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Learned from [ profile] level_head who learned it from [ profile] rowyn that at a Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, an employee was stampeded to death by a mob awaiting the store's early opening. Do read the story if it is not familiar to you.

Now, where to even begin?

Well, let's see, let's begin on Thanksgiving, when people who were working retail had to be prepared to wake up at 2 or 3AM to be at stores by 4am for 5am openings. Many would have had to have earlier Thanksgiving meals, or given up on it in order to be alert the next day. This was noted by friend Stego.

This is in service of what?

Then there are those 5:00 store openings as well, littered with loss-leaders to entice people into the stores. Heavy discounts on flat screen TV's were common, not just at Wal-Mart, but at Best Buy, and many other outlets across the nation.

This is in service of what?

Then there are the people determined to be first in line, determined to beat their neighbors to those loss-leaders. Instead of getting a good night's sleep and spending the day after Thanksgiving in quality time with family and friends, they're up at God-knows-when so they can get this stuff that no one really needs.

This is in service of what?

There's desperation all over this scenario - the retail worker desperate for a paycheck, the retailer desperate for sales, the consumer desperate for the discount. And all this desperation collided tragically on Friday in Valley Stream, and a man died.

This in service of what?

Ben Zoma would say: "Who is rich, he who is happy with his portion." (Avot 4:11)

If everyone in America followed Ben Zoma, our economy would collapse in a heartbeat. So we live in a world of manufactured need, and discontent with our portion is the engine that drives our economy. And right now, problems in banking and industry are forcing some to learn to be content with their portion, and others to look for bargains that will allow them to assuage their discontent within the constraints imposed by those problems.

Sales like the Black Friday sales are designed to capitalize on the discontent that our culture works so hard to manufacture. And that discontent is a powerful enough force that this year, it killed a man.
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The first time [ profile] morgan1 and I ever set foot in Temple Israel was to see a talk by John Carroll, author of Constantine's Sword. After the presentation, which took place in the run-up to the Easter/Passover season, Morgan was buttonholed by an elderly man who had fled Poland in the wake of pogroms. Good Friday, for him, was the day the Christians would come out of the churches looking for Jews to beat up. And he had absorbed his share of beatings.

And so.

It is now 9/11.

I skim [ profile] chipuni's friends list, because it is a rich and diverse bouquet, where so many viewpoints can be found, and I notice that someone has goatsed the [ profile] muslimscommunity. There moderators act swiftly, but no sooner do they delete it than the same user posts an anti-Islamic Chick Tract rife with misinformation and fabrication regarding Islam. This is as close as you can get to mosque desecration on line. I wonder what we will see in the physical world as the day dawns.

The analogy is obvious. And it was the provincial and religious hatred that the Poles had for the Jews that built Auschwitz. A provincial and religious hatred not dissimilar than that which is growing bolder and bolder in the US.

If we allow such seeds to sprout, what vile fruit can we expect to harvest?
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I am a person of faith. So are many people, Jewish and Christian, Muslim and Buddhist who read my journal. And I feel that there is a war being raised against some of the fundamental tenets of my faith, from people like the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. (I don't know who the speaker of the House is these days, so upstaged has he been by DeLay).

These people have been seeking to put into law very specific elements of the very specific splinter of Christianity in which they engaged. And every time Liberals talk about "the separation of Church and State," these wingnuts have a cow about how evil secularists and atheists are on a crusade to destroy Christianity in America. Their perception seems to be that they are being oppressed if their beliefs, and their beliefs alone are not being legislated, are not forming the basis for jurisprudence, and are not being enforced at home and on the world stage.

As many conservatives will point out, there is no "separation of Church and State" in the constitution. And they are right - this concept is the result of judicial interpretation. The Constitution gives us the "establishment clause" in its first Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . ."

