The 2016 Election

As the election season that culminated in the election of Barack Obama in 2008 was getting underway, a lot of pundits started talking about which historical election 2008 would most closely resemble. (This was before the financial meltdown that would occur about a month before the actual vote.) Widespread dissatisfaction with the party in the White House led most people to compare it — with a moderate degree of accuracy — to 1968.

In hindsight, we can argue that two separate elections of the twentieth century can be described as “the incumbent president sailed to an easy re-election by campaigning on a platform that he had kept us out of rapidly escalating European Wars, despite repeated requests for help from our allies. Under the lens of history, barely a year passed between that re-election and our entrance into those wars.” I’m talking, of course, about the elections of 1916 and 1940.

So even though each election is certainly unique and has things that defy conventional wisdom (as illustrated beautifully by this XKCD comic strip from four years ago, even though the item for 1984 is questionable at best. (Reagan wrote with his right hand; there are plausible stories that speak of how, as a child, he was left-handed but forced to write right-handed, but they’re far from definitive.)

So, as the campaigns are starting to gear up, it’s fair to ask the question of which historical election year 2016 will most closely resemble.

Since the passage of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, 2016 will mark the fifth time that an incumbent president will be constitutionally ineligible to seek re-election. (The previous four were 1960, 1988, 2000, and 2008.) I don’t want to delve too much into the implications and nuances of the 22nd Amendment, it’s probably fair to say that, without the 22nd Amendment, the incumbent president in three of those four past years, was popular enough to win again had he been legally permitted to do so. (George W Bush would not have had a chance at re-election in 2008. Eisenhower in ’60, Reagan in ’88, and Clinton and ’00 probably could have at least put up strong campaigns.)

I say this not to make any arguments about the merits or demerits of the 22nd Amendment but instead to call a parallel to Obama’s recent off-the-cuff statement that Obama probably could be re-elected again if he were constitutionally eligible. I agree, considering the state of the electorate. Indeed, he probably would stand a better chance at it than any of his four constitutionally ineligible predecessors if for no other reason than the relative lack of political scandals at comparable points in their presidencies.

But the 22nd Amendment has had an influence on the way second-term presidents have governed. Even though there were only four elections prior to the 22nd Amendment in which a sitting or former president sought a third term (1880, 1916, 1940, and 1944), second terms of presidents unencumbered by the constitution governed differently from second terms any more.

It’s therefore fair to say, at least at this stage, that 2016 will resemble one of the previous elections where the president was constitutionally ineligible.

And I think we can immediately factor out 2008 as the comparable election, for reasons mentioned above.

This comparison should center on the candidates for both parties. In 2016, there are a small number of candidates seeking the nomination of the party that currently holds the White House, although one candidate is clearly favored by the party establishment over the others. In this regard, 2016 could resemble 1988 or 2000. (While technically true in 1960, too, Nixon’s nomination as the Republican candidate for the presidency was less certain than Bush’s in 1988 or Gore’s in 2000.) Despite the numbers of people showing up to Bernie Sanders rallies now, it’s pretty clear that the Democratic nomination will go to Hilary Clinton unless she completely self-destructs. (Nothing against, Sanders, or Martin O’Malley, or Lincoln Chafee, or Jim Webb.)

But what of the party not in the White House. There are seventeen plausible candidates (and counting) seeking the Republican nomination. And although the odds are that within the next couple of months, several of them will drop out for money reasons. (If you were wondering who I think will be first, I’d bet on Rick Perry…) This is a field so large, the first debate had to be split into two smaller groups based upon polling numbers.

Side note: Rick Santorum isn’t wrong for criticizing the process by which the groups were divided, especially since he got the proverbial short end of the stick, I would like to know how he would propose doing the debates, considering that having all seventeen candidates on the stage at once is a logistical nightmare, if not an outright impossibility.

When you look at the vast number of candidates, I’m reminded of a political cartoon from 1988, which posited that all of the Democratic candidates could stand side-by-side humming the national anthem and completely overpower Vice President George H. W. Bush.

