Monday, June 29, 2009

Quick Note From the Road

We have gone from one of the poorest campgrounds to one of the best privates we have stayed at over the years. The lots are large, well spaced and shaded. the pool is lovely and it has a nice game room. Unfortunately, the internet connection is less than desired. We will not have internet connection until Thursday.

We are off to sightsee for the day before going to Hudson Falls High School and wait for the Crossmen. They should be pulling in around 4:30 to 5 AM. Josh said the performance last night did not go well at many levels. If you have a poor show, I guess it is best to have it early.

Lake George area is highly recommended as a place to visit. More later.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Report From the Road

We are now on the road. We had hoped to be on the road by 4:15 and just ahead to the heavy beltway traffic. Though she was in the office by 7 AM we left later than desired as Evie had items to look after at the office before she could leave. Hence we did the beltway crawl and crawled a good way up I 270 to Frederick MD a 40 minute trip that took 2.5 hours….driving a RV in heavy traffic is a pain.

Last night we stayed the night at a Super WalMart in southeast Harrisburg (just off Paxton and Mushroom). By the time we finished our groceries and making a minor repair there were 14 rigs camping in the back of parking lot.

We awoke to discover Josh sent us a text message….he needs a new cheep watch and new fanny pack. We picked those items up just before we stopped at Pocono Downs to take in sixteen harness races. Admission was free. We spent the afternoon trying to handicap the races, each picking a horse and cheering for it. None of mine ever finished in first, nor did Evie’s picks…sometimes our choices came second or third though. All told, if we had bet our choices for real we both would have lost big time. That said, I was a little comforted that the two handicappers whose notes were in the program we bought did not do much better than us. All told, it was an enjoyable afternoon of free entertainment. Watch for some photos in the near future of some pictures Evie took of the action.

Tonight we are staying in a little campground on the Delaware River. It is one of the poorest campgrounds in which we have stayed, but it is for one night and we are not interested in doing much other than doing some reading and turning in. That said...we were pleased to discover that the campground does have wireless.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Iran - My Thoughts

Like many others I’m following the events in Iran with some interest. Clearly there is concern in Iran over the announced election results in Iran. I cannot attest to the veracity of the concerns but there is a clear disparity between the pre-election polls and announced results. Such a disparity between the results and the pre-election polls in a US or Canadian election would be extremely disconcerting too.

Iran is experiencing high unemployment (some figures peg it between 20 and 22%) and economic stagnation. Though there are concerns within the citizenry that various local authorities are corrupt and self-serving, the upper eulachon of the ruling authorities are seem to be turning a blind eye to such charges. Governing authorities make sweeping charges blaming the wows of the nation upon the shoulders of external powers and groups rather than accepting responsibility for their nation’s problems and doing something about the struggles of the average citizen. Protestors are viewed as enemies of the state. Through their religious police and militia the brutality of Iranian government is stunning.

We have seen this story before in Iran. In the past Iranian protestors who have questioned the validity of the governing authorities have been met with brutal oppression and sweeping arrests. Some who were arrested disappeared forever. As in the past we are again witnessing the secret police and selected military units vigorously beating protestors and other bystanders. We are again seeing the government dismissing the concerns of the protestors and through government controlled media telling a story that does not match what the average citizen is seeing happening on the street. We are again seeing a government not being far from truthful with its people.

In the past, it was the Shah’s brutal regime that was the focus of the populist protest. Today, it is those who fueled the protests against the Shah and became the new leaders who are brutalizing and oppressing their fellow citizens. The current regime is as tyrannical as the Shah’s and are behaving much like the Shah’s regime that they cried out had lost its legitimacy to govern. Both are brutal, both oppressive, both with uncaring upper leadership, and both attempting to repress the populous while only loosing the respect of the nation to lead and govern. Both police states. Both through their actions are showing the level of corruption and the extent that they will go to hold to power.

