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How Gardeners Save a Small Piece of the World

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Beatrix Potter

Please enjoy this encore post on gardening and history, originally published April 2016 as part of And Related Subjects.

When people think of gardeners, many of them tend to picture little old ladies in straw hats with bright green gloves, pottering among the roses.

When people think of gardeners who are also children’s book authors, they go straight to Beatrix Potter and assume that not only are these little old ladies in straw hats pottering among the roses, but they are also greeting the friendly woodland creatures by name—“Hello, Mister Robin! You’re looking very feathery today!” “Why, Missus Tiggywinkle, how have you been?” “Oh dear, that naughty little cottontail has been at my lettuces again!”

Well, I am a gardener and a children’s book author. I am also under forty, tattooed, and the owner of a mostly black wardrobe, and when I greet a happy woodland creature by name, there is an excellent chance that the sentence will end with “touch that and I will end you.”

Also, I wear men’s mechanic gloves, because the crappy little green ones they sell for women shred the instant you try to root out blackberry brambles with them.

Also, while we’re on the topic, Beatrix Potter was hardcore. She was a botanical illustrator and she started doing children’s books after nobody would take a woman seriously as a scientific authority on mushroom taxonomy.

You see, the gardening world is not nice. Glorious and strange, full of explorers, heroes, villains, histories dark and terrible, grim invasions and brave last stands—but rarely nice.

When I got into heirloom vegetables, I had no idea that I was finding not just a meal, but a whole new way to experience history.

Take, for example, the I’itoi onion. This little shallot was brought to North America from Spain by Jesuit missionaries in 1699. You can’t grow it from seeds very easily, so it is propagated by dividing bulbs. The Jesuits brought it to the Tohono O’odham people, who named it after the god I’itoi, Elder Brother, the Man in the Maze, a creator god who brings enlightenment—and also onions.

When I dig my hands into the dirt and divide the bulbs, I am the latest in a long unbroken chain of hands belonging to O’odham gardeners, Jesuit priests, and Spanish monks, stretching back more than three hundred years. These bulbs are clones of the same bulbs that survived desert heat and shipboard journeys. They have seen things.

But lest we begin to feel that this is overly… well… nice, I grow them in the same bed as a small black bean called Trail of Tears. It was brought by the Cherokee people when they were dragged along that terrible road over the Smokey Mountains in 1838. It grows in Oklahoma and in North Carolina and I believe it would probably grow on the surface of Mars as well. It is as sturdy a plant as I have ever grown.

This is the thing about heirloom vegetables. They have history. They are stories, in seed form. And often the history is not a kind one. It is a story of seeds brought from homelands by people who never expect to see those homelands again. It is a story of immigrants and refugees, who brought with them the greatest wealth that someone can have—the power to feed themselves in an unknown land.

When I grow the Sea Island Red Pea, I am growing a cowpea that came from Africa with the slave trade, that became part of the Gullah culture in the South Carolina low country—a plant that nearly vanished, as farmers left their plots of land.

This is the other thing about heirloom vegetables. It is a story of quiet heroics. It is a story of things saved from the brink. Some of these plants exist today because a single person saved them. Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills drove around the back country of South Carolina until he found a stand of Carolina Gourdseed corn in a bootlegger’s field and managed to raise a field of his own. The Noble Bean was saved from a bag of water-damaged seeds handed down by somebody’s grand-uncle, of which a single bean sprouted … and the gardener harvested a hundred seeds, handed them out to fellow experts and the woman who had provided the bag of seeds to begin with, and single handedly brought it back from extinction.

These are stories of discovery. In the great age of exploration, when people took off out of Europe to newly acknowledged continents, plants were worth more than gold. I have never known why these plant hunters were so neglected in fantasy and alternate history—it seems like a natural! People slogged over mountains and sweated through malaria to find rare plants. When they say that traders set sail in search of spices, those spices did not come in little bottles from McCormick!

And then there’s the potato.

Oh, the potato.

As a writer and illustrator, I get invited to conventions fairly regularly, and I happened to be out at a convention in Denver as an artist GoH. I was on a panel called “Guest of Honor Remarks.”

I asked one of the concom about it, and she said “You have to talk for ten minutes about something you’re passionate about.” It could be anything, she went on to say—politics, books, anything, but I had to talk for at least ten minutes, because the artist GoH had a bad habit of saying “I’ve had a great time, thanks!” and then saying nothing for the rest of the panel, so they’d instituted a minimum.

