Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Are Packing Teachers the Answer to School Violence?

After the tragic and depraved events in Newtown, Connecticut, one of the solutions being suggested by some--such as Oregon State Rep. Dennis Richardson--is the idea of two or three teachers at each school being allowed to carry a concealed weapon in order to deal with an armed intruder emergency.

Let me first say that I have nothing at all against responsible use of firearms.  In fact, my father is a firearms instructor.  I look forward to getting a new concealed weapons permit myself in the near future for a .45 caliber handgun.  What I do question, though, is the wisdom of this recommendation for four main reasons.

Opposing Skill Sets

Perhaps relevant to this discussion is a quick snapshot of my own background.  As a young man, I spent many an hour helping in classrooms, followed some years later by ride-alongs with city, county, and federal law enforcement officers from Seattle to Port Townsend.  I have also had the opportunity to work in the loss prevention, corporate security, and even as a Campus Security Officer for Seattle Pacific University before going to work for the State of Oregon in 1997.  

While I have the greatest respect for teachers, the skill set and talent required to educate our children is completely different than what's required for a law enforcement officer.  The teacher is slow and methodical, while the police officer must, through experience and constant training and education, be prepared at any moment to take lethal force against an individual.  He's not going to aim for the legs; he's not going to fire a "warning shot."  If he pulls his service weapon, he is prepared and ready to take a life.  These professions are diametrically opposed--not great candidates for job sharing.  A simple error in judgement could quickly lead to catastrophic results.  (One example of this would be the issue of bystander safety.)

Conflicting Priorities

If the armed teacher were to suspect an emergency in-progress, is he expected to leave his students unattended to go race down the halls?  The teacher's primary responsibility should be to do everything in his power to ensure the safety of his students.  This doesn't include abandoning them alone in the classroom.

Too Much Authority?

Last year, a teacher at Sprague High School was arrested .  Sadly, this is nothing new in our nation, but it should give us all some food for thought.  It's well known that abusive teachers will often wield their authority in a way that intimidates their victim.  Do we really want to risk handing this same teacher a 9mm?  I suggest a diversification of authority in schools safeguards our children.

The Pacific Northwest is not Texas

I'll probably catch some heat (only slight pun intended) on this from my Texas family, but let me explain.  Just because some schools may be successfully employing a practice along these lines in Texas, doesn't mean it's necessarily appropriate in Oregon or Washington (especially western sides of the respective states).  No, I have absolutely no statistics to back this assertion up, but, as a guy who has lived both in the north and south, I suggest that firearm familiarity may be a little more prevalent down south than in the Pacific Northwest.  (If you don't believe me, just try breaking into a house in south Dallas.)  This issue needs to be addressed on a state by state basis, and I don't believe that either Oregon or Washington is the ideal test candidate.

A Better Solution

Rather than arming our educators, I suggest that one way to approach this is to utilize more plainclothes personnel who are well armed and highly trained.  These individuals would randomly patrol school district property.  They would not get involved in citing cars in the fire lane, but they would take action any time a violent encounter is observed.  (After all, even a small fight between high schoolers can quickly escalate if a weapon appears.)

People need to understand that a uniformed officer serves both as a deterrent and a first responder, but he is also likely the first target.  The plainclothes personnel would have the extra few seconds they would require to get in position and terminate the threat as safely as possible.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Shared Accountability & Militant Atheism

In the wake of Friday's tragedy, I shared some thoughts online the other day.  I'd like to post them again here.

We've systematically removed God and prayer from our culture, embraced moral relativism, and loved ourselves more than others. This is the tragic result. Our culture needs a return to the values that made us great. This won't be solved by Unitarians or New Age Mysticism; the answer is Christ.

Who bears the responsibility for the spiritual swamp we are mired in today?  The short answer is that we are all responsible for the current state of affairs.  Still, if we look a little deeper, is there a particular mindset which perhaps bears a greater degree of culpability for us so thoroughly losing our way as a culture?

I suggest that no small degree of responsibility rests on the shoulders of those whose message of the anti-Gospel seeks converts to their cause.  This is not so much associated with all atheists as the ones who are constantly "evangelizing" their faith.  (The atheist who doesn't push his faith so vociferously can hardly be held accountable for those who choose to do so.)

