Thursday, April 17, 2008


As our comprehension of the universe grows with the expansion of knowledge on the frontiers of science, new discoveries sometimes call into question conventional wisdom. Normally, we call this progress, but what do we call it when the convention being challenged has been understood for centuries as “eternal truth”?

Arguably, the most troublesome of these conflicts blossomed in 1859 with the publication of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”, and continues unabated into the 21st Century. It concerns the idea (accompanied by a growing body of evidence) that life on earth, including our own, has undergone change; that in fact it continues to change, to evolve.

At first glance, this simple idea may seem highly inconsequential.

Yet humans, in general, seem to loathe change. We find comfort in routine, and stubbornly cling to our traditions. Especially those traditions that spring from the scriptural canon.

Two, in particular, confront us at the beginning of the Bible.

The first begins on the fifth day of Creation, where we read that God “made the beast of the earth after his kind”, and “created man in his own image”.

The second, and perhaps most significant, is inferred from the 3rd chapter of Genesis, where, we are told, Adam and Eve experienced The Fall.

If God made the beasts after their kind, and God made man after his own image, how then could either have evolved over time?

And if death was introduced to the world by The Fall of Adam, isn’t it a foregone conclusion that nothing could have changed, much less died, prior to that event?

And yet we find the earth’s sedimentary crust full of fossil evidence that life has been flourishing here for billions of years. There are abundant remains of creatures (animal and vegetable) that lived and died and, over time, changed, long before Adam and Eve emerged from the Garden of Eden. Some of them have long since become extinct; others continue to swim in our oceans today. Many had sharp claws and teeth – predators – killing to feed and survive, again, well before Adam’s transgression introduced death into the world.

What, then, are we to conclude?

How on earth are we to reconcile this seemingly insurmountable conundrum, pitting one of the oldest and most established of Christian doctrines – The Fall – against the mountains and museums and laboratories of emerging evidence from virtually every branch of scientific inquiry, backing what has been called the foundation of modern biology; the science of organic evolution?

How, indeed?

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Role of (Good) Religion

Before I begin, I would like to invite my atheist, agnostic, deist and theist friends/critics to contribute to this chapter of the book my father and I are writing. The idea is to solicit your (most welcome) input, in part, because the concept of community lies at the heart of Good Religion, and a community of thoughtful friends who have already given this some consideration, and are willing to share their unique perspectives, will only enrich the outcome. So feel free to leave your comments, criticisms, suggestions, as this is a work in progress (and very incomplete)...

Chapter Three: The Role of (Good) Religion

“I see the emergence in our consciousness of a Universe of a magnificence, and an intricate, elegant order far beyond anything our ancestors imagined. And if much of the Universe can be understood in terms of a few simple laws of Nature, those wishing to believe in God can certainly ascribe those beautiful laws to a Reason underpinning all of Nature.”
-Carl Sagan

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
- James 1:27

Life has evolved to the point where it can contemplate its own existence and purpose – to understand itself and its kinship to all other life. As we humans sit atop the pinnacle of evolution’s amazing and varied path, let us pause for a moment to consider where we’ve been, and what lies ahead. If we begin with the premise that the pursuit and attainment of happiness is the primary goal of most of us going forward, then those methods, ideas and principles that help meet that goal ideally become the common denominators of social laws, and the foundational principles of good religion.

Inspired individuals (e.g., prophets), record their observations and insights gleaned from a divine source (God), a loving, heavenly parent, whose concern for our own development, happiness, and well-being mirrors the same concerns we have for our own children, and why we therefore feel compelled to teach and pass on these same inherited and proven principles to future generations.

Religion – good religion that is, because we all too frequently encounter what constitutes bad religion – is comprised of the collective social wisdom, insight, laws, and values that have been (and are hopefully continually being) recorded and handed down from generation to generation for the benefit of all. As with scientific advancement, it only makes perfect sense for us to “stand on the shoulders of giants”, and contemplate, embrace, assimilate and enlarge upon these principles that come to us from the vantage point of hindsight, so that we don’t have to “reinvent the wheel”, making the same mistakes others before us have made, thus learning life’s lessons the hard way.

