Thursday, February 28, 2013

Dumb and Dumber







"Some people's capacity to do dumb things knows no boundries"


Every time I think I have seen it all, someone comes from the shadows and proves once again, that dumb can rule the day! What is it this time? In Minnesota, the party of "if it moves, tax it", wants to increase the tax on liqour by a substantial amount. So what? The increase can't be that much. We can absorb that by just cutting back on something else. Hold on folks - here is how much of an increase is in the proposal:

Spirits
Current: $5.03 per gallon Proposed: $17.82 per gallon

Wine
Current: $.95 per gallon Proposed: $8.24 per gallon

Beer
Current: $2.40 per 31-gallon barrel Proposed: $13.97 per 31-gallon barrel

No, this is no joke. I think (I am not sure) the plan is to make liquor so expensive that people will just quit drinking. This might be a preview of what life under ObamaCare will be like. Here is a news flash for the one who thought this up and proposed it - people are going to continue to drink - only not in Minnesota. People will go accross the border and buy larger quantities of liqour to bring back home. It will be like the 4th of July when folks drive to the Dakotas to buy Black Cats. The net result for Minnesota will be this: 1) People will continue to drink and 2) Minnesota will lose, not gain, tax revenue.

Minnesota needs to learn from California. For years now, California has been targeting the rich to pay more taxes. Guess what? Thousands of wealthy people have left California and moved to lower taxed states. The result for California? A shrinking tax base with huge deficits that come and go. In a state which is fiancially so volitile, long term planning is almost impossible.
One more thing. Another deep thinker wants to charge $3 each round trip over the new Stillwater bridge. Guess what will happen next? Rather than paying $15/week to go over the bridge, people will continue to use the same detour through small towns just to get over the river. When this bridge was proposed, NOBODY said anything about a toll.

The lesson to be learned is this. People don't have to pay high taxes. If you charge someone too high of a rate because of his or her earnings, that person does not have to produce as much the next year. If you have a high consumption tax, people don't have to consume as much. If you charge to go over a bridge, people will go around it. If you make it too expensive to live somewhere, people can move to a cheaper location.

Using the tax system for social engineering or as a weapon is not only bad policy, it is dumb. Not only dumb, but dumb and dumber.
 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Please Excuse the Gas....





"Natural gas is a better transportation fuel than gasoline, so if that's the case, it's cheaper, it's cleaner and it's a domestic resource"
T. Boone Pickens
This is an updated article from two years ago. The numbers quoted have even grown bigger since then.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates "there are 2,203 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas that is technically recoverable in the United States." That is more gas than I have after a pepperoni and onion pizza! At the rate of U.S. natural gas consumption in 2011 of about 24 Tcf per year, 2,203 Tcf of natural gas is enough to last about 92 years. There is only one thing wrong with this factoid - we keep discovering more natural gas all the time.

So what are we going to do with all this gas? We now have more gas than any other country in the world. Can we heat all our homes? Absolutely! Can we power our electrical plants with a cleaner source than coal? You bet! Can we transform all our cars over to natural gas from gasoline? Maybe...

This is not new science. Cars have been using natural gas for years now.
Current estimates are there are more than 15.2 million natural-gas vehicles on the road throughout the world. As of December of last year, the United States has only 120,000 natural gas cars. Why so few? It has proven we have more natural gas than anyone else. Also, we have a huge dependency problem with our imported oil.

This really does sound like a "no brainer". I know there are pros and cons to having a natural gas powered car. However, the "cons" appear to be very workable and not show stoppers. Here is a summary of the puts and takes:

First the plus side-
  • Natural Gas Vehicles (NGVs) could help to break the U.S. free of dependence on foreign oil. 
  • NGVs pave the potential to emit 25 percent less greenhouse gases than diesel-powered vehicles.
  • Natural gas is cheaper -- $1.50 to $2 less per gasoline gallon equivalent.
  • Lighter-than-air natural gas dissipates in an accident -- a safer scenario than flammable liquid fuel.
  • The need to change the car's oil less frequently is due to the cleaner-burning fuel.
  • A regular gasoline-powered car averages 32 miles per gallon while a  natural gas powered car averages 43 miles per gallon.
Now the down side-
  • Acceleration is typically slower.
  • They are more expensive (about $5k) than gasoline powered cars.
  • Limited range before refueling (about 200 - 225 miles)
  • Very few fueling stations at the present time.
  • Refueling tends to be very slow.
I think when all factors are taken into consideration, we are missing a huge opportunities by not jumping on this technology. We know it works, we have the resources, and we certainly have the need. On this issue, I feel that T. Boone knows of what he speaks. It will be a great bridge until the next best thing is discovered or invented that will take us further into the world of abundant, cleaner energy.




 








      Life before Google...




      "With Google I'm starting to burn out on knowing the answer to everything. People in the year 2020 are going to be nostalgic for the sensation of feeling clueless"

      Doug Coupland

      I have a confession to make. Even though I learned to write in high school, my absolute, most unfavorite thing to do was research papers. Those about my age know of what I speak. I would dread when the teacher would lay out the year's activities and say something like "And in March we will be doing our research paper. Start thinking about your topic now and on April 1st, the paper with all the prep documents will be due." Yuck!
      For those who have never been through this, or for those who have and since repressed those memories, I will spell out the process. First, the painful event of picking a topic. It has to be something that was both interesting to you as well as the reader. Once the topic was picked, it was off to the library to search for research materials. First up - plowing through the card catalog using the dreaded Dewey Decimal System. This classification system, which was invented by Melvil Dewey in 1876, was used by all libraries for search purposes. I really think it was invented just to punish students.

