Saturday, March 31, 2007

Wrong Answer?

I found this interesting tidbit on a science weblog. I've cleaned it up a bit - I'm somewhat of a stickler that way...

"In the 1800's, in Mexico, a little village was suffering, they had no rain for months, most crops had died. Every morning, the minister rounded up all the villagers and they prayed for rain, [e]very day they prayed for rain. Finally, a [J]esuit priest was sent to this village. The priest rounded up all the villagers and gave them assignments. By the end of the month, they found 3 sources of ground water. They dug a well in the most likely one and water came gushing out. The priest turned to the minister and said '[Y]ou don't have to be stupid to be a good [C]hristian'"
This story reads like a remembered anecdote, perhaps from a talk that someone gave. It has that urban legend quality about it, that makes me doubt that you'd ever be able to find documentation of a specific event that occured in this way. And it's a little off on some of the details. Mexico is overwhelmingly Catholic. Localities would have parish priests, not ministers. But I suppose it's easier to differentiate the two priests if they have different titles. And the reason for specifically identifying the incoming priest as a Jesuit is unclear.

This strikes me as a story designed to be an affirmation of the saying "God helps those who help themselves." Which, by the way, is not in the Bible, but rather a saying of Benjamin Franklin.

Footnote: I disagree with the contention that Franklin's words are "contradicted in Proverbs 28:26." The idea that undertaking a task, with the idea that God will more readily aid your own efforts, rather than do the work for you is equivalent of trusting in oneself, to the exclusion of the divine, seems to be an overly strict interpretation, one designed specifically to lead to "Prayer is the Answer" solutions to problems.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Just Do It

By this time, the "scandal" over the Bush Administration's firing of several United States Attorneys, with the goal of replacing them with people more in line with the Administration's mode of political thinking as been in just about every news outlet one cares to name.

The have a saying in Washington, D.C., that goes something like this: "It's not the crime, it's the cover up."

For all the the Bush Administration is said to be constantly pushing the envelope of Executive Branch power, and that of the President in particular, they sure seemed reluctant to exercise that power openly. United States District Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President. If the President's pleasure requires one to be a partisan hack, then so be it. Lay out your ground rules, and let people decide whether or not they want to play the game. The Administration's constant attempts to make this look like something it's not is what's gotten them into trouble, and may even spell the end of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' career. If power is meant to be used, then it is meant to be used openly, and freely. In a republic like the United States, the idea is that if the public doesn't like the way you're using your power, they take it away from you. That's why there are no offices that are elected for life.

If the current Administration is afraid to let everyone play, they need to find a new game.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


I hadn't seen this coming. A couple of Republicans have sided with Senate Democrats, and tacked on an ammendment to an appropriations bill, making the President's supplemental funding request for operations in Iraq and Afganistan contingent on an evantual, timed pullout from Iraq. I suspect that Senators Chuck Hagel (Nebraska) and Gordon Smith (Oregon) are going to be in VERY hot water with the Republican leadership in the Senate, since the only reason the bill even made it to the floor is that they were convinced that it would never pass. (I also think that there are going to be some harsh words over the monarchy crack.) After years of infigting and just generally being an ineffectual opposition party, the Democrats have pulled off a remarkable coup. No matter what you think of the idea of pulling out of Iraq, it must be admitted that the Democrats pulled of some brilliant political manuevering with this, managing to pick off Republican stragglers, and slam the GOP's calculations back in their faces.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Faith Versus Law

The South Carolina bill that mandates that women seeking abortions must be shown ultrasounds of the developing fetus has already garnered nationwide attention. I'd read about it in an editorial on my own side of the continent, in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. My first thought was that the religiosocial arch-conservatives were simply trying to force another opportunity to play on the potential mother's sympathies, and perhaps open up a new avenue for ego-destroying name calling: "Do you see that little person there? See their little hands and feet? Don't you think that they deserve the same chance at life that YOU have? What kind of wicked, selfish, and heartless monster ARE you, wanting to DESTROY that HELPLESS LITTLE BABY?" I could almost hear the background music, quiet and pastoral at first, grow louder, darker and more menacing with every word.

But there was nothing new here. It's been a truism for a long time that in the absence of an outright ban on abortions, the arch-conservative crowd would use any excuse to erect yet another barrier. It's about as surprising as winter rain in Seattle.