That's right, I did say faith.  If atheism is an absence of faith, then that absence in and of itself represents a form of faith.  Yes, it may be a faith in essentialy nothing, but it remains a belief system that cannot be proven just as my personal belief in God cannot be scientifically proven: a supposition with regards to a particular state of affairs and the nature of reality itself.

Seeing atheism through the lens of faith is helpful in reacting to its siren call.  For instance, the atheist that demands a school stop some long-held practice because it offends him, needs to be intellectually honest and realize that his request itself is framed upon his own faith.  Whose faith should win?  That's not my call, but I suggest those atheists who feel the need to get in our faces with provocative billboards or inflammatory rhetoric need to recognize their behavior for what it is.  They wish to spread their faith in a similar way to the Christian's desire to evangelize the lost.

The crimes of atheism have generally been perpetrated through a hubristic ideology that sees man, not God, as the creator of values. Using the latest techniques of science and technology, man seeks to displace God and create a secular utopia here on earth. Of course if some people - the Jews, the landowners, the unfit, or the handicapped - have to be eliminated in order to achieve this utopia, this is a price the atheist tyrants and their apologists have shown themselves quite willing to pay. Thus they confirm the truth of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's dictum, "If God is not, everything is permitted. 

Diniesh D’Souza, “Atheism, Not Religion is the Real Force Behind the Mass Murders of History.” The Christian Science Monitor. (11-21-06 edition).  

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Pitch Black Day

Beautiful faces, mouths agape   
Eyes with tears, cries from red lips awake.  
Nightmare begins like a thunderclap.  
Pleadings, cries, flailing arms, fingers slap.  

Hands raised to the walking night.   
Evil rages, the young lose their fight.  
The nightmare unfolds, and terror calls.  
Groans and gasps echo down the red halls.  

Lifeless faces downward bent   
Ugly eyes stare.  Silent lips, blue and spent.   
Racing men, unprepared for the sight.   
Sons, daughters, babies...gone in the night.    

Spirits rising upward, fire.   
Silent lips, voices clear as the spire.  
The nightmare now is for the living.  
Questions, anger, and no forgiving.   

Bright figures don't look behind.   
Innocence regained, love unconfined.  
Today, the children play at His feet.   
Sons, daughters, babies have arrived complete.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Sharing an Office Interview

I was graciously interviewed at my state office today for an internal state agency profile.  In case you don't work within sight of my exciting tax cubicle, here's what Craig Spivey prepared this afternoon.  Special thanks to Craig and the rest of the gang in Communications!  (I've made some adjustments to formating for the blog.)

Employment Department Tax Auditor, Karl Erickson, would seem to be on a hot streak.  In 2010 we wrote about the success of his first book, Tristan's Travels, as it was published in hard back. Now Karl readies for the release of his second childrens book, Toupee Mice.

Writing childrens books seems to be such a separate world than that of a Tax Auditor, I thought it would be fun to have a question and answer session with Karl.

EDweb: Why do you write?

Karl: I've enjoyed writing for years.  There's a satisfaction that comes from crafting a quality tale, and there's even more satisfaction in seeing children laugh and giggle at the stories.  There's so much negativity and darkness around us, I like to focus on the lighthearted dimension in my children's books.  Finding and exploring the good (and silly)  is something to which children need greater exposure.  Writing is also a powerful creative outlet.  The author is able to create and populate his own world.  That beats football in my book!

EDweb: Where do your story ideas come from?

Karl: The origin of story ideas varies greatly from book to book.  When it comes to my books for children, the ideas were often sparked by stories I would spontaneously create and read aloud for our own kids.  I'd pay close attention to what they liked the most, and then adapt and polish the tale into a book form.  Other times, scene images or character sketches have led to the larger stories.  In one short story, for instance, the image began with just a young university student running furiously through a dark and rainy Seattle campus.

Sometimes it's also "all of the above" when it comes to ideas sparking a story.   That's kind of the way it was with my current mystery novel, The Blood Cries Out (not a children's book).  It's almost finished, but it's been in development for years.  It began first with the protagonist's character sketch and a glimmer of an idea for a particular scene in the San Juan Islands.  It grew from there, and it's been an exciting journey.  (I even received a tour of the Seattle Police Department's Homicide Unit by Seattle Police Commander and popular mystery author, Neil Low.)

