The Four Horsemen Podcast

Back in August, I spoke at the Athanatos Confernece. the whole point of that was so my good friends Dan Flecknoe, Anthony Horvath, Tim Austin and I could do onstage what we’ve been doing online for two decades now: talk about religion, politics, and social issues. Tim wasn’t able to make it, but Dan, Tony, and I had a great time.

Since then, we’ve been talking about doing something similar, except online. We’re still early in the planning stages, but it seems like we might be moving toward putting together a podcast of the four of us. I’m in Florida, Dan is in the UK, Tony is in Wisconsin, and Tim is in Australia, so scheduling might be tough. Bit it sounds like fun to us.

Stay tuned. You never know what might be coming your way.

Elevator Conversations: Christmas Presents

Guy #1: The wife and I were talking about Christmas presents last night

Guy #2: uh huh

Guy #1: She keeps asking me what I want, and I’m all like “I don’t know. Surprise me.” But she won’t take that as an answer.

Guy #2: Uh huh.

Guy #1: It was frustrating as hell. What do you tell your wife when she asks you what you want.

Guy #2: A bacchanalia

Guy #1: … Oh ….Well … I just told her to get me a tie.

Guy #2: I want one of those, too.

#Elevatorconversations

Debate: Capitalism, Equality, and Equity

I recently posted a re-imagined version of a meme that’s been going around for a while. This time, however, the meme showed the joys and successes of Capitalism. A few of my friends chimed in to let me know how incorrect I was. And another discussion ensued.

As usual, names have been changed to protect the semi-innocent. If you were involved in this debate and either object to the way it is presented or would like it removed, just let me know. I’m not happy till you’re happy.

How do YOU think it went? Let me know in the comments!

Devin: That third one is capitalism in Denmark. In American capitalism, that the tall guy has all the boxes but one, the medium guy has the one box but is terrified all the time that he might get sick will have to trade his box for medicine, and the third one is a child from Guatemala who has been detained indefinitely, but the guy with all the boxes is trying to convince the one box guy that the child is actually from ISIS.

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Joseph E Shaw: The meme does just say “Capitalism,” and not “US Capitalism.” I’m all for adopting Denmark’s low tarriff trade policies. Market differentials, Demographic homogenization, and Geographic differences make it near impossible to make a direct comparison between us and them, but Crony Capitalism gets my fur up just the same as over-regulation and government intervention.

And I have a lot of fur. Just ask my wife!

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Le’Veon: I agree this is more about the promise of capitalism than the results, much of the time.

Of course a friend of mine is fond of saying “capitalism is the worst system in the world, except for everything else.” Alas, that’s at least partly true. What we need is to use the power of capitalism but mitigated by wisdom.

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Joseph E Shaw: I believe Winston Churchill said that. Not sure, though.  At any rate, any system unmitigated by wisdom is doomed to fail. My Grandpappy told me that.

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Matt: Capitalism, like Communism, both sound great on paper. As does over or under regulation. It’s the implementation that reveals the moral decrepitude and inevitable human failings. Maybe we need Goldilocksism. Actually, I think we should implement Androidism where all political decisions are made by Commander Data. I’m certain we will find a way to screw that up too.

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Joseph E Shaw: Matt,  the thing I like about Capitalism, is it relies on people’s sense of self-preservation.

“Don’t like black people? Fine. Don’t sell to them, but your competitors will. Eventually, they will run you out of business so, you can be a racist asshole if you wanna, but you’ll be a broke and starving racist asshole if you don’t learn to put aside your differences and at least do business with people.”

And

“You’re a greedy s.o.b. who wants to screw over his employees to save a buck? Fine. Pay your people what you want and charge what you like. Eventually, a business owner with higher morals will come along, pay people more money (so your good employees will gonwork for them) and charge less for higher quality. They’ll get the business and you will be broke.”

It’s why I am also a huge advocate for a separation of business and state. Businesses should never be too big to fail. Failing is the strongest mostivator for success.

Except for the nun who taught my second grade class. Man. She was mean.