I panicked a little. But then I thought about something I was passionate about, something which I could talk about with the fire and brimstone enthusiasm of a old time preacher… and that, dear reader, is how I did ten minute speech about Incan potato varieties, while all the other GoHs talked about what fandom meant to them. (Except Kevin Hearne, who kept talking to me about potatoes, and setting me off again. Kevin Hearne is a bad man, and you should read his books.)

So the ancient Incas had something like 4000 varieties of potato. They had potatoes for every possible climate and growing condition, potatoes of a thousand colors and flavors. They even had a method of freeze-drying potatoes that predates anything in the West by a good seven centuries. (How cool is that?!)

Sadly, many of those varieties are lost. From 4000 we’ve got… oh, maybe twenty or thirty that you can find easily. Maybe a hundred or two if you really hunt. Now we spend all our time drugging dirt into submission so that it’ll grow the Russet Burbank, which can be turned into a perfect McDonald’s French fry and has no other merit. (I have lots of Thoughts about this, but space is limited. Also, buy me a drink at a con and ask me about the Irish Potato Famine and monoculture and you’ll hear it all anyway.)

So what does all this mean, for a writer? Well, it may not be holding the bridge at Thermopylae, but I keep coming back to how many gardeners end up saving a small piece of the world. Whether it’s a food from a lost homeland or a cultivar that is about to vanish from the earth, so often it comes down to one person who kept something small but important from being lost forever.

And I find myself writing more and more books where the heroes are saving one small but important thing.

The world is maybe too large for any one person to save, but a seed… or a small, rundown castle… or a hydra egg… or a friend… this is the scale of things I can comprehend. When I am out in the garden in the morning, before writing, with my hands full of weeds, these are the stakes I understand the best.

Top image by Beatrix Potter.

Ursula Vernon is a full-time author and illustrator whose work has won a Hugo Award and been nominated for an Eisner. She is the author of the hit series Dragonbreath, the critically-acclaimed series Hamster Princess, and the standalone novel Castle Hangnail. She loves birding, gardening, and spunky heroines, and thinks she would make a terrible princess. Ursula lives with her husband in Pittsboro, North Carolina. Follow her on Twitter at @UrsulaV.

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19 hours ago
#gardening FTW!
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The End Of America The Free, America The Brave [Greg Laden's Blog]

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Putin probably owns Trump. In the past, Trump has spent enough high profile time traveling in and out of Russia, that any smart intelligence agency would have long ago gotten the goods on such a sloppy self absorbed person. Assume there are movies. Young girls. Whatever. Putin probably owns Trump. The ex KGB officer probably owns a lot of people, a lot of foreign rich or influential individuals. That’s how these things work.

Trump is a man that relies on the image of great personal wealth. But, if he has great personal wealth it is a mere couple of billion or so. Alternatively, he may have mostly debt and a few hundred million handy. Nobody knows, and he’s not releasing that information. The point is, he views himself as righteously rich, but he may not be as rich as he considered his right. There are a lot of hungry people in this world, and he is not one of them. But he probably thinks he is.

Putin is the richest person on the planet now or ever. He beats second place Bill Gates by several billion. Putin has gotten this rich by exploiting his position as the permanent leader of Russia (despite a democracy there).

Did I mention that Putin probably owns Trump?

Trump is going to separate his business interests from his activities as president using the following procedure:

1) Put the offspring in charge of the business.

2) Place the offspring in the room at all important presidential meetings.

3) Claim that he is keeping his business holdings and his job as president separate.

Did I mention that Putin probably owns Trump? And that Trump wants to garner great wealth?

Dots, connect thyselves:

Trump is driven to become more wealthy than he is. This is his personality, and it may even be financially necessary for him. Putin has owned Trump for a long time. One question we have now is this: How long ago did Putin approach Trump with the idea that, with Russian help, Trump could become president, piles of money could flow into the Trump coffers, and all Trump had to do is to allow Putin carry out certain geopolitical acts that, after all, might even be good for business?

Do American intelligence agencies have a record of Trump-Putin communication, direct or indirect, over a long period of time? Have they been talking? For how long? About what?

