Thursday, December 27, 2012

his name is Noel



We’re all very familiar with the story of the first Noel, and have heard countless versions of the song over the years. The song itself is a traditional classical English carol that dates back to at least the 18th century, and possibly earlier. It was first recorded in southern England in 1823. Literally hundreds of artists have recorded it since that time, but my sentimental favorite is the one recorded by Natalie Cole:

The First Noel

Less familiar to us, though, is the MAN named Noel, although he’d be instantly recognizable by his “stage name”.

He was born on December 30, 1937, which means that he’ll be turning 75 years old this year. He was born in Balimore, Maryland, but his retirement home is in the tiny town of Blue Hill, Maine, where he continues to record music in a building that was previously used as a chicken coop.

In case you’re wondering, the area around Blue Hill looks very much like the area known as “Golden Pond”, which makes it an ideal location to spend your retirement years.



His best known compostion is a song that was recorded for his best friend’s 1969 wedding in Minnesota. Because he is a devout Christian, and his friend is a devout Jew, he asked God’s guidance for the music and the lyrics for the song, which were provided to him on a midnight flight between San Jose and Boston. Because he did not feel that he could take personal credit for the song, he set up the Public Domain Foundation in 1971 , which distributes royalties for the song to various charitable causes.

His full name?

Noel Paul Stookey

This is what he looks like today:



And this is what he looked like when he was part of the most popular singing group in America 50 years ago:



Thursday, December 20, 2012

triple witching



If you’re a halfway serious investor, you’ve heard the term “triple witching” used at several key points throughout each year. Officially, it’s the last hour of the third Friday of every March, June, September, and December. On those days, three kinds of securities (stock market index futures, stock market index options, and stock options) all expire at the same time. The combined expiration date increases the trading volume of all three classes, and often leads to increased price volatility.



This year is different than most because we will have a TRIPLE “triple witching”, and here’s why:

In addition to the normal stock market events, the third Friday of this month happens to be the start of the winter solstice, which is the time of the year when the sun appears at noon at its lowest altitude above the horizon, and it’s always on December 21 or December 22.

It’s very rare for the 21st of December to fall on the third Friday of the month. In the decade between 2002 and 2012, the only other year that it happened was in 2007.

The third of the “triple witching” events that will happen this year, of course, is the BIG ONE.

The world is coming to an end.

If predictions are accurate, the weather forecast for this Friday in Chicago will be a LOT hotter than usual.



The reason that some folks believe that the world is coming to an end on Friday is that it is the day that the Mayan calendar expires. Throughout America, there are people who have become “preppers”, and are learning survival skills that will prepare them for the worst. One of the 102 confirmed preppers in San Diego is a man named Nikko Sanchez, who founded a company called SOS Tactical that will help interested folks to be ready.

We’ve all heard the “doomsday” stories before. Most recently was in the spring of 2011, when Harold Camping predicted that May 21 would be the day that you “met your maker”.

When in doubt, though, it’s always good to go to the source. In this case, that would be the present day Mayan people, who aren’t the least bit concerned about their eminent demise.

The Mayan calendar is an amazingly accurate calendar that has been in use for more than 6000 years. Early on, the ancient Mayans believed that the year had 360 days, but for most of those 6000 years they settled on 365. When the pyramid of Kukulkan was built in Chichen Itza in the year 1050, it had 4 sides, each of which had 91 steps, and a platform on top, which made the total 365.

Naturally, there are plenty of references in the Bible related to the end of the world. If you have the patience (and time) to listen to him, David C. Pack (of the Restored Church of God) can tell you about the connections.

My advice?

Pour yourself a nice glass of wine, throw another log on the fireplace, and play a little George Winston.

You’re going to be OK.

Monday, December 17, 2012

My two cents worth



On December 14, 2012, Michigan lawmakers in both the House and Senate passed SB 59, which would enable individuals with concealed weapons (there are 351,599 of them in the state currently) to carry their weapons into schools, day cares, hospitals, dorms, casinos, and any public entertainment venue with a capacity of more than 2500 people. The bill would also make it easier to obtain a concealed weapon permit. As you may suspect, the bill is opposed by the Michigan Sheriff’s Association, the Michigan Association of School Administrators, and at least a few of the churches in the state.

The bill won’t become law until Governor Rick Snyder signs it. In view of the national outrage over the school shootings in Connecticut, he would be “less than prudent” if he signed the thing into law.

Politicians of all stripes have expressed their sympathy for the families of the victims, and President Obama used his strongest language to date on the topic when he said he would use “whatever power this office holds” to stop further gun massacres.

Stricter gun laws are only the part of the answer. I’ve already written my congressman, and asked him to lobby for a NATIONAL law that emulates California’s gun laws, which are currently the strictest in the country:

how tough are gun laws in YOUR state?

As the chart in the above link indicates, the vast majority of the gun laws in the country are rated as “weakest” by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Even though Connecticut is listed as having strong gun laws, it’s apparent that laws alone aren’t the only answer.

It's also very clear that arming teachers isn't the right solution, nor is allowing more guns in our society. The United States has, by far, the highest rate of gun ownership per capita in the world, but the annual homicide rate by firearms is TEN TIMES the combined total of the rest of the "high income" developed countries..

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 26.2% of the American population suffers from type of mental illness, which means that it would be virtually impossible to prevent most of them from creating mayhem. The only possible way to prevent some of these folks from creating havoc with a firearm is to make sure that it is much more difficult for EVERYBODY to get access to a gun.

If you haven't purchased a gun lately, it may surprise you to know that both Federal and state gun purchase applications ask, "have you ever been declared incompetent or involuntarily committed to a mental institution?". In the vast majority of cases, neither state or Federal authorities verify the answer to the question. Even if an individual has a verifiable mental illness problem, it's unlikely that they'll make it into the National Instant Background Check System (NICS). In Colorado, it was determined that only 1% of the people with disqualifying mental health histories make it onto the NICS.

Beyond limiting access to guns, it’s also important to change society’s ATTITUDE towards guns, and I’ll give you a few quick examples:



1) For the third year in a row, the Scottsdale Gun Club took pictures of kids with Santa - and a firearm - which caused me to mail a letter to the manager of the club this morning urging him to stop all further events of this type. In my opinion, it was a foolish idea in 2010, an irresponsible idea in 2011 (the year that Gabrielle Giffords and 18 other people were shot in Tucson), and it became absolutely stupid this year when the first event was held less than 4 months after the Colorado theater shootings.

If you’d like to write your own letter, the contact information is as follows:

Mr. Ron Kennedy, club manager

Scottsdale Gun Club

14860 North Northsight Boulevard

Scottsdale, AZ 85260

The club’s website address is shown below:

would you like to rent a machine gun?

2) On April 28, 2011, the Arizona legislature passed a bill naming the Colt revolver the official gun of the State of Arizona, and Governor Brewer signed the bill. Bear in the mind that this bill was signed into law less than three months after Gabrielle Giffords and 18 other people were shot in Tucson. Since this bill is unbelievably stupid, I'm going to write some letters to the legislature once they reconvene in January, and ask them to reverse the bill.

