Monday, July 30, 2012

My Indisputable Facts of Life

I have had these hanging on a wall in my study for almost twenty years.  I put them together when I was not feeling good about where I was and where I was going as a person, a friend, a member of my family. Every now and again when I need  "grounding" I will dust these off and re-read them. I believe every person has a similar unique list, written or unwritten, that fits his or her needs. This list has truly become my "Indisputable Facts of Life".

·      Always be more tolerant of other people than they are of you.

·      Try to kill other people with kindness (don’t worry – they won’t die).

·      If you live on the edge, you will never have any margin – the smallest misstep will be either a game changer or a life changer.

·      If a mistake is made, go from it (don’t dwell on it) and grow from it (become better by learning to avoid it again).

·      People that succeed are able to turn lemons into lemonade – the more lemonade that can be made, the more success that can be obtained.

·      ALL people are born free – someone has to take that freedom away from them. Protecting freedom is the most noble of all causes.

·      Happiness and joy only come from within you. Never rely on things or people to create happiness and joy for you.

·      Always expect to give more in a relationship than you receive. In the long run, you will receive more than you give.

·      Balance in life in more important than money. Without balance, all the money in the world will not satisfy you.

·      Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and give unto God what is God’s. Just make sure that Caesar does not get too greedy.

·      Life is tough, but is a lot tougher if you are ignorant. Never stop learning.

·       Your friends will come and go, your family should always love you, but it is God who will never desert you (even if you have deserted Him).

The Cliff and the Plane

When I was nineteen years old, I had just enlisted in the Navy and received orders to report to San Diego for boot training. That in and of itself was a big adventure as I had only flown once before, and that was  a short hop from Minneapolis to Rochester (MN). We took off from the Twin Cities airport for a four hour trip to San Diego in a Boeing 737 aircraft. The 737 is a smaller jet which has one engine on each wing. Somewhere over Arizona, I was trying to doze before we landed.  I was awoken to what sounded like someone throwing a snowball at the plane. The crew door flew open and one of the pilots came running down the aisle and looked out a window on my side of the plane. The engine under the wing had exploded and sparks and flames were coming out of the rear. The pilot managed to feather the damaged engine until the fire was out. However, even though the 737 was designed to fly on one engine in case of an emergency, this plane was starting to struggle.

We were informed by the pilot an in flight emergency had been delared and we were going to try to make it back to Phoenix. However, in the event we could not make it, the flight attendants would be prepping us for a crash landing in the desert. I was in shock and disbelief. It was enough of a trauma just going to boot camp, but this was like a bad dream. My future, my life depended on the skill and acumen of the two men sitting up in the cockpit. For the first time, I had no control of my situation. My life was dependent on someone else doing the right thing to save the day. We did safely land at Phoenix. Everyone cheered, and later than evening we continued on to San Diego. Even though I ended up logging over 1,000,000 business travel miles on NWA, it took years to get over my "white knuckle" fear of flying from that ill fated flight in 1969.

In five short months we are collectively going to have an experience similar to hoping against hope someone in the nation's cockpit can get us home safely. I am talking about the approaching fiscal cliff, or "taxmageddon" as some call it. I have been doing a lot of research on this since the beginning of the year, and frankly, I am amazed to see the lack of urgency in preventing it. One economist had said if left unfixed, the financial impact to a typical family would be similar to the price of gas going up to $10/gallon over night. It is not just one tax going up, it is a slew of them, and EVERYONE will be impacted.

Consider the following for Jan 1, 2013:

The Bush-era tax cuts will end (this is huge). Every one of the existing income tax brackets will be ratcheted up, starting with the lowest 10% bracket, which will be hiked to 15%. The 25% bracket will jump to 28%; the 28% bracket will go to 31%; the 33% bracket will be replaced by a 36% bracket and the 35% bracket will soar to 39.6%. 

The maximum rate on long-term gains is scheduled to increase to 20%.

The maximum rate on dividends will skyrocket to a whopping 39.6%. 
Investors in the two lowest income brackets who currently pay 0% will have to shell out 10% on long-term gains and 15% and 28% on dividends.

The death of the Bush tax cuts also kills temporary federal estate and gift tax breaks and a measure to ease the marriage penalty for low and middle income couples.

On top of that, workers will lose a 2% cut on social security taxes. That means an average $1,000 tax increase come Jan. 1 for virtually all workers.
The AMT fix will also end which will expose middle class Americans to the crippling effects of losing most, if not all deductions.

In addition there will be five new taxes that fund Obamacare.

Finally, even though these are not taxes, don't forget about the job killing sequestration as well as the debt limit which will also hit in the same time frame.

One of my favorite analysts on CNBC has referred to Jan 1, 2013 as "better than the perfect storm for financial misery". Truthfully, I think he is right. Even if we had a robust economy, this cliff would be daunting to overcome. Factor in with the above the international issues - possible war with Iran and the possible collapse of the Euro. Even though we are in a short lived euphoria that Europe is fixed, it is not. There might not be enough tea in China to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. In other words, the debt obligations might be too high with the revenue possibilities to little to fix Europe. We might have already gone around the bend. Also the closer Iran gets to finishing their first nuke, the more probable war will become. Many experts believe Iran will be at that point sometime in 2013.

Finally, lets not forget about our anemic economy. With GDP only slightly above zero and real unemployment over 10%, we are not at all in good shape. We need things to be dead perfect to have a prayer in getting our economy back on track. Having a weak economy coupled with the rapidly approaching cliff leads many to take very pessimistic view of the future. We are in the back of the plane and altitude is being lost. With a crash imminent, the pilots are busy doing other things instead of trying to save the plane. Those of us in the back of the plane know we are in trouble and there is nothing we can do about it.

I have said for a long time that our financial problems are a bi-partisan effort. Both sides are guilty as sin for getting us here and even guiltier for not fixing them. We elect people out of trust - first do no harm and then fix what needs to be fixed. The only idea I have heard so far is to extend this mess until after the election. Every time the can gets kicked down the street, the problem gets worse. Leaders, fix it now! You have five months - time to work and get it done. You are the pilots and we are the passengers. If we could fix it, we would. However, we can't - we elected you to do it. The plane is crashing and the cliff is approaching. Please save us - save the day.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

My Bunker, My Store, My Lifeboat...