The fact that several legislators were attempting to carve out an exception in the case of rape victims was a new twist on the subject, one that I hadn't known about prior to reading William Saletan's piece about the topic on Slate.

Upon reading "Arguments made against the rape exception: [...] 2) If you allow abortions for rape victims, 'Are you saying God creates mistakes with the lives he creates?'" I at first took it for a bit of hyperbole, it seemed over the top, and I initially missed the citation. Then I followed the link, and read the article there. And now, separation of church and state aside, I understand why it's a bad idea to legislate from your Faith.

South Carolina State Representative Greg Delleny, who posed the question, is clearly a person who believes that every conception is its own small miracle, defined as: "an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs." Following this train of logic, I arrived at the following conclusion. To Representative Delleny, a woman becomes pregnant after being raped not solely because she was ovulating at the time, and her attacker had a high enough count of healthy sperm that one reached and fertilized the ovum. She becomes pregnant because God selects her to be the vessel of a new life. And that new life belongs to God. (Of course, this applies to any act of conception, even those under happier circumstances.) And since that new life requires the mother's body for its subsistance, her body is a tool of divine will, and, in effect, it becomes property itself. Representative Delleny and his peers are effectively working to protect God's property interest in the fetus and its incubation/life support system via the South Carolina legislative process.

And in doing so, they (unintentionally, I would expect) reduce us to things, and thus energize the opposition. The idea of being reduced to a thing, even as part of a divine plan, is frightening for many people. If part of the reason for a belief in a supreme being (or a pantheon thereof) is bring a sense of order to a universe that otherwise presents itself as vast, arbitrary and uncaring, what good does it do one to have a deity who not embodies those same qualities, but regards you as less than pawns in its schemes, but merely as tools - to be used at a whim, and discarded once your utility is at an end?

As much as I can't understand the logic that goes into having love, faith and devotion for such a being, I don't begrudge people those feelings. People's Faith is found at the interesection of what they have learned and what works for them, and I'm old enough to understand that "Doesn't work for me" and "Doesn't work for anyone," are usually completely unacquainted with each other. But when you start working to codify that what works for you into law, implicit in that is its imposition on EVERYONE who is subject to those laws. That "Works for me" DOES equate to "Works for everyone."

And, in this case, when the "Property of the Divine" label goes on as a matter of statute, we are all now subject to legal obligations not only to a being who is, by definition, outside of our laws, and thus has no reciprocal obligations to us, but to a specific interpretation of that being. And if we haven't learned yet that not everyone shares a common vision on the specific interpretation of the divine, we haven't been paying attention. Some people may find Charles Spurgeon comforting and insprational, but not everyone.

At the end of the day, this is the reason why looking to an unshared Faith to define civil or criminal law is a poor choice in pluralistic societies. While you may be perfectly at home with the assumptions that underlie your beliefs, those same assumptions may be serious threats to others. Using the power of a democratic majority to enforce your assumptions on others, along with your understanding of the meanings of those assumptions, can't lead to anything good.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

In Case You Didn't Know...

Online Anonymity Lets Users Gets Nasty

Really? I'd never have guessed...

The only thing that's newsworthy here is that you can let basic grammatical errors get by you, and still be a editor for the Associated Press.

Although I do find it interesting that in spite of the fact that the Web is nearly completely anonymous, and people can post anything they want in some places, people still take what they find in random, un-moderated forums to be the Gospel truth. If every error in Wikipedia is grounds for discounting the whole idea of a publicly edited online knowledge base, why should nasty comments about someone on some random dating site be taken seriously?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Saturday Drivers

Yesterday, I went riding in golf carts.

It's the new thing. If you go to view the homes in an apartment or condominium complex, they'll likely bundle you into a little golf cart, and drive over to the unit that they'd like to show you. In some cases, I can understand this. Some of the apartment complexes around here have swallowed up their neighbors, or expanded, and can be pretty big (even though they're not normally THAT huge). But for some of them, where it's only maybe 200 yards from one end to the other, does it really make sense to ride over in a golf cart, as opposed to walking? Sometimes, it seems that were so obssessed with convenience that we lose all sense of anything else. I'm perfectly capable of walking three buildings over to see a model, or a vacant unit. And gold carts aren't fast enough that it's a huge time savings, and the speed bumps slow things down anyway. And you lose the chance to just stroll through the property, and see what's around.

