Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Thoughts on Forgiveness

I just finished reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, and this post will discuss it in some depth, so if you haven't read it but want to without spoilers, feel free to do so now.

I've read quite a few POW books and quite a few World War II books, and it seemed like Unbroken would be the same kind of story...average joe (well, usually they are more than average - they had some sort of popularity before the war) who is thrust into atrocious circumstances and survives despite the odds.  For the first while, that's how it was.  Louie Zamperini was a world class runner who ended up crashing in the ocean.  After spending some 40 days on a raft going 2000 miles across the Pacific (see below), he
View Larger Map
was captured by the Japanese on Kwajalein Atoll and then sent to Ofuna camp (Kamakura area), followed by 2 tours (one at Omori - in Tokyo Bay, just north of Haneda airport and one at Naoetsu, on the Sea of Japan) under one of the most sadistic camp guards in the Japanese system - Mutsuhiro Watanabe, aka The Bird.  He was so bad that he ended up being a Class A war criminal, right up there with Tojo.  He was irrepressibly brutal to the POWs, beating them on a daily basis, debasing them, and doing everything he could to make life miserable.  Life in the camps wasn't exactly like staying in a Hilton, it wasn't even as good as life in the Hanoi Hilton.  After the defeat of the Japanese empire, Zamperini went home, but couldn't bring himself to forgive his captors.
This inability to forgive didn't help Louie get over the war.  Instead, night after night, he had nightmares where The Bird was trying to kill him and he was trying to kill The Bird.  As Hillenbrand said, Louie was the captive of The Bird even after he returned from the war.  This spilled over into his personal life, ruining relationships and driving him ever deeper into alcoholism.  Finally, as his wife was about to leave him, he found religion and forgave his captors.
How do we apply this to us?  The first thing that struck me was how the principle of forgiveness has been misunderstood.  We assume that it's for the other person - the one who has wronged us.  We get wrapped up in whether they deserve forgiveness or not.  Instead, it's not about them - it's about us.  We are required to forgive everybody because ultimately it hurts us if we don't.  The Bird went about his life and made millions, never knowing or caring whether Louie forgave him or not.  Louie couldn't move on until he had forgiven The Bird.
I know that there are people who have done horrific things to others in this life, should they be forgiven?  I think this is a bit of where the problem comes in.  If they do something to me, I should forgive them...whether they should be forgiven or not for their sins is up to God and God alone.  However, as long as we continue to harbor ill feelings towards them, we are in their power whether they know it or not.  As we decide to forgive and forget, we are set free from the prison of hatred and despair that keeps us bound to the past and can move on with our lives, free with the knowledge that God is just and that He will return good for good and evil for evil.  He is a perfect judge and will do what is best for everyone.  Stephen Covey says "it isn't the poisonous snake bite that does the harm.  It's chasing the snake that drives the venom to the heart," and that's what not forgiving someone does - it eats at us day by day until we finally stop and rest from our obsession and allow the cleansing power of the atonement into our lives, and with it, the peace that forgiveness and letting go can give us.
One of the big things that I've been learning is the power of letting go.  We can't control everything and if we try, I think it slowly drives us crazy.  Not in the institutional sense, but stress wise it pulls us tighter and tighter as we try to balance everything in our lives.  As we get pulled tighter, little things that may otherwise not be an issue can cause us to snap.  By letting go of some of these things, we can acknowledge the reality that we can't do everything ourselves and let grace take a role in our lives.  It's an eternal paradox that by giving up control of some things, we gain control of all things.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Gender and the Priesthood

On Times and Seasons today, they had an interesting post that hypothesizes The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints puts out a declaration that mandates leaders come from minorities because too many Caucasians have leadership roles.  In the end, it was to talk about women getting leadership roles in the church.  Right now in the LDS Church, just as in most churches, the Priesthood leadership is made up of men.  Is there a possibility in the future that this could change?  Sure.  If it does, I will certainly support it.  At this time though, I don’t believe that it would happen, nor do I think it’s wise.  Why is that?  Read on for my top 2 reasons:
  1. The Proclamation on the Family.  The church has pushed the importance of traditional family roles, with the father being a provider and the mother at the center of the family.  What if women were suddenly available to be Bishops, Stake Presidents, or General Authorities?  The church is now taking them out of their traditional roles and putting the father there.  While I think I do a great job with my kids, I can’t imagine putting me in that role instead of my wife.  She is absolutely incredible with the kids and I’m so grateful that she’s able to stay home with them.  To take her away from that for extended periods of time would be absolutely incompatible with established church doctrine, not to mention harmful to the most important group in the church: the family.
  2. The blending of the genders.  This is something that I’m really not a fan of.  I know it runs counter to the past 40 years, but there are some fundamental differences between men and women.  For starters, there are the obvious physical differences, but there are also other differences too.  Men and women mature differently.  They have different types of brains.  I’m not just making this up, there’s a whole host of scientific data to back it up.  I hate to break it to people, but there is a big difference between your typical man and your typical woman.  I certainly think there are areas where it can blend, and gender equality is important, but so are having specific roles.  Women tend to be better multitaskers, they tend to be more maternal, and they tend to be more empathetic.  Men tend to be better at cutting through a single task, they tend to be more aggressive, and they tend to be more aloof from a situation.  What is it that children need?  I would argue that while they need both, if they had to have one or the other, I’d choose the female traits.  It’s not to say that either is better than the other overall, but I would absolutely argue that in the most important area of life - raising the next generation - women are better than men.  As such, I think that commoditizing women and their role by tossing them together with men eliminates the things that make them special in the first place.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Playing Chicken with the Debt Ceiling

