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.