Archives for July 2017

An open letter to Senator John McCain

Senator John McCain
(official portrait)

Dear Senator McCain,

I’d like to begin by expressing my sincere gratitude for your time spent in military service. You showed remarkable courage under extreme duress, enduring torture by the enemy while refusing an early release, or any special treatment. As a result, you’ve suffered from permanent physical disabilities after six years in captivity. I have enjoyed a lifetime as a free citizen in the greatest nation on the face of the earth, because of brave warriors like you. Thank you for your service, sir. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

Secondly we, the people, recently learned the very serious news about your cancer diagnosis, and I wanted to convey my sympathy to you. Twenty years ago my father died from that exact same disease, a glioblastoma tumor in his brain, so I am well aware of the challenge you face. It was shortly after his retirement that my father began acting uncharacteristically confused and disoriented. He also  complained of a constant headache. An MRI confirmed that he had a large brain tumor,  a glioblastoma. The neurologist diagnosed him on a Tuesday, and he had surgery the following Monday, but never regained consciousness. About two weeks later, his life support was disconnected. I’m glad your surgery was more successful than his, and I wish you the best as you continue to recover.

While I’m fairly confident that a sitting U.S. Senator such as yourself has access to the very best healthcare in the world (probably much better care than a retired serviceman living in Savannah, Georgia would ever get), I do not blame my father’s surgical team for his death. Clearly the tumor killed him, not the operation to remove it. The doctors did their very best, I’m quite sure. It just wasn’t good enough, though I’m not sure any other doctor on earth would have done much better. It was a long time ago, and medical progress in the United States has advanced at an incredible pace during my lifetime.

And we will all die, sooner or later. It’s never been a question of “if”, but “when.” Though my own death should not occur anytime soon, (at least, not as far as I know) I’ve still prepared for that possibility by creating a living will. I’ve even gone as far as planning for my own funeral. When my demise becomes imminent, it won’t matter whether it comes as a surprise or not.

I also don’t blame Big Medicine or Big Government for my father’s death. Dad died years before Barack Obama was elected President and the Affordable Healthcare Act was passed. I would like to say a few words about your vote in opposition to repeal of the ACA, which I will describe from this point forward as “Obamacare.”

Frankly, to describe my feelings as bitter disappointment would be putting it mildly. I’ve read your excuse for voting against repeal, and Senator, I’m very disturbed. You seem to think it’s more important that you redistribute wealth than keeping your primary campaign promise. Only last year you won a difficult campaign for reelection by promising the voters of Arizona that you would repeal Obamacare if given the chance. You just broke that solemn vow with an excuse that is truly pathetic. It is not the responsibility of Congress to provide healthcare insurance to every American.

Obamacare is an abomination of a law that has been doomed to fail from Day One, and the Democrat politicians who crafted the legislation never expected it to work as promised, with lower premiums and better options where you could keep your existing doctors if you liked them. Obamacare was designed with the goal of creating a path to single payer healthcare — in other words, socialized medicine. With a gleeful thumbs-down, you killed the bill.

Senator McCain, does your word mean nothing? How can the American people ever trust you again, if you won’t keep your most important campaign promises?

Your excuse for voting no is that the bill doesn’t offer a replacement for Obamacare, but your first obligation is to repeal the existing law. You promised you would. If the law gets repealed, Democrats will have no choice except to negotiate earnestly in bipartisan fashion, trying to insert the bits and pieces of Obamacare into new healthcare reform legislation, or during the next election cycle they will have to explain to voters why they obstructed reform and wouldn’t cooperate to draft a law that will actually help alleviate the obscenely high cost of healthcare services.

My concerns about Obamacare can be summed up using only two words: Charlie Gard. That poor child in the U.K. died today, after his parents were refused the opportunity to seek treatment here in the U.S. that may have given him a chance. But soulless bureaucrats embedded in a single-payer system wouldn’t let Charlie’s parents take him home. We can never know if that new treatment would have helped, but we can be absolutely certain that refusing to allow the treatment doomed the poor child for sure. His parents had healthcare coverage, but it offered them no choice, and no hope.

