cut on the bias

keeping an eye on the spins and weirdness of media, crime and everyday life

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

To write or not to write? In your Bible, I mean.

Do you write in your Bible? Do you underline passages, make little notations, draw arrows? Does having a heavily-written in, scruffy Bible mean you study it more than someone who doesn't?

That's a question posed in this post. The comments raise more questions.

I generally think that someone with a well-marked Bible probably has done a lot of studying, but I don't assume that someone who doesn't mark it up does not study. That's because I don't mark up mine. I find the underlining and notes to be distracting. Instead, I take notes in separate notebooks. I don't like to read from other people's Bibles if they're marked up; the underlining and notes sift the emphasis and range of thoughts I might have. I'm not always reading a passage for the same purpose as I read it last time, but if I've emphasized some aspect of it by marking it, it's hard to shift gears and read it for the meaning in the current study.

But that's just me. What about you?

I've looked at life from both sides now

Are atheists persecuted in US society for their anti-god views? Or are the very religiously devout the ones facing more public disdain?

This article says "Yes".

Atheists constantly remind us that they cannot be elected president. But what about the deeply, openly religious, those who express their religious devotion through anything more than anodyne ceremony? Yes president Bush can ask the country to pray. But we cannot picture Eugene McCarthy, who led his supporters in the Catholic rosary, winning office either. Atheists may complain that Americans think it rude to say, baldly, “There is no God.” But Americans find it just as rude to say, “There is only one true, holy, and apostolic Church, outside of which there is no salvation.” Or, “there is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet.”

It's interesting, and sad, that many Americans are more willing to claim that global warming is absolutely true than to agree that God exists and He has told us how to obey and serve Him. The article points out that some high-profile men identifying themselves as religious leaders don't actually teach religious doctrine. Instead, they teach "spirituality" without the potentially distressing burden of real obedience to real rules laid down by the real God. The general consensus of society is that believing anything in the religious realm that carries the necessary corollary that someone else's beliefs are wrong, is completely out of line.

I don't quite get the value of belief in a god who more closely resembles a genie in a bottle than the all-powerful Creator who reveals Himself in nature as well as in His Word, the Bible. How can a god who conforms to the preferences of modern society stand as the Creator, Guide and Savior to all societies at all times? There can be few standards that survive that kind of malleability. It makes God servant instead of master.

As for the atheists... this article inadvertently supports the understanding that committed atheists are following their own anti-god, and as such themselves are "religious", albeit not spiritual.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Today's snark

I really need to stop reading articles by Elite Writers who make Anthropological Junkets into Middle America. They are always unkind, in a "let me tell you, girlfriend!" after-work-gossip kind of way. The superiority just oozes off the page until you want to pull on gloves. It doesn't make it better when the writer admits to succumbing to the low-brow behavior he's writing about, with self-deprecating air.

The latest is an article in the NYTimes about a year-round Christmas store in Frankenmuth, Michigan. The store is a vast repository of every cliche and then some. I would find it fascinating, fun and just a little scary. The article's writer viewed it like a representative of a superior race of aliens set down in a backwater of Earth: he found it quaint and earnestly tasteless, populated by a people who knew no better than to think it was a wonderful thing.

I'm just so tired of it.

New flash: Ignorant toothless white hillbillies tend to be fat

There is so much about this article that makes me fume that I nearly set my leather couch on fire. A small sample:

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — As a portly woman plodded ahead of him on the sidewalk, the obese mayor of America's fattest and unhealthiest city explained why health is not a big local issue...

Culture and history are at least part of the problem, health officials say.

This city on the Ohio River is surrounded by Appalachia's thinly populated hills. It has long been a blue-collar, white-skinned community — overwhelmingly people of English, Irish and German ancestry...

... the region is a clear-cut leader in dental problems, with nearly half the people age 65 and older saying they have lost all their natural teeth. And no other metro area comes close to Huntington's adult obesity rate, according to the report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on data from 2006...

There's a connection between education and lack of exercise, too, said Dr. Thomas Dannals, a Huntington family physician.

