Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The ghosts of Christmas past ...


In Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol, the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by a series of ghosts on Christmas Eve. The first one to make its appearance was that of his late business partner, Jacob Marley, who had died exactly seven years earlier. In quick succession, Marley’s ghost is followed by the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. The experience makes Scrooge a changed man, much to the delight of the family of his near-impoverished clerk, Bob Cratchit.

I’ve long had a fascination with ghost stories, and have a number of related books on my bookshelf. In addition, I’ve also published three previous ghost stories on this website. Appropriately enough, they were written by someone else, which means that I have my very own “ghost writer”.

(The story that I published in 1995 for an insurance newsletter, which I titled “Ghosts and the insurance industry”, was entirely my own).

When we lived in Wisconsin, the kids and I participated in the YMCA Indian program. Twice a year, we went camping at the Phantom Lake YMCA camp, which is the second oldest YMCA camp in the country.

If you happen to be at the camp at 11:30 at night on September 2nd of each year, you can witness first hand how the camp got its name. If that’s not practical, you can read the full story below:

what’s that in the water, mom?

After a job change brought us to Illinois, I discovered that Chicago has more than its share of ghosts, and some of them continue to vote in local elections. If you’re looking for ghost tours in Chicago, there are LOTS of them. My favorite was the North Side tour led by Ursula Bielski, but you really can’t go wrong with any of them.

After moving to Flagstaff, I was delighted to discover that there are SEVEN haunted locations in downtown Flagstaff. So far, I haven’t taken the tour yet, but it’s definitely on my “to do” list.

Interestingly enough, even the village where we live (Kachina Village, just south of Flagstaff) also has an “other worldly” connection, a fact that is probably not known by the folks who started to move here from Phoenix in the 1960’s to get away from the heat in “the Valley”.

Flagstaff is surrounded by the six mountains of the San Francisco Peaks. Included in that group is Humphreys Peak, which is the tallest mountain in Arizona.

Humphreys Peak, and the San Francisco Peaks, are considered to be sacred and holy mountains to Native American tribes, including the Hopi, Zuni, Havasupai, and Navajo.

The Navajo consider the San Francisco Peaks to be sacred mountains of the west, and believe that they are held on earth by a sunbeam, which gives them their yellowish color.

The Hopi, who live east of the mountains, make frequent pilgrimages to them to leave items at sacred sites. They believe that mountains are home to the Kachinas, who are special beings that bring rain to the Hopi’s parched lands in the summer.

The San Francisco range was once part of a huge volcano that reached nearly 20,000 feet high. Somewhere between 400,000 and 1,000,000 years ago, the volcano blew itself up, leaving the peaks that line the edge of the blasted caldera.

Human beings didn’t inhabit this part of the world when the old volcano erupted, but if they had been, they would have seen something like this:

let’s watch Fantasia again

If you watch the entire 14 minutes and 47 seconds of this video, you’ll catch a glimpse of what the mountain range looks like today. However, if you’d like to climb Humphrey’s Peak without going through the sheer physical exertion, the link below will make it a lot easier for you:

blogging your way to the top

If you’re tired of reading ghost stories, and would like to get on with the rest of your Christmas shopping, I’ll leave you with one final thought:

“God bless us, everyone”.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition


John Elway, of the Denver Broncos, is the only NFL quarterback to lead his team to FIVE Super Bowl victories. Although he is not considered to be “the best of the best”, he DOES wind up on the list of the 10 best quarterbacks of all time. Interestingly enough, the lone Chicago Bear entry on the list is Sid Luckman, who got on the list because of a playoff game that was played BEFORE the start of WWII.

Elway is best known for “The Drive”, which allowed him to lead his team to a 23-20 overtime victory over the Cleveland Browns in 1986. A few of those passes were “Hail Mary” passes, which would most accurately be described as hopelessly long passes that somehow managed to get to the intended receiver.

The first use of the “Hail Mary” pass in the NFL was in 1975, when Roger Staubach of the Dallas Cowboys threw a 50 yard pass to Drew Pearson to beat the Minnesota Vikings, whom the Cowboys were trailing 14-10 with less than a minute remaining in the game.

Religion has recently returned to Denver football, in the unlikely person of Tim Tebow. He scrambles in a weirdly jittery fashion, throws one of the ugliest balls in the game, and completes fewer than half his passes, but he somehow manages to win football games.

On Sunday, December 11, the Broncos were trailing the Bears in Denver by 10 points, with less than 3 minutes to play. Ultimately, Tebow and the Broncos beat the Bears 13-10 in overtime. Their victory over the Bears was their sixth in a row, and they have won 7 of their last 8 (with 3 of those games coming in overtime).

Tebow attributes his success to his personal savior, Jesus Christ, and he has been known to frequently quote scripture when he is in the huddle with his teammates. To quote Frank Bruni of the New York Times the Broncos are the talk of the league, and a lot of folks are watching them just to see how far God can take a team.

The “ammunition” that a modern quarterback uses is superior athletic ability (he was a superstar at the University of Florida), talented teammates, and an awful lot of what is commonly called grit. I’m not about to say that Divine Providence is responsible for the resurgence in the fortunes of the Denver Broncos, but if their streak continues, Pat Bowlen (the owner of the team) may want to starting playing the song below at the rest of their home games:

praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What if the world were run by nine year old kids?

TED 2011 was held this year in Long Beach, California from February 28 through March 4. If you’re not familiar with TED, the acronym stands for Technology Entertainment and Design. TED is a global set of conferences owned by the non-profit Sapling Foundation, which was formed to disseminate “ideas worth spreading”.

The first TED occurred in 1984, and was held in Monterey. Some of the earlier conferences were by invitation only, but they are now open to a larger audience, as long as the attendees are willing to part with $6000 to be in the audience. Starting in 2006, the conferences have been offered for free viewing online. As of June 2011, the viewing audience was approximately 500 million people around the globe.

One of the speakers at the 2011 conference was a teacher from Virginia named John Hunter, who talked about “The World Peace Game”. His talk lasted exactly 20 minutes and 28 seconds, but is definitely worth watching in its entirely (which I’d recommend). Before you start, though, make sure that you have a box of Kleenex handy.

here’s Johnny ..

Details on the World Peace Game Foundation can be found at the link below:

it sure beats watching Beavis and Butthead.

Strange as it may seem, the world would actually be a better run place if the nine year olds were in charge AS LONG AS THEY HAD THE PROPER GUIDANCE. The students in the World Peace Game video were unencumbered by the influences of lobbyists and special interest groups, both of which can hamper the efforts of even the most conscientious legislators.

Without the proper guidance, though, the nine year olds of the world potentially could follow the path of two young pigs named Snowball and Napoleon, who became leaders in the fictional world of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

At a time in our country when the educational system itself is under attack (one Republican candidate actually proposed eliminating the Department of Education) it’s beneficial to consider how valuable education is to our country.

For starters, the G.I. Bill for returning WWII vets was the main impetus for the growing prosperity in this country during the eight years of the Eisenhower administration, but there are plenty of more recent examples.

In “The Lexus and the Olive Tree”, Thomas Friedman states that he has found that there are TWO main factors that lead to a high standard of living in the countries of the world:

1) the degree to which the countries are “wired” (how much broadband capacity, or megabits per capita, that the country has)

2) the countries that have the highest percentage of high school graduates, and spend the highest amount of their GDP on teacher’s salaries, will be the ones that have the highest standard of living.

