Monthly Archives: January 2014

Which Network for Alex?

Alex claims that this is his good side

Alex claims that this is his good side

It was a busy day, so even though I was home I did not spend much time with Alex the parrot. This evening, Alex made up for it by sitting on my shoulder and jabbering incoherently. It reminded me of various political “news” programs where the guests and hosts each speak loudly and boldly without regard to what the other people are saying, have said, or are trying to say.

As such an experienced pundit, Alex is available, but the usual fees are not adequate. Since his life span is expected to be about 15 years – the same as a dog, the multiplier of 7 is thereby appropriately applied to whatever your “experts” are paid.

Sorry, Alex does not author any work. He provides only as Studs Terkel appropriate spoken presentations.

As his agent, all checks should be made out to me. Thank you.

Die, You Bastard!

Horse thief hanging 1900 Wikipedia.com

Horse thief hanging 1900
Wikipedia.com

There’s been quite the focus on the death penalty lately. The drugs used to execute criminals by lethal injection are no longer available. The manufacturer doesn’t want their product used for such purpose. Maybe it’s the first line of the Hippocratic Oath, “First, do no harm.”

The reaction? Try another group of drugs that might work. Bring back the electric chair, the gas chamber, the gallows and the firing squad.

I’ve struggled with the topic, but the most clarifying statement I’ve ever encountered was from the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Gandalf has told Frodo that the creature, Gollum is following them.

Frodo: It’s a pity Bilbo didn’t kill him when he had the chance.
Gandalf: Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.

Add to that the ever growing number of convicted people being cleared by DNA evidence, and you begin to doubt how just the justice system actually is.

So, if it’s not for justice, what is it?

Revenge.

Capital punishment seeks to accomplish the same thing as a gangland hit or a drive by shooting. “You hurt me, so I need to hurt you back.”

I’d like to believe that we’ve progressed beyond the 3rd century Roman Coliseum mindset; beyond the public beheadings and burning at the stake of the middle ages; beyond the gunfights and lynchings of the 19th century.

Continued Discussion on “The Persecuted Rich”

As I’ve mentioned before, Rick and I go way back. His comments are always thoughtful and lead to further exploration of an idea. His comment on yesterday’s post needed to be featured.

———————————————————————

Thanks, Steve, for a very interesting and provocative topic: The wealthy in America feeling threatened–especially by the current liberal administration and particularly now at election time. I agree with Perkins–even though I am certainly not bucks up myself. We look at this in two ways–”giving to God what is God’s and giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

The bible tells us it is not in “our” power to explain either the prosperity of the wicked–or sufferings of the righteous. That we shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor nor show deference to the rich; judge your kinsmen fairly (Lev 19:15).

We are told: Be not a lender nor a borrower. Owe no one anything except to love one another. Be a giver (Romans 13:8). The lender makes the borrower a servant (Prov 22:7).

God’s economy is based on blessing and giving to others, while the world’s economy is based on hoarding and accumulating. And, we are to hear and contemplate this great refrain: A poor man…shames us ALL!

Yet, unhappy poor people at least have the hope and imagination of happiness, while rich people have everything and thus have nothing else to look forward to and no hope for happiness.

Now with respect Caesar and man’s wealth disparity. America is no longer the land of “haves” and “have-nots” –everyone has two or three TVs and two cars, and multiple coats and sweaters. America’s issue
is not really about the wealthy, rather about the givers and takers.
To put the issue and the opportunity in proper perspective: Interdependence needs to replace independence! We can’t survive, let alone thrive, unless we cooperate with each other.

If we look back and examine what gave rise to the great societies or civilizations (China, Persia, Greece, Rome, Spain, Maya, Inca, Egypt, and now America), we can readily see it was creativity, interdependence and mutual support that provided the synergy where the whole was always equal to the sum of all the parts. Today, China, for example, is at the peak of its success, and “takers” are in the distinct minority, because people are committed to the necessity to be “givers.” In other words, givers always created and contributed more to society. But as each society flourished, more and more people became materially well off. The failure has always been the people to stay committed as givers…so that all might thrive and survive. When survival is no longer an issue, it is very tempting to indulge in selfish, even hedonistic pleasures. As more and more people succumb to this temptation, there become fewer and fewer givers to society, and more and more takers.