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Devin: Hey Joe … What? You mean the Greensboro lunch counter protesters didn’t need to sit in? They could have just waited for competition to integrate Woolworths? Isn’t the egg on their faces! You mean the United Mine Workers didn’t need to arm themselves to fight battles against the Mining Trust’s Pinkertons? They could have just waited for capitalism to raise their wages and make their working conditions safe? What a dream world you live in.

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Joseph E Shaw: Thats not what Im saying and you know it. Stop being petulant, Devin .

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Le’Veon: Joe, yes, indeed, regarding wisdom. Problem is that none of these systems is immune to hijacking.

What I like about the US’ system is that it allows for varying degrees of socialized programs implemented in a generally capitalistic society. But the weakness of the US system is that a wise populace is necessary to just operation; especially in a society of mass media (which is the perfect tool for the hijackers).

Alas, you mention “someone will come along who will…. [insert corrective action here]” as a mitigating balance in capitalism, but this doesn’t always work as well as theorized, especially when corporations reach a size, saturation or cartel-esque cooperation which stymies competition. If the gov’t is going to exert any influence in the function of capitalism, it should be to facilitate competition, especially the introduction of upstarts, and not to facilitate a more oligarchical/corporatocratic system which protects the largest financial interests not only from upstart competition but from accountability.

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Joseph E Shaw:  Devin, Go back and read the part where Le’Veon said capitalism mitigated by wisdom was what we need, and I said any system unmitigated by wisdom was doomed to fail.

The lunch counters in Greensboro, the monopolies that crushed workers prior to unions … those were examples of economics and society without wisdom. History is full ofnsuch examples. Capitalistic societies tend to overcome those more often than their counterparts. Not always and not without setbacks, but more often nonetheless.

You and I can disagree with each other on policy and still respect each other, but this approach you often take with me – making it as though I am REALLY saying things I never said, implying racism at nearly every turn – you need to stop. You are a better man than that.

I am an open minded person. I’m willing to listen and even change my mind. But you’re not being respectful. You’re just shouting at me.

I used to live in Winston-Salem, NC, whic is about 30 minutes from Greensboro. I’ve been to some of those lunch counters, met some of the people who sat there when the rulers of authorities enforced Jim Crow laws against them. They are remarkable people with beautiful stories to tell. I hope you get to meet them sometime, if you have not already.

The amazing thing about that particular part of the country is it is more welcoming to diverse cultures and ideologies than any place I’ve lived. It’s an exciting place to be

It’s amazing what can happen when wisdom reigns and people listen to each other instead of shouting in their echo chambers.

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Joseph E Shaw: The problem we increasingly face, Le’Veon, is the general wisdom of our populace is decreasing, along with our sense of community and morality. I don’t think there is an economic or political system that has an answer to that.

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Le’Veon: Sadly, I agree. I wrap morality into “wisdom,” and one might consider a sense of community being an offshoot of wisdom. These things are on a decline, as we place information and factual knowledge above training people to think.

No, there is no economic or political system which can make up for, or prevent, a decline in wisdom and other positive values. That has to come from other aspects of the society. And I don’t have an answer for it, nor do I see what looks like a good potential answer. I can envision ways to inspire those who already have a spark, a functional literacy and a modicum of intelligence. But I can’t envision the societal innovation to prevent the ignorant from becoming more ignorant.

Discussions and Friendship

I spoke at the Athanatos Christian Arts Festival in Wisconsin over the weekend, and we had a great time. I got to meet some friends I’ve known only through social media – friends like Joe Courtemanche and Jamie Greening – and I finally got to meet Dan Flecknoe in person. Dan and I, with Tony Horvath, have been debating/discussing God and faith and other matter for going on two decades now. Dan, an Atheist, and I, a Christian, are working on a book together on the subject, and the three of us met on stage for four debates/discussions, each of which was an hour and a half.

I say “discussion” in addition to “debating,” because what stands for debate these days amounts largely to two or three people yelling bad slogans at each other on Facebook or Twitter or, if we’re REALLY unlucky, up close and in person. With placards. And maybe weapons, too.

