Essay List

Essay and column excerpts from the book,
Chum for Thought: Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters

Chum for Thought:
Throwing Ideas Into Dangerous Waters
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There is an entry, below, for almost every essay in the book. It includes:

  • The title,
  • A brief synopsis,
  • (where available) a link to a YouTube video of me giving the essay, and
  • A link to a blog post on this site for that individual piece. I hope that you will actively participate in commenting on what you read.

But first, a little praise for the author and the book
Portrait by
Ethan Ackerson (5 yrs.)
  • “[His writing is] humorous, bold, and adventurous all at once … channeled through a facility for language and the music of words."
  • Collected essays - The new guy in a small conservative town explores the foundations of his faith in community, human progress, and liberal values.
  •  David isn't afraid to talk about religion, politics, or anything else worth examining. He is variously friend, teacher, inquisitor, and voice crying out in the wilderness. He discusses, lectures and rants, but always in a conversational adult voice.
  •  Somehow both an agnostic and true believer, David radiates optimism while still seeking illumination in dark places. His favorite themes are community, virtues, values, and human growth. He will tease you into his world and then send you off to explore your own.

This is how much of modern direct-to-reader publishing and marketing is going to work. I depend on your good will and social contacts. I hope that we will end up considering each other to be friends. Thank you! DavidS

And now, the list of essay entries:

    About “Chum for Thought”

    Why we need to talk, think, work, together to understand others, get along.

     This essay was the first installment of my newspaper column “@ChumForThought,” published in the Dayton Review. The series was intended for my neighbors in a small, rural, Iowa town. I hoped to encourage conservatives to think about their ideas and liberals to come out of the closet.

    “Chum” is the word for chopped fish waste that is thrown overboard to attract other fish – especially sharks.
    I believe that comparing ideas can be a force for good that attracts us to each other. Strangers often become friends as they talk and work together, uniting to solve mutual problems. [370 words]

    Communities and their essential limits on personal freedom

    “No man is an island.” Communities are the foundation of civilization. It is almost impossible to be entirely self-sufficient. We need each other for our variety of abilities, interests, and ideas. Our individual differences make us stronger as a group.

    For people, it is easiest to create communities when everyone shares mostly the same values. But, the more we isolate ourselves from others who are different in some way, the more extreme, intolerant, and fragile, our group becomes. [325 words]

    Does positive thinking really work?

    Can "positive" thinking affect your life? Our beliefs often seem to be self-confirming, and we commonly believe in self-fulfilling prophecy, a prediction that makes itself come true.  

    The most obvious answer to the power of positive thinking is the idea that the place you keep looking at is the destination at which you are most likely to arrive. [652 words]

    Fake It ‘til you make it

    Political candidates and other public persons need to make the best of every opportunity to present themselves. They need to make sure that each appearance shows their best side. I have found that preparation and presentation reinforce each other. Mastery enables an air of confidence, while projecting confidence sets the stage for mastery. [669 words]

    Group membership and self-esteem

    Individuals generally derive their identity based on the groups to which they belong. Sometimes group membership, when the group is seen negatively, causes the members to suffer low self-esteem. 

    Having someone criticize the community to which you belong does not have to damage your self-esteem. Your response is dependent on the nature of your own character, values, and worldview.  [499 words]

    A new idea is like a new cat in the house

    “Introducing a new idea is, for them, like bringing a new cat into the house. There is no, hello-how-do-you-do. There is just reflexive hissing, arched backs, and hair on end. But, in time, it (usually) settles down to shared naps in the sunny spot on the floor. If there is hope for cats, there is hope for the public discourse of ideas… and maybe even all of humanity.” [331 words]

    Growing up with Ken Wilber

    Growing up is all about existential angst. Yes, that’s where to start. Not with the spitting up, crawling, and preverbal babbling. The real issues of growing up are: What’s it all about? To be or not to be? What do you want to be when you grow up? What is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything? As a crusty old man looking back, I can see that I repeatedly died to myself and was reborn in progressive and incremental stages. [969 words]

    Is America a Christian nation?

    Is America a Christian nation? What if one of our Presidents had been a Primitive Baptist from Tennessee? Should he have felt right about insisting that no citizen play musical instruments in church or hand out temperance society tracts?