Let's take a good hard look at this, leaving behind for the moment the notion of "separation of Church and State" and asking ourselves why it is there at all. First and foremost it codifies an important religious sentiment that we find in the Concessions and Agreements establishing the colony of New Jersey, written by William Penn, namely that "that no man, nor number of men upon earth, hath power or authority to rule over men's consciences in religious matters" (Joseph Story). This is an important notion to understand: the establishment clause is there not to prohibit prayer in schools, necessarily, nor to prohibit display of the Ten Commandments, necessarily, but to guarantee the the state does nothing to compromise the individual's relationship with God. Now this remains true regardless of whether that relationship is one of disavowal, a belief in an abstract "creator," or a belief in a personal God or gods.

Justice Thomas Black, writing in EVERSON v. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF EWING TP., 330 U.S. 1 (1947) illuminates for us the historical milieu from which the establishment clause arose:
A large proportion of the early settlers of this country came here from Europe to escape the bondage of laws which compelled them to support and attend government favored churches. The centuries immediately before and contemporaneous with the colonization of America had been filled with turmoil, civil strife, and persecutions, generated in large part by established sects determined to [330 U.S. 1, 9] maintain their absolute political and religious supremacy. With the power of government supporting them, at various times and places, Catholics had persecuted Protestants, Protestants had persecuted Catholics, Protestant sects had persecuted other Protestant sects, Catholics of one shade of belief had persecuted Catholics of another shade of belief, and all of these had from time to time persecuted Jews. In efforts to force loyalty to whatever religious group happened to be on top and in league with the government of a particular time and place, men and women had been fined, cast in jail, cruelly tortured, and killed. Among the offenses for which these punishments had been inflicted were such things as speaking disrespectfully of the views of ministers of government-established churches, nonattendance at those churches, expressions of non-belief in their doctrines, and failure to pay taxes and tithes to support them.

What we are witnessing today is precisely this scenario: a particular flavor of Christianity is seeking to forge an alliance with the government, though which it can force loyalty to its notion of "family values" or "morals" or whatever the buzzword of the day happens to be. The first amendment is intended to safeguard the relationship between man and God, such that it cannot be hijacked by any single religious persuasion.

So this, then is the right wing War on Faith: If you are Presbyterian, Quaker, United Church of Christ, Reformed Jewish, any kind of Jewish really, Muslim, Buddhist, etc, then according to these people YOUR FAITH IS NOT VALID. And here comes the sticky part: because we are not so prideful as to say "You're wrong because God said so," we do not appear to speak with the moral authority that they do.

So what can we do? For starters, we need to invoke God. Seriously. Even in a war of prooftexting, we can win this thing if we so choose. We tend to be afraid to do this, because we can't know that God is on our side. However, I don't think that's true - I think God IS on our side, and that it can be demonstrated from any holy text we care to cite. I was once asked by a fellow learner in Torah Study "How can we know?"

It's a valid question. The answer is a matter of history and projection - if we examine the pattern that has given us Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, and look at what it parallels in the past what do we see? I see a Holocaust survivor in my congregation describing how, upon being seen with a scrap of Army blanket she had found to keep herself warm, she was made to kneel with her arms over her head for five hours, during which she fainted three times. Her treatment was virtually identical to the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay as described in a report by the ICRC:

The physical tactics noted by the Red Cross included placing detainees in extremely cold rooms with loud music blaring, and forcing them to kneel for long periods of time. . . .

It's not difficult to see where the policy leads. And as for the notion that it is hyperbole or hysteria to draw on the Holocaust for comparison the only thing I can say is that the notion that the Holocaust was somehow a unique or aberrant evil is the greatest assurance that it WILL happen again. All of us have within us not only a spark of divine goodness, but an evil inclination as well, and when that inclination is appealed to on a national stage, it scales up better that a Linux Beowulf cluster. We insist on believing that the holocaust was perpetrated by inhuman monsters, when in fact is was perpetrated by people JUST LIKE US, to whose worst instincts a simple megalomaniac appealed. When we see a nation being encouraged to vote against granting a right to a particular population, when we see a nation that looks the other way when it's citizens are denied justice and due process, we see a nation that has not God, but the evil inclination perched on it's shoulder.

We need to understand that as people of faith we have the RESPONSIBILITY to invoke God. Because if we do not, then we sell Him into slavery to the false prophets who invoke the divine crown for the sole purpose of increasing their power and wealth.