The freedom of writing for older audiences is probably where I'll be focusing for a while, but I may return to children's books someday.

EDweb:  Tell us about the collaboration with you and your wife.  How do you mix your writing with her art?  How does she get the feel for your stories to be able to translate them into illustration?

Karl: As we've been married for over 20 years, it's challenging to put the process in words; we both know the stories and the characters inside and out.  One part of the creative process, though, is something similar to storyboarding.  You've probably seen this demonstrated in behind the scene features on movie productions, but what we do is similar.  We'll brainstorm on important scenes that could be illustrated first, then Kimberly will do quick sketches of each scene.  Some scenes are great in the book, but not necessarily perfect for visual depiction.  Kimberly looks at layout, feel, and other elements to decide which scenes she will ultimately paint.

Another challenge that comes up at times concerns the illustration models.  Kimberly prefers to paint from my animal model photographs.  (I know this brings to mind someone saying "Flaunt it, baby!" to a rabbit...but bear with me here.)  Surprisingly, though, sometimes it's hard to photograph a seagull reading a newspaper.  This is where things get particularly creative--but I can't divulge all of the artist's secrets!

EDweb:  People don't necessarily equate Tax Auditors with creative artists.  How do you combine those two worlds?

Karl: I think the creative process actually serves as a good outlet for my kind of accounting work--not that I want to do this forever.  In fact, I think learning to look at things with a humorous or creative perspective actually is helpful when it comes to problem-solving and thinking outside of the box--or outside of the outer box, as I like to say.  Humor is a powerful thing, and I think we need more of it around our offices, too.

In fact, I'd suggest that there are even appropriate and effective methods of employing carefully tailored humor within a business setting as a technique for de-escalating conflicts.  ...Not that I wear my arrow through the head hat during audits, mind you, but a sense of humor puts people at ease, and it conveys a sense of shared humanity.

EDweb: Writing a book is a long process. . .what is your process from taking an idea, turning it into a story, developing characters with personality, and then finally coming out with a finished product?  What does that look like?


Karl: I consider my writing as a second job.  Not only is it a very long process, but it doesn't always go in chronological order.  I actually wrote Toupee Mice before Tristan's Travels, but they are being published in reverse order.  The success of Tristan's Travels helped to bring the older tale of tails to print--after we revised it.  I like to say that each book I undertake is like an exercise in extraordinarily complex project management.  There are so many different elements that have to come together that it's really more like designing a building than simply a piece of writing.

The foundation of the story is the plot and its central characters.  On top of this, you create memorable scenes, inject humor and surprise, and build tension--all built within the setting of the story.  It's the setting that perhaps most strongly conveys the sense of place found in a book, and this is always something I spend a lot of time on.  For example, I frequently do research trips relating to my stories.  For Tristan's Travels, this meant taking a lot of photographs around Astoria--as well as getting in touch with a fellow named Sean Astin.  For Toupee Mice, it required us to shoot hundreds of animal photos around the valley.  The Blood Cries Out has taken me to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, downtown Seattle (including the police department and city offices), and even Joseph, Oregon in the shadow of the Wallowa Mountains in majestic northeast Oregon.

Skipping ahead (past outlining, character sketches and profiles, simmering character conflicts and critical backstories, etc), one comes to the marketing and promotion side of the business.  For those like me who avoid the self-publishing route, some would say this is where the heavy lifting really begins for the author.  Everyone and their neighbor has a word processor, after all, and many people try their hand at writing.  It's a very competitive field.  One needs to be patient and have a positive attitude.  If you find a traditional publisher to accept your work, you're indeed one of the fortunate few--at least until the next rejection letter arrives in the mailbox.

Monday, December 10, 2012

How Not to do a Book Giveaway ("Heroes Proved")

I still remember coming back from my early morning newspaper delivery route in Yakima, Washington during the summer of 1987 and turning on the television to watch the Iran Contra Hearings.  (Yes, I may have been a strange kid...)

Oliver North has always been a fascinating, patriotic character to me, and  I still enjoy listening to his commentaries.  Fast forward to yesterday afternoon on Fox News when I caught an intriguing book promotion offer from the  the famous author.  If listeners could identify the name of the song from which his title was taken within the next hour and submit to his olivernorth.com, he would mail them a signed copy of his latest novel, Heroes Proved.   

