Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Our Future with Rail


"All aboard! Now leaving from Track Eleven..."
Casey Jones Kids Show
circa 1950's
Oh my. What a mess - an environmental disaster. Yesterday, two trains, both about 100 cars long, ran into each other in North Dakota. One was mostly grain cars and the other was mostly oil tankers, filled to the brim with Bakken Field oil. It happened yesterday afternoon, and is still burning out of control this morning. How could this have happened? Human error, switching problems, or a fail track issue are possibilities. In any event, the NTSB is now on site to figure out the how and why of this mess.
Since our ad-hoc energy policy has eschewed a more highly reliable pipeline service such as the Keystone XL, we have turned out aging rail system into a pipeline on tracks. This is the second big oil car mess we have had this year, with the first being up in Canada. When crude oil burns, it is a nasty brew. Many of us can remember when Saddam's forces set fire to Kuwait's oil field as they departed. It creates pollution on a grand scale.
The only thing we have heard from our Administration concerning our rail system is how cool and trendy it would be to go faster. High speed rail. Nothing about safer, only faster. Recent research in Australia has concluded that their rail system is very vulnerable to extended heat waves. Most metals have a point of stress. It turns out the combination of increasing weight and prolonged heat pushed some of their tracks beyond tolerance levels.
When it comes to shipping products, it is hard to beat rail for costs. For the most part, their safety record is pretty good. When it comes to transporting people, the jury is still out. People have not rushed to an Amtrak type solution for a myriad of reasons. The net result is Amtrak never has operated in the black, it just bleeds cash.
My suggestions as we go forward are as follows:
  • Stick to our knitting - Rail has worked well for goods but not so well for people. Focus on shipping goods. Scrap high speed trains as all they will only be is one more easy target for deranged terroristic minds.
  • Radar on trains - Human error will be with us always. With today's technology, having two trains collide on the same track should be preventable. Have some kind of proximity radar on train engines should eliminate same track crashes.
  • Build more pipelines - Get off you butt, tell your left wing greenies to shut up, and build the Keystone XL, as well as any other pipelines which will take crude oil off the rails. It is cheaper and safer (although not perfect) to deliver petro products by pipeline.
  • Upgrade track - Like much of our aging infrastructure, some of our track should be upgraded with the latest and greatest metal technology. Without good rail, all the other safeguards are meaningless.

I fear until we ensure the nexus of our transportation system and energy policy can operate in harmony, we will have more crude spilled and burning by railroad tracks. We were lucky this time - nobody was killed. Might not be the same case next time.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Other Shoe for the Homeless


"It is not big, but it is warm and does offers a sense of stability and human comfort"

I don't think anyone can dispute we have a growing problem with the homeless in our country. One of the highest hills I have had to climb in understanding the homeless problem is not to question "why". Questioning "why" often opened me up to a normative and regrettable response. Actually, the reasons of why people are homeless are as wide and varied as one could imagine.

There are two things I have recently learned about being homeless. The first is how many recent homeless people have said, "I never thought this would happen to me." There are hundreds of families that are one paycheck, one illness, one unforeseen event, from losing their house. The other thing I have learned is that for many, being homeless is a math thing.

The Twin Cities has one of the highest average rental rates for any large metropolitan area.
According to a June 2012 Forbes article which addressed the growing expense of renting:

"Take Minneapolis. With a tight vacancy rate of 2.5%, the average rent in the metro area is $965 per month, up 2.3% from this time last year. With home prices down more than 30% since 2006, it’s actually cheaper to buy: The average monthly mortgage payment on a home bought now would be $122 less than the average rent. That put Minneapolis in second place on Forbes’ annual list of the worst cities for renters this year."

The math issue comes into play by looking at an equation which cannot possibly be solved. Less and more expensive rental properties, more people looking to rent with frozen or lower wages. If you can't buy because your credit has been tarnished (a good credit rating is the least of the worries for a family just trying to survive), and there is not enough affordable rentals, there are few choices remaining. Usually a shelter, staying with family or friends, or out on the streets.

What was a recent show stopper for me was learning this jaw dropping number. In the school district in which we live, there are over 250 homeless kids. This district is not considered "poor". Homelessness, like many other poverty issues, are a hidden disease in society. Few want to talk about it as it is uncomfortable to do so. And yet, how in the world can we expect 250 kids to learn in school if they have to worry about where they are going to sleep at night? If they will have a hot supper?

To fix the homeless issue, we must first fix the housing issue. I think it is great that more attention is being paid to increase the beds and comfort at our shelters. But that is like putting dressing on a  wound. What I am interested in is how to keep the wound from occurring in the first place.

Seeing what the urban planners are planning for Minneapolis is almost comical. Upscale studio apartments, artist lofts, condos and so on. Nice digs for the well off or well connected.
However, for those who are looking just for a modicum comfort, of shelter or stability, there are slim pickings to be had. So what is the other shoe for the homeless? It is not having the home to put them in.  

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Just passing through...