3-28)

Charlotte Bacon, 6

Daniel Barden, 7

Rachel Davino, 29

Olivia Engel, 6

Josephine Gay, 7

Ana Marguez-Greene, 6

Dylan Hockley, 6

Dawn Hochsprung, 47

Madeline Hsu, 6

Catherine Hubbard, 6

Chase Kowalski, 7

Jesse Lewis, 6

James Mattiolli, 6

Grace McDonnell, 7

Anne Marie Murphy, 52

Emilie Parker, 6

Jack Pinto, 6

Noah Pozner, 6

Caroline Previdi, 6

Jessica Rekos, 6

Avielle Richman, 6

Lauren Rousseau, 30

Mary Sherlach, 56

Victoria Soto, 27

Benjamin Wheeler, 6

Allison Wyatt, 6

To quote Forrest Gump, that’s all that I got to say.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

that's a lot of bull



Life was good for 37 year old Chad Callahan.



In September, he had been promoted to the position of strategic accounts manager at the Lincoln, Nebraska-based metal finishing company where he had worked for the last 15 years.

He and his wife, Tracy, had been blessed with two of the most wonderful kids in the world, their three year old daughter Cayle, and their one year old son Cooper, and he often thought of them as he made the 20 mile trip west to his job in Lincoln in the early hours of the morning. Chad and Tracy had recently celebrated Thanksgiving with his parents, Brent and Connie, in the small town of Fremont, Nebraska. This year, his brother Kevin had been able to join them in the festivities.

When he left his home at 5:30 on the morning of November 29, he didn’t have a care in the world. More than likely, he was mentally preparing himself for his day at work, and really wasn’t paying a lot of attention to the rural landscape that he passed through every morning.

Just a few miles after leaving home, his 2003 Dodge Stratus crested one of the many hills on the rural road that led to the Jerome and Betty Warner Memorial Highway, and he suddenly found himself staring at a large Angus bull that had wandered on to the road from a nearby field.

Quickly, he slammed on the brakes on his car, but was unable to avoid hitting the 2000 pound animal, and the force of the collision threw it into the air. When it came down, it landed squarely on the roof of his car, which collapsed immediately. Although the coroner’s report is still pending, it is likely that he died instantly from the collision.

After dropping off their kids at the day care center, his wife Tracy was on the same road less two hours later, traveling to HER job in Lincoln. As she approached the scene of the crash, she noticed flashing lights, and she slowed to see what had happened. With a sickening feeling, she realized that the demolished vehicle that was sitting on the side of the road looked familiar, and she approached one of the sheriff’s deputies for more information. She convinced him to let her get closer to the vehicle. Although it was virtually impossible to determine who the driver was, she noticed that her husband’s briefcase was lying on the back seat, and her worst fears were concerned.

A few days later, she drove to his company to meet with the human resources manager, in order to determine the benefits that she would be entitled to under his group insurance coverage. When she saw his desk, her eyes immediately filled with tears, because it was LOADED with flowers and notes of sympathy.

Chad’s story is real. I never knew him, and I’ll never meet his family, but I’m very familiar with one of the other people whose life he touched nearly on a daily basis.

Chad’s story, although it’s sad, can provide some important lessons to all of us:

1) Chad will never again be able to ride his beloved horses (he owned six), he'll never be able to watch his children graduate from college, and he and Tracy will never again be able to celebrate their wedding anniversary. (This coming July 17 would have been their 14th.) None of us know when our last day on earth will be, which is why it’s important to always live each day as though it were your last. Set aside your grudges, treat everyone with kindness, and pay attention to your spiritual well being.

2) As you travel through life, you’ll encounter a lot of bull. Some will come your way because of your work environment, and some will linked to your personal relationships. The vast majority of the time, it won’t hurt you, but always be prepared with a back up plan in case it does.

3) This time of the year, it’s easy to forgot about the things that are actually the most important in our life. From this point forward, when you celebrate Thanksgiving, GIVE THANKS for your blessings. From this point forward, when you celebrate Christmas, pause to remember WHY we celebrate a day so powerful that it once brought a day of truce to a war in a field in France on December 25, 1914, and bear in mind that it has NOTHING to do with Black Friday (which has now become Black Thursday). From this point forward, LISTEN TO THE WORDS when you play those tired old Christmas songs, because they still contain an important message.

O Holy Night.

Finally, from this point forward, pay attention to the words of the Holy Scripture, since they are the Word of God:

Mary did you know

Friday, December 7, 2012

Happy birthday, Jim Yong Kim !



Jim Yong Kim will become 52 years old on December 8.



Up until a few days ago, I had no idea who this man was, and I’m willing to bet that you had never heard of him either. I discovered him due to the fact that we live in a “hyper-connected” world, and his name was mentioned (on the same day) by two different people that I’m connected to on a site called Linkedin.

You can read his complete bio at the link below, but I’ll give you a quick summary to save you some time.

who is Jim Kim?

He was born in Seoul, South Korea, but he and his family moved to Iowa when he was five years old. His father taught dentistry at the University of Iowa, and his mother earned her PhD in philosophy. Following in his parents’ footsteps, Mr. Kim became a very accomplished scholar himself. After earning an M.D. from Harvard in 1991, he earned a PhD in anthropology from the same institute in 1993. His wife, Younsook Lim, is a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital in Boston.

In case you’re starting to think that he’s a nerdy college professor, you may be interested in the fact that he plays basketball, volleyball, tennis, and golf, and he also likes rap music.

like looking for a needle in a Haystak

In March of 2009, he became the 17th President of Dartmouth College, the first Asian American to hold that post. In March of 2012, President Obama nominated him as the next President of the World Bank, and on July 1 of 2012, he started working in his new position. He is the first bank leader whose professional background is not in the financial or political sectors, and he is the first to have previous experience in personally tackling health issues in developing countries.

There are those who feel that Mr. Kim’s first act should be to shut down the bank, but that would be EXACTLY the wrong thing to do.

He is uniquely qualifed to lead an organization whose mission has changed significantly since its founding in 1944. His five point plan for fighting disease and poverty will help to not only bring increased prosperity to countries around the globe, but will make the world an increasingly safer place.

He’s also a BIG believer in global warming.



Although regular viewers of FOX News, and certain talk show hosts and politicians have their doubts, there’s absolutely no question that global warming DOES exist, and needs to be dealt with. If you have the time, I’d recommend reviewing the 85 page report (which Dr. Kim signed) that the World Bank released in November of 2012.

In closing, I’d like to wish Dr. Kim a very happy birthday. For the sake of all of us, though, I’d like him to go easy on those birthday candles.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Love cannot be silenced



I graduated from a Catholic grade school named St. Pascal Baylon way back in 1961. Although I wasn’t able to attend, my graduation class held a 50 year reunion on October 8, 2011, which was preceded by another gathering the group had organized in 2007.



Of the sixteen teachers that we had during our tenure, 11 of them were nuns, and our school principals were Sister Alice Gertrude (1959 through 1956) and Sister Sophia (1956-1962).

As I recall, class sizes were usually in the range of 40 to 50 kids, which would horrify most modern educators. Our Pastor, Father John V. Ryan, would personally pass out report cards on “report card day”, which turned out to be a source of great anxiety for some of my fellow students.