I quickly determined that the title was taken from "America, the Beautiful," and I sent in my answer within a few minutes of the announcement.  No response was forthcoming.  After following up on social media with still no response, I decided to write up a few brief thoughts.

First, I suggest that with the advent of Google it may be easier to track down obscure pieces of information like this than Oliver North realized.  That being the case, it's probably best to put a limit of some kind on the number of free copies to which one is committed to giving away.  (I wonder if Threshold Editions is not to pleased with its author today...)

Second, if you have unmonitored social media and e-mail accounts, you're really missing the central point of social media--e.g. the social part.  At the very least, an author or publisher should ensure that an automated e-mail reply is generated when your message is received.  When it comes to electronic communications, authors and editors often seem to be the least organized people around.

I look forward to still reading Heroes Proved (on Kindle), but I won't be holding my breath for that signed edition.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

"Toupee Mice" Excerpt!

Here is the promised sneak peek!

A Dangerous Mission: The Mantel Recon

“Are you sure this idea of yours is entirely safe?” I asked, looking nervously down at the living room floor from atop the lofty fireplace man

tel. “What if they come back early, Fred? What if we don’t find the right hiding spot? Fiddlesticks warned us—”

“Of course we’re safe, my dear mouse,” Fred interrupted. “I’m sure they won’t be back for a while yet. We’ll blend into these incredible works of art, these...what are they called again?”

“They’re mouse Hummels: little statues or figurines,” I replied, inching carefully between two of the delicate figures.

“Well, this new owner has excellent taste, that’s fer sure. Very lifelike they are. Shame we have to knock some sense into this poor chap.” He extended a curious paw to examine a figurine’s tail when suddenly it turned and knocked his paw aside, exclaim- ing, “Excusez moi, s’il vous plaît!”

Fred squeaked and leapt aside in a manner most unbecoming for a hero of Super Squirrel’s reputation. He jumped a little too far, though, because he alighted on the mantel’s edge, teetering there for a moment before he regained his footing. A real mouse had been hiding right beside us, atop the somewhat crowded mantel.

“Who are you?” I asked.

The newcomer glared at Fred and straightened his black wool beret. With a sidelong glance at Fred, he answered, “Je suis—”

He paused. “Sorry, I forget I am not back in Paris, Texas. I am Pierre, the famous barber and member of the Lonestar Barber- shop Quartet. Why, may I inquire, is your companion dressed up like a spoiled cat on Christmas morning?”

“I resent that!” declared an exasperated Fred. “We’re spying on the new owner and his feline partner. The mantel was my idea, my plan! Ian and I need a way to disguise ourselves so we can get around whenever the need arises. We want to spend less time sneaking around mantels and more time singin’ and dancin’ at talent shows. Anyway, Mister Pet Store Mouse, I can’t be seen by anyone except Ian, because my magic cape creates a shield of invisibility.”

“But I see you!” Pierre pointed out. “You are right there,” he said, tweaking Fred’s nose for emphasis.

Fred turned pale, his eyes glazed over, and he began nibbling on his cape before he caught himself. “Quick,” he blurted, “Ian’s idea is no good. Get off the mantel!”

Pre-order your copy of Toupee Mice today!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sliding into the Guild's News Position....

Illustration by Kimberly Erickson
Greetings!  Please bear with me as I try to lend a hand with getting the news out for the Catholic Writers' Guild!  I'm new at this, so hopefully everything will work as it should-- but I'll ask your patience in advance!

So, who am I, and what am I doing here?  Well, why don't we leave the philosophical musings to John Konecsni...but let's just say that I am glad to be endeavoring to lead a more active role within the guild in the coming year.  That said, I should probably mention that I am a very busy guy.  Between the full time state government job  (doing terrible things to numbers) and a novel which has been nearing its last and very final stage towards completion for about....the last year, I sometimes am tempted to throw in the towel and open a bed and breakfast in Friday Harbor (San Juan Island, Washington).

Seriously, perhaps you would like to know a little about me?  I'm the author of two lighthearted children's books: Tristan's Travels and Toupee Mice.  Both are available from Rafka Press--but the latter tale is still pre-order.  They are illustrated by my lovely wife, Kimberly Erickson.  If you'd like to learn more about me, please drop by Karl Erickson.  I also have two Facebook pages setup currently.  This is the main author page, and the second page is designated for the children's books.  (If you want to make an author happy, "like" them today--especially the newest one!)

