Monday, February 25, 2008

When The Fat Lady Sings

Most Americans are probably familiar with the phrase, "It ain't over until the fat lady sings." It's a colloquialism which basically means that it's a mistake to declare defeat prematurely. I think that it's very applicable to the area of politics.

I just visited the home page for, and there was an editorial article saying that Hillary should gracefully exit the presidential race now, in order to avoid a humiliating defeat at the polls.

I have a real problem with that argument.

It isn't that I favor Hillary over Barack Obama. Frankly, I couldn't care less whether Hillary beats Obama or the other way around. Neither one of them is pro-life, so neither one of them will be getting my vote.

What I object to, when I contemplate the aforementioned article, is the idea that candidates ought to drop out of the primaries before all voters have been granted an opportunity to vote and to have their votes counted.

To my way of thinking, there's only one legitimate reason for a candidate to drop out of the race, and that's if the candidate has run out of funds and all of the available evidence suggests that asking for additional funding would amount to asking people to finance a hopeless cause. If there are still available campaign funds, then the candidate owes it to those who donated those funds (and often their considerable time and hard work as well) to do his or her best to win.

As for the idea that Hillary ought to be motivated primarily by the desire to avoid a "humiliating" defeat, all I can say is that if she cannot deal with defeat, then that in itself ought to prove that she is unfit to be president. When it comes to politics, the prospect of potential defeat comes with the territory. And defeat in one election doesn't necessarily mean that there are no prospects for future success.

If you don't believe me, just ask John McCain.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Falling Through The Cracks

During the years of the Bush administration, we've heard a lot about "faith based initiatives" --- in other words, private charities, created and sponsored by churches and other religious groups, where the primary or sole emphasis is on social services for people with various material needs, as well as intangible needs such as the need for rehabilitation related to substance abuse.

Now, I'm all in favor of making it easier for faith-based charitable organizations to do their work. However, I'm also in favor of continuing to offer secular, government services to the needy. After all, when it comes to such services, unbelievers benefit from such services just as much as believers. Wealthy unbelievers have social responsibilities, too. Obviously, such unbelievers rarely contribute significant amounts of money to churches, so the continuation of governmental social programs helps to insure that such people bear at least some of the burden of helping needy people. One can be a political conservative, as I am, and still understand this principle.

In any event, even when one takes both religious and governmental social services into account, there are still numerous unmet needs in our society. One of the reasons for that fact is that many people, having been made aware of the existence of various programs for the poor, tend to assume that the various programs, when put together, are quite adequate for the purpose of meeting all legitimate needs.

That might be the case, if the various programs were structured in a sufficiently flexible manner that they could accommodate all crisis situations and needs. But that's rarely the case.

Those who administer such programs, whether faith-based or otherwise, are often forced to add all kinds of requirements and exclusions in order to placate taxpayers and supporters who fear that their funds might be used for the purpose of supporting indolent, irresponsible people. While such fears might be understandable to some extent, the end result is that people who are in need for legitimate reasons must often jump through all kinds of hoops in order to qualify for help; and even then, success is far from guaranteed.

For some reason, there seems to be a disproportionate emphasis on food in this country when helping the poor. There are numerous programs, both public and private, for feeding the poor. But the Bible states, correctly, that man does not live by bread alone. In addition to spiritual needs, people have numerous material needs which have nothing at all to do with food.

The most obvious need is for adequate housing. If you look at the amount of money the average family spends on basic needs, the money which is spent on rent or mortgage payments is often higher than any other expense, unless that family happens to have one or more members with serious illnesses which require extraordinary medical expenditures.

But whereas food stamps are offered in some form in virtually every state, housing assistance sufficient to prevent eviction in the event of extended periods of unemployment, where people have either exhausted their unemployment insurance benefits or been denied such benefits, is often woefully inadequate or nonexistent.

Without adequate housing, food stamps and canned food donations are almost pointless. What's the point of going grocery shopping, if one has no place to store such groceries or to prepare meals?

I make these observations as someone who is currently facing the possibility of eviction.

I spoke with a friend yesterday, and he suggested that I look into the possibility of supplemental income. But the only types of supplemental income I can seem to find are those in the following categories:

General Assistance (GA) from IDHS (Illinois Department of Human Services): This is the only IDHS cash assistance for which I might conceivably be qualified, because I am single (so I don't qualify for TANF) and I don't qualify as "aged, blind or disabled", so I don't qualify for AABD assistance. Moreover, when I read the IDHS requirements for GA, I discover that they have to decide that an applicant is "not employable" in order to grant GA to an applicant. The only thing I can see on their list which gives me hope that they might decide in my favor is that I regularly take a number of medicines in order to control hypertension. (I only started doing that last year, interestingly enough. I'd never had high blood pressure before, to my knowledge, but it was through the roof when I saw an optometrist last summer to get some new glasses.)

Even if one can get it (and that isn't certain), GA is limited to $100 a month (which is unlikely to satisfy the judge when I appear before him in eviction court). But every little bit helps, I suppose.

One correction: I just noticed that they have another program, called Earnfare, which could add another $294 a month to my overall income. As I read the requirements, it would seem that participation in that program would require that I work (at minimum wage) for the food stamp benefits which I currently get without working. But hey, $294 would make a substantial difference in my overall income, and might prevent me from falling further behind on my rent, if combined with a monthly payment which I receive from another source.

One problem: Earnfare and General Assistance would seem to be mutually exclusive. GA requires that they declare that you're unemployable. By definition, if you can work at one of their Earnfare jobs, then you're employable.