During difficult economic times, it may be tempting to reduce spending on education, but that would be a foolish thing to do. Investment in eduction will ALWAYS be less expensive than the alternative. 51% of the inmates in the Illinois state prison system are high school dropouts.Since the cost of housing an inmate in Illinois is $22,000 per year, and the state has 46,000 people in prison, the prison population is costing the state slightly in excess of $1 BILLION a year!

Regardless of which source that you use (the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, or the CIA World Factbook), there is a high degree of consistency between the lists that show GDP per capita. All of the countries that are at, or near, the top emphasize education to a very high degree. Even the countries that wound up high up on the list due to income from oil production (Qatar and Norway) have diversified economies, and they spend a LOT of money on education.

Qatar, in particular, has made a concerted effort to expose its younger generation to “outside ideas”. As of today, there are ten universities from North America that have branches in Qatar, including Northwestern University of Evanston, Illinois, and they are there because they were invited in by the government of Qatar.

What if YOU were nine years old again. What would you think of the world today? Chances are, your thoughts would be similar to the kids below, who live in Orange County, California.:

California dreamin’

If you think that you’re a pretty good public speaker, the clip below (of a nine year old boy in Little rock, Arkansas) may put a new perspective on your speech making ability:

rubber baby buggy bumpers

Starting in 1998, Bill Cosby (inspired by Art Linkletter’s House Party) hosted a comedy series titled, “Kids Say the Darndest Things”

As long as kids remain kids, that phrase is always going to be true. However, if there enough teachers like John Hunter around to guide our nine year olds, the future of the world is in pretty good hands.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

kill 'em all, and let God sort 'em out

I read a lot of books, enough that I’ve actually set up an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of all of them. Generally speaking, I’m not going to write about them unless they’re absolutely riveting OR there’s a strong connection with current events.

A case in point is one of John Grisham’s latest books, titled, “The Confession”, and the topic is the wrongful execution (in Texas) of a fictional character named Donte Drumm. In yet another case of life imitating art, Governor John Kitzhaber of Oregon put a moratorium on the death penalty for the rest of his term a few days after I finished reading Grisham’s book. His reasons for the moratorium can be found at the link below:

kill ‘em all, and let God sort ‘em out.

My old home state of Illinois ENDED the death penalty altogether last spring, more than a decade after then-Governor George Ryan imposed a moratorium when it was discovered that over a dozen death row convicts had been wrongfully convicted. The 167 convicts on death row had their sentences commuted to life in prison. This time around, the 15 convicts still remaining on death row were scattered to various prisons around the state.

Governor Perry’s home state has executed more people, by far, than any other state in America. Since the death penalty was reinstated in America in 1976, the folks in the Lone Star state have executed 477 people. Although it would be nearly impossible to examine all of those executions, the chances are fairly good that not all of those 477 people were actually guilty of a crime, which should give Governor Perry (the longest serving governor in Texas history) something to reflect about, even though his denial of global warming (in the midst of the worst drought in Texas since 1948) tells us that he’s not exactly a deep thinker. As he recently demonstrated at a Republican candidate debate, though, he doesn’t seem to be very worried about the “justice” that his state is carrying out.

If he actually DID take the time to review more of the death penalty cases in Texas, he would learn that innocent people HAVE been executed in Texas. Sam Millsap, a former Texas prosecutor, now crusades AGAINST the death penalty because a man who he caused to be executed was later proved to be innocent. In addition, a Texas prosecutor named Ken Anderson is going to be held accountable for alleged prosecutorial misconduct for a case that he prosecuted. After spending 25 years for a crime that he didn't commit, the man that he prosecuted (Michael Morton) was released from prison in October of 2011.

The majority of the states in America still have the death penalty, and roughly 60% of the population still favor the death penalty, but there are some important economic issues that really should be addressed, in addition to the fact that the death penalty isn't always a just sentence.

In 1944, the state of South Carolina executed a 14 year old black boy, even though the state had no written confession, no witnesses were called on his behalf, and the jury only spent 10 minutes deliberating his fate. George Junius Stinney Jr's story can be read at the link below:

a travesty of justice

The United States has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, with roughly 2.4 million people behind bars. Of that total, 1.4 million are locked up for non-violent crimes, such as the possession of marijuana. Depending on the state, it costs somewhere between $18,000 to $31,000 a year to keep each of those people in prison, which means that we (as a society) are spending between 43 and 74 BILLION dollars on our prison expenses every 365 days.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are worried about teacher pensions in Wisconsin.

According to the best estimates, California (which has over 700 people on death row) could save $200,000,000 a year by eliminating the death penalty, and changing the sentence to life in prison without parole. I'm afraid to do the math, but if all 3250 people that are still on death row in this country had their sentences changed to life in prison without parole, my guess is that all of our states (most of which are fairly broke) would save a lot of money.

I'm not doubting that the 1.000,000 violent criminals that are currently in our prisons should continue to be imprisoned, but I believe that our society needs to be a lot smarter about where we spend our scarce resources, and I'm not convinced that being "tough on crime" is always the right answer.

Virtually everyone has an opinion about the death penalty, but one of the most compelling statements that I’ve come across was given in 1995 by Sister Helen Prejean, who was portrayed in “Dead Man Walking” by Susan Sarandon(who won an Academy award for her role in the film):

“Government can’t be trusted to control its own bureaucrats or collect taxes equitably or fill a pothole, much less decide which of its citizens to kill”.

Her words were true then, and they are even truer today.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

your Dutch uncle - in Dutch

Als onze "baby girl" (die net gedraaid 32) ging naar de universiteit, woonde zij Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Hoewel ze uiteindelijk verhuisde terug naar de omgeving van Chicago, en studeerde af aan de Loyola Universiteit, haar jaren in Michigan gaf ons een kans om een ​​aantal van de charmes van de centrale Michigan ervaring, waaronder Saugatuck (thuisbasis van Tabor Hill wijnmakerijen) en een heerlijk klein stadje genaamd Holland.

In 2006, Money magazine Holland als een van de in de Verenigde Staten. Hoewel Sharon en ik in het kort beschouwd als de stad als onze woon-en zorgcentrum, we uiteindelijk gericht op de # 1 en # 2 steden op de lijst, die Walla Walla, Washington en Prescott, Arizona. We bijna verhuisd naar Prescott, maar verrekend in plaats daarvan op de nabijgelegen Flagstaff, omdat van de beslissing van Kelly's om haar geavanceerde mate bij Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff na te streven.

Holland, Michigan was eerst geregeld in 1847 door de Nederlandse calvinistische separatisten, die er verhuisd van hun geboorteland Nederland naar religieuze vervolging in hun vaderland Nederland te voorkomen. Het werd opgenomen als een stad in maart 1867, maar bijna brandde tot de grond op dezelfde dag als de branden in Chicago, Illinois en Peshtigo, Wisconsin.

Zelfs vandaag de dag, Holland is een vrij kleine stad, ongeveer 33.000 mensen, maar het heeft 170 kerken, dus het is niet moeilijk te raden waar de meeste van de stad zal worden op een zondag ochtend.

Hoewel Nederland vandaag de dag is een vrij klein land (ongeveer 16 miljoen mensen, niet veel groter dan de staat Illinois) was het op een bepaald moment een grote koloniale mogendheid. De eerste Nederlandse handel expeditie in het Verre Oosten was in 1595, en het rijk geleidelijk aan verspreid over de ter wereld. Zo recent als 2010 werden de Nederlandse Antillen als onderdeel van het Nederlandse rijk, maar vandaag de dag alleen maar Aruba en een paar andere kleine eilanden nog steeds een verbinding met "het vaderland".