      Once you found research books, you then were to take notes on 3" x 5" note cards. Each note card had to contain the content, author, publisher, and year published. It was a dreadful process. Once you have been through the chore of creating a bunch of note cards, you were then ready use them in the preparation of a rough draft. In writing the rough draft, the content was to take shape and the flow of the paper was to be established. All the while, content which was not original, was to be identified and footnoted so your paper would not get "booted" for plagiarism. Finally, the rough draft was ready to be turned into the final paper. It needed to be typed (double spaced), with a cover page, table of contents and a bibliography. Most of us had typing skills consisting of one finger pecking. Lots of white out, lots of erasures. Once if was finally done, it was turned in and you waited for the bad news when it was returned from the teacher.

      Then came the internet. The internet grew, it offered a cornucopia of information by using simple commands known as Boolean search. This was not new stuff . "Boolean Logic" was invented by mathematician George Boole in the 19th century. The purpose of the logic was to combine and exclude certain topics from data bases. It was a bit clumsy, but compared to what was used before the internet, it was amazing.

      Enter the search engines. There were a bunch of them in the beginning. Out of the pack, emerged one leader - Yahoo! An odd name, but it was heads and shoulders above the rest. Many market experts thought Yahoo! would be very tough to knock off that perch. That is until another young company with an odd name entered the arena. Welcome to the age of Google.

      The new search engines, led by Google, are so advanced they did not need to use Boolean searches. You type a word in the search box and presto - you can get thousands of related topics right at your finger tips. As I have aged, I realize more and more how much fun learning is. With search engines like Google, learning is fun and quick. Kids today who have grown up in the age of the internet, have no idea how lucky they are. The test scores for kids today should be off the charts with the tools they have at their disposal.

      And there it is. Life before Google. From a literary standpoint, days before Google was like walking to school 10 miles, uphill, both ways. The internet has taken us from the stone age to the rocket age and beyond. The histories and mysteries of the world are there for our pleasure just by using a click of a mouse. Today, to not use this wonderful tool, to not be informed, is just not smart.

      Tuesday, February 26, 2013

      The Drake Equation

       
       


      "There are more things in heaven and earth..."

      Hamlet, Act I
      Shakespeare
       

      The other night, sleep did not find me easy. I was awake at 2pm and started poking around the computer looking for something boring which would make me drowsy. What I found on YouTube did anything but make me drowsy - it was a fascinating two hour event called The Disclosure Project. This project was founded by a medical doctor named Steven Greer. He left a successful medical practice to pursue something that he thought was more important than medicine. In fact, it was of the highest importance. 

      So what is The Disclosure Project? Taken from their website, it is described as follows:

      "The Disclosure Project is a research project working to fully disclose the facts about UFOs, extraterrestrial intelligence, and classified advanced energy and propulsion systems. We have over 500 government, military, and intelligence community witnesses testifying to their direct, personal, first hand experience with UFOs, ETs, ET technology, and the cover-up that keeps this information secret." 

      During the YouTube event, many of these witnesses gave their testimonials. They were anything but nut balls. Many had very impressive credentials. One had a Navy background and clearance similar to mine. Many had brought some kind of documentation. Bottom line is this - if you believe or choose not to, it was a compelling two hours of viewing.

      So what does this all have to do with the Drake Equation. By the way, what is the Drake Equation? It is a very complicated equation devised in 1961 by a man named Frank Drake. The equation has been looked upon as an act of genius by some and scoffed at by others. It is theory for sure - but in that theory might lie some truth. Simply put, using many parameters and estimations, the equation states in the Milky Way Galaxy there could be as many as 10,000 civilizations. Recently, some astronomers have taken the result Drake came up with and multiplied it by the number of known (or estimated) galaxies. That number is so big it is mind blowing.

      My feeling is this - as with anything else, I want to know the truth. If this UFO thing is just a bunch of Star Trek fans suffering from over acting imaginations, fine. If it is something more than that, lets find out. If the truth is out there, show us. That is what The Disclosure Project is trying to do. Most of us can handle the truth...

      The Awesome Power of the Tongue

       
       
       

       
      "The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body"
       
      James 3:6
       
       

      Once again last week, I was reminded how easy it is to ruin someone's day and how much harder it is to do just the opposite. I am talking about the power of what we say; how we use our tongue. This is not original thinking - it goes back millenniums. In fact, the Bible talks about the power of the tongue and how to use it. In James 3:6, we are reminded how evil the tongue can be and how it can control our entire body. On the other hand, Ephesians 4:29 instructs us how important it is to use our words to build others up (edification) rather than to tear them down.

      Sounds simple, right? Not so much. I have seen it time and time again. I have done numerous times. The temptation to say something which ranges all the way from "not helpful" to just plain hurtful. The most amazing thing to me is how little it takes to make a difference in someone's life. A very subtle word or phrase can make a very big impact. "Have you lost some weight? You look great" can really step up someone's self esteem. "What is wrong with you?" when a minor mistake is made can impact someone's self confidence. Many times if a mistake is made, a very constructive way of addressing may be used without damage.

      While in college, I took an elective class on how children learn. One of the books we read addressed how failure can become a learned event for a child. It was not really failing at something, as we all fail from time to time. It was how we recover from it, how input from others is received. Many times when a child fails, a consequence to that failure is the shame received from others. We have all seen it. A kid fails to get a hit, make a catch, or flunk a test, and someone might use the "L" word - "Loser". After a while, the pattern starts to form. "Everyone thinks I am worthless, I can't do anything". On the other hand, encouragement rather than discouragement often times has the opposite effect.

      A mediocre team can beat a very good team because of the self confidence gained from well placed words from their coach. A very good teacher can reach most every kid in the class by using the proper words of encouragement. Just as failure is a learned trait, so is success. We have all heard the expression "success breeds success" - it is true. This goes for children as well as adults. Words mean things. A good team is made up of people who have been shaped by a strong coach or manager. Many leaders understand the power of words well placed.