If forced to choose between the two, I'd obviously rather have the $294 than the $100. But $294 isn't very much. Such a monthly income would help to keep me from falling further behind on my rent, but it wouldn't make much of a difference in terms of catching up on the rent which the Lawson House YMCA claims that I owe.

SSI and SSDI: Both of these forms of assistance can be substantial, but I've already explored this option. SSI and SSDI benefits are basically for disabled people. The only way I could persuade the IDHS folks that I was disabled would be to persuade them that depression over my prolonged period of unemployment was serious enough to prevent me from being able to work. I have in fact experienced depression in connection with that fact, to the extent that I sought counseling and antidepressants from Northwestern Memorial Hospital during the months from September 2008 until very recently.

On the advice of a friend, and also on the advice of my general physician, I applied for such benefits last Fall, thinking that the receipt of the same might possibly solve my immediate financial problems. But I'd heard that disability benefits connected with depression could be very difficult to obtain. Sure enough, after a long period of deliberation, the case adjudicator contacted me and informed me that my petition had been denied. As I see it, I have received very few tangible benefits in connection with the "treatment" I have received at Northwestern, and it's even arguable that the substantial time I've spent going to the various appointments they've scheduled me to attend has made matters worse for me, since time spent in such pursuits has substantially reduced the amount of time available to me for the purpose of seeking employment. I could appeal the adjudicator's decision, but even if the appeal went in my favor (which seems somewhat unlikely), it's unlikely that such a reversal would happen soon enough to prevent eviction from my apartment.

Yesterday, my friend (Joseph Hollingsworth) suggested that I look into the funds which might be available as a result of the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008. That sounded promising to me, so I looked up more information on the Web to see what I could find. (Joseph didn't know the exact name of the program when he spoke with me, so it took a little bit of digging on my part.) Unfortunately, I once again ran up against a situation where the government had built certain exclusions into the program. Specifically, in order to benefit from the program, applicants must have earned at least $3,000 during 2007. Since I lost my job in January 2007, I wasn't working long enough to have made that much money while working for my last employer. (I'll have to look at my tax forms to confirm that such is the case.)

Of course, I did receive unemployment insurance payments during 2007, and I know that the IRS considers such payments to be taxable income, so it's possible that having received such payments will mean that I'm qualified to receive the ESA benefit. I definitely plan to explore that option, because every little bit helps. Unfortunately, in this case, the word "bit" would seem to be appropriate. My friend thought that single people making less than a certain amount were eligible for a benefit of $700. He may have been thinking of people with children, because my own reading of the text suggests to me that the most I'll be able to get from the ESA is $300 even if I'm qualified.

It isn't clear how long one would have to wait before getting such benefits, and it isn't clear as to whether or not my landlord would be willing to wait that long.

Another potentially big problem: While I was working in early 2007, I was paying taxes via payroll deductions. But I don't think I had taxes deducted from my unemployment insurance benefits when I was receiving them in 2007. (I thought that surely I would have gotten a job before now, after all.) If I'm correct in thinking that that's the case, then I may actually owe income taxes to the IRS. That could potentially prevent me from getting any tax refund, and it could even cancel out part or all of the ESA benefits! I hope not, but I have to consider that possibility.

Obviously, I need to pull out my tax forms and sit down to figure out my taxes ASAP so that I have a better idea how I stand in that regard.

The point of all of this is that I am trying to leave no stone unturned when it comes to finding a way to satisfy my landlord so that I can avoid eviction. But it may not be enough.

If it's not enough, I can only pray that one or more kindhearted Christians will help me in tangible ways (such as temporary lodging in a spare room, if necessary), so that I can pursue the ministry vision which I firmly believe the Lord has given to me.

I'll be the first to acknowledge that my skills as a financial manager leave something to be desired, but if you will take the time to read the various previous entries on this blog, and if you'll visit to check out that site, I think you'll have to agree that I do not in any way, shape or form fit the "profile" of a typical homeless person. I am not addicted to substances of any kind (other than food, oxygen and the other things to which all people have "addictions"). I have very few problems which would not be cured or substantially reduced by furnishing me with an adequate income. I am not perfect, but I should not be allowed to fall through the cracks. I should not have to abandon my dreams.

Mark W. Pettigrew
30 W. Chicago Avenue
Room 1212
Chicago, IL 60610

(773) 509-8126

Friday, February 22, 2008

Without Faith

There's a verse in the Bible which says that it's impossible to please God without faith.

Cynical people might say, "Well, sure. It's impossible to please God no matter what you do, so why try?" Sometimes, I must confess that I've felt that way, particularly when going through hard times which have felt extremely unfair to me.

But even though it might feel that way sometimes, it contradicts the evidence which can be found in the scriptures. God doesn't expect perfection. Abraham pleased God. Moses pleased God. David pleased God. John the Baptist pleased God. None of them was perfect. None of them pleased God all of the time. But they managed to please God more often than most of us do. And there have been millions of others who have pleased God, to greater or lesser degrees, throughout the centuries. They pleased God because they had faith.

What is faith? It's the evidence of things hoped for but not yet seen. Faith, by definition, requires that one choose to believe that things will get better, even though such a belief seems to defy the circumstantial evidence in front of one's eyes.

Some would say that faith is inherently irrational. I think that's untrue. It isn't so much a matter of whether or not one is rational, as it is a matter of what evidence most influences one's attitudes.

