Sunday, December 20, 2009

US vs Canada on Healthcare

It's hard to believe it has been over a month since my last post. Time sure slips away, especially around the holidays.

I have written recently about different perspectives on Canadian healthcare. Well, a few days ago I ran across an article that summarizes a 2007 study comparing American and Canadian healthcare. The original paper was a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research entitled Health Status, Health Care and Inequality: Canada vs. the U.S. The summary I read can be found in a recent Laissez Faire book catalog. See page 12.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Man's Best Friend: His Camera

One of my early inspirations in the area of photography was Ansel Adams. I bought his series of books on the technical aspects of photography many years ago and read them all. These books consisted of:

The Camera (Ansel Adams Photography, Book 1)
The Negative (Ansel Adams Photography, Book 2)
The Print (Ansel Adams Photography, Book 3)
Natural Light Photography, Series #4 (Ansel Adams Basic Photo Series)
Artificial-Light Photography ( Basic Photo 5 )

I am currently reading Ansel Adams: An Autobiography. It is very interesting to read about all the famous photographers and artists he befriended and the varied experiences he had. One thing that struck me was how determined photographers had to be years ago. Adams said that he would typically carry thirty pounds of equipment and supplies on his back and his tripod in his hand. When on longer treks he had to enlist the help of pack mules. I get tired just carrying minimal digital equipment in a shoulder bag.

When my family and I visited Yosemite National Park back in 2007, we visited the Ansel Adams Gallery. There was much good artwork available there. Several years ago the Huntsville Museum of Art had a show of Adams' prints. They were selling his mass produced prints, which looked surprisingly good, for a very reasonable price. I bought several of them. After matting and framing them, I hung them on a wall in our basement. Here are the images I have hanging.

Half Dome, Merced River, Winter by Ansel Adams

Moonrise, Hernandez by Ansel Adams

Clearing Winter Storm by Ansel Adams

Oak Tree, Sunset City by Ansel Adams

Rose and Driftwood by Ansel Adams

Winter Sunrise by Ansel Adams

If you enjoy photography and have not yet looked at Adams' work, please do. All the photos above and many more can be purchased at the online Ansel Adams Gallery. You won't be disappointed with the superb quality of his work. If you decide to purchase books rather than prints, be careful which books you buy. Many of the books compiled by other people are of very poor quality. Typically the photos in these books are flat and do not show off the quality of a true Adams print. I own several books of photos by Ansel Adams that are of very good quality. They are:

Ansel Adams: Trees
Yosemite and the High Sierra
Ansel Adams
Ansel Adams: Our National Parks
Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs

Reading Adams' autobiography inspired me to write a poem about him. I just added it to my personal Web site.

Below is a photo from my photography Web site that has the look of an Ansel Adams print. I hope you enjoy viewing it and reading my poem.

Capitol Reef by Randy Finch

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Canadian Healthcare System

A few days ago I sent a link to many friends and family of a story that John Stossel did on 20/20 about government healthcare in Canada. In this story, Stossel paints a pretty grim picture of that country’s healthcare system, with long lines having waits up to 23 hours and delays in getting critical care. I thought it an important message worthy of being viewed by many others, thus the reason for sending the link.

On Saturday night, my family and I went to a party celebrating a friend’s 40th birthday. Some friends of his that live in Canada came down for the event. As people left and the remaining people congregated into one room, I was itching to ask them for their personal perspective of their country’s healthcare. Eventually, someone broached the subject and I took advantage of it. I asked, “What do you think of Canada’s healthcare system?” Immediately one of the visitors threw his hand up into the air with his thumb extended even higher and said, “I give it a thumbs up.”

Over the next hour or so a very interesting conversation ensued and I was able to find out more about the Canadian health system first hand from three residents of that country. All three agreed that their system was working very well. Not perfect, as no system is perfect, but well. They admitted that it had had its problems in the past, but over the last 25 years the system had been tweaked and was now running quite efficiently. I was told that families pay about $108 per month for insurance (yes, insurance companies still exist and the government works with them) and the government kicks in about 12% of the country’s GDP. By way of contrast, the USA is estimated to spend a total of 17% of GDP. One person said that the most she had ever waited to see a doctor was about two hours. Another said he had waited longer, but generally it was not a problem. He did say that the waits might be longer in rural areas where there are limited healthcare facilities. The full cost of any medical care is paid by the insurance; not even a co-pay is required.

The Canadian population is low enough that some newer or more advanced medical tests and treatments are sometimes not available. In these circumstances, the insurance will pay for the patient and his or her family to visit the United States for service.

Knowing that many US citizens are concerned about socialized medicine leading to rationing and a defunding of general research, I inquired about these things. They responded that they had not seen any rationing happening. They further said that much medical research was being conducted in conjunction with universities.

Wow! And double WOW! How is it possible that these personal experiences with the Canadian healthcare system are so radically different than what was reported by John Stossel? Was I being fed a line by brainwashed Canadians? I really don’t think so. They all seemed like good people with sincere stories about how medicine operates in their country. Was Stossel being dishonest in this report? I don’t believe that either. I suspect that Stossel’s stories, to be provocative and entertaining, focused on the worst experiences of our northern neighbors. My friend’s friends were telling the story from the trenches. Let’s just hope that if some form of government-run healthcare passes in the US, it will work reasonably well, not become politicized, and improve over the coming years.