Those that know me know that my proselytization of strategic and tactical bunkering borders on obsession. I can't help it - it is that important. Americans are for the most part unprepared for unexpected events. We don't save enough, many don't have the right kind or quantity of insurance and the vast majority have very little if any food and water stored up in case of an emergency.

Maybe the reason so many of us are unprepared is our history. Other than 9/11, we have not had recent attacks on CONUS (Continental Untied States). We are not accustom to being without. Most folks that went though the shortages of the Depression are no longer with us. My parents after they retired became "Euro shoppers" - in other words, as in Europe, if you needed something for supper, you went down to the daily market to buy it. My Dad would go to either Rainbow or Kowolski's two or three times a week to pick up small  quantities of items. Many working families do shopping once a week to get what they need for the upcoming week's meals.

I could name dozens of man made or natural events that could happen to our country that would pertubate our distribution system of food and utilities. However, there are probably many more things I have not even thought of that could do some damage. Think of it this way - if something unexpected and catastrophic happened tomorrow, most grocery stores would be out of everything the day after. Stores, like most businesses today operate on what is called JIT (Just In Time) inventory. In other words, most stores don't carry much - too expensive. So if you were out of water, and could somehow get to a store, and they too were out of water, what would you do?

Bunker Up! That should be the calling card for every family in America. To have at least thirty (30) days of provisions (as a minimum) makes nothing by good, common sense. In a time of emergency, your bunker will become your store. In a time of prolonged emergency, your bunker will also become your life boat. As chance favors the prepared mind, chance will also favor the prepared family.

Now before eyes start rolling backwards let me first explain there is a big difference between a survivalist and establishing a simple bunker system. Not that I have anything against survivalists, they might end up being the smartest of us all. A bunker system is specifically set up for a temporary disruption of our supply system that would prohibit you from getting food and staple items from anywhere else. Temporary, not permanent.

So how to do it - where to start. First off, relax - it is much easier than you might think. In fact most houses already have the start of a bunker. Bunkers are broken down into two categories - tactical (any food item with a shelf life of a year or less) and strategic (food items with a shelf life of over one year). Many houses have a pantry, and in that pantry are many food items with a shelf life of less than a year. In addition, many houses also have a freezer containing frozen meats and veggies. Assuming the power stays on, that too could be considered to be tactical. So long as the pantry stays stocked up and the freshness and expiration dates are known so stock can be rotated, tactical bunkers are just fine.

However, in a worst case scenario, you must also consider a strategic bunker. In particular, potable water. If there was a  pandemic, a EMP event, massive social unrest, war, you name it, help could be many months away. When Hurricane Katina hit New Orleans, we were prepared - we were prepared for a direct hit on the city. FEMA had prepositioned emergency supplies to move in quickly once the storm had past. What was not prepared for however, was what actually happened. The storm surge hit east of town and defeated the antiquated levy system. The rest is history. Almost 2,000 died, thousands more suffered and huge sections of the City of New Orleans lay in ruin. Federal, State and Local governments were tripping over each other, doing little, blaming each other, and people continued to suffer. The distribution system along that portion of the Gulf Coast was down for weeks, some areas months. Many people stranded by the storm had nothing, and nothing was coming.

There were many lessons learned from Katrina, but my biggest take away was this - in a worst case scenario, government assets will be overwhelmed or inefficient. You must rely on yourself to survive. I believe no matter how bad the event, our government will eventually be able to help it's citizens. However, in the time it takes for that to happen, people who are not prepared will suffer and/of die. Remember, you will live less than a week without water; less than a month without food.

In your tactical bunker, it is food as usual - it is the stuff you like to and are use to eating. In your strategic bunker it is food to keep you alive. First off, plan to have enough water safely stored to last at least 30 days. If the emergency lasts longer than 30 days, have a basic water purification system on hand. Purified water may not taste as good as bottled water, but it beats the alternative. Next, do you homework and find on which foods last the longest and how to properly store them. The internet is bulging with good, valid information on this topic. Rices and dried beans top the list. Stored properly, they will last just about forever and have enough nutrition to keep you alive. If you are in survival mode, you are most likely not going to be eating a balanced diet - you will be eating to stay alive. Like I said, I am not an expert on this, but I am learning all the time. It seems like every month there is another book on Amazon or more sites on the internet. Do your homework, use common sense. Do what works for your family.

A few final points. Don't forget items such as toilet paper, paper plates, plastic silverware, soap, toothpaste, and so on. If the distribution system is not working, your bunker becomes your Target or Wal Mart. Also don't forget about your pets. Have some extra food set aside for them. If you don't want to see your pets suffer or die, please keep them in mind. Finally, have some cash on hand. If the banks are down for any reason, it would be good to have quick access to money once you are able to use it.

There it is, a thumbnail sketch on how I look at bunkering. Bunkering is not an exact science, it is a work in progress. Every month I look at our bunker and try to make it better, more efficient. Keep what needs to be kept, get rid of what just takes up space. The one item you cannot store enough of is potable water. If you remember nothing else from this posting, please remember this - in an emergency, the government might not be there to help and your bunker will be your store and maybe even your life boat. Bunker Up and Live!

It's Classified!

When I was a young lad I had had just transferred to St. Cloud State from North Hennepin Junior College, the draft board came a calling. This, in the fall of 1968 I went to Federal Building in St. Cloud and enlisted in the United States Navy with (what existed at the time) a six month delay. In those six months I finished fall quarter, started and completed winter quarter. I goofed off and did horrible in my studies - however, it was a great party. In April of 1969 I raised my hand and became a member of the United States Navy.

From fall of 1968 until I went to San Diego for boot camp in April of 1969, I never wavered from my desire to go to sea and be on an aircraft carrier. In fact, the Navy at one time had "dream sheets" you could fill out listing your vocational choices. You could choose up to five and every one of mine was aviation based. 

In boot camp, we were all subjected to what was known as "battery tests". Fresh from leaving school, I was not in favor of taking more tests. I just wanted to get on a ship and learn my trade. Upon completion of the testing, I was told I did very well on some parts of the tests and I was being considered for something other than aviation. Needless to say, I was not excited about the news at all. However, it gave me the chance to get out of Recruit Training Command and go somewhere else on the base to have an interview for this mystery profession they wanted me to consider.