For a person who lacks faith, external circumstances trump the evidence of God's character, as demonstrated throughout history in the form of God's dealings with people. For a person who has faith, it's the other way around. There's evidence to support both points of view, so it's a question of deciding which evidence matters the most to you. It isn't easy to ignore circumstantial evidence and focus on God's character instead, but it can be done.

Reading the Old Testament, I am struck by how often God put the nation of Israel into a position of disadvantage precisely so that they would be forced, when they prevailed in spite of such circumstances, to acknowledge that they could not have prevailed solely by relying on their own strength. "'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,' saith the Lord." The scriptures say that His strength is made perfect in our weakness. God does not despise the weak, God welcomes the weak. The ones God despises are those who foolishly and incorrectly think that they don't need Him.

It doesn't take faith to sing songs of praise to God when everything is going great. Any fool can do that. Faith is continuing to sing songs of praise even when one is locked up in prison and all hope seems gone.

Some modern preachers misrepresent faith in such a way as to cause great disappointment among those who are deceived by their messages. Faith is presented as some type of magical formula for success or some type of foolproof self-help program. Such a presentation can lead to false expectations, and that can lead people to fall away from true faith.

Did the Christian martyrs who died in the Roman colosseums lack faith in Christ? On the contrary, it was their faith which enabled them to stand fast for Christ, even to the very moments of their deaths. Their faith did not guarantee that they would be spared from suffering or pain.

If God had promised carefree lives to all of those who put their faith in Him, we would be justified in losing faith when things didn't go our way. But He never made such a promise. On the contrary, Jesus promised that those who chose to follow Him would suffer as He had suffered. He promised that we would have troubles in this world, but He also told us to be cheered by the realization that He had overcome this world.

As I write this blog post, I am facing a frightening situation in my life. Specifically, I am facing the possibility of eviction from my home. Such an eviction would be devastating in some respects, particularly with regard to goals I've set in my life.

I like to think that those goals were inspired by God. I'd like to succeed as a Christian artist, musician and writer. I'd like to launch an ambitious Christian ministry of the arts which would make a huge positive difference in our culture. And I believe that I have the ability to do those things, if given the opportunity.

But even assuming that I'm correct in thinking that those goals were inspired by the Holy Spirit, none of those accomplishments would count for anything if I didn't have faith, because it's impossible for a person who has no faith to please God.

Do you understand? On Judgment Day, God will not be impressed with my accomplishments or with yours. He will only want to know a few things. Did we have genuine faith in Him? Did we love Him with our whole hearts? Did we love our neighbors as ourselves? Did we make the most of the resources and abilities which were given to us? Did we do our best to abstain from doing evil, and to make the world a better place by obeying Him? Did we endure to the end, even when faced with pain and suffering which would have caused others to abandon their faith in God?

If we can answer "yes" to those simple questions, we need not fear that God will despise or reject us.

But I'm not pretending that it's easy. I'm not claiming that I've arrived when it comes to perfect faith. I am seriously struggling at this point in my life. So I earnestly solicit your prayers. And I wouldn't have any objections if you were to offer tangible help as well, so that I could achieve my full potential and help others to increase their own faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Mark Pettigrew
30 W. Chicago Avenue
Room 1212
Chicago, IL 60610

(773) 509-8126

Monday, February 18, 2008

Thoughts About Britney Spears

The latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine features a cover story about how messed up Britney Spears' life has become. I read part of the article, but I couldn't finish reading it. It was boring, it was depressing, and worst of all, it was completely useless when it came to understanding what had caused Britney's tragicomic downward spiral.

I'd like to see an article which would examine the alienating, dehumanizing psychological effects of the type of attention Britney has gotten from the tabloid press for virtually all of her adult life. But of course, we'll never see that article, because it would require humility and introspection on the part of the journalist writing the article.

None of this is to deny that Britney has serious problems. Yes, she's psycho. Yes, she's a pathetic excuse for a mother and a wife. Yes, she's a mere shadow of the innocent and sweet teenage Britney Speers America once knew (or thought it knew). Yes, she's ultimately responsible for her own actions. But I'd like to meet the person who wouldn't crack under the pressure to which she's been subjected on a regular basis.

The tabloid journalists who specialize in stalking her and exposing her every flaw to the public in the name of the public's "right to know" are scum-sucking exploiters of pain, and it's highly likely that the aberrant behavior which we have seen from Britney in recent years is her response to abusive treatment from such so-called journalists. Maybe they need to stop and think about how they would feel if someone treated their sisters or daughters the way that they regularly treat Britney.

The Golden Rule is not suspended in the case of celebrities. On Judgment Day, God will remember what journalists have done to Britney in pursuit of the almighty dollar.

What Britney needs is a whole lot of prayer. It also couldn't hurt for her to take a very long vacation in some remote location where she will not be subjected to the daily indignities of the paparazzi. Preferably in the care of someone who is unimpressed with her celebrity status, and whose only interest in her is to help her to achieve healing, both emotionally and spiritually.

Otherwise, I fear that we will soon be reading about her tragic death. And then the tabloid journalists will find someone else to harass and exploit.

Beards Are Back. Real Men Don't Care.

When I was in high school, I grew my first beard.

My father had decided to grow his beard out during a trip to Yellowstone Park, and I thought it looked pretty good on him. I suspect that that was what influenced me to try it out for myself, a year or two later.

Also, a lot of the Jesus People I hung out with had beards or moustaches, during the early seventies. That was a strong influence on me, not because I felt that I had to look like them in order to fit in, but because I strongly admired those men, and I sought a way to express my admiration.

