Sunday, June 30, 2013

Evan Jellyfish


"The War on Christianity is the civil rights issue of our time"
The "Hutch"
The other day, when performing my non-stop job of cutting the grass, I was also listening to the radio. Glenn Beck had two very powerful men of faith on his radio show. They are part on an organization called the Black Robe Regiment. One is a Jewish Rabbi named Daniel Lapin and the other is a Minister named Ken Hutcherson, aka "The Hutch".

You first might ask yourself "what is the Black Robe Regiment?"  According to historian David Barton:

The Black Robed Regiment was the name that the British placed on the courageous and patriotic American clergy during the Founding Era (a backhanded reference to the black robes they wore). Significantly, the British blamed the Black Regiment for American Independence, and rightfully so, for modern historians have documented that:
There is not a right asserted in the Declaration of Independence which had not been discussed by the New England clergy before 1763.
It is strange to today's generation to think that the rights listed in the Declaration of Independence were nothing more than a listing of sermon topics that had been preached from the pulpit in the two decades leading up to the American Revolution, but such was the case.

The people that proclaim to be part of the modern day Black Robe Regiment are the first of many to remind us that our rights do not come from government, but they come from God. They also feel the modern day discrimination and besmirchment of Christians and Christianity is a civil rights issue. Not just a civil rights issue, but THE civil rights issue of our time.

Beck asked Hutch what was wrong with our churches today. Why do we cower when attacked? Why can't our churches be strong and proclaim the gospel and justice in the same breath. Hutch responded, "Instead of our churches being led by evangelicals, they are led by people acting like e-van jellyfish." WOW! True words Hutch!

I addressed this issue before, only using different words. For the church to be different than the world, it must talk different, and more importantly, act different. Come out from the cocoon, take care of the least of us, and mingle with those who have lived lives not so pure. Most importantly however, is be brave, be bold. We don't have the time anymore for jellyfish. We need lions.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Angels who live at trail's end...

"Sometimes giving is the best gift we can ever receive..."

Jack had gotten up and was ready to get dressed. Some days Jack's dementia was better than others. Today was not a better day for Jack. He was very confused. There was a knock at his door and a familiar face appeared. "Good morning Mr. Jack! How are you today?" The face and voice belonged to George, the care attendant who was assigned to help Jack in the morning. Even though George had only been in the country for nine years, his English was very good. In his native Liberia, George learned something very important at an early age - caring for the elderly. It was something George loved, and he was very, very good at it.

"Jack, you will not believe this" George said as he pulled on Jack's socks. "You are going to get bacon for breakfast today!" George knew that Jack loved bacon. Before his dementia robbed his speech, Jack would often tell tales of his boyhood on the farm. After a pig slaughter, he and his dad would cut and cure their own bacon. George loved hearing those stories from Jack. He could learn more about life in America from talking to residents like Jack than he ever could reading a text book.

Even though Jack could no longer talk in sentences, he still recognized the word "bacon". He looked up at George with blue eyes which still had an impish spark, and smiled. George finished getting Jack dressed and wheeled him to the cafeteria. Once Jack was at his assigned table, another young man came up and said, "Well Captain Jack - you are looking chipper today. How about a cup of mud to start you off?" Jack looked up at the young man, and with a crooked smile said "Yes" the best way he knew how. The young man brought Jack his coffee and soon Wendy sat down between Jack and another resident. Wendy's job was to help residents eat their meals.

"Jack, I have been hearing stories about you again" Wendy said as she was cutting up Jack's pancake and bacon. "Have you been chasing the girls after lights out?" When Jack first became a patient at the care center, he would tease everyone. Jack had a wonderful sense of humor and to be teased by Jack was to be teased by the best. Now that Jack is no longer able to tease, he loves it when someone teases him - and Wendy did it very well. Once Jack was finished with his breakfast, Wendy wheeled him back to his room.

This fictional story is one of tens of thousands which happen every day in care centers. People who are senior citizens that can no longer care for themselves, people who have suffered a catastrophic event in their lives, or people that have never been independent, live with care each and every day. They are cared for by very special people. These caring people are nothing less than angels. They love elderly people, sick people, people who are just plain hurting. They don't do it for the money, as the pay is very modest. Too modest. They do it because they believe in the dignity of life, no matter what stage of life people are at.

Often times when I left the care center my Mother lived in, I was humbled. I am sure there are many times the staff members were not having a good day. However, you would never know it. They just served, and did it with purpose and a smile. They were the hands and feet of Christ, even if they did not realize it.

So for Jack, Sylvia, Hank and Ruth and the countless others who are served daily by these angels, I say "thank you". Your service to the neediest of us often times goes unnoticed and unappreciated. However, please know this - you all are truly the Angels who live at trial's end...

Storm Surge


"Maybe these preppers are not so wacky after all..."
Last year when Super Storm Sandy hit the Jersey coast, I was amazed. I was amazed not so much by the strength of the storm, rather I was amazed by the "body blow" it dealt to one of the most urbane and populated areas of our country. Today, there are still areas of New Jersey which have not returned to normal.
This storm amazed me for two reasons. First, we obviously have learned nothing from Hurricane Katrina. During that storm, the same questions came up. How in the world could a major American city be so paralyzed for so long by a storm in modern times? After all, the Gulf Coast puts up with hurricanes all the time. During both Katrina and Sandy, some went without utilities for months. Federal, state and local authorities seemed to trip all over themselves trying to get help to the neediest people. It was a mess.
The second thing about Sandy that amazed me was during prior year, the east coast had a storm which was almost Sandy's twin. The only difference between the two was the storm the year before was not quite as bad. Did we not learn anything from that close call? It does not appear so. The only thing most people remember now about government intervention after Sandy left her wrath, was the love fest on the beach between the Governor and the President.
That brings us to our fair city. Last weekend we had a thunderstorm. A severe storm, not a very severe thunderstorm by weatherman standards. It knocked out power to over 1/2 million people - a state record. Some people went for days without power. Some restaurants ended up throwing out thousands of pounds of spoiled food. Sections of the city were eerily dark as power was also off to street lights and traffic signals. Today, power is finally restored to everyone and most of the tree debris has been removed from streets and sidewalks.
My take away from Hurricane Katrina, Super Storm Sandy, as well as the Minneapolis thunderstorm is this - we are in no way prepared for a large disaster, natural or otherwise. In an major disaster, the government, which so many in our society have grown to love and depend on, will not be there to help you. It will be neighbor helping neighbor, family taking care of family, sometimes even every person for themselves.
What can we do? Learn from what has happened. God forbid, if a nuke ever goes off in one of our major cities, Katrina will look like a summer shower in comparison. If the government cannot take care of your most fundamental needs, who will? Most grocery stores only have a one to two day supply of food in storage. In an emergency, that will all be gone in a New York minute. When people are starving or dying of thirst, law will quickly turn into lawlessness, order into anarchy.
So be prepared. Have enough food and water to last for 30 days. Have some ready cash in the house if the banks are not operational. Have SOMETHING to defend your family and your domicile "just in case". If you are on meds, have some extra on hand. Have a generator with fresh gasoline available. In short, be ready to camp out in your own house if you need to.
There is a difference between a survivalist and a "prepper". A survivalist is all in for the end of everything. They will be "the last man standing" during Armageddon. A "prepper" on the other hand looks to get by a bump in the road - survive a short term disaster. I understand the logic for both. However, not being a "prepper" these days might be just borrowing trouble.

