Friday, February 1, 2008

Figures Don’t Lie, But Liars Figure

A prominent recurring theme for both politicians and clerics is the constant drone of poverty protestations in America. To listen to either, one conjures up a Dickensesque mental picture of ragged children huddled in sub-zero temperatures around a pathetic fire of three lumps of coal in a bucket, munching on a piece of moldy bread. In the background is a mother dying of consumption, a dead or otherwise departed father, and the cruel icy wind blowing through a crack in the wall big enough to throw a cat through. Once the scenario is established, the solution is either “elect me” or “give, give, give.”

For the politicians, the problem is our old friend, category error. That is to attempt to find a solution in which the problem is ill, or falsely, defined. Poverty is best stated as a lack of material goods and advantages which are life-threatening. Obviously, if one lacks food, shelter or adequate medical care, life is at risk. To isolate those persons who actually endure these conditions is quite another matter. The US Government, having established an income threshold, tells us that thirty five million citizens live in poverty. Recent census figures estimate the population through July 2007 at over 301 million people. That same government has kindly given us data to quantify a profile of these supposedly destitute individuals.

98.9% own an operating refrigerator. 97.3% own a color television. 78% have a video cassette recorder or DVD. 75.6% have an air conditioner. 73.3% have a microwave. 72.8% own a car or truck. 64.7% have a clothes washer. 62.6% have cable or satellite TV. 58.6% have a stereo. 55.6% have a clothes dryer. 55.3% have 2 or more color televisions. And finally, 45.9% own their own homes with an average of 439 sq. ft. per person. That figure exceeds the average floor area per person (non-poverty) of all but three countries in the entire world, Australia 545, Norway 452, and Canada 442. For your interest, the average per person floor space in Mexico is 92 square feet and the average for non-poverty classified Americans is 721 square feet per person.

From the age of six until I was twenty-three, we had none (we did have a refrigerator six of those years) of the above luxuries. We also did not have a dishwasher, garbage disposal or multiple cars. Although I did not know it at the time, we were living in poverty well below today’s definition. I am certainly glad no one told me; I thought we were rich.

For a complete breakdown of the resources quoted in this post, you may check the references given at the end of this article by the Heritage Foundation. I am grateful to them for this compilation.

For the nutritional breakdown, go there and it will reveal some interesting facts about diet among the poor. Today’s “poverty stricken” are ten pounds heavier and 1” taller than the men who fought during WWII. The children show no signs of having malnutrition compared to their peers in other upper income ranges. If anything, they are more subject to obesity. Although a disgusting thought, one could live a long time on an exclusive diet of Big Macs and fries.

The anecdotal evidence of examples of ten percent of Americans declared in poverty is plentiful. Who among us has everything we think we need. It’s not needs which defeat the budget, it’s wants. I think I need a motor home and a bass boat. My spouse thinks we need to replace the carpeting in the entire house. We both think we need the resources to travel extensively both here and abroad. Through all of this, the biggest single problem we have in our house is where to store all the “stuff.” Understand that the US Government’s criteria for “poverty” describe our financial situation perfectly. My grandfather nailed it when he said, “a man is rich in direct proportion to the things he can do without.”

Yes, there are many who for a variety of reasons have less than others. Temporary poverty is common even at our house. Health problems, layoffs, bad lifestyle choices, and a burgeoning of single parent homes produce difficulties for even the most efficient money managers. Most of these have solutions in behavioral alteration. I would like to think that is the “change” about which the politicians rant incessantly. Unfortunately, no president has the ability to reach down and pull everyone up by the bootstraps. For any of the candidates to suggest that independence, ambition and initiative are far superior to the “nanny state” approach is considered cold, cruel and heartless.

The politicians shed crocodile tears over this issue to become elected. What about the clergy? I recently had a conversation with a lay official of a local protestant church, a wonderful man with a nagging problem. Over the holidays his congregation had set aside funds and other resources to help a needy family. His problem? They couldn’t seem to locate one. The Ozarks isn’t Wall Street. Every economic indicator for our region is at the bottom of the scale, yet he had a problem finding a prospect for their largesse.

On the first Sunday at the church I attend, we always take up an oblation offering which is in no way connected to the normal operating expenses of the church. This is directed to those in need. I must assume that since our group, although modest, manage to keep the wolf from the door that we have to find a different outlet. Given our missionary efforts abroad and among the Lamanites we obviously have a legitimate outlet.

Forty years ago, one’s congregation might reasonably expect a visit frequently from the office of the stake Bishop. The message was uniform and urged us to waste not, save more, file our statements and love the Lord. The bishop’s agent beamed because he knew we were “paid up” and he could safely sit back and enjoy the proceedings. I actually miss that intermittent nudging to remind me of the financial law. It brings one full circle to be reminded that all we have is a gift from Christ and to return some of it for the greater good is a part of His teachings.