When I got to the meeting, I was led into a room which was paneled (not painted haze grey) with the seal of the FBI hanging on the wall. He was behind a big wooden desk and told me to sit down. He asked me if I would like to be considered for a program that was very important, very specialized and would require a very high clearance. The downside was if when running my clearance a disqualifier came up, or if I washed out school, it was out to the fleet to be a deck hand. No aviation, no aircraft, just whatever bucket had a seaman billet on it. After thoughtful consideration, I agreed to forgo my hopes and dreams of being on a carrier doing big, important stuff. I signed the papers to go to school in Pensacola and learn to be what was then known as a Communication Technician.

Everybody I was with in Pensacola was in the same boat (so to speak). We were in the basic part of the course, trying learn, trying not to get washed out, and behind the scenes, the DIS (Defense Investigative Service) as well as the FBI was vetting the hell out of our past lives to see if we qualified for a Top Secret SCI (Special Compartmentalized Information) clearance. With all the trials and tribulations I went through with the training, one of my proudest moments came when I was told my clearance was approved and I was to be briefed so I could take the advanced part of the training.

Over my 4 years active and 17 years active reserve time in the Navy, I maintained that level of clearance. People that I worked with that had the same level of clearance took it very seriously. It was an honor and a privilege to have our country show that kind of trust in us so we could guard it's most vital secrets. Many times I was privy to very important events which never made the newspaper. Secrets back then were vital to our national defense just as they are now.

Besides the many benefits of having a high level clearance, there was also the "stick". And the "stick" was what would happen to you if you violated the terms of your clearance and disclosed classified information to someone who was not cleared to receive it. Besides immediately losing your clearance (and most likely never having another one in your life), you could be sentenced under the UCMJ to hard labor in a Federal prison, fined thousands of dollars, or both.

That brings us to today. We have all heard about the constant drip, drip, drip of classified information being leaked to the press from "somewhere" in the Administration. Some of the things I have read about in the paper could cost lives or significantly damage our national security. This is totally unacceptable. My belief is that some who have received a high level clearance (higher than the one I had) do not understand the gravity of what they are doing. They are putting politics before country. As an American, I am outraged! As someone who help guard our nation's vital secrets for over 2 decades, I am perplexed why our Commander in Chief is not doing a thorough investigation, finding the leaker, and punishing to the full extent of the law.

This is why I always say it is important to have the adults in charge. When President Bush (43) had just won the election and the transition teams were working together, President Clinton's team had removed all the "W" keys from the typewriters. It is a young, left leaning group who thought much of what happens in WDC is a game. It is not. Misuse of classified information is also not a game. Classified information is our nation's treasure, our nation's future. If something should no longer be classified, there is a process how to declassify it.
Until that happens, "ITS CLASSIFIED".

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Is the Truth Really Out There?


Here is an interesting ice breaker when you meet someone new at a party. "So, have you ever seen a UFO?". There would be a very good chance that person would make a quick exit to the bathroom or the front door. Or, you might get an answer that would floor you - you might get a "Yes, let me tell you about it".

First a bit of disclosure. It is estimated that 5% of all Americans (the percentage is similar to Canadians) have seen "something". I am one of those people who have seen "something". My experience happened three years ago this next Thanksgiving. We had finished Thanksgiving dinner and my youngest daughter had a evening shift at a group home in another suburb. My son-in-law and I gave her a ride to her job and then came home through Champlin and Anoka. Darkness had fallen and while starting to cross the bridge over the Mississippi River, I saw what I thought were three helicopters coming up from the point where the Mississippi and Rum River join. I even asked my son-in-law if he thought it was odd that helicopters would be going though a drill on Thanksgiving evening. As we continued to watch them ascend, it became clear these were not helicopters at all - they were three strobing lights in the shape of a large triangle. When we got to the other side of the bridge we pulled off and continued to watch these lights until they disappeared.

Truthfully, I would have preferred that this had never happened as it was unsettling. It helped my son-in-law was with me so I would not have doubted my sanity after seeing it. I also would have preferred being able to quickly explain it away. However, at the end of the day, there was no explanation. What we saw was "unidentified" and that is where it stops. Anything beyond that would just be conjecture.

A few weeks after our experience, my son-in-law and I were interviewed by Minnesota MUFON (Mutual UFO Network). It was a very interesting interview as we learned much more than we told. The man who interviewed us had a day job, and did this part time. However in that part time he has interviewed a myriad of people with a myriad of experiences. He told us some of what he has heard has "made his skin crawl". All he knew was this - putting mass hysteria aside, SOMETHING is going on and many people who live in and around the Twin Cities have experienced it.

It is not just "kooks" that have an experience. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter says he saw a UFO while he was the Governor of Georgia. For about ten minutes, he and a group of others watched some weird lights in the sky that seemed to approach them then recede. Carter mentioned the sighting a few times on the campaign trail, and when he was sent a UFO sighting report by a research organisation, agreed to fill it out. While campaigning to become President, Carter promised to reveal all the U.S. government’s UFO secrets if he was elected. He was; but no secrets emerged.

Carter’s successor in the White House, Ronald Reagan, also allegedly saw a UFO while he was the Governor of California. Reagan was travelling in a small plane when he noticed a strange light which seemed to be following the aircraft. The light accelerated a little ahead and, at Reagan’s suggestion, his plane pursued it for a few minutes before it zoomed away vertically at tremendous speed.

Reagan developed an obsession with extra-terrestrials and mentioned them frequently in his speeches. Once, in a speech to the UN, he even said that the United States and the Soviet Union might be forced to make common cause if Earth faced an extra-terrestrial invasion.

Dennis Kucinich "saw a gigantic triangular craft, silent and observing him, it hovered for about 10 minutes or so and sped away with a speed he couldn't comprehend."

Now I will be the first to admit there are countless urban legends and myths that live in the UFO community. Most pictures which are taken are fuzzy or distant.  With the lack of hard evidence or disclosure by our government, it is much easier to be a sceptic than a believer.

I did have one other experience years prior to the one I had in Anoka which was every bit at impactful. I was down in Pensacola doing two weeks of Navy training. I had rented a house trailer on Mustin Beach located on the Air Station. On evening, my roommate and I were invited to the trailer next to us for a beer. A First Class Petty Officer was staying is this trailer and taking the same training we were. She was single, and decided it would be fun to bring her Mom down with her to experience the wonderful Pensacola beaches.