    Would Americans have approved of anyone who had insisted that we were, and should act like, a Primitive Baptist nation? A Baptist nation? A Protestant nation? A Christian nation? [509 words]

    Hate speech at my US Post Office

    I recently found a “hate note” posted on the information board at my small-town US Post Office. There were also three modified cartoons referring to President Obama, fried chicken, watermelon, and black salami. I thought that the cartoons were inappropriate and offensive to public decency; I removed them.
    The note seemed more personal, so I added my answer and left it there. [505 words]

    Would you rather hitch a ride with a conservaive or a liberal?

    A hitchhiker shares his opinion of conservative and liberal drivers. [162 words]

    Find this anecdote at: 

    Why I sound “too preachy”

    It has been suggested that I sound “too preachy.” Yeah, that should have been expected. Let me introduce myself a little more to those of my neighbors who, so far, have only smiled and waved.

    As you probably have noticed, there’s nothing like a conservative preacher, any teacher, or a flaming liberal, to tell you just how things ought to be.First, I was actually the closest thing to a conservative preacher in my young manhood. [354 words]

    Liberals blame external causes. Conservatives blame internal causes.

    Among the many opinions about the differences between Conservatives and Liberals, some point to the difference of blaming internal or external causes. “If you were to ask people about the cause of someone’s problems and sufferings (such as homelessness), you will hear two very different explanations.”

    If you are a conservative, they point out, you will blame internal causes such as a lack of work ethic, family or religious values, sense of shame, or some other personal weakness. If you are a liberal, your explanation will likely focus on external causes such as lack of education, oppression, social injustice, or some other influence outside of their control. [545 words]

    A parable about Mitt Romney and public risk vs. private profit

    Joe rolled his eyes after watching yet another cranky TV talking head take yet another pot shot at the other party’s candidate. “I just don’t get it,” Joe moaned, “They’re all crooks. If I even bother to vote this year, I’m tempted to just write in, ‘Someone Else.’” Linda looked at him quietly for a moment. If there was going to be a teachable moment, this was probably going to be it. [831 words]

    How a Republican lawyer helped me meet my liberal wife

    My sweet wife and I were sitting on the front porch swing, reading the Sunday paper and enjoying the cool breeze of the early morning. It still amazes me how many things we don’t know about each other, even after all these years. She was reading the obituaries. I knew something was up when she lowered the paper into her lap and just stared off into the distance. Eventually she explained, “I almost married a Republican lawyer.” [321 words]

    Legislative hostage-taking hijacks any chance of improving government

    The 2011 debt limit crisis demonstrated beyond any doubt that our Republican-controlled Congress is willing to do damage to America and its people. They behaved like a kidnapper cutting off a finger and sending it back to distraught and fearful parents to get them to pay a ransom. We understand that Republicans speak for their financial and religious-right masters. They want money. They want power. They want full control. And, who knows who these terrorists are willing to shoot in the head and shove out the door next. [625 words]

    We don’t want no Agenda 21 sustainable UN conspiracy to take our rights

    Most of us have heard the phrase “sustainable development” and perhaps a little about United Nations (and other) initiatives related to sustainable development such as Agenda 21 and the Earth Charter. Some of our communities are exploring these principals in the hopes of heading off, or at least moderating, future catastrophes.

    The concept of organized sustainable development is described by critics as a massive international conspiracy to deprive you of individual and commercial rights. [450 words]

    A liberal education is needed to participate in democracy

    Our Democracy requires the participation of informed citizens. How do citizens become competent to become active in government, working to create a better country for their neighbors? Education at home and at school is a key factor.

    A successful democracy assumes that people are basically good and decent and that they should make responsible choices for themselves. Without the general moral and intellectual capacity of its citizens, it would be impossible for a constitution to grant universal citizenship and self-governance. [499 words]

    Liberal optimism, faith, and hope for the future

    Men of the fields, like all men of faith, are optimists. As defined at Acts 17:11, faith is the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Optimists are able to contemplate the future with eyes of hope. They can imagine the substance of a reality that does not yet exist.

    Pessimists are more likely to behave as faithless men of fear. They contemplate the future and imagine losing what they already have. This motivates them to worry about preserving things the way they are and conserving resources already at hand. [344 words]

    Real Christianity is liberal

    Christianity started out as a very liberal way of life. Take a look at the things Jesus personally did and said. A red-letter version of the New Testament will help. I won’t cite chapter and verse, but if you’re up for this discussion, you will already feel right at home.