Het "vaderland", door de manier, zou zijn geweest een stuk kleiner als het niet voor de daden van een man genaamd Arie Evegroen, die gebruikt zijn graan schuit in 1953 aan te sluiten een grote dijk breekt, net als de fictieve Hans Brinker heeft meer dan 100 jaar geleden.

Vanwege de omvang van het Nederlandse imperium , is het niet moeilijk om herinneringen van de Nederlandse cultuur vinden over de hele wereld, evenals tal van plaatsen in de Verenigde Staten. Als je woont in de omgeving van Chicago, Holland (Michigan) is ongeveer drie uur rijden van "The Loop", dus het maakt voor een leuke plek om te gaan voor een weekendje weg van "de stad", vooral als je een stop maken langs de manier waarop in Saugatuck.

Nu dat we leven in Arizona, het is een reis die niet langer praktisch voor ons, maar bijna elke staat in Amerika (inclusief Arizona) heeft een locatie of twee die kunnen een monster van wat "uw Nederlandse oom" geniet weer terug in Nederland.

Heb een goede dag

your Dutch uncle

When our “baby girl” (who just turned 32) went off to college, she attended Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Although she ultimately moved back to the Chicago area, and graduated from Loyola University, her years in Michigan gave us a chance to experience some of the charms of central Michigan, among them Saugatuck (close to the home of Tabor Hill Winery), and a delightful little town called Holland.

In 2006, Money magazine named Holland as one of the top five places to retire in the United States. Although Sharon and I briefly considered the city as our retirement home, we eventually focused on the #1 and #2 cities on the list, which were Walla Walla, Washington and Prescott, Arizona. We nearly moved to Prescott, but settled instead on nearby Flagstaff because of Kelly’s decision to pursue her advanced degree at Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff.

Holland, Michigan was first settled in 1847 by Dutch Calvinist separatists, who moved there from their native Holland to avoid religious persecution in their native Holland. It was incorporated as a city in March of 1867, but nearly burned to the ground on the same day as the fires in Chicago, Illinois and Peshtigo,Wisconsin.

Even today, Holland is a fairly small city, roughly 33,000 people, but it has 170 churches, so it’s not hard to guess where most of the city is going to be on a Sunday morning.

Although the Netherlands today is a fairly small country (about 16,000,000 people, not much larger than the State of Illinois) it was at one time a major colonial power. The first Dutch trading expedition to the Far East was in 1595, and the empire gradually spread around the world. As recently as 2010, the Netherlands Antilles were considered part of the Dutch Empire, but today only Aruba and a few other small islands still have a connection to “the homeland”.

The “homeland”, by the way, would have been a lot smaller if it weren’t for the actions of a man named Arie Evegroen, who used his grain barge in 1953 to plug a major dike break, much as the fictional Hans Brinker did over 100 years ago.

Due to the size of the Dutch empire, it’s not hard to find reminders of Dutch culture throughout the world, as well as numerous places in the United States. If you live in the Chicago area, Holland (Michigan) is roughly a three hour drive from “the Loop”, so it makes for a nice place to go for a weekend away from “the city”, especially if you make a stop along the way in Saugatuck.

Now that we live in Arizona, it’s a trip that’s no longer practical for us, but nearly every state in America (including Arizona) has a location or two that can provide a sample of what “your Dutch uncle” enjoys back in the Netherlands.

Hebben een goede dag

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Immigration man

On November 12, 1954, Ellis Island shut its doors, after processing more than 12,000,000 immigrants since opening its doors in 1892. It is estimated that more than 40% of all Americans living today can trace their roots through Ellis Island (named after a New Jersey merchant named Samuel Ellis, who owned the island in the 1770’s).

The first person admitted through the gates was a 15 year old Irish girl named Annie Moore. The last person admitted, in November 1954, was a Norwegian merchant seaman.

After its closure, Ellis Island was used as a deportation center for illegal immigrants, a hospital for wounded WWII soldiers, and a Coast guard training center. Starting in 1984, the location went through an extensive (and expensive) renovation, and it reopened in 1990 as the Ellis Island Immigration Museum.

Prior to the opening of Ellis Island, immigration had been handled by the individual states. In New York, Castle Clinton (on the lower tip of Manhattan Island) operated from 1820 to 1920. From 1892 on (when Ellis Island was opened) Castle Clinton continued to admit immigrants, but they were the first and second class passengers on ocean liners. The “steerage” passengers were admitted through Ellis Island.

In addition to the immigrants admitted by the State of New York, the ports of New Orleans, Mobile, Savannah, Charleston, Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Galveston also had immigration admitting stations.

In order to provide a more consistent approach to the influx of humanity from other countries, the Federal Government established Ellis Island processing center, and Annie Moore went through its doors on January 2, 1892.

Americans have long been conflicted about immigrants, even though ALL OF US (with only minor exception) are either immigrants from other countries, or descended from someone who was (my grandparents came from Ireland). The exception to the rule, of course, are the folks who were here prior to 1607, when the first permanent settlement of Europeans was established on May 14, 1607.

English, by the way, wasn’t the native language of North America, and it isn’t the official language today (because we don’t have one). If you have the patience to count them all, you’ll find that there were 296 different languages spoken in what is now the United States. If you add on the area north of the present Canadian border, the number balloons to approximately 1000. Eight of the Native American languages are still spoken today, with Navajo being the most commonly spoken. The United States Marine Corps found the Navajo language to be very beneficial during WWII, when the Corps used
400 North American Navajo Marines to thoroughly confuse the Japanese in the Pacific Theater.

Before the largely Christian Europeans took over the country, the Native Americans had their OWN set of 10 Commandments:

When the Statue of Liberty (a gift from France) was erected in New York Harbor, its welcoming plaque seemed to apply to everybody, but it got lost in translation on its journey to the West Coast. The Chinese Exclusion Act was signed into law on May 8, 1882, and would remain in effect until December 17, 1943. The message eventually faded in New York Harbor also, after Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1924, which greatly reduced the number of newcomers admitted into the country.

There has been a LOT of discussion lately about various flat tax proposals (all of which would exacerbate the income inequality in America) and “the need to curb illegal immigrants”, ignoring the fact that we actually NEED illegal immigrants (it has a lot to do with your grocery bill). There’s has also been TOO MUCH EMPHASIS on the national debt,but that’s a topic for a different time, since you’ll have to brush up on your Japanese to understand why.


Before you get your dander up too much, though, it’s instructive to examine the problems that are ACTUALLY the things that we, as a country, need to address.

In his latest book, “That Used To Us”, “the most trusted man in America” spells out the the strategies that helped America become the largest economy in the world. He called them “The Five Pillars Of Prosperity”. They are as follows:

1) Providing public education to more and more Americans.

2) Building and modernizing our infrastructure.

3) “Keeping America’s doors open to immigration open so that we are constantly adding both the low-skilled but high-aspiring immigrants who keep American society energized, as well as the best minds in the world to enrich our universities, start new companies, and engineer new breakthroughs from medicine to manufacturing.” The same idea was also offered by the authors of "The Millionaire Next Door", who said, " .. this is why America needs a constant flow of immigrants with the courage and tenacity of .. the first generation immigrants ... ".

4) Government research for basic research and development.