If your parents were members of the parish, your school tuition was very minimal. If your parents had a LOT of kids (the Sachi family had 12 kids, and the Chapeau family had 13) tuition was absolutely free.

I still remember that Sister Sophia was a very intimidating principal, and that Sister Resignata was an absolute peach. Their fellow religious instructors were Sister Anthony Therese, Sister Clarilla, Sister Beatrice Ann, Sister Theodora, Sister Joan Mary, Sister Thomasine, Sister Margarita, Sister Camille, Sister Delphine, and Sister Myra.

I was in the group that had Miss Peltier for 6th grade instead of Sister Margarita. I won’t say that she was crazy, but I saw her come “unhinged” a whole lot of times.

The nuns belonged to an order called the Sisters of St. Joseph. Even though I haven’t belonged to a Catholic parish for more than 20 years, I still have fond memories of those old nuns.

The Sisters of St. Joseph were in the news recently, but for a very strange reason. The group had come under criticism by the Vatican for focusing too much on poverty and economic justice, and “keeping silent” on abortion and same sex marriage. If you’re a good student of history, you’re aware of the fact that abortions and same sex unions existed during the time of Christ, who preferred to focus on poverty and economic justice, but you’re not going to find that information in The Baltimore Catechism.

The New York Times article about the order is worth reading in its entirety, but here’s the short version:

Sister Kathy Sherman, of La Grange Park, Illinois, has belonged to the order of the Sisters of St. Joseph of La Grange since 1980, just a few years after graduating from college. Although she always starts her day with prayer, she has a different view of prayer than most people.

“I don’t just pray and go to work. My work is my prayer. They’re not separate. It’s a wholeness. The contemplative life nurtures my ministry, and my ministry nurtures my contemplative life”.

Sister Kathy has been playing the guitar since her college days. Two days after the Vatican issued its condemnation of her order, she wrote another song, which she titled “Love cannot be silenced”. Even if you’re not a Catholic, it’s worth listening to:

Love cannot be silenced.

I’m a firm believer in not criticizing the religion of others, and I’m also adamant about separating religion and politics, as was Barry Goldwater.

Having said that though, there ARE times that it’s appropriate to consider a blending of the two. Like most of us, Sister Kathy became disturbed by the negative tone of the recent Presidential campaign, and she wrote a song about it. It doesn’t matter whether you voted for Romney or Obama, but it DOES matter that we are all Americans, and ALL of us should listen to “This is the America I Believe In”.

Many people aren’t aware that there are Roman Catholic women priests celebrating Mass in this country. If you’d like to know more about that topic, the video titled “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican” is now available.

It’s unlikely that the Vatican will recognize any of them in the near future, but it WILL happen eventually. After all, women served as ministers in the early days of the Catholic church until the 4th century.

If you’re not happy about the Vatican’s recent criticism of the order of St. Joseph, and you belong to a Catholic parish, the solution is simple: write a letter to your bishop. Public opinion can be surprisingly effective in bringing about change, and I’d be willing to bet that some of people pictured below could help bring about that change.







Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Let them eat .. crow



During the reign of Louis XVI in France, the staple food of the French peasants (who likely made up more than 47% of the population) was bread. Incredibly, the purchase of bread consumed as much as 50% of their income.

When his wife, Marie Antoinette, learned that there was a bread shortage during one of the famines that occurred during her husband’s reign, she has alleged to have said, “let them eat cake”.. Her disdain for the working class ultimately proved to be very costly to her personally, as she became a victim of the guillotine on October 16, 1793.

If you dig a little deeper into the history of Marie Antoinette’s comment, you’ll discover that there’s a bit of “urban legend” in her story, but it makes for a good segue into another topic, the 2012 Presidential election. Since by now we’re all very tired of politics, and glad that the whole thing is over, you’ll be relieved to know that politics will only get a brief mention in this article.

One of the fascinating components of the English language are the idioms that are part of our everyday language. One of those idioms is “eating crow”, and it is defined as suffering humiliation by admitting wrongness after having been proved wrong after taking a strong position. Although the phrase could be used in any number of situations, its application seems to be more common in the areas of sports, investments - and politics.

The phrase came to mind recently when I read an opinion column by a conservative columnist named Wayne Allen Root on November 1, where he predicted that Mitt Romney would win the Presidency by a landslide. You can read his reasons, and watch his video, by clicking on the link below:

Oops!

You’ll also be interested to know that CNBC’s stock analyst Jim Cramer recently predicted that President Obama would win by a landslide. That’s closer to the truth, if you consider the electoral college vote, but way off the mark if you’re looking at Obama’s razor thin popular vote margin of victory.

Since I enjoy “stirring the pot” occasionally, I’m going to have a little fun with these predictions, mainly at the expense of Wayne Allen Root. Thanks to the magic of Google, I was able to find some recipes for cooking crow. I’m sending him a copy of the recipes, along with a copy of his column of November 1.

The most famous political gaffe in the last 100 years was the headline in the November 3, 1948, Chicago Daily Tribune that declared the Dewey had defeated Truman.

Inevitably, there was a modern version of this headline in June of 2012, when both CNN and FOX erroneously declared that the Affordable Care Act had been overturned by the Supreme Court.



Most people would consider Fortune magazine to be a fairly good predictor of investments, but their predictions for the decade of 2000 to 2010 were way off the mark..

The best example of “the experts being wrong” was the investment strategy of the Hunt brothers in the early 1970’s. By the end of the 1970’s, the Hunt brothers (and their Arab partners) owned roughly 50% of the world’s supply of silver. By the time the silver market had collapsed, in 1987, the Hunt brothers wound up losing a very ugly $1 billion.

There are many contenders for the worst sports predictions, but the list posted below is worth considering:

are you sure about that?

If you veer away from politics, investments, and sports, you’ll find that predictions, in ANY AREA, are fraught with peril:

who the hell wants to hear actors talk?

Since we’re only human, ALL of us make mistakes from time to time. Take a few minutes, and reflect on YOUR favorite mistake. When you’re done, I’d recommend watching the video shown below, since it describes

the favorite mistakes - of a Crow.

For the rest of the day, though, be very careful. After all, every day is a winding road.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Halloween love story



Most of us would consider Halloween to be a fun time of the year - a time for costume parties, trick or treating, and pumpkin carving. I actually know a few people who aren’t in favor of all the festivities that normally occur on October 31, probably because it was originally a PAGAN celebration a long, long, time ago.

The same people would likely be horrified if they knew that the ancient pagan festival known as Saturnalia is the basis for Christmas. Although the exact dates of the celebration varied a little through the centuries, the "Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun" was celebrated in the later Roman Empire on December 25.

The ancient Celts date back as far as 1000 years before the birth of Christ, and possibly even further back than that. One of the most important of their celebrations was Samhain (pronounced Sow-en), which marked the end of the harvest, and the end of summer. The date was also considered to be the start of the Celtic New Year. The Celts believed that this was the day when two worlds (the living and the dead) came together. Because the Celts believed that some of those “other worldly” spirits could cause mischief, they left food for them. They also lit huge bonfires because they believed that the light from the fires would drive the evil spirits away, and they dressed in costumes made of animal hides to fool “the bad guys”. To help the GOOD spirits, they carved lanterns out of vegetables in order to light their way into the world.