For those preoccupied with the teachings of Zionic living, we find the end of the quote states: “there was no poor among them.” We popularly believe this to refer to those without material substance. In the specific we have come to believe just that. However, in a larger sense the word “poor” also means less than adequate and lacking in value. In some circumstances, it could also refer to “poor” in spirit, “poor” in knowledge of the word, and most important, “poor” in the understanding of the teachings of Christ. While the generally accepted meaning might be beneficial to some, being rich in the spirit, knowledge of and the teaching of Christ would be beneficial to all. Not least, it would also please God. “For the poor shall never cease out of the land,” (Deut. 15:11) sums up the prospect of eliminating poverty. God teaches us to expect them to be ever present. He also gives the behavioral means to govern our relations with them with an eye toward their betterment.

Like most contemporary problems, the solutions are faith based. Discourage “accidental” pregnancies and eliminate the attack on marriage to provide two-parent homes. Allow men to be men and encourage them to assume the roles of husband and father. Teach the benefits of disciplined education to enhance earning capacity. Lessen the incentives to fall deeper into poverty through further reductions in benefits not tied to actual work to restore the habit of “making a living.” The fractured homes which define the poor are self perpetuating and can easily fulfill God’s observation in Deuteronomy.

One last word of warning is to repeat the title of this post. Figures don’t lie, but liars figure. Beware of easy solutions to complex problems no matter how appealing.

In His abiding love,

Cecil Moon

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Identity Politics

Are you sick of the saturation of political news which on occasion even bumps Brittany Spears out of the limelight? Well I for one am about up to here with disingenuous appeals being made for the various presidential candidates. What has become probably the most annoying aspect of the whole matter is the business of isolating the most politically correct feature in the candidate's personal life with an eye to exploiting it as a political plus.

On one side we have representatives of oppressed (?) segments of society. “Vote for me, I’m black!” "Vote for me, I’m a woman!” “Vote for me, I have high maintenance hair!” Each seems to project characteristics which are more a sound basis for a discrimination suit in court than a qualification for the world’s most important and powerful position. They have abandoned any hint of subtlety and through the magic of word play, actually further the stereotypes which we have long labored to downplay in our society.

On the other side, the theme has switched somewhat to emphasis on faith and age. One says the other guy isn’t a Christian. The accused then pleads he isn’t running for Pope and asserts close ties to Christ. A third candidate would join in but it’s time for his nap. The remaining viable candidate is too busy shoveling to cover up his hyperactive extramarital life to join the fray.

Overriding all of this palaver, we have a complete cast of secondary players furthering the madness and bringing often painful reminders of an embarrassing political past. We do remember the “blue dress”, Chappaquiddick, open borders proposals, “wide stance” and a veritable host of criminals which occupy our highest legislative bodies. This is not a partisan observation. The per person verifiable criminal activity in our congress vastly exceeds that of the citizenry as a whole.

We have been well trained by the media to reduce our thinking to “sound bites.” It suits are active life style. It also forebodes a national disaster. To select the “identity de jour” and make a decision which could have a bearing on the future of the nation is madness. We have onerous and comprehensive federal law in place which forbids discrimination in the workplace. Gender, ethnic origin, age, faith, disability and even sexual orientation are not to be considered in employment decisions.

Unfortunately, when the electorate is in the lonely confines of the voting booth, they (you?) have no monitor on the decision making process. If Hillary reminds you of your domineering ex-wife and John McCain seems like your grandpa, you will probably vote accordingly. If Huckabee comes off like a “hell fire” evangelist and Edwards has the appeal of a cover figure on a romance novel, your decision will be clear. What will you do if faced (not at all unlikely) with the choice between a Muslin-raised black guy whose middle name is Hussein and a false prophet-consulting "nice" guy who wears goofy underwear?

My personal suggestion is that you go well past the superficial aspects of their assigned identities. Individual postures on a variety of issues have a far longer impact on the fate of the republic. To the average Saint, appointments to the Supreme Court will have an important bearing on the future of the unborn. In general, positions on the restoration of Iraq, illegal immigration, taxes, health care, education, operation of the defense establishment and an active desire to implement the Constitution should be of the utmost concern to the voters. The pundits are always quick to point out that this is an “all-important election.” They all are. They deserve your well-thought decisions.

I will close, as usual, with an anecdote from long ago. In 1952, I went to Army Security Agency school at Ft. Devens, Mass. My wife and I lived in Cambridge, near Harvard and the studios of WTOP, Boston. At the close of the campaign, Eisenhower, on election eve, chose to give a radio address to the nation from WTOP to cap off his race for the presidency. On that blustery November night we went to the parking lot at the radio station and waited for him to emerge after his talk. Finally, the door opened and a couple guys came out followed by Eisenhower and Mamie and they headed for the waiting car. There was no jubilant crowd or press corps; just us. He returned my salute, waved, smiled and they departed.

I am haunted to this day by his appearance that night. It seemed that at the end of the run for the White House he had aged twenty years. He was haggard and slumped and until his return of my salute, he bore no resemblance to the man who had been so instrumental in the restoration of liberty to Europe. He soon recovered to his usual vibrant self and restored his beaming trade mark smile. No doubt he was encouraged by his victory overAdlai Stevenson by six-and-a-half million votes.