    Above all, Jesus lived and taught love. He even made the blunt assertion that “God is Love.” Jesus pointed out that the greatest law was Love – of God and neighbor – and he used the parable of a good Samaritan to point out that everyone is our neighbor. [345 words]

    Letter to the editor – President Obama could echo FDR’s reelection speech

    In 1936, FDR (that would be President Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the young whippersnappers) gave a speech in Madison Square Garden, New York, just days before his re-election. It was powerful; defiant; inspiring.

    I was startled by how circumstances now reflect that time of monopoly, grave financial risk-taking, pocket government, and the resulting Great Depression. I was astonished at how FDR’s words could just as easily be coming from our current president. [412 words]

    Elephant metaphor for developmental levels of worldview

    I was discussing the concept of “developmental levels of worldview” with a friend. She keep wanting to imagine that my description of a hierarchical, predictable sequence of developmental stages suggested increasing personal “smartness” or “betterness.” I was having trouble getting across the ideas that any worldview stage is perfectly fine so long as it serves the needs of a person’s or culture’s current circumstances (and does not oppress others.) Eventually, I suggested that developmental levels were like a progressive experience of elephants: [311 words]

    How faith grows in stages – James Fowler

    It should not be surprising, in our scientific, technological world, that faith has been subjected to empirical studies and analysis. Hold onto your hat: it turns out that both people and communities of faith develop through a predictable series of stages… or find a comfortable level and stay there. [485 words]

    Stages of moral development – Lawrence Kohlberg

    Last week, I discussed the research of James W. Fowler, a Methodist minister, into the developmental stages of faith. Dr. Fowler built his ideas on the pattern of Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. This is also worth considering.

    Dr. Kohlberg found that moral development was revealed by one’s attitudes toward justice and how one reasoned on, and resolved, moral dilemmas. [454 words]

    Conservative values vs. Liberal values

    Psychologist Jonathan Haidt recently published research that has been taken to indicate that conservatives hold six key values while liberals hold only three. Naturally, some commentators have had a great time with this one. Haidt followed this up with a new book: “The Righteous Mind.”
    This is all good and commendable, as far as it goes. However, I made a point of finding and viewing all of the Republican primary debates and heard something else. [473 words]

    Permanent solutions to temporary problems

    Today, I’m taking up the subject of permanent solutions to temporary problems. Most of us have known someone who committed suicide. It is a terrible thing to feel such profound despair and hopelessness, or perhaps anger and helplessness, that permanently removing yourself from this world seems to be the best option. [Please keep in mind, as you read on, that this article is not actually about suicide. ed] [511 words]

    Proactive vs. Reactive – Part 1: Individual and group differences

    A person who is only REactive waits for something to happen and then responds to that event. A person who is PROactive takes initiative to make change happen, anticipates potential threats or opportunities, and takes steps ahead of time to be prepared. Things seem to go better for proactive people. The reason is explained by the saying, “Good luck is found at the intersection of preparation and opportunity.” [411 words]

    Proactive vs. Reactive – Part 2: Business and political tactics vs. strategy

    Last week, I talked about how good it was when individuals approached their lives proactively rather than reactively. You often can’t enter an open door of opportunity if you’re not already prepared. However, in groups, too much general proactivity can be disruptive. In stable groups, harmony and respect for traditions can be comfortable and help to bind members together. [475 words]

    The myth of Truman as a simple man

    In balance, the clipping seemed to be a nostalgia piece for simpler, kinder, and gentler times. I like the comfortable, warm memories of earlier days that it invoked. That was a time when people knew what to expect, every man stood on his own two feet and was often too proud to take charity and too quiet to talk about his service in the Great War. Except, it wasn’t exactly like that at all. World War II killed an estimated 50-70 million people – over 2.5% of the world’s population. About 416,800 US servicemen lost their lives. It was a dangerous, disruptive, and complicated time. [530 words]

    Is God sending disaster upon an unfaithful America?

