Monthly Archives: February 2013

To Protect and To Serve

Swat

It was going to be another busy night. Too busy. Every night was too busy.

We were crammed shoulder to shoulder in the armored personnel carrier. Every one of us carried an M-16 with a combat load – 60 rounds of 5.56 mm full metal jacket ammunition. An M-9 semi-automatic pistol was within easy reach on a drop down holster to keep it clear of the body armor. Our Kevlar helmets and our backs were clearly marked in large reflective letters, “NYPD SWAT.” We want to make sure that citizens knew we are the good guys. We protect people from dangers of all kinds.

I’d wanted to be a cop as long as I could remember, and not just any cop. No suit and detective badge for me. I wanted to be among the elite, Special Weapons And Tactics – S.W.A.T. I’d taken a degree in Criminal Justice, paid my dues as a street cop, wrote thousands of traffic tickets and broke up countless domestic squabbles before I finally made it three years ago. I spent the better part of a year undergoing intensive physical, mental and weapons training before I was officially assigned to a team.

At first it was exciting, but over time, after seeing the gritty underbelly of the big city it lost its luster. I now looked forward to the end of the shift and my days off far more than working. But, I had taken an oath, and no matter how dangerous, I would carry out my duties.

“Everybody ready?” the captain asked. He was met with a dozen thumbs up. I felt the vehicle decelerate rapidly. The rear door popped up.

“Go! Go! Go!” she shouted.

I thumbed the safety on my M-16 to full automatic and raced up the steps of the aging brownstone, hitting the glass of the front door with the butt of my rifle. A blizzard of glass fell and one of the other guys reached through and turned the door handle. Once the door was open, we all raced up the stairs to the third floor.

I could hear the police helicopter hovering overhead, always a reassuring sound.

I pointed my flashlight at the number by the door. “3-C.” This was the right place. I waved and Charlie came to the front with the short steel battering ram. When it came to breaking down doors, Charlie was an artist, and with one powerful blow the handle and lock separated from the rest of the door which swung inward. We rushed in like we’d done a thousand times before, each cop knowing just where to go. As one we raised our weapons, and a dozen laser gun sights quivered like red fireflies on the center of mass on the suspect.

“Put down the large soda!” yelled the captain. “Put it down, step away and keep your hands where I can see them!”

Jeannie sneeze, accidentally squeezing off about five rounds that knocked the perpetrator on the floor. The captain came over to Jeannie.

“Hey, we’re going to lose a few. Don’t feel bad. At least we saved him from all that high calorie corn fructose.”

Pope Brouhaha

Coat of ArmsPope Benedict XVI

Coat of Arms
Pope Benedict XVI

The news media has carried on in their usual way with regard to the retirement of the Pope. Headlines talked about it being “Shocking” and “Unbelievable.”

Say what?

First, when I’m 85, I hope I’m well experienced at being retired. Serving until death is a leftover from the days when the Monarch was expected to actively participate in combat and dodge assassination attempts. Life expectancy was much shorter.

The Catholic Church is like any large organization. Leaders come and leaders go. They tend to come from the same pool of candidates. I suspect that Fortune 500 CEOs reflect a lot of individuals with Harvard MBAs and who grew up thinking country clubs were a normal part of life.

I drive a Ford. I have no idea as to who is the current president of Ford, or who’s on their board of directors. It doesn’t affect me. To a large degree, the same is true of the Pope.

Large powerful organizations do both good and ill. With a two thousand year history, the Catholic Church has had more opportunities to experience errors, suffer from bad leadership, as well as do some good things. The bad stuff is more interesting to talk about.

Look at Catholics, as opposed to the Catholic Church organization and hierarchy. Like most other Christians we get up each morning, pray to do a good job, do some things right, screw up on others, ask forgiveness, and keep on going. Like other Christians we place our faith in Christ, along with our hope and love.

If the news media reported a month from now that the Catholic hierarchy had been unable to elect a Pope, it would not affect most Catholics. We’d still attend Mass Sunday mornings and try to live our faith on a daily basis.

The World Ends! Again!

foxnews.com

foxnews.com

Like almost every other American, I have a smart phone, although I only use a few of its features. I do check e-mail, not so much to actually read all of it, but to skim through and see if there’s anything really interesting. The internet access is sometimes handy, although the slow speed and small screen are significant disincentives. The alarm clock comes in handy when I’m on the road.

When I access the phone, the home screen gives me the current weather – just basics like 23 degrees and clear or whatever. However, it has little gizmos to make the weather more entertaining. If it’s raining, a windshield wiper clears video raindrops off the screen, complete with wiper sounds. If it’s windy, I hear the sound of the wind and see clouds blow around the screen.