Right now there's a big debate in Washington about whether we should increase the debt ceiling or not.  To hear each side of the argument, I believe the world will end if they don't get their way.  What actually would happen if August 2 rolls around and there isn't a deal in place to push the debt ceiling up?  Right now the government will only be able to afford 44% of its obligations in August if a deal is not reached.  Here's my projection about what would happen.  There's a lot out there, and some people like to say it's the Mainstream Media scaremongering us into acquiescence, but the fact is that there are very serious repercussions of hitting our limit and running out of money, so to speak.  Our choices would be as follows: pay the social obligations (Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security).  Pay interest on the debt, some government, and the troops.  Pay some of each.  Here's what would be most likely, just based on common sense.  Of course, common sense says to stop the showdown and make a deal, so here we are.

Scenario 1
August 2: All non-essential government personnel are furloughed.  The Departments of Education, Energy, Interior, Transportation, Health and Human Services, and Agriculture are shuttered because there is no need for them to stay open as they will not be processing any outgoing funds.  National Parks are closed.  Airlines and airports are forced to pick up the tab for TSA or else cancel flights.  They do in hopes that things will resolve soon.  Interest rates on US debt (and thus on credit cards, mortgages, car loans, and any other loans originating in the US) begin their long climb higher.  The US loses it's AAA credit rating.

August 3: Social Security checks are withheld.  This is the only possible option.  To do anything else would be even more catastrophic.  This means that millions of seniors who are living hand-to-mouth run out of money.  15% of seniors depend wholly on their Social Security to survive.  They would be forced to food kitchens or other options out of necessity.  Additionally, to make things worse for them, the government stops Medicare checks to providers.  This includes hospitals, nursing homes, hospice, home health care, and every other segment of our health system.  Because these companies cannot shoulder the burden for long, every senior getting health care is on borrowed time.  By the end of the month, thousands of health care workers are let go and millions of seniors no longer get health care.

August 15: Interest rates on the 10 year T-Bill (currently at 3.125%) are at 15%.  With no end in sight, the Treasury department tries to roll over $500 billion in maturing debt.  Existing bondholders, concerned that they will take on too much risk by participating are lured in by higher interest rates.  A spike in rates to 20% costs the government trillions and leads to a massive selloff in stocks.  The Dow drops from 9,000 to 7,500 in just a few minutes, wiping trillions of dollars of value out of the market.  The dollar drops to an all time low against the Euro, hitting $1.75/euro.  It likewise falls against every major currency in the world.  Meanwhile, the housing, auto, and lending markets lock up as consumers are unwilling to pay the interest rates.  This causes a massive selloff in financial stocks, leading to the collapse of Bank of America.  Because the government is unable to use any funds to pay FDIC insurance or drive BofA into another bank's arms, millions had their life savings wiped out in the blink of an eye.  The US credit rating descends to Junk status, below that of Greece, Portugal, and Ireland.