"The undereducated don't know the value of it. They don't have the drive for it. There's a reason you're successful, you've got drive. The same is true for exercise," said Dannals.

See? Toothless ignorant white hillbillies.

I agree that being overweight is a struggle for far too many people in this country, including me. I don't have a problem with the AP doing an article on it. But this business of writing a snarky little article bringing up issues that have no demonstrable association with weight is just pathetic.

Does being overweight track with being white? Especially "Irish, English and German"? I would say overall no more than being black or Italian. Does it track with being blue collar? I doubt it. I would agree that it probably does track with poverty and lack of education, but not because the people who are poor and poorly educated are stupid.

And why bring up toothlessness? Does lack of dental hygiene and its consequences track with fat? Or was it just a fine opportunity to bring up another characteristic of those pathetic white Appalachians?

I think encouraging people to live healthier lives is a good thing. I think making that kind of lifestyle easier is a good thing. I think teaching about healthy living in schools is a good thing.

And I think this article is a written smirk-fest by someone who feels greatly superior to all these white Appalachian hillbillies with big bellies and no teeth. And why not? They're one of two populations* it's still politically correct to deride and mock.

*The other would be bitter gun-clinging religious folk. Interestingly, quite a few of those fat ignorant toothless white Appalachian hillbillies would fit in that category as well. A twofer for the superior crowd.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Best books? What do you think?

A book blog on, OMNIVORACIOUS, is listing their vote for best books written by authors from or in each state. Naturally Kentucky was a challenge. There are as many books chosen as the state has electoral college votes, so that is eight from Kentucky.

I confess to not having read any of them except Hunter S. Thompson's. I will set myself the task to do so. Although... I'm not sure I need more reason to feel obligated to make changes in my world.

Amen and amen

I just found a "new to me" blog that you need to read. In fact, there's one post that a lot of folks where I grew up should read and apply to themselves. And when anyone talks to you about racism, send them here. I just started at the top and read down. All good. Well, except for the Gears of War2 stuff. I've stayed away from online games because I know they'd suck my life right down a black hole. I'm not good at moderation.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mmmmmm....grits...and other cool southern food

I love grits about any way you want to make 'em. There's classic grits, a bowl of creamy goodness with just salt and butter. There's breakfast-cereal grits, with butter, sugar, and a little stream of milk. There's fried grits, cooked, chilled overnight in a loaf pan, cut in slices and browned in a skillet. And then there's the pinnacle of grit cookery: cheese grits casserole, made with processed garlic cheese, eggs and milk.


I was glad to see that grits made the "must eat" list from Gardens & Guns, although I question the whole shrimp thing. But I know some folks get fancy with their grits. I'm more of a purist.

The list is all about southern foods, and it just may introduce you to some local restaurants in your own area. I know I've gotten a list in Alabama to check out.

So what's your favorite from the list?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Home Sweet Home

I grew up in Clay County, in eastern Kentucky, in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. My ancestors have lived in those hills for more than 200 years, since William Cornett was given a land grant in what was then western Virginia. The land grant was a reward for William's service in the Revolutionary War. Kentucky still has more Cornett citizens than any other state in the US, although Cornetts are more spread out now than in the 1800s.

My upbringing was solidly middle class. Both of my parents were educators before they retired, and all four of my grandparents had college degrees and decent jobs. My childhood home is a traditional brick ranch out in the country, halfway up one of the low hills that cluster closely in that part of Kentucky. My parents still live there. We went to church weekly, ate supper together most nights, and had regular extended family gatherings. It was a good way to grow up.

The context, however, was somewhat different than average. Eastern Kentucky has always struggled economically, and when small farms went by the wayside there was little to take their place. FDR's New Deal swooped in to the rescue, followed by LBJ's efforts to lift up the poor by giving them more for free. The result is that many - perhaps even half or more - of the county's residents receive some kind of federal aid. The local term is "draw". That leads to conversations like this: "So what are you doing these days?" "Well, I draw." Lawyers build their entire practices on squeezing more government assistance from Washington. A scourge of idle hands, ignorant minds and stunted lives eats away any hope for a better future. Moonshine stills gave way to marijuana patches until hunters are afraid to go into certain parts of the county. Many young people who have the opportunity move away to pursue careers where opportunities and salaries are greater. Many others who stay in the county bury themselves deeply in meth and booze and, eventually, the red clay earth. And when your father's father's father's father began the unending cycle of "drawing" as the family's main source of income, what do you know of the path to a different life?