Ultimately, internal and external disaster always begins with even one person’s philosophy of doing less and wanting more. The result is what repeats itself in history: A shift from a team effort to a struggle between takers and givers. This continues until the society falls apart in moral decay and material bankruptcy, and the takers become the majority.

The Persecuted Rich

$$$$$

CNN reported today that multi-billionaire venture capitalist Tom Perkins feels threatened. Previously, he had compared the poor to Nazis conducting a holocaust against the wealthy.

Wow.

I believe that Jesus said, “The worker is due his wages.”

Likewise, that St. Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians said, “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.”

I also believe that someone who studies hard, prepares and invests in his or her own future and produces more than others should be rewarded.

However, I really have difficulty believing that the 1% are “threatened.”

Where?

At the supermarket? Oh, they have people for that.

At Wal-Mart?

While pumping gas at the 7-11?

Picking their kids up from public school?

In my humble opinion (and feel free to flame away) here’s what we ALL should do:

  1. Be thankful to God for what we’ve got.
  2. Be grateful for the true treasures – faith, family and, love.
  3. Realize that we came into this world with nothing and will leave the same way. Your parents’ wealth, grandma’s trust, etc. don’t count.
  4. Those to whom much is given, much will be required. We are all stewards, not masters.

I know where my heart and my treasure are. I am blessed with a family and a home where God is center. We are happy. That is our wealth.

Eat your heart out (you know who you are)!

Different Footprints

sand

I’m sure we’ve all read Mary Stevenson’s “Footprints in the Sand” (click to see the page).

I recently had a slightly different thought about this image.

If you look back on your life and see the footprints you’ve left, what do they show? Did you travel straight to your goal? Did you step off your own path for the good of others?

Are their detours to the soup kitchen?

Do your footprints show where you dropped everything to help a friend in need?

What about children and grandchildren’s concerts, sports and school events?

Did you take on Christ’s work and carry someone else through a crisis?

Now look forward and think about the footprints you want to leave.

Snowmageddon – Southern Style

SONY DSCThe inches of snow that fell on Virginia last week continue to impact the area. While the streets are now clear, it has yet to warm up enough melt the snow on the north sides of buildings or in other shady areas. Schools are still open on modified schedules.

In other news, Toledo, Ohio – where I grew up – has had more snow for January than ever recorded – almost 3 feet for the first half of the month. It is currently under a snow emergency.

(Sigh)

I love the South.

The Wisdom of K

mib

Tom Hanks character in “You’ve Got Mail” proposes that everything a guy needs to know, he can learn from the movie, “The Godfather.”

I disagree.

“You’ve Got Mail” was based in a kinder, gentler, perhaps even quaint time of physical bookstores and dialup computers. In today’s world of high-speed internet with competing news services dishing up the latest trash 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 AND A QUARTER! days a year we need a different philosophy.

I just happen to have a suggestion.

When CNN flings the latest on Justin Bieber at you; when Fox digs up Sarah Palin; even when ABC releases the Kardashians, take your advice from the Men in Black.

(the setup)

K: We do not discharge our weapons in view of the public!

J: Man, we ain’t got time for this cover-up bullshit! I don’t know whether or not you’ve forgotten, but there’s an Arquillian Battle Cruiser that’s about to…

(the wisdom of K)

K: There’s always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Corillian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague that is about to wipe out all life on this miserable little planet, and the only way these people can get on with their happy lives is that they DO NOT KNOW ABOUT IT!

Pushover for Underdogs

SONY DSC

Everyone wants to save the fuzzy little kitten or the big eyed puppy.

For some reason, I want to save the ugly little plant. If you remember Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, you know what I mean. The ones that are being cast off as “too far gone.”

Some seem downright grateful – perhaps not just for themselves but also for the ones I tried to save but didn’t make it.

This bush was on our back deck when we moved in years ago. The pot split and is now held together with giant cable ties. The plant looks a little peaked here, but it is the middle of January, after all, and I’m surprised it has any leaves. In the summer it looks pretty darn good.

Epistles

monkThis week Father Bryan’s sermon included a topic that my wife and I have spoken of recently. The fact that my generation was taught in great detail how to write letters; not a letter, but a wide range of letters, but this is no longer the practice.