August 20: Hundreds of thousands of protesters gather in Washington DC demanding an increase in the debt ceiling.  These protests start out peacefully, though anything could turn it into a powder keg.  The state of Texas announces its plan to float its own currency.  It is in negotiations with several other states on how to bond together to protect their citizens

August 25: The Dow is at 6,000.  Major corporations announce their withdrawal from the US market.  Due to unrest and uncertainty, over 1 million illegal immigrants have left the country.  This leads to a lack of labor for the upcoming harvest.  By the end of fall, millions of pounds of food will have rotted in fields.  The dollar went below $2.00/euro.  Gold is over $2500/oz and silver has skyrocketed to $60/oz.  Oil prices have skyrocketed due to the currency fluctuations and currently stand north of $200/barrel.  This has led to gasoline prices over $7.00/gallon in some places.  People have abandoned their cars in many places because they can't afford to fill their gas tanks. The combination of people out of work and no credit has impacted every aspect of American life.  American Airlines went out of business.  The combination of record high oil prices and having to pay for airport security was too much for the venerable company.  Delta, United, Southwest, and US Airways have drastically cut schedules as they cannot afford to fly and neither can the public.  What started as a peaceful protest in Washington has descended into something more akin to anarchy.  On the third day some protesters got violent with Capitol Police.  The police struck back in self defense, but that incident led to the National Guard being called into service.  Because of the situation in the country, they were only able to get half as many troops called up as they anticipated.  President Obama will address the nation tonight from an undisclosed location and declare Martial Law will be in effect, along with suspension of habeas corpus until things have calmed down.  Congress is said to be within hours of finally brokering a compromise package that has become dramatically bigger than was previously necessary due to interest rates compounding the debt crisis.  This package includes drastic cuts in government spending and large tax increases on the wealthy.  It is estimated to save $4 trillion over 10 years.  Meanwhile, the budget deficit is projected to increase from $14 trillion to $28 trillion due to increased borrowing costs during that time.

August 31 - President Obama signs into law a debt ceiling increase of $4 trillion dollars.  The markets have stabilized on the news with the Dow at 5000, the S&P at 500, and the dollar bottoming out at $2.10.  Meanwhile, yields on T bills are slowly dropping back to earth.  They will slowly drop from their peak at 35% and end up at around 15% over the mid term due to the increased instability that our new credit rating implies.  We have our agreement, and it only took erasing $10 trillion in assets to do it.

Scenario 2

August 2 - President Obama, invoking the 14th Amendment, declares the US debt limit has been raised to $18 trillion.  Congress immediately sues.  As the case winds through the courts, credit markets are soothed.  The case makes its way to the Supreme Court, where President Obama declares that he will follow FDR's path - if the Supreme Court doesn't see things his way, he will immediately appoint 6 new justices to the court.  Chief Justice Roberts sides with President Obama's interpretation.  His leadership will get him reelected in 2012 by a landslide.  Meanwhile, Congress passes back into Democrat hands as the tea party members of the Republican party are defeated in an historic fashion.

Scenario 3

July 22 - With hours to spare, the two sides make a deal that involves spending cuts and some tax reform.  The economy is spared and life goes on as normal.

I know that some of this may seem outlandish, but something to remember is that when Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, we plunged into the Great Recession.  That was an investment bank.  This is the largest economy on Earth.  It's a matter of scale, and this is not at all out of the question.  It may be a more worse case scenario, but it's definitely not out of the realm of possibility.  Unless the two sides realize that they need to broker something so both sides can win, one way or another, everybody loses.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Illegal Immigration, The LDS Church, You, and I