Friday, June 28, 2013

End of the Foo Fighters...


"It is what it is (whatever that is...)"

Last Monday was a very significant anniversary. On June 24, 1947, the following was reported by multiple sources.

"On this day, Kenneth Arnold was flying across the State of Washington on a business trip.  The skies were completely clear and there was a mild wind. A few minutes before 3:00 p.m. by Mount Rainer, he started heading eastward towards Yakima. He saw a bright flashing light, similar to sunlight reflecting from a mirror. About 30 seconds after seeing the first flash of light, Arnold saw a series of bright flashes in the distance off to his left, or north of Mount Rainer, which was 25 miles away. They flew in a long chain, and Arnold for a moment considered they might be a flock of geese, but quickly ruled this out for a number of reasons, including the altitude, bright glint, and obviously very fast speed. He then thought they might be a new type of jet and started looking intently for a tail and was surprised that he couldn't find any."

In the past, lights and spheres had been seen in the sky. Sometimes pilots had seen them towards the end of World War II. Many of those pilots referred to them as "Foo Fighters". However, that all changed with the sightings made by Mr. Arnold close to Mount Rainer. When he saw the "lights" flying by, he referred to them as looking like "saucers skipping". All Mr. Arnold was doing was trying to describe what he had just seen. The result however, ended up naming these unidentified lights (or flying objects) as just "flying saucers". Thus began the new name.

After the June 24th sighting, many more sightings followed. This was very disturbing to our government as World War II had just ended, and the Dogs of War announcing the Cold War had not yet started to whimper. The fact we had incursions into our air space by (whatever) objects was very disturbing. We did not know what they were, who they belonged to, or if they would be a threat to our national security.

Some might be reading this and wonder "so what?". The "what" is over 80 million Americans, roughly 36% of us, believe UFOs are real. In addition, one out of ten believe they have witnessed a UFO of some type. In the past, I was in the "I don't believe it crowd". Four years ago this Thanksgiving, I reluctantly entered the "one in ten" crowd. Once you have see one, it changes your perspective - forever.

So here we are. we do not know what "flying saucers" are - we do not know what "Foo Fighters" were. And yet, the sightings continue. If you have seen one, you know what I am talking about. If you have not yet seen one, stay tuned, you might end up joining the "ten percent" club. I don't know what "flying saucers" are - but someday I hope to. I believe they will end up being either an interesting phenomena, a hoax of gigantic proportions, or one of the biggest stories ever told.

The Lurking Monster


"Yeah, there's a monster on the loose
It's got our heads into the noose
And it just sits there watching"
Well, here it comes. It is finally here (we think). Like all good things, they must come to an end. What goes up, must come down. Or in this case, what was down, must come up. What am I talking about? Our interest rates. Those who were able to refinance when they were at almost zero, good job! Anybody who would like to hop on this train before it really pulls out of the station, better hurry. The gravy train is coming to an end and we are about to journey back to the land of financial reality.
Right now the rate on a 30 year note is about 4.5%. If you look at the past few months, that appears to be high. However, if you take a longer view, it is very, very low. For example, when we bought our house 29 years ago, a fixed mortgage was 30 year note was about 12%. To qualify for our loan, we had to take out an ARM (adjustable rate mortgage) initially set at 10%. This ARM had a range of 6% either way of the 10%. In other words, it could have gone as low as 4% (never, ever happen), or as high as 16% (a real killer). A few years later the interest rates came down as we "locked" at 8% fixed. We felt like we just robbed a bank.
So lets forget this house thing for awhile. Why should anyone care if interest rates go up or down it they are not paying on a house? First off, auto loans are going up. The days of no interest or 1.2% interest are probably over. Next, the cost of revolving charges will probably go up. However, the thing that will affect everyone is the largest bill we have - our national debt.
The quickest way to put someone to sleep at a cocktail party these days is to start talking about our national debt. Who cares? Nobody cares. Why? Because having a large debt has become part of our "new normal", just like 13% (U6) unemployment. One of the reasons the debt is so boring is the cost of servicing the debt is almost free. However, once our interest rates start to normalize, people will wake up in a hurry about the size of our debt. Why? The increased cost to service this debt has to come out of something. It will either come out of our discretionary spending or out of taxpayers pockets in the form of new taxes.
So this summer in Congress, as we have talked about everything but the debt, the monster is lurking. What about the stock market with the interest rates set to rise? Look at last week when Gentle Ben just "hinted" the era of free money might be over by year's end. When the rates go up for real, there will be a stampede out of this artificial market faster than a blue light special at K Mart.
As our free money days start to sunset, we can thank the Fed. The Fed inflated our currency, but who cares? It has been a great ride. However, a much different ride is about to start. Only this one will be bumpy, very bumpy. The time to pay the piper for our free money is drawing near - and the price extracted by the piper might be very, very high.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Stories, lots and lots of stories...


"When someone dies, a library closes..."