It was pitch black outside when we were done with our visit and getting ready to head back to our trailer. I made a joke that I hoped we didn't get abducted by a UFO before we got in our door. It was as if you could hear a pin drop. This Petty Officer, who was in her thirties and had a very high level clearance broke the silence by saying "My Mother and I have seen a UFO up close". For the next 20 minutes she and her Mother described the night a light descended over the farm across the meadow from where they lived in rural MD. Police and neighbors were called and they all gathered to see this strange and unexplained sight. Shortly after the police arrived it ascended at a high rate of speed and it never came back. No police report, no story in the newspaper, nothing.

When we got back to our trailer, I asked the man I was rooming with (another First Class Petty Officer with a high clearance) what he thought of that story. I told him I wondered what could have been gained by both of them making this story up. He then told me his own story from 20 years prior when camping in the Boundary Waters. After he gotten into his tent and darkness had fallen, he was not quite asleep when for about two seconds, night turned into day. He had never seen a brighter light that came right through his tent. Sleep never came for the rest of the night as he lay there, shaking and wondering what just happened.

Now I don't know what everyone is seeing. I don't know if these flying "whatevers" are a top secret programs such as the long rumored Aurora or TR-3B. Don't know. I to know this - something is being seen, something that cannot be explained. I don't know if Roswell was true, if Hanger 18 is true, or if we have dead aliens at Groom Lake.  I don't know if what is being seen is the result of mass hysteria, swamp gas or one HUGE practical joke.

In the series "The X Files" the tag line was "the truth is out there". The truth might be out there, but is might be in here also. If our government know the truth, we should be told; we should demand the truth. Some say if the truth is told it would not only cause panic, but also invalidate governments and religion. I don't think so. Contrary to the famous movie line, "we can handle the truth". No more lies, no more cover ups, no more ridicule. Just the truth and nothing but the truth.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The World Just Became Unplugged...


"Imagine losing your power and never seeing it again..."

Okay, here comes Mr. Wet Blanket once again. Trust me, this is a subject I would prefer not to talk about - I wished this technology did not exist. But it does, and it is not very complicated to produce maximum destruction, death and mayhem using only minimal resources. It is way to transform a 21st century high tech country back into the stone age. And it can happen in a heartbeat. It is what many terrorist organizations (like ISIS) or terror nations (like North Korea) look upon as the great equalizer.

What am I talking about? EMP. EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) may either be natural or man made. Our sun has the ability to at any time defeat the protection of our natural magnetic field and zap us with so much radiation, the EMP shock would disable most of the world. The odds of this happening are low, but nevertheless still possible as we are in a very active sun storm period right now. Gamma ray bursts from a distant exploding star could do the same (or worse). Again, possible, but much less unlikely. What is much more likely to happen is a man made EMP event. And as time goes on, the technology to create EMP becomes more and more available to people with bad and evil intentions.

An EMP attack from any altitude would have disastrous, paralyzing effects. Most communications would cease, unless you have a tube ham radio and a generator that survived. Nothing would work except the simplest mechanics. Water won’t pump except by gravity or a hand pump. Cars later than 1984 would be immobilized. Gas stations won’t be able to pump gas anyway, except by hand.

There would be no warning, no civil defense crawl on your TV, no sirens going off. If you were close enough to the high altitude blast, you would see the glow from the blast, and then total silence. Nothing would be working. It would be as if someone pulled the plug on the world.

The scenario is nasty. Food would disappear in a heartbeat. Hospital machinery stops. Supply trucks and factories stop. The panic alone will set off unspeakable horrors depending on the degree of electrical destruction. Even airports would be useless, never mind all the planes that just tragically dropped out of the sky. In addition, medical emergencies would go unanswered and life giving medication would be unavailable. If someone in your household dies from hunger or exposure, the only funeral would be burial in the back yard. Hunger and exposure will turn countryman against countryman, neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother. In other words, our country would turn into a version of Dante's Inferno.

A while back I saw the movie Contagion for the second time. The movie is a Hollywood version of what would happen if a new virus was introduced and a pandemic ensued (like Ebola?). Putting the Hollywood aspect aside, here is the realism - with a crisis of this magnitude, the government will be of little help. In addition, it was amazing how fast the stores ran out of food and people started looting and shooting their neighbors. In other words, an EMP attack  would be worse than a pandemic as there would be no time to prepare.

Is there anything we can do other than hope against hope this never happens? Absolutely! I have worked on programs while at Control Data that use "hardening" to make electronics immune to EMP - and that was in the 80's. Our electrical grid is outdated and vulnerable. To harden it against EMP would be expensive, but much less than we spent on the stimulus bill. Having a hardened grid with water and natural gas distribution centers also hardened would allow houses to at least receive power, heat and water after an event.

Bunker up! I have been telling people to bunker up for over 10 years now. Every household needs enough potable water and non-perishable food to last for at least 30 days. It does not have to be fancy, it just needs to keep you alive. Toilet paper, tooth paste, paper towels, paper plates, plastic forks and spoons, batteries, and so on need to be considered. If our distribution system goes down after an event, your bunker will be your store. If it is not there, you will not get it.

Buy or build a Faraday cage. It is an enclosure formed by conducting material or by a mesh of such material. Such an enclosure blocks external static and non-static electric fields. 
A Faraday cage's operation depends on the fact that an external static electrical field will cause the electric charges within the cage's conducting material to redistribute themselves so as to cancel the field's effects in the cage's interior. This phenomenon is used, for example, to protect electronic equipment from lightning strikes and electrostatic discharges. Depending on the severity of the event, it could offer your PC, laptop or other sensitive electronic some degree of protection.

Tough one here. Buy a gun and learn how to use it. Have adequate ammunition on hand. Desperate times will call for desperate measures, and if someone wants what you have, they will not want to negotiate AND there will be no police to call for protection. I hate to put this one in, but in reality, many will not prepare and things would get real bad real fast.

It does not have to be like this. There are things that can be done. However benign neglect will be our undoing. As Louis Pasteur said many years ago, "Chance favors the prepared mind". Lets prepare our minds and think about the unthinkable. Think about a worst case scenario and then prepare for it. Think outside the box, use your imagination. It is far better to take unwarranted criticism for preparing than to suffer an event unprepared and watch your family suffer or die.