Well, of course that is the ideal, but unfortunately it seems that this collective wisdom all too often comes accompanied (and tainted) by cultural “baggage”:

• The justification and glorification of warfare (accompanied by the denigration and contempt of pacifism).
• Utter disregard for our environmental stewardship, claiming that Jesus is coming to clean up our messes and forgive us our trespasses and contempt of his Creation.
• The oppression, subjugation, marginalization (and even mutilation) of women.
• The usurpation and twisting of scripture to justify and rationalize slavery, genocide, incest and child abuse.
• The pursuit of wealth at the expense of others (and the environment).
• The gleeful promulgation of exclusivity, divisiveness and polarization.
• The substitution (rather than the enrichment) of reason with faith.
• Intolerance of diversity, ethnicity or departure from the status quo.
• The promotion of fear for the sake of exercising control over others.
• The deliberate confusing of retribution with justice.
• The willingness to apply sophistry, spin and apologetics to support otherwise untenable beliefs.
• The tendency to judge and find fault with others.
• An obstinate clinging to superstitious and speculative false traditions.
• A dearth of healthy skepticism.
• Suspicion and contempt for science.
• “Telling lies for Jesus” – the complicit willingness of (alleged) ‘disciples’ to misrepresent facts and distort truth, in order to make or prove a point, rationalizing that the ends justify the means.
• An insistence on a literal reading of scripture (even if the text is meant to be understood symbolically, metaphorically or allegorically).

This is baggage which can (and all too often does) obfuscate and call into question the credibility and overall beauty of religious truths that should and could otherwise lead us to happiness. In fact, it is the stubborn, unyielding adherence to such wicked principles that indeed creates bad religion. We’ll have more to say on that in a moment.

Rabbi Harold Kushner wisely observed:

“Religion is not the carping voice of condemnation, telling us that the normal is sinful and the well-intentioned mistake is an unforgivable transgression that will damn us forever. Religion is the voice that says, I will guide you through this minefield of difficult moral choices, sharing with you the insights and experiences of the greatest souls of the past, and I will offer you comfort and forgiveness when you are troubled by the painful choices you made.”

Scholar and therapist Mary Pipher (“Reviving Ophelia”), commenting on the major social concerns she has for girls and young women, stated:

“All of the great religious systems of the world teach... that happiness comes from virtue, it comes from loving and working, it comes from delaying gratification, and being prudent, it comes from being generous as opposed to being greedy.”

The German philosopher Goethe suggested that if everyone swept in front of his own door, the whole world would be clean, and this concept naturally extends to other moral precepts that begin with the individual. It would be difficult to find fault with the idea of daily self-evaluation, accompanied by a resolve to correct (or repent of) wrong doing or wrong thinking (sin); if practiced as a community, significant societal change for the better becomes possible. Likewise, the powerful principle of forgiveness has the remarkable ability to enact significant life changes that have a way of radiating out through society like ripples in a pond.

One could appropriately and correctly argue that the promotion of many (if not all) of these ideas and virtues – hard work, prudence, humility, forgiveness, etc. – are not unique to religion per se. But few other societal vehicle exists to convey these principles to the extent and scale that they might actually make a measurable difference to individuals and groups. Taking this idea one step further, don’t most of the laws that exist in the majority of (successful) governments find their foundations in religious principles and traditions? We suggest (and believe) that they in fact do.

One critical hallmark of good religion involves the idea of community; the magnifying of good, individual efforts to effect large-scale changes, and accomplish important tasks that lie well beyond the scope of individual efforts and means.

For example, in a neighborhood context, this could be illustrated with an Amish barn-raising. Brother and Sister Brown need a new barn; the community plans to spend a day coming together; the women might prepare a large meal, as the men assemble their various tools and talents – and design, haul, saw, nail and erect the timbers necessary for the project. Everyone helps, including the children. The work is hard but fun – and at the end of the day, a new barn exists where there once was none. Brother and Sister Smith also need a barn, and Brother and Sister Brown and the rest assemble on his lot the following week and the process is repeated...

From an LDS perspective, it is certainly not out of the realm of possibility that Sister Kent, a widow, might need a new roof on her aging house, and doesn’t have the funds to purchase the materials, much less hire the crew of laborers, necessary to replace it. So several hours on a weekend are set aside by her Ward’s Elders quorum, and the job of stripping the old shingles, repairing any rotted plywood or framing, laying down new tar paper and shingles, etc. is handily accomplished by a sizeable group of willing volunteers (using materials paid for by fast offerings) who understand that “many hands make light work”. And at the end of the day, these participants (and certainly Sister Kent) feel pretty good about what just happened.

Of course, on a global scale, a united, world-wide (religious) community can marshal the people, funds, talents and collective resources to provide significant humanitarian assistance and support towards disaster recovery, disease control, drought and famine relief, etc.

