Microlending, or Paying it Forward

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In my daily web browsing, I came across a very interesting website: It is a website that lets individuals give small loans to enterpeneurs in third world countries (or the two-thirds world). I've heard of microlending before, but I always thought of it as still being something that banks or financial organizations participated in, not individuals like myself. That's where kiva comes in. You can make a loan of as small as $25 dollars, with expected payback ususally from 6-18 months.

This appeals to me for a lot of different reasons. One, it's a practically painless way to get into the habit of supporting individuals. I'm not rich, nor do I ever really plan on becoming rich, yet I can give up $25 or so to support someone in need, especially when I will probably get that money back. Two, unlike a lot of mission or governmental work, this is giving money to people in need who are determining for themselves what they need. There is no governmental mandate for abstinence only sex education to receive AIDS funding, or church required evangelism to receive a new school. Third, it's giving me a new way to approach economics, a subject I previously thought of with as much affection as a root canal or driving during rush hour. I like the idea that the money I contribute will eventually come back to me, for me to re-invest or recoup as I see fit. And, if I lose the money, well, I can look at it as a charitable contribution that at least helped someone in need.

So, I'm starting to educate myself about micro financing and will be making an investment soon. I hope some of you do, too.

It makes me happier than Bert.


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Earth Hour

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In other news, I'm excited to say that my seminary is participating in Earth Hour this Saturday. For one hour, between 8 and 9 pm, people across the globe will be turning out their lights to demonstrate their dedication to ending global warming. I'll have to put in a couple of extra hours, but it'll be worth it.

Besides, getting to run through a Hogwarts like building in the dark? Awesome.

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Isolated from my family

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This week has been a pretty crappy one as far as dealing with my family is concerned. As you may or may not know, my middle sister is getting married next month to a guy that my family and I generally don't approve of. It's caused quite a bit of family strife, as you can imagine.

Well, the latest drama is that after weeks of internal debate, I told my sister that I would not walk her down the aisle. It was a hard decision on my part and took a lot of emotional and mental energy. I completely understand why she would be pissed with me and she has every right to be. However, what I did not expect was the severity of the backlash from my other two sisters and my mother, all of whom are walking her down the aisle. One sister refuses to talk to me and the other and I had a 'frank' discussion on the phone Sunday night. Tonight, I will talk to my mother.

I never expected anyone to be pleased with decision, as I am not pleased to have made it either. But, what chaps my @$$ is that my family hasn't tried to see things from my perspective, but has just unloaded all their pent up frustrations with this wedding on me. At other points during the build up for the wedding, I've helped most of them talk through some of their frustrations and pain that they feel, but I don't get the same consideration. I just get pigeonholed as being stubborn.

I am tired of trying to be open, to trying to see things from both perspectives. I'm tired of acting as counselor to my family and then being hung out to dry when I need them. My mother and my sisters' definition of "Supporting" my sister does not mesh with mine, but instead of trying to talk about it, I get shut out.

Sorry to vent like this, but I just needed to let it out. Thanks for reading.

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Poetry on the Pot

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Some of you may not want to know this, but I have started reading poetry while using the bathroom. Amazingly, it works well. When I've tried to read poetry books, I tend to try to read through them too fast, and don't spend the time to savor each poem. Currently, I'm reading Good Poems for Hard Times, edited by Garrison Keillor.

So anyway, here's a poem I just read that I find enjoyable and is applicable right now.

"The Happiest Day," by Linda Pastan

It was early May, I think
a moment of lilac or dogwood
when so many promises are made
it hardly matters if a few are broken.
My mother and father still hovered
in the background, part of the scenery
like the houses I had grown up in,
and if they would be torn down later
that was something I knew
but didn't believe. Our children were asleep
or playing, the youngest as new
as the new smell of the lilacs,
and how could I have guessed
their roots were shallow
and would be easily transplanted.
I didn't even guess that I was happy.
The small irritations that are like salt
on melon were what I dwelt on,
though in truth they simply
made the fruit taste sweeter.
So we sat on the porch
in the cool morning, sipping
hot coffee. Behind the news of the day--
strikes and small wars, a fire somewhere--
I could see the top of your dark head
and thought not of public conflagrations
but of how it would feel on my bare shoulder.
If someone could stop the camera then...
if someone could only stop the camera
and ask me: are you happy?
perhaps I would have noticed
how the morning shone in the reflected
color of lilac. Yes, I might have said
and offered a steaming cup of coffee.

