he somehow has been viewed as a spokesman for.
There is much to like about all three leading candidates, but by sowing division as he is doing, Decker is deepening the image of Christians in the popular culture as self-righteous, hungry for control, and hateful.
There is much Decker can do to reverse the damage evangelicals have done over the last twenty years with their focus on greater morality through politics, and a lot we all can do to pursue justice instead of power. There is also a lot that Families in the Spotlight can do to provide meaningful direction for families.
May God grant us all such wisdom in days ahead.

silly season starts early

You can't make this up:

"Should Sen. McCain capture the nomination as many assume, I believe this general election will offer the worst choices for President in my lifetime," Dobson said in a message to his e-mail subscribers the morning of Super Tuesday. "I certainly can't vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama based on their virulently anti-family policy positions. If these are the nominees in November, I simply will not cast a ballot for President for the first time in my life."
On the one hand, I'm amused, because this is shaping up to be the first presidential election I can remember where I'm actually excited about being able to vote, rather than approaching the whole thing with my proverbial fingers clutching my nose.

On the other hand, I'm really disappointed at how irrelevant Dobson apparently has determined to make both himself and Focus on the Family, which used to be known for a lot of good things. If Ann Coluter is cutting off her nose to spite her face, Dobson is the spoiled kid in the sandbox refusing to play unless the game goes the way he wants it to.

There's also the larger context. In 1996 (?), when the decision came down regarding partial-birth abortion, Dobson said that Christians throughout the nation would have to reassess their allegiance to a country that could allow such a practice. I still remember the distaste I heard that with, years later. I agree with him on the injustice of abortion, but never appreciated his presumption in speaking for me. And I don't think it was even four years ago that he threatened to lead an exodus from the GOP if it didn't deliver the social agenda he wanted on his pet issues like homosexuality. Or there's his warning to senators whose voting records he didn't care for, that he was going to put them in the hot seat ...

I see a pattern of bullying and petulance, and I'm not the only one.

I hate to see what Dobson is doing, not just because I think he's acting like the spoiled kid, but because Focus on the Family used to be known for a number of other things, many of them positive, and increasingly that is being eclipsed by his political activities and declarations. Focus on the Family has not disappeared into irrelevance, but it is not as strong as it used to be:

“Drawdown from reserves” (in other words, operating loss): $9.9 million in 2005, $4.1 million in 2006.

Newsletter circulation: 1.1 million, down from 2.4 million in 1994.

Attendance at Dobson’s last speech: 1,000, compared to 15,000 average in the nineties.

Staffing: 30 layoffs since September.

Sales of Dobson tapes and books: $269,000 in 2006, down from $678,000 in 2004.

Sales of all tapes and books: $307,000 in 2006, down from $781,000 in 2004.

Radio audience: 220 million worldwide (the figure never changes).

Donations to Focus on the Family Action: $6.8 million in 2006, down from $8.8 million in 2004.

Reported by Rita Healy

It's a no-brainer to say that support for Focus on the Family is waning. And I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that its influence has been waning as its political activities, and Dobson's, have stepped up.

In an e-mail, a friend of mine provides an eminently sensible explanation of Dobson's waning influence: He's getting old.

He's getting old not just in the sense that people are getting tired of hearing from, but in the sense that his core demographic is aging, and the younger generations that are coming of age in the church -- Gen X and Gen Y -- are generally distrusting or dismissive of authority, and so we're prone to ignore people who issue statements as demeaning as his was of McCain, Clinton and Obama, or along the lines of telling us what movies to watch, what shows are bad, and what beliefs and morals we should hold.

The irony is that his influence would continue to rise if he were to lighten up, and allowed himself to be more open-minded to the issues that people today other than him and his shrinking demographic care about, such as the environment and world poverty, instead of dismissng them as "distractions."

hillary clinton and sexism

Interesting and thought-provoking piece. I do agree, wholeheartedly, that much of the anger and "humor" generated by Sen. Clinton's candidacy is due to her being a woman rather than to the positions she's staked out. I'm still annoyed at McCain over his pass on "How do we stop that b****?" question, and I get annoyed by the double standard she's held to on the matter of "too masculine, but not feminine enough." Some of the other things the writer mentioned angered me further: the nutcracker for one. It's a reminder of how far we have to go in this country, for all the progress we have made and are still making.

I also wonder why it's OK to refer to "Hillary" and "Barack," but not to "John," "Mitt" or "Mike."

I have to add, given the results of Super Tuesday, that I am stunned to find that this November -- for the first time in memory -- I probably will not be able to use my favorite line, "If God had meant for us to vote, he would have given us candidates." Whether it's Clinton vs. McCain, or Obama vs. McCain, I'm actually going to be able to vote without holding my nose for once, and I'll be fairly well content no matter which one wins.

But I still hope it's Obama.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

yes we can

Today I walked down to the local polling station, cast my vote for Sen. Obama, and found myself thinking how odd my situation was: For the first time since I can remember, I found myself actually voting for someone instead of against someone else.