For a report validating much of what I heard from the Canadians, look at this:

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Knowing God Through Pain

In Sunday School this morning we were discussing Psalm 102. At one point the teacher asked if anyone would like to share how God had become more real to them due to some painful event in his/her life. Several responded. Their stories were supplemented in a powerful way during our worship service when quite a few congregants participated in Cardboard Testimonies. While the choir sang and the lights were down, people would step onto the stage with a large piece of cardboard in their hands. The spotlight was trained on these people so the signs were easily visible. Written on the cardboard was a message about some tragic event that took place in that person's life. After giving time for everyone to read the message, the cardboard was flipped over to reveal an encouraging message about how, through the help of God, tragedy was converted to healing, or at least the person had been given the wherewithal to endure the problem. It was a powerful and moving event. My wife was in tears and I, not usually very emotional, started to tear up as well. Stories of healing in the face of devastation seem to always bring out raw emotion in me. However, being the skeptic that I am, I always try to retain my rationality throughout.

While I know that most, if not all, of the people on that stage believe that it was God that saw them through the hard times, I am not convinced. I believe that most people have the innate ability to overcome life's problems on their own. It's just that some people doubt that ability and need to have an outside source of comfort to press them forward. As our preacher said this morning, if you are in a boat that you want to hold it in position in the face of a storm, you need an anchor. Keeping the anchor onboard (relying on self) allows the boat (ourselves) to be tossed about by the storm (life's circumstances). However, throwing the anchor overboard so that it is latched onto something external to the boat (God) will help hold it steady. This is a very good analogy, but I don't believe it applies in this circumstance.

I have known a number of people who are not believers that have been able to endure life's difficulties just fine. They had the ability to handle the rough situations in other ways besides turning to God. This suggests to me that we humans have the capacity to overcome our problems inherent in ourselves. However, I understand that it is not easy, and I can understand why people want to throw up their hands and rely on a more powerful source to help them through. In fact, a good unbelieving friend of mine, who has been and still is enduring a troublesome disease and whose wife is a cancer survivor, recently told me that he sometimes wishes that he had faith in a higher being. He thought that such a belief might bring more comfort during the bad times. Yet he, like me, believes that the existence of God is a matter of fact, not faith. In other words, God's existence or non-existence can only be determined through investigation, not by our feelings or emotions.

I am conflicted. It is sometimes difficult to discuss these things with people who sincerely believe that God has moved in a powerful way in their lives. I feel as though I am somehow shooting down that which they find most important in their lives. So, I try to tread lightly. Yet, as I told a believing friend of mine at lunch a few days ago when he mentioned the importance of faith. There is something even more important: TRUTH!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Unknown God

A few weeks ago a friend of mine at church loaned me some audio tapes of a three part sermon by John MacArthur entitled "Getting to Know the Unknown God." This sermon series was recorded late 1973 so I am not sure if MacArthur still agrees with everything he said back then, but for the purposes of this post I will assume he does.

The sermon was centered around Acts 17 where Paul enters Athens and sees the altar to the unknown god. He then preaches a sermon declaring Jehovah to be the god that they did not know. John MacArthur's sermon is quite good. He is an interesting speaker. However, there were a few things he said that I take exception with.

MacArthur claims that the only purpose of humans is to know God. He says that people who do not know God have no purpose and no meaning and their lives are not worth living. These people, like Judas Iscariot, would have been better off to not have been born. That is a pretty bold statement. How can he so confidently state such a thing without knowing the inner person of every human on the face of the Earth? What does MacArthur mean when he says a person's life is meaningless and purposeless? Isn't the meaning and purpose of one's life something that is a part of one's own consciousness that can only be determined by each individual for his own self? I know and have seen many people that MacArthur would probably claim do not know God that believe they have much meaning and purpose in their lives. They know people and engage in activities that are very important to them. Other people love them and believe them to be essential elements of their own lives. But apparently this does not matter to MacArthur. For him, the only thing that conveys meaning and purpose onto a person's life is the knowledge of God.

MacArthur goes on to say that there are two types of people: those that know God and those that don't know God.  Of the latter there are two groups: those that know they don't know God and those that don't know they don't know God. The latter group believe they know God, but in actuality they do not. In other words they are deceived.

So what does it take for a person to truly know God. According to MacArthur God can only be known through Jesus Christ. By studying about Jesus and coming to know him better, we can get to know God himself. This is based on John 14:6-8. So anyone who believes they know God through any other means than Jesus is deceived and really does not know God. The thing that has always interested me about such statements is that once a person admits that it is possible to believe something wrongly, they must admit that they themselves could be among that group. In other words, it could be that MacArthur himself is one of the deluded, thinking he knows the true God, but not knowing him in reality.

Another interesting aspect of MacArthur's sermon was that he quoted many times from the book of Jeremiah and other OT books where the writers describe the nature of Jehovah. But how could these OT writers know God? If the only way to truly know God is through the knowledge, teaching, and person of Jesus Christ, how could the OT writers have known anything about God? They knew nothing of Jesus Christ. They may have believed in a coming Messiah, but that was just general information, not a true knowledge of the actual person of Jesus. I say that if the only way to know God is to know Jesus, then we can just chunk the OT because those guys did not know Jesus.

