Monthly Archives: October 2011

Harnessing Corporate Greed

The Germans are known for their engineering and, in particular, the engineering of legendary cars. The brands of Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Porsche, BMW and even breeds of Volkswagen are synonymous with the highest standards of quality and feats of engineering. And should you be so fortunate to see, let alone drive, a Bugatti Veyron, you will have encountered the ultimate in automotive design reserved for select Saudi princes and rich gangster rappers.

But there’s another legendary car, also crafted by Germans that many have never heard of and may find almost as rare to encounter as the renowned Bugatti “ride”. My family had the once in a lifetime opportunity to cruise around in this collector’s item while visiting a museum downtown. Those fortunate enough to own one of these automotive gems, so unique and so rare, will hold on to them tenaciously as family heirlooms to be passed on from generation to generation.

Readers who follow automotive news know that I speak of nothing other than the legendary Trabant 601, manufactured by VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke Zwickau from 1963 – 1991. Yes the Trabant, endearingly referred to as the “Trabbi” —a car like no other, thankfully. Just take a look at these specs (source Wikipedia):

  • Air cooled two cylinder 600cc two-stroke engine with a eye-popping 26 horsepower – about the same as a large lawnmower.
  • The car took 21 seconds to get from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) with a top speed of 112 km/h (70 mph), assuming it did not fall apart before then.
  • There were two main features with the engine: the smoky exhaust and the pollution it produced —nine times the amount of hydrocarbons and five times the carbon monoxide emissions of the average European car of 2007.
  • The fuel consumption was a respectable 34 mpg with a dipstick inserted into the tank to determine how much fuel remains.
  • The fuel tank was placed high up in the engine compartment so that fuel could be fed to the carburetor by a technological marvel called gravity at an increased fire risk in front-end accidents.
  • Sturdy duroplast construction made of recycled material, cotton waste and phenol resins from the dye industry—going green before green was cool.
  • Streamlined with the removal of unnecessary safety features such as brake lights and turn signals.
  • The lifespan of an average Trabant was 28 years because if you waited enough time for the privilege to buy one, that was probably the last car you would ever get to own.

So how is it that the Trabant, designed and manufactured by Germans, could be listed as one of the worst cars ever built? Because this wasn’t the Germany we know and love, fueled by freedom, capitalism, engineering pride and corporate greed. This was state controlled East Germany, monopolized, void of competition, and deprived of any incentive to do anything remarkable. And so goes America as we outsource our lives to the drab and dreary juggernaut of Government issued healthcare, retirement, education and industry. Enjoy the new “ride”.


Man’s Ascent

A particular rant on a popular social website lay claim to the “ascent of man” while insulting and name calling a presidential candidate in the most profane and uncivilized manner. This seemed ironic, for in what way do we measure and lay claim to man’s ascent? By bashing someone?

I began to think about this a bit more and concluded that the ascent of man will never be measured in our species’ artistic or technological achievements. If that were so, the nation of Israel would not have a problem staging the operas of Richard Wagner. But they do have a problem because, even though Wagner’s music is lauded as a massive humanistic achievement, his anti-Semitic views expressed during his life cannot be overlooked by the Jewish state even though anti-Semitism is not readily apparent in his operas. And many times we are called to boycott someone who has expressed a certain viewpoint even though their talent or work seemingly contributes to our supposed “ascent”. Why?

Because the “ascent of man” is not really expressed in what we do with physical mediums such as marble, wood, metal, sound, film, silicon, technology or physiology. It is advanced in how we treat other human beings when we are both powerless and powerful. It is shown in how we treat others when we disagree politically, ideologically or demographically.

When I think of man’s ascent, I don’t think of marble statues, works of literature and massive operas. I think of the great manifestation of divine attributes like forgiveness, mercy, compassion, humility, sacrifice, honesty and things for which only a few people have been lauded but which each of us can exercise everyday—despite our talents or resources. Do we?