The primary difference is that then the regime was a secular regime that gave lip service to religion whereas today’s is a strict conservative religious regime that gives lip service to modern life and human dignity. It seems that Iran’s leadership unapologetically feels free to do the same things as the Shah because they are doing it in the name of their religion whereas the Shah did it not in the name of religion. From 1976 to 1979 the supreme ruling authority the Shah proved to be an unfit ruler and his power rightly ended in 1979. Irrespective of their misguided religious justification, today’s the Supreme Leader and his holy cadre are walking down the same road as the Shah and as the Shah showed himself to be an unfit leader so too are the current governing authorities.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Music Education - Summer Program

What an interesting idea for a summer program at a church to run. The church runs a summer jazz program for 5th to 8th graders. It provides a service to the local community, keeps the kids occupied during the day, and helps to the participants to take their music skills to the next level.

This is a very compatible program for Salvation Army Corps for kids from the Corps who can play as well as those from outside. Further a quality program would help push the Corps’ youth to the next level and broaden their musical skills as well as their understanding of music.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Snowbound by Janice Johnson

Snowbound is a romantic novel by Janice Johnson. I am not in the habit of reading romance novels but I read it as the Kindle edition was free. In Snowbound Fiona the heroine is a single high school teacher who becomes stranded at a resort with a handful of students she has taken to an academic event. Stranded in the Cascade Mountains, Fiona meets John Fallon, a Iraq war veteran who has been traumatized by an attack that killed a handful of teenage boys he was coaching in soccer.

Over three days, the reader follows how Fiona and John fall in love. Though they are falling in love there is a barrier between them, the unspoken trauma that haunts John and drives him to seek privacy. When Fiona returns to home the two correspond via email and which gives John the courage to do something about his trauma. This quick read ends with the couple announcing their wedding.

As mentioned, I rarely read romances and am therefore no expert on the genre. On the whole I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the novel. The story reminded me how trauma of what a soldier sees in a war zone can continue to haunt him/her and impact how they interact with others. The story also reminded me how patient love can become the catalyst for healing.

You may wonder why was the book free? The publisher has other books for sale and was offering the free book as an introduction.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Not All Surveys Are Equal

The other day I heard a conservative commentator, Sean Hannity, state that 85% of Americans are happy with their healthcare plan. His used the poll to argue that Obama and healthcare advocates are pandering only to those who lack insurance and a few on the fringe. I have mentioned the statement to four people so far and none of them would answer the question in the affirmative. So why the difference?

I have no doubts regarding the results of the survey question was 85%. By carefully crafting the question it is not hard to design surveys to yield the results you desire. This is even more true when the question is preceded by other carefully crafted questions that help set up the key question or questions. Due to this dynamic, most academic researchers associated with colleges and universities are required by their institutions to submit their questions for peer review to ensure that they are truly neutral and being asked in a framework that gives reliable results.

A large number of surveys conducted by political operatives are far from neutral, they are strong push surveys. The main question is at the end of a series of carefully crafted questions that draw the responder to answer yes and give the desired results. The results are then trumpeted and used to further a political agenda. If the survey was conducted in a balanced and neutral fashion the results would be significantly different. These politically driven surveys are disingenuous at best.

Not all surveys truly reflect public opinions. A good dose of askance is appropriate in looking at results. Look behind the survey, not only the question but the context of the question and the questions that precede it as not all surveys are equal or dependable.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


After a long time of refusing to go on Facebook, I finally did so. Why the change of mind? Simple...two weeks ago Erika, who is on Josh's friend's list laughed that Josh had put up from San Antonio during the first spring training days a statement saying "oh the pain." We had just upgraded his cell and our plan that allows him to access the web this summer. Wanting to keep up on his journey, other than the weekly call, and thinking if he is posting regularly that I guess I should make the jump to facebook.

Within a day of going on, Alice, an old friend from college sent a message asking to be added to my friend's list. I had somewhat lost track of her over the years as well as a few others. Now I am connecting somewhat with them. Her invitation drew me into the process, and if you read this post Alice, thank you.