As far as the spiritual journey which brought us here, you can read about that in Catholic Answer's This Rock.  To make a long story short(er), we're very happy to be done once and for all with church shopping.  We're home where we belong in the Catholic Church, and we couldn't be happier!  Now...could we just work on some of those hymns!

I thought I'd conclude with two of my trailers for our books, but I also want to put a quick plug in for a new experiment I'm doing.  It's called the Catholic Writers' Guild (Western Branch).  It occurred to me that it sometimes it's easy to feel geographically removed  from the larger group when only a few brave souls occupy the "western frontiers."  If you think that having an online place to gather for those of us in the western states would be helpful, please just swing by and hit like (hard).  So far, I only have one other person who is remotely excited about the idea.  If no one else has time, I'll probably shelve the group entirely after Christmas.  I won't be promoting that group any more--most likely--so drop by now if interested!

I look forward to helping CWG members get the word out concerning their exciting work and achievements!  Here are the two promised book trailers: Tristan's Travels followed by Toupee Mice.

PS.  You can also find me on Twitter at PacNWCathWriter!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Win a Signed Book and Gift Card!!

Fred from Toupee Mice

Ian, Fred, and Pierre can barely stand the excitement!  

With Toupee Mice pre-ordering only a couple weeks away now, I'd like to quickly boost membership on our Tristan's Travels and Toupee Mice page over on Facebook.  So, here's the plan...  If we can get the members (or "likers") up to a minimum of 100, we will donate one signed copy of Tristan's Travels and a $5 Starbucks gift card to a randomly selected Facebook follower.  Both the author and illustrator will sign the book!  (We'll announce the winner on December 1st.)

So, make sure you're entered today! 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

When the Faith's Culture Undermines the Doctrine

My goal today is to show where groups of believers have sometimes gone astray in the way they have sought to apply their biblical knowledge to their daily lives.  I have to be careful with a post along these lines, because it would be so easy to take it too far.  That is, I am not focusing today on doctrinal issues or fallacies--e.g. heretical predestinarianism found in churches of the Calvinist persuasion--so much as I am looking at some strange or particularly misguided practices associated with some Christian traditions.  For today, I will only share three brief examples of where the culture of a particular faith can sometimes cause more problems than good.

First, many Baptists and other fundamentalist have embraced the writings of Michael Pearl.  Here's a passage which, as I understand, concerns whipping a 3 year-old.  

She then administers about ten slow, patient licks on his bare legs. He cries in pain. If he continues to show defiance by jerking around and defending himself, or by expressing anger, then she will wait a moment and again lecture him and again spank him. When it is obvious he is totally broken, she will hand him the rag and very calmly say, “Johnny, clean up your mess.” He should very contritely wipe up the water.

It shouldn't even be necessary for a reasonable person to have to point out the evil of this.  It's sick.  We should be defending the weak at every turn, not making them suffer to salve our own moral failings and personal turpitude.  Don't take out your own guilt and sin upon your innocent child!  (See Matthew 19:14.)

Second, the Churches of Christ practices something akin to shunning when members "go astray," or question what they are told.  We may expect this from less mainline denominations such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, but it's startling to see such a cult-like practice welcomed within the evangelical denominations.  How does a family turning its back upon a loved one better demonstrate the love of God?  (See Mark 12:31.)   

Third, there is a disturbing element within some corners of Catholic culture when it comes to Mary.  First, let it not be misunderstood that Mary's role is an amazing and awe-inspiring one indeed.  In her "yes," the power of Eve's "no" is forever broken and mankind is saved because of her glorious son.  She is indeed, then, the Mother of God--an example of the communication of idioms.  What crosses the line, however, is when good Catholics support and promote things such as Our Lady's Fifteen Promises.

There is no act we can do on heaven or earth which can bind the living and all-powerful God of creation to our frail will.  If we think that we can follow some obscure spiritual recipe for ensuring our salvation, then we are not much better off than those who embrace the lie of the so-called "prosperity gospel."  We are not to seek to avoid pain at all costs, after all, but to endure what is necessary for the glory of God and the pursuit of righteousness.  To think that the simple recitation of a good prayer is enough...is to be lulled to complacency.  It is, after all, merely a starting point.  There is no free pass from trial, tribulations, or free will, and our salvation is to be worked "out with fear and trembling."  (See also John 14:16.)