5) The implementation of necessary regulations on private economic activity.

Due to the iron grip that special interest groups have had on this country, making progress on ANY of them is going to be difficult for the next year or two. Surprisingly, a lot of people in America have never heard of the Kochbrothers - and that’s exactly how they like it.

The problems that each area is facing are as follows:

1) Education -

Earlier this year, the school board of Providence, Rhode Island FIRED all 1926 of its teachers. Although it’s reasonable to assume that adjustments will need to be made to some of the benefits enjoyed by teachers (especially the defined benefit retirement programs) it’s UNREASONABLE to demonize America’s teachers at a time that they are needed most.

Arguably, the main reason for the increase in prosperity in America in the 1950’s and the 1960’s was the G.I. Bill, which allowed returning veterans to get a college education. Currently, there is a proposal to help former members of the military find work in a sluggish economy. Although the measure would require Congressional approval, the current administration has vowed to proceed unilaterally if approval is not received in Congress. (Even former Presidents have weighed in on the need to improve our educational system, “in the midst of a sour economy”.)

The timing of the proposal highlights another important issue: if the Super Committee can’t come to agreement on how to increase revenue for the Government by November 23, there will be an automatic REDUCTION of $454 billion in defense spending.

2) Infrastructure

The American Society of Civil Engineers two years ago gave a grade of “D” to the nation’s infrastructure. One example of WHY they did that can be viewed at the video below:

London Bridge is falling down

In spite of a strong need to improve our infrastructure, as well as a need to create jobs, some members of Congress recently voted to kill a bill to improve both situations because it involved a tiny tax increase on a tiny percentage of the American population (folks with annual income in excess of $1,000,000).

3) Immigration

In 1980, there were 73,000,000 people in the world with college or post-college degrees. By the year 2000, that number had increased to 173,000,000, but the number of H-1B visas that our country needs to issue to capture that talent has not increased proportionally. In fact, the trend has gone in the opposite direction.

The peak year for H-1B visas was the year 2000, when 195,000 visas were issued. Since that time, the number allowed has been decreased, and the current allotment is set at 85,000.

The United States actually issues three different types of visas for temporary workers. The H-1B visa covers workers in specialty occupations (such as computers) and is limited to 85,000 annually. The H-2A visa applies to temporary farm workers, and has no annual cap. The H-2B visa covers seasonal non-agricultural workers, and is limited to 66,000 per year. Despite the caps, the United States issued 135,991 H-1B visas in 2012. We also issued 65,345 H-2A visas, and 50,009 H-2B visas.

On the other end of the spectrum, there was a rumor circulating recently that the annual cost of illegal immigrants was $338.3 billion. To quote the famous line from the old Avis commercials, this total is “not exactly’ correct. In fact, if you carefully research all the details related to this “fact”, you’ll discover it’s completely FALSE. There ARE some costs related to illegal immigrants, but they are nowhere near the total shown above.

The most accurate answer to the question is this:

The U.S. Custom and Border Protection Department, a division of the United States Department of Homeland Security, has 43,600 sworn federal agents, and an annual budget of $11.84 billion. That’s no small amount, but it’s definitely a lot smaller than $338 billion!

It is estimated that nearly 30% of the agricultural workers in America are illegal immigrants. Although agricultural workers are a small percentage of the total for illegal immigrants, it’s logical to assume that their removal would lead to higher food prices (which it would) but not as much as you might think, due to the fact that only 7% of the cost of an agricultural item is due to labor costs.

In total, though, the number of illegal immigrants from Mexico has declined dramatically in the last 20 years, largely due to improved economic and educational opportunities in Mexico.

In recent months, there have been discussions of using alligators and electric fences , and suspending 36 environmental laws, in order to “stem the flow of illegal immigrants”. In reality, though, the solution is much simpler: improve living conditions in Mexico.

4) Government support for research and development

Federal funding for basic research and development began falling for the first time in 2005, after 25 years of growth, and has diminished since that time.

5) Necessary regulations on private economic activity

When Lehman Brothers filed bankruptcy on September 15, 2008, it was the largest financial bankruptcy filing in the history of the United States. The bankruptcy filing exposed some shady lending practices that cost investors millions of dollars. Although it had been assumed, fairly recently, that the financial services industry could police itself, Lehman’s failure exposed the idea for what it was = wishful thinking. In response, Congress passed a bill in May of 2010 that imposed further controls on an industry that needed them.

There’s also been some recent discussion about weakening environmental laws in order to create jobs, which simply isn’t a good idea.

In order to operate efficiently, businesses thrive if they face as few economic hurdles as possible, but it’s not smart to allow them to do whatever they want, because unbridled capitalism hurts ALL of us.

In 1972, Graham Nash (who was a British citizen at the time) and David Crosby recorded a song titled “Immigration Man”. When the sheet for the song was released, Nash chose a picture of earth from space because "when you look at a photograph of the earth you don't see any borders. That realization is where our hope as a planet lies."

Nash himself became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1978.

it’s a small world after all

Throughout the planet, there are differences in political outlook, race, creed, color, and national origin. When viewed from 200 miles up, though, we’re simply 7 billion people sharing a spectacularly beautiful blue orb floating in the vastness of space.

To quote a well known conservative talk show host, “ that’s the way things ought to be”.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Impeach the Cox-sacker

On October 20, 1973, President Richard Nixon ordered his Attorney General, Elliott Richardson, to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox because he (Cox) was getting too close to the truth about the Watergate scandal.

Rather than comply with the order, Richardson resigned. Nixon then ordered Richardson’s second-in-command (William Ruckelshaus) to fire Cox. He, too, resigned rather than carry out the order.

The next highest ranking member of the Justice Department after Ruckelshaus was Solicitor General Robert Bork. Although Bork also felt that Nixon’s decision was unwise, he felt that SOMEBODY had to comply with Nixon’s order, so he fired Cox.

The morning after “the Saturday Night Massacre”, the headlines in my local newspaper read “Impeach the Cox-sacker”, and bumper stickers with the same line appeared soon after. As we all know, Nixon’s attempt to circumvent justice was not successful, and he was forced to resign on August 8, 1974.

The story of “the Saturday Night Massacre” came immediately to mind when I read the headlines of the two major Arizona newspapers on the morning of November 2, 2011.

Governor Jan Brewer, and the GOP-controlled state Senate, fired Colleen Coyle Mathis, who was the chairwoman of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, on the afternoon of November 1. The governor accused Ms. Mathis of “gross misconduct“, which is the only legal way she could have terminated her.

In the year 2000, the Arizona legislature passed Proposition 106, which gave the power for redistricting to an independent panel rather than to the Legislature. Since gerrymandering has been a problem in this country since 1812, it’s a little surprising that it took as long as it did to correct a practice that effectively takes power away from the voters and gives it to the political party that has the majority vote.

To quote Otto von Bismarck, “laws are like sausages … it is better not to see them being made .." In view of that fact, it’s probably amazing that our political system works as well as it does.

Up until very recently, I had lived in the Chicago area for 25 years. In spite of all of the efforts that have been made to clean up political corruption in both Chicago and the State of Illinois, even the “reform Governor” (Rod Blagojevich) was removed from office due to misconduct, and will likely spend at least some time in prison. If you want to see what “gerrymandering” looks like in practice, the map of the 4th congressional district of the State of Illinois will give you a very good idea.