It would make sense to Trump to help Putin carry out one of Russia’s greatest long term goals, a goal held since the 17th century, assuming Trump comes out of the deal rich, not in debt. Russia has always had a landlocked problem. Sure, Russia has vast coastal regions but they are mostly in the Arctic or nearly so. Russia has always lusted for a route to the Indian Ocean, a route to the Mediterranean, and a better route to the Atlantic. And, breadbaskets and buffer zones and mining resources and all of that. What has kept Russia from doing this?

Well, initially, not much, and that is why the Soviet Union was so big. But the expansion of the Soviet Union was hampered by the Americans who, for example, carried out a proxy war with the USSR in Afghanistan. NATO has kept Russia from re-expanding its direct influence across Europe. Various coalitions have kept Russia from invading West Asian territories such as Iran, Iraq, and Syria. The United States is a, if not the, prime mover behind all of that.

And where I say “is” I think we will soon be saying “was.” Why?

Did I mention that Putin probably owns Trump?

With Trump in Putin’s pocket, Russia will take territory in the Middle East and Europe. Russia and the United States together, under Putin and Trump, will try to destabilize the sleeping dragon, China. We may be looking at new places to have proxy wars, but the proxy wars will not be between the US and Russia. They will be between Russia and NATO or others, with the US interfering on Russia’s behalf, maybe pulling out of Nato, and maybe even joining Russian troops in places like the Middle East or Africa. Perhaps they will be between the US as a Russian proxy and China in Africa where China has been exerting influence for a long time now, or Russia and various European forces in West Asia, or between Russia and some combination of powerful South Asian countries in Afghanistan.

(Note to Trump: Do pull out of Afghanistan as soon as possible so Vlad can get in there. Thanks.)

In January the United States is going to be taken over by a coalition of two oligarchs: Putin and Trump (but Putin probably owns Trump).

So, that’s the America the Free part gone. What about the America the Brave part?

Starting in a few days, we will be led by a coalition of cowards and morons. They are known collectively as the Republicans.

The Republican Party has spent the last few decades training itself to be the most ignorant group of know nothings that ever held power anywhere, beyond the level that could be parodied by the most extreme Monty Python script.

The American GOP will be the ironic hobgoblin of the Russian Patriarch, after decades of consolidating power as the “national security” party. The Party of Reagan will be the Party of Putin. We are already seeing Putin love among Republicans in polls. Republicans like Putin more than they like members of the Democratic Party.

This will be achieved mainly because the core of that party consists of angry anti-intellectual anti-liberal anti-environment hippie punchers, and as long as hippies are being punched, and gays bashed, and people of color intimidated through regular state sponsored or allowed executions, they’re fine with this.

America the Brave is now America the Spiteful Idiot.

Monday, the Electors meet. Is it possible that every single one of the Trump Republican Electors is a blind Trump supporter? No. Many electors were actually elevated to that position earlier in the process, and were supporters of other Republican candidates. It it the case that every single Republican is a Putin Pushing no know-nothing? No, not all of them. Just a large majority of them. Among the Electors there must be some who are not. There must be some Republicans among the electors who understand that Russia is a nice country and all, and that we love the Russian people and all, but that the Putin government is not our friend.

Today, Friday, the Obama administration will do what it should have done months ago, but elected not to for what seemed like good reasons at the time. The President will, essentially, give that CIA briefing that some people got on Friday, to the rest of the country, about Putin’s involvement in the US election.

There will be people who become outraged, a lot of them. Some of them may be influential Republicans. A friend of mine pointed out the ideal scenario: One or more members of the presumed Trump cadre of Cabinet appointees walks off the job, forsakes the Trump administration, in outrage. Imagine Marine General James Mattis publicly noting that he has sworn an oath to protect the United States from all enemies domestic and foreign. Indeed, General Mattis has to do this. He is known to be a very smart guy, one of the more intellectual generals. At the same time, he is known to be fiercely patriotic. He must have figured this out by now. He must have figured out by now that he will be dumping his career of patriotic service to America right into the crapper if he serves in the Trump administration. I assume that he initially figured he should be in there doing what needs to be done with competence. But hopefully he will now, and maybe others proposed for the cabinet as well, realize that this day, this weekend, is the only opportunity to ask the electors to not vote for Trump, to do anything but vote for Trump, in order to stop a Russian takeover of the United States.

Only about 10% of the electors have to do this.

If Trump is not elected, and if the highly unlikely event of the electors simply electing Clinton does not happen, then the US House has a shot at deciding who will be President of the United States. They must choose among the top vote getting three names that the Electors consider. Thusly, the Electors can hand the US house a list of three people, including Clinton, Trump, and one other person, probably a Republicans, for them to chose among.