There are those in my field who hold Facebook is a great way to raise money...I argue that it is not and to date the hype has not been supported by the results. There are non-profits who are putting great effort and funds into facebook, tweeter, etc. with little to show. I argue that those resources could be spent more productively elsewhere. Hence, I view facebook and other such social networking with significant skeptism.

I maintained for a long time that much of what is on facebook is meaningless statements but I have found that in that meaningless statements and what old friends have posted about themselves I am learning a little of what they have done over the years. In the pictures that they have posted I see elements of their lives, their trips and their joys. Further, I have had a chat with a few friends including last night, my niece Emily....Emily if you read this, thank you it was an enjoyable short chat. Therefore those meaningless statements are no longer meaningless, and for that I am thankful.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dominance and Leadership

There are those whose hold that leadership should dominate and control the agenda and meeting. One stream of thought is that a leader speaks frequently making his or her views known in a clear forceful manner. Another stream is a good leader should give others a few minutes to express their thoughts and then speak, jumping off expressed views with which the leader is already in concurrence. In both cases the leader addresses and controls most points.

I have never felt comfortable this viewpoint. Some good leaders are of the above mold but many more do not dominate meetings or others. These leaders listen, consider the views of others and they do not have to speak to everything. They are focused upon the major/critical matters or ideas rather than side skirmishes and the minor details. I have been reading sections from Thomas Jefferson’s autobiography. Following is a quote that touches upon the temperament and nature of two men who were clearly national leaders in different spheres.

"I served with General Washington in the legislature of Virginia before the revolution, and, during it, with Dr. Franklin in Congress. I never heard either of them speak ten minutes at a time, nor to any but the main point which was to decide the question. They laid their shoulders to the great points, knowing that the little ones would follow of themselves."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

2008 vs. 1974

Comparing the current economic environment to the early 1930s is dubious. In the 30s there was no social security, no unemployment, no food stamps and no subsidized housing. Federal, state and local government spending was not as a significant factor in the GDP as today. The government’s portion of the GDP helps to bring a more stabilizing factor and unless there is an absolute collapse of the economy we will not see unemployment go above 30% as happened in the 30s.

Since the establishment of social security and unemployment, our definition point should be 1974, the worse economic year since WWII. In 1974 gas shortages, dramatically increasing gas prices and out of control inflation sent the economy into a tailspin. Long lines formed at gas stations and businesses suspended production or closed all together. What happened that year caused the economy and businesses to restructure, and it brought on the collapse of Chrysler and the Chrysler loan guarantees to save the company.

How does 2008 compare to 1974?

S&P – in 1974 a 33% decline, 2008 a 37% decline
Corporate profits – 1974, 16 decline, 2008 a 18% decline
GDP – 1974 a 0.5% decline, 2008 a 1.1% increase
Personal income – 1974 a 0.2% decline, 2008 a 0.8% decline
Unemployment at year end – 1974 was 7.2%, 2008 was 7.2%
Charitable giving – 1974 a 5.4 decline, 2008 a 5.7% decline

On the whole, we are in a slightly worse position as in 1974. As the events of 1974 started to recast various elements of the economy, so too will 2008.

Monday, June 15, 2009

I Would Hate to Experience This Heartburst

The following is from 33/40 News Weather Blog. Forty-nine years later, the residents of Kopperl, Texas still refer to the meteorological phenomenon that struck their town during the early morning hours of Wednesday, June 15, 1960.

Newspapers that morning talked about Lyndon Johnson’s landslide victory to be Texas’ candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination. Texas Republicans were backing Richard Nixon. President Eisenhower was traveling to Japan, where intense riots were underway as leftists protested the pro-Western government. But the people in Kopperl were just glad to see the sun rise.

