Monday, December 31, 2007

Appeal to vanity?

While some option packages are worthwhile, others are a means to appeal to a buyer’s vanity. These vanity type of items frequently are costly and add little driving value, particularly on high end vehicles. Yet people keep buying them, even when you could buy another car for the price of the package.

Here are the most costly option packages on the market. Are they worth it? You decide.

Price: $16,900
Porsche 911 Carrera S and Carrera 4S

Option: X51 Carrera Power Kit

For more than the cost of a new Volkswagen Jetta, buyers of the Porsche 911 Carrera S or Carrera 4S can boost engine output with the X51 Carrera Power Kit. Thanks to modified cylinder heads, a sport exhaust system, and a revised intake system, power is increased by 26 hp to 381 hp, resulting in a 4.5-second 0-60 mph sprint, 0.2 seconds faster than without the option.

Price: $14,070
Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG
Option: P30 AMG Performance Package

Die-hard Mercedes-Benz SL-Class enthusiasts who already are spending more than $130,000 can shell out an extra $14,070 for the chance to reach a top speed of 186 miles per hour with the P30 AMG Performance Package — that's 31 mph faster than a "regular" SL55 AMG can muster. The package includes a limited-slip differential for increased traction, recalibrated Active Body Control suspension for improved handling, and 19-inch AMG twin-spoke alloy wheels.

Price: $14,000
BMW 7 Series
Option: Individual Package

The highlight of this customization package is BMW's five-layer Xirallic paint that gives the 7 Series' finish a breathtaking intensity. The interior is completely wrapped in high-quality Merino leather.

Price: $12,570
Lexus LS 600h L

Option: Executive Class Seating Package II

The Lexus LS 600h L has a seating package that transforms the back seat into a luxury lounge. The Executive Class Seating Package II offers multi-function massage capabilities, a wooden work table, and a rear-seat refrigerator. The seating package also comes bundled with Lexus' hands-free parking system (executives are usually too busy to park themselves) and 18-inch alloy wheels.

Price: $12,000
Lexus LS 600h L
Option: Premium Package II

The Premium Package II is focused upon high-tech content for the LS hybrid. It features Lexus' Advanced Parking Guidance System, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Driver Attention Monitor, and a pre-collision system that helps prevent accidents by keeping tabs on surrounding vehicles, lest they come near the $100,000-plus hybrid.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Joe Paterno

The Dean of college football is undoubtedly Joe Paterno. I for one have thought he should have gracefully retired five to ten years ago. Yet the age of 81 he continues to coach and produce very competitive teams. Given his record and his contribution to Penn State I have also felt that he should choose the date of his retirement rather than being forced out.

This will be Paterno’s 500th game as head coach at Penn State. This is a laudable achievement. To put it into perspective, since he became head coach at Penn State 42 years ago, there have been 816 head coaching changes in NCAA Div I teams.

On Saturday Penn State and Texas A&M will be playing each other in the Alamo Bowl. In all the build up to bowl games are a series of pep rallies. At one rally Thursday night a student pep leader told the crowd the Paterno was “on his death bed.” He went on to joke with the crown that “someone needs to find him (Paterno) a casket.”

Such comments are not funny. Also, they are disrespectful. A&M has sent the spirit leader home. The President and Athletic Director of A&M have issued apologies to their counterparts and Paterno. The grand old coach took it all in stride by saying, "Some young guy went up there, trying to be funny. Maybe he's accurate, I don't know."

My heart was warmed when the report noted that the Texas A&M students and alumni recognized that the spirit leader was out of line with his comments and shouted him down with boos. These partisan fans immediate response speaks volumes.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to one and all from Evie, Dave, Josh, Jonathan and Maggie. Following are pictures from today as part of our holiday greeting. The first is the fire we enjoyed while opening our gifts.

Again, Merry Christmas to one and all.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Oakton Holiday Concert Tradition

Thursday night was Oakton band’s the holiday concert. One of the traditions at the holiday concert is after Symphonic Band has finished that Concert I and II come to the stage to form one large band. Alumni and those in junior high who will be attending are Oakton are also invited to play (they receive emails telling them to bring their instruments). Together they play two items, one of which is Sleight Bells.

Below are pictures of the combined group that fills the whole stage. For the first time Jonathan was able to attend and sit by his brother.