This morning, before the alarm went off I reached for my phone. The weather screen showed an asteroid streaking toward the earth accompanied by the sound of destruction and screaming.

I’d never known the smart phone to be wrong before, so I took immediate action. I’m a trained professional! I’ve dealt with all kinds of emergencies and disasters throughout my life, so I knew exactly how to handle this.

I immediately yanked the alarm clock power cord from the wall. I fluffed my pillow crawled back under my covers and reveled in the fact that the bed was so warm.

Rule #1: If the world is going to end, you might as well sleep in.

Turns out it was a glitch with the phone.

I still enjoyed the extra sleep.

The Best Laid Plans

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
– Robert Burns
My_to_do_list_for_today_n_n_Img01

This past weekend was a three day weekend because of Presidents’ Day. My wife and I decided that I should take a vacation day along with it. Four days off in a row! What opportunities! We could get so much done and then just spend some time together, maybe shopping, going out for a meal, or whatever. I had a list of things I wished to accomplish, starting with cleaning out my study. Every week I think, “Maybe next weekend I’ll get my study in order.” With four days, this was finally going to be the weekend!

Friday I realized I had a dental appointment after work, but no worries, the weekend would start immediately after that. Except that my daughter had soccer practice, and my wife was already gone with my son to his practice. When practice was over, I expected her to come running off the field so we could head home; instead newly inspired, she continued to practice some of her moves solo, and was most unhappy when I suggested we get headed.

It was now late.

Saturday offered all kinds of possibilities, although Katie had a soccer game in the morning, and Adam had a game in the evening. It had started to snow, and in true Virginia fashion, the weathermen (excuse me, meteorologists), reeking of adrenaline, were describing every possible catastrophic outcome with bated breath.

The officials at the Field House cut the second half of the soccer game by 5 minutes to clear people out early, so naturally the coach saw this as a chance to wax poetic with the team after the game.

We grabbed a couple of pizzas on the way home.

Sunday was the great “Battle of the Kitchen Sink” over which I ultimately prevailed. Barb took Adam to his flag football game while I grilled steaks so that they would be ready when everyone got home. The only thing scarier than a starving teenager is a teenager who’s starving because of athletic exertion. The meal was ready on time and casualties were averted.

Monday. The long weekend is quickly slipping away. The funny noise in my wife’s car got louder and we dropped it off for service. It was a very disturbing sound. If you listened carefully you could hear spelled out in Morse Code, “I’m going to be expensive!”

Even though there was no school, Adam’s high school was conducting tryouts for the soccer teams. This was three hours in the morning, three hours break, and then three hours in the afternoon. I had been marinating meat for several days so we could have shawarma for dinner, so I was focused on that.

Katie had several projects for school that should have been done earlier in the weekend, but now demanded her attention and she demanded mine.

Then the dog got sick.

Not terribly unusual, as any dog owner will attest.

In the early evening it was obvious that the dog was more than just sick. Barb drove and Adam carried the dog into our veterinarian’s office. After x-rays and IV fluids, the vet told us he needed to go to the emergency veterinary hospital. We waited there until almost midnight. After weighing the options presented by the vet, we decided to go ahead and have her perform emergency surgery.

To make a long story short, when Louis gets a bone, he doesn’t just gnaw on it, he completely destroys it. Well, not completely – bone shards had perforated his stomach and small intestine. The surgery seemed successful and Louis should be home tomorrow.

Now it’s Tuesday – may vacation day and day four of my four day extended weekend.

I’ve revised my “To-Do” List.

  1. Shred old “To-Do” List
  2. Unconditionally surrender

Maybe next weekend is when I’ll get my study in order.

The Battle Is Won

faucet

Here in Virginia there are many battle sites. My neighborhood is known as “Great Bridge” since the Americans turned back the British during the Revolutionary War at a bridge referred to as “The Great Bridge.” Since “Great Bridge” refers to an area, while the battle is referred to as the Battle of Great Bridge, the modern drawbridge is called the “Great Bridge Bridge.”

But I digress.

Manassas, the site of 2 great battles is in Virginia. If you were educated in the north, you may know the battles as “Bull Run.” Yorktown & Williamsburg were the sites of battles in both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Yorktown was where the Revolutionary War ended and Appomattox Court House, also in Virginia, was the site of the surrender of General Lee to General Grant, ending the Civil War.

But today ended the battle of the kitchen sink, a historical occurrence, if I do say so myself.

The opening shots occurred several months ago when the spray handle to the faucet split and began to leak. I bought a “universal” replacement, which sorta-kinda worked, but not exactly. I Googled the original manufacturer and ordered the exact replacement, which was pricey, but I figured it represented the path to easiest success.