      When I was negotiating, I could say "no" a hundred different ways, only one of which was nasty. In truth, that holds true for most things we say. There are many different ways to say the same thing. Some words can hurt, some  words can help. The power each of us has is to use our words to help shape someone's day. And that, is the amazing power of the tongue.

       

      Monday, February 25, 2013

      A Bolder Plan for REAL Change...

       
       


      "When finding yourself in a ditch, it is best to stop driving in the same direction..."



      "Quit yer bitchin'! Try to change what you can change, and what you can't change, learn to live with it. And guess what? At your pay grade, there ain't much you can change". So said one of my former CPOs. I believe his words were a nautical version of The Serenity Prayer. He was right however - it is time to quit belly aching and offer a way out.

      What am I talking about? Our education system. The President, who ran for office as a "change agent", an "agent of change", has done NOTHING to fix this expensive, bloated, broken system. Our kids are being dumbed down, PC'd, and many graduate knowing nothing about civics, American history or math. They are however fluent in inclusion, diversity, bullying and the differences between G,L,B,T, and Q.

      Here are some ideas for radical change:

      • Dissolve the Department of Education - the monies which fund this waste of space would be sent back to the states on a proportionate basis.
      • Extend the School Year - most school districts in the country have kids going to school between 180 and 185 days a year. The new school year would be three months on, one month off repeated two more times. With this formula, each district must have a minimum of 200 days of instruction.
      • Quitting is not an Option - No more quitting school at age 16. As minors, kids have very few rights - in other words, not being the age of majority, they must do as they are told. The earliest they would be allowed to leave school is age 18. To leave any sooner not only disadvantages the student, but society as well.
      • Extend the School Day - Getting out  of school at 2 in the afternoon is just plain wrong. Most of the afternoon is wasted. Start the school day at 8 and go until 4 for all grades.
      • Extend the Number of Grades - First, let me get this off my chest. I am sick and tired of hearing the "Pre-K" crowd. If can be shown it is worth the time and effort, then offer it to everyone. Saying it is only for poor kids because they have more trouble learning is insulting. Either make it for everyone or no one. Our schools should be structured as follows: 1) K (or Pre-K) through 5th grade - Elementary School; 2) 6th through 9th grade - Middle School; 3) 10th through 14th grade - High School. That is right - school will have an additional two years. Some schools already have a version of this called PSEO (Post Secondary Education Opportunity).
      • Funding -The funding to accomplish these changes will be obtained by 1) Monies received from the Federal Government due to closing of the Department of Education and 2) Massive consolidation of the states school districts.
      • Teach a "World Class" Curriculum - No more "Mr. Nice Guy" on this one. Any class or instruction which does not yield a world class education for our kids to compete in the world economy will be eliminated. We will stop focusing on how kids feel and replace it with helping them learn. Teachers who are not up to the task of doing this will be immediately terminated and replaced with someone who can.
      • No More Unions -  All employees of a school system will be "at will" employees just like most professions. History has proven that school unions have hurt much more than helped the learning process.

      These are just some ideas for bold change in education. Every year we hear the same thing and get the same results. Money is not the answer - that has been proven over and over again. We can either fix it, or see another generation of Americans suffer under this broken system.


      Stupid is as Stupid does....

       
       
       


      "You just can't fix stupid..."
       
      Ron White
       
       
      Years ago, I worked with a man who had an interesting sign hanging in his office. The sign said the following in big, bold letters: "If you have a dumb question, ask it. It is much easier to handle than fixing a dumb mistake". One day I asked him what prompted him to put that in his office. He told me he never ceases to be amazed at the human capacity to do dumb and stupid things. Over the past few years, I am starting to think he was right.
       
      What are some dumb or stupid things we have done? Here are some thoughts:
       
      1) Sequester - Not going to talk much about this as it had been beaten to death already. All I will say is this - learn from it. The next time a poison pill is considered, remember this - the pill might not be poison enough to kill a bad idea and the results of ingesting it might end up being painful to all. Forget the blame game - everyone just needs to look in the mirror.
       
      2) Shuttle - Plan "A" for many years now has been to impress the world by the wonders we have been able to do with our Shuttle. With nothing in queue, we have decided to scrap the program. What we have for a Plan "B" is begging the Russians for a ride on one of their rockets if we need to get into space. Meanwhile, since nothing is on the drawing board, we will be in this fix for years to come.
       
      3) Ethanol - This one is so dumb, it almost deserves two spots. In a world of hunger, we have chosen to burn our own food. How much? We burn up about 40% of our corn. For what? To make E85 and other bio fuels which don't work very well. Our new car is able to use E85. The salesman told us it is cheaper but the mileage is much less. So we are burning our food to make a product which gets lousy mileage. Also, the production of ethanol consumes vast quantities of our depleting ground water and the smell is terrible.
       
      4) Taxes - How is it when the top 50% of all income earners pay 97% of federal taxes, the narrative has become the rich are not paying their "fair share". Even when this statistic is known by both sides, the narrative continues. Our tax code is a Rubik's Cube of confusion and political favors and takes a masters degree in thinkology to get through even a part of it. It is now so hard, it either takes an expert or a computer aided program to file. Our solution? Make it even harder by intertwining Obama Care within it. Flat tax - where are you?
       
      5) Education - Lord help us! As the world catches up with us, we are mired in the failed education policies of the past. These polices have given us graduation rates of 50% or less in major inner-cities at costs exceeding $20K per student. The cure? Many on the left say we need to spend more money. When the fire is out of control, you don't put it out with gasoline. We need to go back to the future to fix this one. The graduation rates in the sixties were in the 90% range and kids actually knew stuff when they got out of high school . DUH!!!
       
      I could go on, but won't. Here are just a few examples on how we have dumbed ourselves down over the years. Critical thinking has given way to PC logic. Even Forrest Gump could figure out some of life's most basic problems. I guess maybe life is just a box of chocolates...
       