After the Romans conquered the Celts, they adopted many of the ancient Celtic celebrations, including Samhain. The Romans modified the celebration to include several other pagan celebrations, and changed the name to All Hallows Day. However, in about 700 A.D., Pope Gregory III changed the date of the celebration from October 31 to November 1, and changed the name to All Saints Day.

(There is an unusual twist to All Saints Day "south of the border", where the dead are commemorated on both November 1 and November 2. In most regions of Mexico, children are commemorated on November 1 in a festival known as Dia de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents) and adults are commemorated on Dia de los Difuntos (Day of the Dead). Ironically enough, both celebrations can be traced back to the indigenous pagan cultures of Mexico nearly 3000 years ago.)

The day remained a religious holiday for hundreds of years, but by the mid-1800’s, it had evolved into a day that resembled a communal celebration. In the mid 1800’s, the Irish potato famine brought millions of Irish people to America, along with their communal celebration activities. At this point, the celebrations included dressing in costumes, but the medieval practice of going door to door asking for food or money was still dormant.

By the early 1920’s, Halloween pranks and mischief (such as outhouse tipping) had evolved into more sinister occurrences, such as vandalism, property damage, and even physical assaults. Schools and communities developed a concept similar to “trick or treating” to counter “the bad guys”, and the Boy Scouts also got involved in similar projects.

The first recorded community celebration of Halloween occurred in Anoka, Minnesota in 1920, which has caused that city to call itself the “Halloween Capitol of the World”, but the first recorded us of the phrase “trick or treat” was in 1934, when it appeared in a Portland, Oregon newspaper.

Now that you know more about the historical background of Halloween, you’re probably wondering how celebration of the day can turn into a love story.



The best way to answer that question is to let Belfast native Van Morrisson answer it for you:

Happy New Year

Who knows? This could be a magic time for you as well.



Thursday, October 25, 2012

Music from beyond the grave



Vincent Price passed away 19 years ago today, at the age of 82.



Although he had a long and storied film career, he will probably be best remembered for his 1982 collaboration with the late Michael Jackson on Jackson’s Thriller album. Although you can watch the original video by clicking here, you’ll be happy to know that you can now watch an UPDATED version by clicking on this spot, even though both Mr. Price and Mr. Jackson are no longer with us.

Since Halloween will arrive in less than a week, you’re probably wondering if I’ll be publishing a story about the origin, or customs, of the modern version of an ancient pagan festival. For now, I’m going to leave you in suspense. However, since we’re less than two weeks ago from another Presidential election , I’ll leave you with a few words of wisdom from Vincent Price himself:

“In art, religion, and politics, the respect must be mutual, no matter how violent the disagreement”.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Little house on the prairie





In January of 1913, the winter weather was particularly harsh in Washington Country, Minnesota.

On one of those nights, 30 year old Martin Stenson and his 27 year old bride, Amelia, huddled together in their little rented farm house, trying to stay warm as the blustery winds from the north howled outside. Sometime during the evening, nature took its course, and on October 23, 1913, the second child of their marriage came into the world. The named her Anna, in honor of Amelia’s mother, Anna, who had died in childbirth.



Martin had been born in Country Sligo, Ireland, on November 24, 1882, but both of his parents died of the plague when he was a small boy. He eventually wound up working in the coal mines in England to support himself, but emigrated to America to be with some of his siblings, who were working on a farm near the town of Hastings, Minnesota. A few years later, he met a young woman named Amelia Karnick, whom we married on May 3, 1911.

After Martin and Amelia got married, they rented a little farm house close to Hastings, Minnesota. The little rented farmhouse eventually fell into disrepair, and was finally burned down by the local fire department as part of one of its training courses. When Martin and his family lived there , they had no electricity or running water, and he had to chop wood for heat. The fact that the young family managed to grow and prosper is a testimony to the remarkable tenacity of the pioneers of this country, and to the peer group of my mother and her siblings, who lived through two world wars and the Great Depression, and eventually became known as “the Greatest Generation”.



Their first child, Grace Magdalene, was born on January 26, 1912. “Amazing Grace” lived to be 95 years old, and is survived by her 7 remaining children, her brother Harold (now 91 years old) and a LOT of grand children and great grand children.

The marriage of Martin and Amelia also produced 4 other children - Edward, Harold, Fern, and Bernard, but I have a special connection to the child called Anna, and for a very good reason.

She was my mother.

For most of her life, she preferred to be called by her middle name, Mae. For that reason, her tombstone at Ft. Snelling cemetery lists her name as Mae Anna Brennan.

If she were still alive today, she would be 99 years old tomorrow, and I usually think about her, at least briefly, on the 23rd of October. I’ll have to admit, though, that her “place of her origin” comes into my thought process a lot less, and that’s a shame.

Martin and Amelia bought a nearby farm from a relative in the fall of 1929, just before the start of the Great Depression, but managed to make mortgage payments even when times were tough. Their son, Harold, still lives there today.

About the time that my mother was born, 41% of the workforce in America was employed on farms, and roughly 25% of our country’s GDP was from agriculture. Today, agriculture produces less than 5% of our GDP, and less than 2% of the population works in agriculture.

We’ve changed a lot in the last 100 years, but one thing is very clear. For a great many people, we wouldn’t be who we are today if it weren’t for a remarkable institution - a little house on the prairie.

Friday, October 19, 2012

That's a bunch of malarkey



Technical Sergeant Donald G. Malarkey, a highly decorated WWII hero, was born on July 31, 1921. He served in the 101st Airborne while in the service, and was later portrayed in the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers” by Scott Grimes.



He is still living today, in comfortable retirement, in Astoria, Oregon.

Very few people have ever heard of him, but by now, most of the people on the planet have a rough idea what “malarkey” means, thanks to this recent video:

2012 Vice Presidential debate

Like many words, the origin of the word “malarkey” is a little murky, but its first known use was in 1929, 8 years after Sergeant Malarkey came into the world. I actually remember my parents using the word occasionally when I was growing up, since their “Minnesota Nice” background would have made it difficult for them to use anything stronger than that.

Surprisingly, there are NUMEROUS synonyms for the word, which you can find in the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Applesauce

Balderdash

Baloney

Beans

Bilge

Blah

Blarney

Blather

Blatherskite

Blither

Bosh

Bull

Bunk

Bunkum

Claptrap

Codswallop

Crapola

Crock

Drivel

Drool

Fiddle

Fiddle-faddle

Fiddlesticks

Flannel

Flapdoodle

Folderol

Folly

Foolishness

Fudge

Garbage

Guff

Hogwash

Hokey pokey

Hokkum

Hoodoo

Hooey

Horse feathers

Humbug

Humbuggery

Jazz

Nonsense

Moonshine

Muck

Nerts

Nuts

Piffle

Poppycock

Punk

Rot

Rubbish

Senselessness

Silliness

Slush

Stupidity

Taradiddle

Tommyrot

Tosh

Trash

Trumpery

Twaddle

There are those who feel that the Vice President should have been more respectful to the young whipper-snapper from Wisconsin, and I’ve even seen some Biblical references (Proverbs 29:9) to the debate, but here’s my opinion:

Politics has long been considered to be a nasty sport in this country, all the way back to its early days. In the 1796 campaign between Adams and Jefferson, Adams’ backers called Jefferson a “howling atheist”, and Jefferson’s people charged that Adams was going to rip up the Constitution and make himself king, and his sons princes.