Works Cited

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For a while, I've been reading Jeff Darlington's General Protection Fault waiting for something to happen. Nothing has, for a while. However the current story, Providence, is irritating me immensely by reading rather like a Chick Tract. Ubervillainness Trudy has gotten severly injured in a fight with Law Enforcement, and an Indian Doctor who is an enthusiastic convert to Christianity found her and took her in. While in his care, she tried to kill herself, and he has been "witnessing" to her pretty much since then.

Now I would be content to say that this is a character acting according to his nature, and ride with it, except for this: Jeff has been providing notes on which Bible Verses are used (I suppose it's not a bad idea to cite your sources, especially since he use NIV and no one wants to be sued for plagiarism by Zondervan) and (what pushes me over the edge) critiques of his character's choice of verses for whatever challenge Trudy is presenting at the moment.

I suppose that if you have a wildly popular web-comic, it is your privilege to use it as a pulpit for evangelism. However, if you do so, you may find yourself in possession of a somewhat less wildly popular web-comic. Every web-cartoonist I know expresses their beliefs through their art. It's one of the POINTS of doing this sort of thing. But whereas, for the most part, we work in fable and parable, Jeff has chosen to make a bee-line for a tract format wherein the "hero" pummels the "poor lost soul" with bible verses, and then presents her a bible so that she can come around.

If it weren't for Jeff's running glosses, I would be waiting to see how this setup ends up being subverted (perhaps with a Future Trudy ruling over a Taliban-Like Christian Theocracy, and Akhilesh repenting ever bringing the Gospel to one who would abuse it so badly), but those glosses make it seem to me that Akhilesh's project in seeking new converts is Jeff's as well.
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This is going to be a bit tricky to write but here goes.

My previous post addressed only half the problem we are facing right now. Now it's time to look at the other half.

If you are one of those Christians - conservative or liberal - who built a web site making the Christian case against George Bush, bravo! If you were out there protesting the war, dressed like Jesus and carrying a sign that says "not in my name!" Bravo.

And if you created or passed around the JesusLand map, or are comparing "Christian" voters to the hillbillies in Deliverance, shame! [ profile] the_ferrett makes a good point when he says that if one were to say the things some of us have been saying about Christians with regard to say, Blacks, or Jews, or Gays, it would unleash a firestorm.

And please, spare me any crap about how it's impossible, by definition, to oppress the dominant regime. People are people, and whether or not one is part of the "dominant regime" is every bit as much an accident of birth as any other trait they might possess. And derision hurts, regardless of who you are.

In my previous post, I quoted someone very slightly out of context. I'm going to give you a bit more of her comment now, because it raises some important questions:

As a lesbian Catholic, I have not spoken from my religious views on LJ. I'm constantly amazed at what people will say about how it's WRONG to be a Christian here.

Is this what we've done? Have we forced our Christians into the caves? Has the left, with its great claims of "Diversity" been actively silencing the very voices we most need in our choir?

Indeed, we have cultivated a culture in which anyone who is affiliated with the dominant regime is too afraid of giving offense to speak their minds. We have such a great fear of conflict that we let our differences fester without discussion until they explode into major rifts. So now we some sort of holy war raging in our midst between the camps of faith and reason, and we have placed our allies on the defensive against us.

Good Job!

Diversity is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it gives us e pluribus unum, from the many, one. On the other hand it gives us "divide and conquer."

Which one of these things do you think Grover Norquist is counting on?

So, grab that beat-up six string, the one with the sunflower applique around its sound hole and sing with me, folks:

We shall not be, we shall not be moved.
We shall not be, we shall not be moved.
Like a tree planted by the water,
We shall not be moved.

Faith and Science together, we shall not be moved.
Faith and Science together, we shall not be moved.
Like a tree planted by the water,
We shall not be moved.
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I've been coming across lots of diatribes like this since the election.

OK. You're Liberal. You're smart. And you're Christian. And you're tired of hearing how those ignorant, bigoted red-state Christian podunks got us four more years of Bush. You don't want to be lumped in with them, and you don't want Christianity characterized as a religion of ignorance, hatred and bigotry. So you start screaming at us liberals to stop the hatred.