"Life, so they say
is but a game and
we let it slip away"
We May Never Pass This Way Again
Seals and Croft
Evangelist Billy Graham has been quoted as saying that Heaven is his real home. And I will put my paraphrase in for the rest - while on Earth he, like the rest of us, are just passing through. Dr. Graham is very right on his perspective. Our time on this Earth is measured and limited. We don't know how long we will be here before we are called home. What we do here between the time of our birth and the hour of our death is what really matters.

I believe that when we are called home, there will be an accounting of our lives. What kind of person we were, what kind of son or daughter, what kind of spouse, what kind of parent. What we did for the least of us. Of course the main question will be if we accepted Christ as Lord.

The Bible is an excellent road map on how to live our lives in a Godly fashion. However, there is one part in the Bible, which in my opinion, stands out from the rest. It is the Great Commission contained in Matthew 28: 16-20.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

What does this mean? Are we to stand on street corners and proclaim the Gospel? Possibly. However, I feel living a Godly life is the best message. Practicing love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy on a daily basis. Never being afraid to proclaim the name of Jesus or tell His story. My belief is this - without being religious or practicing religiosity, true faith can be seen as clearly in us as a shining city on a hill.

Before you think I might be getting a bit too preachy, let me say this - I don't practice this as I should. I want to, I aspire to, but many times I fall short. Not one for New Year resolutions, I will make this one. In 2014, with the help of God, I will do better. I want the remaining days of my journey here to matter - to matter for the Kingdom. That will be the path I try to stay on this next year.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Our Transparent Society


"Is Big Brother listening? Oh yes, and so much more than just listening..."

Yesterday, while visiting with a friend, the subject of privacy came up. Just how secure is our privacy? These days, not very. On the way home from the visit, I started to think just how transparent our society has become. The bottom line I came up with is this- we are all animals living in a glass cage, visible to anyone who wants to look.
We can blame much of this on our government. Since the 9/11 attacks and the signing of the Patriot Act, the government now has far reaching snooping powers that they never had before. We as a society decided to trade away some of our freedom for more security. Just this week, a Federal Judge ruled the NSA surveillance program is indeed legal. This was less than two weeks after another judge ruled it illegal, possibly unconstitutional and "Orwellian" in nature. The issue in now headed full steam to the Supreme Court for final adjudication. It could will be a land mark decision for the ages, and define how we will live.

Basically, everything we do or say is subject to compromise. We have to assume that these days. If not from an intrusive government, then from evil doers who want to steal your identity or ruin your life. Every phone call made, be it land line or cell phone, should be considered non-secure. At one time (and I think this still holds true), the only secure method of voice communication (besides military grade encryption) was fiber optics. If someone tried to "tap" into a fiber optic conversation, the link was broken - call over.

Our computers leak like a sieve. For anyone who thinks what is put on a computer is safe is only fooling themselves. First off, 99% of all computers used in this country are not tempest certified. That means that every keystroke (because they emit a small amount of electromagnetic radiation) made can be picked up by the proper equipment close to where your computer resides. Second, every e-mail sent over normal channels should be considered "open source". Anyone with the right skills and equipment can read your stuff - even modify it. Finally, even with the best anti-viral software on the market, it is not good enough to protect you 100% from everything. New viruses, malware, spyware, Trojan horse software and whatever is constantly being produced. And after what happened at Target this Christmas season, we saw the methods of delivering this computer poison is also improving.

Look for vast improvements in our credit and debit card security in the near future. Right now, they are "low fruit on the tree" for hackers who have the right equipment - and the right equipment is getting better and more sophisticated all the time. When I worked at IBM, they were experimenting with some biometrics on identification cards. I really think this will be the wave of the future. Until that happens, your only defense is to go online and check your bank and charge account balances DAILY.

Is Big Brother really watching? Oh yes, watching and so much more. The problem is it is not just Big Brother - the bad guys from overseas and domestic are watching also. Just looking for that "crack" which will let them into your lives and fortunes. When it comes to your personal and financial privacy, my parting words are just this - Caveat Emptor (Let the buyer (or citizen) beware...)

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Coming Singularity


"Behold! The future is upon us!"

One of the best definitions for the singularity comes from the Nanotechnology Glossary. It reads as follows:

The Singularity is the hypothetical future creation of super intelligent machines. Super intelligence is defined as a technologically-created cognitive capacity far beyond that possible for humans. Should the Singularity occur, technology will advance beyond our ability to foresee or control its outcomes and the world will be transformed beyond recognition by the application of super intelligence to humans and/or human problems, including poverty, disease and mortality.

To some, what is stated above sounds more like a script from one of the Star Trek episodes than reality. To those in certain segments of the technology industry, it does not sound odd at all. In fact, if we look hard enough, we can already see parts of the approaching singularity coming to fruition.

For example, in a recent Time magazine article, Lev Grossman explains the prospective exponential gains in capacity enabled by super intelligent machines:

Their rate of development would also continue to increase, because they would take over their own development from their slower-thinking human creators. Imagine a computer scientist that was itself a super-intelligent computer. It would work incredibly quickly. It could draw on huge amounts of data effortlessly. It wouldn't even take breaks to play Farmville.