In view of the mean-spirited commentary coming from people like Sean Hannitty and Rush Limbaugh, I found that Joe Biden’s gentle poke at Paul Ryan simply made for good theater, and that’s all that I got to say.

Dadgummit

If you want more wisdom than that, it would be like looking for a needle in a Haystak.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Strider Society



When I lived in the Chicago area, I was able to attend FIVE separate Johnnie Walker tasting events. Although I had long been a fan of single malt scotches, the very first event that I attended convinced me that blended scotch whiskey was actually pretty good stuff after all, and maybe there IS a reason why Johnnie Walker is the most popular scotch whiskey in the world.

Not long after attending my first event, I joined the Johnnie Walker Striding Man Society. In “corporate speak”, the Striding Man Society is “a relationship management program for Johnnie Walker brand whiskey. The purpose of the relationship management program is to cultivate a qualified group of consumers and brand loyalists. Johnnie Walker offers members special offers and opportunities not available to the general public.”



I’m also now “friends” with Johnnie Walker on Facebook.

Incidentally, you can also be friends with “Bill W” on Facebook, but he doesn't have as many friends as Johnnie.

If you don’t know who “Bill W” is, consider yourself lucky.

Johnnie Walker has long been known as "The Man Who Walked Around The World". In 2009, the very talented Scottish actor, Robert Carlyle, starred in this Johnnie Walker television commercial:

what James Bond film did this man appear in?

Sad to say, I don’t have ANY Johnnie Walker in my liquor cabinet at the moment, but the bottle pictured below is a pretty good substitute for the time being:



However, since it’s $54 a bottle (for the LEAST EXPENSIVE version) it’s going to be a very rare treat.

Around the time that I turned 65, I became a member of the LOCAL strider society, thanks to my favorite sister, who sent me a pedometer for my birthday. On most afternoons, I’ll walk between 3 and 5 miles, but I got a little more ambitious one day last week, when I walked 13,328 steps, or roughly 7.5 miles. In view of the fact that some of my “peer group” has already had knee surgery, and would have trouble walking around the block, that’s a pretty significant accomplishment. Walking has long been considered to be the most perfect form of exercise. Believe it or not, there are actually people who MAKE A LIVING by walking.

For a number of years, the slogan for Camel cigarettes was “ I’d walk a mile for a Camel”. I never did that, but on more than one occasion, I rode my bicycle 40 miles (one way) for a Reuben sandwich.

I plan to just “keep on walking” for the foreseeable future. If the lottery gods smile on me, I’ll add the following bottle to my collection:



Until that happens, I’m gonna keep on strollin’.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Oh, what a gem she is !



Most of us are familiar with a few of the more common wedding anniversary symbols, principally the ones for the 25th (silver), the 50th (gold) and the 75th (diamond), but would be hard pressed to come up with the symbols for most of the other anniversaries.

A few of the “modern” symbols may cause you to wonder a bit, since the symbols for the 4th (electrical appliances) and the 7th (desk set) don’t seem particularly romantic. Most of the women that I know wouldn’t be very excited about getting a new toaster for their 4th wedding anniversary, or a new pen set for their 7th.

Once you get beyond the 25th anniversary, wedding symbols (on both modern and traditional lists) are all some type of gem, and the symbol for the 40th anniversary (on both lists) is the ruby, which is pictured below:



For thousands of years, ruby has been considered one of the most valuable gemstones on earth, and even diamond was considered common in comparison to the supreme beauty and value of the glowing red gem. To the ancients, the ruby was a representation of the sun, and represented integrity, devotion, happiness, healing, courage, romance, generosity, inspiration, and prosperity.

Not by coincidence, those qualities also apply to a lady that I first met in the basement of a church Quonset hut in St. Paul, Minnesota roughly 45 years ago. We both had joined a church group called A.C.C., and we showed up to take square dance lessons in a small (and hot) location with a handful of other young Catholics.

We apparently made some type of connection, since we got married 5 years later, on October 6, 1972, a date that is now 40 years in the past. Ever since that time, our lives together have been an adventure, and things started out with a bang a week after our wedding, when we got hit by a deer on our honeymoon.

On Friday the 13th.

If I had to sum up, in one short sentence, how I would describe my wife, I’d have to say that she definitely is a gem. We’ve cried together, we’ve laughed together, we’ve fought, we’ve made up, we’ve enjoyed some good times, and we’ve endured some tough times, but we’re still married 40 years later.

Both of us were fortunate to come from very good families, which likely had a lot to due with our marital longevity, but there’s also another element that most of us don’t think about too often.

The nuns.

Apparently those nuns in grade school taught us well, since the majority of the people in our “peer group” are still married to their first spouse.

Depending on which source that you use, the general consensus is that the divorce rate in America is right around 50%. Given those dismal odds, what are the chances that a marriage would last 40 years?

Since Sharon and I will be celebrating our 40th anniversary on October 6, I became curious about what percentage of American marriages last for 40 years, and the link below provides some interesting information.

you may now kiss the bride

If you take marriages of all age groups in America, 83% make it to five years. 55% make it to 15 years, 35% make it to 25 years, and 6% make it to the 50th anniversary.

For the baby boomer generation, though, there’s an interesting twist. 60% of the baby boomer men, and just around 50% of the baby boomer women, have celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary, or will do so in the very near future. Given that the baby boomers came of age at the peak of the sexual revolution, why does my “peer group” seem to have better success at marital longevity than other age groups?

One of the best lines in the recent movie, “Hope Springs”, was one that was quoted by Dr. Bernie Feld (played by Steve Carrell) - “even good marriages have bad years”. That’s been true of our marriage, and it’s certainly been true of the marriages of many of the other people that we know.



I’ve read (a couple of times) “Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps”, and there’s a similar book on the market titled “Men Are Like Waffles, and Women Are Like Spaghetti”. After reading either book, you’ll marvel at the fact that people of the opposite gender can live together at all.

Sharon and I have learned to be more tolerant of each other’s quirks, and to be more forgiving of each other’s faults. In our case, one of the most important elements in our longevity has been the fact that we try as hard as we can to laugh as often as possible. Since those attitudes probably apply to many other “boomer” marriages as well, there must be more to the story.

I grew up during the “Ozzie and Harriet” years, when role models were stricter, and society as a whole was less tolerant of views that were different than the norm. As a group, we’re more open minded than our parents were, even though they provided us with a pretty good moral compass as a starting point.

As a group, we’re also more optimistic than the generation that struggled through the Great Depression and WWII, and we seem to be more willing to discuss our differences than our parents did, who believed in staying together, through “thick and thin”.