Unfortunately, men of my father's generation didn't think that beards made men look "professional," so Dad shaved his off a mere two weeks after he'd first started growing it --- just when it was starting to look good. To my recollection, that was Dad's first and last beard.

Fortunately, I was not constrained by such considerations. I soon learned that I had "beard-friendly" genetics. I had a pretty impressive beard by the time when I graduated from high school in 1974. It wasn't as thick or impressive as it would become in later years, but it was still pretty impressive, considering my age.

I soon decided that I really liked the look. It felt as if it fit me like a glove. But there were times when I shaved it off, even though I would have preferred to keep it. Usually, the reason had something to do with the need to find a job. Given a choice between beardlessness or penury, I chose beardlessness. Even so, I admit that I felt a certain amount of resentment when I had to do so. I could not for the life of me figure out why folks felt that facial hair or the lack thereof had anything to do with how qualified I was to do particular jobs. Frankly, I still can't.

When I was a student at College of The Ozarks from January of 1976 to December of 1977, the school had a dress code which prohibited beards. But one clever student figured out a way around the policy, at least for a short time. He persuaded them to sponsor a "Bicentennial Beard Contest". The objective, ostensibly, was to pay homage to the past by striving to grow a beard which most closely resembled a historical figure (such as a president) chosen by the contestant. Contestants could abstain from shaving, but only if they wore buttons identifying themselves as contestants whenever they walked around on campus!

Silly, right? But kind of fun, too. I took second place in the contest, right behind a guy who ostensibly had tried to grow a beard which looked like Lincoln's beard. (He looked nothing like Lincoln, in my opinion.) In my case, I just went through a book showing photos of U.S. presidents, and selected a president whose beard was the biggest, thickest beard I could find. I seem to recall that Garfield was the president I chose to emulate.

During the 80's, I lived in the Boston area and worked at the Harvard Cooperative Society for 5 years. During that time, my employer allowed me to grow a very long and thick beard. One time I was walking down the street in Harvard Square, and someone shouted, "ZZ Top" at me. I didn't mind that so much. Another time, a guy driving by in a pickup truck shouted, "Get yourself a real job." I did mind that, since I was working two different jobs at the time.

I also grew an extremely long and thick beard during the four years when I worked as a database specialist for YMCA Child Welfare from 1996 to 2000 here in Chicago. The hippie era was but a distant memory, so no one could claim that I was especially fashionable. But I didn't care. I liked the look, and I had never been much of a slave to fashion anyway.

Why am I reminiscing about my history vis-a-vis beards? Because I've recently seen a number of articles proclaiming that "the beard is back," in publications such as Time magazine, the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune.

It's kind of ironic, because even though I much prefer the bearded look, I happen to be "clean shaven" at the moment, on account of the fact that I don't want to do anything which could make it even more difficult for me to find employment.

A number of the people who have discussed the latest trend have talked about how growing a beard is a way for a man to assert his manliness and his unwillingness to be a conformist.

Both of those things are probably true; but it seems to me that a person who feels a need to assert his manliness is, by definition, not particularly manly. And a person who feels a need to assert that he or she isn't a conformist is, in a strange way, just as subservient to societal demands and expectations as anyone else.

Real men don't follow the trends. Real men make the trends or ignore them altogether.

True nonconformists don't feel a need to make public "statements" about their conformity or lack thereof. And nothing could be more conformist than adopting a particular manner of dress because everyone else is suddenly doing the same thing.

In short, the people who will grow beards because beards have become trendy are, in general, insecure people who allow other people to do their thinking for them. So even though I think it's kind of nice that the current trends happen to favor my own stylistic preferences, the truth of the matter is that I will continue to make stylistic decisions in a manner which is relatively independent of what others may think or say.

Just don't be surprised if I choose to grow a beard as soon as I find a job where employees are allowed to do so!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Infamous Methodists

I was baptized and raised in the Methodist church. My father was a Methodist lay minister. My grandfather was the Methodist chaplain at one of the largest hospitals in Missouri.

At one time in my life, I was proud to call myself a Methodist. But the Methodist church began to deteriorate in the seventies after merging with another denomination to become the United Methodist Church. It seemed as if the denomination was becoming more and more liberal (and spineless), both theologically and politically. Eventually, I stopped attending that church except to visit on very rare occasions.

Looking back, I have to say that I'm glad I made that decision, especially when I consider some of the people the Methodist church has contributed to our culture in recent years.

Let's consider a few of the figures who occupy the hall of Methodist infamy:

Sarah Weddington

Thanks to the industrious work of this illustrious attorney from Texas, abortion was legalized in 1973 in the case known as Roe v. Wade. So far, roughly 50 million human beings have been killed legally as the result of her efforts.

Incidentally, the "Roe" in Roe v. Wade, Norma McCorvey, has long since repudiated her own role in the matter. The significance of that fact apparently eludes Weddington, since she has not repented of her own role in that national tragedy.

Hugh Hefner

Yes, the man most responsible for popularizing porn and adultery in America also came from the Methodist church, which he claimed was "repressive".

If the leaders in the Methodist church had done a better job of presenting biblical sexuality in a manner which had helped Hefner to understand the difference between freedom and licentiousness, contemporary American culture might be profoundly different. And a lot of people such as myself might not have come from broken homes.

Hillary Clinton

That's right, Hillary Clinton --- who was recently quoted by the Chicago Free Press as having said that she would be the first president, if elected, to march in a Gay Pride parade --- is also a "lifelong, devout Methodist".

Perhaps President Hillary will appear on the float along with the woman who recently appeared topless (with "pasties") at the Gay Pride parade in Chicago. Gosh, won't that photo op please Bill immensely!