Kopperl as a town on the edge of Lake Whitney in Bosque County, Texas, about fifty miles southwest of Fort Worth. It was founded in 1881 and named for a banker, Moritz Kopperl.It was a typical June night in Kopperl. Skies were mostly clear. Some heat lightning was visible on the horizon. One clump of clouds rolled toward the town after midnight. The temperature was about 70F. Suddenly, a tremendous wind arose. It gusted to over 75 mph over a wide area. A store was unroofed. Trees were knocked over. The temperature shot up with an incredible momentum. In just a few minutes, it rose to over 100F. There are reports that thermometers designed to register temperatures up to 140F actually broke as the alcohol expanded so rapidly with the dramatic heat.

People awakened when their air conditioners went out as power failed. Suddenly, their houses were sweltering saunas. They rushed outside, thinking their houses must be on fire. They found that the air outside was scorching. It was hard to breathe. Lightning flashed. They thought the world was coming to an end. Parents wrapped their terrified children in wet sheets to keep them cool.

The next morning, farmers found that their corn that had been green the day before was cooked on the stalk. Ranchers found their young cotton fields burned to a crisp. Leaves on trees, shrubs, and plants were burned as if there had been a freeze.

The event was unexplained in 1960. But today, we know that it was a heatburst. It is a phenomenon that causes extreme winds, a dramatic rise in temperature and a rapid drop in humidity. It happens when air transported high in the atmosphere by a thunderstorm comes crashing back to earth in a downdraft. Most downdrafts are cool in nature, cooled by evaporating rain. But in a heatburst, there is no rain, and the air heats rapidly by compression, rises at 5.5 degrees F as it descends. The air can warm by over 100 degrees F. It rushes outward when it strikes the ground, much as any downburst. Most result in a 20 degree F rise in temperature. The Kopperl downburst was an extreme event, one of the worst heatbursts ever recorded.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Nine

The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin provides wonderful insights into the Court over which Chief Justice William Rehnquist presided from September 1986 to September 2003.

Toobin, a lawyer and CNN commentator on the Court, provides wonderful insights into the personalities of the Associate Justices, their passions and biases. A plethora of key cases from those years are outlined, including issues related to abortion, equality, gay rights, federalism, and religious expression in the public square. One of the more fascinating sections was Toobin’s examination of Bush v. Gore which the author notes brought forth from the Rehnquist Court all its primary shortcomings and in the end damaged public respect for the Court. The section dealing with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the detaining and treatment of prisoners provided for me fresh insights into the Bush Administration’s imperialistic attitude and desire to increase the power of the Presidency, for which the Bush administration was judged harshly by the Court.

The book provides significant extracts from both majority and dissenting rulings. Though numerous, the extracts are judicious and paired with commentary that allows the average reader to understand the essence of what is being said in the statements.

The book also reveals the political and religious right’s efforts to gain control of the Court. Harriet Miers, though a strong conservative and a very loyal Bush advisor withdrew her nomination because the religious right did not think she was conservative enough. Toobin notes that ultimately Bush’s selections of John Roberts and Samuel Alito have moved the Court strongly to the right after being a centrist court for decades. Toobin outlines that his selections were made to satisfy and sooth the concerns of four men, Jay Sekulow the primary lawyer pushing for prayer at public events and in schools, Ed Meese who was in the Regan administration and an advocate of increasing the power of the President, Manny Miranda and James Dobson the dominant voice of religious right, and all strong critics of an independent and strong judiciary. The book concludes with a handful of rulings from the Roberts Court and how the Court under Roberts has a conservative agenda.

This book is well worth reading.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Challenge for Every Generation

There are those in the fundamentalist and evangelical church that hold that the Bible must be interpreted as literally as possible and not reinterpreted by modern thoughts. They speak as if the Bible was a flat document that is to be adhered to down to the letter. This is type of thinking maintains that contemporary trends and thoughts should have no barring upon the eternal teachings of the church. The same faith of our ancestors must be faithfully preserved and passed down.