It’s different with us, though. We disagree, sometimes quite strenuously, but we remain friends. I think the difference is we are actually interested not only in WHAT the other side thinks, by WHY they think it as well. Being friends for so long also gives us the luxury of being able to seriously question our own assumptions and ideas. That’s where the real fun starts: learning to look at something.

The big win for me out of all of this was showing people that you can disagree about something and still have respect for each other when you’re finished. Respect is something sorely lacking in today’s world.

Come See Me At AthanatosFest 2018


Hey there, people. I’ll be sharing the stage with my friends: Dr Anthony Horvath, Daniel Flecknoe, and Tim Austin in a series of debates on religion, spirituality, politics, social issues, and more at the Christian Arts and Apologetics festival ATHANATOSFEST in Wisconsin in August. I hope to see you there!

Removing General Lee

The Mayor of New Orleans spoke recently about his decision to remove Confederate Monuments from his city. That’s well within his rights and I understand why he did it. I disagree. Here’s why.

A little over a decade ago, I worked for the University of Cincinnati Health Sciences Library in the Medical School. I was in charge of the Circulation desk. Every once in a while, this little old man named Dr. Gene would stop in and say hi. Dr Gene was a Professor Emeritus of Radiology, which I took to mean he had retired and spent most of his days wandering the halls looking for people to talk to. Turns out I was one of those people. We both loved baseball. He was a New York Yankees fan and I, of course, was a Reds an (as is required by law of ALL Cincinnati natives), so we chatted about whether Joe DiMaggio or Joe Morgan was the better player, whether the 1975 Reds or the 1927 Yankees were the greatest team of all time, and many other obscure, baseball-related subjects.

I liked Dr. Gene. He was fun to talk to.

One lazy Sunday morning, an older, black woman stopped in. She was frustrated. This was a common occurrence. The library was situated between the psych ward and the morgue, and people were always ending up in the wrong place. I asked her if she needed help.

“I’m looking for the Cancer Memorial,” she said.
“The … what?”
“The Cancer study memorial. It’s supposed to be in University Hospital, but I can’t find it anywhere and nobody over there seems to know where it is.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” I said, “but I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

She mentioned a study the university had done in the ‘50s and ‘60s, how her father had participated, and how she wanted to see the plaque commemorating it.

“I don’t know anything about that,” I said. “But I have plenty of time this morning. Go grab a coffee and I’ll see what I can find.” She smiled in a way that said “Thanks, but I know you won’t find anything.”

“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Regina,” she said.
“Sit tight, Regina. I’ll find something.”

I did some research. I took me a while, but I found what she was looking for. Here it is.

During the height of the Cold War, the US Government wanted to know how much radiation the human body could stand. This information would help determine whether (or how … most likely how) to manage a land invasion against Russia if nuclear weapons were at play. They commissioned a study. They looked to the University of Cincinnati, who jumped at the chance. The UC Medical center tested nearly 100 allegedly terminal cancer patients with full body radiation to see how long they would last.

The University told the patient’s families the procedure was “experimental” and that it might increase the chance of survival. They were lying, of course, like most governments do. They knew the patients would die. That was, in fact, the point. The study went on for several years. The overwhelming majority of the patients they selected were low income, blacks and other minorities. Everyone who “participated” in the study was killed. Their families didn’t learn the truth until years later.

The man in charge of the project was Dr. Eugene L. Saenger of the University of Cincinnati. Dr. Gene.

All of this came to light in the mid-‘90s. There was a lawsuit. I’m not sure of the monetary specifics (I would imagine the whole process made a lot of lawyers a lot of money), but one outcome was the University had to admit wrongdoing, and University Hospital, where so many people had given their lives to prepare us for a war that never came, had to erect a monument to those that died.

The idea was we would never forget this atrocity. That was the plan, anyway. But only ten years later, when a daughter of one of the men killed in the project came to visit the memorial that was supposed to help us remember, nobody knew anything about it. No one.