Or maybe Hillary will join arms with the young lady I saw at the Fullerton CTA stop, a few years ago when the parade was being held. The girl had a T-shirt which said "Taste The Rainbow," along with a big arrow pointing straight at her crotch. Yummy! (That's sarcasm, for those of you who are incapable of discerning the obvious.)

Gregory Dell

Dell is a United Methodist minister from Chicago. He achieved his notoriety by performing weddings between gay couples, in spite of the United Methodist policy forbidding such weddings. (Well, at least there are some Methodists who have some moral backbone.)

Walter Coleman

The pastor of the tiny Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood, Walter Coleman's main contribution to culture in this nation of ours has been to undermine the idea that new immigrants to our country have an obligation to obey our immigration laws. His willingness to harbor Elvira Arellano and Flor Crisostomo, both of whom sought "refuge" in Coleman's church, ought to embarrass the United Methodist Church immensely.

George Bush

O.K., the Methodist church isn't completely corrupt yet. George is a flawed man, no doubt about it, but I'm still glad that I voted for him, when I consider who his opponents were at the time.

There are other good (albeit fallible) people in the Methodist church as well.

If you're one of the good Methodists who are trying your hardest to help undo the damage caused by those who have given the United Methodist Church a bad name, then I salute you.

As for me, I no longer identify myself as a Methodist. I no longer identify exclusively with any particular denomination. I just call myself a Christian. I think that's the way Christ would want it.

School Shootings: A Fascinating Timeline

Just now, I decided to do a search online to see if my previous blog post was available via Google yet. It was. That pleased me. But I was even more pleased to find a forum post which made my point very well, even though that wasn't the intent of the person who made the post.

Here's the link to the forum. The particular post (by someone known as "tker") contained the following list, which was ostensibly evidence that the "right to bear arms" was trumped by the need to protect people from mass shootings:


University of Texas at Austin massacre Austin, Texas, United States August 1, 1966

Orangeburg Massacre Orangeburg, South Carolina, United States February 8, 1968

Kent State shootings Kent, Ohio, United States May 4, 1970

Jackson State killings Jackson, Mississippi, United States May 14-15, 1970

California State University, Fullerton Library Massacre Fullerton, California, United States July 12, 1976

Cleveland Elementary School shooting San Diego, California, United States January 29, 1979

Parkway South Junior High School shooting Saint Louis, Missouri, United States January 20, 1983

Stockton massacre Stockton, California, United States January 17, 1989

University of Iowa shooting Iowa City, Iowa, United States November 1, 1991

Simon's Rock College of Bard shooting Great Barrington, Massachusetts, United States December 14, 1992

Lindhurst High School shooting Marysville, California, United States May 1, 1992

East Carter High School shooting Grayson, Kentucky, United States January 18, 1993

Richland High School shooting Lynnville, Tennessee, United States November 15, 1995

Frontier Junior High shooting Moses Lake, Washington, United States February 2, 1996

Bethel High School shooting Bethel, Alaska, United States February 19, 1997

Pearl High School shooting Pearl, Mississippi, United States October 1, 1997

Heath High School shooting West Paducah, Kentucky United States December 1, 1997

Jonesboro massacre Jonesboro, Arkansas, United States March 24, 1998

Parker Middle School Shooting Edinboro, Pennsylvania April 24, 1998

Thurston High School shooting Springfield, Oregon, United States May 21, 1998

Columbine High School massacre Littleton, Colorado, United States April 20, 1999

Heritage High School shooting Conyers, Georgia, United States May 20, 1999

Buell Elementary School shooting Mount Morris Township, Michigan, United States February 29, 2000

Santana High School shooting Santee, California, United States March 5, 2001

Granite Hills High School shooting El Cajon, California March 22, 2001

Appalachian School of Law shooting Grundy, Virginia, United States January 16, 2002

John McDonogh High School Shooting New Orleans, LA, United States April 14, 2003

Red Lion Area Junior High School shootings Red Lion, Pennsylvania, United States April 24, 2003

Rocori High School shootings Cold Spring, Minnesota, United States September 24, 2003

Red Lake High School massacre Red Lake, Minnesota, United States March 21, 2005

Campbell County High School shooting Jacksboro, Tennessee November 8, 2005

Pine Middle School shooting Reno, Nevada, United States March 14, 2006

Platte Canyon High School shooting Bailey, Colorado, United States September 27, 2006

Weston High School shooting Cazenovia, Wisconsin September 29, 2006

Amish school shooting Nickel Mines, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, United States October 2, 2006

Virginia Tech massacre Blacksburg, Virginia, United States April 16, 2007

Delaware State University shooting Dover, Delaware, United States September 21, 2007

SuccessTech Academy shooting Cleveland, Ohio, United States October 10, 2007

Notre Dame Elementary shooting Portsmouth, Ohio, United States February 7, 2008

Louisiana Technical College shooting Baton Rouge, LA, United States February 8, 2008

Mitchell High School shooting Memphis, TN, United States February 11, 2008

E.O. Green Junior High School shooting Oxnard, CA, United States February 12, 2008

McNair High School shooting Atlanta, GA, United States February 12, 2008

Northern Illinois University shooting DeKalb, Illinois, United States February 14, 2008

It's funny how two people can see the same statistics and draw altogether different conclusions. For instance, "tker" sees the preceding list as proof that this country needs more restrictive gun control laws. But I don't see it that way.