In 1976, an author named Alex Haley published a book called Roots. It was a riveting story of Haley's ancestors in Africa and soon became a best seller and a mini-series. From this tale, we learned the importance of stories. Generations ago in Africa, stories were passed down not in written form, but rather in oral history. Many of the villages had a person from the tribe known as a griot, an oral historian. It was from talking to the griot in the village Alex Haley's ancestors were from the research for book Roots really began.

I don't think Mr. Haley had any idea on how his book would change our society. People who had a casual interest in their heritage or their ancestors suddenly became highly interested. It was hard to find a household who had not heard of Kunta Kinte and his journey out of Africa. It was a tale we all could relate to, regardless of our national or ethnic origins.

However, the Roots tale is not the only famous work of literature which was passed forward throughout the years in verbal format. It is believed that Homer's Odyssey was composed orally. It was shared orally, usually by a professional performer. Many believe the Odyssey was intended to be heard instead of read.

A story I have told before happened to me when I worked as an IT provider to a large company in Minneapolis. A woman I worked with had written something on her white board which was as unusual as well as interesting. It said "When someone dies, a library closes." One day I stopped by her cubical and asked her about what she had written. She told me she was fascinated by people's stories. Every person is unique and has unique stories. If those stories are not shared and recorded, when that person dies, the stories are gone - the library closes.

Stories - we all have them. Some have more than others, but we all have stories. Some are happy, some are sad. Some define us, others just amuse us. But our stories are part of the essence of life. They are the recording of a life lived and the lessons learned. They are the joys, the heartaches, the journey itself. Stories are meant to be shared, to be told. Each of us, whether we know it or not, are the Alex Haley for our own stories. We call tell them, we can write them, we can blog them. It really does not matter. Stories are meant to be shared with those that care to receive them.

As for me, I loving telling my stories. I also love hearing stories from others. It is my favorite pastime as I have aged. Stories make me laugh, cause me to ponder, and yes, sometimes bring a tear to my eye. Stories, lots and lots of stories. Each one is precious, some more precious than gold.

Out of Africa


"When the heat gets too much, get out of the kitchen..."

In my working days, I would do a fair amount of travel. One of the managers I worked for had a simple rule - if you needed to travel, submit a request with a short narrative on what the outcome of the trip would be. Upon return, along with the expense report, you would submit a trip report which outlined how you accomplished the expectations of the trip. The reason for doing this was simple - my boss, along with his management, wanted to ensure each travel dollar was wisely spent, and there were no "boondoggles" taken.
I thought about that the other day when I saw our well traveled President was going to Africa for a week. My first thought was this - who authorized this trip? Why was he going? Why in the world did it cost the taxpayers $100,000,000? Why in the world does this cost so much?

According to the Washington Post (not a right wing newspaper):

"Hundreds of U.S. Secret Service agents will be dispatched to secure facilities in Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania. A Navy aircraft carrier or amphibious ship, with a fully staffed medical trauma center, will be stationed offshore in case of emergency. Military cargo planes will airlift in 56 support vehicles, including 14 limousines and three trucks loaded with sheets of bullet-proof glass to cover the windows of the hotels where the first family will stay. Fighter jets will fly in shifts giving 24-hour coverage over the president’s airspace so they can intervene quickly if an errant plane gets too close."

Wow! That is quite the military operation! There must really, really be an important reason to go to Africa right now. When asked for specifics, the White House replied it was somewhat of a "busman's holiday" - a working vacation. A spokesperson for the White House got very prickly when pushed on the "whys and costs" of this trip. The response was, "Clinton and Bush did it too". So cutting through the fog, here is what it is - a family vacation. The kids are going with so they can see where grandpa was born. It will be fun and educational at the same time. The sky high cost - who cares? This will be a great respite for the imperial family.

How is this family vacation seen by the rest of the world? According a recent article in the UK Telegraph:

"In many parts of the continent, Presidents Bush and Bill Clinton are more fondly remembered, for multi-billion pound programmes to treat AIDS and ease trade.
Mr. Obama, by contrast, has launched no similar initiative, and faces growing criticism for his use of drones in the skies above Africa and widening militarisation of the US approach to the continent."

Ouch! It seems our last two presidents went to Africa with a mission, not vacation plans. That is the difference. Some have said the kitchen was getting so hot from the numerous scandals, the head guy just needed some time off. Others say he is once again acting imperial and taking advantage of Air America (Air Force One). In any event, I hope the family has a great time over there. As for me and 67% of the rest of our population, there will be no vacation as we will continue to live paycheck to paycheck. 



Wednesday, June 26, 2013



"Many times man's inhumanity to man knows no boundaries..."

Suri stumbled in the door of the United Nations outpost. Blood was caked on the side of his head and he was still dizzy from the rifle butt knocking him unconscious. "Please help me sir! Please! They have taken my daughters! My son, my wife, they are..." Suri could not find the words. He wanted to tell what had happened to his son and wife, but it was too painful. They shot his fourteen year old son in the face and then raped his wife. Once they had finished raping her, they slit her throat.
The soldier from the United Nations told Suri to take a seat. This was an all too familiar tale. He would hear similar stories over and over from the local population. He did not need to hear anymore from Suri to imagine what happened to his family. Truthfully, most of the UN soldiers at the outpost hated this duty. It was more than dangerous. The rebels were vicious, and if you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or if they found out you were not of their religion, you would most likely be killed or maimed. There was very little the UN was willing or able to do to stop the carnage. The world did not seem to care, so the killing and suffering continued. It was a nightmare that replayed over and over, as in a continuous loop.
The above story could have taken place anywhere - however, it was most likely in Africa. I would like to say this was something that happened many years ago, however it continues today. There is no international police force to call when atrocities like this happen. There is no justice to be dispensed from a world court. People are left to suffer their own fate. Innocent people. Guilty of nothing. Killed, robbed, raped and maimed. And the world continues to have a blind eye to justice.
There was a time when there was hope. At the end of "The Great War", now known as World War I, the world established the League of Nations. This was an organization set up to be the world's policeman, specifically to prevent another world war from ever happening again. When World War II broke out, it was obvious the League did not work, and was disbanded. However, after World War II, a newer, more robust organization armed with an iron clad charter was formed - the United Nations. As the years have gone on, the United Nations, just like the League of Nations, have proved to be feckless - a waste of time and money.

