Blog Visit from the Pope?

I got an email over the weekend from NeoWorx (a blog widget maker)..
here is the message and image that they sent me:

You just had your first visitor from Vatican City.

I am always amazed at the places that show up on my NeoWorx visitor widget.. visitors from 149 countries have visited since I added it to my sidebar last year. Of course many of those visitors probably just land here from a Google search.. still it is fun to see how much of the world lands here.

And you never know.. maybe the pope was interested in Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion Fatigue

The caption on this photo reads:
Ronald and Helen Shewchuk sit down to a meal Wednesday at the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen in Ithaca, N.Y. The Shewchuks have been eating many of their meals at the soup kitchen since losing most of their retirement savings during the economic downturn.

Stories like this are heartbreaking examples of how the economy is affecting so many people in unprecedented ways. Like the Shewchuks many people are experiencing the economic downturn in ways that they have never imagined possible. Unemployment has hit double digits and families are now really hurting.

On Thanksgiving night Ann and I watched a 30 minute TV show on the different ways that Kansas Citians are helping the poor and homeless people in our city. I have to admit that I was moved to tears as I heard a story about a family of four that lost their home and are living out of their car.. and the parents have jobs. My heart broke as I watched the different ways that homeless people are being cared for.

Sunday morning Rick Warren (pastor of Saddleback Church in California) used a phrase that I had never heard before - Compassion Fatigue. The term, used to describe the reaction that many have to enormity of problems such as these, seemed an appropriate to me. We can glaze over mentally when we think about things such as world poverty and hunger issues.. donations to charitable organizations seem to be just a drop in the proverbial ocean.. it is sometimes so hard to give when it is so difficult to imagine that our small donations would make a difference.

Back to that TV show.. I saw people who were making a difference one person and one family at a time. Whether they were delivering food to homeless people living under highway overpasses or volunteering at food panties, soup kitchens and shelters many people were responding to people's needs in such a compassionate way.

I think that the only way to combat compassion fatigue is to fully engage our compassion in the ways that many people have.. regularly and generously. As much as possible we should support local agencies with our time and finances as well as those that care for the poorest peoples in the world. Perhaps in this season where we celebrate God's gift of His Son we can engage our compassion and find ways to give to those who need it the most.

Is Your Senator a Millionaire?

According to this New York Times article Your Senator Is (Probably) a Millionaire. According to them about two-thirds of United States senators were millionaires in 2008, according to a recent analysis of politicians’ fortunes conducted by the Center for Responsive Politics. The center estimated each politician’s net worth by adding together the lawmaker’s range of assets and then subtracted the range of liabilities. The midpoint of that resulting range was used to rank the politicians. Here is a list of the 25 wealthiest senators (in 2008) according to their average net worth:

An interesting list for sure.. the list seems pretty equal with regard to party.. always knew that it takes a lot of money to run for office.. this list gives a bit of specificity to that idea.

Check out the article.. it also lists the 25 wealthiest congressional representatives.. none of our Kansas senators or representatives made the lists. How did your senators and representatives fare.. top 25 millionaire of not?

Thanksgiving in Oz

We had a quiet Thanksgiving accompanied by Turkey and Pumpkin Pie!
Hope you had a great one! Did you stay home or hit the road?

WOW: 30 Years of Letters to 2,500 Students

Dan Stroup, a humble teacher at Heritage Christian School in Indiana, spends a portion of every evening in his living room, quietly writing birthday letters by hand to every student he has had in class these last 30 years. He mails handwritten birthday letters to students in 60 cities, 36 states and six countries.

The man amazes me. Catch his story in this video and pass this amazing testimony along to inspire your friends.

Dot-Com Wonders

Here is my unofficial list of .com sites (along with their year of birth) that you might be thankful for today:
  • 1989 - AOL takes off into cyberspace;
  • 1994 - Yahoo blazes an email trail;
  • 1995 - Amazon began an eCommerce journey;
  • 1996 - eBay is open for business
  • 1997 - Google began taking requests;
  • 1999 - Blogger starts blogging;
  • 1999 - Napster plays sweet music that dies 2 years later;
  • 2000 - Craigslist goes national;
  • 2000 - Paypal swipes its first credit card transaction;
  • 2001 - Wikipedia is born;
  • 2003 - Typepad starts blogging; 
  • 2003 - Skype begins making net calls;
  • 2004 - Kansas Bob enters the Blogosphere;
  • 2004 - MySpace begins socially networking bands and friends;
  • 2004 - Flickr dumped it's first photo on the net;
  • 2004 - TheFacebook debuted (relaunched as Facebook in 2006);
  • 2005 - YouTube cranks out its first Larry King video;
  • 2005 - Firefox web browser Mozillas the net;
  • 2005 - Wordpress starts blogging;
  • 2006 - Twitter is hatched;
I know I missed many. Please let me know what sites you are thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving

Hope Your Day is a Blessed One!