There were a few democrats in ’88 whose candidacies created media circuses (Gary Hart comes to mind), not unlike Donald Trump today, but there were a boatload of them with no clear front runner (Donald Trump won’t be the GOP nominee) and a damaging primary season ahead.

So that’s my prediction. I realize that it’s nearly six months before the first caucuses and primaries and a lot can change between now and then, but I think it’s fair to say that if we want to look to a historical precedent, then 2016 will most closely resemble 1988.

They Lack Simple Human Decency

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to vote in an online poll thereby skewing the expected results of the organization that hosted the poll. The group that hosted it, the Minnesota Family Council, asked whether same sex marriage ought to be legal and I, along with many other people online, voted that it should be. This is, of course, despite the stated goals of this group.

Side note: I resent the fact that so many organizations that use the word “family” in their names teach hatred, bigotry, xenophobia, and scare tactics, which are most certainly not values I teach my children.

The cost of voting in the MFC’s poll, was my email address, and I have been receiving emails from them with some regularity ever since. In recent years, as same sex marriage has become legal throughout most of the United States (and with cautious optimism that the Supreme Court later this month will overturn the remaining laws later this month), they have shifted their rhetoric to opposition of other worthwhile topics, such as transgender rights, legalization of marijuana, and surrogate motherhood.

About a week ago, on June 11, 2015, I received an email that solidifies the notion that the people who communicate on behalf of their organization, have absolutely no human decency or any compassion. I have said it before and I’ll say it again: if the ideas they express are in any way reflective of mainstream Christianity, I can not possibly ever picture myself calling myself a Christian.

The email exists on their website, and I recommend that you read it here.

(Note that this came out before the Rachel Dolezal scandal, and they have since sent out a mea culpa not knowing that transracial is a thing.

But even before we get to their hypothesizing about other “trans{blank}” attitudes, we can see how disgusting they really are.

Without even getting into the issues that the transgender community has to deal with, here’s a little thought experiment: whether we like it or not, society asks us all to play certain roles in our lives. Some of those roles are a result of the accident of our birth, others happen with the normal passage of time, and others still are ones we find ourselves playing by virtue of choices we actively make.

That explains how we are given the roles we play. How much we feel those roles fit who we really are can vary from one role to the next. And some of the roles we might even be bold enough to say don’t apply to us, despite society’s expectations.

As specifically pertains to gender, there are no shortage of expectations that society places upon those of us who are considered “male” and others for those considered “female”. Very few, if any, of us, meet all of these expectations without regard to the gender assigned at birth.

So can you really blame someone — anyone — who might identify primarily as the opposite gender?

So when the MFC says this:

The push for “transgender rights” is based on the false ideas that you can divorce your mind and feelings from your body, and that however you feel you are or should be–that’s what you really are, regardless of the physical reality. And you should receive social recognition, honor, and legal rights based on your perception of who you are.

Or when they say this:

All along the way people who disagree will see their religious freedom rights trampled upon, people who truly need compassionate help and counseling won’t receive it and instead face greater turmoil and in some cases even fatalities, and the privacy and legal rights of others will be taken advantage of.

Or when they offer this advice:

Stand firm on the Truth, and be ready to run towards the cultural, media, political, and societal bullets boldly sharing the Truth and Hope you have in Christ, in love. Our darkened culture needs the Light YOU have so fear not!

They’re demonstrating how repulsive they really are. The LGBT community has asked for little more than tolerance of the fact that they’re different from the mainstream.

Tolerance is an exceptionally low bar if you think about it. All it really takes to be tolerant of something is to acknowledge its existence and not try to wish it away. It’s not acceptance of the concept and certainly isn’t embracing the idea or the people seeking tolerance. And you certainly don’t have to like it or even agree with it.

When you tolerate people, really all they’re asking is that you not want to destroy them.

These people are so completely devoid of human decency, it makes me angry. People can be excused for not understanding some ideas and concepts when they’re far enough outside of our own experience. But when the information becomes available to them and they cling to what they thought they understood, that’s when they need to be cut loose.