The Rainbow Bridge

I have a fascination with with stories. I like to tell stories, but even better, I like to hear other people's stories. I believe one of the untapped treasures in our country are the myriad of stories yet untold. Stories are a cornerstone of life - one of the elements which give life its precious essence. In short, stories are life.

That being said, I have wanted to memorialize the life of my cat Morty. Unfortunately, his passing is too recent and the loss has left my emotions too raw. However, I will tell his story at some time - and what a story this little guy had! However, for this posting, I am going to reprint the good-bye letter I wrote after we lost our first dog, Pepper.

I would like to say that having dogs and/or cats don't effect our lives - but I can't. They are friends of the highest order. They constantly remind us what unconditional love really means. As legend goes, when beloved pets die, they wait for us on the "Rainbow Bridge". If the legend is true, I will have quite a cadre of friends waiting for me at the bridge. Spooky, Tavi, Desi, Morty and of course, our first dog Pepper.

I am writing this note to say goodbye to my friend, my pal, Pepper. I am sorry that I could not say goodbye to you before you left, but I didn’t know you were leaving so soon. Oh, I knew you were very sick – in the back of my heart I was afraid that this was something that you would not come out of. But now you are gone, and I am left with my thoughts of our time together.

In the midst of all my sadness, I am comforted to know that every day of your life you knew that you were so very loved. When I was at home, you were my constant companion. When I was outside, you would lie down close to where I was working. When I was in my home office, you would lie behind my chair. Quite often when I would sleep, you would sleep next to me. When I was away from home, I felt comforted knowing that you would protect with your life the ones I held dearest to my heart. Yes Pepper, you were the all around good dog.
Pepper, our life will go on as it must. You will always be remembered, always missed. After the sting of your passing subsides, I will think of you with a smile on my face as the good times we had together will always be in my heart. Every time I throw a Frisbee, wander down in “Pepper’s Hollow”, or even sit in home office, I will think of you. You have enriched this family, changed this family, in a way that I could never have imagined.

Now pepper, as hard as this is, I must now let you go. Thank you for being my friend, my pal, my dog. To quote a friend of mine, the only thing you ever did wrong, was to die.

Until I see you on the bridge my friends...

Thursday, July 26, 2012



"This is like being shot with your own gun..."

It was never suppose to happen. It was a game of chicken that went horribly wrong. As we know, spending limits enacted in August 2011 as part of a debt limit deal capped new discretionary budget authority for ten years and also called for an automatic spending “sequester” to further reduce spending. Many Republicans are especially worried about the roughly $55 billion that will be stripped out of the defense budget for each of the next nine years if Congress doesn’t act to modify or repeal the sequester.

Many on congress don't want this to happen. The amount to be stripped out of the budget are equal between defense and discretionary. Entitlements are off limits. In large, the Republicans are more concerned about the cuts to defense, the Democrats are more concerned about the cuts to discretionary. The result of the August 2011 impasse is either come up with more funding, find other mutually agreeable cuts or accept the sequestration. What makes this particularly interesting is this also needs to be addressed before March 1, 2013. Fixing this will be a Herculean task for a Congress which gets along. With this Congress - figure the odds.

The specter of deep, mindless cuts in every defense program, regardless of its priority, was intended to ensure that some agreement would be found to reduce the deficit by a similar amount. Yet that nightmare, which was never supposed to happen, is coming closer to being reality.

Defense spending, including the Defense Department and the nuclear weapons complex within the Department of Energy, makes up 19 percent of the current budget. But under sequestration, that 19 percent absorbs 50 percent of the total cuts. Under the law, the president has the authority to exempt defense personnel costs, such as military salaries and medical care, from being reduced by sequestration. Personnel costs make up close to a quarter of military spending. Assuming that the president doesn’t want to be responsible for cutting the pay of service members, that means that 50 percent of the cuts will be inflicted on only 15 percent of the federal budget.

The chairman of Lockheed Martin has said more than once if this sequestration stands, manufacturing layoffs at Lockheed will be in the six figures. Don't forget, there are also Raytheon, BAE, General Dynamics and Boeing that will be affected. Working in the defense industry for almost 25 years, I have seen many programs that were terminated. When a termination takes place, it is a huge waste of money. Layoffs, plant closings, and loss of "tribal knowledge" on weapon systems are results of program terminations.

With this anvil hanging over our heads, not to mention the fiscal cliff getting closer every day, Congress is getting ready to go on vacation for over a month. If these cuts don't alarm you, they should. The world continues to be a very dangerous place, filled with people who would not mind killing you, your family and taking what you have. Not being dramatic, just factual. Not addressing this issue is nothing short of a dereliction of duty. If this sequester takes place on March 1, 2013, every member of Congress who did not fight this catastrophic event should be fired and then charged with something akin to treason.


I have been fascinated by droughts since I went through a major one while stationed in Okinawa in 1971. That year for some reason the Monsoonal rains did not come and the island went for months with little or no rain. The island had a reservoir that was used by the bases for all their water needs. As the level in the reservoir drew down, all bases went on mandatory water rationing. In other words, water would be shut off for everything every other day. No showers, no drinking water, no brushing teeth, nothing. When the water was turned on, you could shower in it, but had to treat it before drinking it or brushing your teeth. Being good sailors at that time, we substituted cold beer for water on the days the water was shut off. 

One might wonder after reading the above "What is so fascinating about a drought? It is hardship to many, deadly to some". Yes, that is true. My fascination comes from the fact while on the island of Okinawa, surrounded by water, we could not have enough potable water. I still have that fascination, even living in the middle of North America. With over 70% of the Earth covered by water, every year there is somewhere where adequate rain has not fallen. In this year of 2012, with all the technology advances we have made, many farmers continue to have the same irrigation plan - pray for rain.

I have talked about this issue on Facebook before. When I was young, our idealism was to feed the world. We knew we could prove Robert Mathus wrong with the proper farming techniques. We would be the bread basket of the world while sharing our technology with developing countries. We have made great progress in crop hybrids - better yield, less water needed, more disease resistant. However, we have not developed a crop that will grow without water.

We have approached our national water resources with a total lack of imagination. My feeling is there is no excuse for not having adequate water to properly irrigate our fields. The irrigation used in large areas of the county is to deplete our precious aquifers. I see irrigation systems shooting water up in a huge arc in the middle of the day where much of it is lost to evaporation. In short, irrigation has become the Achilles heel of our entire agricultural industry. 