Well I've got some news for you Sunshine. You're responsible.

That's right. Because instead of claiming your faith, you pull mealy-mouthed crap like this: As a lesbian Catholic, I have not spoken from my religious views on LJ.

It raises the question "why the hell not?" Why are you allowing only those people who invoke Jesus to rationalize their bigotry to be the ones speaking from their "religious views." And how DARE you turn on the rest of us when your silence has let them steal your God.

So, let me teach you a new phrase: "I am a Christian. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson do not speak for me, and they do not speak for the Jesus that I know."

Try repeating it, backing it up with relevant scripture, and showing the world how the haters have rejected the moral values of the New Testament. It's not that hard. If Mad Magazine can do it, surely a smart, liberal, Christian can.

It might take a little time to win us over though. You've let Falwell and Robertson "brand" Christianity for a little too long, so we associate it with the product that they're selling. And if you start now, it's still going to be a little too little, a little to late - because we're all going to suffer from this sin of omission for the next four years.

In the meanwhile, stop returning friendly fire. If you point your guns in the right direction, you'll find us dug in beside you in no time.
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Randall Terry's son, Jamiel Terry comes out in this month's issue of "OUT!" Magazine. Do let's hope he has a better understanding of the importance of advocacy than Karen Cheney.
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I present two articles here

The First, from Adbusters:
Adbusters Article discussing the Jewishness of Neo-Conservatives

The second, from the Washington Post:
Survey on Jewish Responsibility for Death of Jesus )

In truth, I am more concerned about the "Jewish Conspiracy" libel than the "Christ-Killer" thing, but whenever the two come together things do not go well. It is one thing to hate Paul Wolfowitz because he is an ass; but quite another to suggest that his Jewishness should be raised as an issue. This is a further example of the the growing neo-liberal anti-semitism that has kept me from peace marches against even wars I oppose. I cannot bring myself to stand beside someone who equates the Israeli (over)reaction to a constant barrage of terrorism with Nazism, a not infrequent practice of neo-liberals.

[Edited to clarify the separateness of the two articles.]
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Two Easters ago, [ profile] morgan1 and I were attending a service at a very liberal baptist church in Minneapolis. That day's sermon was based on something Ghandi said: "worship without sacrifice is idolatry." The overall gist of the sermon was that if the dominant regime isn't shooting you, beating you, or driving tanks over you, you are somehow failing in your duty to God. Morgan, being the Christian in our relationship and having grown up on messages like that, fled the church as soon as the service ended, never to return. As for me, the Jew, I was grateful to have just sat through an Easter service where I was not made to feel that I was having Jesus' death pinned on me. But the sermon itself itself was a valoration of martyrdom. And the fact that Liberals regularly choose martyrdom over victory is the problem with the left.

This is why Dean is losing in primaries. He might just be more electable John "Lurch" Kerry. But leftists don't like his willingness to roll up his sleeves and fight. They don't like a man who who isn't rabidly anti-gun, because hey, in lefty-land guns are what the regime uses to make a martyr of you. The moment you touch one, you become soiled by the power it grants. They don't like a man who can raise a rallying cry worthy of Jesse Ventura, even if his voice cracks at the end. Dean isn't afraid of mustering and using the raw power of the anger shared by many Americans. But the left is afraid of its own anger, afraid that if it gives its anger free rein, it might just do something . . . effectual.

The enmity of the left for Dean can be seen best in Maureen Dowd's articles both on Judy and on the "scream." She goes on like Ann Coulter, enumerating the many ways in which Judy's failure to be the perfect bimbo campaign-prop wife should raise our suspicions. Indeed if what Maureen prescribes for Judy is what she really believes in, one wonders where she finds the time to write her snarky little articles between raising her husband's children and cleaning out her husband's asshole.