It's more than merely odd; it's surreal. For the nearly 20 years that I've been a Christian, I've been surrounded by the cheerleading squads of the Religious Right as they shook their pom-poms and never-you-minds for the Republican candidate, and all I've been able to muster is a half-hearted shrug over one person or another, thinking, "At least he's not as bad as ..."

Barack Obama actually has inspired me to believe that Yes, we can. We can make a difference, we can elect a decent person to the office, and we can have somebody who actually is going to bring new ideas, a fresh voice, and a new beginning to the Oval Office. After Bush ran two campaigns on "This is why you should be afraid," Clinton ran two on "Don't you just love me?" and the preceeding Bush ran two campaigns on "My opponent is a jerk and a bozo," Sen. Obama has inspired me actually to hope that tomorrow might be better than today.

We'll find out in about four hours if the hope will bear enough fruit to see us through until November, but in the meantime, I'm still remarking on the changes I've seen in myself.

Understand, with the hype and enthusiasm the Religious Right has given the last several years to elections, I've been more than willing to be disinterested in them. I've voted, but it's never been with the expectation that it really mattered all that significantly. Despite the attitudes of evangelicals like Jerry Decker of Families in the Spotlight and the late Jimmy Falstaff, I've never felt that the fate of America was riding in the balance, or that it made that significant a difference who won. God is sovereign, and he will accomplish his ineffable purposes whichever candidate takes the office. The most I've ever been able to pray during Bush-Dukakis, Bush-Clinton, Clinton-Dole, Bush-Gore or even Bush-Kerry is "Let your will be done, and give me the grace to accept four years of whoever wins."

Today, I actually found myself not once but several times, praying, "Please let Obama win." I can live with another Clinton presidency, and with a McCain presidency, even though it would mean at least another four years of partisan bickering and name-calling and the cultural divide that has split my parents' generation ever since the 1960s, but what I really want is an Obama victory.

He's had the audacity to make me believe, and I want him to win.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

walls to fix

During the sermon todayon Nehemiah 3 -- and admit it, almost all of us zone out at some point during a lecture because we find our own line of thought more interesting than someone else's -- I started listing some of the areas where I see problems in society that need to be addressed, and I started wondering about what wall had been breached to let those problems in, as well as what steps we could take individually and corporately to stand in the gap within the wall, and begin the salvation of this area. Because Tom's right -- every social ill that has been solved has been solved because someone took the initiative, a small but dedicated group of people joined in, and society had a Christward awakening: abolition, suffrage, Civil Rights, child labor laws, labor unions -- although the Church today too often is part of the establishment, these are all examples of times the church has been countercultural and worked hard to improve the condition and situation of people who had been marginalized by society as a whole.

Here are three problems that I think we can all begin to address in our own lives, and that our churches could begin to make some contributions toward overcoming:

1. Poverty. Back when I was a missionary, I would hear stories from time to time about how this church or that church in some impoverished area, had raised the means by itself to construct a new building. The story usually came coupled with a moral about the importance of tithing and the usual and expected citation of Malachi 5 that God would pour out blessings on Israel if they would bring the whole tithe in to the Temple. You know the drill.

Whatever can be said about the concept of tithing and whether it applies to churches as it often is preached, this also can be said: It's an interesting form of economic stimulus. Think about it. Let's say we have 20 families in a church community, earning an average $60,000. If each family donates the 10 percent that preachers usually say God requires, that mean the church's annual income is $120,000. For simplicity's sake, we'll assume the pastor is paid $60,000, since that's the average salary of his parishoners and he feels it would be selfish to insist on a higher standard of living than the average in his church.

That $60,000 doesn't stay in his pockets. If he's wise, he's investing some for his eventual retirement, and he's putting some into savings, giving a bank the capital it needs to offer mortgages, car loans, and small business. This is especially true if he's saving his money at a local bank, which has a real and important relationship with the community and is more likely to reinvest its money in the local community than a national or internationally owned bank like Commerce Bank or First Fidelity, or whatever their names are these days. Additionally, the pastor buys his groceries, his children's school supplies, books, newspapers, clothes, furniture and everything else he needs from businesses and contractors in the area.

What's more, the church's operating and outreach expenses also go back into the community, in the form of rental money for a meeting place and office space, the paper it uses for Sunday morning bulletins, office supplies, and so on. The offering that church members give, in other words, is plowed right back into the community where they live, at least if the pastor cares enough about the community where he is a pastor to live there. Every cent that church members give in the offering goes to maintain and even create new jobs, particularly if the church receives enough money to offer grants to start-up businesses.

This assumes, of course, that the church is spending its money locally. If the church decides to go out of area to get its supplies, this benefit to the area is diluted, if not lost entirely.As a church and as individuals, we can make a commitment to do our shopping as locally as possible, and preferably with small, locally owned businesses. Those are the businesses that are rooted in the community, and ultimately they're the ones that give the most back, from the local banks like First Star Savings Bank, down to the plumber up the street who puts in your new water heater.

2. Environment. I think we're all aware that environmental concerns pertaining to global warming and pollution are at the top of the list these days. As a culture we're more than a little slow to turn that awareness into any meaningful action.