    Sometimes I realize that I just haven’t been paying good attention. Last week, a neighbor was talking to me about this column and suggesting some topics. She pointed out that God was punishing America for straying from the faithful Christian path, citing disasters such as the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York and the damage to New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina as examples. I think that, at the time, my response was “Oh,” instead of the first thing that came into my head. [889 words]

    Is God punishing America? – Revisited

    I used to play a computer game called SimCity. I discovered that when you cleared a block for redevelopment that contained a church, a tornado would come ripping through the town. I thought that it was a clever joke by the programmers. However, some people think that this is how God operates, and how fathers should operate, and how political leaders should operate. [538 words]

    What does America need from her citizens?

    I am struck by two dramatically different ideals of citizenship that are currently being promoted. These are fundamentally opposed cultural and political belief systems. I’ll compare these in the areas of human nature, education, work, and citizenship.

    1] One idea is that we are fallen, weak, unable to manage ourselves, and in constant need of strong guidance, rules, and punishment. All children are born rebellious and need strict control so as to learn values, accept limits, and thereby lead a good life. [427 words]

    Democrats in 2012—The need to get real

    Some Democrats are hesitating to rally behind our president. I don’t get it. Put all the rest of the clutter and noise aside and here is what you have left: President Obama is leading in the best direction. Mitt Romney has promised to take our country in the other direction. Progressive change may be slower than expected, but our President has persistently moved us forward. Republicans have gone to radical extremes to obstruct his efforts, willingly damaging our nation in the process. Their disdain of the public good is unconscionable. [403 words]

    Will the real patriots please stand up?

    Teachers train students to evaluate ideas by comparing and contrasting. There seem to be several strongly-contrasting ideas about what patriotism is, so let’s compare them.

    Everybody seems to agree that waving and saluting a flag is patriotic. So is praising troops, singing certain songs, and setting off fireworks. I’ll agree that all of that is very nice. Symbols stand for things that have real meaning and showing respect for those symbols is not entirely without meaning. But, what else do you stand for? What personal actions and sacrifices are you willing to take as a patriot? [503 words]

    The ugly truth about hate speech

    It has been a week for contemplating Matthew 12:34, where Jesus pointed out that, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” We continue to be witness to speech and actions of intense hate, cruelty, and outright evil.

    I like to think that I am optimistic and frequently take note of good things and of how many things are getting better. But, at this moment my heart is heavy and my head is bowed. [366 words]

    Ayn Rand and the real parasites - Have you swallowed the big fat lie?

    Ayn Rand, in Atlas Shrugged, promotes the idea that, “The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him. … The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all their brains.” Really? And, are the richest businessmen the real “job creators?” No, and you’ve been told a whopper. Over and over, you’ve been told a big fat lie. [555 words]

    Dis-integrating old beliefs

    I have recently been challenged that my comments threaten to “dis-integrate” people’s beliefs and that this comes off as “threatening and painful” to them. Thus, I am being rude, inconsiderate, and unsociably aggressive. Talk about a curve ball! I just didn’t see that one coming.

    The concept is that most people are already quite satisfied with their sources of authority and their beliefs. They believe things that are similar to what their friends believe and this makes them feel comfortable and secure. They feel that their existing beliefs all make sense together (are integrated). Thus, it is not nice for someone like me to come along and upset their apple cart. [520 words]

    When the right-wing elite turned fascist

    An interesting thing happened in Germany between World War I and World War II. A major industrial nation weakened, conservatives embraced public austerity, and the citizens embraced extremist authoritarian politicians to save them from their problems. Instead, citizens lost control of their government, pulling a whole new set of problems down upon themselves. This could be just an interesting bit of history if not for the fact that something very similar has been happening in America over the last few decades. [492 words]

    The politics of despair and optimism

    Last week, I wrote contrasting the patriotism of fear and fighting with the patriotism of compassion and community. This leads us back to a reconsideration of the politics of despair vs. the politics of optimism. When living in troubled and difficult times, it is not wrong to acknowledge the true state of affairs – all the better to deal with it. But, there are unproductive and productive responses to hardship. [544 words]

    Political orientation and the good will of strangers

    Today was a microcosm of the liberal ideals of community, fellowship, and social involvement. My 1880’s “workman’s Victorian” house was right on the route, just after the downtown events that included food concessions, a live band, and a dunking tank. As the bicyclists accelerated down a 1-block incline and past me, in my wheelchair by the curb with a political sign, I still had plenty of interactions. [1072 words]