Right now, I'm looking forward to the smell of lilacs and thinking of the lines, "I didn't even guess that I was happy. \ The small irritations that are like salt \ on melon were what I dwelt on, \ though in truth they simply \ made the fruit taste sweeter." My small irritation is forgetting to include my email address in a message I sent someone and trying not too feel too dorkish\awkward in a 7th-grade-wearing-headgear-and-thick-glasses sort of way. So, I'm trying to let this salt help my life taste this much sweeter.

ps. I added my email address to the right side bar, if for no other reason than to make sure that this salty irritation doesn't turn into salt in my wound.

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Thoughts on my new church during Holy Week

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Damn, I found a good church. In the last few months, I've joined Church of the Three Crosses, a joint United Church of Christ and United Methodist Church in the Old Town neighborhood. It's a bit of a trek to get to from my apartment, but it is well worth it.

Why do I like it? I'm glad you asked. First and foremost, I like how the church balances being a socially active church and how it maintains a good feeling of community and spiritual focus. One image I won't soon forget is at the beginning of worship one week there were a couple of children sitting on the floor in front of the first row coloring, and it just felt natural. There wasn't a concern from the congregation that those children should behave differently, or a sense that these children aren't a central part of the church. It is also a plus that the church isn't large, as I like knowing or at least recognizing most of the people I see each week.

I have also really enjoyed the messages I hear, especially this Lenten season. There was a clear tying of the Lenten readings with the struggles of the world. Partially this was due to the wonderfully motivated Lenten book group. There was a clear parallel between Jesus' ministry and the modern struggles with corporate and political interests. The phrase, "Jesus died for the sins of the world," which has always given me the willies, was re-evaluated into an understanding that that guy Jesus died because of the sins of the world and was put to death by the powers that be.

It was interesting, and more than a bit coincidental, that the issue with Barack Obama's pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright came to light just as we reached Palm Sunday. Much has been said about this issue, more than I could keep up with at times. The service focused on the two processions that entered Jerusalem, a peasant procession and an imperial procession. We can choose to walk with the people, or with the powers that be. The pastor, Rev. John Hobbs, was clear to point out the dangers and penalties of choosing to not walk the imperial path, the dangers that seemed to be befalling Obama and Rev. Wright. The media, which had been fawning over Obama almost as if he was a savior, now came down upon his pastor with great wrath and vengeance for daring to speak the word that disagreed with the official response to the disasters of 9-11, one that did not let us forget that we were not blameless in the woes of world, and that now we are sharing in those woes. I don't want to spend talking too much about the Wright controversy (another blog, perhaps), but that the worship in the church was able to bring the word to the world we live in today, as well as the spiritual concerns, was wonderful. It's wasn't just a fiery political laden sermon, or a sermon that only focused on what happened 2000 years ago, but sought to bring them together.

Knowing myself, I have tried to hold myself back from getting over-committed, but I have joined the mission and building committees. There's always a lot going on, and there are many hands to do it. The church reminds me of the small town church I went to when I was a child in rural Michigan, a real extended family.

Bring on the Epiphany.

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and now a break from the serious

Posted by Bushel Basket in

With the title of my blog, I feel obliged to re-post this image, the first shot of Snake Eyes from the new GI-Joe movie. Wow, do I hope this movie won't suck. They already killed Transformers for me, not this too....


See the full article here.

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Now more ways to get your daily recommended allowance of my blog!

Posted by Bushel Basket in

I have gotten some feedback, particularly from my myspace friends, about how it's now more of a hassle to read my blog postings than before, when myspace would take care of automatic notifications. Frankly, I never knew you cared. :)

In an effort to make life easier for those of us who are not uber cyber-saavy, I thought I'd take some time to point out the topmost entry in the right hand column of my blog, "Other Ways to Get My Blog." You will see two different things, a link to the blog's rss feed and a new feature, a way to sign up for email notifications when my blog is updated. You can use either of these to be notified when I make a new entry.