I believe that we cannot with certainty even know whether there is a god or not, let alone know for sure what his attributes are. We all exist on a huge ball in space which is just an infinitesimal speck in the expanse of the cosmos. Humans have the ability to use their senses to assimilate information about the cosmos and draw conclusions via rational thought. However, when it comes to the ultimate questions of "How did the Universe get here?", "Where did we all come from?", and "What is my purpose for being here?", we are all still in the dark just like the thousands of generations that preceded us. This can be a hard pill to swallow, but it is one we must swallow nonetheless. Basically, every person must discover what has meaning and purpose to himself and go about achieving those things.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Perfect Health Care Plan

The national health care debate at the US Congressional level and across the United States of America has reached fever pitch. People are surrounding this issue from all directions just like a tribe of Native Americans circling a wagon train of pioneers. Well, I don't know about you, but I like the plan outlined by several Representatives and Senators that has these features:

No denials based on preexisting conditions
No cap on medical expenditures each year
No rationing of care
Patients get to pick their providers
A cap on cost of premiums

What I'm hoping for is a really low cap on the premiums, say no more than $5.00 per month. But, if it's more than this I will probably not take any insurance and just jump in whenever I develop a condition expensive enough to justify having the insurance. After all, if I can't be denied coverage based on any preexisting conditions, I should be able to do this. But wait, perhaps there will be some sort of waiting period after signup before the benefits kick in. Oh, it doesn't matter anyway. I just remembered that President Obama said that everyone would be required to have health insurance whether or not they want it or can afford it. I suppose there will be help for those who can't afford it. Although if they can keep the premiums down to $5.00 a month, there shouldn't be too many needing the help.

But wait just a minute! I just had an epiphany. How can the government possibly provide or expect insurance companies to provide unlimited health care with no preexisting conditions exemptions and no rationing using premiums that are capped. I am having a hard time seeing how that will work without changing the laws of mathematics. If Congress could just make $2 plus $2 equal $1,000,000, I believe their plan just might work. But I don't know how to make those numbers work. I know they don't work at the casinos. But perhaps our noble politicians have a trick up their sleeves.

One trick I've heard is to fund some of the health care plan by cutting fraud out of Medicare. Nice! But if it is possible to cut X number of dollars of fraud from the Medicare system at a cost of less than X number of dollars, why haven't they already done this? Is cutting wasteful spending out of the budget only important when we're in an economic crisis or we're wanting to start another spending plan? Also, I have heard that Medicare is drowning in debt, having trillions of dollars in unfunded future obligations. Won't all the fraud savings have to be put towards those obligations to help keep Medicare afloat? And won't that still not be enough to salvage it?

It's beginning to look like the only way to make ends meet with the proposed health care plan is to simply limit the payout to doctors and drug companies to the amount that is taken in from premiums. But if the premiums are too low, the payouts will be too low, and there will not be much incentive for these people, especially the doctors, to put themselves through 8-10 years of college and intern hell and accumulate hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. That means fewer doctors, which means more patients per doctor, which means the average visit time will have to drop from about 10 minutes per patient to perhaps 5 minutes. There's already people complaining that 10 minutes is insufficient time to consult with a doctor. They'll be yelling if it drops to 5. Oh well, I guess we can always get the government to force the doctors to work 24/7 under threat of imprisonment. I'm not sure who will treat them when they keel over from exhaustion.

I don't think there is any decent person who wants to see another human being go without needed health care. I certainly don't. But the harsh reality of this cold, uncaring Universe is that some things are just impossible. This may be one of those things. One thing seems certain to me. The only way we have any hope of paying for unlimited health care for everyone is to unfetter economic activity and allow productivity to increase tremendously. The increase in wealth, and the resulting increase in tax revenue may just be able to fund unlimited health care, although I am still skeptical. Feel free to comment if you believe I am missing something.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lying to the Dying

Several days ago I was watching an old episode of The Rifleman ("The Prodigal") on TV. In this episode a criminal is at Lucas McCain's house with his mother who was oblivious to her son's nefarious activities. While there, the mother has an attack and is only given a short time to live by the doctor. The criminal is about to confess to his mother that he was a wanted criminal. However, just before he is able to, Lucas jumps into the conversation and confesses to being the criminal instead. He later tells the criminal that he didn't do that for him, implying it was the sake of his dying mother.

I have seen many shows and movies where something similar happens with a dying person being told a lie. It's usually done because they want the person to die happy rather than sad. While I can understand the motive behind this, I have always been uncomfortable with it. After examining why I felt this way, I realized what my concerns were.

If a person simply dies, never to be alive again in an afterlife, then it really doesn't matter if the person is told a terrible truth. Once they are dead, they will never be able to fret over it anyway. On the other hand, if there is an afterlife, then the recipient of the lie will most likely discover the deception as soon as they cross over and may be disappointed in, or even angry at, the liar. So, it seems to me there is no good reason for lying to the dying to spare their feelings. It will either do absolutely no good or bring harm to a relationship.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Wild River

I found the 1960 movie Wild River to be intriguing. The movie is about an employee of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) who is tasked with arranging the purchase of various tracts of privately owned land that would be flooded once a dam was built on the Tennessee River. While performing his duties, he encounters an elderly lady who is intent on thwarting TVA’s plan to obtain her property.

One of my favorite parts of the movie is when the TVA man shows up at the elderly property owner's house. The old woman begins asking one of the farm hands how much he wants for his dog. He responds by saying that he didn’t want to sell his dog. She tells him that she wasn’t asking if he wanted to sell, she was telling him he had to sell. She just needed to know how much he wanted. The banter continues until the man tells her she doesn't have the right to make him sell his dog. She then relents and says he is correct. And just like she didn't have the right to make him sell his dog, the government didn't have the right to make her sell her property, even though they were going to give her “fair” compensation.

The conflict between the private and the public realm of civilized life is a longstanding one. This was made clear to me while watching the first episode of Ken Burns: National Parks - America's Best Idea. Back when the National Park system was just beginning, there was great debate concerning whether it was within the authority of the US Congress to take control of large tracts of land for the purpose of preserving it for all people, present and future. Many believed that the senators and representatives were overstepping their bounds and hampering American entrepreneurship and business. Others felt that without the protection of government, greed would drive individuals to exploit some of the most scenic spots in the country. They pointed to Niagara Falls (as it was mid-19th century) as an example.