If that third name is a reasonable individual (for a Republican) or, at least, an established Republican, then perhaps the House will have the bravery, and the love of freedom, to chose that person as the next president.

Half this country is ready to go to the mat to keep Trump, and thus the Russians and who knows who or what else, in power. The other half of this country is willing to go to the mat to stop Trump from doing all that he has promised to do for months. The third half seems to have no interest in any of this. No matter what happens, there is going to be a fight.

People in the middle and on the left are brave, and ready to take on whatever happens. People on the Right are Putin loving Russia-symps who just want to punch some hippies and piss in the lake. And now, we get to find out which of those themes best represents our country. Now, this weekend, Monday.

Holy crap America, what have you done?

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31 days ago
Nice rant. #tweeted
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Is Scarcity as Much About Psychology as it is Economics?

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Dan Nixon at Bank Underground:

Mind over matter: is scarcity as much about psychology as it is economics?: “Unlimited wants, scarce resources”. This is the economic problem.  But once basic needs are met, how much should scarcity – having “enough” – be understood as a psychological problem? Is it possible to cultivate an “abundance mindset”? And what does all of this mean for how economics is taught?
The rise and rise of psychology in economics
Over recent decades there’s been a step change in the use of ideas from psychology in economics research.
The vast literature on behavioural economics, for example, has challenged the core assumptions of an entirely rational, self-interested account of human behaviour.  Much, too, has been written on the economics of happiness and how we might improve on GDP per capita as a measure of progress.  Even aside from research, the way we consume things (ie our economic activity) has become increasingly psychological over time:  as basic needs are met with greater ease, the argument goes, we consume “ideas” (such as information in blogs) more than “stuff”.
Far less has been written about the psychological aspect of scarcity. Yet this could have big implications, given the central role that scarcity plays in economic theory. ...
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34 days ago
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A Basic Income Sermon for Christians

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For some who are new to the idea of universal basic income, it may reflexively strike them as being somehow immoral. Be it seen as a form of theft, or in violation of the Protestant work ethic, or just plain feeling wrong, basic income can pose a challenge to those of faith. The following sermon makes the very strong Christian case that what's truly immoral, is not already having established an unconditional basic income for all.

(The video below is courtesy of Reverend Dr. Roger Lee Ray of Community Christian Church in Springfield, Missouri, which I have transcribed into text. For more sermon videos you can subscribe to his YouTube channel and for more sermon texts you can visit his archive. You can also follow him on Twitter.

For most of human history, poverty was caused by scarcity. There simply was not enough food, not enough drinkable water, not enough housing. There were not enough seats in classrooms for everyone to receive a quality education, to be comfortably housed, to be adequately fed, but the past half century has changed that. For the first time in human history, the world has more than enough to provide all these things for everyone. What we have now is not a lack of resources. What we have now is a lack of morality, a lack of will, a lack of basic common decency. Our poverty, especially in the United States, is created by those who both hoard wealth and who cling to power.

By the mid-1990s this fact was being broadly discussed among both economists and agricultural specialists. There was no longer a need to focus on how to produce more food. We were already producing much more food than was being eaten and, in fact, more than could be eaten. We are subsidizing turning food into gasoline to find a way to get rid of it all while we're still surrounded by starvation. And when arguably there is no longer a shortage of gasoline, but a glut of it.

I've been involved in poverty and hunger related charities for most of my adult life. I've helped build feeding centers in rural Nicaragua. I've cooked for our local homeless and still every week I'm on the serving line feeding as many homeless and hungry people as I can find, but I know that charity is not the answer. Charity is not a solution to poverty. And I don't want to diminish charity in any way. I don't want to slight it. I sent a gift to Nicaragua this week because I still really believe in what the Rainbow Network is doing there.

I know that these gestures are symbolic. You never have to explain that to me. I get it. It's like trying to put out a forest fire with a squirt gun. The problem is not that food is not available. The problem is that most people can't buy it. They can't get into the economic flow of people who get a regular pension or paycheck that lets them go to the marketplace and buy what they need to eat and take it home and cook it the way they should be able to.

As Dorothy Day was fond of saying, "The problem is our stinking rotten system, and our acceptance of it."