Should Governor Brewer be impeached for her decision regarding Colleen Coyle Mathis? That’s not my decision to make, but next week’s recall election of Senate President Russell Pearce (the first recall election in the history of the State of Arizona) is a sign that the voters are tired of “business as usual” , both at the state and at the national level (the approval rating of the Congress in Washington D.C. is currently at 12%).

The late Joe McCarthy once said, “ if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, then it must be a duck .. “

Although the governor gave a couple of reasons that she felt justified her position (which were quickly refuted by Ms. Mathis), I have to believe that there most be an awful lot of cheese someplace in the Capitol building ..

because I smell a rat.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The most trusted man in america


The late Walter Cronkite was an anchorman for CBS News for 19 years (1962-1981), and was often cited as “the most trusted man in America”. His signature closing line was, “and that’s the way it is”. Surprisingly, that famous closing line came about accidentally, and very nearly not at all, which he explains in the video below:

an interview with Walter

Unlike the broadcast industry that I grew up in (with just three major television networks and no FM radio stations), today’s news sources are highly fragmented. In addition to hundreds of cable TV channels, we also get our news from an endless variety of internet sources, as well as talk radio. The traditional large newspapers are still in operation, but have been forced to change dramatically in recent years in order to survive.

In December of 2008, the venerable Tribune Company filed for bankruptcy, and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune filed a month later. A month after the Star-Tribune filing, two major newspapers in Philadelphia threw in the towel.

In view of all the fragmentation and turbulence in the news industry, who IS “the most trusted man in America” today?

The answer to that question is the man pictured below:

That title was conferred on him in a number of polls, and he was also mentioned in The New York Times, which I would consider to be a very reputable news source.

The odd thing about Jon Stewart is that his show (the “Daily Show”) is broadcast on the Comedy Central channel, and isn’t even real news, which seems to underscore the degree of cynicism that a lot of folks in this country feel about the direction our country is heading.

If the decision to pick the most trusted man in America were left up to me, my choice would be one that would surprise a lot of people. His picture is shown below:

Thomas Friedman and I have a few things in common, because we were both born in Minnesota, and we both studied at the University of Minnesota. In addition, we've both spent far more time in China than most Americans have, even though our roles there were much different.

Thomas ultimately transferred from the University of Minnesota, and graduated from Brandeis University, summa cum laude. He earned his masters degree at the University of Oxford. After graduation, he went to work for UPI, but joined the staff of the New York Times in 1981, where he has been ever since. His work at the Times earned him three Pulitzer Prizes, and he was elected to the Pulitzer Prize board in 2005. Due to his expertise in the Middle East, he is one of the people that President Obama consults with when formulating policy positions in that part of the world.

In addition to his regular columns for the New York Times, he has also written SIX books. Although I have not read his first two, I HAVE read the four books after that, including the most recent, which I finished reading this afternoon. “That Used To Be Us” (co-authored with Michael Mandelbaum) is both frightening and inspirational.

The large print version (which I borrowed from the local library) is a daunting 685 pages in length. In spite of that, though, I would consider the book to be a “must read” for as many people as possible, ESPECIALLY the politicians who are running our country.

Even if you’re a slow reader, if you set aside 20 minutes a day to read it, you’d be finished in about a month’s time, and you’d have a much better grasp of where we are as a country, and where we need to be going.

Thomas Friedman may not be “the most admired man in America”, but that’s a distinction that may come his way eventually. For now, a number of sources have called him “the voice of reason”, and that’s a pretty good start. (The most admired man in America, by the way, is Barack Obama, followed closely by former President George W. Bush).

If the thought of reading a LONG book seems more than a little daunting to you, I’d recommend at least reading some of his thoughts on his blog or in his columns in The New York Times.

Tom Friedman may not have all the answers, but I can assure you that if gives you his opinion on pretty much anything, “that’s the way it is”.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Natural

On Wednesday of this week, Greece will still be on the verge of going broke, our leaders in Congress will still be bickering, wars will still be raging, and too many people will still be out of work.

However, the sun will rise in the East, and an important event in American history will begin again.

The very first professional baseball club in America, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, was formed in 1869, a mere four years after the end of the Civil War. A few years later, the short lived National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed, but quickly died out. The National League came into being in 1876, and the American League was founded in 1901. Although the two leagues were initially bitter rivals, a “peace treaty” (called the National Agreement) was signed in 1903.

The very first World Series was played in 1903, and Boston beat Pittsburgh. Boston won four more World Series titles between 1912 and 1918, but then had a “drought” until 2004. Although that’s certainly a long period of time, it pales in comparison to the record of the Chicago Cubs, who won their last World Series title in 1907.

The 2011 World Series pits the Texas Rangers (who have never won a World Series) against the St. Louis Cardinals, who have won the title 10 times, the most recent being in 2006.

Even if you have no allegiance to either team, and even if you don’t have much interest in baseball, it’s important to watch at least part of the event, and I’ll let James Earl Jones tell you why. In the movie, “Field of Dreams“, he described to “Ray Kinsella” (Kevin Costner) the magic of baseball:

“.. the memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces .. the one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball ..Americans rolled by like an army of steamrollers .. they’ve been erased, rebuilt, and erased again .. but baseball has marked the time .. the field, the game .. It’s a part of our past .. It reminds us of all that once was good, and could be again .."

It’s been a few years since I’ve been to a professional baseball game, but I still remember the electricity that was in the air as play began on the carefully groomed field below me.

There have been countless movies made about baseball over the years, but very few of them capture the essence of the game as well as “The Natural”, which was released in 1984. To prove my point, watch the clip below:

there's magic in the air

If you’re like me, you were probably a little misty eyed by the time it ended, and that (by itself) proves a point.

Most of the movie was shot in a stadium that no longer exists (War Memorial Stadium), the main character (Roy Hobbs) never existed, and his team, the New York Knights, was a figment of a writer’s imagination. In spite of those details, though, “The Natural” reminds all of us that we, too, can overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles with perseverance, luck, and a helping hand from forces beyond our grasp.

Roy Hobbs was no fluke. Throughout our history, we’ve borne witness to countless men who, in their own way, have provided their own brand of magic to make us forget life’s troubles, even if for only a while. Over nearly 150 years, there have been MANY moments that would be considered the "best plays in baseball", including Tinkers to Evers to Chance. Without question, though, the best play in the history of baseball was performed by a Chicago Cub in 1976:

who is Rick Monday?

Let’s play ball!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Marlboro Man

Philip Morris & Company used the Marlboro Man in ads from 1954 until 1999. Although a number of different people portrayed the Marlboro Man during that time period, an ex-rancher named Darrell Winfield had the longest run, at 20 years. He was originally selected by the creative director of the Leo Burnett advertising agency because “he scared the hell out of him.”

In view of the tough image of the Marlboro Man, you would probably be surprised at the fact that Marlboro was originally introduced (in 1926) as a woman’s cigarette. The advertising theme for the cigarette was the less than inspiring “mild as May”campaign, and the brand faltered repeatedly for the next 30 years.

What saved the brand, ironically enough, was lung cancer.

During the early 1950’s, the first studies linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer were released. As a result, smokers started to switch from the favored brands of Camels, Lucky Strikes, and Chesterfields to the “safer” filtered cigarettes, like Marlboro.

Logic would tell you that an advertising agency would focus on these new-found health concerns, but the Leo Burnett agency took an entirely different approach, focusing instead on the Masculine Image of the New Marlboro.