Natasha and I are pretty proud that we have to fill the gas tank only once every week-and-a-half to two weeks. We're especially proud because that means we're not getting soaked nearly as much at the gas station as we would be if I were still working in Union Township. (Or, I should add, if we were driving twenty minutes or more each way to get to church as I used to when I lived in Bethlehem, Pa., and as I believe many Christians do each week in this state and country.)

How much gas would we as a nation save if we made it a priority to work closer to where we live (or vice versa), and if we made a commitment to attend a church within 10 minutes' drive of our homes? We're a nation of commuters, but that mobility has cost us financially, environmentally, and in terms of national security. How much carbon monoxide would we stop putting into the air if we limited our work and church commutes to 10 or 15 minutes each way? And that doesn't even begin to consider the benefits to our lives if we were to worship and work alongside people who live in the same cities, towns and neighborhoods as us. We might even rediscover the advantages of "community."

Beyond issues of fuel efficiency, how much do we throw out each week that can still be used? Fully 50 percent of what we throw out as a nation can be recycled. About 40 percent can be composted. All of that is natural resources that we could be reharvesting, to reduce the energy we consume in our manufacturing process. At church each week Natasha and I harvest about 30 or 40 paper bulletins from the trash, and often a few plastic bottles and aluminum cans as well. As a church we COULD make this a priority, reminding people each week not to throw these things out, and drawing attention to recycling bins that we never put in the hall anymore. (The kids church, incidentally, recently started using reusable plastic cups instead of disposables -- that's a tremendous step up in good stewardship, and I hope the rest of the church follows the kids' lead.)

In terms of waste, Natasha and I throw out about one garbage can full of trash each month. Everything else is recycled or composted, and we're trying to find ways to reduce our waste output more. If every family in our church -- it has about 40 families, I think -- reduced its waste that much, I'm guessing we'd eliminate about 8,000 gallons of garbage each month.

I regret to say that many Christians today, particularly those who call themselves evangelicals, fail to see any of this as the moral issue it is. What can I say? "The earth is the Lord's -- the earth, and everything in it." When God created the world, he said that it was good -- all of it, no exceptions, no optional species or useless ecosystems. Consuming the world's resources and filling it with waste at the rate Americans do will mar what is left of Eden for generations to come, and it will poison not only our children,but their children, and their children's children the world over.

It's not as comfortable a bogeyman as the "other" we like to single out, whether gays and lesbians, liberals and conservatives, or members of other religions, but that's precisely why we need to single it out.

3. Consumerism. According to a recent story in the Star-Ledger, consumer spending accounted for about 70 percent of the Gross Domestic Product in 2007, up from 62 percent in 1981. Savings is zero, credit card debt is out of control, and record numbers of home mortgages have been foreclosed. On top of that, our trade deficit was $811 billion in 2006, the dollar has weakened, and more and more of our manufacturing and even agricultural has been moved overseas with the result that we are more dependent than ever on other countries for our most basic needs.

Years ago, I read a book by Richard Foster called "A Celebration of Discipline." It's a book I think we all need to read -- not as popular as "The Purpose Driven Life" or "Your Best Life Now," but far more relevant and meaningful -- especially when it comes to the discipline of simplicity. Making do with less. I don't know about anyone else, but even though I don't think of myself as someone attached to material things, I have more clothes in my dresser than will fit there, more books than I can read in a lifetime, and more DVDs than I will ever watch.

So I don't have cable or satellite TV, don't have TiVo, and don't have the latest cell phone or personal electronic gadget. Big deal. We Americans are enslaved to Mammon, and I'm no exception. We need to break free.

The pastor listed some breaks in our church's metaphorical wall today, mostly (and disappointingly) some positions where the church can use some more help with existing programs. These are three areas I think the wall is really breached in a serious way, and I'm curious to see what other people think. What can we do to fix up the walls in our neighborhood?

One thing the preacher brought out of the chapter that really has struck me the longer I've thought about it, is who did the work, or, rather, how the actual workload was distributed.

Nehemiah 3 makes the claim that the effort to rebuild the wall was widespread and had currency with just about everyone in Jerusalem. It notes that even the perfumers got involved. (I never really had thought about that before, but perfumers are not the sort of people you normally would expect to work on rebuilding a wall with one hand on a weapon the whole time.)

But the book notes two other things about the reconstruction effort that I think we all see played out time and again, no matter what the story. First is that the men of Tekoa repaired two parts -- "from the great projecting tower to the wall of Ophel" and a section somewhere near the Fish Gate.

Second is that the nobles of Tekoa didn't help with the work. Isn't that so often the story? There's work to be done, important work that will benefit everybody, and we who are wealthy don't contribute our share to the effort. Did they feel the work was beneath them? Did they think it would hamper their lifestyle, or keep them away from their important affairs, too much to help out? (Their money wasn't needed, since Nehemiah was paying for the work from the royal treasury of Artaxerxes.) Or did they not see a need, since (being wealthy), they could afford to keep their assets protected with guards, and therefore didn't grasp how the broken walls affected the lives of the lower classes?

It makes me wonder, especially with all the metaphorical walls we can see that are damaged in our society and in our churches, how often we justify leaving the work for someone else to do because we can't be bothered for whatever reason, and so some people end up carrying twice the load they're supposed to, or more.