The sermon focused on how the Epistles in the Bible have a particular construction and of how we used to learn how to construct various types of letters in specific styles.

We had to write a letter ordering merchandise, and another asking to return it. We practiced writing to Congressmen, Senators and the Governor. Each had a specific style including the honorific title for the various people, usually different on the envelope than the salutation.

They no longer teach such skills, since today’s communication is in terse abbreviations.

“Waddup?”

“How R U?”

I have to admit, although a bit stilted, I do prefer the archaic, “I hope this letter finds you well.”

Maybe You Can’t Go Back, But…

alice 1There are things that I enjoyed in my youth that have a totally different look and feel in my, shall we say, more mature years.

My last days of high school and early days of college were during the anti-military time of Viet Nam. There were many songs protesting the war, including more than a few funny ones. Although I enjoyed the “Draft Dodger Rag” by Phil Ochs, my all-time favorite was “Alice’s Restaurant” by Arlo Guthrie.

Around here one radio station has a tradition to play “Alice’s Restaurant” on alice 2Thanksgiving at noon, and I caught most of it this year. It bounced around in my brain for a while, and the other day I downloaded the MP3. I admit, after 30+ years involved with the military in one way or another, I still find it hilarious. My son was in the car with me when I played it for the first time in frzxy-sydrt (yes, that’s intentional) years, and he was totally unimpressed.

Maybe you can’t go back, but you can still remember the laughs, and that’s enough to laugh again. This time, with feeling.

The Future News Now

Back to the Future 2

Back to the Future 2

The other day one of those on-line bastions of journalistic integrity ran the headline to the effect that “Obama restricts NSA”.

When I started reading the story, it stated that the President would be making a speech later in the day and was EXPECTED to announce changes.

Now if they’d only run a not-yet-but-expected-to-be-true story “Whatever Happened to the Kardashians?”

Better Late than Never

Today my father would have turned 86; my brother and sister are holding a memorial for him at the church where he prayed for most of his later life. I won’t be there; it’s a twelve hour drive each way and I used my leave/bereavement time to visit with him while he was alive. Both he and I preferred that.

Since he died in early December, I’ve found that he continues to teach me – a lot. I think that having the chance to reflect and process things is allowing me to better appreciate him. Teenage children never appreciate their parents’ sense of humor. I now realize how amusing he was. I can now appreciate the special bond he and my mother had, and why that worked so well. Oh, I realized these things before, but now I can truly take them to heart.

I realize how special it was that I was the last person with whom he prayed, and that I prayed over him as he died.

Better yet, I know now that he and my mom are the ones who are now praying over me, my brother and sister and all our family.

That I really appreciate.

Geeks

image - amazon.com

image – amazon.com

The word “geek” used to refer to certain sideshow performers whose act consisted of outlandish things as eating glass or sticking needles through their bodies. Some people decided that it would be an appropriate pejorative, and it began to be applied to those whose interests ran to academics, particularly science. While such interests may have not have been popular in high school, geeks were well positioned to do well in real life.

Geeks have their own favorite movies, books and games that they sometimes use to share feelings or meaning within the geek community. Don’t expect to pass yourself off as a geek without a well-rounded understanding of science fiction, fantasy, actual science and, of course, mathematics.

What makes geeks, well, geeky? First, they don’t mind being different – at least most of the time. They tend to be creative, trying to figure out how to overcome a particular challenge without worrying about whether it’s the best way or even practical. Most importantly, they have a nasty streak of optimism that is nearly impossible to extinguish.

I recently finished a book I got for Christmas – Geek Wisdom; The Sacred teachings of Nerd Culture edited by Stephen H. Segal. It’s a fun read if you’re a geek or if you just want to try to understand the geek in your life.

It Was a Dark and Stormy, er, Day

crh.noaa.gov

crh.noaa.gov

It was a grey day. No sunshine. Just dreary.

Then a storm blew through the area canceling my plans to cook outside.

In other words, it was a perfect Saturday for puttering, reading and relaxing.

Am I Back?

I’ve been having trouble writing lately because all I seem to read about is scandal, celebrity, celebrity-scandal, murder, rape, pillage and politics. Ugh!

We Geeks like to find the silver lining in any and every cloud, and it’s been pretty hard lately.