Our ancient scriptures, our hymns, our cultural myths and stories, all evolved in a context of food shortage, so that they derived images of generosity, of sharing, of showing charitable concern for those less fortunate... but all of those tenderhearted, well intended images are not accurate in the 21st century. They are not accurate descriptions or reactions to what is going on in the economy of the present moment.

I've seen Dickens' A Christmas Carol maybe a hundred times. I've personally played the Ghost of Christmas Present at least three times on stage myself, and I still cry every time Scrooge has his epiphany at the end. I have cried watching the Mr. Magoo version of the Christmas Carol. But I'm telling you, charity is a kind of a feel good tipping in the face of the real problem, and the real problem is an economic system that keeps nearly half of the population locked into poverty when we have more than enough to take care of them.

There are more empty repossessed houses in the United States than there are homeless people. There are more empty houses, than there are homeless people. There is more food going into the landfill every day than would be needed to feed every hungry person in the world. Our problem is not scarcity, unless what you mean by scarcity is a lack of conscience, a dearth may I say, of giving a damn. The system is so corrupt, and yet we have come to accept it as a necessity, that we forget to challenge it.

There's been a conversation around for the last fifty years about paying a basic income, not a minimum wage, not food stamps, not public housing, but paying a basic income to every living human being. And if you just did it in the United States, you pay a minimum basic income that is livable to everyone,and then if you want a better life, you work, and you try to start jobs, and you try to be creative. If we did that, and this is mind-boggling, now I'm not an economist and I don't want to go too far chasing this rabbit into the woods, but what it costs to administer, our public housing, our food stamps program, our aid for mothers programs... if we simply took all the bureaucratic costs out and paid everyone a basic income, we would literally save money.

Now why wouldn't we do that? Because Americans are horrified of giving someone something for nothing. We are horrified by the concept. But where they've done it, like in Alaska, where there's been so much oil income in Alaska for years that every Alaskan, whether you're a millionaire or a pauper, everyone gets a check every year. It's not a basic income. It's a couple thousand dollars, but what they've discovered is that it multiplies in the economy.

If you give a poor person a couple thousand dollars, they will not establish an offshore savings account to invest it in. They will spend it. They will spend it in local stores, and they will spend it on housing, and they will spend it on trading in a car, and it stimulates the economy. In American Indian reservations, where their income is large enough that they give a distribution to everyone, they discover it multiplies in the economy. It really makes a huge difference.

A basic income to all Americans would change everything... but somehow we are suspicious.

Now, is that a personal statement? If you got a barely subsistent amount of income, would you not work? Or might you be brave enough to start your own business... to do something genuinely adventuresome?

If we had health care for everyone, like every other civilized nation in the world, and if we had a basic income, wouldn't that inspire you to work rather than taking away your incentive? It would keep you from getting captured in a dead-end job doing the same thing over and over again, then you'd have the courage to go to school. Then you'd have the courage to create new economies.

My favorite historian Howard Zinn said, "The rule of law does not do away with the unequal distribution of wealth and power, but reinforces that inequity with the authority of law. It allocates wealth and poverty. . . in such complicated and indirect ways as to leave the victim bewildered."

You have to wonder about a lot of the people who vote for the most austere, horrible political candidates when they are living in poverty themselves. But they have been educated literally to loathe their own peer group and to blame themselves for being poor.

Advertising does this to us constantly. Coca-Cola is now investing in children's athletic events, which is to say that this epidemic of childhood obesity is not because they are poisoning your children but because you are bad parents and you don't make them exercise enough. It's a complete shifting of blame and we have spent generations training the poor to believe that their poverty is their own fault.

One of the smartest, most talented people that I know is on public assistance and has been off and on for 20 years, and this is a woman who can do carpentry and plumbing and electrical work. She can fix almost anything on cars. She can cook any form of game and has managed to feed the homeless and dispossessed kids on her street with food stamps and good wishes. But she can't break into the universe of employment of having real insurance, of ever having a hope of retirement or home ownership. She is hardworking. She is talented. She has some health issues, some complicated family hurdles, but absolutely cannot break out of the cycle of poverty.

If she was only one person in that predicament, I'd solve it myself. I am so sympathetic with her situation that if that was a unique situation, I would personally make the sacrifices necessary to change it. But her situation is not a standalone circumstance. It is repeated over and over and over again.