The South, especially in the Appalachian regions, is known for violence. Research has shown that the South is the only region of the country that predicts violence; in simple terms, that means that a person from the South is more likely to commit violence than people from other parts of the country. Some theories say the violence is a legacy from the rough Irish and Scottish immigrants who came to the US and brought their independent, clannish ways with them. Some theories say it is a holdover from the high feelings raised during the Civil War, where many families and communities were divided. Others say it's just isolation and ignorance stewing together until they formed a toxic environment.

For whatever reason, the Clay County of my childhood and family history was a violent one. In the 1970s one of my dad's first cousins was murdered. In the late 1930s my maternal grandfather was involved in a genuine shootout in the county seat's downtown; his brother was killed, as were three other men. One of my sister's college roommates lost four members of her family - brother, pregnant sister in law, and parents - to murderous ambushes by another local family. The brother had testified against a member of the family who then killed him and his family. A woman I knew - she occasionally attended church with us - shot her husband to death when she found he was cheating on her. For a while, after I moved away, I would ask my mom each time I called if someone else had been killed. The answer was often yes. Once two bodies were found stuffed in the trunk of an abandoned car a couple of miles from their house. It turned out to be a drug deal gone bad. Those are only a few examples.

The violence around me didn't touch me, for the most part, but it did cause me as an adult to think about why I had more contact with this kind of violence than most middle class Americans. I decided it was because in a county as small and rural as Clay County, with many families having been there for generations, there weren't the kinds of social divisions that many communities have. After a while, nearly everyone is related to nearly everyone else, and those you aren't related to you know - and your dad knew their dad. Anyone lost to violence or drugs wasn't a John Doe in a neighborhood I'd never driven through; it was Tom's aunt's brother-in-law's boy. The famed Six Degrees of Separation is rarely more than two degrees in Clay County.

When you come from that environment, government policies that are essentially social engineering are not theoretical concepts. They are often cause for the effect you see around you. So what is the effect of generations of supporting people in subsistence lives rather than helping them learn responsibility and ways to improve those lives? Lack of education. Rampant drug use. Lives with great potential leached out by well-meaning promises and programs that remove the incentives to achieve as individuals and communities. Ignorance is not stupidity. Inertia is not absence of the ability to act. People from eastern Kentucky have proven they have the capability to excel in every context. What many don't have is the ability to get out from under the government's well-meaning thumb.

And here is a graphic representation of that effect. Clay County, my childhood and ancestral home, has the fourth lowest median income of any county in the US. It has the 18th lowest per capita income among US counties. And it has the lowest per capita income of any county in the US with a non-Hispanic white majority.

One thing that confirms, for anyone with lingering doubts, is that race and ethnicity have nothing to do intrinsically with low income, low achievement, drug use or violence. Clay County is historically a very homogeneous community; in 2000, there were only about 1200 blacks in a population of 24,000, and fewer than 100 Asians. I can pretty much assure you that the Asians are doctors of Indian descent working in the local hospital and clinics. So the effects you see are driven by behavior in the white population there.

It is telling that the poorest communities in our nation are those that the government has "helped" the most. The fact that the fourth poorest county in the nation is nearly all white people is also quite telling. What does Clay County have in common with an Indian reservation or an inner city black community? Intense government nanny-ism. What does Clay County have in common with the most affluent counties in the nation? A majority white population. What has being white caused? Nothing of apparent benefit. What has being nannied caused? Destruction.

As we enter into a new era of Democrat leadership in Washington DC - in the White House and in both houses of Congress - it's important to consider the legacy of big government and federal nannyism in our nation. It has not been a good thing, on balance. And having grown up in Clay County, KY; worked in Jersey City, NJ; and living now outside Birmingham, AL while working for a social service agency, I think I have a good sense of its effects.


