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.


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.