Particularly in the case of the latter example, I realize that some may be disappointed or upset with me.  Please feel free to charitably express yourself, and I promise a courteous and respectful response.


The Immaculate Conception
490 To become the mother of the Savior, Mary "was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role."132 The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as "full of grace".133 In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God's grace.
491 Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, "full of grace" through God,134 was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:

The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.135
492 The "splendor of an entirely unique holiness" by which Mary is "enriched from the first instant of her conception" comes wholly from Christ: she is "redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son".136 The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person "in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" and chose her "in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love".137
493 The Fathers of the Eastern tradition call the Mother of God "the All-Holy" (Panagia), and celebrate her as "free from any stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature".138 By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long.

from the Catechism of the Catholic Church


Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Seasons of Mt. Jefferson Forest

For both health and photography reasons, I've been making fairly regular hikes this summer into Lake Pamelia, situated in the shadow of Oregon's Mt. Jefferson.   I made the last trip of the year on Friday, 19th with my son.  (Putting a state government furlough day to good use.)  It was wet, cold, and miserable at times, but it was also a rewarding experience nonetheless.  Putting aside the disquiet of briefly losing the trail a couple times on the way back because of the steady rainfall eroding parts of it away and causing the trail to either disappear altogether or lead us into gurgling stream beds, it was a wonderful opportunity to see the changing seasons work their wonders on this isolated wood.  (We also witnessed a magnificent bald eagle circling the lake's south side on Friday.)  

I thought it might be enjoyable to see several photos below taken since summer, inviting the viewer to really see the changes that take place here.  From the rhododendrons gracing the water's edge in spring to the red and golden leaves shrouded in mountain mist in the fall, every day in the majesty of Oregon's mountains is a day lived indeed.

Lake Pamelia on June 1st.

Waterfall on lake's eastern side.

The forest is bathed in the light of July.

Orange bellied Taricha granulosa

Waterfall on Lake Pamelia's eastern side on August 11th.
Mt. Jefferson reflected in Hank's Lake (several miles from Pamelia).

Looking east from west side of Hank's Lake.

The waterfall as viewed on October 19th.

Fall colors under a blanket of mist and light rain. 

  * These photographs are the sole property of Karl Erickson.  Please contact me for purchasing information.

Update: I share this just for the fun of it.  It's not my usual area of interest...but I do like mysteries.  The day after the last two photos above were taken, check out this report.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Looking for a Good Editor?

If you need an editor with a quick turnaround, check out my new editing and web accessibility service: A Second Pair of Eyes!  

We're also interested in business websites featuring silly or unusual editorial errors.  Please keep sending them in!  

Breaking the Republican Sterotype and Bridging the Divide

I've written before on what it's like be conservative Republican in the halls of state government.  Let's just say that part of the reason it surprises people that I work for the state is that there is a stereotype about conservatives--not to mention state employees.  I'm not fond of those stereotypes, and I take them on whenever possible.  Recently, for example, I tried to engage a young relative on a friendly debate on the topic of abortion, but I was astonished at her lack of even a hint of an open mind on the issue.  There was no interest in understanding the other side.  

She derisively mocked the pro-life position as just my politics, adding that I could not "convert" her; she couldn't be more wrong on my motivation.  My Pro-Life position may be best embraced by the Republican Party (the same party that brought the end of slavery if you might recall), but I would consider myself a Catholic first and a Republican second.  Accepting abortion as a tremendous evil and honoring the sanctity of all human life are positions at the heart of a life lived in faith, a life endeavoring to see beyond oneself and to others.

For some reason, our exchange got me thinking about stereotypes and their influence upon our thinking on political issues.  While a lot could certainly be written on this, I'd like to focus today on the Republican Party and changing US demographics.  As you'll see from the most recent Census reports, our Hispanic population is growing much more quickly than other demographic groups: Caucasian, for example.  The face of the United States is changing, and it's time that we recognize and embrace what that change means and what it entails.  When it comes to the Republican Party, why is it that our party seems to communicate so poorly with the Hispanic population?  After all, speaking broadly in terms of faith and culture, we share many of the same values.  We value hard work, the importance of family, as well as agree upon the cherished importance of faith in our lives.    