      Sunday, February 24, 2013

      Pray for Rain, Prepare for Drought...

       
       

       
      "Water, water, every where,
      And all the boards did shrink;
      Water, water, every where,
      Nor any drop to drink"

      The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
      Samuel Taylor Coleridge
      1798
       
       
      Today, the usually vapid home town paper published quite an informative article. It is something I have written about for years now in previous blogs. It was on our water - or the lack there of. We are running out of ground water. In good years, where the rainfall is adequate to surplus, we are still pumping more ground water than is replenished. It is simple math - the amount of water we are extracting from the ground is not proportional to how much goes back in. This problem is not centuries nor decades away - it is right around the corner. If we don't do something quickly, it will make all our other problems seem like chump change.

      He is the irony. The Earth is covered by about 70% water. However, 96.5% of that is ocean salt water. The other 3.5% is fresh water, although not all of it is potable. Scientists have estimated that if all the water on Earth was measured in a sphere, it would be almost 333 million cubic miles. That is a whole bunch of H2O. What mankind has done for years, is go after the "low fruit on the trees". In other words, if the rainfall was not adequate, wells into the aquifers, lakes or tributaries were used. Now it seems as if nature is telling us that card has been overplayed and soon the ground water will be hard if not impossible to use.

      So now what. Pray for rain? Or should be prepare for drought. Fact 1 - the scientists have told us for years that the world's oceans are going to continue to rise. In other words, the chance of us running out of ocean water is about zero. We have had the technology for years on how to do large scale desalination on sea water. We can even "super-size" the technology. Three of our coasts have hundreds of miles of ocean front. There is not one reason why we cannot built mammoth water farms by the coastal waters to harvest fresh water. That water does not have to be potable - just fresh. The fresh water can be used for irrigation and can also be refined into potable water cities which need it.

      Fact 2 - Every year, there are trillions and trillions of gallons of water which fall on the United States. Some goes into the ground, some into lakes, and much of it goes into rivers and streams as run off. What happens to that water? Most of it ends up in the Mississippi water shed and heads south towards New Orleans. Once there, it dumps into the Gulf of Mexico and good bye water. Same is true for the St. Lawrence Seaway. All the excess water from the Great Lakes heads to the East Coast and then gone. Is there any reason why some of that fresh water cannot be captured prior to mixing with the sea water? It sure would be easier and cheaper than extracting sea water and then going thought the desalination process.

      Fact 3 - The way we waste good fresh water in this country is nothing short of criminal. Water is our life blood. The problem is we have always had so much of it, we have taken that fact for granted. We pour millions, maybe billions of gallons of valuable fresh water on our crop land in the middle of a dry day. Much of that water evaporates before it hits the ground. Drip irrigation has been proven for years to be much for efficient. Yet, we see very little drip irrigation used in the heartland. We also use huge amounts of water making bio-fuels such as ethanol. This has been a folly and should be stopped immediately.  

      This has not been the first time I have addressed this issue has been addressed, and will not be the last. It is simply too important. As we go further into the 21st century, fresh water will become the new oil, the new gold. We can sit around and do nothing, or do something quickly. On a thirsty planet, we need to provide the solutions, not just agree we have a problem.
       

      Today's Church - Koinonia or Insularity?

       
       



      Koinonia - Taken from a Greek word that means "communion by intimate  participation"


      Years ago, my wife and I participated in a study on community within the church. In fact, the course book was Forty Days of Community written by Pastor Rick Warren. It was a great experience and I learned quite a bit. I learned a new word which was brought up quite a few times by Pastor Warren - the Greek word Koinonia. Simply put, it means fellowship within the church. The church that we attended practiced fellowship quite well, and those who took this study learned how to make that fellowship even stronger.

      It has been my impression that many of today's churches have missed the point on Koinonia. Yes, fellowship within the church is of the highest importance. However, the mission field lies on the outside of the walls, not the inside. Some churches, in fact some synods, have become so inwardly focused they have become insular. This is not a supposition - I have seen it, I have witnessed it first hand. 

      One of the churches that acted as a voting location years ago had an interesting motto over the inside of the front door. It said, "As you leave here, you enter the mission field". Bingo. You go to church to become equipped, to worship, to fellowship, but then leave to practice what the church is suppose to do. Staying inwardly focused in a church does nothing to expand the mission field. Some churches have become so insular, they have become disconnected with the community as well as each other. Rather than look at their common bond, their common mission, they end up focusing on only on their differences. Once in a while these differences become so strong, the insularity turns into animosity. Trust me, I have seen this happen more than once. While attending one church years ago, the Senior Pastor would refer to people within the church who disagreed with him as "Taliban".

      I have seen churches today that have taken on a "country club" atmosphere. Some have taken on almost an air of superiority. Years ago I heard an evangelist (It might have been Max Lucado) say "It is not enough to be saved. You can't just get in the boat by yourself. You need to get back in the water and help save others". In other words, churches were never intended to be "safe zones". There are times when we need to practice what some call "dangerous Christianity". We need to take a risk, be uncomfortable. We need to talk to those who are the most unlike ourselves, those whose beliefs are most unlike ours. People within the church who we have disagreed with need to be reconciled with, even if it hurts to do so. This is not to turn our back on Koinonia - we still need that iron sharpening iron "tune up" that can only come from strong fellowship with other believers.

      As the world watches, our churches need to be strong. I want our churches to be strong. I want them to succeed, be relevant. Many churches today are doing the right thing. They are truly "being the church" and not just a place to socialize. However, many other churches have become too cozy in the comfort zone. It is time to rediscover the mission field. Trust me, even though uncomfortable at times, you will know when you are in the right place.



       
       

      Saturday, February 23, 2013

      March Madness

       
       


      "United we will stand, divided we will fall..."
       