What can be done? I am not an expert, but like I said earlier, I don't see much imagination. So I will use some for solutions which may or may not be tenable. Many years ago in the drought of 1988, I thought we should create water farms in our country. We have had the technology to desalinate water for years now - lets kick it up a notch and do it on a much grander scale. For example, what about setting up a water farm in Death Valley. The water could be pumped in from the Pacific Ocean (Death Valley is so far below sea level, gravity would do most of the work) and be processed at the water farm. The farm would be powered by solar energy as the sun shines most of the time in Death Valley. Water would not have to be potable - just clean enough to be used for irrigation. Water would then become a commodity, a cost of doing agribusiness. If a state is having a dry summer, that state could purchase water to be piped into that state and then resold to farmers.

We recently had a major storm which dropped over two trillion gallons of water on the North Central part of Minnesota. Most of that was run off that went into the Mississippi River or Lake Superior. What if we had been able to capture some of that and use it for irrigation? What if the almost yearly flooding of the Red River could be captured and saved for the dry months ahead? What if we captured some of the Mississippi River water before it went into the Gulf of Mexico and used that for irrigation?

Irrigation in the field would be changed over to drip irrigation where practical. I remember studying about this when I was in school and how efficient is was compared to traditional irrigation. Somehow over the decades, this fell off of the radar screen. Lets rediscover our imagination and improve our irrigation delivery system.

Not to be political on this issue, but what if the trillion dollar stimulus had been used for drought mitigation? We would have looked back and said it was a lot of money, but at least we have something to show for it that will pay dividends for decades to come not only for our country, but also areas of the world that depend on our food.

My fascination with droughts has been replaced with a frustration that we don't know how to deal with them. The current drought is going to cost over 15 billion dollars. People in the world that depend on us will not have the abundance of surplus food that we love to share. We need a resolve to say this drought will be the last that will affect our agribusiness. We need to do better than just hope and pray for rain. If the climate change people are right and this is the start of the new normal, we better come up with something or things will get very bad very fast.

Imagination has always been our calling card. When things got tough, the world always looked to us to solve big problems. We can do this. We can ameliorate suffering. Water is a part of everything we do, it is a big part of each of us. On Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, it is the base of the pyramid. Droughts suck - lets collectively refuse to accept their misery any longer.

The Second Miracle of Pensacola

"God again taught us all a lesson. He is in control. Absolutely, constantly, undeniably, in control."

My second miracle of Pensacola happened a year and a half after the first. I had finished my first tour of duty in Okinawa and was accepted into advanced training in Pensacola. My cousin Betty was still living in Pensacola. However, she had moved out of the convent and was sharing an apartment with another nun. My parents thought it would be fun to (again) come down to Pensacola to visit while I was stationed there. Once more, Cousin Betty was able to find lodging for us right on Pensacola Beach.

Both Betty and I had been accomplished swimmers. Betty had at one time had obtained a life guard certificate. I had received my training and Red Cross life guard certificate prior to entering the service. Shortly after my parents arrived in town, we were enjoying a nice afternoon of visiting and telling old family stories. Weather wise, it was not a very nice day. There was a weak tropical depression off Florida's west coast. From the beach home we were renting, watching the waves and surf was a spectacular sight.

Out of pure foolishness, Betty and I decided to get our suits on and go “body surfing” in the storm driven waves. It was tough surf that day. If you could get beyond the first sand bar, the chances of catching a huge wave was excellent. The trick was getting past the first sand bar and into that wild surf. The rip tide was so strong, it would take your legs out from under you. The under tow and the waves were in a constant struggle to see which could pull you the hardest. However, to catch one of those huge waves, and have it take you twenty or thirty yards with all that force behind it, made the struggle seem worthwhile.

On one set of waves, Betty was ten to fifteen yards further out that I was. She was standing on the “sweet spot” (the final sand bar) where the big waves really cranked up. As she was getting ready, I could see a monster wave develop right behind her. I yelled at her to watch out, but she could not hear me over the roar of the surf. I watched in horror as the wave hit her while she was in an unprepared state. The wave then hit me and I struggled to keep my head above water to I could keep my eye on Betty. She came to the surface in serious trouble. The next thing I could see was another big wave catch her again. This time she did not reappear.

Here I was, maybe thirty feet away from where Betty went under. The water was so churned up that I could not see more than six inches below the surface. The rip tide was dragging me down the shore as the waves were knocking backwards. I did not have a clue on where to start looking for my cousin. I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that Betty and I had made a foolish decision, and we were about to pay for that decision with Betty’s life. I knew that I had a slim chance at best of finding Betty. However, I did remember the lesson that I learned from my first trip to Pensacola – the power of prayer. I prayed, “Oh dear God, please help me and give me the strength to find Betty, please!” I dove under the churning water and reached out with all my might. Into my hand came Betty’s arm.

Now I could say that I found her by luck, good guessing or dead reckoning. Or I could say that God used me to rescue Betty because He had other plans. Over the years, Betty and I have talked about that day many times. Betty knew she was losing the battle and was probably going to die. She knew the chances of me finding her in that pounding surf were very remote. That day, in the middle of a turbulent storm, God again taught us all a lesson. He is in control. Absolutely, constantly, undeniably, in control.

I thank God for the many years that we had with Betty after that horrible day. Yes, God did finally call Betty home – but it was when He wanted her there. Betty was here to attend our wedding, knew both of our children and continued to be the selfless, giving saint to the entire family. Perhaps the reason God gave us Betty for all those extra years was to bless our family. I don’t know, but I do know this. Betty and I did something foolish on that stormy day in Pensacola and did not deserve anything but a bad outcome. God in a demonstration of His magnificent grace said, “No, not this day. You will live to do wonderful things for my glory”. Amen.

The First Miracle of Pensacola

"My belief is that God loves to shine His light at many different times, but it shines the brightest when the room is the darkest."

Many of us had seen things on television or read about events in books or magazines that were considered by some to be miracles. Very few of us have ever thought we experienced a miracle, although in retrospect, many of us probably have. There is no set definition as to what a miracle is. Miracles can be of any size or of varying degrees of significance. In short, the only common denominator for miracles is that they are divine in nature.