Many of you don't know what a rss feed is. If you want the full explanation, go to wikipedia, but the short and dirty explanation is that by using rss feeds you can set up a personalized list of sites that you frequent that will notify you when something is updated. There are many services that will help you set this up, including yahoo mail, google mail, the Firefox internet browser, and a whole host of other services out there. When you go to a webpage, if you see an icon that looks like this Photobucket on the right side of the address bar, you can get an RSS feed for that website. Personally, I use RSS feeds to get my daily dose of comics and keep track of other blogs.

If setting up RSS feeds isn't your bag, you can use the other feature that I've set up and receive updates via email. This services uses rss feeds, but the website converts it to an email for you. I haven't used the service before, so please, let me know if you like it or not.

And now a polar bear:

Nom nom nom.

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Obama, the IRS and the United Church of Christ, part 1

Posted by Bushel Basket in ,

The Internal Revenue Service has launched an investigation into the United Church of Christ. The investigation was launched last month in response to Barack Obama speaking at the General Synod of the U.C.C. in June of 2007. You can read the UCC news release here. This is the first time the IRS has chosen to investigate an entire denomination for alleged infringement of tax-exempt statutes.

I have not yet had a chance to plow through all of the information that is out there regarding this issue, so I reserve the right to be flat out wrong. That being said, I do find it curious that it took 9 months for this complaint to make it's way through the system and hit the wire in the middle of the Democratic primary season, and most likely go into hearings during the Presidential campaigns later this year. I also find it curious that the IRS hadn't even approached the UCC for any information before announcing their investigation, which goes against the way they have run previous investigations. Working for a UCC seminary, this is obviously talked about a good deal, and what I find most amazing is how little the IRS has to go off of.

There is no denying that the UCC is a politically active and astute denomination. They and their predecessor denominations have been active in social and political causes throughout the history of the United States, and have been involved in the end of slavery, women's right to vote, gay rights, and economic justice for all. They know what they are doing. As you read through their press releases, and as I've talked to people that were at the General Synod meeting last year, it was clear how they made it clear that this was not a political event, but a religious one. From their news release, "Before Obama spoke to the national gathering of 10,000 UCC members, Associate General Minister Edith A. Guffey, who serves as administrator of the biennial General Synod, admonished the crowd that Obama's appearance was not to be a campaign-related event and that electioneering would not be tolerated. No political leaflets, signs or placards were allowed, and activity by the Obama campaign was barred from inside the Hartford Civic Center venue." Obama is a 20 year member of the UCC, and he was there, as were 60 other presenters to talk about how his faith has influenced what he does in his career. I don't want to spend my time talking about how biased this investigation is, or how many politicians have made important speeches to religious groups, including Presidents Reagan and Kennedy, and within this campaign cycle Clinton, McCain, Huckabee, and more have all spoken in front of religious groups.

Yet, it is the UCC that is investigated, for having it's own member speak during the national meeting. Many skeptics have said that if the UCC hasn't done anything wrong, they shouldn't fear an investigation. On the face of it, I'd agree with them. But it isn't fear that's the problem. The problem is the intimidation this may cause and the blatant selectiveness of the investigation. The government has not investigated Oral Roberts University after they had McCain give a speech. Seems similar to me, and McCain isn't even affiliated with the university. An investigation like this will take months and will take focus away from the goals and the mission of the UCC. While the UCC started fund raising for a legal defense, luckily the WilmerHale law firm has agreed to represent the UCC pro-bono, and their team will be lead by a former Solicitor General of the US, Seth Waxman. Yet, I can't help but think that it's more than convinient that one of the most progressive Christian denominations, one that can offer an alternative to the pervasive conservative Christian agenda, now has something else to occupy their time.

In a future blog post, I hope to reflect more on why the UCC asked Obama to speak, namely the intersection of faith and politics. Check back soon.

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blood test for bi-polar disorder?

Posted by Bushel Basket in ,

[author's note: This is a repost of a blog I wrote last month on my old blog]

An article was published today on about the development of a DNA blood test that could detect bi-polar disorder.

The article raised the issue of the ethics behind having such a blood test, specifically the ability to discover someone's mental state. I find this to be a very curious question, and it brought to mind two different stories that have insight into this article, the film Gattaca and the novel Erehwon.

The fear that people can find out information about you from your DNA is the central theme of Gattaca. In the near future, individuals are screened for genetic disorders and it is used to determine what employment opportunities are available. An otherwise healthy young man who has a heart condition cheats the system to become an astronaut.