I’m glad I get those emails. It reminds me that there are truly awful people out there. And however much I’m reluctant to use the word, maybe even “evil” might be appropriate for — if not them, then at least their attitudes.

But I will be shocked if they ever take a position with which I agree.

Don’t Go to Cold Stone Creamery!!!

I will never go into a Cold Stone Creamery again. After I explain to you the horrible customer service experience I had with them, I hope you’ll do the same.

Before I get started, I should explain that I don’t like nuts. I like peanuts (which, you don’t need to lecture me, are not really nuts) but that’s about it. I’m not allergic like some people, but you won’t find me eating them all the same…

One more thing that is important to understand here is the layout of the Cold Stone Creamery nearest to my house. There is a long (maybe 20-feet long) counter that, as you walk in, you will pass the cash register, then comes the containers of the different add-ins and then, at the far end of the counter is the different flavors of ice cream.

When I went into the local store this past Wednesday night (June 3, 2015), there was no one else there, so I quickly walked to the back of the store and started staring at the choices amongst the ice creams, alternately looking at the choices and the board behind the counter that lists all of their recommended choices and prices for the different sizes (Like It — approximately 5 oz; Love It — approximately 8 oz, or Gotta Have It — approximately 12 oz).

I made it clear that I wasn’t sure what it was I wanted, trying a couple of taste spoons of ice cream before finally saying that I guess I’ll have a hot fudge sundae with cherry vanilla ice cream.

The girl behind the counter didn’t ask me which size I wanted and proceeded to make my sundae. I naturally assumed she’d give me a “Love It” size.

Then she started to spoon in the nuts. I immediately stopped her and said, “No nuts!”

She stared at me as though I was asking her to go out and milk a cow and churn the ice cream herself. Not only did she not ask me if I wanted nuts in the first place (the answer was an obvious “no”), but she also didn’t have a clue what to do next.

I asked her why she gave me the nuts and she pointed to a sign about midway down the counter which I hadn’t seen until that point, which had pictures of their classic cups — including a hot fudge sundae — and whose pictures contained nuts.

I ended up giving her a choice between scooping out the nuts — indicating via tone of voice that this was not the preferred option — or to make me a new sundae with no nuts.

She scooped out most of the nuts, put some whipped cream on top of it, and gave me about 3/4 of a sundae. I didn’t expect a cherry because she was so flustered and I didn’t specifically ask for it. Then she charged me $5.99 (plus PA sales tax) for the sundae, which was significantly more expensive than the “Love It” sizes of other frozen concoctions.

The experience I had ordering the sundae made it one of the worst sundaes I’ve ever had. And I occasionally spit out the nuts that the cashier couldn’t possibly have reached.

So I ate my ice cream, found the toll-free customer inquiry line on a sign in the store, and walked out.

I’m not sure the door had fully closed behind me when I called their customer service number. I related my story to the representative who took my call, and gave my email address and phone number and said that someone would get back to me. I wasn’t in a position to take down the inquiry number so the representative said she would email me with the details of their review.

I made it clear that the issue with the nuts is actually a safety issue. Forget me for a minute: what about customers who have allergies? Surely it’s wrong to assume that everyone who orders something will want the nuts — or anything else for that matter.

The following day, when I still hadn’t received an email, I called again and asked why. The representative I spoke with said that as a matter of policy, they don’t email in response. So I’m not sure if my email address is about to get spammed from Cold Stone or their affiliates.

I received a call back today in response to my complaint. The person I spoke with thanked me and said that they were going to start asking if people want nuts on their classic sundaes. I guess that’s good.

But then she went on to say that customers who order hot fudge sundaes expect that they’ll get what was pictured on the sign that I hadn’t seen until the girl pointed it out to me, and that the price is fixed at $5.99, and that it would be wrong to start asking customers who order hot fudge sundaes what else they want on it, because that’s what a customer expects.

I mentioned that if I went into a Friendly’s or other ice cream shop and ordered a hot fudge sundae, they’d ask what else (other than ice cream and hot fudge) I wanted.