So a word to the left: whether you like it or not, many Americans are ANGRY with Bush, and there is no shame in USING that anger. And Kerry -- If you DO win the nomination, offer Dean the Vice Presidency, and get James Carville to manage your campaign, and you might just have a shot at the whitehouse.
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As the EU wrangles over its constitution, many members want to acknowledge Europe's Christian Heritage in its preamble. Now, I am not going to put too fine a point on this. Europe's "Christian Heritage" is nothing to be proud of. Europe's "Christian Heritage," from the moment of Constantine's conversion, is nothing more than the complete and utter perversion of the teachings of Jesus from a religion of life, peace and compassion into a culture of death, war, and hatred.

From the moment Europe took up the reins of Christianity it has added to the "Christian Heritage" a string of atrocities ranging from the Crusades through the Inquisition and culminating, at last in the Pogroms and the Holocaust. Jews, Muslims, and Christians who actually followed Jesus' teachings alike suffered forced conversion, torture, death by the sword, and death by immolation at the hands of these "Christian" Europeans.

Quite frankly, I find this all a wee bit frightening. I cannot help but notice, in France's prohibition of worn religious symbolism in government spaces, only Christianity warrants an exception, for a "discreet" cross. However, no sect of Christianity that I know of demands that its members wear a cross. The chauvinism is absolutely clear, and an indicator that the Holocaust may not long remain the capstone of religious persecution in Europe. A great wariness should therefore be held of any attempt by the EU to appropriate a "Christian" identity.
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France wishes to ban the wearing of headscarves by muslim women, the wearing of yarmulkes by Jews and the wearing of "Large" crosses by Christians. Small crosses will, however, be permitted.

The Article can be found here
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Well, by this time, Thanksgiving has been and gone. Leftover turkey waits (or lurks) in the fridge until such time as it is redeployed as "another Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat," and the countdown has begun: N shopping days left until . . . The Holiday Which Must Not Be Named.

This bugs me.

If you've been reading this journal for any amount of time, you'll know that I'm Jewish. You'll also know that I am very direct, if not downright rude, in my assessment of the world. I don't believe in what is derisively called "political correctness."

I got an e-mail from a Co-Worker asking me if I would object to any Christmas Holiday Which Must Not Be Named (HWMNBN) decorations. I told her that as long as she didn't want to turn our entire work area into a creche I was cool with it. In fact she wanted to display a small creche that she did not feel she would enjoy at home, because it would become lost in the clutter. I told her to go ahead. This was an interaction between two adults, one showing the sensitivity to ask before placing religious iconography in a mixed-faith work area, and the other showing the tolerance to say "go for it." I thought that this was what "diversity," "multiculturalism," and "tolerance" were all about. Apparently, I was wrong.

An E-Mail went out to our entire organization from our facilities people explaining that seasonal decorations would be allowed (most gracious of them) but must be secular in nature (my co-worker was not free to display her creche, nor would I be free to display a menorah, if I wished). I am so glad that I can count on facilities (and truth be told, probably legal as well) to save me from having to make any decisions about what I may or may not consider offensive.

So anyway I get home and [ profile] morgan1 is searching around frantically for some antlers we bought to put on the cats. She was planning to wear them for her company's holiday picture. We find them, and she gets some wrinkles ironed out of them and the holiday picture is taken. A day later, her company announces that the holiday picture must be retaken because some people had worn Santa hats or Antlers. They were evidently trying to avoid a holiday theme in their holiday picture.

Now, I just need to ask, what the HELL is going on here? What's so bad about Christmas that we must scrub the word from our national vocabulary? True, not all Americans celebrate it. Some of us celebrate Chanukah, some Solstice, some of us, nothing at all. And why solve the "problem" of creating a potentially "hostile" religious environment by creating an environment uniformly hostile to religion? I know that the answer lies in corporate fears of liability.

But I have another question. What if I did bring in a Menorah? My coworker has been forbidden her creche, but since mine is not the religion of the dominant regime would anyone say anything to me? Or would they too be afraid of being accused of discrimination because I am a minority? I have a hypothesis, of course, but the failure of the only experiment I can design to test it could result in major loss of income for me, so I shall refrain.