    Our American Elites – Part 1 Puritan vs. Plantation

    Despite our belief that all men are created equal, we have always understood that some of us have advantages of education, wealth, connections, and influence that are not shared equally. And, as a competitive capitalistic society, we mostly accept these class differences in the hope that someday we, or our children, might become rich and powerful too. We expect to always have our elites. [536 words]

    Our American elites – Part 2 Sources of power and control

    America has continued to struggle to define, expand, and guarantee our liberties. American slaves have been granted the rights of citizenship. Their descendants are increasingly able to vote freely, serve in the military, and sit, as free people, on any free seat on any bus. Women have been given the right to own property, vote, earn equal wages, and use birth control. Recently, more of us have received additional health care protection so that we don’t face the choice of staying healthy or dying quickly.

    Nonetheless, America has always faced groups determined to twist government to favor their private wealth, power, and industry. [524 words]

    Our American elites – Part 3 Our contemporary Republican party

    The Republican Party seems to have been seized by elites with the Plantation Ethic during the past few decades. They love their money and privilege and will do anything to protect their private advantages. They have been preaching a host of destructive circular arguments. Here are a few examples:

    They describe government as being out of control and being the root of all evil. They say that government needs to be slashed, reduced, and killed. No joke. Grover Norquist, the lobbyist and conservative “No Taxes” activist said, “… I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” [594 words]

    Girl Scouts: liberal or conservative?

    I would like to say a few nice things about the Girl Scouts. In recent news, Bob “Cookie Monster” Morris, A conservative State Representative from Indiana, made headlines by writing in a letter that the Girl Scouts were “quickly becoming a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood” and were being “subverted in the name of liberal progressive politics and the destruction of the traditional American family values.” There is more, but it starts to get truly ugly. [399 words]

    Do men and women need each other?

    I prefer to be in the kitchen, behaving myself like a mouse in the corner, instead of with the men watching sports in the family room. And, I know that I really like being married and having a feminine woman as my best friend.

    Further, while lurking near widows and divorced women, I have heard them confess that they “simply like having a man around.” It sounded as if, like me, the simple presence of someone of the other gender satisfied a palpably felt deficit. [465 words]

    Presto change-o

    For a little change of pace: With fond memories of Andrew Aitken “Andy” Rooney, who left us more thoughtful in spirit and left us in body at age 92, just this last November.

    You just don’t hear the words “Presto Change-o” very much anymore. I kind of miss that. It was a great thing to say, after “one, two, three” while you were waving five fingers around with one hand and lifting the five of hearts out of your vest pocket with the other. [266 words]

    The thing about “Real War” – victors and vanquished

    Very few people now alive have had the experience of what I think of as “Real War.” Oh, we still use the word “war,” but it doesn’t seem to carry the same sense of dramatic finality that it formerly did. War, and our thinking about war, has gotten soft. Our changing values affect the way we respond to the victors and victims of war.

    These days, our wars tend to earn euphemisms such as: border skirmish, police action, regime change, nation building, civil uprising, popular revolution, government standoff, and gorilla opposition. [884 words]

    Does conservatism inhibit active citizenship?

    It occurred to me a while back that the conservative ideal of “individual freedom,” taken to its logical end, promotes anarchy. If everybody does only what appeals to them as being in the best interests of themselves, their family, or their tribe, it prevents them from fully engaging in the interests of broader civic and societal responsibility. If you are primarily looking out for yourself, you aren’t being a good citizen.

    Of course, it also occurred to me that the liberal ideal of “common good,” taken to its logical end, promotes totalitarianism communism… or maybe the kind of selfless love of neighbor that Jesus endorsed. None of these extremes seem practical for America at this point in history. [857 words]

    The importance of understanding the economic benefits of “fairness to wage earners”

    Have you noticed that President Obama doesn’t get enough recognition for all the changes that he has made to support America’s recovery? The connections seem so obvious that they shouldn’t need a team of advertising consultants or a horde of supporters shouting from their housetops.

    Well, perhaps the dots need to be more-explicitly connected. Perhaps we do need to wrap our minds around the fact that the working and middle classes matter, and that fairness to wage-earners has both social and economic benefits for our country. [425 words]

    Are conservatives cynical about the truth?

    I studiously watched all of the 2011-12 Republican primary debates. I wanted to expose myself to a variety of points of view. Although I expected that they might differ from my own current preconceived notions, the exercise left me shocked and appalled.