      To use the vernacular of the younger generation, good effing grief - here we go again. I am in Groundhog Day (the movie, not the season). I can't turn on a news show or read the paper without seeing or hearing something about the Armageddon caused by the Sequester. It is going to be bad - it is going to be real bad. Not really, but that is what the script says.
       
      The President, who learned in Chicago to drink at the fountain of "never letting a good crisis go the waste" is licking his chops right now. With the help of a willing media, he will tattoo the Sequester, along with all misery that will come with it, squarely on the poor old Republicans. This is playing out as planned. As in a boxing match, the first couple rounds is for "softening" up your opponent before going in for the kill in the later rounds. Round 1 is the Sequester. Round 2 is coming up shortly. In other words, both Round 1 and Round 2 can now be called "March Madness" (sorry NCAA).

      Round 2 will really be interesting. Before March is done, our debt clock (which now shows about $16.6T) will be ready for another transfusion. The last time this happened in late 2011, the hair brained idea of the Sequester was hatched by the White House (that is, before the President thought is was a bad idea). Now with $85B in "cuts" scheduled to take place every year for the next decade, we will once again need to decide to tax the rich (who we are told pay almost nothing in taxes), or make additional cuts over and above the Sequester cuts. Get the picture? It is going to be ugly as the histrionics and sophism will fill the air once again.

      How is Round 2 going to play out? I have absolutely no idea. I only know one thing - our Crisis Monger in Chief will lay the blame squarely on the Republicans, once again. And the Republicans, who many times act more like eunuchs than legislators, will not counter punch. The lap dog media will then join the Administration in the adjudication of blame.

      Everyone, even the President, knows the real answer to this problem. Yes, it is the dreaded "E" word - entitlements. Until the people we hired to fix this problem get busy and really fix it, we will continue to lurch from financial crisis to financial crisis. As we continue to stumble over ourselves, the world watches in amazement. Our "March Madness" will continue, even long after March is over with.
       
       

      Friday, February 22, 2013

      Confessions of Word Hound

       

      "I never made a mistake in grammar but one in my life and as soon as I done it I seen it"
       
      Carl Sandburg


      It was not until I was well past thirty that I realized I had both a gift and a curse. I was consumed by words. All kinds of words. All sizes of words. I was interested in where words came from and why they were used. In particular, I was interested in why we use so few of the words we have available to us.

      It started when I took a vocabulary test to become an officer in the United States Navy. I failed. The strong vocabulary that I thought I had did not hold up to this basic Navy test. Being determined to retake this test and to pass it, I started to read the dictionary. This was hard as 1) it was not very exciting and 2) I felt like a Nerd.

      However, after a while, I started to enjoy it. Not only did I enjoy it, but I also started buying additional books on word power, word usage, work derivations and so on. I became obsessed with the signification and application of words. In other words, I became a lexicologist.

      Now that I am past sixty, I am still very interested in words. In particular, I am interested in the power of communication by the proper usage of words. However, what still mystifies me is the vast amount of “general usage” words that are unused, and also unlearned. This is very apparent to me in our public school system today, and then even in some of our colleges or universities.

      As I still find the search very interesting, I will continue this journey of becoming an aspiring lexicologist. I know this journey will last a lifetime as no person has ever mastered the entire vocabulary. As most explorers believe, I will enjoy the journey and look forward to the next bend in the road.

      Hapless, and now Hopeless...


       

       
      "We are creating a cadre of youth cast in the fire of low expectations"


      The bus had stopped down the block and let George off. What a day, he thought. Towards the end of the day, all he could think about is how close he is to the next level in Call of Duty. It was another long, boring day in school. George did not like the rumors that next year the school day might be extended to 2:30. For what? More boring crap being talked about? No, George had already talked to his mother about dropping out next year. He could sleep until noon and play video games all afternoon. Life would be good. There is no jobs anyhow. In school he was not learning, not interested in learning, and the many of the teachers did not give a rat's butt if he learned or not.

      About four o'clock his grandpa called to check on him. Neither his grandma or grandpa liked the fact that George spent so much time alone in the house after school. When grandpa asked about his day, George spilled his guts, loaded with angst and slang. His grandpa said, "George, you are starting to sound like Holden Caulfield." George did not have a clue what grandpa was talking about. "George, have you not read Catcher in the the Rye by J. D. Salinger?" George had not only not read it, but never even heard of it. Now his grandpa was puzzled. He had read it in high school, so why not today? "How about Melville - have you read Moby Dick?" Now that George had heard of - sort of. He saw it mentioned while scrolling though old movies on Netflix.

      I would like to say this short narrative on George is not only fiction, but also rare. However, I think there are many kids like George out there today. The grandma and grandpas who went to school in the 1950's and 60's learned about a great many things. School was safer, the teachers were dedicated to teaching and the curriculum was solid. The school days were longer and the there were fewer days off during the school year. Graduation rates were sky high in most schools unlike today where many inter-city schools struggle to make it up to 50%. So where in the world did we go wrong? When did the wheels fall off the wagon?

      When I was a junior in high school, my English teacher had us read many poems and novels. We started with Beowolf, followed by Shakespeare, Keates, Thoreau, Frost, Melville, Steinbeck and yes, even Heinlein (just to name a few). Every night we had the assignment to read 2 to 3 chapters, or a poem, and to be prepared to discuss it in class the next day. One person would be called on at random to give his or her impression of what was read. Others would then be called on to comment and further the discussion. In other words, there was no hiding. If you did not read the assignment, things got very embarassing, very fast. The expectations were high and so were the results. Today, we talk about diversity, bullying, depression, inclusion, white guilt, GLBTQ and so on. We are interested in how do kids feel, instead of what do they know. Critical thinking has gone the way of the dinos.