Someone once said if we ever made first contact with an alien species, the first question they might ask is this - "Why do humans kills other humans?" I don't know who from our side could give the alien a good answer to that question. As a human, I can ask a similar question - "Why do we still allow genocide?" As an American I can ask, "Why do we still support the UN when they do NOTHING?" 

During the recent gun debate, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA said the only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Maybe that is what it will take to stop genocide. Send in the troops and kill the killers. I don't know it that is the answer or not. All I know is this - this cannot be our legacy. We must eliminate genocide. None of us can be guilty by omission or commission. It must stop now.    

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Our War on Energy....


"Going to war on our domestic energy supplies is dumb and dumber...."

Hello! I am writing this post from Saudi Arabia. Really? Not really. However, I am writing this post from a country which has more oil than Saudi Arabia. That is good, right? It should be. However, the "King" of this country HATES oils and has declared "war" on it as well as other fossil fuels. Make sense? No? Good. Then I can continue.

I would like to blame our war on energy on the current Administration, however the newly declared war on coal is just another battlefront in our war on energy. This has been going on for decades. Many times when I think of our energy policy, I think of the adage, "We have seen the enemy and it is us". For some reason, when our nation is awash in fossil fuel, so much in fact we can export the excess, we refuse to exploit them. 
Lets look at our initiatives to expand our energy base since the oil embargo of the 1970's:
  • Nuclear - Although new nuclear reactors have come online as late as 1996, the NRC hasn't issued a license to build a new reactor since 1978.
  • Offshore Drilling -  We have done some, but not enough. The Gulf of Mexico is a bonanza, and if we do not drill there, other countries will.
  • Keystone - Even though the "King" hates what is going on in North Dakota and Western Canada, oil is flowing. We are forced to ship all that oil via tanker car rather than pipe line because...I guess I don't know the reason other than the "King wants it that way.
  • Coal - If the "King" had studied history rather than Saul Alinsky, he would know that our country was built on coal. We have almost 300 years proven supply of coal remaining. It was the blood of the industrial revolution. Today, with of all our energy demands, we now use over 20% coal. The "King" hates coal more than oil. This afternoon, the "King" declared a war on coal. Many jobs and poor people will suffer because of it.
We have come a long way baby since the Carter years. Or have we? The difference is in the Carter years many believed we were actually running out of oil. Today, we know that is not the case. And yet, we insist on being over the same barrel (no pun intended) now that we were in 1970. Energy made this county great. Energy will continue to allow our country to be great. Without energy, we will not be great. Wind and solar are not the answer now. Maybe solar in the future, wind never, but not now.

The climate change I have noticed is this - we had a late spring with lots of snow. We are now having a very warm summer with trees and shrubs looking great. Crops are growing. Every year we get smarter on how to safely extract energy from the ground, and how to more cleanly burn it. Our future looks good - very good. We have the resources and the know how to blaze the path. We just need our "King" to realize that also.


The gang that can't shoot straight


"As much as we would like to think so, people do not change"

There is an old story about a young woman who was head over heels in love with a young man. The problem was this young man had many, many issues. When the mother of this young woman questioned her choice, the young woman replied "Don't worry mom, I will change him". Her mother responded, "No you won't. People don't change".

In 2008, a young man who was of African-American heritage won the Democratic nod to run for president. He had no experience. In fact, in the very short time he was in the U.S. Senate, he would cast "present" votes rather than go on the record. Casting a "present" vote is another way to say you were there, but you really were not. In other words, you were disengaged.

But who cares? This was going to be an historic election. The Republicans decided to run someone who did not really care to win and wha-la! The election happened and this young senator from Illinois is now our 44th president. The inauguration was spectacular, the speeches grandiose, and the cabinet he assembled was straight out of Rules for Radicals. Many promises were made on the campaign trail as the economy needed major surgery and rehab.

However, a leopard does not change his spots. During his first term, our young president managed to get the Affordable Care Act passed. It was 1,600 pages of gobblety-gook. Nobody read it before passage. But who cares? It was historic! Everyone had a big glass of Kool-Aid as it promised lower cost and better care. Some of the nay-sayers said the opposite would happen. Now in 2013, and over 15,000 addition pages of regulations later, the nay-sayer have being proven correct. The young senator who is now president is once again voting "present" on this mess. As bad as ObamaCare is in 2013, the worst is yet to come.

When the young senator was running for president, he said we were not respected world wide - especially with the Russians. The "cowboy" who was president before him really screwed things up with the Russians - he did not know how to deal with them. The new president said he would hit the "reset button" with the Russians. After all, the Russians view of government and our new presidents view of government were very similar. Flash forward to today. In 2013, we have the worst Secretary of State in world history and our relationship with the Russians is as frigid as the cold war. Nobody likes us, nobody respects us, and nobody fears us. Some "reset button".

Today, the Senate is mucking up a 1,200 immigration bill. Like the Un-Affordable Care Act legislation, it is gobblety-gook that nobody has read. It will pass the Senate (don't ask me why) and then die in the House. Our new president will hammer the House Republicans as  immigrant haters and try to make a 2014 campaign issue out of it. Forget the fact it is a piece of bad legislation. But who cares? Our young president loves to campaign!

Also today, our young president will once again unleash the power of unelected czars to stroke another pet rock - climate change. He will use the EPA to hammer coal driven power plants to upgrade or close down. Where does he think the money for this will come from? Because he never got off the campus, he does not have a clue. Here is a hint - it will come from you and I in the form of higher, much higher electric rates. Our young president will make EPA regulation "cap and trade" lite.

Back to why we elected this guy. This "historic" election was been anything but. It has been all show and no go. Ideologues as well as Academia "lifers" infest the White House. Nobody seems to know what the hell they are doing and we are slipping down the hill fast. The world views us as the gang who can't shoot straight. Our ship of state is adrift and nobody is at the helm. Find something to hang on to folks - very rough water is ahead.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Next Car...


"We have more natural gas than Carter has pills..."

We just returned from a short mini vacation to the North Shore. We took my new Chevy truck. This is the first long distance trip we have used it on without hauling something. One of the features on the truck I really like is the onboard computer. It will do many things including estimating average fuel economy. On the way home from Grand Marais, the truck recorded 20.1 mpg. For a large Chevy truck with a large V-8 engine, that is very good. However, it gave me pause to think - what will the next technology look like that will power our trucks and cars.