What I see when I look at the preceding list is the dates. Specifically, I see the fact that only 4 of the 44 events (less than 10%) occurred before January of 1973, when abortion was legalized. After abortion was legalized, there was a dramatic increase in such events.

Growing up in the sixties, I remember seeing print ads for .22 rifles, in magazines marketed mainly to kids --- specifically, in the magazine Boy's Life, which was marketed to Boy Scouts. But you know, I don't remember regularly reading news stories about schoolyard shootings. So it seems rather specious to me to say that the problem is the result of increased availability of guns. It's much harder to get a gun now than it was back in the 60's, but gun control has been a dismal failure when it comes to preventing such massacres.

On the other hand, it seems entirely plausible to argue that the easy availability of abortion has effectively taught our young people that innocent human life is cheap and expendable.

Of course, it would be simplistic to blame legal abortion alone. Other factors have also contributed to the decline in respect for human life. Violent video games, for example, have caused many young people to see killing as one big and harmless game. In the name of "realism" or "harmless catharsis," death metal music, rap music and hip hop music have saturated our culture with violent and profane messages which have caused people to become inured to the destructive effects of violence.

Nevertheless, when it comes to affecting people's attitudes, real violence trumps simulated violence every time. The violence in video games and movies and popular music is (usually) simulated. The violence that takes place in your friendly neighborhood abortuary is all too real. If you don't believe me, ask them for permission to examine the contents of their trash dumpsters at the end of every working day.

If viewing the mutilated, dismembered bodies of unborn children isn't enough to make you retch, then your stomach is stronger than mine.

Massacre at NIU. "How could this happen?" Here's a clue.

Well, here we go again. Another disgruntled gunman has gone onto a college campus and killed numerous students in what many people will call a "senseless" act of violence.

Senseless? Yes. But not difficult to understand in light of our nation's ongoing refusal to take a principled stand with regard to the intrinsic value of human life.

As horrendous as these campus slayings have been, they are numerically insignificant in comparison with the number of abortions which have taken place here in the United States subsequent to Roe v. Wade in 1973. An issue of the Chicago Tribune's free RedEye publication recently reported that the number of legal abortions was roughly 50 million. That number boggles my mind. Compared with that number, the number of people killed by Hitler during WWII was relatively small.

The young students at schools such as Columbine High School and Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University have never known a world in which human life was treated by the legal system, from conception until natural death, as if it was intrinsically precious. We should not be surprised, therefore, when such people exhibit behavior which demonstrates a callous disregard for the right to life. Our entire culture has become a culture of death.

What can we do to turn things around? Well, first of all, we ought to seek to be individuals who seek in every way to affirm the value of human life, whether that means refusing to take the (relatively) easy way out when faced with "problem pregnancies" of our own or helping others who have become pregnant as the result of bad choices. It also means affirming the value of human life in other ways, such as feeding the hungry, offering emergency housing to people in need of such housing, paying employees a just wage so that they need not choose between abortion and starvation, and so forth. Without personal integrity, political action is useless.

Nevertheless, politics are sometimes necessary as well.

It ought to be pretty clear that voting for candidates who claim to be pro-life isn't necessarily the same thing as voting for candidates who actually act with integrity on their convictions. But is that any excuse for voting for candidates who openly espouse the killing of unborn children, using such euphemistic terms as "choice" to disguise the horror of what actually happens in abortion clinics? In my opinion, the answer is a resounding "NO"!

In the final analysis, I'm not responsible for what politicians do after making their promises (which, let's face it, are often false and hollow). But I am responsible for voting in accordance with the principles in which I believe. And while I acknowledge that the abortion issue is not the only important issue facing this country, I still believe passionately that it is the most important issue we currently face. When someone can present me with persuasive evidence to the effect that the other issues facing our nation involve the deliberate destruction of more than a million human beings every year, then I may rethink that position; but I haven't seen such evidence yet.

Without the right to life, all other rights lose their meaning. What good is it for you to have the right to free speech or to freedom of religion or to freedom of assembly, if I am free to murder you? You can't exercise any of your other human rights if you're dead!!!

Obviously, the right to life is the cornerstone upon which all other inalienable human rights are built. Therefore, politicians who claim to care about human rights, while simultaneously advocating pro-abortion policies which undermine the most fundamental of all human rights, are utterly lacking in credibility. When it comes to solving the problem of campus violence (which is ultimately a manifestation of our culture's lack of respect for the intrinsic value of human life), such politicians aren't part of the solution. They're a major part of the problem.


Be sure to read my most recent post on this same subject, since it offers what I consider to be some fairly objective evidence that my thesis is valid.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Wood Engraving and Digital Art

The public domain image shown here is a beautiful wood engraving by Thomas Bewick.

During the 19th Century (and previous centuries), wood engraving was one of the most common methods of creating high-quality relief prints which could be affordably printed in large quantities and distributed in books and magazines.

Gustave Dore is another artist known for his wood engravings (including numerous scenes from the Bible). Albrecht Durer, who was perhaps the greatest printmaker of the Renaissance, also created numerous wood engravings, although they are often erroneously described as woodcuts. Durer's "Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse" (which illustrates a scene from the biblical book of Revelations) is considered by many experts to have been one of his greatest prints.