    It was not just the remarkable certainty of the candidates’ conflicting assertions (they might have demonstrated more party and policy unity). But they freely engaged in the most egregious and transparent distortions of each other’s records and statements. [494 words]

    Buddhist “Right Speech” as a practical virtue

    You may know that I am writing a book about virtues. I added the Buddhist “Noble Eightfold Path” to my listing of virtues after an unproductive search for a virtue that fully embodied “delicacy of speech.” That is, the deliberate choice of words that carefully avoids damaging the fragile stem of newly-sprouted expression in others. It was gentler than tact. It was more specific than thoughtfulness. It was more loving than kindness or even loving-kindness. It was a gentler movement of a whispered expression than love. I could think of nothing more apt then the first Eightfold path virtue of “Right Speech.” [1031 words]

    A rant on the use of violence

    Although good fences may be said to “make good neighbors,” hatred, blood-feuds, violent lust for revenge, and terrorism do not make good neighbors. Terrorism is often considered to be the use of violence by disenfranchised (not yet victorious) organizations or individuals against non-combatants to coerce political, social, or economic change.

    Similar violence by established authorities is often considered “counter-terrorism” and “collateral damage.” Similar violence by successful “freedom fighters” is often considered heroic. In any event, targeting civilians is generally considered bad sportsmanship and should be frowned upon and viewed as unworthy of true gentlemen. [1095 words]

    A rant on “Second Amendment remedies”

    I just heard that some people have been saying that we should use guns to get “Second Amendment remedies.” I’m not exactly clear on which people they think should be shot. Is it just Liberals in general, Liberal politicians, or anyone whose ideas run counter to those of the one toting a piece? I don’t know about you, but I thought shooting people for political purposes was frowned on. Maybe it’s even illegal at the local, state, or federal level.

    My daddy always told me to leave my guns at home when I went voting. He said, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” He also used to say, “You go shooting all the foxes and you’ll put ol’ Roy out of a job with nothing to bark at. [900 words]

    Finding and living The American Dream

    You used to hear people mention “The American Dream” all the time. Not so much anymore. Now, what was that idea really all about anyway?

    Frankly, there is no single definition, but it frequently includes ideas such as fair opportunity, hard work, overcoming adversity, personal success, getting ahead, and passing it on to those who come after. It involves sufficient faith in society to expect general freedom and opportunity. It is all about hope and moving forward.

    The American Dream is not about “every man for himself,” a big enough hole to hide it, and enough guns to defend it.  [566 words]

    The emotions of transformation

    [With appreciation to the research of Susan Cook-Greuter]

    The language, concepts, and vocabulary that people use forms the filter through which they see and understand the world. At higher levels of development, you become aware of this process. You are more-able to stand back and observe, not just everything else with dispassion, but your own actions, reactions, emotions and motives as well. You can enter the ego and see that you are playing this game or that game and be a genuine witness to your own struggles. [544 words]

    Poem: Climbing the psychosocial spiral

    A poem about personal Integral development. [195 words]

    Stages of psychosocial consciousness and culture

    The 19th century German philosopher, Georg Hegel, noted that conflict enables transformation to higher states of organization. This idea was reinforced by research in the 20th; particularly in Developmental Psychology. These states have developed sequentially through human history as increasingly organized world views—for both individuals and cultures.

    As we develop through childhood we experience this transformation and change as our thoughts and feelings become more complex. Developmental psychology demonstrates that this kind of staged development continues through adulthood. [440 words]

    Fiction: Sample time

    He hated that recurring dream. It haunted him from before he retired; before his wife had died; before he started drinking. Always, he was railing against an illogical way of doing things at the gasoline refinery where he used to work.

    Sometimes he was complaining to other engineers; occasionally to supervisors, managers, or even the working stiffs whose only concern was to follow orders. Always, nobody seemed to think that his issues were important enough to worry about, to say nothing of making the major changes for which he lobbied. It was the way that things had been done for years. [1251 words]

    Accurate thinking

    I’ve been carrying this hand-written note around with me since high school. Note to parents: What is YOUR impressionable young boy or girl reading when they think you’re not looking?