Another article I was reading on the internet talked about the advances in not only nanotechnology, but also genetics and robotics driving this dash to the singularity. Take for example just 3D Printing. 3D and as well as the emerging 4D Printing technologies are only in their infancy and already futurists are predicting what a game changer they will be. In the near future we will have smart machines loading the information into the printers which will make our products. Humans need not be involved, except to use the products created. 

What about genetics? What role will they play? While most of us have heard about the Human Genome Project which started obtaining funding under the Reagan Administration, not much is known today. To date, this international effort to map and understand our highly complex DNA structure has hit somewhat of a roadblock. We understand 92% of the DNA puzzle. However, with the advances of super computer technology, understanding the remaining 8% can't be far behind.

Many experts feel all it going to take is a bit more "juice" in our computing. And that is coming. The following was taken from the SigularityHub.com in November 2012:

Control Data Corporation's first supercomputer, the CDC 6600, operated at a speed of three megaflops.  A half century later, the most powerful supercomputers are a billion times faster. But even that impressive mark will inevitably fall. Engineers are eyeing an exaflop  (a quintillion operations a second), and some think they’ll get there by 2018.

So where are we? We are right at the door step. We are at the nexus where science fiction and science will meet. Will these be exciting times which will change everything for the better? Or will we be creating a negative utopia such as what happened in the Terminator series with Skynet. In any event, 2014 is now here and technology will continue to march on. The singularity is coming - are we ready for it?




Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Cauldron


"Is it a witch's brew? No - it is much, much worse..."

Christmas is now over, New Years is not yet here, and the talking heads in the media are already starting the annual "That was the year that was" lists. You know what I am talking about - the highs and lows. The disasters and the celebrations. Famous people that died and royal people that were born.
However, I am looking at a much different list. The media continues to trip all over them selves as they fawn over Mrs. Clinton. The "wonderful" job she did as the head of our State Department. Meanwhile, the landscape in the Middle East looks more like a boiling cauldron than the land of milk and honey we have been told it now is.
Let's take a look see, shall we? I will not only address this year, but all the Ms. Clinton (and Mr. Kerry) years leading up to this point.
  • In Iraq on Christmas morning, while some of the less than one million Christians worshipped, two bombs went off in churches. Dozens were killed and maimed. It was suspected to have been done by Islamic zealots who think that Christians are an abomination and need to be eliminated. Not a peep from the State Department when the Coptic Christians were killed under the Clinton watch, nor this carnage under the Kerry watch.
  • Iraq again. The insurgency by radical Islamic forces has gotten so out of hand, the government can no longer contain it. We are now secretly sending Hellfire missiles and other goodies to the Iraqi government to help the good guys. Bottom line - Iraq continues to be a mess and will be easy pickings for a violent Islamic takeover.
  • Benghazi. Ah, the sore that will not heal. As much as we have tried to sweep the deaths of four innocents under the rug, the blood stain keep reappearing. In addition, there was recently another innocent American shot dead over there. A teacher, trying to do good, shot dead. What say you Mr. Kerry?
  • Israel. The "bullies" of the Middle East have gotten a stern talking too by our President, Clinton and Kerry. As Israel has bent over backwards with lopsided prisoner exchanges and so on, recently another innocent Israeli was shot dead last week by a Palestinian (or supporter thereof) sniper. Even though our Administration refuses to believe this, many in the Middle East will not be satisfied until Israel disappears off the face of the Earth.
  • Syria. We did a good job getting Assad to quit using WMD on his people. Now he is just using different stuff. How different? He is having copters drop barrels of explosives loaded with shrapnel and nails on the rebels (and innocent bystanders). Since it is not WMD, I guess we are okay with it. Innocent people are being cut to ribbons in their own homes, but the band will play on.
  • Iran. Really? They are going to play nice this time? This reminds me of Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown. Over, and over and over again. We may be turning a blind eye to what is going on in Iran, but Israel is not. Remember how North Korea hoodwinked us as they developed their nukes.

There is more, but I am done for now. There are issues in Egypt and Saudi Arabia also. But for now as 2014 dawns, we can look forward to ignoring the Middle East and fixing our malfunctioning ACA portal. As for me, I am going to check my bunker. The cauldron might be getting ready to boil over.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Destressing or Stressing Christmas


"Man o man! Thursday cannot get here soon enough!"
It seems like every day on every channel there is some "Dr. Feelgood" advising us on how to eliminate or reduce holiday stress. Way too much to do, and way too little time! And this year! This year we got robbed because of Turkey Day coming so late! Less days to shop, to bake, to decorate! No wonder I feel so out of sorts.
And this is exactly what drives many people nuts about this time of year. Here it is, one of the two holiest days of the Christian faith, and we are worried about everything except getting our hearts prepared. Instead of doing everything we do to stress the importance of Christmas, we are letting the ancillary fluff that surrounds this very special day, stress us.  It happens year after year. I have talked to many who just want it to be over with so life can return to normal. It is so sad.
Christmas today reminds me of how we approach many weddings. Rather than focusing on the marriage, instead we focus on the wedding. That one event, which takes months and months of preparation, costs thousands of dollars, lasts less than a day, and then it is over. Like a wedding, Christmas has become an event, instead of the recognition of what it really is.
So to those who celebrate the reason for the season, Merry Christmas! It is truly a day of joy, promise and hope. For those who year after year get caught up in the hustle bustle, hubbub of the Christmas event, I also have good news. Thursday is only hours away, and then we won't have to worry about this again until Black Friday, 2014.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Naughty or Nice???


