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I have been watching the SyFy channel during the holidays for some reason. One of the things that is obvious is the apocalyptic nature of so much science fiction today. It's all about the end of the world as we know it with either invasions or self-destruction. Being 65, I started thinking about what science fiction was like when I was growing up. It was NOT apocalyptic at all. It was futurist and optimistic – even a bit naïve.
However, I much prefer that to the unending stream of dark and violent special effects. Even someone as sophisticated and innovative as Peter Thiel, one of the founders of PayPal and earliest investors in Facebook, has lamented that America "the country that invented the modern assembly line, the skyscraper, the airplane, and the personal computer, has lost its belief in the future." In a recent interview in the New Yorker George Packer writes that Thiel "thinks that Americans who are beguiled by mere gadgetry have forgotten how expansive technological change can be. He looks back to the fifties and sixties, the heyday of popularized science and technology in this country, as a time when visions of a radically different future were commonplace. Thiel's venture-capital firm, Founders Fund, has an online manifesto about the future that begins with the complaint: "We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters." As he puts it, "You have dizzying change where there's no progress."
So...I indulge myself in joining Scientific American in celebrating 100 years of Tom Swift (www.tomswift.info) and his impact on at least two generations of us who looked forward to good things we could only imagine. As the original dust jacket reads, "It is the purpose of these spirited tales to convey in a realistic way the wonderful advances in land and sea locomotion and to interest the boy of the present in the hope that he may be a factor in aiding the marvelous development that is coming in the future."
Here's to flying cars, megascopes, jetmarines, electronic hydrolungs and the triphibian atomicar.Comments
I posted an article on the shrinking of the middle class as an increasing number of people are falling into the category of low-income. "Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans – nearly 1 in 2 – have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income." While I did not say much about the article, I did say, "Is it un-Christian of me to doubt these numbers?" A Facebook friend responded to me with a private message to voice his disagreement with my obvious bias. Out of that has come an interesting exchange from our different – but not opposite – perspectives. Mine is from years of frustrating experience with bureaucracies and their penchant for reclassifying data (and people) to fit their political purposes. If you want to increase government funded programs then you make the problem worse than it is.
His perspective is well reflected in what he wrote:
"It may be helpful to share a little of my experience and perspective. I have lived for over 30 years on the edge of an African American ghetto,Woodlawn,just south of the University of Chicago. I watched as buildings continued to be ruined by landlords who paid no taxes, but sucked out all the rent they could before Chicago closed down what was little more than a shell - first abandoned, often burned, eventually torn down. I have watched as local families and children struggled to "make it" and local organizations develop strategies to deal with rapacious landlords and dramatic loss of jobs on the south side. I too have become suspicious of lots of explanations, but I am very weary of a lot of current explanations that make the poor the cause of their own problems. It was not true in Swaziland, Africa, where I was a school teacher for 6 years. And it seems to me it is not true in the US either."
Our conversation reminded me of an essay I read years ago by Suzanne Roberts on the relationship between poverty and the Church from the earliest Christian community to the 19th century. It is the process she calls the "secularization of charity" and it is occurs in six stages:
First, the majority of Christians were poor and shared what they had.
Second, the Church glorified the poor and those who chose poverty.
Third, the Church cared for the poor and included them in the community.
Fourth, the Church and society began to discriminate between the deserving and undeserving poor.
Fifth, the Church and society began to treat the poor as dangerous and poverty as a curse.
Sixth, the Church and society came to see poverty and the poor as a problem to be fixed by a new form of charity that would be more objective and efficient. We must eliminate poverty altogether.