When the campaign started, Marlboro sales were $5 billion a year. Two years later, Marlboro sales were an astonishing $20 billion a year, an increase of 300%. As a result, the Marlboro Man advertising campaign is considered to be one of the most brilliant advertising campaigns of all time.

Three of the men who portrayed the Marlboro Man (Wayne McLaren, David McLean, and Dick Hammer) all died from lung cancer. Strangely enough, their passing hasn’t put much of a dent in the popularity of smoking overseas. The Marlboro Man ads were used up until recently in both Germany and the Czech Republic, but cigarette sales in Asia have EXPLODED.

China is now the world’s largest cigarette market, with over 2 TRILLION cigarettes sold every year. The number of smokers in China exceeds the entire population of the United States, where 25% of the population smokes cigarettes. Amazingly, nearly 60% of the DOCTORS in China are cigarette smokers!

Who is the modern day Marlboro Man? One example is pictured below:

Although President Obama began an earnest attempt in 2007 to quit smoking Marlboro cigarettes, it’s rumored that the pressures of his job have caused a few relapses since that time.

By now, you’re aware of the fact that I’m a fan, but even his most ardent supporters will concede that he should have pushed a little harder, on occasion, to get what he wants. You’re never going to see him walking into a joint session of Congress with a cowboy hat on his head, a bullwhip in one hand, and a cigarette dangling from his lips, but he needs to somehow get tougher with the obstructionists in Congress for the good of our country.

By the way, if you’re still under the impression that all you need to herd cattle is a tough old cowboy on a horse (or a Harley) the video below will open your eyes:

the new cowboy

Enjoy the day!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Happy anniversary!

On this day in 1996, country superstars Tim McGraw and Faith Hill got married.

Both of them were established musical performers before they teamed up for their “Spontaneous Combustion” tour in early 1996. At the start of the tour, Faith was engaged to another man, but she had a new fiancé (McGraw) when the tour ended., and they got married at a small family ceremony in his native Louisiana on October 6. They owe part of their marital longevity to the fact that they haven’t spent more than 3 consecutive days apart since that time.

Another well known performer ALSO got married on October 6, but five years earlier.

Elizabeth Taylor married her SEVENTH husband on October 6. 1991, a construction worker named Larry Fortensky. Due to the fact that the pair met at the Betty Ford Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Center, and he was two decades younger than she was, the pundits predicted that the union wouldn’t last, and they were right.

Elizabeth and Larry divorced in 1996.

Coincidentally, I married my first wife on October 6, 1972. Thirty nine years later, she is STILL my first wife, even though we are both older and grayer.

An organization called The Americans for Divorce Reform has estimated that close to 50% of all marriages in America will end in divorce. Interestingly, the divorce rate goes up for every subsequent marriage, which means that if you didn’t get it right the first time, you’re less likely to do so the next time around.

With the odds of a successful marriage being roughly equivalent to flipping a coin, what can ANY of us do to nurture our relationships through “for better or worse”?

One of my favorite books about relationships is “Why Men Don’t Listen, and Women Can’t Read Maps”. You can read the entire book on line by clicking on the appropriate link of my post of June 23

In view of the fact that men and women really DO think differently, it’s fairly amazing that we can live together at all. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the demand for counseling services (including marriage counselors) will exceed supply for the foreseeable future. As a result, there will be plenty of opportunities for you to spend your money on professional help if your fairy tale wedding starts to tarnish a bit.

However, if you’d rather spend your money on a nice vacation (or a new fishing boat) there are THREE things that you can do to nurture your relationship in a much more cost efficient manner:

1) forgive and forget - holding grudges isn’t healthy for ANYONE

2) keep a stiff upper lip

3) laugh often, and laugh heartily

For further details on the last item, I’ll refer you to a comic strip that has become increasingly familiar to Sharon and me as we’ve gotten older (see below), and there’s a reason that I selected the strip from 9/11/11:

Pickles comic strip

A few years ago, Sharon joined the squirrel lovers club. Until she found out that it was illegal, she would feed the squirrels from the front porch of our place in Evanston every morning. Although she no longer “feeds the critters”, we still have squirrel statues scattered throughout our home. Since we both can be a little nuts at times, I guess that somehow seems appropriate.

Through the years, we’ve been through a lot of “thicks and thins”, and we’ve even been mad at each other on occasion (usually not for long). In the final analysis, though, we’d both have to admit that we’re still probably each other’s best friend, and this is what Tim McGraw would have to say about THAT:

my best friend

Happy anniversary, Sharon!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Why can't we all just get along?

It’s been more than 20 years since Rodney King was arrested by the Los Angeles police for speeding on the 210 freeway in L.A., but his story has particular relevance for today’s society.

On the night of March 2, 1991, Rodney and two friends (Bryant Allen and Freddie Helms) spent the night drinking and watching a basketball game at another friend’s house. Later that evening, he reached a speed of 117 miles per hour while being pursued by the police for speeding. Five hours after he was stopped, his blood alcohol content was just below the legal limit, which meant that during the chase, his BAC was roughly 0.19, more than twice the legal limit.

When he was finally stopped by the police, he resisted arrest, and the police finally needed to use extraordinary measures to bring him under control. The “extraordinary measures” were captured on video by a man named George Holliday, and the video’s subsequent release to KTLA television created an uproar.

Ultimately, charges of police brutality were filed against the officers involved, and their trial was held the following March in a new courthouse in Simi Valley.

When the jury acquitted the officers involved, pandemonium erupted in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles riots lasted a total of six days. In the end, the damages included 53 deaths, 2,383 injuries, 7000 fires, damages to 3100 businesses, and roughly $1 billion in final losses. Businesses owned by Korean-Americans were hit especially hard by the riots.

Midway through the riots, Rodney King himself made a public appeal for a return to sanity:

can’t we all just get along?

Prior to his arrest on March 3, 1991, he had had two prior brushes with the law, which is why his defense team did not allow him to testify at the trial. More significantly, he has been involved with
NINE incidents since that night
, the most recent being September 29, 2001.

After the riots ended, pressure mounted for a retrial of the officers involved. Ultimately, Rodney King was awarded $3.8 million in damages by the City of Los Angeles. He invested most of his money in a record label called “Straight-Alta Records”, which folded shortly after its founding.

We can all argue until the cows come home about the cause of the L.A. riots of 1992, but my opinion is this:

The irresponsible actions of a lone individual (King) indirectly led to 53 deaths and $1 billion in damages. To add insult to injury, the city that suffered significant financial loss due to his actions was forced to pay him $3.8 million dollars in damages, which he squandered.

At this point, let’s fast forward to 2011, so that we can tie the events of 1992 to our current political environment.

In April of this year, the irresponsible actions of a small number of our elected officials nearly caused the Federal Government to shut down. In August, the same group nearly caused a default on our national debt. Just last week, the recent debate over FEMA funding again pushed the government to the brink of shutdown, but a last minute spending bill pushed the day of reckoning back to November 18.

Even though I told you not to blame the Republicans on July 15 ..

it’s time to blame the Republicans.

The Republican National Convention will be held in Tampa on August 27, 2012. As of this morning, there are FOURTEEN declared candidates for the Republican Presidential nomination.

In addition, there are SEVEN more potential candidates, and 15 others who have declined to pursue the nomination.