Wow! This is one of those tough issues for me. When I think about it, I can feel my inner self being torn apart. It’s as though some of the most liberal and some of the most conservative congresspersons have become body snatchers and have picked me as their victim. I am a very strong advocate of free enterprise where people are allowed to build businesses and compete in the open marketplace for customers without interference from the government. Free enterprise is what has elevated the common man in many countries to a standard of living only kings could have dreamed about 500 years ago. If a regular ole Joe from that era could come back and see how millions upon millions of people live today, he would be overwhelmed and probably quite envious.

Yet I have visited many of the US National Parks and am totally enthralled with them. I can identify with the words of John Muir when I saw Yosemite Valley: “No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite... The grandest of all special temples of Nature.” Who could want this place, thought by many to be the most beautiful place on earth, to be denuded by a few people for their own gain? Yet I, like Ayn Rand, also see the beauty of the manmade. I look in awe at the Empire State Building just as I look in awe at Half Dome.

It would seem that there must be some sort of balance between the public and the private when it comes to land. I just find it extremely hard to put my finger on where the dividing line is. I will talk about this further in future posts.

Psalm 135

Last week in Sunday School, we studied Psalm 135. In this psalm we are told that God is good and great, greater than all other gods. We also discover that God does whatever pleases him, both in the heavens and on the earth. This information presents quite a conundrum. In what sense can God be considered good if he does whatever he finds pleasing?

Some say that only good things please God. If this be so, then where does the standard of good and bad come from? To say that God only chooses to do good implies that there is a standard apart from God that he chooses to adhere to. But where would that standard come from?

To get around the problem of an external standard of good and evil, some say that God’s actions define what is good. In other words, God can do anything that pleases him and, by definition, it is good. Thus, God can choose to create people, protect them, give them nice things, etc. and all these things are good. But on the other hand, God can kill people, order people to kill other people, allow heinous things to happen, etc. and God is still good. Why? Because God can do whatever is pleasing in his own eyes and it is all good! Don’t you wish this applied to you?

Many years ago as my wife and I were leaving my in-laws house, my father-in-law said, “Be good!” I answered, “I will … according to my own standards.” We had a good laugh, but that is what we are asked to believe about God. Anything he does is good, by fiat. Even if we believe the action is horrendous, terrifying, gory, sick, or insane, it is good. Even if the same action would be considered the worse kind of evil had a man done it, it should still be considered good if God does it. This just doesn’t sit well with me. Yet, if it is not true, then we are back to accepting that there is a standard of good and evil that exists independent of God. Where would this standard come from? A higher God? Then by what standard does that God live?

It seems to me, whether we like it or not, the standard of good and evil comes about by a consensus of people. This involves much discussion with differing sides presenting their reasons for claiming a particular action to be either good or evil. Hopefully the most rational thinking will win the minds of the majority.

To illustrate how consensus shifts, look at the issue of slavery. In the ancient world slavery was accepted as normal, even moral behavior. Even the writers of the Bible viewed it as such. God sometimes commanded, or condoned, the enslavement of certain people (e.g. Gen 9:26, Lev 25:44-45, Num 31:15-18). Yet, as humans progressed, more and more people began to view slavery as evil. A few people, religious and non-religious alike, began making rational arguments against the practice and slowly things began to change. As public mores shifted, believers began to view slavery as evil and began to seek out verses in their holy writ that agreed with this sentiment. Now slavery is anathema to most people in the US as well as many other nations around the world. Yet there remain some countries that still practice slavery legally.

Since morality in the real world comes about through the consensus of the people, it is very important for rational people to be fully engaged in the debate lest we fall back into the brutal morality of the past.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

All, Some, or None: Truth in the Bible

A couple of days ago (Sept 24, 2009), I was listening to David Jeremiah's radio program "Turning Point." He made what seemed like a controversial statement. He said people needed to be aware of the Bible's limitations. Huh? He went on to say that what he meant was that the Bible contains all the truth we need, but not all the truth there is. In other words, there are truths on which the Bible does not expound. However, all such truths are non-essential. Okay, I understand this. After all, if every truth had been written in the Bible, it would be too large to carry to church, even if it were on microfiche. (If you are so young you do not know what microfiche is, look it up.)

Now, the question is: does the Bible contain only essential truths, or does it contain both essential and non-essential truths. Well, we first have to determine what truths would be classified essential. As I understand Christian beliefs, the only things that really matter are those things with eternal consequences. Thus, the most important truths would be those related to obtaining salvation. So, ask yourself this question. Is the knowledge of everything written in the Bible necessary for one to be saved? Obviously not. Else, I do not believe anybody would be saved.

Now, consider this. Does the Bible contain every truth necessary for salvation? If you think about it seriously, you'll see that it does not. After all, to be able to read and understand the essential truths of the Bible, one must have already come to understand the meanings of the words, in whatever language he or she is reading them in. They must understand how words are put together into sentences and how then to interpret correctly those sentences. They must already have a knowledge of how to discern the words of a charlatan from those of a sage. They must have an understanding of how the world works so as not to believe obvious falsehoods. Without all this precursor knowledge, it would be impossible to comprehend the essential truths of the Bible. Yes, a person lacking in some of these skills could get someone else to help him along, but then he would be latching onto a secondhand faith rather than one completely his own.