Handheld tools such as "burins" and "gravers" have traditionally been used to engrave images into wood engraving blocks, but I have long wondered if it would be possible to use laser engraving machines for the purpose of engraving photos and various works of digital art into end grain wood blocks which could be used for the purpose of making such prints. Personally, I don't see why it ought not to be possible. If it was possible, it would make it significantly easier to carve highly realistic images into the wood engraving blocks. Of course, the images would first need to be converted into line art, possibly with software designed to digitally screen continuous tone images using various screens such as halftone screens, mezzotint screens (sometimes known as "diffusion dither"), aquatint screens and so forth. Andromeda Software makes a program (known as the Cutline filter) which can screen images so that they look like traditional linocut or woodcut prints.

Strangely, most companies offering laser engraving services seem to have little knowledge about wood engraving as a printmaking process. Such companies usually use their machines in order to produce more mundane products such as decorative plaques, or other products where the engraved piece is the final work of art rather than being an intermediate step (as all printmaking plates and blocks are) used for the production of art using traditional techniques.

As I see it, one benefit of using laser engraving machines for the purpose of preparing wood blocks for traditional relief printing techniques would be that one could accurately and truthfully describe the final prints as "wood engravings," without feeling compelled to mention the fact that hand held tools were not used for the purpose of cutting the wood. Consequently, unlike giclee printing using printers such as the Epson 9880, such print production methods would enable photographers and digital artists to circumvent the biases of the people in the fine art community who still regard digital art with suspicion. (In particular, there are some fine art fairs and competitions which still do not accept digital art.) Hopefully, such anti-digital bigotry will eventually fade away; but meanwhile, it's worthwhile to consider possible strategies for overcoming the bigotry.

Since wood engraving prints made in such a manner would use the same inks as wood engravings made with blocks which had been cut with hand tools, no one could plausibly claim that the prints were not archival. Wood engravings made by Albrecht Durer and others have lasted for many centuries.

Traditionally, the wood blocks used for making wood engraving prints have been quite small. But I recently contacted a company known as Art Boards, and while 9"x12" is the largest standard size they offer, they told me (via voice mail) that they could produce wood engraving blocks in custom sizes as large as 24"x30", which is considerably larger than the largest wood engraving Albrecht Durer ever produced.

When using laser engraving machines for the purpose of preparing relief printing blocks, my guess is that one would need to experiment in order to find the best settings to use in terms of engraving depths. Probably the best way to do this would be to engrave multiple blocks using the same image with different depth settings. An engraving depth which was sufficient for display purposes might not be deep enough if the objective was to make prints from the engraved blocks.

It also seems likely that the viscosity and type of printing inks would play a role. Ink which was too thick might not be capable of printing fine details. Again, experimentation would probably be necessary.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Mourning The Golden Era of Rock Album Cover Design

Back in 1981, I began a gig working full-time for the Harvard Cooperative Society (a/k/a "The Coop") in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I worked there for five years altogether. My job title was "Merchandise Transfer Clerk," and I worked in their Record Department, in the main store in Harvard Square.

All shipments from distribution companies were sent to the main store. There were three smaller Coop stores which also had their own record departments. (Those stores were located in downtown Boston, and near M.I.T. and the Harvard Medical School.) The buyers for the three smaller Coop stores would call me and read off a list of record titles they wanted to order in specified quantities. Sometimes they'd also come to the main store and pick up the records they wanted and load them onto a rolling cart; but in either event, I was responsible for counting all of the records and summing them up according to prices (e.g., 10 records at $10.99, etc.) and then processing the paperwork needed in order to effect the transfer from the Harvard store to the other stores. And of course, I had to box them all up and take them up to the shipping department. The tape gun was one of my most frequently used tools. A computer, unfortunately, was not. I had the benefit of a small printing calculator, but that was it.

During the time when I worked for the Coop, I was probably one of the most knowledgeable people in the store when it came to the totality of what types of albums were available at the time. Some of the store clerks there specialized in just one style (such as rock), but I had to be familiar with everything, from rock to country to classical to world music to comedy and spoken word. And I loved to spend my free time going through the racks, making mental notes about things such as the album cover design ideas I saw on those album covers.

When I first started working at the Coop, digital Compact Discs had not yet been introduced. Those products were introduced during the time when I was working there. In my view, CDs were (and are) marvelous in many respects. No more pops and clicks. No more hiss whenever one got a little dust on the surface of the discs. No more hassles with expensive cleaning solutions and brushes. No more accidents in which a record was ruined because one inadvertently dropped the tonearm onto the vinyl LP, causing it to careen across the disc and to emit a cacophony of sound reminiscent of fingernails on a blackboard. (This didn't happen to me often, but once is once too often!)

In many respects, the smaller size of CDs was also a blessing. With CDs, it was a lot easier to take a box containing one's entire library of favorite recordings, put it into one's car and take it over to a friend's house.

But there was one drawback: The graphics got smaller. Sadly (and unnecessarily), that spelled the beginning of the end for what I now consider to have been the golden era of album cover illustrations.

In the late 70's, I remember buying a book by Roger Dean, entitled "The Album Cover Album". Roger was the artist who illustrated a number of classic album covers by the group Yes. His book (published by Paper Tiger) was a beautifully printed survey of album cover illustrations spanning several decades. It showed how album cover designs had gone from being merely functional graphics to works of art in their own right. A few of the cover designs in the book were sleazy and sexually explicit, but there were enough good designs to keep me occupied for many hours, brainstorming about ways I could use similar concepts to express Christian ideas.