The rep I spoke with today doubled down on her assertion that she shouldn’t do that. I said that she was acting as though her company had somehow trademarked the idea of a hot fudge sundae and she immediately responded by telling me that a trademark is a legal use of the name.

I stopped her and said that I know what a trademark is.

She reiterated that she would not instruct her staff to do anything other than ensure that the person who orders a classic sundae, knows that they want nuts but won’t validate what else the person does or doesn’t want, because that somehow is unfair to the people who go into the store and expect whatever on their sundaes.

No apology, no offer of a refund of the cost of my sundae, no coupons, nothing. So I told her that if she’s saying what I think she’s saying, then I’ll never go into a Cold Stone Creamery again.

At the end, she thanked me for my comments and added a procedure associated with the nuts but it stopped there.

So I’m going to keep my word: I’m never going into a Cold Stone Creamery again. And now I’ve decided to blog about it and share my horrible customer service experience with them. My advice? If you read these words, you should share this with your friends and never go there either….

The fate of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

I have a love/hate relationship with the death penalty. I have blogged about this point before. In its 1972 ruling Furman v Georgia, the US Supreme Court effectively banned all executions but reinstated them in 1977 with Gregg V Georgia. It might seem strange to say this, but the court was correct in both cases: in Furman, the question was about whether it’s right to execute someone, while in Gregg the question was about whether it’s consistent with the constitution.

And, to repeat my Politics of Death essay, yeah, it’s not wrong to execute certain criminals. Just like the fact that we simply don’t have to execute anyone. The arguments against the death penalty are much more compelling than the arguments for it. I honestly don’t know what message we’re trying to convey when we say that we want to execute a particular criminal.

It’s kind of like spanking an unruly child. A last resort and probably one that should be avoided as much as possible, but can we honestly say that we should never, under any circumstances, do it?

I’ll even admit it: there are some people throughout history who, in my opinion, deserved to be executed for their crimes. And I can even think of at last one person who was sentenced to death for their crimes, and I applauded the original sentencing despite it having been later overturned.

But I do believe that just because it’s legal for prosecutors to seek the death penalty for some criminals, the decision to hand it down should be a bit more stringent. I’ll never complain when a jury hands down life imprisonment instead of death, as has happened with some really horrible people.

So that’s why I have a lot to wrestle with now that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been found guilty on all 30 counts against him in the Boston Marathon bombing. It would be a very different story if his brother, Tamerlan, had survived to see his own trial. But the truth is, I don’t know if he should be executed.

It’s not uncommon that, when a defense attorney seeks to save his or her client from the death penalty that the prosecution is seeking (after a guilty verdict has been handed down), the argument about a that person’s childhood might come up. And, admittedly it’s a popular technique specifically because it works. At least some of the time.

As soon as we learned the name Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the fact that he was born in 1993, it was clear to me that he was named in honor of Dudayev, the leader of the Chechen separatists in their civil war with Russia. Dudayev could accurately be labeled a terrorist by most standards. So it certainly is an interesting observation.

But even beyond that speculation, the more interesting point is that Dzhokhar is a younger brother, who seems like he wanted to do just about anything to make his older brother happy. It’s an interesting dynamic between two brothers, and I, as a younger brother understand this from the same perspective as Dzhokhar. I see it in my two sons, too. It’s a similar dynamic that dictated the reluctance of David Kaczynski to reveal to authorities that he believed his brother was the Unabomber.

If you’re a younger brother, it’s common to want to seek the approval of your older brother, and it’s very easy to see how Dzhokhar might have done the horrible things he did, because Tamerlan wanted it so. And a lack of desire to speak up to his brother, only enabled it.

So yes, Dzhokhar was capable of making his own decisions and he made some pretty horrible ones. I just don’t know what the right punishment ought to be. Tamerlan, had he lived long enough to be convicted, would deserve the death penalty. Dzhokhar? I’m not so sure.

But then again, if we do decide we want to execute him, the question bears asking, why?

Just like everyone else we might want to put to death for their crimes.