Early in my career in the Navy, I was stationed in Pensacola to attend Cryptology School. While stationed there, I witnessed what I believe to be a miracle. The standing rule of the school was due to the fact it was very expensive to attend, failure was not tolerated, and there would be no second chance for those that failed. We were all told that the next tour of duty was out to the fleet to be a general Seaman doing deck duties.

The rumor mill was that Cryptology School was one of the hardest schools in the Navy. The basic segment of the school that I was enrolled in consisted of learning Morse code and then increasing in proficiency (speed and accuracy) every week for the first three months. This was coupled with considerable (and difficult) book work.

My cousin Betty was now living in Pensacola and was a nun residing at the local convent. I would visit Betty at the convent on weekends, and the nuns accepted me as if I lived there. Once in a while I would take my Jewish roommate (Ira) with me. Ira loved the nuns and they loved him. Every time Ira and I would get back to the base after visiting the convent, Ira would call his parents in New York City and ask that question somewhat taken from Funny Girl - “Would a convent take a Jewish boy?”

As time went on, the coursework grew harder and I started to fall behind on the code. My parents were scheduled to visit Pensacola and Betty had secured lodging for us while they were visiting. I did not have the courage to tell my parents that I was failing. And because of that, would probably not be able to spend any time with them.

The school mandated that immediately prior to failing, and a student being dis-enrolled, the failing student was put on mandatory overtime. Everything was done to attempt to get the failing student caught up. Every student had to achieve the “speed of the week” by close of class every Friday. The “speed of the week” was the number of words per minute of code that could be copied at 95% accuracy.

The week before my parents were to arrive, I was five or six speeds behind the speed of the week. I would be on mandatory overtime the week that they were there and probably dismissed the week after. In other words, if things did not turn around in a monumental way, my parents and I would both be leaving Pensacola the following week.

The Sunday before my parents arrived, I was at the convent for dinner. I guess I did not have much of a poker face since Betty asked me what was wrong. I poured out my heart and felt so lost. I was failing at one of the best opportunities ever given to me. The Mother Superior of the convent told me the nuns would pray for me the next morning at vespers. I thanked her. To me, telling someone that you will pray for them was like wishing them “good luck”. It was a nice gesture and I appreciated it. I did not think that it would do any good, but it was kind of her to make the offer.

Monday morning I entered the classroom, got behind my typewriter, and put on my earphones. I was ready for another day of frustration. As the code started to come across my headphones and filter into my ears, it was clear and concise. I knew which keys to hit. It was no longer code – it was another language that I understood as clearly as English.

To make a long story short, by lunch time I had passed five or six speeds I was behind and caught up to the speed of the week. My instructors were mystified. I believe they were trying to find out if (or how) I was cheating. By the end of the day, I passed another four speeds and was way ahead of the speed of the week! My parents came down, Betty and I were able to spend time with them, and I was going to be able to finish my training.

The postscript to this story is as follows: I never again doubted the power of prayer. Was this a miracle that happened? It was to me. It had a profound effect on my life and I will never forget it. I was so far ahead in my code training, I ended up getting promoted to the class ahead of mine and then finished third overall in that class.

On that Monday in Pensacola, God in his infinite wisdom said “No, this will not be a day of frustration; this will be a day of victory”. Why did God lift me up that day? I don’t know – but I do know it was for a reason. Maybe the reason was for what I am doing right now. I have told this story many times and will continue to tell it in the future. My belief is that God loves to shine His light at many different times, but it shines the brightest when the room is the darkest.

Till Debt Do Us Part...

"We have had the party, and now will leave the mess for our kids, grand kids and beyond to clean up."

If you ever go to a social gathering and want to be looked upon as a bore, or have people's eyes roll backwards, bring up the subject of our national debt. Many, if not most people don't care, don't want to know, or both. However, I will tell you right now that our national debt is one of the largest threats, maybe the largest threat we have ever had to our economic well being. As with the old saying "bad news does not get better with age", this issue does nothing but get worse every day.

Now I, like many, am no stranger to debt. When we first got married, we were students and had basically nothing. By 1976 we were out of school and working at our first jobs. Shortly thereafter we bought our first house. Forgetting the budgeting lessons we learned when we were students, our consumer debt started to get out of hand. The problem was recognized, screws were tightened, fun things were postponed, and we worked out of it. 

A woman I worked with at my first company had just moved here from Chicago. Both she and her husband had MBA degrees from Northwestern. She and I got to be good friends and often had coffee together. One day she confided me she and her husband together made over $75,000 (a HUGE amount in 1977). Then she told me they were going broke and might have to sell just about everything. I was speechless. Here were two people with MBA degrees from one of the finest business schools in the country, and they could not manage their own personal finances. My conclusion from that conversation was it is not how much you make, it is how much you spend. Or as my wife says, "if the back door is open, it does not matter how much money you shovel in the front door".

Our national debt is very similar to my friend from 1977. We take in a huge amount of money in this country. If you take into consideration federal income tax, state income tax, FICA, wheelage taxes, property taxes, sales tax, gas tax, communication taxes, usage taxes, imputed taxes and so on, most middle class people pay about half what they earn in taxes. In other words, we take in lots and lots of money in this country. However, we have a "back door" problem.

The chart above is from a web site that I have encouraged everyone I know to bookmark. It is a real time estimate of our national debt. The numbers move so fast on this chart they are almost blurry. As you can see, NOTHING that has been tried to date has slowed down this runaway train. The impact of having debt this high will be reduced credit rating (already happened), possible hyper inflation or even deflation. Our dollar will continue to be worth less and before long we will be like Greece or Spain on steroids.

The national debt clock is very useful. It contains a myriad of information. You can not only see the nation's debt (just coming up on $17T). We have had the party, and now will leave the mess for our kids, grand kids and beyond to clean up.), but you can also check the debt on different states. Also, you can see how the national debt affects each citizen as well as each family. However, my favorite feature is the time machine. You can go forward four years and see four different estimates of where the debt will be. The most conservative is the CBO -which believes the debt will be $18T in four years. One the other extreme is the status quo estimate. If the debt continues to grow as it has, the debt will be $22T in four years. Whichever estimate you believe in, we are in deep, deep trouble.