I understand that for handicapped people, this is a real boon, and something that shows them that the property recognizes their disability. But for the rest of us, it just seems... unnecessary. And it's not like we couldn't use the exercise.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Is he for real?

So the local news has started saying that Khalid Sheik Mohammed was planning an attack on Seattle. The Seattle Times says this:

Mohammed said at the Guantánamo hearing that a Washington state landmark was on the list for a second wave of al-Qaida attacks against U.S. targets.

He said the "Plaza Bank [in] Washington State" was targeted along with the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Empire State Building in New York and the Library Tower in Los Angeles. FBI officials have said Mohammed was likely referring to the 76-floor Columbia Center in downtown Seattle.

His statement confirms information about planned al-Qaida attacks on the two tallest buildings on the West Coast referenced in the 9/11 commission's report, released in 2004. Seattle FBI officials confirmed the same year that Mohammed had talked about flying a jetliner into the tallest building in Washington, the 935-foot black skyscraper located at the corner of Cherry Street and Fifth Avenue.
There’s only one problem. Plaza Bank didn’t open for business until last year. Mohammed was captured in 2003. And, incidentally, it’s not in Columbia Center (which is shown on Google Maps as Bank of America Tower), but several blocks away.

Sounds to me like someone would rather go to the chair, than spend the rest of his life in Guantánamo.

The Seattle P-I spells it out more specifically here:
Buried on page 18 of the transcript is the claim that Mohammed's terrorists planned to hit a "Plaza Bank" in Washington state during the second wave of attacks after Sept. 11. The transcript gives no further details.

No Seattle bank went by that name before 2006.
Not that I think they should just let the guy go (unless, of course, he turns out to be completely innocent - which somehow, I REALLY doubt) – but if he’s not really the "terrorist mastermind" they’re looking for – the real culprit is still out there.

And, to continue my habit of harping on the media when they get on my nerves... The AP story in the Post-Intellegencer is headlined "State bank on 9/11 terrorists' hit list" - even though the story comes right out and says that there was no bank by that name in Washington when Mohammed was arrested.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Coming Out

California Representative Fortney Hillman "Pete" Stark has come out of the closet. Not as a homosexual, but as someone who doesn't believe in a "supreme being." According to this Los Angeles Times piece that showed up in this morning's Seattle Post Intelligencer, Representative Stark is "the first member of Congress — and highest-ranking elected official — to acknowledge publicly that he does not believe in God." He describes himself as "a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being." I don't really know anything about Unitarianism, but it seems to be something other than strictly deistic, almost (but not quite, really) falling into the "spiritual, but not necessarily religious" category, although it doesn't seem to be very dogmatic.

Given the overall American level of distrust (I think that "hostility" is too strong a word) towards those who aren't mainline Christian, this is an interesting position for a politician to take. We'll see, if he runs for re-election, if anyone opposes him primarily based on his nonbelief in God, or seeks to make that a top-tier camapign issue - and how this is linked to the fact that he was voted the most liberal member of Congress for two consecutive years.

It's almost too bad that Representative Stark isn't avowedly non-religious. According to Salman Rushdie, "Somebody who overtly professes not to have religion can't get elected dog catcher in [the United States]." (Reason Magazine, August/September 2005) It would have been interesting, come the next election cycle, to see if he was right.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Immoral Policies

So General Peter Pace, United States Marine Corps, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has gone on the record as saying that people who are openly homosexual should not be allowed to serve in the military, according to the Chicago Tribune. (The Trib may require registration to see old articles, so this link may or may not be useful. Here's an Associated Press story in the Washington Post.) The reasoning behind this is that the General feels that, in allowing people who openly engage in immoral acts to serve, the military is condoning immoral activities. "I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is okay to be immoral in any way," the General says.

To this you can really only say one thing: "Then I guess we're screwed."

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
- The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.
Just about every non-Christian religion on the face of the Earth does SOMETHING that "Christianity" defines as immoral, but doesn't otherwise violate United States law. Yes, I'm assuming that General Pace is referring to commonly accepted precepts of Christian morality. Given that the United States is overwhelmingly Christian (of one sect or another), I think is this a reasonable assumption to make. (Note that since there isn't a single monolithic Christian sect, just who or what constitutes "Christianity" can be subject to a LOT of debate.) If we assume for a moment (taking it on faith, as it were) that Christianity is in fact the One True Religion, you could make the point that simply allowing non-Christians to preach their religions (or pass them on to their children), as part of "the free exercise thereof," and thus lead people astray, is decidedly immoral.