Single payer healthcare is also where our healthcare system is headed, unless obstructionists like you will vote for repeal of Obamacare. The most galling aspect of the current law is that you and your fellow members of Congress have exempted yourselves. You don’t have to suffer the consequences of your own vote. And you don’t have to worry like my friend in Georgia, who wrote:

(For a while) I could not get health insurance and when I did, it didn’t help me pay for anything. There is also only one insurer in the market this year in Georgia that many doctors don’t accept, and it was announced this week that their premiums are going up 41% next year.

Another friend who lives in Florida said that she can’t find a doctor who accepts her insurance with an office within a 100 mile radius of her house, and only one insurance provider offers a plan in her state under Obamacare.

What good is insurance coverage, if no doctors within a reasonable distance from home will accept it? My friend is an entrepreneur currently getting zero benefit from her policy, but she has no choice but keep it because Obamacare has practically destroyed the free market, and she needs insurance in the event of a major medical issue. For every friend of mine who previously couldn’t get coverage because of some preexisting condition, a half dozen or more have been adversely affected.

President Obama didn’t keep his promises of lower premiums and better choices to the American people when he shilled for support for this insidious new law, and you have broken your promise to the American people as well, by voting no on its repeal. I have always thought of you as being a man of principle and integrity, making your vote on this crucial issue particularly disappointing.

We are NOT a Socialist country, Senator McCain. The Constitution does not give everyone a right to free healthcare. Nor does it give the government the right to force its citizens to buy a product that isn’t very good.

Our nation thrives on free-market capitalism. I would hope that you realize that millions of Americans are suffering financial hardship trying to pay for expensive, lousy insurance coverage. Obamacare WILL ultimately fail, just as President Trump has predicted. Many people have lost significant income due to Obamacare. Companies have cut back on the maximum number of hours an employee may work per week to avoid being penalized by this horrible law. A law that you promised to repeal, until you decided to change your mind.

I hate to suggest this, sir, but I have to wonder if you have put politics and your personal feelings before your patriotic duty — do you really hate President Trump so much that you would hurt the entire country just to spite him? I’d like to believe you’re a bigger man than that, Senator McCain, because it would be both childish and churlish to put politics before principle at such a critical time for our country. But I’m trying to make sense of your vote contradicting your campaign promise, and at a loss for a logical explanation. Where is your better idea, since you didn’t like this particular repeal law?

We the American people are sick and tired of our politicians lying to us.

Please, either keep your word, or resign immediately.

Sincerely,

A Thoroughly Disgusted American Citizen

 

 

Planning my own funeral

My_Headshot

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: If you don’t follow the links and listen to the music, it will be your loss, not mine. I’m listening to every song as I check the links in preview mode. There is a point being made with each song selection.]

A friend of mine likes to wish me a happy birthday with the encouragement to have another pleasant journey around the sun.

Thank you, Sir Charles, I believe that I will celebrate my birthday. But today I’d like to plan a very different kind of celebration.

When I was young and foolish, I appreciated the cynical perspective of Roger Waters and Pink Floyd, expressed with a faintly similar ring in their classic song Time:

So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older,
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.

Unfortunately, it seems the older I get, the better I was. And now that I’m getting a little shorter of breath and closer to death myself, I don’t play that song nearly as often as I once did. The lyrics remain brilliant, but they are also depressing as hell. Thanks for that reminder!

On the other hand, death is…natural. The end of life is part of the life experience. There’s no need to get all worked up about something that is guaranteed to happen. While I’m fully cognizant of my own mortality, I personally don’t like to dwell on negative thoughts. I want to enjoy life to the best of my ability as long as there is quality, and I have been blessed with extraordinary genetics. But I have no desire to prolong the inevitable.

Besides, I have no real reason to expect death for at least another thirty or forty years, so these plans may seem a bit premature. On the other hand, this is a one-and-done proposition; I don’t expect to have to plan my own funeral more than once.

And eventually, I am going to die. So let’s just get this over with, shall we?

Spoiler alert — you’re going to die, too. It’s not a question of if, but when. No exceptions. From the day I was born, my days have been numbered.  Over time, I’ve watched family and friends transition into death before me, inspiring me to start thinking about that eventuality. Some deaths were expected, lingering and painful. Some were swift and without warning.