None of us (I hope) would go out tomorrow, spend all our money and max out our credit cards. We would spend ourselves penniless and leave a mountain of debt for our kids to deal with. This is so ridiculous, people laugh when you spell out this scenario. However, on a national scale this is exactly what we are doing. We have had the party, and now will leave the mess for our kids, grand kids and beyond to clean up. Our two political parties are two drunks leaning against each other when addressing this topic. Nobody is blameless. We do not have the national needed to cage this monster. And the day of reckoning will soon be upon us.

What to do? For starters, immediately enact Simpson Bowles. Our debt is so out of control that even with the Draconian cuts and revenue changes that Simpson Bowles prescribes, the debt will continue to grow, only not as quickly. As doctors in a trauma unit know, with an injured person, stop (or slow down) the bleeding. Simpson Bowles will do that. Next, throw out the tax code and replace it with something so simple, a kid can understand it. One to three tax rates, zero deductions. No more social engineering, no more politicking with the code. Very simple, very easy. Get rid of fiscal "black holes" in the government - for a start the Department of Energy, Department of Education and Department of Commerce. Demand an amendment to the constitution mandating an annual balanced budget. I know it sounds weird, but it would mean having the government run like our households. Money in equals money out. Pure rocket science.

We are about out of time folks. The party is over and the guests have gone home. All that remains is the mess to clean up. We can face this debt with the same courage and resolve we have with so many other critical issues in our history, or we can continue to do nothing and drive off the cliff, Thelma and Louise style. If this debt does become our Waterloo, may our children forgive us for what we have done to the country we inherited from our parents.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

School Daze


"Kids today not dumb - they are victims of low expectations..."

One of my favorite topics (for years now) is the state of our public education. I have never heard so much static as when the "experts" discuss the current and future state of public education in America. First first a bit of disclosure - I am a product of public education in Minnesota, in particular District 281 (Robbinsdale). I graduated in 1967 in class sizes that were consistently in the mid-thirties (like my 5th grade pic above). We did not have lap tops, iPads, diversity, bullying or inclusion classes. In short, school was there simply to educate the youth.

Most everyone got along and looked forward to coming to school. Our graduation class was over 800 - very large even for today's standards. Yet out of that large number, very few smoked, alcohol consumption was rare, and drugs were not yet in the picture.
As good as things were, they were not perfect. There was the Viet Nam War, the draft, and how they related affected most of us. In addition, the country started experiencing the first seeds of social unrest. However for the most part, life was very good. Fridays in the fall were full of high caliber football, sock hops, pizza, and of course, cruising the local A+W.

A radio show describes a mythical town in which the boys are strong, the girls are good looking, and all are above average. To me, that was our graduating class. We dressed up for school, respected teachers, led relatively clean lives, went to church, and hung around as friends. There were no metal detectors, no drug sniffing dogs, no gangs, and very, very few pregnancies. It was a time if you could safely walk to and from school without worrying your parents.

Today it is a much different landscape. I won't go into details as the problems with education are exposed in the press most every week. Our standing in the world continues to slide in math and the sciences as the cost of primary, secondary and post secondary education continues to shoot up like a roman candle. The debt that many kids carry when they get out of college is staggering, and yet many don't understand simple things, like how government works. I have been shocked talking to college graduates that know less than what used to be required in high school. In short, today's public education gets a failing grade.

After one of my many rants on Facebook on this topic, a friend chided me by saying "Not all kids today are stupid or losers". On the contrary - I think kids today are every bit as smart, if not smarter than my generation. I do however think that many of our kids today are victims of low expectations. And low expectations are much more damaging than a bad curriculum. In fact one of the local media stations reported recently that the passing grade for math scores was lowered in Minneapolis to help kids graduate. The result - many of these kids do not understand basic math. In today's competitive world, that is a huge problem. We did not help these kids - we hurt them.

What to do other than bitch about this. First, just like in substance abuse, ADMIT there is a problem! We can't fix it unless we all agree it is broken. Our education system is awash in money and resources so these fixes can be done on the financial margin. Buckle up - the following ideas are not for the feint of heart.

Our school year is way too short. Many other countries that we compete with go to school 240 days a year and we go 180. That is a big problem. Start year round school immediately (some states already have it) with one month off in the summer and one month off in the winter. Having the summer off is a tradition that goes back to when we were a farm based economy. Many call summer vacation the "summer of forgetting".

Longer school days. School should go from 8am to 4pm for all grades. Our kids can take it, they can learn, they can stay engaged. I hear so many excuses on why our kids can't handle longer school days. Set high expectations. When kids graduate and go to work, these are the hours (or longer) they will work in a full time environment.

Next, the entire grade system needs to be restructured. For years now we have heard from many we need Pre-K as it prepares kids for more structured education. Lets take their word for it. Primary grades will be Pre-K through 6th grade. Intermediate grades will be 7th through 9th grade. Secondary grades will be (get ready) 10th through 14th. Yes the concept of the Associate Degree would go away and be replaced with high school lasting two more years (look at India).

Every class taken would be accompanied by a CD or DVD that would have the entire curriculum on it. If a concept is not understood when taught, the CD or DVD can be used for review until the concept is learned. At the end of the class year, the book as well as the CD or DVD would be turned in.

This is a tough one. Teachers will become "at will" employees and not union. The politics that infect our schools due to the teacher unions have been and continue to be an impediment to innovation. Getting good teachers and getting rid of bad teachers will become much easier. Of all the reforms, this one will be the hardest to implement.

Abolish the Department of Education. We don't need it and it adds no value (just cost). It does add unfunded mandates which tend to underfund state and local funding. The state Department of Education should stay as so many kids are mobile these days. However, the hard core decision making should be at the local level.

Consolidate school districts. We don't need as many as we have with each one being led by a Superintendent making six figures and owning a golden parachute. Cut the number down by at least half.

Finally, testing which gives an honest assessment of how much was learned will be given on a yearly basis. Social promotion will be a thing of the past. If you don't pass, you don't go on. Trust me, we are not doing our kids a favor by passing them forward unprepared.

This subject is to important to dismiss. My former High School Civics teacher warned us to study hard and stay sharp because kids from other counties were studying harder to take what we have, to "eat our lunch". He was right, but his timing was a bit off. Today China and India are poised to be world leaders in many technologies, technologies we should own. As to the victor goes the spoils, losing this race will redefine our country for many years or generations. For this issue, failure is truly not an option.