The general consensus among most of the political commentators is that George Romney is the only adult in the room, but the list of candidates DOES include a few folks who would be interesting alternatives. The list of candidates, and my comments on each, is attached below:

Michele Bachman - current chair of the Tea Party caucus, which automatically disqualifies her as a serious candidate -

Herman Cain - former chairman of Godfather’s pizza - interesting candidate, but being a black Republican will probably be a liability -

Newt Gingrich - a total idiot, and a morally bankrupt individual -

Jon Huntsman - personal friend of Obama - another interesting choice, but not enough name recognition -

Gary Johnson - unelectable due to name recognition

Fred Karger- strong gay advocacy would be the kiss of death for a Republican -

Andy Martin - another total idiot - originator of the hysteria surrounding Obama’s birth status -

Jimmy McMillan - unelectable, but fun

Tom Miller - former flight attendant - unelectable due to lack of experience

Ron Paul - Libertarian views - not conservative enough for the Republicans - unelectable

Rick Perry - another total idiot - extreme right wind views - unelectable due to extreme views -

Mitt Romney - front runner - still doesn’t understand Obama’s Cairo speech, but still the front runner -

Rick Santorum - bigoted and opinionated, which will make him unelectable -

Vern Wuensche - no name recognition

Presidential candidates aside, it’s safe to say that the general public has become damn tired of the politicians who are more concerned about their own agendas than the welfare of the country. As of this morning, the Congressional approval rate is 12%, one of the lowest scores on record.

Fortunately, there ARE some solutions that can be put into place sooner, rather than later, to help fix the problem.

19 out of the 50 states allow recall elections on a mid-term basis. Wisconsin recently “put the screws” to nine elected officials in August, but only two were recalled. Both Arizona and Michigan will be having recall elections in November, and I’ve already registered to vote in Arizona.

Even though the state of Minnesota was actually shut down for two weeks in July of this year, no recall elections are planned at this point in time because, well, the folks in Minnesota are famous for being nice and polite.

In my opinoin, Barack Obama remains the person who is the most qualified to lead our country, but he’s been hampered by the efforts of extremists who seem determined to undermine everything that he is trying to accomplish.

If you haven’t read, or listened to, his recent speech in San Jose about the American Jobs Act bill, you’ve missed some very important information.

For the record, has investigated an astonishing 274 rumors about Barack Obama. If you research all of them individually (as I’ve done) you’ll discover that 58 % of them are totally false, and another 20% of them are a mixture of true and false information. Although 19% of the rumors are actually labeled as “true”, fully HALF of those are simply verification that someone said, or wrote, something about the current President. That leaves a total of 11% of the total that are true, but NONE of them contain information that would be considered relevant by most people. Significantly, there also three links that would release a virus if you opened them up.

You’re certainly free to do your own research on any of the above topics if you’d like to, but here’s my advice:

If you receive any “Obama-bashing” e-mails from anyone, do the smart thing.

Hit “delete” without reading it.

I try to read 2 or 3 newspapers on a daily basis in order to get a balanced view of the world, but I can’t hold a candle to John F. Kennedy, who read ELEVEN newspapers on a daily basis. Included in that list are the following papers: the Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, New York Herald Tribune, New York News, New York Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and the Washington Star.

You’re free to read whatever newspaper that you’d like, but if you’re not reading The New York Times at least once a week, you’re missing a lot of intelligent conversation.

However, if for some reason you don’t read ANY newspapers, and get all of your information from Fox News and/or talk radio, you need to be aware of the fact that Rupert Murdoch controls both of those venues, and they are NOT reliable sources of information.

If you’ve read John Grisham’s book, The Appeal, you’re aware of the fact that wealthy people with loose morals can be very effective at distorting the wheels of justice and the electoral process. Unfortunately, that is EXACTLY what’s happening in America today. I won’t mention any names (since I already did that back in March) but be assured that the three billionaires most responsible for our current mess don’t have your best interests at heart.

We’re too good a country to be held hostage by thugs who are determined to destroy our country in order to achieve their own narrow objectives.

We need to have thoughtful and intelligent conversations again, and to eradicate as much negative news as possible.

To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, we need to (once again) ask not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country.

Most importantly (to quote Rodney King) we simply need to find a way to just get along better with each other.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The wedding of the year

On August 20, Kim Kardashian wed NBA star Kris Humphries

The guest list included a number of well known celebrities, who were driven to the reception in white Rolls Royces or Maybachs. In all, there were 450 guests at the wedding ceremony, which was held at a private estate in Montecito, California. All of the bridesmaids, and Kim’s mother, wore Vera Wang gowns. The six foot tall wedding cake (designed by Hansen Cakes of Los Angeles) cost $15,000, and Wolfgang Puck provided the rest of the food.

If you’re dying to see more of the wedding than you’ve already been exposed to, the wedding extravaganza will be aired in a two part special on E! on October 9 at 8 p.m. and October 10 at 9 p.m..

(When the "wedding of the year" disintegrated after a mere 72 days, Kim had a very solid explanation for its demise:

“I would never marry for a TV show, for money, for anything like that. And I think that’s really ridiculous, that I have to even, you know, kind of defend that, but, you know, I guess that comes along with what’s, you know — when you film your wedding for a reality show.”)

One of the many celebrity magazines on the market breathlessly proclaimed Kim’s wedding to be the “wedding of the year” on its cover, but CNN (in deference to the wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William earlier this year) called it “the other wedding of the year”. In view of the fact that William and Kate had 1900 guests, and their wedding cost an estimated $70 million, a lot of people would consider the wedding across the pond to be the BIG EVENT of the year.

Being a contrarian, I beg to differ, since the REAL wedding of the year was held roughly 200 miles to the east of Montecisto, on September 24. In total, there were less than 200 guests, and the whole thing cost SIGNIFICANTLY less than either one of the weddings mentioned above.

To put a little perspective on WHY the wedding on September 24 was the REAL wedding, I’ll have to refer you back to a book that you probably read as a child. The Velveteen Rabbit was written by Margery Williams, and illustrated by William Nicholson. It was first published in 1922, and it has been republished many times since.

In the story, the much loved plush rabbit, in spite of the fact that he has become shabbier over time, eventually becomes real due to the fact that the boy in the story really and truly loves it.

The wedding in question was between my niece Alex and her long time friend Thom. It was held at Crazzy’s Wasewagan Summer Camp in Angelus Oaks, California. The location was deep in the woods of the San Bernadino Forest, and you had to drive through a stream to get to the actual site.

The bride wore a dress that was made by hand by a close relative, and the bride and groom wore custom rings that were made by the same relative. The proud father of the bride wore a rented tuxedo, a hand tied bowtie - and tennis shoes.

The presiding minister affectionately referred to them as “big red” and “angel man”. At the end of the ceremony, she pronounced them as “married”, rather than “man and wife”, a subtle (but significant) change that may cause consternation in some circles.

All of the food throughout the three day event was vegetarian, and the dessert for the wedding dinner itself consisted almost entirely of homemade pies instead of an elaborate wedding cake.

The setting for the ceremony was an open area on the side of the stream, with air above and dirt below.

Several dogs with bows tied around their neck wandered throughout the setting, and the late afternoon sun produced a magical glow that provided a perfect setting for picture taking. Tinkerbell was in the audience too, but the license plate on her Jeep actually read “”TYNKERBL”.

It’s unlikely that Thom and Alex will ever be as wealthy as Kim and Kris, but their marriage (a union of two genuine lovers) will provide them with riches that money simply can’t buy, which is why it TRULY is the marriage of the year.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The ghost of Tom Joad

During the Dust Bowl years of the 1930’s, 200,000 impoverished farmers, primarily from Texas and Oklahoma, migrated west to California for a chance at a better life. Although that’s a large number of people, it’s only a small percentage of the 2,500,000 that moved out of the Plains states between 1930 and 1940.