Now, I'm not going to say that General Pace is deliberately stating that he finds the First Ammendment to be "a policy that says it is okay to be immoral," but I don't think that he really thought out what he was saying. Many people have played the "immorality card" against homosexuals, and I think that they tend to do so without thinking of all of the rights and freedoms that we take for granted (and that our military is supposed to be fighting for) that can also fall under strict (or even loose) definitions of "immoral." (Not to mention the sorts of day-to-day activities that we turn a blind eye towards.)

I'm okay with that from some joe I meet at the bus stop one day. From the highest ranking officer in the military, I think I'm allowed to expect a little more thoughtfulness.

Friday, March 9, 2007

A Down-Low Shame

So I was reading Slate, and found this article about the popular mythology surrounding the "Down Low." If you're unfamiliar, here's the 30-second primer: The remarkable spread of HIV/AIDS in the Black community in the United States is due to a number of men who, while married, are actually engaging in homosexual sex on the side. "Keeping it On the Down Low," normally invoked to indicate that something is being kept a secret, is used here as a way of saying "in the closet." As it turns out, the Down Low doesn't explain the phenomenon. The fact that the Down Low is overblown is nothing new. Slate itself commented on that very fact in this article two and a half years ago. But this time, a different writer is bringing it up again, mainly to explain why, if it's been pretty much debunked, the concept is still with us.

The answers, according to the article, are thus: White people, Conservatives and Liberals alike, find that it helps justify their racist assumptions about Black people. It's been picked up by Blacks out of a sense of equal-opportunity conspiritoriality - why should White people be the only ones keeping secrets that are dangerous to Blacks? The myth has also gained credibility among Blacks out of a sense of self-loathing - the community's failure to capitalize on the strides made during the Civil Rights Movement is because of immoral behavior in the interim.

My opinion - malarky.

For me, the most enduring legacy of America's history of racism is the expectation of racism. In other words, endemic historical racism breeds the perception of endemic modern racism. But to a degree, racism is like airplane disasters - made to seem more prevalent than the reality due to the frequency with which we talk about it. I will admit that the Down Low theory of the spread of HIV in Black society can be viewed in such a way that makes Black society look bad. But the idea that the purpose of the Down Low theory is to tar the Black community is a bit much.

So why then, does it still persist?

The Down Low theory, as an overarching explanation for the spread of HIV in the Black community, can really be explained this way:

Question: Where does HIV/AIDS come from?
Answer: Man on man sex - duh!
Question: So how did that married lady over there contract the disease?
Answer: Well, her husband must have slept with another guy at some time.
I know a number of people, Black and not, who are more or less convinced that gay or bisexual men are pretty much the only realistic vector for introducing HIV into any given population. This leads them to believe that married couples should be safe from the disease.

Hence, the idea of the "Down Low" becomes a convenient (and more importantly, plausible) way for everyone to explain something that "Conventional Wisdom" says shouldn't be the case - the spread of HIV through a community widely understood to be overwhelmingly heterosexual. (Some people would go so far as to say violently homophobic.)

This ignores some simple facts:
  • That HIV is not an EXCLUSIVELY sexually transmitted disease.
  • That one's chances of contracting the infection from any single heterosexual encounter with an infected partner are low, but NOT ZERO.
  • For most people, their current spouse, and their first sexual partner are NOT the same person.
  • While recommended, an HIV test is not a requirement for marriage.
  • For some number of people, the fact that they're sleeping with someone else doesn't mean that they aren't sleeping with their spouse.

Those simple facts mean that it's entirely possible that one could need all of one's mythical "six degrees of separation" to get from any given infected person to any given infected homosexual person, and lead to these simple facts:
  • Just because two people are married now doesn't mean that one or both of them were HIV-negative when they were married, even if neither of them ever had homosexual sex.
  • Just because two people are married and HIV-negative now doesn't mean that there is NO vector for one or both partners to contract the disease, even if neither of them ever has homosexual sex.
While this doesn't preclude either of the old bugaboos of White racism or Black self-loathing, I would say that these are more likely to be reinforced by the Down Low mythology, as opposed to its genesis.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Snake Oil for the Culture Wars

I came across an advertisement on the Web today, and I have to say that it was actually fairly unique, in the end.