The exact replacement was exactly what I needed, except that they had changed the one fitting from coarse threads to loose threads. This meant that the replacement was exactly the right size, but there was no way to get it to work.

I went back to the “universal replacement.” The main problem was that the pressure was restricted. The company’s customer service department gave me instructions for checking it out, and determined that it was defective. They shipped a replacement.

Apparently the replacement was either delivered to the wrong address, or someone stole it.

They sent a replacement-replacement. It worked, until yesterday, when it fell off spraying water all over the kitchen.

This morning I went to the hardware to get a whole new faucet. The instructions were all in pictures that were too small to see accurately, but that didn’t matter, because the instructions didn’t match the faucet; it was the same faucet but the real one came less assembled than the pictures showed.

Eventually we figured it out.

I’ve never enjoyed plumbing, especially in the space under a sink. Imagine being crammed into an MRI Scanner, only smaller with obstructions. Now attempt to use tools in that space. That’s what it’s like working under the sink.

Eventually, thanks to my kids, we got the new faucet installed and working. Casualties were minor. Total cost with all the pieces parts, partial repairs, special tools, etc. was enough to make my congressman jealous. However, the kitchen sink is now functional.

I declared victory and dismissed the troops to return to their regular pursuits.

One last thing. Does anyone know where I can get a bronze plaque made to mount in the kitchen in order to mark the end of the Battle of the Kitchen Sink?

Who Is This Man, Jesus?

JesusPortrait

It’s surprising how little we know about Jesus the person. He was named Yeshua, the Aramaic for Joshua, the loyal scout and military leader who was allowed to pass into the Promised Land when even Moses was denied entry.

His public ministry was only for a few years. Except for His last two days, the scriptures tell us little about Him. We don’t know if he was tall or short. Nowhere do the Scriptures describe Him physically. However, it’s a pretty good bet he looked like we see Him in paintings and sculpture, with white skin and long flowing hair. Men native to the Middle East tend to have darker skin, and St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians is quite critical about men with long hair. An unlikely comment if that was how Jesus looked.

What the scriptures do tell us is His message and his purpose. Look at the beautiful beginning to John’s gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

He taught us to love God and to love one another. To extend that love to even the least among us. To be willing to give up life itself out of love.

It was a good message, and just as He subjugated Himself to the Father’s will, He placed the message first. After all, He was, and is the Word.

I Don’t Like Parts of the Bible

There, I said it.

With it being Lent, I’m going to try and be a little bit more diligent about keeping up with my Bible reading.

I read the Bible on more of an emotional level than an intellectual one. I don’t quote chapter and verse, but I do try to take the meaning to heart.

So what’s not to like?

I have to admit that I’m not fond of Job. It’s not that it’s a dreary story – which I have to admit, it is. I just have never met anyone who like Job confidently proclaims that he is without sin. (I’m not counting politicians or used car salesmen.) We all sin. Sorry, Job, but I think you’re in denial.

Then there are the Psalms. Reading the Psalms is like reading Shakespeare’s plays. Both were meant to be performed, not read. Imagine any other song that is read without the music it was intended to be paired with.

“She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah. She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah. She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah!”

A lot of the Psalms call for God to punish the Psalmist’s enemies. As I recall, Jesus directed us to pray for our enemies, not call for their destruction, so those Psalms seem a little out of date.

So now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I’m going to go do my Bible readings.

Mardi Gras

Laissez le bon temp roulette!

Laissez le bon temp roulet!

Carnival is winding down – the raucous celebration that culminates with Mardi Gras, the day before Lent begins. Originally it was “one last fling” before 40 days of fasting and praying.

Forty days commemorated Jesus’ 40 days of fasting and praying in the desert.

But don’t forget – Jesus showed us both sides of the coin. He also ate and drank with the dregs of society – the prostitutes, tax collectors and lepers. He was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard.

I think that the message from Jesus was a reminder of the verse from Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”

There’s a time for enjoying the good things that God has given us and a time to be penitent.

Whatever gets you closer to God.

Pope Benedict XVI

pope

Today the Pope shocked the world with the announcement that he will vacate his position at the end of the month. Opinions and commentary abound.

My thought is that all things fit God’s will. I have no idea where this will end, but I am confident that the outcome will be subservient to His will.

That’s a comforting thought.

Can’t Escape God

david

Michelangelo’s David

Yesterday I told everyone that I wanted to fight back against all the negativity by focusing on the good stuff. As I was pondering a subject for the blog something that shouldn’t have surprised me, did. For me, at least, it’s almost impossible to think about the good stuff without God becoming a part of the equation.

