Reject Tyranny

By assigning half of their respective state populations to each of the forty-one Republican Senators, we see that collectively, they represent only 37% of the total US population. Why, in a “representative democracy,” do we accept that politicians representing little more than 1/3 of the total population should control government policy for the remainder?

I thought the original Tea Party was about rejecting tyranny not endorsing it.

Chainsaw Bible Verses

Last Sunday’s Old Testement lesson was Isaiah 6:1-8.  It is the first half of Chapter 6 which is subtitled in my Bible as Isaiah’s Commission. This beautiful reading, in elequent metaphorical language, describes how the great prophet Isaiah, imperfect as he was, was called to deliver God’s message to Israel.  I was quite moved by the whole reading as I read it aloud to the congregation, especially at the end in Verse 8 as Isaiah accepts and responds to the Lord’s call by saying simply, “Here am I. Send me!”

As much as I enjoy reading the lessons at church, I admit that I am wary of the Bible. To me it is a powerful tool that if used carelessly or improperly can be quite dangerous. I regard the Bible as sort of a spiritual chainsaw. This description probably applies to holy books of every faith. The wisdom and insight in these ancient texts can help clear the tangled undergrowth of our lives, assist with the clean up of damage and debris of storms and crises, and can help prepare the fuel that warms our lives and sustains us. There is no other tool like a chainsaw.

Certain verses however, interpreted improperly or taken out of context or even used maliciously can cause irreparable harm.  Verses 6 and 7 from this reading provide an example of what I’ll call “Chainsaw Verses” and should be used with extreme caution:

Then one of the seraphs (6-winged servants of the Lord in Isaiah’s dream) flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

I shuddered as I cinematically imagined a dark-robed Inquisitor in some 16th Century church touching a live hot coal to the lips of some free-thinking peasant or a folk healer for using dogmatically unacceptable methods to ease someone’s pain. The victim’s subsequent inability to speak with a horribly burned and disfigured mouth is then declared as proof of the presumed guilt.  In my mind’s movie, the rest of the villagers recoil in fear and learn that they must never challenge the Inquisitor or they too may suffer the same fate.

Any master carpenter will stress to an apprentice that they must learn to understand, respect and properly use the tools their trade. Many of Jesus’ lessons were exactly in this form.  We all must learn and be wary of holy “Chainsaw Verses.”  They are being used even today by those who wield them like weapons to rationalize and impose their own narrow interpretations of the unknowable mysteries of faith. We must deny the Inquisitors of every religion, in Wichita and throughout the world, the tools of their destruction.

9 Weeks, 2010, Place Your Bets

$3,987.oo ÷ $443.oo/week = 9 weeks

That’s when my last unemployment check will show up. In 9 weeks.

I think I know why the House Republicans voted unanimously against the Stimulus Bill last week. It’s because they believe President Obama is right when he says that the economy is going to get worse before it gets better. They believe the President when he says that it’s going to take a very long time to get things back on track. They know President Obama is right about the economic conditions he inherited from failed Republican leadership and they are betting they can twist his honesty with the American people to their political advantage.

The House Republicans unanimously placed the bet last week that the economy is not going to be better, and potentially will be worse, in 2010 when mid-term elections will be in full swing. They are betting that American voters will have forgotten President Obama’s honest prediction of a long recovery. House Republicans are betting that even if the stimulus package is the right thing for our country in the long term, it’s positive effects won’t be showing by election time in 2010. They are betting that if they vote against it now, they will be able to wag their fingers at the President, saying “I told you so,” and recapture their lost political majority in the House of Representatives.

It’s their political bet that the American people are impatient, fearful and ignorant. It’s a variation of the same bet Republican leaders made when they defended the $1 trillion wasted in Iraq by labeling the opposition “unpatriotic.” It’s the same bet they made in manipulating the tax code to create benefits for the wealthy by promising the benefit would “trickle down” to the rest of us. House Republicans are placing the same old bet because they are willing to put their selfish political ambition ahead of the public good.  They are betting that we’re fools.

My unemployment benefits run out in 9 weeks. If necessary, I’ll put my engineering degree and 25 years of experience to good use cleaning floors or pushing patients through hospital corridors or working in a rail yard as I try to support my family. In 2010, long after my unemployment checks have been spent, I will remember the bet House Republicans placed against me last week.

Atlas Shrugged – revisited

I read Ayn Rand’s 1957 masterpiece, “Atlas Shrugged,” in high school. I remember the appeal of her story describing the power of an individual making the choice to act counter to the crowd and the system. It was a welcome message to me then and I have kept the yellowing paperback with me over the past thirty years. I now wonder if what I took from the book then was simply what I wanted – teenage validation of a naive self-image of independence and self-sufficiency.