One of those impoverished farmers was a fictional man named Tom Joad, who was portrayed in the movie, The Grapes of Wrath, by Henry Fonda. Fortunately for Tom, America had opened a new highway in 1926 that made his journey west a lot easier. The road was officially called Route 66, but for many people (even today) it is best known as “the Mother Road”.

If you’re not familiar with the movie, you can get a sense of the desperation and despair that the Joad family experienced by listening to the ghost of Tom Joad, which was recorded by Bruce Springsteen.

The road started at the corner of Jackson Boulevard and Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago, and ended in Santa Monica, California. In total, it ran 2448 miles initially (it was down to 2278 miles by 1947), and its existence created thousands of new businesses along the way. The massive construction of the Interstate system in the mid 1960’s became the death knell for a lot of those businesses, since travel along I-40, and a few other roads, has made the trip west a lot quicker and more convenient. If you’ve seen the movie Cars, you’ll recall that a town called Radiator Springs was especially hard hit, but it has had a recent resurgence due to Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios.

Although nostalgia just isn’t what it used to be, you’ll be happy to know that the original Route 66 still exists, and can be driven on today. Just off I-40 in New Mexico, there are six different segments of the original Route 66 that are easily accessible from the Interstate.

Arguably, the town that pays the best homage to the Mother Road is my new home town, Flagstaff, Arizona. Route 66 still runs through the heart of downtown Flagstaff, and a fair number of the businesses that prospered during the heyday of Route 66 are still in business today. Since its decommissioning in 1985, the road is, by and large, simply a memory. In recognition of those old memories, it seems fitting that at least seven locations in Flagstaff (including the train station and the library) are considered to be haunted sites.

Most of us first became aware of Route 66 due to the adventures of a couple of guys named Tod and Buz , who traveled the road in a new Corvette.

The series ran from 1960 to 1964, and a LOT of people (including the Rolling Stones) have done updates to Nat King Cole’s original version of the song about the road. The liveliest version of the song is the one
that you can hear by clicking on the hyperlink in this sentence, but ALL of the versions are fun to listen to.

When Tom Joad packed up his family in his old Ford and moved west, he didn’t have any guarantees of a better life, nor did he have any guarantees of gainful employment. To a very large degree, Tom and I are kindred spirits, since my wife and I (and our daughter) moved to town without having any solid employment prospects. Unlike Tom, though, my wife and I DO have at least some guaranteed income each month, and we’re all working on some opportunities to supplement our base income.

When you embark on any new adventure, it’s inevitable that things don’t always go according to plan. We had a few anxious moments before we left the Chicago area, and we also had a few moments of hyperventilation once we got to Flagstaff. With the help of friends and family, we managed to get by the rough spots, and are now settling into our new community.

Apart from the sheer beauty of Flagstaff (we’re immediately adjacent to Coconino National Forest, and we’re surrounded by the San Francisco Peaks) the biggest change that we’ve noticed so far is an overwhelming sense of quiet and tranquility. All three of us endured an awful lot of noise on a daily basis in Chicago, so the change in location has already put all of us in a better frame of mind.

I also discovered, just yesterday, that riding my bicycle up and down the hills out here (elevation 7000 feet) is a whole lot different than riding the flat landscape of Chicago. Since 1968, Flagstaff has been host for elite endurance training. In 1994, Northern Arizona University opened its Center for High Altitude Training. Although it recently closed due to budget constraints, 16 of the medal winners at the 2008 Beijing Olympics did at least part of their training for the games in Flagstaff.

I lived most of my life in America’s Midwest. Although there are a lot of things that we all enjoyed about the states that we lived in, the best advice that I could give to a modern day Tom Joan is this:

“go west, young man, go west”.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

the joy of socks

Since we are moving out of state at the end of the month, I stopped my home delivery of the Chicago Tribune about a week ago. However, I’ll continue to read the online version every morning in order to keep abreast of the latest “breaking news” in the Windy City.

A little known fact is that the Chicago Tribune publishes a small parody newspaper called The Onion, which Wikipedia calls a news satire organization. Although I’m not going to be able to pick up a printed copy of the newspaper at the local news stand in Flagstaff, I’ll still be able to read it online when I’m truly in the mood for some goofy news.

Using the online White Pages directory this morning, I discovered that there are 99 people in America who have the last name of “Tongue”, and slightly over 100 who have the last name of “Cheek”.

So …

In the vein of the tongue-in-cheek editorial flavor of The Onion, the story listed below is an example of what could be the start of a series of related topics that The Onion might publish at some point in the future.


The joy of socks

Socks have been in use much longer than any of us could imagine. The first known use of socks was during The Stone Age, when socks were made of animal skins and tied around the ankles.

The 2nd century Romans were the first people to sew socks from woven fabric, and the Egyptians of the 3rd century were the first to actually knit socks.

For centuries thereafter, silk was the most popular material used to make socks, but cotton finally came into use in the 17th century. By the middle of the 20th century, nylon became the most popular fabric.

In spite of their popularity, though, socks have always presented a problem for their wearers. If Arthur Conan Doyle were still alive, he eventually would have written The Case of the Missing Socks.

In my dresser drawer, I have exactly 13 mismatched socks that I continue to keep in the hope that its partner will mysteriously reappear in the dryer the next time that I do my laundry. Buying special socks (such as Gold Toe socks) helps the problem, but doesn’t cure it entirely.

Thanks to the U.S. Army, though, there IS a cure.

Most people are surprised to learn that the Bureau of Missing Socks began as a company in the Union Army during the Civil War in the States of America. It was formed on August 1st, 1861. The name of the founder was Joseph Smithson and he was a haberdasher by trade but quite a bad soldier. He was therefore put in full and complete charge of socks of the enlisted men and officers. He brought to the army skills of stock keeping, purchasing, accounting, and salesmanship He immediately instituted a cost control structure and created one of the most honest, tightly run purchasing sections serving the Union side during the entire conflict.

The Bureau of Missing Socks is the only organization in the world devoted solely to unraveling the mystery of the single disappearing sock. It is an arm of the United States government no less important than the State Department and Department of Defense.

Its headquarters are located on a bluff high above the Potomac River in Washington, D. C. in a twenty four acre office park divided into four distinct areas: administrative, research, data and laboratory facilities.

Incidentally, if you’d like to order your very own custom socks, the link immediately above can take you to a page that allows you to view some unique products.

If the above information seems like a (um) stretch, consider the words of one of our former Presidents:

tricky Dick


Other than socks, the other topics that could eventually find their way into The Onion (in no particular sequence) are the following,

The joy of Sox - a brief history of “the South Siders”

The joy of six - Phil Jackson’s Chicago Bulls

The joy of slacks - when did WOMEN get to wear the pants in the family?

The joy of slicks - the evolution of the racing tire

The Joy of Sex - (not available in Middlesex, England)

The joy of snacks - (snack food rewind- a history of our favorite treats)

The joy of stacks - how to win at poker


The late Will Rogers had this to say about onions:

"An onion can make people cry, but there has never been a vegetable invented to make them laugh."

Since 1988, The Onion has been helping people to laugh, the first “vegetable” that’s been able to do that. If Will Rogers were still around today, I have no doubt that he’d be an avid reader.