Archive for October, 2013

Spooky stories: My friends share their real-life weird experiences

by David McElroy

Spooky storiesA few days ago, I asked friends on Facebook if they had had anything spooky or unexplained happen to them over the years. Here’s a sampling of the stories I received. Editing has been very, very light, in order to retain the original words and tone.

Let’s start with Kate Duggan, who’s a high school teacher in California. She shares a story from the house where she lives and then some strangeness from the school where she teaches:

I live in a house built in 1914. When we moved in 34 years ago, there was something…something…about the downstairs bedroom (which we made into a TV room).

No one wanted to be there after dark. Weird. Much later, when friends moved in to stay for a few months, strange things began happening. Lights going on an off (completely at random), the room being too hot at one moment, too cold at the next. My friends reported seeing stuff in the middle of the night. And these are friends who don’t believe in crazy stuff. Very, very strange. Another friend told me that it was a ghost. Yeah, right.

I got really sick of it, so I decided to do something. I went in and announced that whoever was there was dead. To go away. I burned salt and rubbing alcohol in a dutch oven and invited the “ghost” to move on.

“You are dead. Go away,” I said.

I swear that the next part actually happened: the lights went off — and it was exactly as if something lifted off the room. A presence or something. The lights went back on. I have never felt it since. My friends were completely shaken up — well, so was I. I have not felt it since.

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Real-life ‘ghost story’: The tale of a house that didn’t want me there

by David McElroy

Hill House location

I didn’t really want to move to Clanton, Ala., but I didn’t have much choice at the time. After being in business for myself for five years, my company had failed and I had lost all the investment capital available to me. Then a newspaper chain offered me a job. I was recruited to be a publisher, but I would first spend three years as general manager of their newspaper in Clanton learning their operating methods.

I had no idea that it would lead to the scariest experience of my life and force me to re-examine my beliefs about things that go bump in the night. The story is one that I’ve told to very few people until now, because people think you’re either crazy or lying when you tell them something that can’t be explained.

Clanton is a small town of about 7,000 people on I-65 about halfway between Birmingham and Montgomery. I didn’t care for living in a place that small, but I was happy to have income. My then-wife, Melissa, and I started looking for a place to live.

It was difficult to find houses to rent there — and the ones that were available were expensive — so we were very happy to find a modern four-bedroom house priced at about half the monthly rent that everything else was. It was way too big for two people and one cat, but it seemed like a bargain and it was close to my office.

When we looked at the house, the basement was partially finished. It had originally just been a large open area with a concrete floor, but some rooms down there were in the process of having studs and sheetrock put up. It looked odd because tools and construction materials — including dried trays of that mud-like substance used when hanging Sheetrock — had been left there with the work halfway done.

The woman showing us the house (the owner’s sister) told us that the last renters had been living there on a lease-purchase plan and they were planning to buy, so they were improving the basement in this way. She said that the other tenants suddenly moved out and wouldn’t say why. We thought it was odd, but we assumed it must be because of their own personal problems.

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Continuing financial crisis hits home when it affects your own neighbors

by David McElroy

ForclosureHow long has the latest financial crisis been going on? Five years or so? What are we calling it now? A recession or a depression or what? I’m not sure anymore. Some politicians and economists keep claiming things are getting better. But I’m still not seeing it.

When I took a walk Tuesday morning, I went a slightly different route that took me in front of a house that I typically only see from the side. The house has been vacant for a couple of weeks. I know why now.

I didn’t really know the people who lived there very well. I just knew them well enough to wave and speak as I walked by if they happened to be outside. They seemed like nice folks, but I never talked to either of them for more than five minutes or so.

When I walked in front of the house Tuesday morning, I noticed several pages of paper on the door and I suddenly knew why they had moved suddenly. My neighbors had been evicted for defaulting on their mortgage.

I know people have always fallen behind on house payments and lost their homes. That’s not new in the last five years. But there’s something different about what it’s felt like, at least to me.

Maybe it’s the fact that this economic downturn has affected me more than any other before. Maybe I’m simply more compassionate about the effects it’s having on others. I’m not sure what it is. I just know that I’ve seen the human effects of this crisis more than any other I’ve seen in my life.

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How do we protect the innocent and still keep the peace in civil society?

by David McElroy

Cop targeting random man

When police in a Sacramento, Calif., suburb were searching for a violent killer Saturday, they set up roadblocks in certain areas. This picture is what innocent suburbanites faced as they drove down neighborhood streets trying to get to or from their houses.