My phone rings everyday with calls from people with very legitimate needs asking for assistance. I was awakened at five-thirty this morning. I got home about 1 a.m. and my phone rang at five-thirty with a woman asking if our church helps people pay their rent. How desperate must she be to think that even if we were a huge church that you hand out hundreds or thousands of dollars to total strangers on the telephone who just say they can't pay their rent? The whole system of what would be necessary in background checks and stuff to operate that kind of thing... but at that level of desperation, waking a preacher up at five-thirty on Sunday morning is the most rational thing going on in her universe.

Yesterday, a woman called who had fled from a violent spouse. She was staying in a local cheap hotel and she needed someone to help her stay there. Our local spousal abuse shelter is full and has a waiting list, literally months long. If we could quadruple the number of beds in our abuse shelter today, we could fill every bed by tonight. So should she subject herself and her children to violence and possibly murder waiting for her turn to get safe shelter?

I'm telling you the system is dirty. It's rotten. It's stinking. It's not fit for human beings.

It isn't like Dorothy Day and Gandhi and Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King and me just discovered this fact in the last 50 years. We have a biblical text before us today. I know some of you had almost given up on me ever using a biblical passage again, but today, we actually have a Gospel lesson from the third chapter of Luke. If we were the kind of church that really was a slave to the lectionary, the Christian calendar, the cycle of readings, you would know that today is the third Sunday of Advent. It's not something that we talk about a lot, but that's today.

On the third Sunday of Advent, there's always a reading about John the Baptist and the rest of the world is trying to get in the Christmas spirit, but whatever smart persons put the lectionary together, they invite John the Baptist to every year's Christmas party. Just when everybody is wanting to get happy... "Repent!" You get the guy eating grasshoppers, wearing animal skins and standing at the punch bowl glaring at you. Who wants the prophet at any Christmas party?

Yet, every year, here he shows up again. This year we're in what's called year C, so our readings are from the Gospel of Luke. This is the only year that you even get a suggestion of what John prays. It's the only year where he really gets a decent line. Now, John actually enjoyed a good deal of fame in the first century probably more than Jesus did for a long time. There was actually a church of John the Baptist. There was a religious sect that continued to meet in his name long after he was dead, a quasi-Jewish sect that gathered until it was finally eclipsed by the Jesus movement.

So the four canonical Gospels that we have in the New Testament, all are obliged to tip their hat to John. John was too historically important, too well-known to not at least tip their hat. They had to somehow polemically make the claim that even John personally acknowledged that Jesus was more important than he was. I've never met a preacher that said there was another preacher that was more important than he was, so you know that's not historical. That's literary.

The Gospels even insist that John was beheaded before Jesus began his public preaching career. Josephus has it the other way around. Josephus says that John outlived Jesus, but the Gospel writer sometimes had to play fast and loose with the facts in order to make their point. Josephus may have gotten it wrong too. It's hard to say. I can certainly see why it was convenient for the Gospel writers to say that John died first so that Jesus kind of took over the family business, but it could have been the other way around.

In the version of Luke as we have it today, there are these verses of a message that is an anti-empire message. There's nothing about a messiah. There's nothing about dying for your sins. There's nothing about going to heaven or avoiding hell. It's much more down to Earth. It's Economics 101. It is practical theology.

If you've got two coats and somebody doesn't have one, you give him one. If you're a soldier, you've got an actual job and that job is not extorting money through false accusations and lies about the people that you are supposed to be protecting. If you are a government official, you've got a job to do. Don't try to make yourself rich at the expense of others. It's very very practical advise against abuses of power.

When I was in seminary, one of our professors dared to offer a course entitled "Practical Theology", which made everybody else on the faculty quite angry because if someone can offer a course in practical theology, that implies that all the other courses were impractical theology. Even in a prestigious university, the simple fact that the shoe fits doesn't mean that they have the slightest interest in wearing it. I don't have any idea if these seven verses are a historical reflection of what John really stood for, what he actually said, what he actually was about, but I like to think that it is. I like to think.

There's no hard historical evidence either way so scholars will disagree, but as it turns out at this present moment, I have the only active microphone in the room. It turns out that it pleases me to believe that this is an echo of John's real preaching because it is consistent with how other historical religious reform movements began. If we have any sense of the genuine history of Moses or Buddha or Zoroaster or even the Maccabees or Jesus or Muhammad, Frances, maybe even Martin Luther, there was an opposition to the abuses of power, and an advocacy for the poor.