Two Stars for Home

A little over a week ago, I had the opportunity to take my kids to see a sneak preview for the new animated movie, Home.  A couple of days later, I received an email asking me to rate it.  I wrote a short review there (and was limited for space reasons) and gave the movie two stars.  I’m using this blog entry to write a longer, more detailed review of it.  


I make no secret of the fact that I generally don’t do 3D movies.  The technology behind them requires having two eyes whose relative vision are at least moderately close to each other, so my vision — my right eye is significantly worse than my left — puts me outside of the audience for which 3D currently satisfies.  But I’m willing to put aside this general distaste, especially when I’m not paying additional money for the tickets.  And, despite my vision issues, I can at least recognize those scenes where it’s supposed to be in 3D. 

Home is one of those movies where the 3D is completely unnecessary.  There was a very small number of scenes (fewer than five) where the 3D makes a difference over standard 2D film, the longest running of which followed a cat through a house.  Anyone who regards 3D movies as little more than an unnecessary gimmick designed not to improve film quality but instead to drive up ticket prices, will have his or her perception reinforced by this movie. 

But 3D or not, I’d like to talk about the movie itself.  My kids absolutely loved it.  A good kids movie also has a second layer that adults can appreciate as well, and there’s no shortage of movies in recent years that do this.  This movie is not one of those movies.  

In this movie, we’re introduced to an alien species called the Boov, and the main character who’s known as “Oh,” so named because that’s what everyone says when he tries to engage them in even the most basic of conversation. It’s hard to tell because so much of the film is shown from Oh’s point of view, but all outward appearances indicate that the Boov are somehow simultaneously social and antisocial creatures.  I’m no sociologist, but somehow this species has managed to survive long enough to figure out space travel, a fact that I still can’t figure out how it could possibly happen.  

Not that I can fault them for being antisocial.  The producers picked voice talent for the entire Boov race, that is either naturally annoying or very good at putting on an annoying voice.  Oh is voiced by Jim Parsons of the The Big Bang theory, a TV show I have never watched.  If his voice in that show is as cloying as in the movie, I’m glad I’ve never watched it.  Steve Martin, as the leader of the Boov, is equally annoying. 

But that doesn’t help the viewers gain sympathy for the Boov, even ones we’re supposed to like.  They come to earth to escape another alien race, the Gorg, at which point, they kidnap all humans and relocate us to Australia so they can live everywhere else.  Somehow they miss Tip (voiced by Rihanna) because she’s got a cat on her head.  Yeah, that doesn’t make sense either.  

Tip and Oh have a chance encounter and she forces him to take her to her mother.  It was cute the way Oh continually spoke of meeting “my mom” because that’s what Tip called her, but that’s one of the few bright spots in an otherwise uninspired, derivative, and thoroughly predictable script.  

The animation was solid.  I can’t point to anything in the animation that stood out, technologically.  I have said before that I think a lot of computer animation these days is an attempt to push the limits of what’s technically possible.  I didn’t see anything that pushed any new boundaries but I don’t think that this is what the producers are going for.  

In the end, this is a very mediocre movie.  A couple of nice laughs, but a generally uninspired script that follows a standard formula that has been shown to work in the past.  I might be a bit hardened because I’ve come to expect more from kids movies, but that’s all I’ve got to say.  My kids liked it, though, so that’s not too bad a thing, is it?

Greatest Songs, Again

I just noticed that I never wrote a follow-up to my blog post last August about last October’s fan-voted musical countdown on WXPN.

To summarize last October’s countdown, the theme was a revisiting of the 885 greatest songs of all time (same as ten years previous).

To nobody’s surprise, “Thunder Road” came in at number one. Again. Of the ten songs I voted for in the countdown, I kept three from a decade before. None of those three made the final countdown. Of the other seven, one of my votes did get played (“This Woman’s Work”, by Kate Bush).

We also voted for five songs to rank among the worst, played back in an 88-song countdown. None of the songs I voted for made the 88-song countdown, but “Roxanne” did make the best-of list. Unfortunately. Not that I’m disagreeing about “We Built This City” by Starship being the worst song of all time.