I enjoy life, but I do not fear death. I know too much about NDEs. I’ve become friends with a man who once died and went to hell. I believe death is nothing to fear. The process of death will be a temporary discomfort no matter how I die, because I’m taking every painkiller they’ll give me if I’m ever diagnosed with terminal cancer. When the end becomes inevitable, just sign me up for that morphine drip. Only after I’ve maximized my potential for this life will I be ready for it to end. Of course, my death may come when I least expect it — not unlike the Spanish Inquisition.

Therefore, I’m formalizing these plans in advance to spare my family any unnecessary decision making when they might be feeling some stress. Barring unforeseen circumstances, these plans won’t be necessary for another thirty or forty years at minimum, but you never know.

This is one of those situations where proactive action is absolutely necessary, because by definition, at the point they will be needed, I won’t be reacting to anything. As far as my mortal body is concerned, I’ve only asked that the undertaker would stab my corpse with a very long, sharp needle…just to be absolutely sure that I’m really dead before he incinerates my body.

Then scatter my ashes as fertilizer when you need to plant a tree, or scatter me over the ocean.

Just don’t be standing upwind if you do, like Walter did in The Big Lebowski. Personally, I like the idea of new life benefiting and growing as a direct result of my death. Please don’t waste good, hard-earned money burying ashes.

But that’s enough of this morbid stuff. It’s time to plan the celebration!

11813410_761979513910924_5889506527636804664_nWorking from the assumption that some of the people attending my funeral will actually be mourning (admittedly, there will probably be a few atheists glad to see me go), I don’t expect people to be happy to be there for my sending-off party.

So I’m thinking Hurt, written by Trent Reznor and performed by Johnny Cash, might be the perfect song to begin my funeral service. And while the Man in Black still has the stage, I think his classic God’s Gonna Cut You Down will serve as the perfect reminder to the attendees that their day will come, too.

Naturally, as a Christian, my funeral should have a few readings from the Bible. My preference is for reading verses that are short and get right to the point, because I don’t want people to get bored at my funeral. Keep it snappy, and keep it moving, so you can get back to living the rest of your lives.

What I do not want is a bunch of people to stand up and tell lies about what a great guy I was. Remember, Jesus once berated a guy for calling him good, saying no one is good but God.

Since I’m Never Gonna Be As Big As Jesus, as Audio Adrenaline pointed out, that would not be appropriate. I’ll leave it up to whomever is handling my final arrangements to decide if a song ought to make the final cut…if left up to me, there’d be music, read a couple of Bible verse, and then move on to the potluck buffet.

It’s a bold transition to go from Johnny Cash to Christian rock, with nothing in between. I know my favorite AA song would definitely weird out people at a funeral, but I’d love to hear it one more time…I even like the cheesy video that goes with it. Perhaps a more appropriate choice for transitional music would be Awesome God by Rich Mullins, but I have told my son it would be funny to play like Breakfast in Hell by the Newsboys because the lyrics amuse me, but only if he deemed it appropriate.

For the constraints of time, it probably won’t make the final cut. But if I had my way, my friends in ApologetiX would show up and play a whole concert of their songs such as Death. Because I don’t really know how or when I will die (yet) it might be appropriate for them to play Lemonade or perhaps Sufferin’ Just Finished.  I want everyone there to see me off to fully appreciate my admittedly warped sense of humor.

In the hopes that people are there to remember me fondly, perhaps the readings could start with the Old Testament. Ecclesiastes 7:1 sounds appropriate: “A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth.”

I especially like the positive spin there at the end. As for any other Bible verses to be read, I will leave some of the choices up to the person handling the details, but I’d like them to include the wisdom of Jesus from Matthew 5:4: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Reading 2 Timothy 4:6-8 would also be appropriate:

…The time of my departure has come. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.

No matter what happens between this day and my last, I cannot envision that should ever change. And of course, read Philippians 1:21-23, to end on a high note:

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”

Because I believe Romans 10:9 is true, I am almost obnoxiously confident of what happens after my end, so people at my funeral should not be too bummed out. Hopefully when I do die, I will have become too old to be the life of the party anymore.

One of the great joys of my life has been listening to really good music. When I attended the visitation for my friend Derek only two short years ago, who passed away suddenly and much too soon, I was reminded by the similarity in our musical tastes that went all the way back to high school. I do hope people might hear a song at my funeral that brings a smile to their face.

Not everyone will appreciate my sense of humor, but those who do think I’m hilarious. For those who don’t, I have Carrie Underwood.