From my perspective it is that sixth stage which is the most dangerous to the poor themselves. They are a "problem" to be fixed and if they cannot or will not be fixed we must find ways to create large scale programs that will be a solution to the problem. Obviously, it is not either/or but both/and. The issues of poverty are far too complex for a simplistic answer. The rub is finding the right relationship and spheres of influence among the players – public and private.Comments
My friend asked me why I was not writing a piece on Christmas. Well, for all the reasons so many use to support their own reservations about Christmas – crass commercialism, mind-numbing jingles, exhausting rounds of parties and social events, and, yes, a proliferation of blogs about the true meaning of Christmas, I have taken the easy way out. I don't like that but it's easier – until this year. Leigh Vickery, our editor at The Gathering, published one of Luci Shaw's poems and I've read and reread it because, for me, it captures the essence and the riddle of Christmas. How can One who "hurled a universe" be compressed like the mass of a dark star? How can one "older than eternity" become new? It's a mystery and this poem has made Christmas new for me.
A poem by Luci Shaw
Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest . . .
you who have had so far
to come.) Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled
a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world.
Charmed by doves' voices, the whisper of straw,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed
who overflowed all skies,
Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught that I might be free,
blind in my womb to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth
for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.
Question: Fred, we are just getting started with our foundation. I am interested in learning how other foundations meeting the IRS requirements of obtaining statements of good standing and the most recent letter of determination with the organizations the foundation chooses to support. What steps do others take to make sure they are always in compliance? Is there any way to verify this information?
Thank you for your time and effort to reply. It is appreciated.
Thank you for responding to “Ask Fred” on the website. Here are starting points:
1. Proposal cover letter from the Chief Executive Officer to include: endorsement of the proposal, explaining how it relates to the organization’s mission and priorities and certification statement that the 501(c)(3) tax exemption and 509(a) non-private foundation rulings are still correct and that no modifications are planned or pending.
2. 501(c)(3) tax exemption ruling letter from the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for the current legal name showing you are not a private foundation. If tax exempt under a group ruling for a central organization, attach the latest certificate of membership.
3. Stewardship checks with the IRS website http://www.irs.gov/app/pub-78/ when the proposal arrives, as well as the day any checks are cut, printing a copy from the IRS site showing the grantee/grantseeker is currently still listed as a public charity – this is attached to our copy of the check in case of audit (shows due diligence).
As well, we (The Gathering) use GuideStar (www.guidestar.org) and they provide accurate and up-to-date information on many, many non-profits.
Thanks again for your question!
Let me know if there is anything else we can do to help.Comments
One of my favorite books is Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. I'm sure that's so because I like his premise that some decisions and appraisals made quickly are more accurate than those made after deliberation. Having said that, I don't like to find books that challenge that! Unfortunately, that is what Daniel Kahneman does in Thinking, Fast and Slow.
Most of us (and especially those of us who consider ourselves intuitive) have what he calls "cognitive illusions". This is a false belief that we intuitively accept as true. While we think we make good decisions on our own experience or our ability to judge situations, we actually have a poor record of success if we stop to analyze the results.
He illustrates this with a personal example. When he was twenty-one years old, he was a lieutenant in the Israeli Defense Forces. He was given the job of setting up a new interview system for the entire army. Up to that point, decisions about appropriate assignments for new recruits were made as a result of informal fifteen minute interviews. The system, while entrenched and thought effective, had failed completely. "When the actual performance of the recruit a few months later was compared with the performance predicted by the interviews, the correlation between the actual and predicted performance was zero." Zero? Zero.
Predictions based on simple statistical scoring were generally more accurate than predictions based on expert judgment. However, the experts were understandably reluctant to change as they suffered from "the illusion of validity." While they and others sincerely believed they could predict performance the truth was they could not. Believing is seeing – even if it's not there.
Another example. During WWII it was widely believed that bomber crews surving thirty missions had done so because their performance had improved with experience. "It was obvious to everyone that the old-timers survived because they were more skillful. Nobody wanted to believe that the old-timers survived only because they were lucky." As it turns out, luck is exactly why they survived. "There was no effect of experience on loss rate. So far as I could tell, whether a crew lived or died was purely a matter of chance. Their belief in the life-saving effect of experience was an illusion."
I work in a field that regards discernment and experience highly. We make decisions about people and projects all the time. We often make them too quickly, convinced that our expert skills and years of experience makes our judgment more valid. I wonder what our record would look like if studied? Personally, I will make sure that never happens! After all, I'm an expert.Comments