Furthermore, this concept of community extends to, and lies behind the ideal of “it takes a village to raise a child” – where individuals pool their collective perspectives, talents, time and energy to support, teach, share and enlighten each other, whether in sermon, fireside, Sunday school, and Relief society or priesthood lessons. We gain and grow and are richly served in an environment of diversity – where individual perspectives are shared and evaluated, and whereby horizons of understanding are broadened. Good religion reminds us of our global kinship; we are all brothers and sisters, and the more we treat each other as such, across national, political and ethnic divides, the more we are able to realize the great injunction of the Creator, to love one another, serve, feed and clothe and teach and support one another, and thereby become like Him.

Where a single instrument in the hands of a skilled musician can make beautiful music, it cannot accomplish the rich, diverse experience of a symphony. Likewise, individuals, however talented, cannot provide the fullness of the musical experience provide by the complimentary voices of a choir, able to serve up a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Again, these concepts and their implementation are certainly not exclusive to religious organizations. Habitat for Humanity, Rotary International, United Way, the International Red Cross, the Salvation Army, etc., – people can and do thankfully unite to promote worthwhile common causes, and good religion should be right there supporting and complimenting such organizations in this humanitarian choir.

Practical, real-world examples of good religion include the collection (and expectation) of fast offerings – a brilliant strategy that asks individuals and families to forgo two meals, donating the cost of the meals skipped as an offering to assist the poor and needy, benefiting the person fasting with a healthy rest to their digestive system, as well as a practical exercise in self-control.

Good religion provides welfare services, educational funds, charitable contributions, and disaster relief on a scale far beyond the means of individuals or local congregations. Good religion encourages members to faithfully visit, encourage, uplift, sustain and care for one another, to look after each other, and serve each other; to understand that we are family, and act accordingly.

The missionary efforts of good religion must never be coercive or obnoxiously intrusive, but an invitation. They must not be limited to proselyting the good news of the gospel, with its ability to transform lives in meaningful and productive ways. They must also provide educational, humanitarian, medical, and farming assistance and instruction. And in the process of missions work, men and women can gain valuable leadership and teaching skills, develop good work habits, and gain appreciation and respect for other cultures and races, as they learn to love those they serve.

Good religion also provides job placement services, social services, foster placement and adoption services, access to professional counseling, and access to affordable higher education.

Good religion fulfills social needs, providing a ready pool of social connections and potential acquaintances and friends -- even family -- who share common values and goals, wherever one might travel in the world.

Good religion acknowledges the need for wise stewardship of our physical bodies, promoting health and longevity. It provides a law of chastity that not only helps to protect naïve and innocent children, but promotes fidelity in marriage that can lead to greater bonds of trust, love and security in the most important of relationships. It encourages personal sacrifice of short-term wants for long-term benefits. It promotes the journaling of discoveries and epiphanies, tribulations and triumphs, inspiration and insights; accounts of oversights and overcomings, rejoicing and regrets, along with profound personal revelations, for the benefit of reflection, remembrance, and encouragement of future generations.

Good religion embraces truths wherever they may be found, whether in science, philosophy, or amongst the multitudes of religious creeds or social systems world-wide.

Good religion places a great deal of emphasis on hard work and education, for both career and personal enrichment. It encourages learning a foreign language so that cultural divides can be breached. It provides opportunities to teach and be taught by others. It enables individuals, from the time they are very young, to overcome the all-too ubiquitous (and profoundly real) fear of public speaking, giving them opportunities to stand at a pulpit and share personal insights with hundreds of attentive and supportive listeners.

Good religion demands that a fullness of life is achieved not just in knowing good, or in merely doing good, but in becoming good.

Good religion embodies the noble ideas expressed in Will Allen Dromgoole’s poem “The Bridge Builder”:

“An old man, going a lone highway,
Came at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast and deep and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fears for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again must pass this way;
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide—
Why build you the bridge at the eventide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head:
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him.”

Indeed, good religion demands that we look beyond our own limited sojourn here in life, beyond our natural tendencies toward selfish greed, to acknowledge the welfare of future generations, and our stewardship toward not only each other, but to all life on planet Earth.

The central tenet of good religion is love. In fact, Jesus the Christ distilled the entirety of the gospel down to that – love God (and if you do, you will keep his commandments, which are nothing more than principles and policy that guide us to happiness) and love our fellow men, even as (we should love) ourselves. If only...