Oh, and don't forget that a person also needs skills in obtaining food and shelter in order to survive. A dead person is not really interested in truth, Biblical or not.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wild Horses

If you haven't yet heard Susan Boyle sing "Wild Horses," you are really missing out. I just couldn't believe how clear her voice was and how well orchestrated the arrangement was. It brought tears to my eyes! My son said that he believed the angels in heaven would sound like her. WOW! I think I could listen for quite a while if that is true. Below is Susan performing the song on the finale of America's Got Talent.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Whatever Floats Your Boat

You have probably heard someone use the expression in the title of this post: "Whatever Floats Your Boat." It is usually said in response to someone expressing his or her personal beliefs or personal likes and dislikes. The responder, by saying the aforementioned words, is expressing an opinion that basically says, "You can believe or like whatever you want as long as it makes you happy or fulfills your life, even if the same does not apply to me." This is obviously true when it comes to subjective matters such as what hobbies a person likes or what a person's favorite colors are. However, should it apply to matters that are factual in nature?

For instance, if a person decides that, for him, four plus four would henceforth be equal to nine, would it be appropriate to say, "Whatever floats your boat?" I don't think so. I dare say that most people would challenge this statement, saying that it is false for everyone. Yet, when it comes to certain philosophical or religious beliefs, many people are hesitant to challenge the truthfulness of the beliefs regardless of how irrational or contradictory they are. They, in essence, respond, "Whatever floats your boat."

Many years ago when I was a member of the Church of Christ, a fellow believer and I were at a local hobby store. We discovered that the owner was an acquaintance of mine. We began talking about various topics and eventually got around to discussing religious beliefs. The acquaintance told us he was a member of some denomination, I believe Baptist. My friend and I began expressing some of the differences between his denominations' beliefs and those of the Church of Christ. With every statement we made, he would respond something like this: "That's great that you believe that way. If it works for you, that is good. I will believe what works for me." In essence, he was saying, "Whatever floats your boat."

Of course, when it comes to beliefs concerning the supernatural realm, no one knows what the absolute truth is. They may think they do, but they don't. In reality, we don't even know for sure if the supernatural exists. So, "Whatever floats your boat" seems to be the appropriate mentality.

But what about the case where a person knows the truth about something, yet chooses to believe something different because it makes them feel good? Or how about people who withhold the truth from a friend or family member because they sincerely believe the person would become overly distraught. What is more important, believing a disturbing truth or a feel-good falsehood? This has always been an intriguing question to me.

I personally prefer the truth to a feel-good lie. I just don't like the idea of believing something false. As those Hulu aliens say, that's the way I roll. In many cases, believing something false can lead to all kinds of trouble or conflict, particularly when the untruth concerns other people. Yet I know there are people who, as Col. Nathan R. Jessep (Jack Nicholson) said in A Few Good Men, can't handle the truth. To them I say, "Whatever floats your boat!"

Friday, September 18, 2009

Disturbing Things: Awards and Healthcare

Did you watch the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards on September 13? Even if you didn't, you have probably heard about Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift's acceptance speech for Best Female Video to announce that Beyoncé had made one of the best videos of all times. Yes, that was disturbing to a lot of people. West later apologized to Swift, and Beyoncé graciously allowed Swift to finish her speech during her acceptance for Video of the Year. I guess West was correct about Beyoncé having one of the best videos of all time. He just wasn’t willing to wait and see if she won the big one.

Equally disturbing was a statement made by that British chap, Russell Brand, who hosted the show. He implied that the US leaves people on the streets to die. He said that Britain did not do that since they had free healthcare. FREE healthcare?!? How can this be? Does the motherland have healthcare growing wild on trees in such abundance that there is plenty for everyone. I can visualize the barker near the grove yelling, “Get your free healthcare here. You pick it; you keep it.” I say we need to introduce that tree variety here in the US. Perhaps it can replace all those American Chestnut trees lost to blight in the Smoky Mountains. But wait! I have always heard that money doesn’t grow on trees. So, since healthcare has a certain equivalent monetary value, perhaps it doesn’t grow on trees either. I know! It’s probably a root plant like potatoes and carrots. Everyone knows that that’s how money grows since everyone is always saying that money is the root of all evil. (Actually, the Bible says it is the love of money that is the root of all evil, but what’s a couple of extra words between friends.)

Before I go further, let me clarify something. There may be a few Brits getting free healthcare. For those whose income is such that they never pay taxes, healthcare, for them, is free. But still, the cost of the care has to be paid. It’s just that other people pay for it. So, while a few are getting their healthcare at no cost to them, others end up paying many times over what their own healthcare would have cost. Those in the middle may end up paying about the same as what their care would have cost. But in the end, the healthcare must be paid for. You’ve heard it said that There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch (pronounced TANSTAAFL for all you acronymic types out there). Well, There Ain’t No Such Thing As Free Healthcare (TANSTAFH).

Government may have the power to do a lot of things, but as yet they have not been able to rescind the laws of physics or the laws of economics. But not to worry, they are working on it!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What's Old is New Again

I have been wanting to update my personal Web site for a long time, but just never took the time to do it until now. I have all my old stuff on the site along with some things I had never posted. The interface is cleaner and spiffier. So, take a look. It's at

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Lifting Himself Up By His Own Bootstraps

I have heard a number of people claim that Jesus raised himself from the dead. In fact, I just heard John Ankerberg say this on his September 11, 2009 radio program, The Ankerberg Minute. I have not been able to find any references in the New Testament proclaiming that. Every passage I have found where the raiser is mentioned says that it was God the Father. Here are verses I have found that state that Jesus was raised by God the Father:

Acts 2:24, 3:15, 4:10, 5:30, 10:40, 13:30, 13:34, 13:37
Romans 4:24, 6:4, 8:11, 10:9
1 Corinthians 6:14, 15:15
Galatians 1:1
Colossians 2:12
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10
1 Peter 1:21.