The young lady to the left of Josh is on a softball scholarship at Harvard. Go up the trombone line a little further (second and third past the girl in a Santa hat) is another two brothers, one is in Concert band and the other is in Junior High.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Where's Josh This Summer

Two weeks or so ago we learned of Josh’s summer schedule (italic print is locations somewhat near family):

May 30-June 11 – San Antonio, TX
June 12 – Fairfax for Oakton graduation
June 13-15 – San Antonio, TX
June 16-19 – on the road to Ohio

June 21 – Toledo, OH
June 22 – Dublin, OH
June 24 – Belding, MI
June 26 – Oswego, IL
June 28 – Madison, WI
June 30 – Erie, PA

July 1 – Fort Edward/Glenn Falls, NY
July 2 – Beverly, MA
July 3 – Bristol, RI
July 5 – Giant Stadium (Rutherford, NJ)
July 7 – Chesapeake, VA
July 9 – Columbia, SC
July 12 – Orlando, FL

July 15 – Ocean Springs, MS
July 16 – Lafayette, LA
July 17 – Dallas, TX
July 19 – San Antonio, TX
July 21 – Denton, TX
July 22 – Wichita, KS
July 23 – Pittsburg, KS

July 26 – Atlanta, GA
July 28 – Sevierville, TN
July 30 – Warrenton, VA (near home)
July 31 – West Chester, PA
Aug 2 – Allentown, PA
Aug 3 – Hershey, PA

Aug 5 – 9 – Indianapolis, IN for the World Championships

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Sobering Matter in the Season of Peace and Joy

We recall stories of religious charlatans of past ages preying upon the vulnerable and uninformed. The famous “Witch Hunts” of by-gone eras cause us to shiver while moments later we breathe a sigh of relief that that was in the distant past and that they do not happen anymore.

In this season of joy and peace, the following is most sobering. Children in Nigeria are being beaten, abused and abandoned by the hundreds every month in the name of Christ. The claim is that these children, some are infants, are witches.

Here is a quotes from the article: “Pastor Joe Ita is the preacher at Liberty Gospel Church in nearby Eket. 'We base our faith on the Bible, we are led by the holy spirit and we have a programme of exposing false religion and sorcery.' Soft of voice and in his smart suit and tie, his church is being painted and he apologises for having to sit outside near his shiny new Audi to talk.”

In a second quote the pastor justifies his actions: “'We know how they operate. A witch will put a spell on its mother's bra and the mother will get breast cancer. But we cannot attribute all things to witches, they work on inclinations too, so they don't create HIV, but if you are promiscuous then the witch will give you HIV.'”

From this link you will read that thousands of children have been
abandoned, tortured and killed by their Christian parents and pastors. These heinous acts are being perpetrated by evangelical Christians in the name of Christ! Innocent children are being blamed for normal unfortunate things that happen in life. They are being blamed for droughts, job losses, accidents, illness and disease. Can you imagine the terror and confusion these children suffer as they try to understand why their parents hate them enough to beat them, abandon them or even try to kill them. As you will be aware from other postings I am deeply dismayed by spiritual abuse issues, and this story is a prime case of blatant and subtle spiritual abuse on so many levels.

I recognize that I am so far removed from the situation that I cannot intervene and take a discarded child or two or thee into my home. I recognize that this is another country and another culture. Yet I cannot help but raise my lonely voice and raise questions. Though this spiritual abuse in its most extreme form has been going one for years, where is the outrage from our religious press? A great cry goes out about The Golden Compass and emails fly forth about the Church being threatened by a children’s tale, yet there seems to be utter silence on this horrendous tragedy.

Where are the voices of our Church leaders around the world calling people to pray for the children and to give money to help provide care and comfort for these children? The essence of my humanity cries for these children and I cannot just say, “That’s too bad but there is nothing I can do.” Our faith tradition believes in the importance of prayer, but it also believes in the value of action and social justice.

I will do what I can. First, to draw their attention to the issue I am going to email a copy of this blog to my COs and Divisional Commander. Second, I am going to try to find an agency that is providing shelter, food and education to these victims of spiritual abuse and for the next year send them a monthly gift.

Third, I am challenging each reader of this blog a question, what are you going to do to help draw attention to this disgrace to the attention of others?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Compass Foolishness

Over the last two weeks evangelical leaders and pastors across the country across the country have blasted out emails to their congregants and friends warning their membership not to see the about to be released The Golden Compass. It is decried that in the last book of the series “God is killed.”