"My, my - we have sure come a long way from the honesty of George Washington..."

Well, it happened. And it happened yesterday. The cat is out of the bag. And you can blame U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, (R-OK) for spilling the beans. It seems that Doctor Coburn was on one of the mind numbed Sunday morning news shows when the subject of "harmony" in Washington came up. I think the question was, "Now that all sides have held hands and sung kumbaya with the passage of the two year budget deal, can we all start getting along better now?" 

The good doctor from Oklahoma answered the question very quickly. "We get along quite well, thank you. We worked together to spend over $700B more than what we have. We all raised the debt once again. The annual Waste book came out showing $30B of waste which we all tolerate together. We have raised taxes, offered less in return, and broken promises to the American people."

Wow! I think what Tom was saying is this - when we separate the "naughty" from the "nice" in Washington, the "nice" are few and far between. In fact, I would say there are only a handful at best. The "club" in Washington sure knows how to play the game - and in turn, how to play the folks. So who is the ringleader? Why the liar-in-chief of course. The man who holds the office that kids at one time looked up to as a hero. Now it is held by the man who PolitiFact reported told the biggest lie, the biggest whopper of 2013. Yep - lied to the entire country about something as important as their health care.

Even Paul Ryan, a man who I have long admired, fell into the naughty camp with his cowardly participation in the Ryan-Murray "do-nothing" bill. With all the crap we spend money on in the defense budget, with all the waste, fraud and abuse, we decided to punish vets by cutting their retirement pay. That was way beyond the pale. Shame, shame, shame!

So tomorrow night when Santa comes to town, there is one town he might want to pass by. It would be a waste of time - that is, unless dropping off copious amounts of coal is worth the stop. As far as the house in on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in concerned, all I will say is this. When I was a boy and got caught lying, it was a mouth full of soap for me. My momma did not wait for Santa Clause to dish out the punishment.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Greatest Story, Told and Told Again...

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life"
John 3:16

This is an article I wrote almost fifteen years ago as a family gift. Since I have been blogging, I re-publish this story every year at Christmas time. It is truly a story which needs to be told, told often, and told to many.

One early winter evening, a little over two thousand years ago, something truly wonderful happened. As had been prophesied for centuries, a young woman and her husband came to a small village in the Middle East to seek shelter and a room in order to deliver the baby the woman was carrying. In this small village, the man and his wife discovered there was no room at the inn, and if they needed a place to stay, they would have to share it with the livestock in the stable. That night, in the stable, amidst all the filth and animals, a truly wonderful event happened that changed the world forever.

For unto the man and woman, a child was born. This child, born in the most humble of all surroundings, was to become the one that would bring hope to the hopeless, joy to the joyless and life to the lifeless. He would be known by many different names to many different people – Rabbi, teacher, counselor, Jesus, Savior and friend. He came into a world plagued by sin, to lead people, all people, to a greater glory. He was the Son of God that became known as the Son of Man.

It is for this man, this Son of Man, that we celebrate His birth every December. It was His birth that started the greatest change that the world has ever known. It is His birth that gives us all our purpose. Regardless if we know it, or if we acknowledge it, we are all tied to that event that happened so very long ago. As many times as we have heard this story, we never cease to be profoundly moved by the magnitude of the gift that has been given to us. What He has requested in return, is that we love, forgive and serve each other as He has done for us.

His story needs to be told many times throughout the year, but especially at Christmas. Besides loving each other, Jesus also wanted us to be tellers of this wonderful story. It is at this time of year when we are surrounded by family, friends and love, that we think back on the Christmas story – truly, the greatest story ever told.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

What is happening to us?


"What in the world is a metrosexual, and am I becoming one?"
Just when you think you have seen it all, along comes the pajama boy. Since this has been condoned by our Administration, it is the image the American male is to emulate. With the full blessings of our government, the "chickification", the feminization, of the American male will continue. Full speed ahead. Good flipping grief!
Lets forget about the males for a minute. Last year we heard all about "Julia". Remember her? The virtual girl who needed some kind of government service from cradle to grave. Did she need a man? Heck no! The only man she needed was Uncle Sam. Unfortunately for "Julia", she had a very short life once her ad went public. Seems that very few normal people could keep a straight face. Only the Ultra Left could understand and appreciate "Julia".
How about good old Sandra Flock? Lets not forget her. The thirty something, whose main goal was to have free birth control for life. It was so important to her, she actually went in front of Congress to complain about her co-pay for her BC pills. All of a sudden, she became the cause celeb on the Left! A heroine to many! What an injustice that she had to pay for birth control like many couples do before they have kids. Again, good flipping grief.
As we slide into 2014 with our health care system on life support, our bike riding Commander in Chief is enjoying the sunny confines of the Aloha state. Meanwhile, we continue to lose our identity as not only Americans, but also men and women. We are almost becoming androgynous - like the fictional character "Pat". We are becoming an anything goes society with "no boundaries" being our new motto.
Well, I just needed to vent for a spell on a cold afternoon. If it is okay with everyone else, I am going to make myself some Sleepy Time Tea, have a gluten free bagel, and get my footie pajamas on. Since it is Winter Solstice, I can blame going to bed early on the length of the day. Ta ta for now...