All these references say that God raised Jesus from the dead. I know of no references that say otherwise. If you know of any, please leave a comment.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Today's Content: Being Content

In last Sunday's sermon, our preacher talked about contentment. It was based on 1 Timothy 6:6-11.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

I believe contentment is a valuable attribute if applied appropriately. A person who is always discontent no matter how well off they are will find themselves stressed much of the time, always trying to determine what their next step on the stairway to contentment should be. But once that step is reached, there will be yet another, and another. So, it is a good idea to have an attitude of contentment in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. However, we don't want to be completely content either lest we become complacent and never try to better our lives. Let me explain.

I have heard of a number of POWs that despaired over their circumstances thinking that they would never be free or that they could not endure the time they would be captive. Sometimes these people gave up and died. However, others took on an attitude of contentment. Yet, even in the midst of being content they still strove to find a way of escape. This gave them hope for the future. I believe this combination, contentment and hope, is a good one. It allows us to be satisfied with current conditions, but have a reason to believe that an even better day is coming.

The contentment/hope team is also helpful in less dire circumstances than being a POW. It can be useful to the person working a dead end minimum wage job who aspires to get a higher education which in turn will lead to a better job. It can even be useful to the workaholic multi-millionaire Wall Street financier who aspires to slow down the pace and spend more time with family.

The basic idea is this: always strive to improve your life in any way possible by setting achievable goals, making honest plans, and following through with them. But if you fail, or it takes a lot longer to achieve your goals than you had hoped for, be content with the things you do have along the journey. You will be better off physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Founding Father's Home

My son attended the private Christian school that my wife teaches at from the 1st through the 12th grades. Every year, the sixth-graders and parents take a trip to Washington, DC. My son's trip was in 2003. On the way up in the bus, we stopped at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home. We arrived fairly early in the morning when a fog was in the air. I heard several people express their disappointment in not being able to get any good pictures. However, I like fog photos, as attested by the photo I posted earlier. My favorite photo from that visit to Monticello is shown below. I separated from the group to get it. In fact, you can see some of the group in the distance wearing maroon jackets. I have more Monticello photos on my Web site at RKA Photography.

Eternal Torment, Bliss, or Oblivion?

How often do you contemplate your own mortality? How often do you consider your fate beyond death? I find myself thinking on these things fairly frequently, especially since I am now most likely closer to my death than I am to my birth. I'd have to live past the age of 109 for this not to be true.

The idea of dying and passing into eternal oblivion doesn't hold much appeal. Of course, if the alternative is passing into a place of eternal torment, I will take oblivion any day of the week. Yet, still, the idea of "going to sleep" to never awaken again seems in some ways totally bizarre. I have on a number of occasions been laying back in my recliner and, just as I a reach that transition state between consciousness and unconsciousness, have the reality of eternal oblivion hit me. I normally awake with a sinking feeling and the word "absurd" stuck in my mind. But when I think about it rationally, I realize that my state of being before I was conceived was not at all scary. If that is the state I will ultimately return to, it should be no more scary. Basically, eternal unconsciousness is only troublesome to us while we are conscious. Once we reach that eternal state of unconsciousness, no worries!

On the other hand, the idea of passing into a state of eternal bliss is a bit troublesome also. Again, not if the only alternative is eternal torment. Think about existing forever. What would you do? How could anyone possibly occupy all that time without getting bored stiff. After having done everything there is to do a thousand times or more, I think I would at least be ready for a nap. I am reminded of the movie Groundhog Day. In it, Bill Murray keeps repeating February 2 over and over and over again. The implication is that he repeats it hundreds, maybe thousands, of times. Eventually, he gets so bored, he begins to commit suicide only to wake up again on the morning of February 2. Of course, many people believe that those people going to heaven will spend eternity praising God. No disrespect to my Creator, but that sounds boring to me. As much as I enjoy the singing at church, after about 20-30 minutes I am ready to move on to the sermon. And then after 20-30 minutes of the sermon I am ready for lunch. Now lunch I can handle for quite some time, but my stomach refuses to cooperate. The point is that I thrive on diversity. Hey, with as many nearby restaurants as we have, my wife and I still sometimes become bored with them all and wish for something new.

We humans also tend to enjoy overcoming obstacles to reach goals in this life. Will it be the same in heaven, or will we be more like automatons mindlessly being subservient to our maker? I would hope for the former, how about you?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Favorite Photograph

Back on October 20, 2003, as I was driving to work one morning, I noticed a fog over the Tennessee River. I knew that a replica of the Niña (one of Columbus' boats) had been docked at the harbor for some time providing tours. I wondered if it was still there. I diverted to the harbor area and sure enough, there it was! It looked almost mystical in the fog with the sun being blocked just enough to see its disk. I took a number of photos that morning, but the one below was my favorite. It still is one of my favorite photographs of the thousands I have taken. Interestingly, I found out later that the Niña departed around noon that day. I was very fortunate to have had the Niña's presence and the fog coincide that fateful morning. You can see more of my photos at RKA Photography.

Hours for a Shirt

Many years ago I traveled to Wisconsin with my wife, son, and in-laws to visit my wife's cousin and his family. While there, we went to Old World Wisconsin. This was an interesting place, having many different types of farms from the late 19th century based on different heritages (such as a German settlement, a Norwegian settlement, etc.) One location was showing how thread was spun on a spinning wheel. This got me thinking about how many hours it must have taken people back in those days to make a simple shirt.

Later, as the family was relaxing at a bus stop, I asked my cousin, "How many hours do you have to work to buy a decent shirt?"

He was a bit puzzled by my question, but answered, "One or two hours, I guess. Why do you ask?"

I responded, "I just wanted to compare the amount of labor required today to obtain a shirt compared to the 19th century. How many hours do you think they had to work to obtain a shirt?"