Now, Gattica does make the point that scanning for DNA is illegal, but everyone does it anyway. With the HIPAA regulations that are in place, there seems to be a similar concern in the article. While this concern is not isolated to just bi-polar or other mental disorders, it does seem to be exacerbated by the social bias against mental illness.

Erewhon specifically highlights the societal bias against mental disorders, specifically by reversing the societal bias to be against physical disorders in the mythical country of Erewhon. In Erewhon, if someone caught a cold, they would call in depressed to work. The author's hope, it is assumed, that by highlighting this difference in societal response, individuals would not be as likely to hide their mental issues and would seek treatment. Now that the mental diseases, such as bi-polar disorder, are being linked to physical causes, one can only hope that the stigma surrounding them might be lessened.

My own opinion, however, is that it isn't the detection or determination of a cause of a mental disorder that will make it more acceptable in society, but rather the treatment of said disorder. Mental disorders are frightening for many reasons, one of which being the lack of control. Hopefully, with the better ability to diagnose the disease, a better treatment can be found. Where it gets complicated is the thus far poor differentiation of disorders in psychiatry. Where bi-polar stops and depression, or anxiety, or other disorders begin is very undefined. Perhaps, what will come out of this test is a re-classification of these disorders that is separate from the symptoms.

I'd like to say that society will evolve into being as tolerant of mental illness as it is of physical illness, but sadly, that wouldn't even be saying that much. Given the AIDS scare of the 1980's as well as the increasing fear of getting sick at all (anti-bacterial soap, anyone?), I don't see society as likely to become calmer until there are more effective treatments.

Also, it is necessary to point out that just because someone has the genes for the disorder, it does not mean they will automatically have this disorder. The expression of the genes is influenced by many factors, including other parts of the genome and various environmental factors. While some genes work as an switch, many others only indicate a tendency. Many of the studiers around genetic disposition for cancer have shown that there are a whole host of factors involved. So, as they continue to develop this blood test, I hope this issue will be explored more fully.

Of course, any talk of genetic markers for diseases can quickly delve into the murky ethical waters of genetic engineering. That I will save for another post, or for when I've had a couple of beers with one or more of you at the bar.

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Lawrence King

Posted by Bushel Basket in , ,

Thanks to Rev. Johnny for bringing this to my attention:

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To the girl in the seat in front of me – October 9, 2007

Posted by Bushel Basket in ,

My family likes to pick on me for being so smart, and yet being so dumb. I can get a masters degree with honors, but I can be an idiot and pour gas in the oil intake of a jet ski. Riding home on the train tonight, an attractive lady sat down in the seat in front of me. Sitting sideways, it's impossible to look ahead and not stare at her. Trying to be polite, I focus on my mp3 player, singing along to a Jack Johnson song. I catch her looking my way a couple of times.

After about the 3rd time, my subconscious starts tapping on my shoulder, saying [hey, she might think you are cute.]

[Oh really,] I think sarcastically, not believing my subconscious for a second. [How can you tell? It could be I'm singing too loud .]

[Well,] my subconscious answers back, [it's really in the way she looked at you, and when she looks... HEY! Quit analyzing every damn thing! Quit doubting yourself and talk to her.]

[But, what do I say?] I look at her again, I notice the freckles on her cheeks and the bridge of her nose. She's very cute. She also has freckles on her arm. Kind of like mine. [Maybe I can talk about our freckles.]

[You are an idiot.]

I look again. She's wearing a black shirt, blue jeans, carrying two black attache bags and a black fleece jacket. I like her basic dress, nothing frilly or frou frou. [“Hey, I like your lack of a fashion sense.”]


Now, I really start struggling. Her black slipper shoes. No. Her cell phone is similar to my last one, which I didn't like much. [“How do you like your, um, nevermind.”]


I think of my friend Bob, who can strike up conversations with anyone, at any time. Lucky married bastard. W.W.B.D.?

[Sorry, dude, I got nuthin']

Fucker. Well, it's been too long now. I'd feel like a stalker trying to talk to her. Shortly thereafter, she puts her jacket on.

[“So, you getting off the train?”] I think it just to piss my subconscious off. If my bastard subconscious isn't going to help, then he deserves it.

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Posted by Bushel Basket

If for any reason you want to see my old myspace blog, here it is.

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