Since relationships are complicated (to say the least), there are probably OTHER reasons why our marriages have been successful. If we had to be honest, though, all those nuns with pointers in their hands deserve a little credit as well.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Go directly to jail



Do not pass go.

Do not collect $200.



MacGyver ran for seven seasons on ABC (and several foreign networks) from 1985 through 1992. MacGyver was a troubleshooter for the fictional Phoenix Foundation. Whenever possible, he used non-violent solutions to the problems at hand, and he refused to carry a gun. He frequently solved complex problems with everyday materials that he found at hand, along with his ever-present duct tape and Swiss Army knife.

Both of our kids were in high school when the series was on television, and science teachers frequently used some of the tricks that they saw on TV as tools to teach their students about science.

One of those tricks was the “MacGyver bomb”. To make one, all you needed was an empty two liter soda bottle, some aluminum foil, and some liquid drain cleaner. If you crumbled up small bits of aluminum foil, put them in the bottom of the empty soda bottle, added an inch or two of drain cleaner, closed the top, and waited for about a minute, you’d have a nice little explosion.

Our son learned how to make one in HIS science class, and for a short time afterwards, he and his friends blew off a few in front of our house in Aurora.

If you’ve ever seen the movie, “Dumb and Dumber”, you’ll appreciate the fact that young men occasionally decide to make choices that aren’t very smart. Either Brian or his friend Paul (also known as Lee) reasoned that if the bomb was fun to listen to during the middle of the day, it would clearly be AWESOME to put one in someone’s mailbox at 3:00 in the morning.

So they did.

At 3:00 in the morning, there aren’t a lot of people driving around, but the milk drivers from Oberweis dairy in Aurora, Illinois are already starting to make their rounds. One of the Oberweis drivers witnessed Brian and Paul walking away from a now-shattered mailbox, and called Aurora’s finest.

At 4:00 in the morning, I heard loud voices in the kitchen downstairs, so went downstairs to yell at Brian and his friend. In addition to Brian and Paul, a policeman from the city was also in the kitchen, and he explained to me what Brian and Paul had done.

Brian and Paul spent the rest of the day here:



From the city jail, Brian and Paul were transported to the DuPage County government center to face charges. Because the judge had heard the word “bomb” and “mail box”, he made the assumption that the two young men had used a genuine explosive device to blow up one of the large mail boxes owned by the U.S. Postal Service. Since destroying one of those big guys is a Federal offense (and a felony), the charges brought against the two were two class A misdemeanors, and a felony charge. Somehow, one or both of them managed to convince the judge of the true nature of their offense, and the felony charge, and one of the misdemeanor charges, were dropped. Each of them was required to replace the homeowner’s mailbox, pay a $250 fine, and do 1000 hours of community service.

Neither Brian or Paul had any further scrapes with the authorities, and the mailbox incident, 18 years in the past, has long since been forgotten.

Until this week.

Brian recently passed the Illinois state examination to be a real estate leasing agent in Chicago. He had successful interviews with at least 4 companies, and finally chose to work for the largest, and oldest, leasing company in the city.

As part of the hiring practice, of course, the company did a background check on Brian. When the human resources department found a felony on Brian’s record, they naturally were concerned, and contacted Brian’s boss, who then had a “conversation” with Brian.

Due to today’s job market, anyone with a felony on their record wouldn’t even be granted an interview with many employers. Fortunately, Brian’s new employer gave him an opportunity to explain his crime. Yesterday, he drove out to the DuPage Government center and obtained copies of the court case, which showed that the felony charge was dropped EIGHTEEN YEARS AGO. He is meeting with the H.R. department again this morning, and does not anticipate any further problems .

During our phone conversation yesterday, though, both of us had the same thought. How many other people aren’t being hired because of mistake in judgment years ago that they have long since forgotten about? That also may explain, in part, the gang problem that Chicago and most other cities have. If you can’t get a decent job because of a youthful indiscretion , you are frequently forced to a life of crime to support yourself and your family.

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.

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 ESPECIALLY since it enriches the coffers of the Corrections Corporation of America and the politicians it supports.

In October 2010, the SB 1070 bill, which Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce sponsored in the legislature, came under criticism for benefiting private prison companies. Most of the language of the bill had been written as model legislation at a December 2009 meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), where Pearce was joined as an attendee by officials of the company Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). CCA "executives believe immigrant detention is their next big market" according to National Public Radio.

In order to maintain its "cash cow", CCA spends a lot of money on lobbying. From 1999 through 2009, the company spent $18,000,000 on lobbying expenses. In view of the fact that the company had a net profit of $1.7 billion in 2010, it certainly was money well spent. Another private prison company, The Geo Group, made a net profit of $1.2 billion the same year.

lock 'em up and throw away the key?

What does it take to become a felon these days? Unfortunately, not much.

If you’re a baby boomer, you’ve probably tried marijuana at some point in your life. Even former President Bill Clinton has admitted to its use. Fortunately, though, he never inhaled any of the nasty weed.

Penalties for marijuana possession vary widely by state. In some states, possession of as little as ¾ of an ounce will make you a felon (Florida), but it takes a full kilogram to be considered a felon in Alabama. Currently, 14 states have decriminalized the possession of minor amounts of marijuana.

Forty years ago, one of my co-workers gave me a cigar-sized “joint”, which I smoked in one of our honeymoon cottages in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I DID inhale, but don’t remember feeling much effect from it, or even enjoying it that much. If one of the local gendarmes had caught me, I would have been tagged a felon, since 20 grams is all it takes in Michigan to make possession a heinous crime.

As Arlo Guthrie discovered years ago, while sitting on the Group W bench in New York City, even littering and disturbing the peace can keep you out of the Army, but I decided that joining the Minnesota National Guard was a more practical solution.

You’ve just read over 1000 words, so what kind of a picture does that leave you with?

The best answer that I can give you is this:

Brian’s heart-pounding, hyper-ventilating, experience at his new job will turn out to be just fine, but it provides some important lessons for all of us:

1) The tough on crime approach isn’t always the best solution. Although Sheriff Joe may think that pink underwear and tents for inmates are the best way to prevent crime, the facts don’t support his approach. From 2002 through 2009, violent crime has DECREASED in all Arizona police jurisdictions - except in Maricopa County. Sheriff Arpaio’s district has seen a 58% INCREASE in violent crime since 2002. To show that his priorities are in the right place, though, the good sheriff sent a deputy to Hawaii earlier this year to verify President Obamas’s birth certificate. He is now 80 years old, and he’s running for re-election.

2) Possession of marijuana is illegal in most of the countries of the world, but a handful of them have decriminalized the possession of minor amounts, as have 14 states in the United States. You can find ample reasons NOT to make drugs of all types legal, but even Forbes magazine feels that it’s time to “end the war on drugs” in America. After all, the Volstead Act produced some unintended consequences, to the delight of a guy named “Scarface”.

3) Even if your “ghosts in the closet” happened a long time ago, you can never tell when they’ll come back to haunt you. In Brian’s case, he was able to resolve his crisis, but he went through some very anxious moments in the meantime. If you’ve had ANY problems with the law in your past, go to the courthouse to review your records. You may be able to correct a problem that you had long since forgotten about before it causes problems for you in the future.