We found a reference to the memorial in an article from the Seattle Times, so Regina and I took off through the hospital in search of the monument. University Hospital is a labyrinth, with hallways leading to places that seem like they haven’t seen use in decades (at least, that’s how my brain remembers it). After thirty minutes of searching, we finally found it. The University had erected the monument in a disused courtyard on the fourth floor. All the way in the back, hidden under a bush.

Regina took a picture. She told me stories about her father, how he would always swing her up over his head and hug her when he came home from work, how he sang her to sleep to the tune of the irish tune “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean,” how he got sick, how the doctors said he might get better, how hard life was when he didn’t. I don’t cry often, but I did then.

Regina found the closure she sought. She left in peace. That was good. But what of the rest of the families? Does it do them justice to have a monument sitting under a bush in a courtyard no one uses? What are the chances we will “Never Forget” now? If you called University Hospital tomorrow and asked about this scar on their history, would they even know what you’re talking about?

Forgetting is easy. It happens without effort. It’s remembering that takes effort. Tearing down a monument doesn’t fix the past any more than hiding a memorial under a bush. All that accomplishes is making it that much easier to forget. Some monuments, like the Lost Cause efforts in New Orleans, attempt to subvert history, but as the statue of a young girl standing in front of a bull on Wall Street recently taught us, the Meanings of things can change if we put the effort into recognizing the right context.

Mayor Landrieu quoted the Confederate Vice President Andrew Stephens in saying that the Confederacy’s “cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

He might as well have quoted Abraham Lincoln who, in debates with Stephen Douglas, said, “And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race” and “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races.”

Mayor Landrieu accuses his detractors of being self-appointed defenders of history, but fails to recognize that General Lee never owned slaves while General Sherman conscripted freed slaves into his service as he marched to the sea. This does not relieve Lee’s guilt for having chosen to fight FOR slavery and AGAINST the United States. It merely shows that history is messy, and morality is not as easily-defined as the Mason-Dixon line.

Mayor Landrieu asked us to look into the eyes of an African American girl and explain how these statues are here to inspire her. My answer to the little girl would be this: These monuments are not here as an inspiration. They are here as a warning. Evil is a part of all of us. It is in all our hearts. It smiles at us and seems as innocent as a cup of coffee and a few jokes about baseball. Evil is destructive, and it’s greatest power is not in how it trashes when let loose, but how patiently it lies still, waiting for people to forget.

My greatest fear is not that the little girl from Mayor Landrieu’s speech will look at a statue of Robert E Lee and think, “my potential is limited.” My greatest fear is she will think, “I wonder who that is?” and move on. That is the easy path. Ignoring and forgetting evil is easy. Robert E Lee was revered in his time. Dr. Gene was a revered professor at the hospital where he murdered nearly 100 people.

If you call the University of Cincinnati Medical School now and ask to see the memorial, they will probably have no idea what you’re talking about. They may have simply forgotten all about it.

Jamie Greening Wows with Christian Fiction That Doesnt Suck!

There are thousands of “murder mystery” books out there, and a thousand more examples of message fiction. The true test of a good author is one who can craft a good story in a celebrated genre with a thoughtful message that doesn’t come across as, well, preachy.

Ironically, Jamie Greening does just that with his latest Pastor Butch Gregory novel, How Great is the Darkness. Combining the fast-paced thrills and light-hearted, banter reminiscent of some of Jim Butcher’s best work with moments of adroit, theological and philosophical depth that make you take pause and think not only of the state of the world but also the state of your heart, Greening’s story and characters are the literary progeny of some of the greatest Christian storytellers in the last half century.

If you’re looking for a book you can literally not put down, both for the story and the meaning BEHIND the story, look no further than How Great is the Darkness. It won’t disappoint.

The Candidates

The problem with a two-party system (or even a 10-party system) is you have to make choices. Candidate A might say he wants to put an end to the death penalty and institute a complicated economic policy that is DAMN NEAR GUARANTEED to give everybody a million dollars. But he/she also hates people from Kansas and says he plans to nuke the state once elected. Candidate B wants to give away free cars to everyone in the electorate, but in order to do that you have to give all your money to the government, and 1/5 of all people in the United States will be sent to work camps three months out of the year.