I was thinking of all the parents who are committed to their families. Their kids, who are not in the news because they didn’t do anything horrible or outrageous. Families who juggle school, sports, and other obligations with an eye toward sharing meals and breaking bread as a family. Divorced parents who maintain relationships with their kids in the face of extra challenges.

My thoughts went to the Old Testament when God sent Samuel to the house of Jesse in search of the king who would succeed Saul. Several of the sons were very impressive, but when Samuel thought that he had found a worthy successor, God told him no and said that He saw men’s hearts – what they really were.

When Samuel asked Jesse if he had any more sons, Jesse replied that his youngest was tending the sheep. David, of course, was this last son and the one chosen by God. David who wasn’t at home because he was the one engaged in his mundane chore.

Isn’t that like it is with us today? Today it may not sheepherding, but taxiing the kids, getting groceries or doing laundry. Yet God sees right through us and knows that we do these things, not for attention, certainly not for glory, but because we love one another and show this by our actions.

Next time when you’re exhausted but putting that last load in the laundry, or shoveling snow, or picking up the trail of school supplies, dirty clothes and whatever, listen.

You just might hear God saying, ” I have chosen you for this.”

The Good Stuff

Some of the good stuff -Music by the Moody Blues

Some of the good stuff –
Music by the Moody Blues

As you may have notice, lately I’ve been trying to write humor. Something to just cheer people up.

I look at the online news (CNN, FoxNews, NBCNews, etc.) and they are full of nothing but doom and gloom. Worse still, the stories that are real downers stay on their pages for exceptionally long times. It’s like they’re trying to milk tragedy for all it’s worth.

I know that the media believes, “If it bleeds – it leads.” Murder, for example, is going to make the headline on page 1 of the newspaper, while the good things (if they’re lucky) will end up on the middle page of the Sunday “Living” section next to the ad for hearing aids.

Therefore, if you want to be famous – kill somebody. Otherwise, if you’re really lucky and work real hard, you’ll end up with the hearing aids.

The media isn’t going to change. Sadly, they’re not going to wake up one morning to overpowering guilt and shame, repent and try to do good things. However, they ignore the fact that long term, this is not an effective tactic.

The most experienced practitioners of these practices, the print media, are dying off. It used to be that cities would have two or three daily newspapers. If something extraordinary happened, they actually would stop the presses and print an extra edition. The cliché newspaper boy shouting, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” actually was real.

Today most cities have one and only one newspaper, and even those are at risk. It’s no wonder – the newspaper delivers the exact same information as what was on the internet the day before. Whatever the “wire services” (aka The Associated Press) decides to send out will be on CNN today and tomorrow in the morning newspaper – often word for word.

Of course, most people already got the “tweet” and so even CNN is providing second hand news.

News magazines are practically a novelty. If you’ve got a copy of Newsweek, put it in an acid free plastic sleeve and save it with your pristine copy of “Amazing Fantasy #15” (the comic book in which Spiderman first appeared.) The printed Newsweek may also become a collectors’ item.

Interestingly, not all magazines are at risk. I look forward to my monthly “Smithsonian,” “National Geographic,” and my technical magazines. Why? Because they make me think and they make me smile. My wife and I have real live interesting intellectual discussions about articles in “Smithsonian.”

“Make” magazine is full of things from basement inventors and weird and wonderful projects. Want to play around with a 3 dimensional printer – “Make” is the place to start. How about programming a credit card sized computer that costs around $30 to automatically water your plants? “Make” again.

Our kids love to learn, as did we when we were kids.

“Help me learn to ride a bicycle!”

“I want to take gymnastics!”

“Can you teach me some magic tricks?”

“Can I try soldering?”

My son recently asked us to teach him how to wash his clothes. I don’t expect that he’ll regularly take on this chore, but he was proud of himself for learning – as well he should.

This world is full of wonder and potential. It was designed and handmade by God himself. No subcontractors. No shoddy workmanship. “…and He saw that it was good.”

There’s lots of good stuff to learn and enjoy, and that’s what I’m going to focus.

Anybody with me?

New Awards Show – Don’t Miss It!

Gold-Toilet

“Tonight! The Loo Awards – another in a seemingly endless series of awards programs where rich Hollywood stars get to have attention lavished on them just like what happens to them every other day of the year! And don’t forget that they’ll get swag bags filled with free goodies that YOU can’t even afford!”

I muted the television. My first thought was that this gave me the perfect excuse to go to bed early, since I really don’t care about who wins what, what they said, what they said wrong, what they wore and what wardrobe malfunctions occurred. But it got me thinking.