To quote American author Flannery O’Connor, the life you save may be your own.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A nice place for uranium mining



In January of this year, the Obama administration imposed a 20 year ban on new mining claims on Federal land near the Grand Canyon. Although roughly 3000 mining claims have already been staked in the area, officials expect fewer than a dozen mines will be developed under existing claims.

Believe it or not, there WAS a time when uranium mining was done within the walls of the Grand Canyon itself. The origin of what eventually became known as the Orphan Mine dates back to a claim for a copper mine that was filed in 1893. Although copper was only mined for a couple of years, uranium eventually was mined at the location from 1956 until 1969, and a motel (the Grand Canyon Inn) operated near the mine site until 1966. Today, the location is considered to be a potential Superfund site, and millions of dollars have been spent so far in an attempt to determine the amount of contamination present at the site. As of 2008,the cost of remediation for the surface area of the mine was determined to be $15,000,000, and the cost to deal with contamination inside the mine and in a nearby creek (which drains into the Colorado River) is unknown.

Since the parties responsible for the contamination are ducking responsibility for the clean up costs, the burden has fallen to the National Park Service, which (naturally) means that we, the taxpayers, are the folks who are actually on the hook.

In addition to the uranium mining in the Grand Canyon, extensive uranium mining was conducted on the Navajo Nation. Between 1944 and 1986, over 4,000,000 tons of uranium were mined on the reservation, leaving a legacy of death and disease. The most contaminated area is the Northeast Church Rock Mine near Gallup, New Mexico, but other areas of concern are in Mexican Hat in Utah and in Tuba City. Arizona. The U.S. Environmental Agency recently provided a grant of $200,000 to Northern Arizona University to explore ways to re-mediate some of the contamination.

Fortunately, justice eventually prevailed for the Navajo Nation. In April of 2014, a $5.15 billion settlement was announced by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Grand Canyon National Park attracts more than 4,000,000 visitors a year, and generates an estimated $3.5 billion in economic activity. In addition, 26 million Americans in 4 states rely on the Colorado river for clean drinking water.

Not everyone, naturally, is in favor of the ban. Senator John McCain of Arizona (who has close ties to the two defense contractors responsible for the Orphan Mine site) and Representative Rob Bishop of Utah both feel that the ban jeopardizes jobs for no proven reason. The most entertaining (?) individual to watch on this topic, though, is Arizona State Representative Sylvia Allen, who’s of the opinion that the earth is only 6000 years old.

She’s off a bit on her numbers, of course, since the Vishnu Basement Rocks of the Grand Canyon have been determined to be slightly less than 2 billion years old. I’ll go out on a limb and say that I would consider her to be a little, um, wacky, but she has an awful lot of company.

It is estimated that nearly 50% of the adults in American would also be considered to be believers in Young Earth creationism, which means that you are VERY LIKELY to run into a few of them on your next trip to Walmart.

In case you're wondering, the man responsible for the "young earth" theory is Archbishop of Ireland James Ussher. In 1650, he estimated that the earth was created on October 23, 4004 B.C.. His work continues to be cited today by many creationists, but even Pat Robertson now believes that the earth is actually considerably older.

My front door is less than 100 miles from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Uranium mines look like this:



The Grand Canyon looks like this:



Guess which one I’d rather have in my back yard?





Wednesday, September 12, 2012

One nation under God



The Pledge of Allegiance was written by a man named Francis Bellamy in 1892. It was first published in a children’s magazine called The Youth’s Companion, and was part of the National Public School Celebration of the 400th anniversary of the day that Christopher Columbus first set foot on American soil.

The original pledge read as follows:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Bellamy was a Baptist minister, as well as a socialist, and he also wanted to include the words “equality” and “fraternity“, but decided against it due to the fact that the superintendents of education in his community were against equality for women and African-Americans.

After its original publication, the pledge was amended three more times. Eighteen years after the third revision, the Pledge was officially recognized by Congress in June of 1942, in all likelihood due to the fact that America was now officially at war with Japan, Germany, and Italy.

The Cold War officially started in 1946, and by the time that the junior senator from Wisconsin had done his damage, America had a genuine fear of all those Godless communists. In 1951, the Knights of Columbus organization started to add the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance, and on Flag Day of 1954, the words “under God” were officially incorporated into the Pledge by a Joint Resolution of Congress.



It’s impossible to know what the Founding Fathers would have thought about the various changes in the Pledge, but it’s abundantly clear that the Founding Fathers felt very strongly that religion was a private matter in which the state should not interfere. Although there IS a reference to “Nature’s God” and the “Creator” in the Declaration of Independence, there is NO reference at all to a divine being in the Constitution, and the very first amendment to the Constitution forbade the establishment of any official church or creed.

For the same reason, the currency that was issued by our new country did NOT have the words “In God We Trust” on either the coins or the paper currency.

At the height of the Civil War, the Union figured that it needed all the help that it could get, so legislation was passed on April 22, 1864 to allow inclusion of the phrase on one and two cent coins. Although the phrase was subsequently added to other coins, it wasn’t until 1938 that ALL coins included the phrase.

For the same reason that “one nation under God” was added to the Pledge in 1954, the United States officially replaced the “unofficial” motto of E pluribus Unum with an OFFICIAL motto of “In God we trust.” Three years later, Congress started to add the phrase to paper money. By 1966, ALL paper currency issued by the United States included the words “In God we trust.”

From time to time, a columnist or commentator will state the position that the United States is a Christian nation. Unfortunately, that is simply NOT the truth. Ironically, the very FIRST nation to recognize the new country of the United States was the Islamic country of Morocco, way back in 1777, and our countries have had a strong relationship ever since.

During the colonial period in America, people could be (and were) put to death for disagreeing with their pastors, and the Founding Fathers had seen enough religious wars in Europe that they felt very strongly about establishing a SECULAR, not a religious country. Modern examples of why mixing religion and state are wrong are (1) the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan and (2) the exercise of sharia law in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and a few other countries.

It IS a fact that the majority of the citizens of Amreica are Christians . To be precise, Christians make up 78.4 % of our population, and the overwhelming majority of those would be considered Protestant.

Although Catholicism is the second most popular religion in the entire world (after Islam) Catholics represent only 24% of the American population. Mormons are a tiny 1.7% of the population. Ironically, that’s the same percentage claimed by those of the Jewish faith. Muslims are less than 1% of the total.

In spite of their small percentages, though, both Jews and Muslims are the overwhelming victims of hate crimes in America. The vast majority of those hate crimes are committed by mis-guided “Christians”.



Although our Founding Fathers made every attempt to separate religion from state, there have been times throughout our history when one group or another wanted to have us return to our “Christian values”. Setting aside the fact that there’s no small irony in the fact that serial adulterers like Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh are among the group asking us to return to Christian values, what exactly ARE Christian values?

For starters, I would define acting as a Christian as acting as Christ would have acted. Using THAT definition, I actually met a lot of atheists in China who were better Christians than some of the Christians that I’ve met in America, but that’s straying from topic a bit.