      The world is changing. So fast, it is hard to keep up with. The worst thing a person can do right now is not pay attention, to give up. Emerging countries with emerging workforces exploring emerging technologies are all around us. They want to take the territory which we seem willing to cede to them. In this Brave New World, we are on the way to being on the outside looking in. Only raising the bar for each and every one of us will change this trajectory. And that bar needs to start in first grade.


      Thursday, February 21, 2013

      Don't Bogart that Pipe My Friend....

       
       


      "Don't bogart that pipe [sic], my friend
      Pass it over to me"

      Country Joe and the Fish
      Don't Bogart that Joint
       
       
      Sorry hipsters - this article has nothing to do with pot, dope, or smoking it in Colorado. It does however, have to do with a great mystery. And that mystery is this - what the Sam Hill happened to the XL Keystone Pipeline? Missing, but not forgotten.

      Most all of us have noticed that the price of gas in 2013 has shot up like a Roman Candle. I try not to be too much of a conspiracy buff, however there has not been any viable explanation to justify such a steep increase. In fact, the only empirical evidence I have heard about the price of gas came from our soon to be leaving Secretary of Energy, Dr. Steven Chu. In September of 2008 Dr, Chu told the WSJ the following: "Somehow, we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe". So what? I don't even know what the price of a gallon of gas is in Europe. Wait - maybe I do. It is over $10/gal in Norway.

      Wow! I bet Candidate Obama was highly ticked off when he heard his pick for Energy Secretary say that inflammatory statement. Actually, Mr. Obama told MSNBC he agreed with Dr. Chu and that "rising gas prices would be a good thing because it would force citizens to drive less and look to alternative forms of energy." He only differed with Chu in stating he preferred “a gradual adjustment” in pricing.

      Again, so what? We have known for years both these guys are ideologues. Is there enough energy to justify building such a "risky" pipeline though our heartland? This is taken from the Keystone XL Pipeline website:

      This infrastructure will carry 700,000 barrels of North American crude to U.S. refineries every day – helping to displace nearly half of the oil these refineries currently import from Venezuela and the Middle East and boosting our nation’s energy and economic security in the process.

      The oil is there folks. It is being harvested by Canada - more than they can use. Any excess will be sold to another country. Their preference is to sell it to us. If we don't buy it, hello China. How serious is this? Canada has already started laying out "Plan B" as they believe the revised Keystone plan will also result in a "no" vote from our "Greenie" Administration. Once long term contracts are signed with another country, it will be game over for taking advantage of getting oil from a safe and reliable friend.

      I really have no more to say on this matter, other than I am disgusted. We will continue to pour billions into unproven energy technologies while our neighbor to the north has vast reserves of petro. Our President promised us (once again) a comprehensive energy policy. However, because he is held hostage to his special interests, that ain't gonna happen. Our pipe (line) is being bogarted not by a friend, but by fiends instead.

      On Death, Dying and mostly Living...

       
       


      "The art of living well and the art of dying well are one"
      Epicurus

      It was just after dawn at a early Sunday morning service. The pastor, who had been pastor for more years than many would care to remember, came to the pulpit. As he usually did most Sundays before he began the sermon, he cleared his throat. He then began the morning message using a traditional monotone voice. "Ladies and Gentlemen, Brothers and Sisters, I have some news to share with you. I am dying". Once this bombshell was unleashed, there was a quiet, still hush which fell over the sanctuary. The congregation could not believe what they had heard. The pastor continued, "Please don't be alarmed folks- you too, are also dying".

      The pastor went on as this was the message he did not want one person to miss it. "We start to die the moment we are born. Our cells die and are replaced by new ones. Every year our bodies get a little more worn and a little more worn out. Soon we get to the point where the new cells that replace the old ones just don't work as well. However, my brethren, please receive this - even though we start the process of dying at birth, we also are blessed by this gift called life. And that gift is ours to use, and we must use it well".

      The words of the pastor made me think back many years ago. A wise man I worked for in the seventies told me as one ages, the body conditions itself for death. This was strange talk for me to hear. I was in my late twenties and he had just turned fifty-five. He had been through World War II and Korea and knew about danger, death, and dying. However even with these events in his background, he never really thought about death until he turned fifty. He then realized his number of his tomorrows would be less than the number of his yesterdays. He was right. He was saying the same thing the pastor said, only in a different way.

      Do I agree that we start to die the moment we are born? Absolutely. If we accept that, we know the exact moment we begin to die. However, none of us know the exact moment of our actual death. This is known by God alone. What we are in charge of is simple - how we extract as much living as possible from the process of dying. That we can do until life is no longer possible. My former boss understood that simple fact. He knew even though our days are numbered, each one of those days can mean something very, very special. When he said the body conditions itself for death, it was not to fear death - rather it was to ensure that each day, every day, to seize that gift and utilize it to the fullest.

      So what do we do with this thing called life? This gift, which so many of us (myself included) take for granted? To start with, we think of the poem by Horace when he told us to seize the day" (Carpe Diem). This was a term we all became accustomed to in the Robin Williams film Dead Poets Society. Our mission goes on. Our job goes on. Our purpose may change, our purpose will change, but it too goes on. Each day, every day, we will seize the day. Carpe Diem!


      Wednesday, February 20, 2013

      The Mariel Boatlift

       
       
       
       
      "Longer boats are coming to win us
      They're coming to win us, they're coming to win us
      Longer boats are coming to win us
      Hold on to the shore, they'll be taking the key from the door"
       
      Cat Stevens
      Longer Boats 



      Way back when, under the presidency of Jimmy Carter, we had an interesting immigration issue called the Mariel Boat lift. It was yet one more example on how this good hearted, very naive man was danced around the "May Pole" - this time by Fidel Castro. For those my age who may have forgotten this event, or those younger who never heard of it, I will tell the story.