It is unlikely that most of the major evangelical personalities who helped launched the campaign have viewed the movie or read the books. Most of those who sent the messages that they received from major evangelical leaders have ever read the series let alone seen the movies themselves. They have blindly accepted without critical thought the messages from others and are encouraging their members to blindly trust them as they are blindly trusted those from whom they have received the emails.

From those who have read the books I understand that it is correct that the god figure is overthrown and killed. They carefully point out that the false personages who have falsely set themselves up as the god figure are overthrown. Put the distinction aside for a moment, let us remind ourselves that this is a children’s fable. Are these same leaders about to blast out email “encouragements” for Christians to boycott nursery rhymes like “Rock-a-my Baby”, Peter Pan, Wizard of Oz and hundreds of children’s tales that do not match up with reality? Are they about to issue a pronouncement against Santa Claus? If not, why not? What is the difference?

What these evangelical leaders are suggesting is that Christians are easily fooled and mislead, that they lack the capacity to think for themselves, so much so that they need to be sheltered and protected. In essence they are saying that the Christian faith is week and if not protected the Church will fall.

On a practical level are the producers of The Golden Compass upset at the emails. Oh they have issued their carefully worded announcements that somewhat deny the claim while at the same time carefully constructed to keep the controversy going. They are doing this because they know that the longer the evangelical leaders decry the movie, the more successful the movie will become. Last weekend, what movie was the most seen movie? The Golden Compass. Most people are emerging from the movie theaters are leaving saying that this is a horrible movie as a movie itself (plot, progression, dialogue, etc.) but still people will continue to see it because of the email blast.

At the end of the day I suspect that many who are aware of the controversy will emerge wondering what all the brouhaha was all about. At the end of the day, far too many people will conclude that once again evangelical leaders have over-reacted, made themselves look foolish and marginalized themselves.

Regretfully those leaders who sat up on high who will appear to be fools of will not be the ones who loose the most. Those who loose the most are the pastors who received the message and passed it on to their congregants. Those pastors will have lost some regard with the congregants who see the movie.

For another recent example of misguided uncritical thinking in the church we only have to look at Gerry Falwell’s announcement about one of the non-gender Telatubbies. Soon pastors and other evangelical leaders picked up the announcement and they too were crying out against the Telatubbies. The gay community did not see the character as being gay, but once Falwell made his pronouncement and the controversy started, they happily embraced the character. Falwell accomplished the utter opposite of what he sought. When will the evangelical leaders learn that they will ultimately loose in such matters. This movie would have a fraction of its audience if they remained silent. Instead they end up guaranteeing success and making the Church look foolish in the eyes of the society at large.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Cruelty Free Sex

This morning driving into work I heard an interesting conversation on the radio regarding “cruelty free sex.” Just that phrase sounds interesting and on the surface one could readily support. But ah, the English language can be twisted and what seems agreeable at first glance may not be so agreeable upon further examination.

The advocates of “cruelty free sex” are encouraging their adherents not to marry or even date anyone who does not agree with their beliefs. They are arguing that a person must be fully in agreement with their beliefs before intimacy should take place. They argue that those who are not of their particular viewpoint and lifestyle must truly convert to the position of their partner before dating seriously or marrying. The person must remain firm and strong to their beliefs. The outsider must submit to the one in the group and be instructed as to the true path.

Further, the proponents of “cruelty free sex” state that followers who have physical relations with those who do not hold to their beliefs are polluting themselves and are undermining the credibility and compromising their belief.

Sound familiar? Does not this sound somewhat like Paul?

The advocates who have coined the phrase “cruelty free sex” and are advocating it are vegans. A vegan is someone who abstains from eating meat. They say that for a vegan to date a person who is a carnivore is to participate in cruelty and support cruelty. Are they crazy and way out there? If so, then what does that say about those in the church who speak of people dating or marrying only those who are of the same faith tradition?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Josh as a Moutaineer?

Since September Josh has been going through the application process. A week ago his list included James Madison, West Virginia, Virginia Tech and George Madison. Earlier in the week he added Lousiana State University. LSU was added at the enouragment of his teachers who feel that Josh could be competitive for receiving scholarships at LSU. LSU has one of the strongest band programs in the country.