Last Friday the LDS church again made mention of its specific immigration policy.  Again, there was heated debate over why the church would do something like this.  Does it mean that we don't believe in the Thirteen Articles of Faith?  Does it mean that the church PR department is off the rails?  Does it mean that they're just wrongheaded and don't know what they're talking about.  All these are issues that I'll comment on, however, this is just one guy's opinion.  I want to preface this with that.  Just because my opinion is different than yours doesn't mean that either one of us is "right."  Neither does it mean that either one of us is good or bad.  They're just opinions.  Hopefully I can add to the discussion.
  • Why does the LDS church support HB116 when it clearly is a violation of the law?
I think there are a couple of reasons for this.  Because I'm not a representative of the church, it's hard for me to say what they are, however, they did articulate some of them in their statement.  First, by pushing just enforcement, it kills compassion towards illegal immigrants.  Rather than giving them a helping hand, it kicks them to the ground.  It drives them into the arms of criminals and others who can protect them, rather than allowing them to be open, fruitful members of society.
I'm going to use an example from literature here.  Imagine you are Jean Valjean.  You steal a loaf of bread and suddenly you are in prison.  Then, you get out of prison, you get the work card that says you are a prisoner and it's difficult to get honest work because of that yellow ticket.  What does he do?  He turns to crime again.  What stops him?  A priest who shows him a better way...which again, involves breaking the law.  That's what we're doing to illegal immigrants.  They come here looking for a better life for their families, but soon find that it's a lot harder than they think.  In order to make it work, they turn from honest, law abiding activities to things like identity theft so they can get the identification to get to work.  That is a very real side effect of our illegal immigrant hunts.  You have to steal a SSN to survive, and that kills somebody's credit.
By turning these people who are, by and large, honest people who are stealing a proverbial loaf of bread into yellow ticket carrying criminals, we make an extraordinarily large segment of the population (at 12-30 million, that's 5-10% of people in this country) into proverbial Jean Valjeans as we play Javert.  Who watched Les Miserables (or read the book) and thought "I'd like to be more like Javert?"  Instead, we should not condone what they did, but rather, give them an opportunity to atone for it through being productive dues paying members of society.  While not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, HB 116 comes closer to that than anything else we have.
Second, it changes the focus of the debate.  Too often it is so emotionally charged that the rhetoric turns into "you hate Mexicans" and "no, you're an Anarchist." I think that the Church feels that is damaging for society as a whole, so let's try to move beyond that and focus on a compassionate way to treat everybody like people who are trying to do best instead of chattel to be used as pawns in a battle against the Federal Government.
  • Isn't giving these people who broke the law any form of amnesty condoning their behavior and thus subjecting us to more illegal immigration in the future?
It certainly would seem this way.  It's basic Broken Windows theory (i.e. if you leave a window on a building broken instead of fixing it, you invite people to break more, to vandalize, and otherwise despoil your property), which I am a big believer in.  If you offer amnesty, you open the door to an additional 12 million illegals who will want to take their chance on the next opportunity.  The difference between this and classic Broken Windows is that with our immigration system as it is, we're already offering incentives to break those windows.  People aren't coming over our borders hoping for amnesty, they're coming over because they don't want to wait in the world's longest line.  It's like when Apple releases a new product concurrently on the internet and in stores.  I could go wait in a line for hours, or I could order it online and have it shipped to my house.  Sure, I may not get it as quickly as when I wait in line, but at the same time, I can get on with life.  Of course, there are differences of scale.  Waiting in line for a green card is a Kafkaesque nightmare, while you risk your life crossing the border.  Both are bad choices, but expediency trumps waiting every time.  The bottom line, and I think the Church sees this, is that we will not be able to stop illegal immigration without the federal government's help.  When states take it upon themselves to enforce federal laws, it opens up a world of problems.  1. We don't have a fence around the state.  Indeed, we can't.  2. We don't have border guards watching for people coming across state lines.  It's the same issue.
I know that Rep. Chris Herrod has a statistic that since Arizona has implemented its enforcement law, they have had an outflow of 500,000.  While I'm sure the law had something to do with it, the drop in illegal immigrants nationwide shows that there's more to it than their law.  Indeed, in the US between 2007-2011, illegal immigrants went from 12 million down to 11 million.  Arizona accounts for a good portion of that, but so do other states.  The common thread here is the US economy.  If it picks up again, I would bank on an increase.  If it stays moribund, we're going to stay in a holding pattern.  Where there are jobs, people will go - especially if they are relatively good jobs, relative to their current one, that is.

  • What can we do to change things?  This is ridiculous!

I have to agree there.  It's ridiculous that people have to wait in a neverending line to get into the United States.  It's ridiculous that the border is as porous as it is.  It's ridiculous that the immigration debate gets heated so quickly and turns into nastiness.  It's ridiculous that nobody can fix it.

  • I might as well live in Mexico - look at all the Spanish around me!

This is a tough one.  There is a lot of Hispanic centered marketing around, and it can be hard to communicate.  It can also be hard to talk to my computer rep in Bangalore.  It's one of the downsides of our world economy, unfortunately.  There is a silver lining to this cloud though: it's happened before.  It happened with the Poles and Chicago.  With the Germans and Milwaukee.  The Chinese and San Francisco.  The Italians and Boston.  Everyone and New York.  When an immigrant wave comes, the first generation needs the support that is exemplified by all the signage and marketing in a foreign language.  However, the subsequent generations quickly become Americanized and soon speak just as well as anybody else.  They aspire to learn English, to fit in.  They move from their localized areas and meld with the rest of society.  What's better is that the second generation of Hispanic immigrants are doing this at a pace that leaves every other group in the dust.  They have become and are becoming Americanized far more rapidly than anybody else in our nation's history.

  • They're bankrupting the nation!

They're also paying into our nation.  I know an illegal who had a social so she could have a job.  Her employer found out, and she was let go.  However, all of the money she earned was taxed.  She didn't get anything from it, and never will.  That's money that goes into the system.  It's free money.  This happens with everyone who gets a fake SSN to be employed.  That's not saying they make it up, but I would think we're pretty close to a wash.