The only irony in the mix: I now live in Shelby County, Alabama, 87th on the list of top income counties nationwide. In my defense, I live in the southern portion where we're still more country mouse than city mouse, with commensurate pay.

Also, although I shouldn't have to say this, I want to point out that not everyone in Clay County draws, and some who draw have genuine need that would warrant help in any context. Many current Clay County citizens are competent, educated and hard working. Many are competent and hard working although not well educated. There are wonderful things about the county and its people, and I was blessed to grow up there. I'm proud of my county and my state, for many good reasons. That doesn't cloud my understanding that there is much that needs fixing, and a major cause of the damage that needs fixing is government nannyism.

UPDATE: The essay above discusses how liberal government policies pushes people down and holds them there. This post indicates that once they've got you there, they'll slap you around for anything they don't like about your behavior.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

There's a right side and a left wrong side

A California/Kentucky/Illinois/Texas* friend of mine has set himself the task of keeping an eye on Obama. A monumental task! But he does it with thoughtfulness and style. Check it out at And tell him I said hello.

*His wife and I are very close friends, so I know he's lived in all those places. Actually, I've visited them in all those places. I must say Kentucky was the best...

UPDATE: And let's not forget another blog by a friend, Power Talk. He's not very prolific, but very thoughtful on both religion and politics. If you're interested in those, please check out his blog. Just don't blame me.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The next four years, according to Den Beste

For those of you who haven't followed the blogosphere for years, Steven Den Beste is a very smart and thorough commenter on... whatever he chooses to comment on. He ran a blog for years before it took more time than he had to give it. Now he occasionally gifts us with his analysis, and it's always worth your time to read it.

The latest Den Beste commentary is on the Obama presidency.

I very much hope that people take his advice and don't succumb to "Obama Derangement Syndrome" in the manner that the libs lost their sanity in "Bush Derangement Syndrome". Obama is a man and a politician, not a devil incarnate or someone consciously intending to harm the US. I know my readers are unlikely to succumb. But it's worth thinking about.

FYI, I began reading blogs right after 9/11, in the early early days of the blogosphere (before it was called the blogosphere, a term coined by Bill Quick). I began my own blog in February of 2002, and it ran for four years before I bailed in late 2006. And here I am back.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Congratulations, President Obama

I really really really didn't want Obama to win. He is scary liberal, radical even. I think he is both cynical and naive about government. I worry about our country under his leadership.

However. He will be our elected president, with such a margin (most likely) that no one can realistically claim that fraud was the source of his victory. Given the level of misbehavior by ACORN, and news stories about Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters registering to vote, I think it's very important that fraud is off the table. With all the other things he will have to face for our country, he needs the mantle of legitimacy to effectively do his job. He won, as they say, fair and square.

And we have a responsibility to respect and honor his office and his leadership. That doesn't mean we agree with his choices, but it does mean that we should not bad-mouth him and attack him personally. It does mean that we need to give him a fair chance, to pray for him and his family, to ask God to guide him. Think of all the many ways that the liberals and radicals in this country trashed President Bush and our country generally for the past eight years. Then resolve that we will be better than that, and we will not treat Obama or his office with that level of disrespect and unkindness. Disagree, but disagree fairly and with honor.

I do worry that Obama and his family may be at increased risk of harm, given the historic nature of his presidency. So I actively ask anyone reading this to pray for their safety every day. There are a lot of crazy people in this world. I didn't want him to be president, but even more I don't want him to leave the presidency because he has been harmed physically.

And finally, as much as I so totally disagree with Obama's policies, and grind my teeth at the arrogant superiority conservatives are going to have to face even more in the next few years...

I do think it's pretty cool that we have a black man as president. I wish it had been a different black man, and I wouldn't vote for a candidate because of his or her race or sex. But I appreciate how this is an historic time in our history, and I hope it crushes the last elements of oppression felt by minorities in the US. I think a lot of that has been perception more than actual, but this election should change that perception. And hopefully that will open the way to more potential candidates of good character and conservative values.