I think it’s a perfect example of the conflicts we face between two very strongly opposing views about law enforcement and the rights of innocent people. Do you think it’s right and reasonable for this random innocent driver — who wasn’t suspected of anything — to have this weapon pointed at him at close range under this circumstance?

I don’t think it’s reasonable, but defenders of police would say that it was necessary to protect police safety. Frankly, I’m a little more worried about the safety of the vast bulk of the public — who don’t deserve to have high-powered weapons pointed at their heads when they come to roadblocks in their otherwise safe neighborhoods.

There are two prevailing narratives about police today. One is that they’re all thugs who are drunk on the power of the state and are out to violate the rights of innocent people. The other is that they’re valiant and trustworthy servants of the people who are sacrificially doing a dangerous job to keep the rest of us safe.

I think there’s some true in each extreme, although people on the two extremes generally can’t see much middle ground.

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Simple theft is biggest problem with customers not tipping gay server

by David McElroy

Bad tipperFairly regularly, there are stories that circulate about misguided restaurant patrons who refuse to tip servers for strange reasons. Not long ago, it was someone complaining that he gives God 10 percent, so why should he tip a server 18 percent.

The latest story that’s been going around for the last few days is about the customer of a Carrabba’s in Overland Park, Kan., who refused to tip the server because the server is apparently gay.

When the unidentified server went to pick up the check after the customers left, the patron had written this note on the back: “Thank you for your service, it was excellent. That being said, we cannot in good conscience tip you, for your homosexual lifestyle is an affront to God. May God have mercy on you.”

Where do we even begin in discussing what’s wrong with this?

The focus of these reports has been the anti-gay bias of the customers, but I think the real issue is far more simple. These folks are perfectly free to believe what they want. They’re perfectly free to believe that God hates the server or that God disapproves of his lifestyle. As long as they simply believe those things, that’s their business.

But this isn’t about people having a “wrong” opinion. It’s about people refusing to pay for services they’ve received.

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Nothing new here: Russell Brand is saying same old socialist claptrap

by David McElroy

Russell Brand on Newsnight

If you care about individual freedom, Russell Brand isn’t a hero. He’s just another ignorant buffoon selling a populist version of socialism.

Brand is a comedian and actor, but he’s now pontificating about politics and economics to a fawning worldwide audience. I’ve seen praise heaped upon him this week by otherwise-reasonable people. Why? Because he conducted a combative interview on a BBC news show in which he attacked the Establishment.

But what does Brand stand for?

“[I advocate] a socialist egalitarian scheme based on the massive redistribution of wealth, heavy taxation of corporations,” Brand said. “The very concept of profit should be reduced. … I say profit is a filthy word because wherever there is profit, there is also deficit.”

Does this sound like someone who knows anything about individual freedom? Does it sound like someone who knows anything about economics? Does it sound like anything other than the same old ignorance that has led much of the world to economic ruin since Karl Marx popularized this nonsense?

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Ignore the happy face it presents: Coercive state points a gun at you

by David McElroy

Gun pointed at youHave you ever heard of a “trusty” in a prison? It’s an inmate who earns the trust of his jailers and is given special privileges. Some are even allowed outside the prison for certain tasks. Before court rulings ended even more elaborate systems, some states — Mississippi, most notably — had elaborate hierarchies in which some inmates were even trusted with guns to guard others while they worked in the fields.

Although the trusty might be given certain privileges, he’s still an inmate. He has to “be good” or he’ll lose his privileges and be punished. He’s not a free man doing a job. He’s an incarcerated man doing something to make his time behind bars more bearable.

I’d like to suggest that most of us in this country are trusties, but we’ve been in this prison so long that we don’t even realize the bars are there.

It’s accepted as obvious among many of us that “government is force,” because without force or the threat of force, governments couldn’t compel anyone to obey their orders. So every piece of legislation is ultimately backed up by a gun that that state points at you.

As long as you’re obedient, you won’t directly see the gun — and this seems to confuse some people. When I mentioned to a friend a couple of years ago that the state is nothing but force backed up with a gun, he seemed genuinely surprised.

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Spiritual truth can be felt by heart, but not always understood by brain

by David McElroy

ChapelIRONDALE, Ala. — I’m writing this on my iPhone in a small monastery chapel before I can forget what I’ve been thinking about — because no matter how many times I learn the truth I experience, I let it slip away and I forget.

I keep forgetting what the truth is. I keep focusing on the wrong things. I keep forgetting who I am. I keep forgetting what’s important in life. I keep forgetting who and what God is. I forget because God has to be experienced in the silence, not drowned out by the din of a world that’s not especially interested in experiencing Him.