As I worked yesterday with the radio playing in the other room, I heard the words, “Atlas Shrugged.” The words cut through the white noise of the news of failing economy, betrayed trust and political change like the sound of your own name overheard in a crowded room. I immediately stopped and turned my attention to the radio but the story was done. I don’t know the context but somehow I understood that the it’s time to reread the book. This time to discover the depth and power of Rand’s intended message and not to be satisfied with wading in the shallows.

I’ve just begun but have already found in the first few pages validation that this book promises to speak to our times. I reread these three paragraphs several times as the awareness of institutional and leadership betrayals of the past several months colored the white spaces between the words. I expect this book to be full of new insight and nuance written in a voice that we haven’t heard over the din of the crowd for a long, long time.

The great oak tree had stood on a hill over the Hudson, in a lonely spot on the Taggert estate. Eddie Willers, aged seven, liked to come and look at that tree. It had stood there for hundreds of years, and he thought it would always stand there. Its roots clutched the hill like a fist with fingers sunk deep into the soil, and he thought that if a giant were to seize it by the top, he would not be able to uproot it, but would swing the hill and whole of the earth with it, like a ball at the end of a string. He felt safe in the oak tree’s presence; it was a thing that nothing could change or threaten; it was his greatest symbol of strength.

One night, lightning struck the oak tree. Eddie saw it the next morning. It lay broken in half, and he looked into its trunk as into the mouth of a black tunnel. The trunk was only an empty shell; its heart had rotted away long ago; there was nothing inside – just a thin gray dust that was being dispersed by the whim of the faintest wind. The living power had gone, and the shape it left had not been able to stand without it.

Years later, he heard it said that children should be protected from shock, from their first knowledge of death, pain or fear. But these had never scarred him; his shock came when he stood very quietly, looking into the black hole of the trunk. It was an immense betrayal – the more terrible because he could not grasp what it was that had been betrayed. It was not himself, he knew, nor his trust; it was something else. He stood there for a while, making no sound, then he walked back to the house. He never spoke about it to anyone, then or since.

John’s PUCO Commissioner Application Letter

Tomorrow, I am driving to Columbus, the state capital of Ohio, to submit my application to be appointed by Governor Strickland as a Commissioner of the Public Utilites Commission of Ohio (PUCO).  The mission of the PUCO is “to assure all residential and business consumers [have] access to adequate, safe and reliable utilty services at fair prices, while facilitating an environment that provides competitive choices.” As readers of this blog know, I am a passionate believer in the importance of infrastructure for the economic growth of a community, state or nation. I hope my passion is expressed in a compelling way in my application letter below.

Officially, my chances of being appointed are pretty slim but would be exactly “zero” if I didn’t apply. The process will be very political (partisan and otherwise) and many, many diverse voices will be appropriately considered in the selection process. However, I read an important quote a few days ago, “The only things that we should doubt are the limits we place on ourselves.”  I don’t know who to attribute it to but thanks for the encouragement to reach high.

I’ll let you know how this goes. Call or write to your Ohio Representatives and Senators or the Governor if you have an opinion about my qualifications for the job, pro or con. Your government leaders probably haven’t heard from you in a while and they need to know what you think about a lot of things.

My resume is on my LinkedIn profile. You can find a link to that over there on the right.

January 8, 2009

Public Utilities Commission Nominating Council
C/o Public Utilities Commission of Ohio
180 East Broad Street, 13th Floor
Columbus, OH 43215-3793

Dear Members of the Nominating Council:

The availability of efficient, safe, properly priced, well-maintained and technologically advanced infrastructure is an essential prerequisite for the creation of wealth, prosperity and a high quality of life. Ohio’s public and private investments in railroads in the mid-1800’s enabled the growth of the steel, rubber and automotive industries in northeast Ohio just as the construction of the Miami-Erie canal proceeded the chemical and paper industries in the southwest. Twentieth century investments in energy systems, telecommunications and highways enabled Ohio to become one of the world’s great manufacturing economies and brought the prosperity necessary to build and support our state’s great cultural institutions and education systems. We must honor this legacy by ensuring that Ohio continues to invest in and guide the proper development of its utilities and infrastructure. Ohio can only remain globally relevant if our infrastructure is technologically advanced, sustainably designed, properly maintained and made available to its customers and citizens in a socially equitable manner. Infrastructure is the foundation of economic development.