Usually when I think of the next fuel for cars, I think of natural gas. I have addressed this issue before in other postings. Our world is literally awash in natural gas. The United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) published a finding in 2012 which said the following about our natural gas supply:

"EIA estimates that there are 2,203 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas that is technically recoverable in the United States. 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."

The interesting thing about using natural gas in our cars is we don't have to invent anything. The technology already exists. Unlike battery technology which is decades away, natural gas technology has been around for a few years. It is cheaper, cleaner, and very easy on engines. Since we have almost a century of proven reserves (that number will go up as we are finding more all the time), why are we not using natural gas instead of problematic battery cars? Good question for your Representative or Senator.

Before President Bush (43) left office, he authorized $1B in spending for the development of automotive fuel cells. Many people, ranging from technocrats to environmentalists, were in total agreement that fuel cells are in our future. However, when President Obama was sworn into office, he had one unspoken rule - if Bush liked it, Obama would hate it. He ordered his Energy Secretary (Chu) to kill the fuel cell program and focus on other technologies.

The Europeans on the other hand, did not believe in those silly games. They believed in proven technologies that would work. The following was taken from an April 2010 article in Nature International:

In Stuttgart, Germany, nine major car manufacturers — Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Renault, Nissan and Toyota — signed a joint statement suggesting that fuel-cell vehicles could hit dealerships by 2015. In a coordinated announcement the next day in Berlin, a group of energy companies including Shell and the Swedish firm Vattenfall joined Daimler in an agreement to begin setting up the necessary hydrogen infrastructure in Germany.

As you can see from the names of these companies, they are serious players. They would not be investing in this technology if they did not think it would work. Putting all the eggs in one basket today with battery technology is a fool's errand. Truthfully, safe and economical battery technology might not ever work. Look at the problems the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is having with their "state of the art" battery system.

So as pleased as I am with my Chevy truck, I am keeping an eye on the future. We need to be nimble, we need to be smart. We need to stop being political. We have the energy. We have the technology. Lets use it. 


When is good enough, good enough?


"You might not need a better mousetrap if all the mice are caught by the current mousetrap..."

Years ago, when I worked at "Big Blue" (IBM), my job primarily was to ensure engagement documents we had with clients met the legal "sniff test". Lots and lots of fine print. Lots and lots of discussions with the client's legal reps concerning the lots and lots of fine print. Many times my job was as exciting as watching paint dry. However, every now and again I was exposed to the "geek" aspect of my company. That I loved.
Much of the techo genius stuff at IBM starts in their Watson Lab. This truly is where the "Wizards of Smart" live. At one of our tech briefings in New York, the chief engineer for computer screens gave a presentation. What was fascinating to me was the amount of innovation that goes into making even the smallest computer screen. The engineer gave a demo on the latest and greatest screen which would have the highest resolution on the market. We were all very impressed. Someone raised his hand as asked if the lab had the next version ready to go should the competition beat ours. The engineer responding by saying this is it - there will be no more versions after this one. Why? The human eye. Even though the lab was capable of producing a higher resolution screen, nobody would notice. The human eye simply could not discern any higher resolution.

I thought about that story when I read about Sony's new 4K flat screen. It is suppose to have four times the resolution of the current 1080p televisions. My thought on the current technology is this - if you are watching a show that was filmed in high definition and then broadcasted in high definition, it is about as sharp a picture as you could imagine. Every mole, zit scar, and wrinkle are visible on the evening news. Make-up will not help you - it will not camouflage imperfections enough to escape the probing eye of high definition. Sometimes high definition is almost too good in my opinion.

So why then do we need a new "shabang" like 4K? People who have seen the $25,000, 82" Sony 4K say it is very impressive. I'll bet it is. Who would pay that much to have a seven foot television that the human eye can only see marginal improvements? My guess is even though it is four times better technically, only a fraction of that improvement can be picked up by the human eye. It would become a trophy to add to the trophy case. The ultimate "want" instead of a "need". A toy for the very rich indeed.

How about for the rest of us - will the 4K do anything at all for us. ABSOLUTLY! Those who have been waiting for a big price break in a 1080p television might not have to wait much longer. In the eyes of Sony, the 1080p will soon become yesterday's news, aftermarket stuff. I look for the price point on the 1080p to start dropping and dropping noticeably.

I will conclude with the following. When my wife and I watch a HD movie on our televion in the family room, all it has is a 1080p picture with a kicking surround sound. To me, it is just as good as sitting in a movie theater. The only difference is the tickets are free, there are no cell phones going off, and the popcorn is not quite as good.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Water - our reponsibility, our legacy, our life


"If wheat is the staff of life, then water for sure is the nectar..."

Those who know me, know I am a hard core conservative. That being said, I am also a bit of a conservationist. Not an environmental wacko, a conservationist. In particular, I am a conservationist on water. I think it all started in 1971 when I was stationed on Okinawa, Japan. For the first time in my young life, I was able to experience a drought so severe, it led to water rationing on the island. It was so weird, because just about anyplace you could stand on the island, you could see water. Yet, potable water was at a premium. A one minute shower once every three days, boiling drinking water after being turned of
every other day, and so on. I hated it.

So what can we do? I know, shorter showers, don't water your grass as much. We have all heard that and they are important. However, there is always additional things we can do that are also impactful.

Capture Rain Water - I know this sounds trite, but this is an easy cheap way to get free water to your plants when the rain has stopped. Good rain barrels are not expensive and range fro 40 gallons to 250 gallons. Most have a spigot on the bottom for a hose.
Water Early - I continue to be amazed to see how many people water in the heat of the day. On hot days when the humidity is low, much of the valuable water used in lawn irrigation evaporates prior to hitting the ground. If you have a an lawn irrigation system, set it to start the cycle at 5 or 6 in the morning. Try not to water a night as that can lead to a lawn fungus.