Funny Thanksgiving Travel Tips

We are staying home for the Thanksgiving holiday but many are heading over the river and through the woods to Grandma's house.. so I thought I'd give you a few funny tips for the journey from the New Yorker:
  • Don’t bring a second turkey as a gift for your hosts. Instead, bring extra guests.
  • F.Y.I., Yams and sweet potatoes are the same thing. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true.
  • Don’t follow the GPS, follow your heart.
  • Do not waste space packing your workout shorts or running shoes. The only clothes you need are eating clothes, crying clothes, and escape clothes.
  • When waiting for your massively delayed flight, remember: no one likes a complainer, but everyone loves a conspiracy theorist in a trench coat yelling into a TCBY cup as if it were a megaphone.
  • Long car trip? Spice it up by cutting the brake line.
  • A healthy and carbon-efficient mode of transportation is riding your bike from your house to the back of your house where you can hide until the holidays blow over.
  • For your safety, always keep your seatbelt buckled. The pilot only ever turns the fasten seat belt sign off to prevent a mutiny.
  • Between flying or the train, pick the train: they don’t take your guns away.
  • Teleportation seems like a quick and easy way to get where you’re going, but you’ll find you miss the sound of screaming babies.
  • Practice saying, “This is the worst airline I’ve ever flown” before getting to the airport—it will make you stand out from the amateurs.
  • A hot-air-balloon ride is a good way to tell your relatives: I am not going to make it for Thanksgiving this year.
  • Yes, you guessed it: the conductors on your Amtrak train are actually lost airline pilots.
What are your plans for Thanksgiving? Any travel tips you'd care to share?

The Phantom, Monk and Me

I love to watch a good movie - especially one that involves complex characters. The Phantom of the Opera is one such movie. Saw it on Christmas a few years ago and was blown away by the music even though I have seen the stage production several times. Watching the movie I came away better understanding the Phantom. The Phantom, like most of us, is pretty complex - hard to dismiss as just an evil person.. in the end someone more tragic than evil.. more wounded than wounding.. if you can look past the mask.

And in the vein of strange characters I think of the obsessive compulsive Detective Adrian Monk (of the USA network show "Monk").. this TV detective show junkie has been watching it since it first aired.. there are two more weekly installments left in the series. A few years ago, to my horror, I began to identify with Monk. I saw myself in Monk's obsessiveness and became quite uneasy when I realized how compulsive I am at times.. just ask my wife.. I can be one compulsive and obsessive dude

But I wasn't always this way - at least I didn't think so. From my mid-20s to my 40s I fancied myself a person who lived life free from the bondage of religious rules. Then one day as I was entering the parking garage at work I became aware of something - I had rules of where I parked ... almost always parked in the same spot or at least the same area. This was the beginning of an awakening of sorts - the beginning of a terrifying journey of self discovery analogous to a trip into the Phantom's labyrinth.

The Phantom, Monk and Me - all a lot more complicated than I want to admit. Most of my life I lived in the Black and White world of Right and Wrong. I really didn't like color because, like the gray areas in life, color is not absolute ... it does not fit neatly into a rigid paradigm ... and most of all I cannot be 'in control' if I cannot separate black from white and right from wrong ... with color it is all irrelevant. The Phantom can be both good and bad.. Monk can be have a sickness and yet be healthy.. and I can be okay even when I don't have all the answers.. it is not an either/or proposition.

I think that when we stop looking for the black and white in life we might begin to appreciate the full spectrum of life's color.. and maybe get a bit comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Twitter Explanation: Truer Than We Admit :)

On Life, Space and Priorities

I saw a piece yesterday about a guy in space who's wife delivered a baby while he was in orbit. Here is the story from this site:
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Astronaut Randolph Bresnik jubilantly welcomed his new daughter Sunday as he floated 220 miles above Earth.

Abigail Mae Bresnik was born as her father circled just hours after his first spacewalk.