    “There are people who think in a way which I would simply call “accurate” thinking. They are people with persistent, highly controlled intellectual habits. These people can be recognized by four characteristics: [210 words]

    A personal transformation that shocks my family

    MOST OF YOU DON'T KNOW that my political participation and the tone of my writing is particularly shocking for those who know the deeply conservative evangelical fundamentalist Christian faith in which I was raised.

    I was taught to be radically non-political, with the certainty that God is Love and Satan is the false god exercising power over all governments of men and all other religious beliefs. We understood that only Christ's Kingdom could restore humanity to peace, security, and the approval of God. [308 words]

    When you say “WE,” just who do you mean?

    Family is always, obviously, “WE.” But stopping there just puts too many limits on the culture that we can achieve. If WE is only family, you need a strict father or tribal chief to enforce order and to lead YOUR cousins on plundering raids against OTHER families or tribes.

    If your WE is too small, you have to always arm yourselves and be vigilant to protect your life and property against the next small group that defines “US” as just “OUR family” or “OUR tribe.” Without broader cooperation, life just becomes too hard and too dangerous and it often becomes necessary to attack other families or tribes to survive. Our philosophy becomes, “If we do not stand for ourselves, first, foremost, and always, we stand to fall.” [566 words]

    Psychic travels in my otherwhere

    Years ago, while searching for peace, I read a recommendation to create a detailed, imaginary, inner place of quiet refuge. Sitting down with a sketch pad, I developed a plan. It was filled with resources that I could only imagine. It has been my private safe place now for many years. It is always ready and available, but has to be approached methodically. I have never taken anyone there with me. [1659 words]

    How to Build a Joke (No joking, I’m serious.)

    For most people, a good joke is like pornography or the Tao—they cannot give you a good definition, but they know it when they see it.

    Building good jokes requires attention to context, discrimination, structure, and activation of a special set of neural responses. So, the first thing I need to do is explain how a joke works. After all, how are you going to create an original version of something if you do not have a grasp of the fundamental internal mechanisms, the secret ingredients in the special sauce? [1409 words]

    Analysis of the Creative Process

    A retired engineer comes to terms with typing his literary criticism papers himself. [244 words (Part 1)]

    A creative student of literary analysis takes a break from writing yet another lame-ass paper to throw a private hissy-fit. [93 words (Part 2)]

    Find this story at:

    Known knowns and unknown unknowns

    In 2002, the press took exception to a comment by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. I think he was onto something important…
    “…there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

    I suspect that Secretary Rumsfeld was giving a short treatise on the “fog of war.” Military commanders must frequently make substantive decisions with poor, and sometimes conflicting, information. They are responsible for putting soldiers in harm’s way and constantly grapple with the necessity of making critical decisions in an environment of high ambiguity. They become accustomed to rigorously evaluating what they know and do not know, what is knowable and not. For Rumsfeld, this was not confused babbling, but may have been the very heart of one of his most personally troubling issues. [777 words]

    Nationalism, cultural assimilation, and pluralistic globalization — or The Ultimate Imperialism

    In the past, as one nation conquered another, assimilation policies affected public welfare. Where deliberate steps were taken to introduce mainstream society and outside cultures to each other, the conqueror benefited from increased diversity and reduced rebellion.

    The Ottoman Janissary system seems similar to the Assyrian practice of assimilating and dispersing conquered peoples. For instance, the Israelite Daniel and his companions were taken into the court of the Assyrian king for education and eventual responsibility in governing his empire. [467 words]

    Moral dilemmas of World War II

    World War II had an entirely different character than The Great War. Advancing technology continued to increase the destructive power of armies and their ability to project that power, often in sudden and unexpected ways. World War II became alarmingly dangerous. The determination to definitively end this war posed a great many strategic and morally equivocal choices. [604 words]

    The meaning of the “Sacred”

    Let us take “the sacred” to be that which is accepted (by an individual, culture, etc.) to provide an ultimate reality, value, and meaning for life (Ludwig 3). Although there are some who believe that life holds no meaning and that nothing can be proved, these same people usually choose to keep living and hold some criteria that serves as their basis for making choices. I would propose that a sense of the sacred is universal among self-reflective beings. [801 words]

    Hindu class systems vs. cultures and communities in general

    The traditional Hindu class system is anchored in sacred scripture, and many generations of tradition. Hinduism, in part, defines itself by compliance to class distinctions, and so Hinduism fits very coherently with the class system of India. Class systems are common in most religious and cultural systems, including contemporary America.