Bad Religion

When scripture tells us that we have been given dominion, that is not to be understood as a license to rape, pillage and plunder. When scripture tells us that “there is enough and to spare”, we certainly cannot interpret that to mean that we have been given carte blanche to mis-manage, abuse, over-use, and recklessly neglect our sacred stewardship to “take good care” of this garden planet, and all other forms of life that share it with us. In fact, we’ve been given the charge to multiply and replenish the earth! We must replenish the trees when we cut them down. We must replenish the fish in rivers and streams and oceans when we’ve depleted their numbers. We must recycle and reuse the raw and refined materials we pull from the earth. We must practice conservation; we must understand and carefully preserve the delicate balance of our ecosystem, to avoid polluting and poisoning both it and ourselves in the process. We simply must be prudent and wise stewards of these precious resources, as we will certainly one day stand before, and give an accounting to the Lord regarding his creation, for those things with which we have been entrusted.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A giant step in the right direction

While listening to NPR's Science Friday last week, I heard about the following, and it definitely struck a chord. I've included the press release because it's a pretty good teaser summary of the book, which is being made available free of charge on-line for download. Seems Lester Brown and the Earth-Policy Institute are working hard on making some of my wishes come true! I hope you get as excited about this as I am...

“In late summer 2007, reports of ice melting were coming at a frenetic pace. Experts were ‘stunned’ when an area of Arctic sea ice almost twice the size of Britain disappeared in a single week,” writes Lester R. Brown in his new book, Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization (W.W. Norton & Company).

“Nearby, the Greenland ice sheet was melting so fast that huge chunks of ice weighing several billion tons were breaking off and sliding into the sea, triggering minor earthquakes,” notes Brown, President and Founder of the Earth Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based independent environmental research organization.

These recent developments are alarming scientists. If we cannot stop this melting of the Greenland ice sheet, sea level will eventually rise 23 feet, inundating many of the world’s coastal cities and the rice-growing river deltas of Asia. It will force several hundred million people from their homes, generating an unimaginable flood of rising-sea refugees.

“We need not go beyond ice melting to see that civilization is in trouble. Business-as-usual is no longer a viable option. It is time for Plan B,” Brown says in Plan B 3.0, which was produced with major funding from the Farview, Lannan, Summit, and Wallace Genetic foundations, the U.N. Population Fund, Fred and Alice Stanback, and Andrew Stevenson.
“Plan B 3.0 is a comprehensive plan for reversing the trends that are fast undermining our future. Its four overriding goals are to stabilize climate, stabilize population, eradicate poverty, and restore the earth’s damaged ecosystems,” says Brown. “Failure to reach any one of these goals will likely mean failure to reach the others as well.”

Continuing rapid population growth is weakening governments in scores of countries. The annual addition of 70 million people to world population is concentrated in countries where water tables are falling and wells are going dry, forests are shrinking, soils are eroding, and grasslands are turning into desert. As this backlog of unresolved problems grows, stresses mount and weaker governments begin to break down.

The defining characteristic of a failing state is the inability of a government to provide security for its people. Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, and Pakistan are among the better known examples. Each year the number of failing states increases. “Failing states,” notes Brown, “are an early sign of a failing civilization.”

“Even as the accumulating backlog of unresolved problems is leading to a breakdown of governments in weaker states, new stresses are emerging. Among these are rising oil prices as the world approaches peak oil, rising food prices as an ever larger share of the U.S. grain harvest is converted into fuel for cars, and the spreading fallout from climate change.”

“At the heart of the climate-stabilizing initiative cited above is a detailed plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent by 2020 in order to hold the future temperature rise to a minimum. This initiative has three major components—raising energy efficiency, developing renewable sources of energy, and expanding the earth’s tree cover. Reaching these goals,” says Brown, “will mean the world can phase out all coal-fired power plants.”

In setting the carbon reduction goals for Plan B, we did not ask “What do politicians think is politically feasible?” but rather “What do we think is needed to prevent irreversible climate change?” This is not Plan A: business-as-usual. This is Plan B: an all-out response at wartime speed proportionate to the magnitude of the threats facing civilization.

“We are in a race between tipping points in natural and political systems,” says Brown. “Which will come first? Can we mobilize the political will to phase out coal-fired power plants before the melting of the Greenland ice sheet becomes irreversible? Can we halt deforestation in the Amazon basin before it so weakens the forest that it becomes vulnerable to fire and is destroyed? Can we cut carbon emissions fast enough to save the Himalayan glaciers that feed the major rivers of Asia?”