Use Peat Moss - Canadian sphagnum peat moss regulates moisture and air around plant roots for ideal growing conditions. It saves water by retaining up to twenty times its weight in moisture. It will then release the water slowly as the plants need it.
Stay Informed - Become interested in your counties, states and national agricultural business. Agribusiness is a huge user of water. Ever drive by a field and see a huge irrigation system throwing thousands of gallons of water on a field? How much of that is lost to evaporation? We need to encourage proper usage of our aquifers to ensure they will be here to serve us as well as our grandchildren in the future. Viable drip irrigation must be the way of the future for our agribusiness.

Stay Prepared - I am somewhat of a "prepper". That being said, I think that every household in America should have at least a two week supply of drinking water on hand "just in case". Trust me - I have lived where the water was shut off for two days out of three. Not having drinking water is not only an inconvenience, if it persists, it can be deadly. If for some reason the municipal drinking water becomes undrinkable (terrorism?) you will be surprised how quickly water will disappear from the grocery store shelves.

The most important thing we can do is understand that our potable water is finite. There are many ways to increase our supply - I addressed that in my first two postings. However, until that happens, we need to ensure our current supply lasts. Pure water, like breathable air, is something we tend to take for granted until it is no longer there.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Most Secret - Chapter One

Chapter One

September 1947


It was early September 1947. The windows in the beach house were open and the gentle sea breeze which usually drifts in from the Gulf had stopped. Instead it was replaced by another one of those middle of the night thunder storms comprised of wind and rain, mixed in with plenty of thunder and lighting.

Dr. Rodney Allen did everything he could to block out the noise of the storm. He could not see his clock, but he thought it was just after two in the morning. The storm was now at its peak – it was hitting Houston with everything it had. However, Allen did not mind – after all those months in the desert, he really missed the humidity and unsettled weather of the Gulf Coast. These storms usually did not last long, and he had plenty of time to get some sleep before going to work in the morning.

Lying in bed listening to the storm gave Allen time to reflect on the past two years. He thought about his time in the desert, and why it was so hard. More than anything, it was not home. He was born and raised on the Gulf Coast of Texas and that is where he wanted to be. It was enough that after his undergrad work at Texas A+M, he had to venture out east to finish his schooling at MIT. That is where he earned a Master’s Degree and then was selected as a PhD candidate in Chemical Engineering. It was a tough five years. He absolutely hated Boston and the surrounding community. The natives were smug as well as arrogant. Upon receiving his doctorate from MIT, he was delighted to get a call from Texas inviting him to be on staff in the Chemical Engineering Department at the University of Houston.

He was a skilled research scientist. The University of Houston, which was known for research, was eager to have a home grown boy on the staff. Having a PhD from the world famous MIT was all Houston needed to know. The fact that Allen graduated with high honors in every degree earned also did not hurt. Allen fit into the Houston environment like a foot into an old, comfortable shoe.

Dr. Allen was not at the university long before he went from research assistant to full professor. He was teaching as well as conducting research. He had many papers on the street and his name became well known in academia. And that is where his journey really began.

It was shortly before the 1945 spring semester when three men approached the door of his apartment. When the knock came, Allen was deep in thought and did not hear it. Using the Periodic Table, Professor Allen had been preparing his class for an introduction on which elements might contribute to a hypothetical construct known as “fusion”. It would be a good exercise, and the students would get a chance to really think “outside the box” (a rare trait for any undergrad). After all, fusion was more science fiction than science, and the class might get a kick out it.

The knock came again, only this time louder. “Professor Allen, are you in there? We need to talk to you. Please open up.” Allen was not accustomed to being disturbed in the evening when his classes were over. There were written as well as unwritten rules on the times a professor could be engaged, and right now was not one of them.

Allen went to the door, prepared to hand some freshman “his ass” for interrupting his prep time. As he opened his door, he saw the three men, all dressed in dark suits. A taller man in front spoke first. “Professor Allen, may we please have a word?” Thoughts, none of them good, immediately flashed though Allen’s mind. “Who are these guys? Did I not do my taxes right? Did I not pay a traffic ticket? What in the world have I done wrong?”

“Professor Allen, we are here as representatives of your government. We are not at liberty to say much more than that, but trust me, this visit is sanctioned and approved by the highest levels”. Allen first thought this might be a joke played by one of the other departments. Practical jokes had been played in the past, and if you fell for one, word spread quickly on campus.

Not wanting to be a dupe, Allen asked the taller man if he had some identification. All three then pulled wallets out of their suit jackets and displayed them to the professor. Each had official looking identification. No department was listed – just the United States Government. “Please come in and have a seat” Allen said. The taller man continued, “Thank you Professor. We will stand as this will not take long. Sir, your presence is requested, and if need be, required, to assist your Government in a very important, very special assignment.”

“As you know sir, the war is at a critical stage. Someone of your training and caliber is needed to work on a very special project. That is all I am at liberty to say. I cannot tell you where this work will be done, how long it will take, or what the product will be. If you pass a background check, you will be briefed on all of that. What I will tell you is this – time is of the essence. Some of our people have talked to your Provost earlier this evening and cleared the fact you will need to take some time off. We will give you this evening to pack and get your affairs in order. A car will be here tomorrow morning at eight o’clock to pick you up. Your full and complete cooperation on this matter will be most appreciated.”

Allen was stunned. He felt like he had been sprayed with a fire hose. The only question he could think of was very simple. “What if I refuse?” “Sir, we are hoping that will not be the case. We would really like you to come willingly. Once you are briefed, you will understand why this is so important. However, if you refuse, you will be conscripted.”

Professor Allen still mostly stunned, uttered a short reply. “I will see you at eight in the morning.” With that, the three men left. Allen walked into the kitchen and pulled out a bottle of Scotch. “What the hell did I just agree to? What the hell is going on?” Allen poured a strong drink and then started to plan out the rest of his night. He had a lot to do in a very short period of time.

The next morning at eight o’clock, a black car pulled up in front of his apartment. Professor Allen packed enough clothes for a week. Anything beyond that would require a laundry trip. Little did he know his time away would be measured in months, not weeks.

He left his apartment and turned to lock the door. He really had no clue as to where he was going or when he was coming back. It was a strange feeling. Just a few hours ago he was prepping a lesson plan for his class and now he was going somewhere unknown for an indefinite period of time. To say he was apprehensive would be an understatement. However unsteady he felt, he still got into the car and they drove towards downtown Houston. Once they reached the center of town, the car stopped in front of the Federal Building. Allen got out along with two other men and went directly into a secured conference room. His suitcase was still in the trunk, so he knew this would only be a stop on a journey into the unknown.