      This story is being told because it will show just how confused  and broken our immigration policy has been for years. Jimmy Carter, a "transformational" Democratic President such as the one we have now, really wanted to improve some thorny international relations that existed after years of the evil Richard Nixon and the hapless Gerry Ford. President Carter was going to make nice with our old nemesis, Fidel Castro. The Carter Administration established some rudimentary diplomatic avenues with Cuba. An Olive Branch was to consider letting more Cubans into the country as refugee immigrants.

      In 1980, by mutual agreement between the Carter Administration and the very corrupt government in Cuba, refugees started getting in boats from the Mariel Harbor in Cuba to journey to the United States. In the very native mind of Jimmy Carter, this would bring many tearful reunions between families who had been separated for decades. It was such the right thing to do. However, in Cuba, knowing they were dealing with an ideologue, the government knew they could "clean out the drain". Among the 125,000 Cubans which came to the United States in 1980, many were from jails and mental institutions. Rather than getting thousands of hard working Cubans who could help our economy, we also received thousands of people with criminal backgrounds or mental issues. By the time we realized what had happened, the "genie was out of the bottle".

      There were many times that Jimmy Carter was "played", both in his one term as President and later when Bill Clinton would send him to the world's trouble spots. It is good to brush up on our immigration history (such as this event) before we set about to have some kind of blanket amnesty for our current immigration problem. Many on both sides feel this current problem can be solved without doing something foolish and regrettable such that we did in 1980. Because it has now been 33 years, many memories of this event have faded. Mine has not. 

      Don't get me wrong - many of the folks that came here in 1980 have been a plus to our country. The Cuban people that I have known are very hard working, honest people. No matter who want to immigrate here and from what country, needs to be vetted. It is the smart, it is the right thing to do. Failure to do so will keep a very broken immigration system very broken.   
       


      Tuesday, February 19, 2013

      Living LARGE in the Land of Largess

       
       


      Largess - Liberality in bestowing gifts, especially in a lofty or condescending manner.  
       
      On-Line Dictionary
       
       
      Life is very good right now. I feel kind of foolish I have used up gallons of stomach bile living in a state of worry about the economy. In fact, living in a state of worry about the entire country. As of late, I have been told over and over that things are just fine. The debt is no longer a problem. In fact, we have more room on our card and there are "investments" to make. Millions upon millions of excellent jobs have been created, the housing market is healed and life is good for all. So good in fact, it you don't want to work, you will be allowed to collect unemployment for 99 weeks! Wow! It just seems like yesterday it was only 13 weeks.

      Our good friend Rush likes to say it is hard to compete against Santa Clause. He is right. More and more people in our country are falling victim to the "free stuff" addiction. Many on the Left bristle when our President is referred to as the "food stamp president" - but the facts speak for themselves. Our SNAP Program, which hands out EBT cards like candy, continues to be one of the most fraud infested programs in the Federal Government. And yet it keeps growing. Here are some interesting tidbits from a August 2012 Forbes article:
      • Food stamp program costs doubled between 2001 and 2006, and then doubled again between 2008 and 2012. 
      • Under the Obama administration, the number of food stamp recipients has also grown dramatically, up from 28.2 million in 2008 to more than 44.7 million in fiscal 2011.
      • The proposed Senate extension will essentially lock in an $80 billion per year food stamp budget for the next decade.
      • For perspective, consider that during the 1970s, just one in 50 Americans received food benefits, compared with one in seven now (15% of our nation’s total population).
      • Half of all current recipients have been on the program for eight years or more.
      As bad as the SNAP Program is, lets look at how welfare spending in total is going. Gosh, it just seems like yesterday when then President Clinton addressed the nation and said "we were on a path to end welfare as we know it". Really? It seems as if welfare has found its second wind under President Obama. This was taken from the Washington Post in late 2012:

      Federal welfare spending has grown by 32 percent over the past four years...
      Federal spending on more than 80 low-income assistance programs reached $746 billion in 2011, and state spending on those programs brought the total to $1.03 trillion...
      That makes welfare the single biggest chunk of federal spending — topping Social Security and basic defense spending.

      Wow! As the mouse said, "That is a lot of cheese!". Besides the other candy, did you hear about the free phone program? The government has authorized phone companies to provide free cell phones and service to tens of millions Americans at no charge. Party on! I want one of those! I am tired of my large monthly bill from T-Mobile.

      Lets not forget about the free tuition President Obama talked about in his first term.
      “The first $4,000 of a college education is completely free for most Americans, and will cover two-thirds the cost of tuition at the average public college or university,” he says. “And by making the tax credit fully refundable, my credit will help low-income families that need it the most.” How much will it cost? Who cares? Where will the money come from? Who knows? Wrong questions - you are missing the point. We are living LARGE, baby!

      Oh there is more, much more candy I could talk about. However, with smoke coming out of my ears, I will stop for now. Dick Armey would talk about the wagon getting so heavy with people riding in it, soon it would be impossible to pull. I think we are very close to that point. However, until the wheels come off or the axle breaks, party on folks! The Candyman is not done with the free stuff yet!

      Monday, February 18, 2013

      Sequester this Pal!

       
       
       
      "OMG! I am going to be shot with my own gun!"
       

      By Jove, they have really done it! It looks like in two weeks, the unthinkable scenario will really play out. The most goofy idea, hatched in the White House, passed into law by Congress, is upon us. It is a textbook example of how not to govern. We are paying many people huge salaries with amazing perks to come up with something right out of the third grade. Now that it appears immanent, the chattering class has started the blame game and Chicken Little is looking for that first speck of sky to hit someone on the head.

      What am I talking about? The dreaded sequestration, of course. It was going to be painful if it took place on Jan 1, 2013. Because poor governing became even worse that day, the "event" was put off until March 1, 2013 (just in case "something" could be worked out). Because of this 60 day delay, the $85B scheduled to impact this year will be truncated making it even more painful. Really? Do we have slop in the budget that could be cut? ABSOLUTELY! Do these cuts make any sense? Probably not. Will we survive it? ABSOLUTLEY!