(And, now that it’s known, another song that I voted for as among the worst, “Everything Is Awesome” from the Lego Movie, got nominated for best song at the Oscars. Thankfully it lost. In fact, I’m also thankful that I started watching the Oscars late enough that I was able to fast forward through the performance of that song…)

So here’s the grid of all of the countdowns to this point. I’m not counting the worst songs countdown.

Year Topic What I voted For How many of my items made the list?
2004 Greatest Songs
  1. “Fallen Icons,” by Delerium
  2. “Idol,” by Amanda Ghost
  3. “Wicked Little Town,” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  4. “Chimes of Freedom,” by Bob Dylan
  5. “Sniper,” by Harry Chapin
  6. “My Mistake,” by Marvin Gaye
  7. “Swan Swan H,” by R.E.M.
  8. “I Don’t Like Mondays,” by the Boomtown Rats
  9. “Caught a Lite Sneeze,” by Tori Amos
  10. “Hard to Handle,” by Otis Redding
None of them
2005 Greatest Albums
  1. Emmet Swimming — Wake
  2. Poe — Haunted
  3. Harry Chapin — Danceband on the Titanic
  4. Phil Ochs — In Concert
  5. Delerium — Poem
  6. Beth Orton — Trailer Park
  7. Tori Amos — Under the Pink
  8. Nine Inch Nails — The Downward Spiral
  9. John Lennon — Plastic Ono Band
  10. R.E.M. — Lifes rich pageanT
Five (Poe, Tori Amos, Nine Inch Nails, John Lennon, and R.E.M.)
2006 Greatest Artists
  1. Harry Chapin
  2. Tori Amos
  3. Delerium
  4. Phil Ochs
  5. Nine Inch Nails
  6. Portishead
  7. Idina Menzel
  8. Emmet Swimming
  9. Jen Chapin
  10. R.E.M.
  11. Marvin Gaye
  12. Def Leppard
  13. Alice in Chains
  14. The Who
  15. John Lennon
  16. Lennon Murphy
  17. Sarah McLachlan
  18. Hungry Lucy
  19. Hole
  20. “Weird Al” Yankovic

(Harry Chapin, Tori Amos, Phil Ochs,
Nine Inch Nails, Portishead, R.E.M.,
Marvin Gaye, Def Leppard, Alice in Chains,
The Who, John Lennon, Sarah McLachlan,
and “Weird Al” Yankovic)
2007 Most Memorable Musical Moments I didn’t vote N/A
2008 Essential XPN songs I didn’t vote N/A
2009 Desert Island Songs
  1. “The Blue Tree,” by Silverman
  2. “There Only Was One Choice,” by Harry Chapin
  3. “Don’t Follow,” by Alice in Chains
  4. “Wolves,” by Josh Ritter
  5. “Bus Mall,” by the Decemberists
  6. “Yes, Anastasia,” by Tori Amos
  7. “Swan Swan H,” by R.E.M.
  8. “Crucifixion,” by Phil Ochs
  9. “Crushing,” by Tapping the Vein
  10. “I Am the Walrus,” by the Beatles
1 (“I Am the Walrus”)
2010 Road Trip Songs
  1. “Daylight,” by Delerium
  2. “Out Here at Sea”, by Karen Kosowski (this includes the untitled hidden track after this song on the album
  3. “Glory Girl,” by Amanda Ghost
  4. “Danceband on the Titanic,” by Harry Chapin
  5. “Gimme Shelter,” by the Rolling Stones
  6. “River,” by Jen Chapin
  7. “Yes, Anastasia,” by Tori Amos
  8. “Float Away,” by Marah
  9. They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back From The Dead!! Ahhhh!” by Sufjan Stevens
  10. “Idiot Wind,” by Bob Dylan
1 (“Gimme Shelter”)
2011 World Cafe Artists I didn’t vote, although I vaguely remember doing something about Fisher’s performance N/A
2012 Greatest Rock Songs
  1. “Love, Reign O’er Me,” by The Who
  2. “Filthy Mind”, by Amanda Ghost
  3. “Holiday,” by Green Day
  4. “Coma White,” by Marilyn Manson
  5. “Change (In the House of Flies),” by the Deftones
  6. “Breathing,” by Kate Bush
  7. “Piece of My Heart,” by Big Brother and Holding Company
  8. “Instant Karma!” by John Lennon
  9. “Crazy on You,” by Heart
  10. “No One Like You,” by the Scorpions
4 (“Instant Karma!”,
“Crazy On You”, “Piece of My Heart”,
and “Love Reign O’er Me”)
2013 Greatest Songs of the New Millennium
  1. “Love & Bandaids”, by Karen Kosowski
  2. “Confessions”, by Tim Minchin
  3. “Heaven Must Be Boring”, by George Hrab
  4. “Hurry Up Sky”, by Jen Chapin
  5. “Sing”, by the Dresden Dolls
  6. “When the War Came”, by the Decemberists
  7. “Gravity”, by Vienna Teng
  8. “Hasa Diga Eebowai”, from The Book of Mormon
  9. “Breathe Me”, by Sia
  10. “Float Away”, by Marah
1 (“Breathe Me”)
2014 Greatest Songs (again)
  1. ”When I’m Gone”, by Phil Ochs
  2. ”Swan Swan H”, by R.E.M.
  3. ”River”, by Jen Chapin
  4. ”hurt”, by Nine Inch Nails
  5. ”This Woman’s Work”, by Kate Bush
  6. ”Caught a Lite Sneeze”, by Tori Amos
  7. ”Serpents”, by Sharon Van Etten
  8. ”Sniper”, by Harry Chapin
  9. ”Haunted”, by Charlotte Martin
  10. ”Everything Alive Will Die Someday”, by George Hrab
1 (“This Woman’s Work”)

