Monday, May 30, 2011

The swing voter is no one to celebrate

I’ve always been suspicious of the swing voter. The media usually drool all over them: They supposedly are the most informed, looking at the issues one-by-one, then picking the candidate who will do the country the most good.


People with political convictions, whether on the left or right, almost always vote for the same party. They do so because these voters have convictions. They believe in things so strongly that they’ll actually vote against their own self-interest if need be. Not so the swing voter.

A swing voter marks his ballot solely on which candidate will do the most for him. Just watch them next election night. The TV networks love to gather a roomful of “undecideds” to ask them how they felt about a debate. Almost to a T each one prefaces his or her comments with, “Candidate Smith talked about how to cut my taxes, help with college tuition, keep my job safe …”

I have more respect for someone on the exact opposite side of the political fence from myself than I do for people who vote based solely on what a candidate will do to help them personally. At least those who disagree with me stand for something. They, like me, will support political causes they believe are right – even when it actually hurts them personally.

We can find people like this from all sides of the political spectrum, but one I heard recently was a caller to The Rush Limbaugh radio show. Identifying himself as Walter from Edgewater, New Jersey, he said he isn’t concerned about high unemployment since he has a job. He isn’t worried about the collapse of the housing market because his house is bought and paid for; he isn’t going to lose it.

Walter is an extreme example, and even sounds like he’s not very bright. Either that or he’s just messing with Limbaugh, which is what is most likely. Walter isn’t a swing voter. He’s a partisan. But his talk sounds more like that of selfish swing voters in that they care only for themselves or their own families, friends or communities. Like your friend who is ruining his life but can’t see the warning signs even though everyone is pointing them out, swing voters can’t see how insane they sound to the rest of us.

Often misattributed to Alexis de Tocqueville, the sentiment that “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money,” is nonetheless true. That’s been happening for the past several decades. The swing voter, rather than being our noblest, will likely be the one who does us in.

You should follow me on Twitter here and Facebook here.

Photo: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USW3-055805-D DLC (b&w film neg.), Maria Ealand, photographer.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Not who I expected to meet

I had stepped out of the office to take a quick walk around the block. After sitting for hours staring at a computer screen I had to clear my head and stretch my legs.

As I rounded the first corner, an older black man was standing near the curb. He looked my way and we exchanged pleasantries. How you doing? Pretty good.

As I walked on, I thought I heard him saying something to me, so I turned around, and sure enough, he was. Usually, this is not a good sign in downtown Birmingham. If someone keeps talking to you after you’ve passed he’s usually hitting you up for money. Still, I didn’t want to be rude.

“You’re moving, aren’t you?” he said. “So you’re not just ‘pretty good.’ You’re good!”

“I guess you’re right,” I told him. “I’ll have to watch what I say from now on.”

“No guessing about it. I am right!” he said.

Little did I know that saying I was “pretty good” was going to get me into a 20-minute conversation. But it did.

The man introduced himself as John, said he was 81 years old and has been keeping the law office we were standing in front of clean for the past 30 years. And John has no sympathy for panhandlers.

“I offer ‘em a job. I say help me move these boxes and I’ll give you $2,” he said. “They don’t want that. They say, ‘My back’s bad.’ They want the money up front. They’re not going to spend it on something to eat.”

I told him about the woman up the street who once asked me for money because she hadn’t eaten in three days. “I told her to come across the street with me. I was getting lunch and I’d buy her whatever she wanted. She asked what they sold thee, and I told her sandwiches. ‘Oh, I don’t like sandwiches,’ she said.”

“She wanted to spend it on drugs,” John said.

John won’t give them money because he’s worked hard for what little he has, explaining he still puts in six days a week. He works so much partly because he likes the people who run the law office. “They respect me, and I respect them,” he said. He also does it to get away from his wife. “If you sit around and try to relax, she wants to know why you’re not doing something.”

Turns out that even though John has worked just around the block from me for the entire 15 years I’ve been at The Daily Planet I’ve never seen him. But he’s seen me.

“I see you walking around here all the time,” he said. “Out stretching your legs. You need a break. Working your brain is hard work, too.” He’s seen some of my co-workers, too. John’s not a busybody; he has to keep an eye on who’s around. “There’s plenty of people would rob you out here if you don’t pay attention.”

His house was hit by the April 27 tornadoes. While it is still livable, it needs repairs to keep out the rain. The insurance company, having to pay the hardest hit people first, told him to pay someone to fix it, then send them the bill. He understands that they're extremely busy, but doesn't have the money to pay a contractor, who wants half his pay up front. He had to borrow to get the work started. "That's all right. There's people who got it worse than me."