Consider these individuals that have contributed to the ascent of man even though you may not find their work in a museum or cinema:

  • Nelson Mandela
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • Corrie Ten Boom
  • Jesus of Nazareth
  • Paul of Tarsus
  • Mahatma Gandhi
  • Oscar Schindler
  • Amish Congregation of Nickel Mines, PA.
  • Mother Theresa
  • Saint Francis of Assisi
  • Albert Schweitzer

So next time you feel the need to rant about Republicans, Democrats, Christians, Atheist, Wall Street protesters, Tea partiers, Michelle Bachmann, Barack Obama or anyone else and drag them through the mud with a stream of spewing vitriol, please don’t claim a role in man’s ascent. You have forfeited that alliance.

Penn Jillette’s Biblical World View

In a recent interview with John Stossel, atheist, author and magician Penn Jillette talked about his new book, “God, No!”, espousing an active moral life without the need for God, deity or divine authority in general. It sounds like a book I might read since the author stated that the tone wasn’t mocking, i.e. Christians and people of faith as I’ve come to expect from such books, but a tone of sharing in the marketplace of ideas.

During this interview, Jillette made the claim that, should you remove all the atheists from the world, 97% of the Academy of Sciences would be gone whereas only 1% of the prison population would be affected. I’m not sure about the numbers but I will support his claim that a preponderance of people in high social positions such as top scholars, top scientists, celebrities and business people are overly represented by those who call themselves atheist vs. those who would claim to be Christians or theists. I would also say that you will find the reverse in such positions in the ranks of the poor, destitute, uneducated and, yes, incarcerated.


That’s right, I agree with Penn Jillette. People of faith are at the bottom of the social pyramid and people professing no faith or an atheist worldview are at the top—generally speaking. Ironically, this squares perfectly with the Bible and its teachings, the very thing that Jillette repudiates.

As the Bible repeatedly illustrates and how history routinely bears out, rarely is the pathway to God traveled on the same road that leads to personal riches, self actualization, fame or academic prowess. God is almost never encountered at the “top of our game” but frequently when we arrive at the “end of our rope”. Only in our inability and desperation will we beat a path to the hope and forgiveness presented to us by His Gospel, whereas on our up-and-coming we usually abandon Him entirely, inflated with our own success, education, self confidence and other forms of idolatry. Sadly, but predictably, God is the choice we make only when we’ve exhausted every other avenue: influence, money, skill, education, degrees, intellect, medicine, nutrition, philosophy, good deeds and (no kidding) religion.

Charles Colson, one time advisor to President Richard Nixon in the early 1970’s, learned this the usual way. He was the type of person Penn Jillette talked about, the 97% component that comprises the apex of society and personal achievement—that is, until he was swept away in the Watergate cover up, landing him in jail where he embraced the Gospel and converted his life forever.

If the Bible is a concoction of myths as Jillette believes, the creators certainly portrayed this phenomenon accurately when they painted the “myth” of King David. At the bottom of society, David was a shepherd boy of no influence and yet marked as the Apple of God’s Eye. After rising to power with endless successes in battle, becoming well connected, well wed, rich and dwelling in a palace as the anointed king of Israel with an everlasting covenant to boot, David started believing his own narrative, believing his own PR, believing in his own abilities …and then it starts. In one episode he had a dutiful soldier in his own army murdered so that he could cover up an adulterous affair with the soldier’s wife. Does that sound like myth-making material—or does that sound like our modern headline news? What sort of myth is this where the heroes are curiously identical to the tragedies of today: Tiger Woods, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer, Bernard Madoff, Bernie Ebbers and the countless fallen who once comprised that 97% of society’s cream.

Penn Jillette, self described as a a “puritanical atheist”, is smart, moral, sincere, and hysterical; I had the privilege of seeing his show at Ford’s Theatre centuries ago. And I agree with him that we won’t often find God in the great halls of the academy, the hills of Hollywood and the high offices of power. No, we will often find Him in want, in need, hungry, thirsty, sick and in prison. Perhaps if Penn Jillette had re-read Jesus’ description found in Mathew 25:34-36 he might be surprised just how much his world view correlates with scripture.