If you vote for Candidate A, you will be called a Kansas-hater and all your friends will say the blood of the midwest is on your hands. If you vote for Candidate B, everyone will say you support the next, great American concentration camps. You will also be compared to Hitler at every turn. People will photoshop mustaches on your facebook photos. It will not be pretty.

Those are your choices. Pick one.

Sure, there are some third party candidates (and there is always the option of voting for baseball players like that one idiot you know), but the sad reality is either the Kansas-masher or the New Hitler will be your next President no matter what you do. You can choose the lesser of two evils or throw your vote away on a third party.

What do you do?

You think back to past elections, like the one in 2000 where Candidate Q promised to give everyone free healthcare but we had to change our middle name to “Feldspar.” Also, people named Bob had to break their pinky fingers over and over on months with more than four Fridays in them. He won. And what’s the world like today? Nobody is named Feldspar, and only a few people followed through on the pinky breaking thing. Everyone wonders whether they were stupid for doing that (hint: they were).

Then there was the candidate in 2004 who promised to really take the fight to the BadEvilDoers from OverThere-i-Stan, who everyone was afraid of for some damn reason. All he required was the right to run a porn website out of the White House and a cadre of people with red hair who followed him around all day telling him how awesome they thought he was. People didn’t like him all that much for that. Well … some people did, but those people are weird. Anyway, he fought the BadEvilDoers for a while, then gave up and focused on Education, which was nicer than the porn website, which never really took off in the end. And thank God for that!

So you realize that every time there has been a presidential election in this country, all the major candidates are painted as THE WORST THING SINCE SLICED BREAD by the opposition and the media and people with blogs and bad youtube channels. And yeah, this time around, Candidate A says he likes to grab women by their genitals and that he wants to deport people who worship the wrong God. And sure, some people say Candidate B sold our national secrets to our enemies and ruined the lives of those people who accused her husband of sexual assault when HE was in the White House, but are these things REALLY true? All the BadThings from past presidential cycles turned out to be not as bad as we might have thought. And, gosh, it sure would be nice to have that million dollars Candidate A keeps talking about. He probably won’t bomb Kansas, right? Who would do that? That’s crazy! If he does, maybe he’ll let people leave first BEFORE he bombs it. Why would anyone want to live in Kansas anyway? It’s so … flat!

Granted, both LOOK bad, and the supporters on both sides are RABID in their hatred of you for having made your choice, even though you REALLY don’t want to bomb Kasnas OR open up concentration camps so people can get a car. Nobody wants that. Not really. But that’s what everyone SAYS everyone else wants.

Because people are crazy in election seasons. Stark raving mad. Completely insane. Like that guy who votes for baseball players. Only with malicious intent.

So you walk into the voting booth and you vote for someone despite their many failings and hope for the best. Maybe it will be like last time. Maybe those BadThings won’t really happen. And, if they do, you plan to stand up to THE MAN even Your Candidate wins. Because you have some friends that live in Kansas. And you don’t like the idea of work camps. You vote for one of the two Candidates and you promise to work with the people on the other side as best you can. It would be nice if there was a Candidate out there who was AllGood and a Candidate who was Allbad. But, like Ben Stiller said in that one movie your college roommate kept watching all the time instead of working (or paying bills), “There aren’t any good guys. There aren’t any bad guys. It’s just a bunch of guys.” It would be nice if you could ignore the failings of one in support of the other. But you can’t. In the real world, you have to choose some things. People don’t always understand WHY you choose as you do, and they might call you names for having done it. But you still have to do it. Because this is real life and real living means making hard choices. Plus, you’d have to be an idiot to vote for a baseball player instead. Right?

Choosing things is hard. Life is hard. Sometimes these things just suck. The important thing to remember is that just because THINGS suck and CHOICES suck, it doesn’t mean YOU suck. And it doesn’t mean your friends suck, either. They did the best they could. God forgive us. We all did.

Except for that one guy who votes for baseball players. Man, that guy is an idiot.