It was a standard "Hey guys! Here's how to get laid!" pitch. It tried to push all of the usual buttons - claiming to seek out men who were tired of rejection, and promising some secret and arcane power over women. Never approach a woman again, was the promise - these secrets will have them approaching you. The lure was a blatant as it was unstated - go from being someone who women reject to someone that can reject all but the cream of the crop, using some hidden knowledge that will put you head and shoulders above the competition. And between each of the short text blurbs was a picture of a pretty, young, blonde - attractive and vulnerable, allegedly just the type of woman simply waiting to be seduced by whatever it was these guys were selling.

So far, so good. If you haven't gotten a million spam e-mails promising just this sort of thing, you've done a remarkable job of keeping your e-mail address under wraps - or you just don't have one - either way, you've probably seen it all before...

But this pitch adds an extra dimension that I never would have guessed, proclaiming: "Discover Forbidden Attraction Secrets the Liberal Media Does Not Want You To Know." Who knew that the art of seduction had become a new battlefront in the Culture Wars? Or that there were Forbidden Attraction Secrets that the Liberal Media was keeping to themselves? Those sneaky gits! I always thought that Charles Gibson was secretly hoarding all the good-looking women in New York for himself. And who knows who's waiting for him in his worldwide love nests when he's out "on assignment." The nerve!

Of course, this is just pandering to men, who in addition to being frustrated and or intimidated by women, are also convinced that the world is awash in Liberal consipracies to keep them down. I can't imagine that it's a very large market (after all, I've never met a Conservative that struck me as dumb enough to fall for this), but when you're selling snake oil, I guess you don't need a large customer base.

And, just to prove I'm not making this up, here you go.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Zero Tolerance

This is more Old News that I didn't get around back when I first wrote it. Or you could say, since this post also deals with swords, that I was cleverly saving it until there was more sword-related news... Yeah... that's the ticket!

While violence in schools has been an issue for decades, once it became a middle to upper-class issue, there was an explosion in policies dictating "Zero-Tolerance" for weapons on school grounds. Some of these have bordered on the downright incredible, such as one widely circulated (and perhaps completely imaginary) tale of a child expelled from school for bringing a 1/6th scale toy rifle from a G.I. Joe doll to class. Whether true on not, such stories served to mark zero-tolerance policies as being "zero-thought," with school administrators abandoning any semblance of common sense in their attempts to craft one-size-fits-all policies with clearly defined limits.

The latest saga to make the rounds is that of Patrick Agin, whose story was recently picked up by the BBC. To make a long story short, Portsmouth (Rhode Island) High School, where Patrick is a student, decided that their no-tolerance policy against weapons on campus extended to yearbook portraits in which a student is holding a weapon. As is often the case with such things, a lawsuit was filed, the resulting media attention is going international and the school district is rapidly becoming a laughingstock.

As one might expect, the British Broadcasting Corporation wasn't the first major news outlet to pick up this story. A little over a month ago, it appeared in MSNBC. In that particular piece, I found the following information:
"According to the lawsuit, principal Robert Littlefield told [Agin's mother, Heidi] Farrington she could pay to put the photo in the advertising section of the book, but he would not allow it as Agin's senior portrait. [...] Littlefield said he thought there would be less editorial scrutiny given to paid advertising space, and that an ad would not be viewed as receiving the school's endorsement."
If you're cynical enough, you could see this as the school merely using the zero-tolerance towards weapons policy in an attempt to extort money out of a student in exchange for freedom of expression. Principal Littlefield's comments however, if accurately paraphrased (remember this is all "According to the lawsuit"), show him as being more interested in avoiding both the hassle of dealing with potential objections from the yearbook's editorial board and sidestepping problems with other parents who could see the school as endorsing the practice of hacking people up with swords. He was clearly hoping (in vain, it turns out), that Patrick and his mother would back down, and spare him the risk of some other parent bringing a lawsuit. While we'd like to think that no sane parent could possibly think that a student's choice of senior portrait would constitute a school's endorsement of violence, it's safe to say that Principle Littlefield, like a lot of other people who read the news from time to time, knows better. It was, more or less, a damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don't situation for the man. And while it's easy to look back on the fiasco that this grew into, and say he made the wrong choice - that presupposes that there was a right choice, and I'm not sure I'd bet on that.