It seems that almost every meaningful religious reform movement begins when someone manages to see through the stinking rotten system and to advocate for the rights of the poor, the marginalized, the enslaved, the landless, the homeless, the poor and say, "Look, you jerks! Just because you've got the spears and the swords doesn't mean that you get to lock most of us into poverty and get fat yourself. If you've got more than enough to eat, you share your bread with someone who is going hungry."

No one could be much more cynical than I am about organized religion. Yet, here I am, I'm the pastor of a church. I'm the voice on a religious podcast. I'm the image on a YouTube religion channel, and even though when someone on a plane next to me asks me what I do, I tell them that I teach philosophy. The truth is when I get my W-2 form every year, it says that I'm a pastor. I am an ordained tax exempt institution of organized religion and yet what I hold onto is that I am not a part of the guilt-ridden, manipulative, self-serving purveyors of misinformation and magic.

I want to lay claim to being a part of the history of the prophets who fought to free slaves, to liberate the oppressed. The guys that spoke up for the poor and demanded that people open their closets and send their extra shoes to Nicaragua, their coats and hats to Bill's place, and devote in a way that brings the poor into the economy rather than keeping the laws and the banking rules in place that awards the few with great wealth and the many with endless generations of suffering.

No one here is in realistic danger of hunger, but we are all in danger of being on the wrong side of history if we don't work and sacrifice and prophesy and vote to actively seek to change the dirty rotten system that leaves hundreds in danger of freezing to death this week right here in the Ozarks while many of the rest of us argue over what we are going to watch on HBO. John said that the axe is already laid at the root, ready to throw the useless into the fire. He may have been guilty of overstatement. Without overstatement, there's not much preaching really, but maybe it was pretty close to the truth, so Merry Christmas you all.

Thank you for reading this and if you attend church somewhere, please share this with your own pastors as something to consider creating their own sermons around.

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Interested in doing more to grow the basic income movement than you can through social media alone? Filling out this survey from the Universal Income Project would be a very helpful start. You can also join the Basic Income Slack channel, Basic Income Action, and the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network.

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44 days ago
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Universal Basic Income Will Accelerate Innovation by Reducing Our Fear of Failure

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I published a new article yesterday on Medium titled "Universal Basic Income Will Accelerate Innovation by Reducing Our Fear of Failure".


What if our insistence on making people earn their living is preventing those one in ten thousand from making incredible achievements that would benefit all the rest of us in ways we can’t even imagine? What if our fears of each other being fully free to pursue whatever most interests us, including nothing, is an obstacle to an explosion of entrepreneurship and truly huge innovations the likes of which have never been seen?

What it all comes down to is fear. FDR was absolutely right when he said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Fear prevents risk-taking, which prevents failure, which prevents innovation. If the great fears are of hunger and homelessness, and they prevent many people from taking risks who would otherwise take risks, then the answer is to simply take hunger and homelessness off the table. Don’t just hope some people are unafraid enough. Eliminate what people fear so they are no longer afraid.

If everyone received as an absolute minimum, a sufficient amount of money each month to cover their basic needs for that month no matter what — an unconditional basic income — then the fear of hunger and homelessness is eliminated. It’s gone. And with it, the risks of failure considered too steep to take a chance on something.

But the effects of basic income don’t stop with a reduction of risk. Basic income is also basic capital. It enables more people to actually afford to create a new product or service instead of just think about it, and even better, it enables people to be the consumers who purchase those new products and services, and in so doing decide what succeeds and what fails through an even more widely distributed and further decentralized free market system.

Such market effects have even been observed in universal basic income experiments in Namibia and India where local markets flourished thanks to a tripling of entrepreneurs and the enabling of everyone to be a consumer with a minimum amount of buying power.

Basic income would even help power the sharing economy. For example, imagine how much an unconditional monthly income would enable people within the Open Source Software (OSS) and free software movements (FSM) to do the unpaid work that is essentially the foundation of the internet itself...

------------> Read the article in its entirety on Medium <------------

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46 days ago
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Watch President Obama, Chance the Rapper, James Taylor Sing 'Jingle Bells'

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President Barack Obama showed off his vocal chops for one final White House tree lighting ceremony. Obama led the star-studded chorus in a joyful rendition of "Jingle Bells." 

Though Obama's voice can be heard most clearly above the rest, several successful musical artists joined him for the ceremony.

This article originally appeared on www.rollingstone.com: Watch President Obama, Chance the Rapper, James Taylor Sing 'Jingle Bells'

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46 days ago
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