Although efforts have been made in recent decades to raise the efficiency of energy use, the potential is still largely untapped. For example, one easy and profitable way to cut carbon emissions worldwide is simply to replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs that use only a fourth as much electricity. Turning to more efficient lighting can reduce world electricity use by 12 percent—enough to close 705 of the world’s 2,370 coal-fired power plants.

In the United States, buildings—commercial and residential—account for close to 40 percent of carbon emissions. Retrofitting an existing building typically can cut energy use by 20–50 percent. The next step, shifting to carbon-free electricity to heat, cool, and light the building completes the transformation to a zero-carbon emissions building.

We can also reduce carbon emissions by moving down the food chain. The energy used to provide the typical American diet and that used for personal transportation are roughly equal. A plant-based diet requires about one fourth as much energy as a diet rich in red meat. The reduction in carbon emissions in shifting from a red meat–rich diet to a plant-based diet is about the same as that in shifting from a Chevrolet Suburban SUV to a Toyota Prius hybrid car.

In the Plan B energy economy, wind is the centerpiece. It is abundant, low cost, and widely distributed; it scales easily and can be developed quickly. The goal is to develop at wartime speed 3 million megawatts of wind-generating capacity by 2020, enough to meet 40 percent of the world’s electricity needs. This would require 1.5 million wind turbines of 2 megawatts each. These turbines could be produced on assembly lines by reopening closed automobile plants, much as bombers were assembled in auto plants during World War II.

In the development of renewable energy resources, Brown notes, we are seeing the emergence of some big-time thinking—thinking that recognizes the urgency of moving away from fossil fuels. Nowhere is this more evident than in Texas, where the state government is coordinating an effort to build 23,000 megawatts of wind-generating capacity (the equivalent of 23 coal-fired power plants). This will supply enough electricity to satisfy the residential needs of over 11 million Texans—half the state’s population. Oil wells go dry and coal seams run out, but the earth’s wind resources cannot be depleted.

Solar technologies also provide exciting opportunities for getting us off the carbon treadmill. Sales of solar-electric panels are doubling every two years. Rooftop solar water heaters are spreading fast in Europe and China. In China, some 40 million homes now get their hot water from rooftop solar heaters. The plan is to nearly triple this to 110 million homes by 2020, supplying hot water to 380 million Chinese.

Large-scale solar thermal power plants are under construction or planned in California, Florida, Spain, and Algeria. Algeria, a leading world oil exporter, is planning to develop 6,000 megawatts of solar-thermal electric-generating capacity, which it will feed into the European grid via an undersea cable. The electricity generated from this single project is enough to supply the residential needs of a country the size of Switzerland.

Investment in geothermal energy for both heating and power generation is also growing fast, notes Brown. Iceland now heats nearly 90 percent of its homes with geothermal energy, virtually eliminating the use of coal for home heating. The Philippines gets 25 percent of its electricity from geothermal power plants. The United States has 61 geothermal projects under way in the geothermally rich western states.

The combination of gas-electric hybrid cars and advanced-design wind turbines has set the stage for the evolution of an entirely new automotive fuel economy. If the battery storage of the typical hybrid car is doubled and a plug-in capacity is added so that batteries can be recharged at night, then we could do our short-distance driving—commuting to work, grocery shopping, and so on—almost entirely with cheap, wind-generated electricity.
This would permit us to run our cars largely on renewable electricity—and at the gasoline-equivalent cost of less than $1 per gallon. Several major automakers are coming to market with plug-in hybrids or electric cars.
With business as usual (Plan A), the environmental trends that are undermining our future will continue. More and more states will fail until civilization itself begins to unravel. “Time is our scarcest resource. We are crossing natural thresholds that we cannot see and violating deadlines that we do not recognize,” says Brown. “These deadlines are set by nature. Nature is the timekeeper, but we cannot see the clock.”

The key to restructuring the world energy economy is to get the market to tell the environmental truth by incorporating into prices the indirect costs of burning fossil fuels, such as climate disruption and air pollution. To do this, we propose adopting a carbon tax that will reflect these indirect costs and offsetting it by lowering income taxes. We propose a worldwide carbon tax to be phased in at $20 per ton each year between 2008 and 2020, stabilizing at $240 per ton. This initiative, which would be offset at every step with a reduction in income taxes, would simultaneously discourage fossil fuel use and encourage investment in renewable sources of energy.

“Saving civilization is not a spectator sport,” says Brown. “We have reached a point in the deteriorating relationship between us and the earth’s natural systems where we all have to become political activists. Every day counts. We all have a stake in civilization’s survival.”