     In Hinduism, the separation of groups helps to maintain ritual purity. An unclean interaction in society can prevent a higher class member from performing their ritual responsibilities in behalf of others. [824 words]

    Implications of the Buddhist “no-self” concept

    Accepting that one’s life simply arises from the confluence of events rather than assuming that your god is unhappy with you, personally, provides additional peace of mind. In American culture, adults advise each other to “go with the flow” and children are taught the song: “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.” The Buddha would be pleased. [728 words]

    Is self-denial good for you?

    Asceticism is the voluntary and deliberate self-denial of personal comforts and possessions. It is usually undertaken to distance oneself from the distractions of material or interpersonal responsibilities. This is often with the explicit purpose of devoting time and attention to transcendental spiritual pursuits.

    Asceticism is relatively common among the most devout adherents of many religions. [776 words]

    Walking with the flow of Tao in a modern world

    The practical application of Tao-living leads to competences that Westerners would consider “giftedness.” For instance, an archer living with Tao would not attempt to mentally calculate trajectories and influences of a cross breeze, but would experience a sense of fullness with his environment, visualizing the arrow’s destination. He would release his arrow toward the target when the moment and position seemed right. Skilled basketball players (or golfers, etc.) can have the same reflexes for making good shots or right moves. Many of us feel the same sense of effortlessness while driving in traffic. [883 words]

    Confucius, Emerson, and Ginsberg

    Confucianism is all about improving society. Individuals are expected to yield to established laws and the greater good of the community. The fundamental concept for maintaining society is the competence and fairness of public servants, which earns respectful honor and loyalty (for others, family, ancestors, public servants, and tradition). Law and tradition are looked to for guidance.  

    Taoism is all about withdrawing from society. Individuals are expected to yield to the law of nature and the harmonious dynamics of the universe. Rather than seeking to improve society, Taoists focus on individual balance and a harmonious relationship with “the way of Heaven.” An immediate sense of rightness is looked to for guidance. [818 words]

    Japan, America, and sacred nationalism

    The Japanese islands have remained relatively isolated throughout their history. This has allowed for the development and concentration of distinctive religious and cultural characteristics. Although Japan has experienced Eastern influences (mostly Chinese and Buddhist), and Western influences (especially Anglo/American and Christian), these have seemed to only flavor, not disrupt, the Nipponese sense of identity. This bears a strong resemblance to contemporary American right-wing conservatism. [803 words]

    Eastern influences on contemporary Western culture and spirituality

    The Japanese islands have remained relatively isolated throughout their history. This has allowed for the development and concentration of distinctive religious and cultural characteristics. Although Japan has experienced Eastern influences (mostly Chinese and Buddhism), and Western influences (especially Anglo/American and Christian), these have seemed to only flavor, not disrupt, the Nipponese sense of identity. This bears a strong resemblance to contemporary American right-wing conservatism. [2523 words]

    Religion, science, and our quest for truth

    [Somehow, I missed including this essay when I was creating this blog. I intend to go back and plug it in. Promise.]

    Both religion and science build theoretical models to explain observations. Sometimes the models work, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes sacrificing infants to Baal brings productive crops, sometimes bleeding a patient breaks a fever. Most cultures have rejected both of these models (religious and scientific, respectively). Even having a thoroughly-consistent theory does not establish truth. Traditional Chinese Medicine successfully treats "spleen deficiency" for problems totally unrelated to our anatomical spleen's function. Both religious and secular authorities have found themselves needing to adjust their accepted doctrine. [583 words]

    Find this essay at: (future)

    Setting limits

    Women often feel disadvantaged in relationships with men. Social pressures, overtly and covertly, still tend to mold us into patriarchal forms. How is a woman to feel self-respect, personal worth, independence, initiative, control, and security? The ubiquitous contemporary answer is to “set limits.”

    Setting defensive limits makes intuitive sense. “That which cannot touch you cannot harm you.” But, at what cost in isolation, loss of intimacy, and even alienation of love? [484 words]

    The Role of Productivity in Community Success: The Jesuit-GuaranĂ­ Cultural Confluence

    This extended research paper, although included in my book of essays, is also being published separately and will receive its own treatment.

    Please follow my thoughts and scribbles:

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