He now saw what I was getting at. "I don't know, but many hours I am sure."

New inventions, such as powered looms and their further improvements, have allowed the amount of labor to produce a product to keep getting lower and lower, thus making the product much cheaper to obtain. It's this industrialization that has allowed everyone's standard of living to skyrocket. The average middle class American today lives a much better life than most kings did a thousand years ago. Yeah, we may not have a bunch of servants standing around waving fans at us to keep us cool on a sweltering day, but we have something better: air conditioning.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

My Food, the Market, and Unknown People

As I was eating dinner last night I began to think about what all had to transpire for the food I was eating to make it to my plate. People had to grow the potatoes, raise the cows, and harvest the macaroni ( macaroni is a plant isn't it? 8>) ). All these things had to be sold at a market, then transported to a factory, then sent out to a distributor who in turn most likely transported it to a regional distribution warehouse. Delivery trucks then had to take these goods to the local store whereupon I purchased them. Then I had to transport them home, blend ingredients together, and cook them. In the end, my cost for the meal was most likely less than $10.00 for my family of three. This sounds nearly impossible, but that's the nature of a free market. Businesses keep coming up with better ways to grow, obtain, and distribute goods such that costs keep getting lower. Of course, all of this is only possible when there is a large market for the same items. If only one person in New York wanted potatoes from Idaho, it would be prohibitively expensive to obtain them. But since thousands, perhaps millions, of New Yorkers want those potatoes, the cost can be lowered to a very affordable amount. Additionally, having a free market economy helps because when businesses have to compete against other businesses, they can't afford to be wasteful.

Another interesting aspect of the food I ate last night is that I don't personally know anyone involved in the chain of events leading from the farm to my home. Isn't it nice that all those people were so concerned with my culinary well being that they all chipped in to get me the food I wanted? Yeah, right! In actuality, they each did their part out of self-interest. They were doing their job to earn money to support self and family. Isn't it interesting how the world works. People who perform honest work strictly for their own interest end up helping many, many people eat a meal on the cheap.

Hey guys, keep up the good work of working for yourself!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Smaller Than a Breadbox and Larger Than a Car

I don't know how much you have read about the ingredients making up the recipe known as The Universe. You got your quarks and leptons making up the fermions. Then you got your bosons and a host of predicted particles, none of which have been observed as yet, based on theoretical considerations. Quarks come together to form neutrons and protons, which in turn come together with electrons (a type of lepton) to form atoms of the elements such as hydrogen, carbon, iron, etc. Atoms come together to form molecules, which in turn combine together to form different molecules or amalgams. Interestingly, carbon has the ability to form extremely long chains with various elemental offshoots. Also, carbon can form closed loops. Ultimately, long chains of carbon loops are what make up DNA, the backbone of all living things.

Say it with me: "THAT IS INCREDIBLE!!"

Also, the elements make up everything that exists in the Universe. Stars start out primarily consisting of hydrogen. The pressure exerted on these atoms by gravitational forces are so great that the hydrogen fuses together to form helium, releasing enormous amounts of energy. This is known as fusion.

Before hydrogen fusion was discovered, it was a mystery as to what the sun's energy source was. It was easy to believe that the Universe was quite young, such as about 6000 years, because if it were older the sun should have burnt out long ago. However, once fusion was discovered, it became clear that the sun could generate intense heat for many, many years. In fact, based on the size of the sun and its current ratio of hydrogen to helium, it is estimated that the sun could have been burning for five billion years and still have five billion years worth of life left in it. The question to young Earthers is why would God create a sun of such tremendous size that uses a fuel source that can last for billions of years if the whole Universe was only going to exist for 10,000 years or less?

Still, on the whole, the Universe is a intricate work of art. Starting with its infinitesimally small building blocks and stretching to seemingly infinite size. Forces delicately balance all the movement and transformation of these elements in apparent miraculous fashion.

Is the Universe just the way it has to be for some as yet unknown reason? Or is our Universe just a fortunate one among many Universes? Or has our Universe existed for an infinite time with the laws governing it gradually changing in favor of the one we see today? Or does it absolutely require an intelligent God for anything so stupendous as our Cosmos to exist? Profound questions that have been asked by many for a long time. Perhaps science will be able to answer these questions someday, but then again perhaps such answers are inherently unknowable. After all, our minds consist of the very things were are trying to understand. Is it possible for the constituents of the Universe to come together in such a way as to become conscious of themselves and understand their own ultimate behavior? I just don't know. But I am not alone. No one else does either.

The Shape of Space and Relativity

I like to read physics books for laymen. I would like to be able to read the ones for scientists, but hey, come on. How much additional math would I have to learn and how long would that take? No matter. I have trouble understanding the layman books. I would like to have a better understanding of relativity theory and quantum mechanics. However, from what I understand, even theoretical physicists have trouble understanding these. They may have a deep understanding of the mathematics involved, but have difficulty comprehending the actual physical workings of the Universe that those mathematics describe.

Even the relatively simple Special Theory of Relativity (about which Einstein wrote in 1905) is problematic for me mentally. Actually, I do understand the concept that if two people are moving at a constant rate of speed relative to each other, it is impossible for either person to know which is moving. But, hey, when I am told that for person A, the clock hanging around the neck of person B will appear to be running slower than his own clock, but for person B, the clock hanging around person A's neck will appear to run slower, my brain begins to tangle up like spaghetti in boiling water.