Yet, it seems that these shared values aren't enough to bridge the gap.  In speaking recently to a Latina on this topic, we agreed that the reason most Hispanics by far decide to vote for the Democratic ticket is because they are scared away by the incendiary rhetoric on the issue of immigration which sometimes is associated with our party.  I oppose illegal immigration as much as anyone, but we need to be more careful in our broad assertions, our generalizations, and our stereotypes.  We're alienating more than the illegal alien; we're alienating the legal citizens of Hispanic heritage and culture as well.  It's time we show them who we really are and destroy the negative stereotypes.  Let's endeavor to bridge the divide between us, because I think we will all find that we have much more in common than we realize.

*For more on this general topic, please also see "Lost in Translation."

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Introducing...A Second Pair of Eyes, an Editorial Service for Professionals

 I hope you will check out my new editorial service, A Second Pair of Eyes!  I've been really shocked at the mistakes I am reading from professionals lately--especially attorneys.  No one seems to have the time to polish press releases these days.  As my client, I hope to be like...a second pair of eyes for you in order to relieve a little stress and make the quality of your work shine even more.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Oregon Coast Clam Chowder (New & Imrpoved!)

If there's one dish I enjoy, it's a good bowl of clam chowder. We've sampled clam chowder in fine restaurants from Victoria to Monteray, and I really can honestly say that our recipe is hard to beat.  That said, my recipe owes a debt of gratitude to my own family. In fact, perhaps I should call it Eastern Washington Clam Chowder? No, I guess not.

Besides never scalding the milk, the central thing to bear in mind for this recipe is to keep experimenting and perfecting it. That's one aspect I enjoy--that each batch is slightly different than before. I usually add a one or two of a rotating list of seafood together with the clams: shrimp, crab, scallops, smoked salmon, etc. (Freshly caught seafood is particularly good, but make sure you have selected the right kind of clams if you've dug them yourself. Sadly...the Ericksons are not the best clam diggers; we buy them canned now.)

I also recommend making it correctly the first couple times before trying to concoct a healthy version. After all, this isn't a side dish, it's the meal. We almost never use real cream, for instance, but it does greatly improve the texture and flavor.  You may notice I use the word about a number of times in the recipe.  This is because either I have misplaced the precise measurements or I am encouraging some brave experimentation.  (I'll let you decide which is the case.)


about eight pounds of cut and peeled potatoes
about two cups of chicken broth
4-6 small cans of clams or 1 of the large can
3/4 to 1 stick of real butter
2 diced onions
1 diced stalk of celery
about a quart of whipping creme or half and half
four cups of whole milk
2-3 tbsp corn starch

Seasoning (to taste)

cracked pepper
dried parsley
basil (fresh preferred)
Be creative!

At the same time your boiling the potatoes in the chicken broth, begin to saute the cut onions in a skillet with some butter. Once the potatoes are sufficiently tender, remove from the heat. Cook the onions until they begin to become translucent. Just before removing from the heat, add the celery.  If the potatoes are too big, cut to smaller pieces. (You can cut them within the pot and save a little time.) Add sautéed onions to potatoes, followed by the rest of the seafood and any other desired ingredients. Don't add the milk or whipping creme yet!

Once everything has come to a gentle boil, add the milk and whipping creme last. Keep stirring and lower the heat. This prevents the milk from scalding. As the consistency will likely not be thick enough, withdraw half a cup of the liquid from the chowder and add two or three tablespoons of corn starch.  Mix well before adding to the chowder.  Bring to a boil again, stirring frequently, then remove from heat and serve hot.

Everyone (except me) in my household likes ice cold peas dropped on top of the chowder to help cool it down at serving time. I still believe that this is a great affront to the chowder gods. Consequently, you will not see peas in my chowder--unless, of course, my wife Kimberly has prepared it. :)

Suggested toppings: crumbled pepper bacon or oyster crackers.

PS.  You know what would go well with Oregon Clam chowder?  The answer is clearly...a copy of Tristan's Travels.  :)  

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Islamic Offense, a Window to Religious Impotence?