But, then I saw it.

Orbital Sciences successfully launched their Antares rocket carrying supplies for the International Space Station (ISS) from Wallops Island, VA. With the space shuttles retired, NASA had been relying on the Russians for transport and supply of the ISS. Now they’ve got two additional partners, Orbital Sciences and SpaceX.

Wow! It’s kind of like “Two Men and a Truck” at seventeen miles a second. Nothing glitzy. Nothing fancy. Just reliable delivery service like UPS or FedEx with a couple of million horsepower.

Now I have to write about the CubeSats and student experiments that the Antares carried. Then I need to write about a Geek philosopher I’ve recently read.

Stay tuned.

They’re Baaack!*

hor.

A few thoughts now that Congress is back in session:

  1. The skills and capabilities needed to be an effective elected official have nothing in common with the skills needed to get elected.

    During the campaign, voters are attracted to a combination rock star and rich uncle,

    But a good public servant is closer to a Benedictine Monk (complete with vow of poverty) who is also a Certified Public Accountant.

  1. Our servicemen and women gain our respect because they are willing to die for our nation;

    Our politicians, on the other hand, earn our disdain because they are prepared to sell out the rest of the nation to benefit their own congressional district.

    *and you put them there.

The Unintended Hero

 

National Geographic

National Geographic

Stories – especially those stories that are dear to us geeks – tend to include the individual upon whom a great challenge is thrust.

Frodo accepting the responsibility for the one ring.

Arthur, pulling the sword from the stone.

Spiderman, realizing that with great power comes great responsibility.

But, then again, how many real heroes arise from the well-bred, privileged who are raised to assume greatness?

It was not the strong attractive sons of Jesse who were anointed king, but David, the shepherd.

There is no guarantee that the children of Ford or Rockefeller or Biltmore will do great things.

However, there is the very real chance that among normal, plain people like you and me, there is some calling or some act we’re called upon to do that will make a difference.

It may seem insignificant in and of itself, but like a pebble falling from the top of a mountain, it may start an avalanche. Such is the way of God. If you are selected to be such a pebble, throw yourself into His will with a vengeance.

What’s This World Coming To?

bank

An investment banker embezzled and lost millions of dollars defrauding over 100 investors.

He faked his own suicide.

He was then declared dead by a judge.

Today the police found and arrested him.

I’m absolutely shocked that an investment banker would stoop so low, and I’m sure that Bernie Madoff, the folks at Lehman Brothers, AIG, Bear Stearns, Countrywide, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac etc., etc. are shocked as well.

Light Bulbury 2014

xtal

Crystal AM Radio
(During the Second World War, Prisoners of War used a razor blade and a pencil lead in place of the crystal to make secret  radios.)

Along with the demise of the incandescent light bulb (as mentioned yesterday) there have been other fundamental changes in technology. A century ago a radio receiver could be assembled by virtually anyone using items such as a galena crystal, and some wire wrapped around a toilet paper (or similar) tube. The only component you really needed to purchase was a set of headphones.

A transmitter required a bit more – an ignition coil from a car, a tuning coil wrapped around an oatmeal box. The telegraph key was the main purchase item. Incidentally, the construction was called “breadboarding” since the parts were mounted on a piece of wood, such as the board used to cut bread.

Fifty years ago you could tune your car with a set of basic tools usually twice a year. Oil and filter, set of sparkplugs and ignition points, and every so often a new set of sparkplug wires.

Today most people don’t work on their own cars; they take it to a shop where (for $79) the mechanic hooks a device to the car’s computer and the computer reports what the car needs. If that clunking noise isn’t something that the computer tracks, it must not be important.

Electronics – the same way. As a kid if the television wasn’t working right, I’d take the tubes out, ride my bicycle to the Rexall Drugstore, use their tube tester and purchase a replacement tube right there.

Today’s devices aren’t home-repair or experimenter friendly. First, the manufacturers glue everything shut; second, there’s very little in the way of documentation.

I guess I’d like to point to today’s kids and complain that they spend all their time playing video games and texting, but can’t. If there’s no 21st century equivalent of a mechanical alarm clock begging to be taken apart, just to see how it works, how can we get them excited? Kids are still naturally curious – now we have to figure out how to feed their curiosity.