"Life is not so much about counting your days as it is making your days count..."

Byron "Sandy" Sanderson sat down in his favorite chair after coming back from lunch in the dining hall. "Bunch of old fools", he thought. "Nobody can hear anymore, and there is nothing interesting to talk about. Just sit and shovel it in, no matter what is served."

Sandy moved into his assisted living apartment about six months ago. It was a big change for him. He had lived in his house for over fifty years, and it was finally time to let it go. What really sealed the deal was when he tripped and fell on the last step coming into the living room. He was very fortunate he did not break anything, but still he could not get up by himself. He fell close to the small table where he kept the living room phone. He called his son, Roger at work and soon help was on the way.

When Roger arrived, he insisted on taking Sandy to the doctor to get checked out. Sandy grumbled about it, but agreed to go. He hated doctors. Rich, overpaid prima donnas. When they arrived at the doctor's office, Sandy was able to go right in. Some bumps and bruises, but nothing broken or sprained. The doctor was so sure of this, he did not even order any x-rays.

When the exam was almost over, the doctor wanted to sit down with Sandy and Roger and talk about the fall. "Mr. Sanderson, you were very lucky this time. I see by your chart you just turned 90. Overall your health is good for a man of your age, but you have been diagnosed with some slight Parkinson's as well as some dementia. Both of these diseases will get worse for you every year. Because you are still living in your own house, this is going to put you at a greater risk of injury or worse. Have you ever considered moving into senior housing or assisted living?"

Sandy looked at the doctor with a shocked expression. "No offense Doc - that is for old folks. Hell, I was a union pipe fitter until 65, and I am still in better shape than most." The doctor smiled, as he loved the fact some older folks that still had spunk. "Mr. Sanderson, I really hope you live to be a hundred or older, and stay in good health. However, the statistics speak for themselves - the odds are against you. The next fall could be a game changer. If you broke your hip or a femur, you would spend the rest of your life in a nursing home."

As Roger was driving his dad home, he looked over at Sandy and said, "He is right Dad. You were lucky. Molly and I would feel a lot better about your safety if we helped you sell your house and you move into someplace safer with services you might need in the future."

As the weeks went by, Sandy did start to become more comfortable with the idea of moving. After his wife had died, the house seemed very empty. His son still lived in the area, but his daughter lived on the West Coast and did not come home very often. Too many problems of her own to think about her dad. His son however, was a different story. Good paying job, nice wife, well mannered kids. They would come and pick him up most every Sunday to join the family in dinner. Never a religious man, once in a while they would even drag him to church with them.

The day finally came where the house was sold and Sandy moved into a newer assisted living facility not that far from Roger's house. Most of Sandy's furniture was sold in a consignment store, as he did not need much in his new place. Once the sale was complete, Sandy was amazed at how much money he had in the bank. With social security and his union pensions, the rent he paid for the services he needed was more than covered by what was coming in every month. Here he was, 90 years old, in good health, and almost a half million dollars in the bank!

One Sunday when Roger came to pick up his dad, the subject of money came up. Roger knew that his dad was "fixed for life". Years ago, he had talked his mom and dad into getting some long term care insurance. Should he ever need to go into an expensive full care facility, the costs will be covered by his insurance and his monthly income. In addition, when Roger's mom and dad turned 70, they both pre-paid their funerals. In other words, Sandy did not have a financial worry in the world. A boat load of money, and nothing to spend it on.

When they were about half way to Roger's house, Roger got the courage up to ask his dad the hard question. "Dad, what are you going to do with your money. Please don't tell me again you are saving it for your old age, because I think you are there. Besides, as I have told you many times, my sister and I don't need it." Sandy did not understand Roger when he talked like this. After all, it was money that made the world go round. He worked hard for his pension, and he deserved everything that he has right now!

"Well Roger, you and your sister are going to get in when I die. I expect you to let it grow and then pass it down to your kids when the time is right." As Roger was pulling up the driveway, he looked over at his father. "Dad, one of the things you taught me was good money management. We are doing fine. My sister is doing even better as her husband's law practice is doing very well. The kids will be fine. I am passing on to them the good money management skills you taught me. I will give them the same legacy you have given me."

"Molly taught me something different though Dad. She taught me the joy of giving. When we first got married, she would tell me the first third of our lives were for learning, the next third was for earning, and the last third was for giving back. We both made a vow to each other that we would not only enjoy our money, but also experience the joy of giving some to the needy. As we have been blessed, we want to bless others. When we die, we want to die broke. Come in with nothing, go out with nothing."

Sandy looked at Roger in stunned silence. What in the world had gotten into these young people? Give your money away? Were they mad? It saddened Sandy to think some of his hard earned wealth might eventually be "given away". To who? Some bum?  Who did not want to work? "Roger, if you and Molly want to do something foolish with your money, fine. I am keeping mine right in the bank. Every day it grows a little bit more. If everybody in the world practiced the same money management I did, well, the world would be a much better place." With that the conversation ended and they both got out of the car.