Since 1985, I have lived in southwest Ohio, in Hamilton and Warren Counties, and I am a Democrat. My understanding and appreciation of our infrastructure has grown through a public and private sector career of planning, building, buying and promoting local and regional infrastructure and utilities.  In my roles of transportation planner, real estate developer, infrastructure builder and economic developer, I have earned a reputation for strategic thinking, creative and insightful analysis, high integrity, fiscal responsibility and a collaborative style of leadership. My professional networks and associations extend throughout the state and the country. I have acquired a deep understanding of the breadth of Ohio’s industry and culture, the complexities of its governance, its unfulfilled promises and its incredible potential.

I believe that as the newest Commissioner of the PUCO, I will add a vitally fresh perspective to the Commission as a licensed professional engineer, economic developer and experienced community builder. I appreciate your consideration of me as a candidate for this important position. If appointed Commissioner, I promise to be an uncompromising advocate for the State of Ohio and for all who look to the state’s infrastructure to enable, not entitle, their future prosperity.

Respectfully,

John E. Fonner, P.E.

Religion and Self-Control

I read an interesting blog post today by NY Times Science writer, John Tierney, on the topic of religion and self-control. I submitted a comment to the piece and have copied the essence of Tierney’s blog and my comment here. While I stand by what I say below, I have to admit to the irony of this blog. I should have been working on the more pressing items on my “To Do” list. So much for self-control.

You can find a link to Tierney’s blog, TierneyLab, under  “Blogs I Like” on the right.

Religion and Self-Control

Is self-discipline one reason that religious people tend to live longer? Do religious belief and piety promote self-control? You can find one answer in my Findings column. It discusses research from two psychologists at the University of Miami, Michael McCullough and Brian Willoughby, who have surveyed eight decades of scientific literature (pdf) to see if people who are more religious tend to have stronger self-control.

1. Are there any specific religious or spiritual activities that you have found to help build your self-control, or your child’s self-control?
2. Religious activities can also be exhausting, and presumably they could they could wear down someone’s self-control. Has this ever happened to you or your child?
3. If you’re not religious, what do you think of Dr. McCullough’s advice that it might be possible to build self-control by tying your New Year’s resolutions to sacred (but non-religious) values like self-reliance or concern for all of humanity?

My response:

I believe that this phenomenon of ‘religious’ people demonstrating more self-control is probably true but not due to the ‘religion’ that one learns at church, temple or mosque but due to the ‘ethics’ and ‘values’ discussions and education that occurs there. As the author, Karen Armstrong, documented in her book, ‘The Great Transformation,’ most cultures and faiths have independently developed some interpretation of what’s known to Christians as the Golden Rule as a positive way to live our lives on earth, irregardless of what some god may have in store for us later.

The notion that we should treat others as we wish to be treated requires an examination not only of others’ behaviors and actions but of our own. Once we begin to be aware of (and are then self-critical of) our own behaviors, we are more likely to avoid doing things that others might find reason to criticise – we exhibit self control. In doing this, we enable others to treat us favorably.

My own experience is that most people tire quickly of sermons and lessons (and water cooler talk) that focus too heavily on spirituality and theology. Zealotry, like a good martini, has a time and place but a little bit goes a long way. We would rather be taught how to make our faith relevant to our day-to-day lives. Personally, the sermons that don’t put me to sleep or to checking my blackberry are usually those that offer practical advice on how to live happily and productively among others. I suspect that anyone who regularly subjects themselves to a dose of practical ethical reminders is more prone to self-examination and to therefore improve their self-control in many aspects of their lives. And this, I believe, will lead to improved quality in one’s life.

As the Theory of Relativity is foundational to modern science, the Golden Rule is to life. We don’t fully understand the scope of either which is why inquiry and faith (in science and humanity) are so important. We do know through our own experiences however, that things get more difficult when we act as though these fundamental principles don’t exist.

Thank you for posing these important questions.

— John Fonner

Humility vs. Humiliation

The NY Times article in the following link is an sober acknowledgement of the addictive thrill of power. As Dr. Friedman points out, the extrodinary financial success that the ‘Masters of the Universe’ enjoyed over the past decade was to many, their sole measure of success. To see yourself go from ‘winner’ to ‘loser’ in the span of a few months must surely be  humiliating.  

I suggest that humility is best experienced in a slow steady drip over a life time rather than in fire hose portions all at once.  Had Dr. Friedman’s patients appreciated that their success was due, at least in part, to good fortune and the hard work of others perhaps their self-confidence wouldn’t be so battered today. Had they taken time to notice others not so fortunate, they might have realized that they should have considered themselves ‘blessed’ instead of ‘best.’

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/16/health/views/16mind.html