This afternoon the mailperson brought a letter of acceptance from the University of West Virgina in Morgantown. He still needs to audition in order to be accepted into their music education program.

Which school he will attend rests upon scholarships and financial aid packages. He would be paying out of state fees in West Virginia but they have a generous music education scholarship program which could make his personal expenses less. We will have to see how things work out.

West Virginia is where Tom and Doreen's daughter Stephanie is part of their medical college.

$20 Million Estate

This past Friday a court in London England upheld the will of a wealthy 88 year old woman that left her whole estate, about $20 million, to the owners of a Chinese Restaurant. Five nephews and nieces argued unsuccessfully that their aunt was not of a sound mind when the will was revised in 1994, eleven years before her death.

Even prior to the death of the woman’s husband, the woman, Goldie Bechal, had been friends with the restaurant owners. Since the death of Goldie’s husband the friendship with the couple deepened. She often visited their home and the Mans hers. They invited her to join them on their vacations and celebrated her birthday in their restaurant.

These nephews and nieces were essentially arguing that their aunt was not of a sound mind because she left the estate to the Mans. The argument rests upon the assumption that leaving the estate to someone who was not a blood relative, “outside the family”, was an irrational act, and thereby she had to not have been in her right mind. And if she was not in her right mind then the will was invalid and if it was invalid the five would receive $4 million each.

I am pleased by the Court’s thinking. The Mans were able to tell stories of repeated visits in each others homes, birthday celebrations enjoyed together, of Goldie being there for anniversary celebrations and repeatedly taking vacations with the Mans. The five could not demonstrate much, if any, ongoing connection with Goldie.

The crux of the case comes down to definition of family. Irrespective of how often they visited their aunt, or whether they could recall her birth date in court, the five genetic interlopers held that because they shared her genes that they should receive her money. The arguments of these vultures are shallow and their actions driven not by concern for Goldie but by greed.

The Court dismissed such a shallow definition of family by noting that even though the Mans did not share any genetic material with Goldie, they functioned and supported each other as a family.

The Court has reminded us that family is not about common genetics, it is about support and love for each other. The judge has given a wise ruling. Kudos to the Court.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Thoughts Arising From Joanne's 8 October Posting

Since Joanne’s posting of 8 October I have remained silent as I was unsure I have any words of wisdom to share on the matter. Standing at a distance I lack adequate competency to on the matter. Yet I find myself drawn to speak on broader issues of spirituality, worship and the church, all of which her posting touches upon.

Along with politics and family discipline, worship expression and religion are the most explosive issues we face within our families and circle of friends. Each of these three explosive areas is colored by our culture, personal experiences, values and intellectual assumptions.

There are times when I have had to stir myself Sundays to go to worship with the collective body of believers. In those moments I have to remind myself that there is something mystical that takes place in a collective worship experience that cannot take place in solitary worship. Many of those times I did not wish to go have been the moments I have found an element in the service or the whole service itself to move my heart. Scripture not only strongly encourages people of faith gathering together but the Word also says that our faith is defined and shaped by the corporate.

Though I have worshipped primarily within a Salvation Army context I recognized in ’96 that it could change one day. When we left Winnipeg we felt that being people of faith was primary, denominational affiliation was secondary.

Some congregations can be cold and others warm. Some are rigid and legalistic while others seek to have a dynamic expression of faith, while some seek to appeal to the mind, too many settle for the warm fuzzies. Worship styles vary just as personalities vary.

By their nature churches tend to be authoritarian structures that unintentionally foster judgmental dynamics. People are told what to believe. A resultant is that those who do not hold the same views are viewed as having defective faith or even lacking it. When a person thinks differently they are told that they are resisting the will of God. Too many define their faith by what they attack and view as being wrong rather than by the higher values that they hold. One only has to look at the Christian mass media to see regular examples of major leaders setting a judgmental pattern and thereby fostering spiritual abuse. Lacking love and a desire to find a meeting of the minds their unkind and judgmental harangues are colored more by control and political issues than by the love Christ taught. With such patterns established by the church leadership, including those most widely known, is it any wonder that those in the congregation do the same?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Top 100 High Schools in the USA

A thoughtful observer of American society will quickly observe that one of the characteristics of the nation is its tendency to evaluate and rank a host of things. It is seen in the college football and basketball pools, in restaurant ratings, in graduate college rankings, in where one places in one's graduating high school or college class, in regional and national rankings of high school athletes in various sports, in ranking cities that are deemed to have the best/worse commutes, the safest cities, the best and worse crime rates, the best places to retire, best and worse cars, trucks, televisions, movies, etc. In that mix is the ranking of high schools.