I feel as though I know less about God than I did when I entered this world as an otherwise ignorant and innocent child. I suspect children are born knowing more about the truth than we realize, but they forget it as they’re taught how to think and act like the rest of us. Sometimes, though, I can catch a glimpse of a child’s knowledge through my experiences with God.

I’m in the chapel at Our Lady of Angels Monastery, which is located less than 10 miles from my house. Although I’m not Catholic, I find their chapel to be a wonderful place for contemplation and prayer. The picture shows the view from my back-row pew right now.

I don’t believe that certain places are actually “sacred space,” but some music, some art and some environments make me feel as though there’s space inside of me that’s ready to connect with God. This is one of them.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the differences between the world of the rational and material and the world of spiritual experience. I started out in life pretty close to being a complete rationalist. (My earliest serious career interests were engineering and law, if that tells you anything.) But the longer I live, the more I trust my subjective experiences — and the less trust I place in what used to seem so solid and logical.

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Do I oppose rulers because I hate rulers — or because I hate rules?

by David McElroy

Do not touchI’ve always been a rebel at heart. I’ve never dealt very well with authority. I chafe at having to obey orders. And I delight in small acts of rebellion. (That’s me on the right touching where it says not to touch in a restaurant a few years ago.)

I also oppose coercive government. I say it’s because of my reasoned principles — and I can explain the principles easily — but I wonder sometimes how many people who come to oppose government (to one degree or another) are really just acting out their dislike of rules and authority.

I believe that the system we have — by which a majority imposes its will on the rest of us — is immoral. But the immoral thing about it that’s wrong is the imposition of rules by force. When I listen to discussion among a lot of people who consider themselves libertarians or anarchists, I get the feeling that many of them aren’t just opposed to rulers. A surprising number seem to hate rules, too.

But when I think about the kind of world I want to live in, I realize that I want rules. I want order. Most people do. So how do we resolve those two — and is it possible that we need to be more honest with ourselves about our psychological feelings about rules themselves?

At the heart of many individualists who oppose coercive government is a personality that believes — deep down, whether it’s spoken or not — that “I know better than other people.” As a group, these individualists are very, very smart and can also tend to be very, very arrogant. We don’t always play well with others.

But I want rules. I simply want to live with rules that make sense to me.

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Was Columbus a hero or a special kind of evil monster? Neither one

by David McElroy

Columbus arriving in Caribbean

There are basically two competing narratives about Christopher Columbus. As we observe another Columbus Day — along with the annual arguments over him — I’d like to suggest a third way of looking at the man.

When I was a kid, Columbus was a hero. He was a brave explorer who discovered America while looking for a shorter trade route to India. His discovery led to people from European countries braving terrible danger to come to the New World and start the colonies that would eventually form the United States and give us the country we have today.

Today, the view is entirely different. Columbus was a greedy, murdering villain who is responsible for the destruction of the peaceful Native American societies that existed before he showed up. The natives were universally peace-loving and kind people who had their way of life destroyed by Columbus. If it hadn’t been for Columbus, the natives would have continued living in peace and harmony while the Europeans fought among themselves elsewhere.

Neither view is especially honest or nuanced. I’d like to suggest a third possibility.

Columbus was just another in a very long line of men of every race who have gone off in search of fame and fortune. There was nothing especially great about him or especially evil about him. Human beings have a long history of killing each other — in sometimes cruel ways — especially when they meet groups or tribes of others who are weaker than they are in some way. Look at history and see how every group of people has played the role of oppressor and the role of villain at some point.

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Start over here

When this site launched in 2011, it was intended as a way to find others who were sick of partisan politics and wanted to connect with like-minded people who were ready to go beyond politics and find ways of escaping. It has shifted focus in ways that reflect my own shifting thinking. I’m less interested in politics and more interested in looking at the things that make life worth living, such as love, creation, self-understanding and connecting with others. Every article I have posted since 2011 is still in my archives, but everything I write is a reflection of my current thinking. Sometimes I’m wrong — and that’s fine with me — and I don’t always end up agreeing with what I wrote five years ago. For now, you can still read what I wrote about the site’s purpose in 2011, but I should rewrite this. Read more.

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David likes email, but can’t reply to every message. I get a surprisingly large number of requests for relationship advice — seriously — but I rarely have the time to respond. (Sorry.) Besides, with my own romantic track record, maybe my advice isn’t worth taking. I’d like to find a wife one of these days, so maybe I should add an “application.”

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