The weeks went by. A special Sunday was coming up at Roger's church. It was mission Sunday, and this year the focus again was on the country of Sudan.  A young woman from that region was coming to speak at Roger's church. Her village had been helped by a generous donation the church had send there two years ago. The village managed to scrape up enough donations for a representative of the tribe to come to America and thank Roger's church, as well as two othe churches who made the donations possible.

The woman who was going to speak was named is Abeo, which in African means "I bring joy". She was chosen from her village as her English was very good. She also had a compelling story to tell her friends in America. The travel plans were made, the dates were set, and she was going to be at Roger's church this next Sunday.

Sunday came and Roger picked up his dad for church. It was always a struggle to get him to church - it was ever since Roger was a boy. Sandy did not like church - a home for the pious. Most churches he had visited had been more like "clubs" than anything else - and they were boring. He really had no time for them. But is was important to Roger, so he agreed to go. Get if over with, go back to the house and have some of that delicious roast that only Molly knew how to make.

The church service started with the usual mumbo jumbo type of liturgy that Sandy had never understood nor gotten into. Then the pastor would get up and tell everyone how bad they had been the past week. However this time when the pastor got up, he told the congregation they had a very special guest this morning. A guest from the village in the Sudan this congregation helped support last year. With no more fanfare, the pastor introduced Abeo as their guest speaker.

She stood in front of the church with only the microphone in her hands. No notes, no anything - just the microphone. "I bring you glad tidings from my village. My name is Abeo and I am so happy to be here today. I may be one, but I speak for many. I come here today, in the name of our almighty God, to thank you for what you have done to help us."

Sandy looked at his watch. "This was a huge mistake." he thought. "What was I thinking? This is going to take forever, and I can hardly understand her. Why is she here? Who paid for this trip, and how much did it cost?" Sandy had no interest what so ever in what this person had to say this morning.

Abeo continued to speak. "Many in this country do not know how many lives are saved by generous gifts given by people just like you. Two years ago, this church along with two others, sent a relief agency in Africa over $15,000 to dig a deep well. My village had never had pure clean water before then. Our water was often times bad, full of diseases. Every day in Africa over 4,000 people die from lack of food or clean water. In my family alone, my younger sister became sick with diphtheria five years ago and died. My older brother got typhus and almost died. He was sick for weeks."

The church became very still and quiet as Abeo continued to speak. "When I was a little girl, Christian missionaries came to live in our village for a while. They taught us about God. They gave us hope through Jesus. One of the things we learned about was the importance of helping others. In Matthew Chapter 25 we learned the lesson of the sheep and the goats. We learned how God views the importance of helping others. My favorite part of that chapter is where it says, The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ "

Abeo continued, "In my village, we believe God's words in this story to be true. As you have blessed our village with life giving clean water, we are blessing the village next to ours by sharing as much as we can. However, one well is not enough to supply clean water to our village as well as the ones that surround us. With the help of God, we will try. The week before I left, a three year old boy in a village in the hills nearby died from a disease he got from their bad water. Our village decided to stretch our water to share with that village also."

"I will conclude my talk to you by just saying one thing. My village has seen the heart of God through your generous gift to us. We will never forget it. The legacy of giving life saving water to our village will last for many years. Thank you again and may God bless you all!"

The congregation stood up and applauded. There were not many dry eyes in the entire building. The pastor then gave the message and the service was over. Once in the car, Sandy was strangely silent. He looked over at Roger and asked a very simple question - "Is what she said true? Are people really dying from no clean drinking water? In this day of age?" This was an important moment, so Roger did not start the car. "Dad, before we sent money to that village in the Sudan, we looked at many different sources of information. We did our homework. Yes, it is that bad. Thousands of people die each and every day from starvation or bad water. And yes, many of those are children."

"Our church wished they could have given more, but the $15,000 we helped raise was a good start. One deep well supplying water to one village is a very good start. Maybe next year our church can get together with other churches and raise some more money for another village."

Sandy just sat there, saying nothing, looking out the window. His mind was racing however. "Kids dying" he thought. "Today? That is not right! This can not be!" He turned and looked at Roger, "I have money. I can help. I can't sit in my room looking at my bank statements when kids are dying from no food or clean water. I just can't!"

In the back seat, a smile started to spread across Molly's face. In her heart, she knew what she was witnessing. Through this woman from Africa, speaking at a church service in a town in America, God was changing a heart. She was hearing things come from Sandy's mouth she had never heard him say before.

Sandy continued, "Roger, whatever agency your church used to help that village, I want you to contact them next week. Then I want you to go to my bank and withdraw $150,000. You tell that agency to dig ten new wells in the villages in the Sudan who need it the most. Tell them if this works for them, hell, I mean heck, we might even do it again the next year!"

Roger started the car and they drove back home so everyone could enjoy Molly's fine roast dinner. Sandy could not stop talking about this woman from Africa. About her courage. About her heart. There was a joy in Sandy that Roger and Molly had not seen for many years, maybe ever. It was the joy of giving.