The top 100 High Schools in America was published over the weekend by USA News and World Report. Fairfax County, the county in which we live, has three high schools ranked in the top 100. At the top of the list as being the best high school is Thomas Jefferson HS. TJ is a science and computer specialty school that draws students from across the county. Their labs are better equiped than most colleges. To gain entry to TJ one has to go through a screening process that yields them the best of the best. TJ is the school that Josh tried to gain entry to but did not make to the final round.

Langley, another Faifax HS is ranked number 37. And Josh’s school, Oakton HS, is ranked number 88. What is interesting is that though most in the county have viewed Oakton as one of their best high schools, the School Board in its wisdom has been talking about changing the school boundaries, decreasing the school population and making other educational changes. Those who have opposed the changes have been arguing that as the school is one of the strongest that they Board could end up undercutting its strengths. We suspect that the vocal opponents have just been added a strong argument against making any changes.

Monday, December 03, 2007


The calls for a football playoff system has become a resounding chorus in the last three weeks. Commentators speak of the BCS as being in shambles. A proposal calling for a twelve teams play down system has strong support. The top four teams would play the winners coming out of the next eight playing against each other. Hence, there would be four rounds, or three extra games for a team to make it the bowl championship team.

Fans, it is argued, will love playoff games being played throughout the month of December. Some of the existing bowl games would become part of the playoff. There will be some politicians who will jump on the bandwagon and leverage this issue to garner support. Those charlatan politicians are demonstrating that they are shallow and are more concerned with gaining public office rather than focusing their efforts on solving society’s much greater challenges.

For various reasons I cannot support any of the playoff proposals. The chief three are:
1. One of the enjoyable aspects of college football is the inter-college arguments of which team is really better than others. I like buzz, chatter and the debates. This year is not a disaster as some have noted.
2. The BSC and the polls are not in shambles. The number of top ranked teams being defeated to low ranked or non-ranked teams has demonstrated that the college game this year has a high level of parity. In the past, three or four teams have dominated the game. Hopefully, such parity will be more frequent in the future.
3. The operative word in the whole debate is the “college”. The players are students, not professionals. Yes some are more players than students, but let us not forget that the bulk of the team is made up of students, students who in December have major papers due and final exams. Those who are arguing for a playoff system seem to be asking these players to sacrifice their studies and grades for their entertainment and to satisfy their desire to settle the argument as to which team is really the best team.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Cascading Affect

With any commute you come expect certain points along your route to move slowly. A series of lights or three lanes going into two or merging of traffic from another major route tend to create slow points. This week I was heading and was about a mile from one of the major slow down points created a perfect storm, the merger of traffic from three lanes into two right at the point where two major routes enter. Complicating the flow are two lights just after the second merger and the narrowing of the lanes. The traffic suddenly slowed and then crawled well before the normal place.

It took nearly minutes to get through the area that even in heavy traffic normally takes five minutes. I thought that there was a major accident. As I approached the pair of cars with their flashers on I could see Arlington backed up as far back as I could see, about two miles. Looking down the beltway, the first major set of mergers, I could see northbound traffic was crawling along from the south but flowing well after the Arlington exit, and the southbound traffic was crawling along from the north in a similar manner. The traffic coming down the two ramps of the beltway were so backed up that traffic was backed up so far that the deceleration lane was overflowing onto the expressing, thereby functionally closing down one of the four beltway lanes. The second major merger was also a mess.

Expecting a significant accident I shook my head when I saw the cause. The cause was one car rear ending the car in front just beyond the merger of the other route and the three lanes into two. It was clear that there was little damage. No crumpled panels or bumpers. No broken lights. They speed of impact was likely below 15 mph. Rather than pulling off to the shoulder both cars sat there, drivers sitting in their cars, waiting for the police. Though the police will take the report it is likely they would be told a) the police did not need to be called for this accident and they should have just exchanged information, and b) that they should have pulled off to the side of the road to exchange the information.

Sitting there behind their wheels waiting for the police for something that did not need police involvement had a cascading impact.