Friday, March 2, 2007


Maybe it's because by the time America was founded, swords were largely things of the past in terms of military weapons, but Americans don't have much respect for the sword as a weapon. Going after someone with a gun makes you dangerous - going after someone with a sword makes you a random looney. But swords are VERY dangerous, and shouldn't be underestimated. Even one that isn't sharpened can bring a lot of force to bear on a very small area, and can easily break bones or open very nasty wounds. In South Carolina, a young man broke into his ex-girlfreind's apartment, supposedly intent on intimidating her, if not attacking her, armed with a sword. But the first rule of home invasion is know who lives there - this guy didn't, and it turned out that his ex-girlfriend's roommate was a sword collector - and it seems he knew how to use one, for he quickly disarmed the intruder and held him while the ex-girlfriend called the police. You can read about the story here if you'd like. He's in the hospital now, and under arrest. But at least he's not being mocked by the Associated Press, as this poor guy is. (Although someone who lives with his mother, and doesn't own a telephone, but has a sword - this is exactly the kind of person who gets stuck with the label "random looney." One of my coworkers, when this case come up in conversation, conjectured that the guy played too much Dungeons and Dragons. Which also serves to reinforce the idea that we don't see swords as particularly dangerous.)

Thursday, March 1, 2007


One very good question about the United States is this: Do we, as Americans own our Stuff, of does it own us? In a number of ways, the United States is all about Stuff. Mainly because it's a means of showing Wealth and Status, and the amount of Wealth one has, and people's perceptions of Status, can be very important. Wealth - well, its importance is fairly self-evident. Wealth grants access to more healthful food, safer and more comfortable living conditions, better education, more occupational opportunities, increased access to better outcomes in the legal system, more competent help in getting things done, the list goes on and on... Status is less quantifiable, but still helpful, especially when it comes to influencing people. U2 front man Bono is in a position to rub shoulders with people who are considered the planet's movers and shakers, and make requests or even demands of them, because he has very high status. While Bill Gates could do the same thing, it's perhaps somewhat less likely that the people he speaks to would be willing to let him go without asking for a little financial consideration. While we in the United States have (mostly) shed the idea that there is a class of people who are simply born more worthy than the rest of us, it's fairly clear that we haven't managed to shed the idea that having more Wealth and higher Status can make one more worthy than everyone else. And even if we have managed to shed that concept, there are still many of us who hodl on to the idea that other people believe that their Wealth and Status make them everyone's "betters."

But even outside of what many people consider the crass materialistic side of Stuff, it's easy to become caught up in it. Just about everyone knows at least one person who can tell a riveting horror story about some item that they'd really rather be done with - but it was a gift from so-and-so, or it belonged to their significant other's Grandpa What's-his-face, or they need to keep it around because their boss comes over to dinner sometimes, and it's expected that they have one. Our Stuff can become a part of us by being both a major factor in the stories that we tell other people about ourselves, and the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves.

And so there becomes a growing cadre of items that we feel Diminished if we don't have, and that ability of Stuff to worm its way into our feelings of self-worth can engender some remarkable events. The Season of Scandals that corporate America went through over the past few years was predicated mainly on people who "had more money than most folks would know what to do with," being caught stealing even more money. The now infamous audio tapes of Enron traders illustrated people who had no qualms about cheating tens of thousands of people, in order to line their own pockets - by sharing in the windfall of a company that was keeping most of the money for the people at the very top. And they showed off their success with Stuff.

Now, don't get me wrong - I have no problem with Stuff. Mainly because if you take all of the people that it takes to feed, clothe, house and educate (along with some other more or less essential services) the three hundred million people that call the United States home - you don't wind up with the one-hundred fifty or so million people that could reasonably make up the American workforce. We can't all be subsistance farmers. So there are going to be people whose job it is to make stuff that other people can use, but do not really need.

But to the degree that we allow our Stuff to define who we are as people, it starts to take on a life of its own, and to become the most important things in our lives. But I can't think of anyone who is primarily remembered today because they owned thus-and-so, or had possession of whatchamacallit.