I recently began re-reading Brian Greene's book "The Elegant Universe". When I got to the part about the mutually lethargic clocks, I realized I could not comprehend this like I thought I did the first time around. The question always arises as to what happens when the two meet up. Who will be younger? I mean they can't both be younger simultaneously, right? The answer is that the only way for them to meet up is for one of them to accelerate by turning around and chasing after the other. That acceleration is what makes time run slower for that person in reality and thus cause that person to be younger than their counterpart. Okay, but what happens if the two meet up again without either one of them accelerating. This may sound like lunacy, but if the Universe is a closed system like a hypersphere, this is possible. Think about the Earth, If you start moving in any direction and another person starts moving in the opposite direction at the same speed, you will meet back up again after about 12,500 miles of traveling even though neither of you ever had to turn around and chase the other person down. Some scientists conjecture that space is curved in a similar way. This would obviate the need to wonder about the wall at the end of space and what's on the other side. There would be no end to space, even though its volume is finite. If you travel long enough in one direction, you will end up where you started.

But isn't this form of curved space incompatible with Special Relativity since we would have a paradox when the two space travelers meet up for the second time. Neither one of them would have accelerated, so the other person's clock, from either perspective, was always running slower than their own. Wouldn't this mean that, from both perspectives, when they meet up the other person will appear to be younger and their clocks will be be lagging their own? This just doesn't make sense.

So, am I right that either closed space does not exist or there is something wrong with Special Relativity? Or could it be that some sort of acceleration is necessary for an object to navigate the curvature of space?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Salvation Unrevealed

In yesterday's post I presented Finch's Salvation Equations. As a reminder, here they are again:

1. Faith + NoWorks <> Salvation
2. NoFaith + Works <> Salvation
3. Faith + Works = Salvation

By way of clarification, I do not intend these to be as set in stone as, say, Maxwell's Electromagnetic Equations (which I have on a t-shirt; it says, "And God said: [four vector equations, some involving partial differentiation] and there was light." I love this shirt!) My equations are simply the best solution I have found to the multitude of salvation formulas presented in the New Testament. But I freely admit that I do not know with certainty what the Bible teaches as being required for salvation. Further, I do not believe anyone else does either, and thus do not and cannot know with certainty that they are saved.

Proof That No One Knows With Certainty That They Are Saved:

1. When a saved person is asked, "Are there any people in the world that truly believe they are saved, but are in fact lost?", the answer is "Yes!"
2. Response to the saved person: "Then perhaps you are one of those people."

I am being a bit facetious here, but my point is that most people who know with certainty they are right with God also believe that there are others who know with as much certainty as they, yet are lost. These people negate their own case for certainty with such beliefs.

I grew up as an only child with parents that respected the Bible, but rarely went to church. My mom would have gone more, but did not drive, so was dependent on rides from family and friends. As a young adult, I was quite certain that the Bible was strictly the work of men, not God. Later, I came to believe that the Bible was the word of God and accepted Jesus as my savior. But within two years, I was beginning to doubt. This was a result of studying the Bible more deeply and questioning those things I did not understand or made no sense. Over the following five years, my faith faded away to be replaced by Deism (the belief that there is a Creator God, but he is not necessarily the God presented by any religion, and may in fact be an impersonal God). I now consider myself an agnostic (I freely admit that I just don't know if God exists). There are aspects of the Universe that scream to me "I was created!" Yet, there are other aspects that scream "I am eternal, not created!" Which screams do I listen to? In case you don't know, the correct answer is "BOTH!" Hence, agnosticism.

I will speak more of these screaming voices in future posts.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Fine Non-Revelatory Day

Do you ever have one of those days where you think deeply about life, yours and others, and wonder what, if any, purpose is behind it all? I do. But today was not one of those days.

In Sunday School this morning we discussed faith vs works as presented in the book of James. Generally Baptists believe that salvation is based on faith plus nothing. This has always been problematic for me since it would seem to me that that would mean that there are faith people who do no works that will be saved. But James says that faith without works is dead. Generally this is explained by saying that a saving faith will lead to works automatically, but it is the faith that's important, not the works. Isn't this just semantics? If the only kind of faith that saves is one that results in works, are not the works just as important in the salvation equation as is faith. To put my interpretation of the Bible into mathematical formulas, I get these:

1. Faith + NoWorks <> Salvation
2. NoFaith + Works <> Salvation
3. Faith + Works = Salvation

Of course many people worry that if 3 is true, then one might become overly concerned that they are not doing enough works to be saved. Understood! But if no works are present, won't they worry that their faith is dead? Won't some workers still fear that their faith is not strong enough? In other words, there's always something to worry about if you want to worry.

The student minister at our church preached today. WOW! He was on fire. He had that right balance of humor and seriousness that most people enjoy in a preacher. And to top it all off, at the end of the service, he asked his girlfriend to marry him. Yeah, right there in front of the entire congregation. That's risky in my book, but fortunately she said "Yes."

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Long Time, No Post

Well, I created this blog almost two years ago and only posted two test messages (which I have now deleted). Pretty pathetic. Oh well, a person doesn't have time to do everything one would like to do. Here's some of the things I would like to do, but end up doing other more unproductive things.

1. Learn to play piano.
2. Re-learn playing my guitar and banjo.
3. Become an expert in Photoshop, Lightroom, Flash, and Illustrator.
4. Spend more time taking photographs.
5. Brush up on my calculus and physics.
6. Take classes that ultimately lead to understanding Einstein's relativity theories.
7. Come to a deeper understanding of quantum mechanics.
8. Ultimately blow relativity and quantum mechanics apart with much more sensible theories.
9. Bring about world peace.
10. Eat anything I want and still lose 30 pounds.
11. Become a world renown computer artist.
12. Become a world renown author.

You do see my dilemma, don't you? With all these highly time consuming activities, it's simply easier to watch TV.

"And the whole congregration said, 'Amen!'"