      The doomsday crowd is already talking about kids being thrown out of school, ships not being able to go to sea, meat inspections on hold and borders becoming less safe. None of this will happen. When I retired, I knew my income would be a fraction of what it was when I was working. I did not tell my wife we would only be able to have two meals a day. We did not have to turn our heat down to 55 degrees. We did not have to sell any assets. We needed to adjust our spending. That's all. Our lifestyle now meets our new, reduced income. We can still do some traveling, go out for dinner once in a while, or see a movie. We just can't be as free with our money as we were when we were working.

      Our government can do the same. We spend a whole bunch on a whole bunch of things. Some of which are redundant, others superfluous, many are just plain outdated. Once in a while, one of our Presidents is able to see through the Washington fog and cut to the chase. Here is a quote from the Gipper himself on this issue:

      "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!"

      So on March 1st, the long discussed sequestration will happen. On March 2nd, the sun will rise, people will go to work, and supper will be served that night. At long last, the growth of government will slow down - not cut, just slowed down. Hopefully, this is just the start of meaningful cuts to follow. The dreaded "entitlements" might even be discussed. I will say again, I will agree that progress is being made when the debt clock slows down. I will agree the problem is fixed when I see the debt clock go in reverse. Until then, we will limp along with half baked solutions like sequestration - and maybe once again, we will shot with our own gun.

      Sunday, February 17, 2013

      Taking a "Do Better"...

       
       

       
      "Expect people to be better than they are; it helps them to become better. But don't be disappointed when they are not; it helps them to keep trying"

      Merry Browne
       
       
       
      One of the managers I worked for had a very interesting expression. Every once in a while, there would be some kind of screw up done by an individual or the entire group. Rather than dish out punishment, he would review what happened and how it happened. Once everyone understood, he would say, "Lets move on and take a 'do better' on this one". Rather than wallow in the past, we would learn from it and face the future.

      I often think of that expression, even though I am now retired. In fact, living in retirement does not exempt me from screwing up. On the contrary, things I screw up now have nothing to do with business - they usually have to do with people's lives.

      Each morning when my feet hit the floor, I think about the day ahead. First however, I think about the day before. I think about any opportunities I let slip away. If I have fallen short on treating someone with appropriate kindness and grace, I first try to forgive myself for that miscue. I then vow to take a "do better".

      The yardstick I use on myself come from some powerful words I used on my former blog many years ago. As easy as it is to be harsh, judgemental or to have my actions reveal a paucity of grace, I remember who I am dealing with - and that person is described by these words:


      You are a child of God,
      made in the image of the Most High….
      and I will respect you as such.
      You are uniquely made, without duplication, without equal.
      You are the pinnacle of creation given absolute dominion over all creatures that wander the land, fill our skies and swim in countless seas, lakes and streams.
      You are the one who the Maker of all things, great and small, has known since before time began. Every hair on your head is numbered and your name, your purpose, has been determined before the fall of man.
      You are important and unique. In the vastness of creation you are very small, yet you play an incredibly vital part of God’s rich plan.
      Yes, you are a child of God, our Heavenly Father - and I will respect you as such.

      Friday, February 15, 2013

      Nevermore

       
       

      "And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
      Shall be lifted - nevermore!"

      Edgar Allan Poe
      The Raven


      Actually, this story has nothing to do with Edgar Allan Poe. Nor does it have anything to do with the new show The Following. It does however, have to do with a big problem that faces the world today as it did on many yesterdays. It has to do with man's inhumanity to man.

      Let me start with a story within the story. When I was a young lad, I was skinny and weak. An easy target for a bully. It just so happened we had a neighborhood kid who was bigger, tougher and meaner and loved to use me as a punching bag. This went on for years until one day when we were both playing in a neighborhood softball game, he pushed me for no apparent reason. Something inside me snapped. A strong voice screamed out "No more!". I hit him, and hit him and then got on top of him and hit him some more. Finally his mother came over and pulled me off of him. I went home and my parents treated me like a conquering hero. I was never bullied again, by him or anyone else. I don't tolerate it on me, on my kids, on anyone. Nevermore.

      My oldest daughter works in an organization that fights against genocide. To me, genocide is bullying to the maximum degree. It is ending life just for the sake of killing. It has gone on for years, and continues to this day. I remember clearly in 1994 when so many were concerned about the war crimes that Slobodan Milosevic was committing in Serbia and Yugoslavia. As bad as these crimes were, they were minor compared to what was going on in Rwanda. In April 1994, Hutus began slaughtering the Tutsis in the African country of Rwanda. This carnage lasted 100 days as the world watched the air war going on in the Balkans. Meanwhile, the Rwanda genocide left about 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu sympathizers dead and many more disfigured. Not to be too graphic, but the carnage was beyond human terms. Many who survived lost limbs. Young woman had their breasts cut off so their nursing babies would starve to death. The feckless United Nations did nothing. The Western World did nothing. We were all watching the video game going on in the Balkans. Nevermore.

      During the recent gun debate, the President of the NRA said at a Senate hearing the only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. The same holds true on a world stage. If a group a people, or a country is determined to eliminate another group of people, the only thing that will stop them is more force. Right now, the world has no desire to stop bad guys with guns. All we need do is look to Syria. 60,000 dead and counting. George W. Bush took out Saddam Hussein who had committed genocide on his own people. The result? Some on the American Left called President Bush a "war criminal" for doing the world a favor.
        
      Until mankind can treat each other in a Godly and humane manner, we all need to to be vigilant. We need to ensure that any bully on the world stage is dealt with and dealt with quickly. We need to look to our past, our present as well as the future and make this promise to each other - we will never again look the other way. Nevermore!