I'd tell you a lot more that John said, but he repeated himself a lot. And he spoke in almost a whisper, so sometimes it was hard to hear him over the passing cars headed home and the occasional wind gusts from an approaching storm.

I told him it was a pleasure meeting him, and we shook hands. Then he talked another 10 minutes. I finally had to pull myself away before my boss sent out a search party.

Besides, if I stayed too long it was going to be time for my lunch break, and I had planned to go meet an author I had interviewed a few weeks ago who was having a book signing in town. I had followed Jon Acuff on Twitter and Facebook for several months, and when his new book “Quitter” came out this month I requested an interview, which he was kind enough to do. Our circulation isn’t bad, but is far less than the audiences of “Fox & Friends” and “Dave Ramsey,” both of whom also had interviewed him about the book. So I was pleased he’d said yes.

Then he added Birmingham to his book tour, so I dropped by to meet him in case by the next time he’s in town you have to get a wristband and wait four hours to see him. He was complimentary of and thankful for my article, and introduced me to his wife. They had both gone to college at Samford University, which was only a mile or two from the book signing, so he was no stranger to the area. I had been toiling away at The Daily Planet all the years they’d both been earning their degrees right up the road a decade or so ago.

I had to get back to work, and Jon had to meet more fans and sign their books, so it was a far shorter conversation than I’d had with John, but it had been the only one of the two I had planned. Sometimes serendipity steps in. Jon’s book, “Quitter,” is about achieving your dream job while staying with your day job. Jon has found his dream job in writing and speaking full time. John has found his dream job cleaning a law office six days a week at the age of 81. They both were two of the happiest people I’ve met.

You should follow me on Twitter here and Facebook here.

Photo: Library of Congress: Alfred T. Palmer, Carpenter at work on Douglas Dam, Tennessee (TVA), June 1942

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Laugher Curve: Why do dumbest sitcoms get more chortles?

My wife and I were watching Three’s Company on TV Land the other night.

Let me start over: Three’s Company came on TV Land the other night and I made a move to turn it off, but my wife said, “You’re not turning that off, are you?”

So, of course, I did not.

My wife has a fascination with the ‘70s that I do not share. I see it as the decade of ugly clothes, ugly hair and idiotic sitcom writing. Some of the music was good, but I’d rather not actually look at the people making it. It’s kind of like how you don’t want to watch sausage being made.

But to preserve marital harmony I watched the episode even though laughter was not calling for me. Jack’s brother was coming for a visit and Jack was none too pleased. His brother was a show-off and constantly talked down to Jack.

In the course of things, Jack’s brother wrangles a date with Chrissy and as she arrives home very late, Jack opens the door to find her and his brother in a steamy goodnight kiss.

The audience reacts, but you can hear one guy exclaim, “Oh, no!”

“Did you hear that?” I asked my wife.

I rewound the DVR, and there he was. He actually sounded like someone from the ‘40s –- Edward G. Robinson, to be specific. “Oh, no! See!” (Think Clancy Wiggum from The Simpsons if you’re too young to know who Edward G. Robinson is.)

I paused it, rewound it, and listened again and again. Then we’d repeat the line ourselves. We got the giggles so bad we could hardly breathe.

Later it hit me: This show had no canned laughter. The audience was genuinely reacting. And I’m not saying that’s a good thing, because it was a really stupid show.

Pay attention to a program, however, that is truly funny and you’ll notice that they have to juice up the laughter by resurrecting dead people who were originally splitting their sides at Lucy Ricardo’s latest caper. Cosmo Kramer, you’ve got a lot of ‘splainin’ to do!

Have we lost our sense of humor? And, if so, when and how did it happen?

Was it Watergate? Or 1968?

Whatever it was, it was no laughing matter.

You should follow me on Twitter here and Facebook here.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Accurate rapture flow chart

There's an inaccurate Rapture Flow Chart floating about the Internet. And while I don't believe Harold Camping's prediction that Jesus will return for Christians who await his Second Coming on Saturday May 21, 2011, I do believe he will return.

Here is my napkin-and-ink-pen flowchart for who will be raptured:
Click to see larger.

You should follow me on Twitter here and Facebook here.

Parable: A dead battery amid tornado debris

As I sat in church this past Sunday recharging my spiritual batteries, my truck battery was slowly dying.