In the conference room, Professor Allen sat down on one side of a large table and the other two men sat on the other. “Stress interview,” Allen thought. “I have been through this before”. One of the men slid a piece of paper across the table. “Professor Allen, I know you have seen one of these before. It is a non-disclosure agreement. Before we continue, you need to sign it and then you will be briefed on the rights and responsibilities of any information shared with you in this room and beyond.”

Allen looked it over before he signed it. It looked similar to ones he had seen in academia. However, this one also had a very big stick attached. If Allen disclosed any classified information to an unauthorized person or media source, the United States Government could throw his ass in federal prison for a ton of years and fine him a fortune.

Keeping his hand steady, Allen signed the document. “Very good sir. We will now proceed with your briefing. We have done a background check on you and feel your history and character are clean enough to receive this preliminary briefing. Your full background check should be complete in two weeks and at that time you will receive a final briefing. The agreement you just signed binds you to secrecy as long as the information you are exposed to remains classified. Disclosure of any kind, no matter how small, could have serious consequences to our war effort and national security. Am I clear on this sir?”

“Crystal clear” Allen replied. “Good. Then it is time to get started.” The man giving the briefing pulled out a map of New Mexico and laid it on the table. “Professor, on the map you will see White Sands Proving Grounds. Within those grounds is the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range. This is where you will be assigned to work with other highly skilled scientists. The closest town is Socorro, New Mexico, so your work will be very isolated. That is by design.”

“Many of the rumors you have heard in the past are true. We are on the verge of splitting the atom. We are very close to developing a bomb which will contain an atomic warhead. A warhead that will have incredible destructive power. This program, code named Manhattan Project, is the most secret development program of the war – of any war. If we are successful, it will change the course of the war. It will win the war for the Allies.”

“I should tell you Professor, that we are not the only country looking in to this technology. The Germans would have loved to have it as well as the Russians. Even though the Russians are currently on ‘our side’, we suspect that will not last for long. We need to be the first to come up with an atomic bomb and then keep the technology away from everyone else.”

“We will now take you into another room where you will by finger printed, have your photo taken, and then given a United States Government ID badge. Once that is done, we will leave Houston and drive to White Sands. I apologize in advance for the length of the trip. We will be in the car for over fifteen hours. We will make sure there are enough comfort and rest stops. Once we arrive, we will get you checked into the base and have a room assigned to you.”

Still somewhat in a daze, Allen nodded his head. After he received his ID, he and the other two men went back down to the car. “Gassed up and ready to go sir!” “Great. We need to get going. The first rest stop will be in 200 miles.” Thus began the long drive through central Texas, west Texas and finally southern New Mexico. As Professor Allen looked out the window, all he could think of was how much of Texas he had never seen before. And seeing the landscape they were driving through, that was fine with him.

It was the middle of the night when they checked into the base. It was not the end of the earth, but Allen thought he could see it from there. In his mind, Allen also believed the surface of the moon could not be more desolate, or isolated than this place was. However, this was going to be home for a while. He got out of the car and one of the men handed him his suitcase. “Check in at the front desk sir. They will see you to your room. We are going back to Houston now Professor. We will not be seeing you again. Good luck and good hunting. You are a patriot sir, and we appreciate that”. With that, they climbed back into the car and disappeared into the darkness.

As Allen walked into the main building, an E-6 Sargent sat behind the desk. “I assume you are Professor Allen. If you are, please show me your ID. We have been expecting you”. Allen pulled out his brand new government ID and showed it to the Sargent. “You are good sir. Please follow me to your quarters”.

Allen was not expecting much, and that was a good thing. “Spartan” would have been a generous term to what he saw as lodging. This room was a far cry the creature comforts he had in his apartment back in Houston. A bed, a small desk, a metal bookshelf and a closet. That was it. Allen was hoping this would only be his home for a short period of time, but something inside of him started thinking otherwise. He really hoped that feeling was wrong.

The next morning he was awakened by a knock on his door. “Dr. Allen, I have come to show you where we get morning chow”. Allen thought “Chow? What happened to breakfast?” He swung his feet out of the bed onto the floor. “Okay, give me five minutes to get some clothes on.” “No problem sir – we will be right here waiting for you”.

After getting dressed, Allen came out of his room to be met my more uniformed soldiers. “Right this way sir. You will be eating in the officer’s area of our chow hall. The food is not like the Ritz, but most days it passes muster”. “Great” Allen thought. “It nothing else, I will probably drop a few pounds while being here”.

Once in the chow hall, he got into a short line. He held his plate out and was given some greasy eggs and spam. This was not a good way to start the day or this journey. He went over to one of the tables where a man was eating the same disgusting breakfast. “Do you mind if I join you?” “Not at all. You must be the chemical guy, Rod Allen. We heard you were coming”. Allen reached out to shake hands. “I am George Thomas. I work on the physics of this damn thing. Not my idea of a summer vacation being here. I was teaching up at Wisconsin when the FBI ‘invited’ me to join this venture”.

“First off, it is hotter than hell out here in the desert. Next, the place they have us working is in an old hanger type building. Sometimes, it feels as hot in that building as it does outside. And the pressure is on. They want us to come up with something truly spectacular by mid-summer. They even have a name for it – Trinity. Of course, that too is ‘hush-hush’ and we can’t mention that outside the compound.”

Allen could not stand any more good news. The food was as bad as expected, the work sounds like it might be too secretive or compartmentalized to be interesting, and the leisure time will be non-existent. “So George, what exactly do you do for fun out here?” “Do they ever let you go into town and blow off some steam?” “Sorry to be the bearer of bad news Rodney, buy very seldom do we go into town. We work long hours, and after work we pretty much stay on base. The work we are doing is so classified, they don’t want to take the chance that one of us will have a beer too many and get loose lips.”