These traditionalist pervade every denomination, including The Salvation Army. One of thesee branches within the church are described as “restorationists” (or known as "the primitive Salvationist movement" in the Army). The restorationists seek to return the church to its early state. In the Army this movement calls for a return to the early years of the Army (1865-1895) in matters ranging from dress to confrontational evangelism to programs to utilization of resources. The assumption is that the Army has drifted and become somewhat apostate. The view continues that just as God blessed the Army and these early methods He will do so again if we but obediently and passionately return to the old ways.

Whether those thoughts are in the Army or in other denominations, such thinking is flawed. It sees the past through rose colored glasses and does not see the pains endured and mistakes made during “the glory years.” What is overlooked is that those tragic mistakes have helped the church to learn from the past. A handful of undeniable past mistakes may be hinted at or even broadly sketched in historical records in a sanitized fashion without really revealing the heart of the struggle with its gore. Rather than focusing upon mistakes, the records tend to over glorify the accomplishments and the results, and more often than not, do so in a hagiographic manner.

Such thinking forgets that society progresses and learns from the past. Though the heart of humanity remains embroiled in most of the same struggles, how those personal, interpersonal and cultural issues are worked out in the present is unique from prior generations. It is unique simply because society has evolved, because our new toys/technologies help create new issues past generations never dreamed of addressing. Add to modern technology the ongoing evolution of thinking, new laws and different societal standards and you have a context that is unlike those of the earlier generation. We cannot say with any certainty what the Booths or Wesley, or Knox or Luther or Peter or Paul or David or Moses would say about a particular contemporary issue or expression today as they could not and did envision our society.

Each generation has to confront its contemporary issues within its context. The Bible must be understood within its context, eternal truths defined and distinguished from cultural trappings. The kernel of the teaching carries forward to instruct and guide, not the trappings and the expression. Hence, each generation has to interpret and apply afresh the eternal teachings.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Calling a Bluff

Around 1050 in Coventry England Leofric, Lord of Mercia imposed heavy taxes and tolls upon his subjects. His wife, Godgifu was aghast on the level of the taxes and tolls. She appealed repeatedly to Leofric to be more far in his collection process and rates.

Eventually had enough of her entreaties and put forth a bluff thinking that his honorable wife felt so strong to call his bluff. Leofric said he would grant her request if she would strip and ride through the town of Coventry upon her horse. She called his bluff and announced that she would ride through town clothed in nothing but her long hair. Out of respect for Lady Godiva (Godgifu…her name in old English) and why she was doing the ride, the citizens closed their shutters and turned away from looking toward the horse.

In an annual celebration and telling her story in the classroom Coventry England continues to honor her ride and identification with the common person.

All except the town’s tailor, turned their back. The tailor’s name became renown and his name has been forever linked to a common term that continues forward in our modern age and in our laws….Peeping Tom.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Meaningful Healthcare Reform Will Fail

Meaningful health reform will fail. It will fail because of big bucks and fear. Outside the gun lobby, the biggest influence is the healthcare lobby. Big pharma, equipment and the hospital corporations pour millions a year into the election campaigns of Republicans and a handful of Democrats.

Further each year millions more is poured into a war chest to be used to buy television ads that are aimed to create, and fuel fears in the minds of the general public. Healthcare reform advocacy groups cannot hope to match such spending to counter the avalanche of spending and fear mongering that will be coming. For every dollar healthcare advocates can spend the healthcare lobby will be spending more than twenty-five dollars.

The healthcare lobby and the Republicans will talk about government inefficiency and the high costs of a public system. What will never be heard is that one out of five dollars goes to pay exorbitant salaries to the top executives and stockholders. The CEOs of the major healthcare systems and firms on average make more than $12 million a year. Those who note that one out of four dollars goes to insurance company bureaucracies will not be heard. What will not be heard is that insurance companies systematically deny a host of small claims they should pay with the hope that insured will pay the bill and not ask for cogent rationale and file petition for review (with the vast majority of such petitions being paid). What will not be understood by the public is their doctors and hospitals have to have a significantly larger staff than their Canadian or British counterparts just to help process all the different forms from the plethora of insurance companies and understanding what is covered and what is not covered, and what is the patient’s co-pay.