In consequence, my hat is off to all who would pursue this lofty office. Even those who I consider a threat to the republic are worthy of recognition for their efforts. It is strenuous work and definitely not for the faint of heart. They should be recognized on their merits and not some identity assigned by an all too eager press and each other. They at least deserve your prayerful consideration.

In His abiding love,

Cecil Moon

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Monday Morning Rant 22

I am about to embark on dangerous territory here. We have a lot of inside jokes. Most successfully married (in Hollywood, that is defined by being in excess of six days) people find themselves able to anticipate their mate's reaction and even the words they are about to speak. They often finish each others' sentences and I see it as a testimony to the close relationship which so delights our God. We “join” in marriage and are counseled to become “one.”

Often, however, others have difficulty understanding a married couple who have achieved this closeness. What may seem amusing or clever to us as a married unit may not seem as understandable by others. One of the canards we hold as truth at our house is not always appreciated by some of our friends. It goes like this: “All women are crazy and all men are selfish.” Now doesn’t that sound like something a redneck husband with a feminist wife would come up with? Really, I’d like to think we are neither.

It is a useful device which we use to disarm impending conflict. In nearly every case we are able to extract some wisdom from it and find usable solutions. Sometimes, we proclaim the opposite: “Men are crazy and women are selfish.” A fraction of both descriptions is applicable in nearly every circumstance. As I discussed in a previous post (Selfishness) we are hardwired to follow our self interest so that part of the equation is inescapable. The history of “crazy” people among us really needs no example; the woods are full of them.

If you want to see a crazy woman, attack her children either verbally or physically. If you have a death wish, criticize her cooking. For absolute mania in its finest hour; find fault with your mother-in-law. You with experience in the marital arts have your own unique stories to tell.

A sample of the principle may be discerned by asking any man whether he would rather have a new bass boat or a remodeled kitchen. They cost roughly the same amount. Another test would be to see who has custody of the TV remote. If it’s anywhere close to “kick off,” we readily know the answer.

If you want to see both in one example, try the following. A man returns from town and reveals he remembered the dog food and forgot the kitty litter. Or better yet, he went to Wal-Mart and picked up the 9/16th socket and forgot her prescription. Is this starting to sound familiar? These are the faux pas which pick a marriage apart.

I would suggest that any device available to diffuse the impending disaster should be labeled “BREAK GLASS IN CASE OF . . .” At our house we willingly stand and accept the accusation of both crazy and selfish since we recognize it contributes to peace in our little paradise. Try it; you’ll come to appreciate it in time.
Many of my dear close friends among the Saints seem preoccupied with the current crop of doom and gloom predictions. Some heed the warnings about the close of the current Aztec (or is it Mayan?) calendar coming to a close in 2012. Others watch the History channel and reinforce their belief we will all be consumed by fire, earthquake, flood or natural disaster at any moment. Oops, so sorry, I left out the meteor. Every sect, cult, coven and congregation has a view of the end times. Some turn to the scriptures for confirmation of these upcoming events. There certainly is no shortage of prediction within those sacred tomes.

The canon leaves no doubt of the eventuality of these events. There is little question in my mind that God at some time or another will extract a terrible retribution upon those who continue to ignore His teachings. I’ll spare you endless quotes because you could probably do a better job of assembling them than I. Genesis to Revelation is replete with prediction and example of what to expect. I believe it.

What I don’t believe is that God is going to go about wasting the faithful in the process. Where is the scriptural precedent for that? He is very clear in projecting the outcome for the sinner and those who reject His word. How about those who embrace the gospel and do their level best to promulgate the message? Are they in danger as well? I’m sorry, I just don’t see it. Aside from collateral damage, I find it difficult to image that we (believers) will be intentionally targeted for destruction.

The New Testament makes the calamitous condition of Jerusalem at the time subsequent to the crucifixion very clear. I don’t remember reading of injuries or death on the part of those who believed the teachings of the Master as a result of that destruction. I’m certain that if I am wrong someone will point it out and I shall be grateful for the further education. The scripture presents a picture of “either, or” and allows us to choose one. If I choose to believe and love God, I am assured I have little to fear at His hand. If I choose not to, the “or” comes into play and it’s my own fault.

When I was a boy, my father took me to New York City. One of my most vivid memories was a nearly naked man walking on the street with a “sandwich board” draped over his front and back with the words: “REPENT NOW, THE END IS NEAR!” scrawled on both sides. That was in 1939. Now, sixty-nine years later, it is still good advice, but hardly predictive of imminent disaster.

It strikes me that the upshot of this is a clarion call to work for the Master, carry His message, love our neighbors be prepared to accept whatever He gives. I do not fear that which is predicted by men. I do fear that my actions are not constantly pleasing to God. Better we should all concentrate on perfecting our own lives and not pay so much attention to those who portray God as an instrument of destruction.

In His abiding love,

Cecil Moon