Of course there’s the Academy of Motion Pictures’ Awards – the “Oscars.” They give so many awards that half of them are given outside of the televised extravaganza. These tend to be technical in nature, so the team that invented a new computer to make special effects seem real – something that takes brains, talent and education – get their statuette mailed to them or something. On the other hand, the “star” who doesn’t know what to say when the phone rings until the third rewrite gets a lot of attention.

Then there’s the Emmys, awarded by the Academy of Television Arts and Science. They not only have separate sessions for primetime and daytime awards, but they also have regional awards, meaning that even if you were awarded an Emmy, the entire event could be kept totally secret – not that anyone in the entertainment business would be interested in that.

Next you’ve got the “People’s Choice Awards,” the “Golden Globes” and the “Screen Actors Guild Awards.” Oh, and don’t forget the “Tonys” for live theater. It’s kind of like kids’ soccer were everybody who showed up at least once gets a trophy at the end of the year.

I unmuted the television.

“Tonight, live from Flushing, New York, the Loo Awards, where we recognize the cream of the crap. Annnd here’s your hosts for tonight, Jerry Springer and Maury Povich!”

I muted the TV again. I did turn on the captioning. It was an education.

There was an award for “Trailer Trash Television.” There was another for “Faked Finds,” where the decision was a tossup between a second hand store show and “Ghosts are Really Real! Really!” There was an award for program that demonstrated the best exploitation of a child by their parents. There was something about the Kardashians, but thankfully I missed most of it to take a bathroom break. When they got to “Most Obnoxious Model Wannabes.” I turned it off.

I’m not going to watch television tonight.

There’s a really ugly hole in the wall where my flat screen television used to hang and it needs repairing.

The Computers are Dropping Like Flies

mush

I’ve been playing with computers a long time. I go back to Beginners’ All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code (BASIC) with mechanical teletypes and punched paper tape. My first personal computer arrived as a bag of parts and had a whopping 256 BYTES and require programming in hexadecimal.

Since then, the computers have gotten smarter while I’ve remained static.

Today my house is rife with computers. There are 3 people with laptops, including me, although I also get the leftovers and castoffs. There’s a ham radio/weather computer; if you want to know the weather in my world you can see it at http://wx.findu.com/ke8yn.

There’s my son’s gaming computer, my desktop and 1 iPad, 3 other tablets plus cell phones. That’s, umm, something like a lot of computers.

My son had picked out a new laptop for my wife, but after she tried it, she decided she like her old one better, so even though it was old, she went back to it and I got her new computer as my laptop.

(If you can’t follow, don’t worry, it’s not really important.)

In any case, my desktop computer began to act weirdly. This computer started as a Hewlett-Packard, but over time, the motherboard, hard drives, case, power supply, etc. got changed. It’s kind of like “Grampa’s axe.” It’s had three new handles and a new head, but it’s grampa’s axe.

I replaced it once, but my son adopted the new one, so I went back to the computer-that-used-to-be-an-HP.

That computer, my desktop computer, began to exhibit strange symptoms recently, especially after upgrading the operating system. I realized that it was time to replace it.

I perused the “barebones” computers to find just the right mother board, CPU, memory, case and such and made my decision. I chose a combination that would make my son jealous. I ordered it.

One point zero zero nanoseconds later, my wife’s laptop died an immediate and painful death. It too had to be replaced.

So, I’m spending the remaining portion of the weekend transferring files and settings.

And how did you spend your weekend?

Tee-Shirts

Before World War II, most men wore undershirts – the ones that had the manly spaghetti straps over the shoulders. The military issued tee shirts, and a fashion trend followed.

We made tee shirts upscale by adding a collar, a couple of buttons and an alligator embroidered over the left breast. Look closely, it’s an alligator, not a crocodile. If you think it’s a guy playing polo, you may need to clean your glasses.

Somewhere along the line, someone decided to start printing slogans.

"Have a nice day!" said Forrest Gump as he continued running.

“Have a nice day!” said Forrest Gump as he continued running.

“Property of University of Akron Athletic Department”

“I’m with Stupid ->”

{FRONT} “I have a degree in Liberal Arts”

{BACK} “Do you want fries with that?”

{FRONT} “On that grand and glorious 8th day God created beer”

{BACK} “and gave it to the Irish!”

Why do I bring this up?

My suggestion to improve the world; if you’re going to wear a tee shirt with a witty saying, please keep your arms by your side so we can read it. If it is continued on the back, periodically doing a 180 degree turn long enough for people to read the punch line would be appreciated. And please, PLEASE, don’t think people are looking at you. It’s the witty saying on your shirt that catches attention, not your corporeal presence.

Otherwise, just wear a plain old shirt.