Perhaps one of the best examples of Christian values is the Universal Declarations of Human Rights that was issued by the United Nations in 1948, in large part to the worldwide outrage generated by the Holocaust (which some folks still don’t believe). A copy is attached in the link above, and I’d recommend reading the entire document.

Like most modern countries, the United States has done a pretty good job of enforcing the ideals found in the United Nations document, but there are still areas that we need to improve in, even more than 60 years later. Here’s a few quick examples:

1 - Article 2 states that everyone, regardless of color, has the same rights and freedoms. However, it wasn’t until 1965 that our country passed the Voting Rights Act, and in the last two years, more than 20 states have passed voter ID laws, which were designed SPECIFICALLY to deny minorities the right to vote.

2 - Article 5 prohibits torture, but that didn’t prevent us from using “enhanced interrogation methods” about 10 years ago.

3- Article 9 prohibits arbitrary arrest, but apparently Sheriff Joe didn’t get the memo.

4 - Article 18 grants freedom of religion and thought, and includes the freedom to change religion, but I’ve met PLENTY of folks who were convinced that THEIR religion, and ONLY there religion, was the way to salvation. Since Paul Harvey once got a letter from God, I thought I’d share God’s thoughts with you:

what does a letter from Heaven sound like?

5 - Article 19 includes the right to freedom of opinion and expression, without interference. Have you ever heard of Sean Hannity?

6- Article 23 gives the right of equal pay for equal work, but it took until January of 2009 to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay act.

7 - Article 21 states that the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of the government, but Arizona has a wacky legislator (and we have a bunch of them here) who wants to have our Senators APPOINTED rather than elected.

8 - Article 23 also gives the right to form a union, but Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin didn’t get the memo, either.

9 - Article 25 gives the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care - even if the only medical care that his wife can afford is provided by Planned Parenthood.

10 - Article 25 also meshes well with the Bible. The words “poor” or “poverty” appear 446 times in 384 verse in the Bible, and the word “justice” appears 1576 times in the Old Testament and 1379 times in the New Testament.

By now, you’re probably seeing a trend.

Although our elected officials in Congress have managed to work together in the past to find bi-partisan solutions to social problems (and the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program is probably the best example) bi-partisan cooperation in Congress in recent years has gone the way of the dodo bird.

If you’ve had a chance to review Paul Ryan’s budget, or taken a closer look at the 2012 Republican Party platform, you’ll notice that the most vulnerable members of our society would potentially be at greater risk than they are now.

I’m all for Christian values. That’s why the Party that best exemplifies Christian values should continue to control the White House and the Senate, and I’d like to see them get control of the House as well.

Can I hear an Amen, brothers and sisters?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Read this book !



Even if you didn’t watch either the Republican or the Democratic conventions, you’re probably aware of the fact that NEITHER party is entirely satisfied with the state of the economy. Both parties, of course, offer competing visions on how to fix the problem, but how do we actually know WHICH solution would work better in the long run?

Since none of us have a crystal ball, the answer is very easy. All we have to do is to look at similar situations in our nation’s history, and see how our ancestors solved the problem.

The decade of the 1930’s was the most dramatic upheaval in our nation’s history, and it very nearly brought our country to the state of collapse.

One of the best books that I’ve ever read about the Great Depression is a book titled “Nothing To Fear”, written by Adam Cohen. Although the DEGREE of economic crisis in the 30’s was much more severe than we face today, the PROBLEMS that the Roosevelt administration faced are remarkably similar to the issues that we face today.



Then, as now, the Democrats and the Republicans had very different solutions to the problems at hand.

By clicking on the link below, you can get a sneak preview of the topics covered in the book, but I would STRONGLY recommend reading the book in its entirely yourself before drawing any conclusions.

Nothing To Fear

Rather than giving my viewpoint on the book, I’ll leave you with three surprising facts:

1) Although many people today might consider him to be a socialist, FDR was actually a fiscal conservative. The second bill passed by his administration was the Economy Act of 1933, which slashed the Federal Budget of $3.6 billion by $500,000,000. He also made further cuts in 1937.

2) The vast majority of the ideas of the New Deal actually weren’t Roosevelt’s, but came from a woman that most people aren’t familiar with.

3) The book spends a great deal of time discussing the Gold Standard, which the United States went off of in 1933. Surprisingly, the 2012 Republican platform advocates a RETURN to the Gold Standard.

With the full cooperation of both parties in Congress (a situation that we DON’T have today) it took a full EIGHT YEARS before our GDP returned to its 1929 level. You can draw your own conclusions from there today.

Since Roosevelt was in office for slightly more than 12 years, he’s offered a LOT of compelling advice that can help us to move forward. Attached below are just TWO of his quotations:

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

“We have always known that heedless self interest was bad morals; we now know that it is bad economics.“

The slogan for Roosevelt’s 1932 campaign was “Happy Days Are Here Again”. If we can somehow figure out a way to work TOGETHER again for the common good, we’ll eventually get to the point that we can starting singing that old tune again.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The bucket list



When I first moved to Evanston about 7 years ago, I put together a list of 25 goals that I wanted to achieve before I got to the point that I was too old and decrepit to move around without the assistance of a cane or walker.

So far, I’ve accomplished a number of them, and others may well always remain an elusive dream.

One goal that was NOT on my bucket list was mountain climbing, but it IS a goal that I recently achieved.

Mount Elden (in Flagstaff) is one of the five peaks of the greater San Francisco Peaks volcanic system, and they are all remnants of a single massive volcanic peak (nearly 20,000 feet tall) that exploded roughly 500,000 years ago.

The tallest of the San Francisco Peaks is Humphreys Peak. At 12,637 feet, it is the tallest mountain in the state of Arizona.

Just north of the dealership where Kelly and I both work is Mt. Elden. It stretches to a height of 9299 above sea level, which puts it roughly 2300 feet above “ground level” in Flagstaff.

From the air, it looks like this:



From the ground, it looks like this:



On the Saturday before my 65th birthday, Kelly and I (and dog Cody) decided to hike to the top of Mt. Elden. There are a total of 11 hiking trails on the mountain, and we chose to tackle the Elden Lookout Trail, which is the longest and most difficult. From ground level to the peak, it took us close to 3 hours to climb the 2400 feet of elevation. Once we got to the top, though, we had some pretty spectacular views:









Now that I’ve had a year to adjust to living at 7000 feel above sea level, the climb to the top wasn’t actually all that difficult. Surprisingly, the descent down was actually harder than the climb up because we used different leg muscles for the return journey, and my legs DID feel a little sore for a few days afterward.

On her first trip up Elden a few months ago, Kelly met a 70 year old man who climbs to the top 2 or 3 times every week, which proves the fact that you are literally only as old as you feel.

Now that I’ve done it once, it’s inevitable that I’ll have to do it again, Also inevitable is the fact the Kelly and I (and probably Cody) will make it to the top of Humphreys Peak at some point in time. If we DO manage to accomplish that, and if we listen very, very carefully, we’re likely to hear this tune coming out of the earth:

high on a mountain top

What’s on YOUR bucket list?