And always remember: All things work together for good to those who love the Lord. There is hope in this. Find it and embrace it.

From a polling place deep inside red territory

When I arrived to vote at my local polling place, the New Life Church on Hwy 280 outside Birmingham, AL, the parking lot was full, about 20 people were voting and about a dozen were in line. It was 4:30 in the afternoon, so it wasn't a prime voting time - people who would vote on the way home hadn't hit yet.

The polling staff said 1200 of the 2100 people registered to vote in my district had already done so. I knew the turnout had been heavy. My landlord had arrived just before the polls opened at 7 a.m., and he told me later that the line had extended out the door and partway around the building. Sounds like at least 50 people. I asked the polling folks if this was more than usual.

"Oh, yes, it's very heavy, very heavy," they said. One added, "We knew it would be." Some had worked previous presidential elections, and said this was the heaviest turnout they'd ever seen - already.

This area of Alabama does not have any heavily contested, high-turnout races or ballot issues. There are several races and issues that some care a lot about, but not ones the public would flock to the polls over. We are electing a senator, but Republican incumbent Jeff Sessions didn't seem to be facing serious competition. Our US representative, Spencer Bachus, ran unopposed. Other state and local races were for commissioners and judges. The ballot issues affecting my county - Shelby - again were not highly volatile.

So the turnout has to be about the presidential election. Shelby County is among the most affluent counties in the state, because the north end of the county abuts Jefferson County and Birmingham. Lots of exclusive subdivisions are nestled in the hills of northern Shelby, and the wealth centered there raises the county's average substantially. But the section I live in is mostly rural, with a few small subdivisions popping up. It is also very Republican.

But Alabama is not a swing state. It's solidly red and no one expects that to change in this election. Why the intense interest in voting in a red state, in a red county, in a very red district?

I suspect the voters see McCain at risk, and they do not like Obama's policies. So they are pouring out to support him. I will be interested to see if this trend extends to the swing states.

A sidenote: After voting, I went to the local Wal-Mart, where the patrons and employees were about equally white and black. I noticed that about half of the white people I saw had on "I voted" stickers. Only one black person did, a well-dressed woman who looked like she was a teacher or some other professional. My sticker had fallen off, so maybe that was true of others. But I thought that was intriguing. Alabama's population has the second highest percentage of black citizens in the US, second only to Mississippi. Are they going out for Obama in unusually high numbers? I don't know.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Is it warm in here?

Word on the street is that global warming is accelerating. This post says it isn't.

I'm very skeptical about global warming as a primarily human-caused phenomenon, and even more skeptical that the governments of the world can be effective in lessening the human element that does exist. I do think that we as individuals must be stewards of the earth and everything in it, as God gave Adam and Eve stewardship in the beginning. It's another instance where teaching individual responsibility is key. If everyone took responsibility for his or her actions, and saw him- or herself as a steward of God's world, the majority of problems we face would heal themselves.

Including global warming. Er, the human element of it. I don't think nature itself will change its course because I recycled a Pepsi can, put in flourescent bulbs or drove an electric car.

The Mother Country and its Adult Child

Interesting graph looking at the differences in viewpoints between Americans and Brits.

Here's the article it comes from, in The Economist (a British publication).

One thing I found particularly intriguing is that apparently even conservative Brits are more liberal on many things than US Democrats. A bit scary.

But then, I'm a bitter gun-loving Bible reading redneck. What else would you expect?

Here's a very interesting article saying that British and European envy of America plays a role in the negative attitudes directed our way.

Why can't the English learn to write like Americans?

Apparently the British are not learning/teaching the foundations of their own language in schools. With amusing (in a sad kind of way) results.

Although I confess I didn't remember "complete thought". Oops.

Obama's grandmother has died

Please take a moment out of your day to say a prayer for the Obama family. He's lost his grandmother - she died today.

My personal preference is that Obama not win tomorrow. However, it's very sad that if he does win, his grandmother, who helped raise him, will not be there to see it. Bittersweet indeed.