The Beatles and other music artists who were active during the hippie era were probably the most influential people when it came to changing the types of art seen on album covers. The creation of epic rock operas and concept albums demanded a new kind of packaging which visually complemented the music itself, rather than merely portraying the musicians on the cover. "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was one example. Progressive rock groups such as ELP, Kansas and Yes likewise found the traditional album cover design paradigm to be inadequate for their needs. Psychedelia, from bands such as the Grateful Dead, led to some pretty bizarre album covers. R&B groups and jazz fusion groups likewise felt the influence. For example, in terms of jazz, album covers by people and bands such as Chick Corea and the John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra were considerably more creative than the somewhat generic stylized album covers created by labels such as Blue Note for older jazz musicians playing in styles such as bebop.

Some bands gained a substantial part of their identities by creating visually attractive logos which were repeated from one album cover to the next. The band Chicago was particularly noteworthy (and creative) in this respect, but Yes, The Carpenters, Journey and numerous others followed suit.

Double-fold album covers with slick lyric sheet inserts and even booklets replaced the cheap covers of the early sixties. Designers began paying as much attention to the backs of the album covers as they paid to the fronts. The results were covers which were much more thoughtfully constructed.

Painting styles often featured slick and futuristic tools such as the airbrush, which had previously been used mostly as a tool for photo retouching and for hobby work such as painting model airplanes. Charles White III, Alton Kelly, Stanley Mouse, Drew Struzan, Doug Johnson and numerous other illustrators found the airbrush to be indispensable, especially when it was desirable to minimize the appearance of brushstrokes in favor of an industrialized or futuristic style of painting featuring lots of chrome, plastic and vinyl, liquids, young female skin and other smooth surfaces.

Magazines such as Airbrush Action came into being in order to celebrate the new breed of airbrush illustrators. Eventually, illustrators switched in large numbers to computers, finding programs such as Photoshop and Corel Painter and Adobe Illustrator to be much easier to use than mechanically finicky airbrushes and noisy compressors. (Plus, there really wasn't anything an airbrush could do in terms of 4-color illustration art that couldn't be done just as easily or more easily with a computer. Today, there are still a few holdouts, but airbrushes are mostly used now for applications, such as painting the fuel tanks on motorcycles, for which digital tools are still poorly suited.)

The trends in album cover design did not go unnoticed in the world of contemporary Christian music. A number of Christian album cover designs during that era (by people such as Andrae Crouch, Love Song, the Sweet Comfort Band and the Resurrection Band) were beautiful works of art in their own right.

Sadly, that era is now mostly a distant memory. Walk into most Christian bookstores today, and you will see that almost all of the CD covers feature photos of the musicians. Now, I like portraiture as much as the next guy, but when that's just about the only kind of image being used on CD cover designs, it's incredibly BORING!!! I'm not saying that there aren't any exceptions, but such exceptions are far too rare.

Come on, folks. Enough with the stupid cookie cutter designs. It's time to get creatively busy once again.

5"x5" is admittedly a smaller space than the 12"x12" album covers of old, but it's still more than enough space for high quality CD cover designs which show some real creativity.

Even if your primary method of selling your music is via iTunes and other music download sites, you can still create suitably small graphic images with enormous visual appeal and relevance to the primary message you're trying to proclaim or image you're trying to project for your music business or ministry. There are more tools with which to work than ever before, so you have no excuse for lazily copying other artists and graphic designers.

Wasted Resources

A minute ago, I walked into the Apple Store on Michigan Avenue in order to check my email and attend to other matters. In front of the store, there were two fire trucks pulled up in front of the bus shelter. I saw no signs that anything was on fire, so I figured that the fire trucks must be responding to a call for medical assistance. Sure enough, there were about eight guys all standing in the shelter, talking with a woman, presumably about some health crisis she'd just experienced. I say "presumably," because she seemed to be fully cognizant. She was not laid out on a stretcher, nor were there any other obvious signs that she was experiencing any medical crisis.

Now, I'm all in favor of furnishing the good citizens of Chicago with prompt medical aid whenever we are in need of such aid. Even so, I couldn't help wondering why two fire trucks would be needed for that purpose. Wouldn't a well-equipped ambulance have been more appropriate? When was the last time ladders and fire hoses were needed in order to treat anyone's medical problems? Didn't they know what kind of crisis they were responding to before they rolled out of the station?

And most importantly: What happens if a real fire breaks out while they're wasting taxpayers' resources using gas guzzling vehicles for purposes for which those vehicles were not designed?

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Feet of The Disciples

On January 23, I wrote a new poem, which I thought I'd share with you via this blog. (I've already emailed the poem to a number of people, and they seemed to enjoy it.)

"The Feet of The Disciples"
(c) Mark Pettigrew

When in the future I sit at the feet
of Matthew and Andrew and Thomas and Pete,
I'll ask them what it was like to be
disciples of Jesus of Galilee.

In three short years, Christ did so much
with His healing voice and His gentle touch.
It must have been something for them to behold,
like stumbling onto a treasure of gold.

Yet in the garden, when He was arrested,
they all failed the test when their faith was tested.
How sad and sobering it must have been
to be made aware of the depth of their sin.

They stood at a distance and watched as He died,
and listened to Jesus as loudly He cried,
"Father, how could you forsake your own Son?
Nevertheless, please forgive what they've done."

They waited and wondered until the third day, and
then found the stone at the tomb rolled away.
No words could describe all the joy that they felt,
as down at the feet of their Master they knelt.

They soon spread the message through all of the land,
and when they were challenged, they took a strong stand.
The blood of the martyrs attests to the fact
that when you've met Jesus, there's no turning back.


I took a bit of "poetic license" by using Peter's informal nickname in order to enable me to rhyme the first two lines of the poem. I don't think he'd mind. Saint Peter always struck me as a humble, down-to-earth guy when I read about him in the Bible.