I had left my headlights on. It was cloudy, so I turned them on, but I’m used to driving a vehicle that dings when you’ve left your lights on. The ’57 Chevy pickup doesn’t do that.

So when I hopped in and turned the key … nothing. I tried to jump it off, but it wouldn’t take a charge. So I pulled out the battery and headed to the nearby auto supply store. I swapped the old battery for a new one and headed back to the truck, hooked up the new battery and turned the key.

Still nothing.

This is the point at which I have to call my dad, who informs me I’m not getting a connection. I’ll need to clean off the contacts. But since I have no sandpaper handy I’ll have to try pushing it till I can get it rolling downhill and try to crank it in second gear.

While on the phone and messing around under the hood I noticed a car stopped. Great! Somebody’s going to help me!

No dice.

The passenger is taking a picture of me.

That just adds insult to injury, I thought, before realizing she was actually getting a shot of the house behind me that was home to a law office. It had most of its roof ripped off by the April 27 tornadoes that blasted through Alabama.

“Great,” I told Dad. “Now I’m in somebody’s picture of tornado damage under the hood of my truck, and they’ll paste it all over the Internet.” (I just did a search. Couldn’t find it.)

I hung up the phone and assessed the situation. I’d have to start pushing the hunk of steel up a slight incline before I got to the downgrade. Further, I’d have to go through a stop sign, so it would be best to time it when no one was coming.

Easy enough. It’s not a well-traveled street.

So I started pushing. Then let it roll back. Push a little farther, roll it back. I finally had it, and was ready to make my move. And, of course, a car was coming. I had to stop at the sign. And, of course, the car turned at my street rather than drive past – meaning I never needed to stop at all.

But by this point I was atop a hill, so far less pushing would get me rolling. And just at that moment an older man on a bicycle happened by. “Need a push?” he asked.


We got it moving and VRRROOOM! It was running. Home I went.

You should follow me on Twitter here and Facebook here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Should Christians Boycott Businesses That Don’t Think Like Us?

There was a big ruckus when I was in high school over Procter & Gamble supposedly being a company that gave some of its profits to the Church of Satan. I knew it was true because my cousin knew a guy who saw company officials admit it on “Phil Donahue.”

The story hinged on the company’s logo, a man in the moon with long flowing hair and beard that looked out onto 13 stars. The company denied any devil-worship – and has sued Amway multiple times over the past three decades for allegedly keeping the story alive.

The point some Christians latched onto was that buying products from a company that donated part of its profits to the Church of Satan was furthering the work of the enemy.

In the P&G case, evangelical apologist Bob Passantino, said that Christians risk discrediting their faith in the eyes of others with such behavior. “It's not just a stamp we're wasting. It's our credibility. Our credibility is on the line. People might think if Christians are stupid enough to fall for this falsehood, maybe early Christians were gullible enough to fall for the resurrection story.”

But the question remains: Are we wrong to knowingly give money to people who do things with it we find objectionable?

The Apostle Paul, though previously having told early Christians to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, wrote that he felt perfect freedom in doing so. Why? Because an idol isn’t really a god, and he gave thanks to the true God for providing the meat before he ate it. Whatever anybody else did or thought wasn’t his concern.

Well, to a point. He did note that people of his day should feel free to eat meat without asking where it came from – but if someone specifically told them it had been sacrificed to idols to leave it alone “for conscience sake.” And that wasn’t for your conscience, but for the other guy’s – so he wouldn’t think you were endorsing his idol.

So that seems to clear up one thing: If you buy a product and some of the profits go toward something objectionable – but you don’t know it – there’s nothing to worry about. But what if you do know about it?

There’s no real guideline here. But look at the opposite circumstance: preferring Christian-owned businesses over non-Christian ones. I’ve seen Christian business directories and ads and signs containing the icthus (Jesus fish) – but would God want me to prefer those companies over any other?

After all, Jesus was criticized by religious leaders for associating with sinners: IRS agents, whores. (So if you ever wore one of those wristbands asking “What Would Jesus Do?” – there’s your answer. And point of clarity: I am NOT saying you should “do business” with hookers.)

How will people who don’t know God’s love ever find it if someone doesn’t show it to them? If all the Christians in a community agree not to use Larry’s Transmission Shop because Larry doesn’t believe in God – or heaven forfend! – believes in a different god, poor Larry’s got no hope of ever meeting this God that all the good Christians talk up so much.

You should follow me on Twitter here and Facebook here.