Roger did take out the $150,000 and ten new wells were dug in Africa. Countless lives were saved because of it. Sandy lived long enough have Roger do it again the following year. When Sandy died at the age of 92, Roger and his sister had a very simple thing put on his grave marker.

Byron "Sandy" Sanderson
Born December 1, 1921
Died December 21, 2013
Husband, Father, Grandfather
Loving and generous to all

Friday, December 20, 2013

Not Duck Soup!


"How can we love the sinner, yet hate the sin and not get fired over it?"

Years ago towards the end of my career, I worked at a large company in St. Paul. It was a great job, and after doing real hard things at IBM, it was a good change of pace for me. One of the leads (I will call "Joe") in the Project Group was hired about the same time I was. A nice and very bright guy, probably in his mid-thirties.
One day I was meeting with my boss on some project issues we were having. When I was describing some of the issues that "Joe" and I were dealing with, my boss said, "Did you know "Joe" was gay and living with a man?" I did not, nor did I care much that he did. All I knew at that time was this - we was sharp and a very nice guy.
One day after a lengthy meeting, my boss, "Joe," and I stayed after to discuss some strategies. For the first time, "Joe" brought up his lover. He said he could not work late, as he and his lover had a diner date. My boss asked if he ever faced any discrimination when people found out he was gay (trust me, I don't know why she asked that in a business setting). He quickly said yes - mostly from Christians. In fact, he had a strong dislike, almost a hatred for most Christians.
I had not thought about that encounter until this week's dust up between A+E and the Duck Dynasty boys. When Phil Robertson was interviewed by Gentleman's Quarterly magazine, he was asked some loaded questions. One question was on homosexual behavior. Phil answered the question honestly, but maybe not as politically tactfully as he could have. However, Phil is very plain speaking and a straight shooter.

Here is where the rubber meets the road. For people of faith, how do we answer the question on homosexual behavior? Is it sinful? It is a tough one for sure. The Bible does address homosexual behavior. The Bible does not condone it. Are we to judge those who practice homosexual behavior? Hold them accountable? Or do we take a laissez-faire attitude and let God be the decider on judgment day?

I do know this. I have enough sin in my life that I am trying to control. The Bible also tells us that we will be judged by the same yardstick we use to judge others. I know that I can be very judgmental, and would hate to have God judge me the same way I have judged others. Whether we like, accept or dislike homosexual people, they are part of our society. They are people, just like us. Created by God, just like us.

Phil Robertson is guilty of only two things. The first is honesty. He was asked a very tough question in today's environment and gave his most honest answer. He was put in a no-win scenario. Any way he answered it would have drawn some kind of response. Second, his show is on A+E - Arts and Entertainment. A+E has a very strong association with GLAD (a politically charged gay rights group). My feeling is the marriage between Duck Dynasty and A+E will end very soon, and another network will pick up this highly viewed program.

The entire issue raises more questions than answers. It is one more thing that can drive us further apart. All I know is this - people of faith, Christians, are to be known by their love, more so than by their words. The fact that "Joe" from my former company had such antipathy for Christians, was a failure. It might have resulted from some showing "Joe" more judgment than love. I don't know, and I never will. All I know is this, every day when my feet hit the floor, my prayer is to love more and judge less than I did the day before.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Where do we go from here?


"Wait - there is an exit....right?"

What an upside down week this has been. I shouldn't just pick on this week however, as most of this year has been pretty strange. Maybe I will do a week in review, even though it is only Thursday (I might have to update this post on Saturday morning). When I think of all that has happened, I wonder where we go from here.
  • President Obama - I could almost take up the entire post on this one. First off, his approval ratings are now at his all time low. In fact at 43%, they are lower than when President Bush's ratings hit his low at 47%. Second, an organization which keeps track of the biggest lies told, voted the President our number one liar. The people distrust his veracity almost as much as we distrusted President Nixon after Watergate. However, the most amazing thing came out of the mouth of Barbara Walters when she was interview by Piers Morgan. Even though many of us joked about Obama being perceived as the "second coming", it seems like Babs admitted she and many of her fellow lemmings actually believed it! Knock me over with a feather!
  • MNsure - What a mess. Somebody authorized April Todd (what's her name) to be the head of an insurance exchange that will affect tens of thousands. When the MNsure ship started to list in November, April decides to brush up on her tan by taking a two week Caribbean vacation. Never mind the fact some butt head agreed to pay the woman with more names than experience a salary of $136k. So she resigns under pressure (not to worry, the teacher's union will probably hire her) and is replaced by another government lifer until a national search can come up with another health care tool.
  • Ryan-Murray Bill - I spouted off about this one yesterday, so I won't repeat. All I will say is this - the next time one of these phonies on the Hill talk about "how much they love the troops", tell them they are full of crap and then move on.
  • ACA - This thing is so unpopular right now, this next one is still a head turner. It seems a recent poll found over 50% of the UNINSURED don't want ObamaCare! In fact, the percentage of the uninsured who hate this law is slightly higher than the insured. One talking head for the Administration explained this oddity by saying, "We just need to do a better job of selling the advantages of the ACA." Huh? What have those guys been doing for the past four years? This thing is going to go down in history as the worst idea ever.
So where do we go from here? With the approval rating of Congress resting around 10%, and the President getting ready to sink below 40%, I had this crazy thought. What if we changed our system of government away from a republic and into a pure democracy. We could get rid of a lot of dead weight in Washington, and all of us voting on every issue could NOT lead us down a worse trail than we are on now.