But it occurs to me that both my coworker and I are being discriminated against. As people who might be inclined to actually show a shred of spirituality, we are being denied the freedom of speech to do so. Which raises another question in my mind -- for all the right wing talk of this being a "Christian nation," for all the disputation about whether to cut "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance (itself a prayer to an idol), and the inscription "In God we Trust" on our coins, for all the separation of church and state, do we perhaps have a state religion which has nothing to do with spirituality? Of course we do.

Every year, those Mammonite priests called "analysts" take measure of our shopping habits, spending, "confidence," and other factors, and are ready to tell us as early as December 26th whether we have upheld our religious duty to provide the economy with a good "holiday season" or if we have failed, and will be punished by Mammon himself with that most horrible of plagues, a "downturn." If you're unemployed, its because you didn't spend enough during the holiday season.

Indeed the admonitions begin the day after Thanksgiving, when we are all supposed to hit the malls in a great horde, and the very size of that horde may be sufficient to divine whether Mammon will inscribe us in the book of "growth" or the book of "downturn" for the coming fiscal year.

And the Christian who thinks about Jesus may just decide to go to church on Christmas.
And the Jew who contemplates the miracle of the oil may decide that the lighting of the Menorah and eating Latkes, and giving the kids some Chocolate to gamble at dreidel with is enough.
And the Wiccan who thinks about the Solstice may just decide that a really big Bonfire is the best invitation for the sun's return.

In short it serves the needs of commerce very well to cut us off from our spiritual centers, and the despiritualization of America is less about not offending anyone than it is about leaving us all with a void that we seek to fill at a mall.
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When I was a teenager in high school, I worked the desk at the school library. One day a girl came in and asked "Do you have any books on squirls?" She had rescued a baby squirrel that had fallen out of a tree and become injured. And that was the beginning of one of the strangest friendships I've ever had. She was smart, she was pretty, her eyes were like cold, hard diamond chips -- intractable. We spent the next couple of years engaged in what only can be described as a bizarre kind of mutual evangelism, she trying to convert me to her faith, I trying to dissuade her from it. It was through this intellectual exercise that a Jewish boy from New York first became acquainted with the New Testament. We both rather enjoyed these talks even though neither of us had learned to "agree to disagree."

She had solid reasoning ability, designing experiments and evaluating their results. She had a strong command of language, Ivy League grades in Advanced Placement classes, and SAT scores that were through the roof. Intellectually, she was certainly no slouch. When High School Graduation was not far off for her, I asked her what colleges she was considering. I was imagining Cornell, Columbia, Harvard even.

"I'm not going to College," she replied.

To say that my head caved would be an understatement. "What are you planning to do with the rest of your life?" I asked.

"Live on my grandmother's Farm."

"How long do you expect your grandmother to live?"

"Until the End of Days."

And there you have it. Call it the Fallacy of the Immanent Eschaton, if you will; she was making her life choices based on the eschatological vision of a religion which has predicted the end of the world within each decade since 1840. The fact that their vision never came to pass never stopped them believing it. And this belief has a most dangerous effect:

It means we need not consider the future in our choices.

Just as my high school friend did not need to consider her future when planning for college (she eventually went to a local college under pressure from her mother and me) so the current administration feels no need to worry about the deficit, or the environment. All of those problems will be solved by the Rapture. And the faster the Rapture comes to pass the faster all our problems will be solved.

Christianity is hardly alone in possessing sects that believe the end of the world is imminent. Islam and Judaism, too, have their share of wackos. And because all three religions believe that Israel is going to be the stage for the final battle, the intractability of both parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict suddenly makes sense too. After all it is the extremists on both sides who drive that conflict -- people who need not build a better world for future generations because they believe they are living in the generation of the end.

But it is dangerous to live as if there is no tomorrow, as if deficits and global warming do not matter. Because, just in case the world doesn't happen to end this year, we will have to live with the consequences of our choices.

I called my High School friend a few years after she and her mother moved back to North Carolina. Her mother answered the phone. "Oh, she's married to a local gentleman now." When I try to imagine what her life must be like now, I see a tired woman leading a swarm of children through a Wal-Mart. It's sad, but that's what happens when your plans for the future depend on the end of the world.

I'm from New Jersey
I don't expect too much
If the world ended today
I would adjust.

-- John Gorka

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