“We can all make lifestyle changes, but unless we restructure the economy and do it quickly we will almost certainly fail. We need to persuade our elected representatives and national leaders to support the environmental tax restructuring and other changes outlined in Plan B. Beyond this, each of us can pick an issue that is important to us at the local level, such as phasing out coal-fired power plants, shifting to more-efficient light bulbs, or developing a comprehensive local recycling program, and get to work on it.”

We all need to educate ourselves on environmental issues. For its part, the Earth Policy Institute is making Plan B 3.0 available for downloading free of charge from its Web site.

“It is decision time,” says Brown. “Like earlier civilizations that got into environmental trouble, we have to make a choice. We can stay with business as usual and watch our economy decline and our civilization unravel, or we can adopt Plan B and be the generation that mobilizes to save civilization. Our generation will make the decision, but it will affect life on earth for all generations to come.”

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

My wishes for the new year

I like making resolutions for the new year, but I've also found myself with a few big wishes for the coming year(s). I recognize they are pretty wishful thinking, but hey, you have to start somewhere, right? They include:

1. Seeing the republican warmongers get their collective asses kicked in the coming election. I would love to see a woman president. Maybe she would surprise us with more diplomacy and less saber rattling when it came to conflict resolution...? Along that line of thinking, I believe it would be an excellent idea to require every young man (regardless of health, economic status, etc.) to serve a mandatory 2 years in the military. If senators and congressmen and Haliburton executives had sons (and perhaps daughters) serving in the military, perhaps we would be less likely to rush into armed conflict in the future...?

2. Move towards universal health care. I would happily pay more taxes if it meant an end to the corrupt and broken system we have now that has left 40 million without health insurance, and those of us with it in the worst shape ever. There are several countries that have successfully implemented this -- Sweden and Norway come to mind, and they have some of the best doctors and medical technology in the world (not to mention the highest standard of living). We have some of the best and brightest minds here in America, and more resources than just about anyone. I truly believe we could carefully and thoughtfully put something together that would implement the best of what's out there, and avoid the worst aspects of the rest. Hey, when insurance executives are billionaires, something is definitely broken, and money targeted for actual health care is obviously going into the wrong pockets. The number one reason for bankruptcy in America is medical bills. The number one reason for homelessness is, you guessed it...

3. Extend public education all the way through college. Imagine any person from any economic or ethnic background being able to pursue their educational dreams as far as they can be taken. Imagine for example that anyone who wanted, and had the skill set, to become a doctor could do so, regardless of economic background, and actually graduate from medical school debt-free. If a student has the grades, and demonstrates the ability, let them go as far as possible with their education! Imagine the positive impact on the US economy if, say, 87% of adults over the age of 25 had a college degree, instead of the current 27% (citing Wikipedia, 2003). And imagine those same graduates that begin their families without being 20-30 thousand dollars in student-loan debt at the outset. I can also imagine that college costs could be dramatically reduced if we invested in on-line curricula, free of charge to anyone who wanted to take advantage of it (think "Wiki University"). Imagine getting pretty much most of your education at your own pace; leaving classroom time for hands-on labs, teacher Q&A, etc. How to prevent kids from being careless with such a gift? Maybe implement it like some of my employers have -- require a passing grade from them, or they pay a hefty "fine" (the normal cost of the class for example). You get the idea...

4. Imagine taking a good percentage of our "defense" budget and, instead of spending billions on WMD's and munitions to destroy life and property, rather invest in alternate energy research. Imagine the world impact if some clever mind were to discover a way to cheaply and efficiently separate hydrogen from sea water. Or perhaps return to the moon with an international team with a common purpose -- the establishment of a manufacturing facility on the lunar surface that could make solar collectors that would beam (via microwave transmission) unlimited supplies of energy back to earth. What would happen if power was dirt cheap, readily available to everyone, and was non-polluting and didn't adversely impact climate? How might that impact world peace, dependence on oil (and the global conflicts associated with that), etc.?

Other, more personal wishes for the coming year include:

  • My nephew beating his recently diagnosed cancer.
  • Finding myself in a loving relationship again with a good woman.
  • Getting my finances in order.
  • (Assuming the previous wish) Doing some traveling.
  • Getting my book finished.
What about you? What are your wishes? And are mine just too unrealistic?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Fangen Wir An!

I'll eventually get around to writing something meaningful here, but every journey has a first step and this apparently is it.