Well there is more, but I am done. Be thankful I did not even go into the Duck Dynasty dust up. I will save that for another day.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Hurry up and wait....


Wait! After all this waiting, I hope this was worth waiting for!
We are rapidly devolving into the land of the Golden Rule. You know which one I am talking about - those with the gold, rules. What we have seen this week is yet another shameless example on how the rich and powerful can really put it to the powerless. Promises broken, once again.
What am I talking about? Why the Ryan-Murray Bill of course. The panacea bill, the cure for all ills. Or as I like to call it, the chicken's way out. Kick the can down the street for two more years. Screw over our kids and grand kids just a bit more. Only this bill does something in addition to screwing over our future generations - it takes it to our brave men and women who protect or protected this great country.
In case you have not yet heard (trust me, you will hear about this from many sources soon), the bill strips out part of the pay increases for military retirees for the next 10 years. The $6B savings comes on the heals of Tom Coburn's annual report on wasteful spending. In this year's report, he highlights such things as funding for NASA to make a pizza from a 3D printer. All in all, Coburn's report, which just scratched the surface, found $30B in boondoggle spending this next year alone! And we want to screw over our vets once again for $6B over 10 years?
So where does the "hurry up and wait" come from? Those who have served, are familiar with that saying. The "wait" is this - with the signing of the two year bill which will allow the spending train to keep on the same course and direction, nothing, and I mean nothing will get done until (at the earliest) post 2014 elections. So as the powerful and the connected keep getting more goodies, those who are not, get fewer and fewer crumbs. More and more debt piled up for spending that nobody seems to, or wants to control.
Somehow after the Great Society, Americans have gone from the smartest kids on the block to mind numbed robots. It is like the drug induced high from the 60's never left us. We ignore the facts and fall for politically spun sophism. Liars roam our political landscape, promising a chicken in every pot to all who listen and believe. We blindly follow the Pied Piper, even though we can clearly see the sky is starting to fall.
So if you are ultra rich or politically connected, relax - you are safe. However, if you are just one of the folks, hang on. Your endless wait continues.... 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Who will stand in the gap?


"I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one..."

Ezekiel 22:30

Standing in the gap has very biblical roots. It has also developed into a modern day motto which speaks to dependability, character and value. I think of this verse quite a bit today as it relates to what is happening in our society, our country, our world.

Back when I was younger, the stereotype difference between Republicans and Democrats was very simple - Democrats were the "tax and spend" party which were always looking for more revenue, and Republicans were the party of "fiscal constraint" which were constantly looking to "right size" a bloated government. However, that was the old days.

What I have been hearing more and more from friends on the right is this - what in the world has happened to the Republican Party? It is true they don't spend as much as Democrats when they are in power, but they still spend. Now I am a fan of President Bush (43). I find him to be a good and honorable man. That being said, President Bush also ran up our national debt while he was in office. True, we did have the terror attack which led to a very expensive response. However, how we funded Medicare Part "D" was way beyond the pale. 

The people in the country who pay the bills are searching high and low for a person of fiscal and conservative principals to save the day. They are looking for a person of conviction who will do the following:
  • Establish a balanced budget which allows for a zero dollar deficit each year. It is time to stop the bleeding. During the fiscal year, should emergency funding be needed, a corresponding offset in another part of the budget would be used.
  • Do a annual "health check" on ALL existing programs which require yearly funding. The way things are now, we promulgate programs and they continue into infinity. This is fiscal madness. We have many programs which are outdated, redundant or just plain stupid.
  • Besides having a zero dollar deficit every year, establish and begin a plan to slowly (without killing the economy) starts to reduce our debt. What any debt counselor will tell you is this - it takes a long time to get into a financial mess, and it will take a long time to get out of one. However, you must start TODAY, or it will never happen.

Who do we have that will stand in the gap to fight the debt monster. Is there not one among us who has the same Reagan type of courage and conviction? To know we have found the right  person, I believe he or she must have some core principals. First, we need someone of integrity and truth that can tell the masses we all have a drug problem - that is a debt problem. As with any addiction, the first step towards recovery is problem recognition. We need to admit we have a debt problem and ignoring it will only make it worse. No more "kicking the can down the street" - the battle starts today. 

Next, we need strength. We need a strong leader who will fight the uphill battle and never tire. We need someone who will once again remind us it is "morning in America", and we are the "shining city on the hill" for all to see. We do have American Exceptionalism. We don't need apologists and Nay-Sayers. We tried that, and it did not work. 

Our republic is at stake. Is it too late? Possibly, but I sure hope not. However, we have very little time. A clarion call needs to go out from all who care - is there not one amongst us that will stand in the gap? If the answer comes back "no", our gap will become a chasm which will never be bridged.