Allen finished his very sub-par breakfast and then he and George left the mess hall. They walked outside and headed over to the area Allen would be working in. It was big and yet very dark. There were many benches with bright lights hanging over them. It was strangely quiet for an operation which was going to save the world. A man in a white shirt with khaki pants came over and held out his hand. “Dr. Allen. Pleased to have you on board. I am Jerry Butler, your project lead. I am here to help you with anything you need. You name it, I will get it.”

Butler continued, “I will give you the overview first, and then the countless details later. We are ready to have our first test in the near future. The brass would like to have this ready to go on or before the 4th of July. Every day we spend working on this thing, more American boys will die. The sooner we perfect it and use it, the better. The first test will is code named Trinity. You will hear over and over that Trinity must be successful no later than the 4th of July. I will repeat, your job is to help make that happen – my job is to help you make it happen.”

Allen took this all in and then resigned himself to the fact this was going to be a long haul. He liked George, and he liked Butler. However, this was far above his pay grade. As much as he heard about “splitting the atom”, it was always a bit of black magic. Hell, he did not even know if it was possible. All he knew was this – someone was going to do it, and whoever did it was going to “rule the world”, even if a short period of time.

Allen became accustomed to his workstation. Hours turned into days, days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. The team gelled and progress was made. However, it was not made fast enough. The Trinity event did happen, but it missed the goal of the 4th of July. However, on the 16th of July in the year 1945, a small patch of New Mexico desert suddenly became as bright and hot as the sun, albeit only for a moment. The impossible dream just became possible. The atom was split, and the world would never be the same. This power, this amazing power had now been unleashed. Whether used for good or evil will be up to mankind. However, in the very near future, the power of this energy will be used in anger to stop a war that had already gone on too long.

After the Trinity detonation, some of the pressure was off. The team now knew the damn thing worked – the challenge was now to make a weapon out of it. With all the hours that were worked, there was very little time for leisure. Everything was happening at break neck speed. To break up the day as well as relieve some of the tension, Allen found himself enjoying the solitude of the desert evening. There was a certain beauty as well as quiet in the desert night. Without the distraction of city lights, the sky was so dark you could swear every star in the universe was visible.

One night, about two weeks after Trinity event, Allen was taking his evening walk in the desert. He stopped at his favorite rock just to sit. The air was calm and the coolness of the desert night had started to drift in. As he looked to the sky, he saw a shooting star just starting to arc. He loved the fact that most every night he was able to see at least a dozen of them. When the shooting star was halfway across the arc, it stopped. It hovered, blinked, and then disappeared. Allen stopped and thought “Am I spending too much time here? Is stress getting to me? What I just saw is not possible!” Allen shook off those thoughts and went back to his room. It was time for bed and he was beat.

The next morning he got up and met Thomas for breakfast. They chit chatted about minor things and then Allen got the courage to ask Thomas the question. “George have you ever seen anything strange in the evening sky here. Last night I was out taking a walk and I thought I saw a shooting star. However, it did not act like a shooting star.” “What did it act like Rodney?” As Allen described what he saw, he felt like an idiot because it made no sense as he recounted the event.

Thomas looked at him and said, “Oh, you must have just seen your first Desert Fairy.” “George, what in the hell are you talking about? What is a Desert Fairy?” Thomas responded, “Rodney I am surprised you have not heard of these things. Ever since Trinity, people have been seeing strange things in the sky. Some of the brainier physics guys think what we are seeing are natural phenomena related to the after effects of the Trinity detonation. Some are even fearful that we have screwed nature up somehow. Most that have seen Desert Fairies have seen glowing orbs. Sometimes these orbs seem to come out of nowhere, stay for a while, and then vanish. Other times, they come across the sky faster than any known plane that we have in our inventory. What I would suggest Rodney, until our great thinkers figure out what they are, just enjoy them as freaks of nature.”

The work continued for another two weeks. Components for two bombs were sent to a small island by Guam using aircraft as well as the USS Indianapolis. There they would go through final assembly and be delivered to one or two unsuspecting cities in Japan. In early August, the bombs were dropped. The first on Hiroshima and the second on Nagasaki. The devastation was almost absolute. The ruling powers in Japan had seen enough to know the war was over. The world once again was looking for peace.

However back at White Sands, the work continued. The United States knew that now the atomic genie was out of the bottle, other nations would be looking to develop similar weapons. The work pressure had relaxed since the surrender of Japan, however, the days were still full. Dr. Allen and the rest of the crew had been told they were needed for a few more months and then would be able to return home.

Other than not being at home, or teaching a class, life had returned normal for Rodney Allen. He got up, worked at normal day, and then was able to have some free time. Since the war ended, the crew was allowed to go into the small town off base in their free time. They were still bounded by their security oaths, but the “noose” had become much looser.

Everything had become normal except for one thing – the Desert Fairies continued. More atomic tests were done, and more Desert Fairies appeared. They were still being studied as nobody had a clue as to what caused them. One of the real brains working in the physics lab thought they were caused by some distortion where the F1 and F2 layers of the ionosphere met. Others said they were caused by mass hysteria.

Some of the scuttle butt that circulated in the mess hall was from visiting pilots. Some had known of Foo Fighters in both Europe and the Pacific.  Foo Fighters first started becoming visible in late 1944. Many pilots had seen them, and some had chased them. They looked quite a bit like Desert Fairies. Not knowing what they were, one of the pilots came up with a silly name for them. The term Foo Fighters caught on, and pretty soon it was the name everyone used for them.

In June of 1946, Professor Allen, along with many others who worked on the Manhattan Project were released from White Sands to return to their civilian jobs. There was a huge “dog and pony” show with awards and speeches. Dr. Allen came home to an apartment which he had not seen for a year. The University had secured his former job, and he was ready to start teaching again in the fall. Because of being in the desert for a year, and not able to spend much money, he came back to Houston with quite a nest egg. He decided to do something he always wanted to do – live on the beach. He found a modest place, suitable for a single man, with a view of the Gulf that was extraordinary. The first order of business in the summer was to move out of the apartment and into his new home.

The thunder storm was now over and Dr. Allen started to nod off to sleep. There was a full day waiting for him. The war was over, his time in the desert was over, and he was back in the town he loved. He was proud of what he did to help his country. He was proud to be of service. He had no regrets. The 1946/1947 school year was just starting and it was going to be a wild ride. With a gentle smile on his face, Rodney Allen drifted off to sleep.