I am hoping the very best versions of a few personal favorite hymns would be played: Amazing Grace by Il Divo, and Carrie Underwood’s version of How Great Thou Art would be nice. Just so no one will be offended by my idea of a joke. I want the people at my funeral to have at least half as much fun as I’ve had planning it.

Most importantly, I want the people at my funeral to feel uplifted on their way out the door, and that calls for this terrific “flash mob” version of the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah.

Send me home on a high note.

People who think they know everything

[FULL DISCLOSURE: Herman L. Mays, Jr. recently published a somewhat ruthless review of my book Counterargument for God, which may lead some readers to conclude this particular article has been written to gain some measure of revenge. However, after reading the rather vitriolic exchanges between academic/intellectual types such as Bart Ehrman and Richard Carrier, I’m convinced that hostile rhetoric is now a perfectly acceptable form of criticism. Therefore, I won’t be mincing my words, either.]

Professor Herman L. Mays, Jr. teaches at Marshall University, and he’s probably a very nice guy (Anybody who can make me laugh out loud can’t be all bad in my book). And when I read the following sentence his review of my book, I literally burst out laughing:

To say Leonard’s book should be taken with a grain of salt gives undue credit to the power of salt to ease the swallowing of the foulest of meals.

I have to admit, that’s a pretty clever zinger. Could his rhetoric be exaggerated? That’s not for me to say. Because my brain often works in strange and unconventional ways, when I read his little quip my mind wandered back in time to revisit an old installment of the comic strip Bloom County, in which Opus the Penguin wrote a scathing review of the movie Benji Saves the Universe. He described the movie as achieving “new levels of badness” — could I be as equally untalented a writer?

Given his perspective as an academic who earns his paycheck teaching evolutionary biology, it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that Professor Mays took exception to my criticisms of Darwin’s theory as the best explanation for the origin of new species. However, when he claimed that virtually anything offered on Amazon for $2.99 was a better use of one’s hard-earned money (and knowing that Professor Mays received a free copy) I had to wonder if his penchant for hyperbole overruled his good judgment, and if he was aware of the quality of the competition in Kindle books offered for that same price.

I find it extremely difficult to believe his claim that my book (which won an award) worse than such literary classics as Hillary Clinton: What America Lost by not Electing Hillary Clinton, or the incomparable (and equally incomprehensible) Donald Trump Versus the Were-Yeti.

Alas, that question is moot and must be left for future readers to decide.

It should be noted that for a man who forcefully argues using his position of “authority” as an academic, Professor Mays becomes squeamish and remarkably evasive when asked a rather straightforward question: was he an atheist?

After all, our acquaintance was initially made after he posted several disparaging comments either about creationism or people (like me) who believe in a supernatural creator God. Therefore my question seemed reasonable to ask, and I didn’t expect it would be difficult to answer. But this was the verbatim response from Professor Mays: “I’m not an atheist because I don’t not believe in a god.”

Typically the use of a double negative is considered weak grammar unless the author has intentionally used litotes to imply a suggestive double entendre or to understate an opinion. For example, using the phrase “he isn’t a complete idiot” as a description of Professor Mays could be taken as a sly innuendo suggesting that he is actually an exceptionally clever man, or it might be interpreted to mean he’s at least a slight improvement over a boorish imbecile.

How does one resolve a triple negative?  There is no known convention in the English language advising how someone should parse and interpret such a convoluted mess of a reply.

“I’m not an atheist” seemed clear enough, but when combined with “I don’t not believe in a god” a possibly clear and coherent answer to a direct question turns into muddled nonsense.  “I don’t not believe in a god” and “I believe in God” clearly do not convey the same meaning. “I’m not an atheist because I believe in God” would be a clear and coherent statement that makes perfect sense. “I’m not an atheist because I don’t not believe in a god” is simply gibberish.

Two lefts don’t make a right, but three do.

But that somewhat egregious abuse of the English language may be excused given the context — surely Professor Mays takes greater care when writing for publication than he does for his personal correspondence. In fairness, we should examine some of his published material. This paper titled “Speaking Out Against Climate Change Denial in West Virginia” by Professor Mays, found in Reports from the National Center for Science Education, begins with this rather audacious claim: “The scientific consensus on climate change is clear. Global temperature is rising and the emission of greenhouse gases from human activities is the primary cause.”