I'd like to simply share an observation or two today concerning the wildfire of protests smoking across the Middle East.  I think it offers a fundamental insight into an erroneous way of thinking.  Besides the legitimate concern that the masses are so easily whipped into a religious frenzy by their manipulative leaders, there seems a fundamental disconnect or contradiction here with regards to Muhammad.  If any single person has the potential power to so easily enrage a people or culture as to incite murder(s), what essence of real truth can truly exist within the faith?  Even more important, however, if Muhammad is so easily and seriously blasphemed, to a level where its radicalized followers are compelled rise to violence to attack anyone or anything to which they are pointed, how weak a faith this would seem to be!

Where's the reason, intellectual curiosity, or respect for life?  Where's the desire to build and create as opposed to destroy and kill?  Where's the desire to heal as opposed to harm and injure?  I have respect and admiration for those of the Islamic faith who follow a pathway of of peace and justice, but...those who pursue a radical agenda certainly do a grave disservice and dishonor to their Islamic faith.  If anyone in any place has the power to enrage many to such a grievous point of sin, where is the strength of faith and reason?

In Saint Augustine's City of God, he discusses how the evil persecution of the Christian faithful does not bring sin and impurity to its victims.  That is, for example, if a Christian virgin were raped, that does not bring sin upon the victim of rape.  This is a common sense view within the Western Tradition, and a similar logic would perhaps be put to sound use by the radicalized followers of the Islamic tradition.  If one person's obscure and unsupported blasphemy against Muhammad can incite such unbridled anger and unjust response, can the faith really be in the one true God at all, and why does a "nobody" with a video camera hold such a power over a people--except that that people want that power to be so held?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Moral Relativism in the Postmodern Church

I had an interesting experience recently to attend a diversity conference in Salem.  While diversity is not a term with which I am always at ease--primarily on account of its most vociferous supporters' proclivity for using it as a weapon with which to pound conservatives--my feelings on the topic have somewhat softened of late.  Someday I'll tell the whole account, but suffice to say that I have had a realization that sometimes it's important to lend support to a movement when it helps brings about the greater good.  While there may be elements of the diversity movement which strike me as unhealthy and cliche-ridden, the bottom line is that it draws attention to what many of us Christians either are doing already or should have been be doing all along: engaging our fellow man with respect and courtesy.  (The fact that many of its supporters exclude conservatives from all the other differences they are quick to praise is unfortunate.)

As I commented in another blog post recently concerning "Lost in Translation," I think I recognize now more than in the past that racism sometimes takes a more subtle and insidious grasp than we may realize.  So, even if some dimensions of the movement are troubling, I support it insofar as it helps bring respect and courtesy to communications with those of different ethnic or social backgrounds.  That's the Christian thing to do, after all.

Dr. Delman Coates
Returning to the previously mentioned conference, I was excited to have the opportunity to attend a lecture given by Dr. Delmar Coates, pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Maryland.  This is described as a "mega Church" with thousands of members.  I quickly realized in the session Dr. Coates was giving that he seemed more comfortable with the world than the relatively conservative positions with which the Baptist denomination is usually associated.  He began, for instance, in suggesting that the Golden Rule needed to be updated to the Platinum Rule where we do unto others as they want to be treated.  While this kind of thing wouldn't bother me so much from a "regular Joe," I find it troubling when a pastor explains in a secular setting how a section of Gospel could be updated.  Teachers, after all, are held to a higher standard.  When the good pastor began to praise the benefits of gay marriage, I lost hope in him entirely.  If a Christian minister can turn a blind eye to the sanctity of marriage, what will come next?

It raises the larger question, though, of why so many Christian denominations seem to be losing their way and surrendering to the siren call of moral relativism and confirming the spiritual law--if you will--of moral entropy.  We're used to hearing the old materialistic arguments from the secular world, but now pastors are rallying against important teachings of the Bible, seeking to undermine the very nature and meaning of marriage itself. Having been baptized in the Baptist Church as a child, I am keenly aware of how far some of its churches are now drifting away from the straight and narrow way of Christ--from Pastor Coates to Pastor Terry Jones.  While it's no secret that we have since made the journey home to the Catholic Church, the states of the Baptist, Episcopal, and Presbyterian denominations at present seem particularly saddening--especially when we recall Christ's call for unity.  Pastor Coates would apparently dismiss a good deal of the New Testament--especially perhaps the stern warnings of Saint Paul-- in his quest for peace with the world.  They would exchange it all for a peace with a passing age instead of embracing the timeless message of the Gospel.