The healthcare lobby will talk about the rationing of healthcare in a public system. What will go unsaid is that for the average citizen, the American system has far more rationing of healthcare than any of their counterparts in the western world. The average citizen’s employer provided plan allows for the insured only to use a minority of doctors, clinics and hospitals in their area. What is not said is that though the hospital may be on the list, particular doctors who are assigned your case may not be on the insurance company’s approved list. To go off the approved lists means the insurance company pays less and the patient may carry the majority of the costs.

What will remain unheard and not comprehended by the average citizen is that they are paying more than 25% more on a per capita basis than their Canadian counterparts while having a higher infant mortality rate, a significantly shorter lifespan, and over 25% of the population uninsured or significantly underinsured.

In America, dollars not facts controls the public debate. When one party can outspend the other by more than ten to one is going to win the debate more often than not. In politics, if you outspend your the other side by more than twenty to one, your avalanch will bury them and the outcome is known.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Christian Right's - A Fallacious Claim

The American Christian Right putting forward its agenda upon the national scene frequently argues that they have a right to do so as the United States was founded to be a Christian nation and that they are only fighting to remain true with the original intent of the Founding Fathers. I have been reading on and off the Thomas Jefferson’s autobiography. In his work I came across the statement that makes fallacious such a claim.

"The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that it's protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word 'Jesus Christ,' so that it should read "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion." The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it's protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination."

The Founding Fathers held that the United States should be a nation that allows freedom of religion for all religion, as well as freedom not to believe any set of religious teachings. Though they did not think through the consequences, or envision how society would evolve, they also held that government should not favor any particular religion.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Kindle

In a recent comment Barb asked my opinions of my Kindle.

Kindle is clearly user friendly. The buttons to advance pages on each side of the screen are easy to use. Unfortunately there is only a page back button on the left. In some ways I wish the small joy stick was larger, but then again if it was too large it would get in the way. It is light weight. Its width and breath is a little larger than the average paperback and less than a half inch thick. To protect the Kindle, purchasing a cover is a wise investment.

The paper-white screen is not back-lit. Therefore, reading requires adequate direct light to fall upon the screen. I have found two advantages with the paper-white screen, a) it makes reading easy on the eyes, and b) it extends the battery life. One could read over 30 hours on one charge. The fond size can be changed from very small to large…of course the larger the font, the more you have to advance the page.

When you turn off the reader, it returns to the last screen. If you go off to read another book, when you return to the book you were reading, Kindle returns to the last page you were on. On the bottom of the page is a gage showing what per cent of the book you are on. There is a word and phrase search option. You can copy passages into a “My Clipping” file that can be transferred to your computer via a cable. Music files and photos can be put onto the Kindle.

Downloading books via Amazon’s Whispernet takes place smoothly. Books can be ordered via Amazon on the computer or via Kindle. The memory size allows for about 1,500 average length books. Most of the books are a fraction of what they would be in the store or online. Amazon has also made available hundreds of public domain items for little to no cost. If you do not know the meaning of a word, move the cursor via the joystick to word to kick-in the dictionary with the meaning appearing at the bottom of the screen.

Via the wireless system, the owner has free access to Wikipedia.

On the whole, I love the Kindle and highly recommend it.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Blog Challenge - Food

Over the past years my pallet has broadened. In the past year I have enjoyed and would be happy to eat again:
- Shrimp, grilled and fried
- Sweet and Sour Pork
- Duck
- Alligator
- Fried Squid
- Crab
- Teriyaki Chicken
- Pork Souvlaki sandwich on pita bread
- Dim-sum
- Lo mein
- Buffalo