Oh, really?

Now of course it’s just my opinion, but I think it’s rather brazen for Professor Mays to lecture others with feigned authority on the subject of climate change, especially considering the fact he doesn’t study climate science, and his primary source seems to be a book by a couple of historians on climate change, or possibly even the movie of the same name. An inconvenient truth, perhaps?

With his opening statement, Professor Mays sounded a lot more like Bill Nye, the sciency guy than an academic writing for publication in a professional journal. Bill Nye is an entertainer who likes to frequently portray himself as an academic and some sort of scientific authority, with considerable success in the mainstream media. Nye often pontificates his opinions on subjects that he knows little or practically nothing about, which includes climate science, and Darwin’s theory of evolution. For whatever reason, a bow tie and a lab coat appear to give Nye an air of credibility. At least Herman Mays, Jr. really does hold a PhD…it just doesn’t have anything to do with climate science.

Bill Nye loves to cite statistics, and he often talks about “scientific consensus” that greenhouse gases caused by human activity are causing irreparable harm to our environment. However, as Dr. Roy Spencer (a bona fide expert on climate science) testified before Congress, that particular statistic actually refers to the percentage of people who believe human activity has an impact on our environment, not the number of experts who claim that we all must install solar panels, erect a windmill, and drive a Prius, or else the seas will rise, we’ll have droughts and famines, and the world will end.

Tomorrow, or next Tuesday at the very latest.

Unlike the recommendations of Professor Mays in his review of my book, I’m going to strongly recommend that everyone read this execrable opinion piece of dogmatic climate alarmism, because it is illustrative of the most significant problem faced by modern academia: they no longer understand the purpose of their job.

Professor Mays seems to have forgotten it is his job to teach young and impressionable minds how to learn, not necessarily what to learn. Academics like Professor Mays don’t even realize the harm they are doing to humanity as a whole, when they attempt to suppress critical thinking and espouse blind indoctrination. If you want me to believe something, all you need to do is convince me. At least when Professor Mays rhetorically poses the question, “Could the consensus on climate change be wrong?” he was honest enough to admit the answer is “yes.”

Unfortunately, Professor Mays seems to be relatively certain that he’s right and you’re wrong, assuming you disagree with something he believes. He uses adversarial language and demonizes his opposition in this theoretically civil and “intellectual” debate: he calls them climate deniers. Advocates of governmental action to do something about climate change are said to all have equally valid, probably even altruistic reasons for their legitimate concern.

But those opposed are climate deniers who allegedly do so for some nefarious and ambiguous political or economic motives.  One sentence in particular effectively sums up the discouraging bias against intellectual debate that exists in the mind of Professor Mays: “I view the strategy of climate change denial in the same light as the denial of the scientific consensus on evolution. Both are assaults on reason.”

There is no possibility for open dialog to have even a prayer of success if one party in the conversation starts with the assumption that anyone who disagrees with him must be unreasonable. And the irony that Professor Mays appears to base much of his understanding of climate science on the work of Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, co-authors of the book Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming is delicious: his most frequently cited authorities on climate science are not scientists. They are a couple of science historians. Yet Professor Mays lambasted my book in his review for using direct quotes excerpted from “popular” texts such as The Greatest Show on Earth: the evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins, or Why Evolution is True by biologist Jerry Coyne, rather than some snooty academic publication like Reports From the Center for Science Education.

Though he lists a few academic papers among his sources, Professor Mays didn’t seem to be quoting from their work, but he made quite a few references to Oreskes and Conway. Occasionally Professor Mays stumbles over the truth, as when he wrote, “Political and economic interests are exerting an influence on the that has little to do with the actual science.”

Professor Mays might protest my summary of Merchants of Doubt with only two short sentences: “Big oil bad. Environmentalism good” but it is an accurate assessment. If Professor Mays was called before Congress to contradict the testimony of Dr. Spencer, I can imagine that it would go a lot like the exchange between Senator Ted Cruz and the president of the Sierra Club.

Science is never settled, and anyone who prefers agreement to evidence isn’t qualified to be considered an authority. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but they are not entitled to silence the opinions of others. And if someone who thinks he knows it all can’t or won’t engage in civil conversation, perhaps they should consider remaining quiet themselves.