Here would be my simple (though probably not politically simple) plan:
1. Stop demonizing the other side.  Those against illegal immigration aren't bigots.  Those who favor keeping illegals here aren't buffoons who just don't get it.  Likewise, not every illegal is a criminal, just as not every speeder is a criminal.
2. Control the borders.  I'm not talking about a giant fence straight out of Berlin.  I'm talking about better patrolling, spot checks, and the use of satellites and other technology to make sure we're secure.  I don't care about the migrant worker coming across.  I am concerned about the drug cartels and terrorist organizations who can move across willy-nillily.
3. Liberalize immigration.  Quotas of people who can come from certain countries or for certain visas is an archaic notion that smacks of institutional racism.  It did in the 1900s and it does now.  Let people in if they pass a simple background check.  We don't want criminals, but we don't want to penalize entire nations with ridiculous restrictions.  We want the best and the brightest.  We want those who want a better life.  We want people who will contribute to society so that we won't sink under the greatest Ponzi scheme of all time - Social Security and Medicare.  Without immigrants, that's impossible.  Let's make it easier for them and for the rest of us at the same time.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Why I Can't (At Present) Support Jason Chaffetz

Rep. Chaffetz/Sen. Hatch.  from Fox News
A lot of the hullabaloo in Utah right now is about Jason Chaffetz running against Orrin Hatch for his Senate seat in 2012.  I hope he either chooses not to run or is defeated.  This doesn't come down to policy reasons, but to a couple of practicalities:

1. Rep. Chaffetz' staff in Washington are not helpful.  I go to Washington every year to lobby for my industry and company.  I have been greeted and treated warmly by the staff and offices of the following individuals: Rep. Cannon, Rep. Matheson, Rep. Bishop, Sen. Hatch, Sen. Bennett, and Sen. Lee.  Some have been okay, some have been good, and some have been great.  Sen. Hatch's staff fall in the latter category.  I would put Sen. Lee's staff above them, in large part to his amazing Chief of Staff, Spencer Stokes.  They really were incredible for us this past year.  You'll notice that I didn't put Rep. Chaffetz' staff in this list.  The reason for that is because, while they have been kind enough to meet with us, the niceties ended there.  We were herded in like cattle, asked what the bill number was that we wanted him to support, told he doesn't sign letters, and then, when we asked his office to make a call to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on our behalf to stop a rule that was almost universally called ridiculous, told that they were too busy for such trivialities.  I know that calling hearings about the latest TSA insanity or talking about how illegals are ruining the country are great kabuki, but when it actually gets down to what he should be doing - representing his constituents and their concerns, he's fallen short.
One thing I would like to make clear is that this is not a blanket condemnation of everybody who's worked with him.  I know great people who have been a part of his campaign and/or regional offices, but where it really matters, in representing my concerns on my behalf to the Federal Government, he's so far behind Senator Hatch that I could never make the switch without a complete 180 on their behalf.

2. Seniority. Senator Hatch beats this drum, and it's a legitimate claim.  Assuming the Republicans gain control of the Senate (a very real possibility) he'd be chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, while Senator Chaffetz would be a junior Senator and member of some randomly picked committee.  You know who would be chair of the Senate Finance Committee if he was defeated?  Olympia Snowe.  You may feel that Sen. Hatch is too liberal, but you don't know the meaning of the word if you think he'd be worse there than Sen. Snowe.  Not that she's a bad person, just that if you care about the makeup of the people who hold the pursestrings to the nation, you may want to reconsider who you're supporting.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

A Change in Focus

So I'm changing this up. For starters, a blog post here and there.  Secondly, it's not going to be, as my brother so fondly puts things, "The Diary of a Mad Black Woman."  I've done a little of that in my time doing this blog, perhaps more than I should have.  Instead, it's going to be long form thoughts that are too much to put in a Twitter feed or in a Facebook post.  Sure, I'll link from there, but that's what it is, long posts that I would like to chat a little about.  I think that I, like many others, fell prey to what I'll call "Ender's Syndrome."  For those who don't remember or haven't read it, it's from the book Ender's Game, where Ender's sister Valentine and his brother Peter anonymously blog (for lack of a better term) to the betterment of humanity, or so they believe.  That "anonymous individual bettering humanity" angle is why I think a lot of people blog and blog about what they blog about.  Yes, I used blog 3 times in less than 10 words.  At any rate, this is now a forum for me to fully flesh out ideas that can't be described as pithily as other formats require.  Hopefully it is a fruitful transition!
Oh, one other thing.  As much as possible, I'm avoiding negativity on here.  There will be times when I have to talk about why I'm not in favor of something, but hopefully I can keep it positive.  Feel free to comment here or on Facebook or Twitter.  I'll be happy to respond!