Do We Trust In God?

In Walt Disney’s 1967 animated adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, the python Kaa attempts to hypnotize Mowgli, thereby turning the boy into a meal fit for a snake. As he brings the boy into a deep trance, he sings “Trust in Me” in order to (at least try to) facilitate in Mowgli’s destruction.

I think of that song every time there’s a news report regarding the national motto of the United States, “In God We Trust.” In recent years, we have seen the 2011 congressional reaffirmation of the motto, the 2014 bill in the Pennsylvania assembly that would mandate its placement in every school and classroom in the commonwealth, and various town councils wishing to display the motto in their meeting halls. (Nikki Moungo of Ballwin, Missouri, recently convinced the town not to post such a sign.)

The bigger question at hand, though, is the meaning of the phrase itself. Let’s start with the obvious question: why the word order? We could also say, “We trust in God” to achieve the same net result. The answer is simple enough: poetry. The phrase appears in the fourth verse of the poem, The Star Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key. Since the poem uses the phrase that way (even calling it a motto), that’s how we’ve known it ever since.

Side note: President James Madison, after he retired, lamented declaring a national day of prayer during the height of the War of 1812 on constitutional grounds. That makes it exceptionally ironic that this phrase as our motto can date to the same war.

There’s an interesting difference between saying “trust me” (or “trust someone”) and saying “trust in me” (or someone). If you say you trust me (or don’t trust me), you’re making a subjective statement, basically covering how honest a person you think I am. If you trust in someone, it’s more objective: you both think and expect that they will do the right thing; when the time comes that he or she might have to make an important decision, that they’ll make the choice that benefits you.

When you trust someone, you expect either honesty or an explanation for violating your trust. When you trust in someone, the betrayal is more palpable when they don’t live up to your expectations.

It doesn’t matter whether or not the god of the bible exists (but that is the god in which we trust according to the motto adopted in 1956). But this attitude can be quite dangerous and counterproductive when it comes to effecting real changes to secular policy. Recently Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), for example, blocked passage of reforms intended to curtail the threat posed by anthropogenic climate change because he doesn’t feel that God would allow such dramatic changes in climate to happen in the first place. Who knows how often improvements at a local, state, or federal level get impeded because someone in power feels that it goes against god’s plan?

Can we truly trust in God? Maybe, but we need to be mindful of the snake with the hypnotic eyes who really just wants to lead us to his dinner plate.