"At 11:04 last night, Abigail Mae Bresnik joined the NASA family," Bresnik announced Sunday by radio from the linked space shuttle Atlantis and International Space Station.
I think that this is a rather extreme example of how we often miss those things in life that we want so much not to miss. Abigail was born prematurely.. her dad said that he planned to be at her birth and was sorry that he could not be there. But I wonder how often the rest of us miss important life events because of work or other seemingly important things.

I can relate to misplaced priorities.. I used to sanctimoniously rationalize my behavior saying that "I wanted to be where God wanted me to be".. not understanding that it was just religious speak for doing what I really wanted to do. In my early years I spent way too much time listening to sermons instead of playing with my kids.. in later years when life got rough with my teenagers I became a workaholic.

I guess what I am trying to say is that some of the time our behaviors really reflect our selfish priorities.. even if they are misplaced and misdirected. I think that it is really to be hard to be honest with ourselves in this area.. it is so easy to rationalize and make excuses.. but alas.. perhaps this sort of introspection is only done in retrospect by old guys like me

And before you tell me to move on and stop whining about what might have been.. no wait.. maybe that is good advice.. anywho.. I was wondering if you had any advice for folks with misplaced priorities? Ever been in orbit when you should have had your feet on the ground?

Suggestions for Loud Talkers

Been out in public a bit more than usual this week.. chemo, doctor and physical therapy appointments got me out of my cave. On several occasions I found myself around loud talking cell-phoners.

I think that some of these phones just lend themselves to folks yelling a bit.. ever see how small some of them are? Once upon a time the part of the phone you talked into was right next to your mouth.. now they are often inches away.. so.. unfortunately.. people feel a need to talk loudly. Here are a few suggestions for you if you find your self in such a situation:
  1. Be aware of your surroundings.. people aren't interested in your conversation;
  2. Talk lower and ask the person on the other end of the call if they can hear you okay;
  3. Adjust the volume.. sometimes we talk louder if the phone's receiver is too low;
  4. Let calls go to voicemail.. not every call is all that important;
  5. Change locations.. if you have to talk loudly then please find a solitary place to do it.
Do you have any other suggestions for loud talkers?

Australia | ★★★★★★★★

On the recommendation of a good friend I added this movie to our Netflix queue a while back. Each week it got pushed further and further to the bottom of the list.. guess I believed the movie critics more than my friend.

So when it finally arrived last week I wasn't too thrilled about watching it.. I was really surprised when we did. The story was good, the acting was good and the cinematography was excellent. Here is a summary clip from the IMDB site:
In northern Australia at the beginning of World War II, an English aristocrat inherits a cattle station the size of Maryland. When English cattle barons plot to take her land, she reluctantly joins forces with a rough-hewn stock-man to drive 2,000 head of cattle across hundreds of miles of the country's most unforgiving land, only to still face the bombing of Darwin, Australia, by the Japanese forces that had attacked Pearl Harbor only months earlier.
I liked the main character played by Nicole Kidman.. she was a very strong woman.. an advocate for people being abused.. and seemed to have a clear understanding of justice. Her relationship with a young aboriginal boy named Nullah was a very sweet part of the movie. The movie was an underdog type of flick where the protagonists kept persevering and overcoming all sorts of obstacles. The heart of the movie was a love story but I think that it also had a good delineation of good and evil with a smattering of Australian history mixed in.
On a scale of 10 I give this movie ★★★★★★★★

Victim Sarah

I usually don't begin with a disclaimer but here is one for this post: if you love Sarah Palin you may not like this post. On Monday Ann and I watched Sarah Palin on Oprah. I wasn't expecting to hear a lot of deep policy issues but was interested in what last years GOP Veep candidate had to say.. yeah.. I probably watched for the same reasons that many watch reality shows.. reality TV can be pretty entertaining.

As I have reflected and listened to others this week it seems that the needle has not moved much for folks.. those who liked her before still like her.. those who didn't don't.. not too many are on the fence about her. I probably could have been friends with her in my younger years.. I think that she holds a black and white perspective similar to the one that I once embraced.. and is probably a part of that same Charismatic Fundmentalist culture that I once was a part of.

In retrospect I think that there is one message that emerges in the interviews and in many of the comments that she has made this year: she believes that she is a victim. Sarah Palin:
  • complains that she was given bad direction from the McCain staff last year;
  • is offended that the main stream liberal press is unfair to her;
  • voiced disappointment that she was not allowed to give a concession speech;
  • blamed others as she resigned the governorship of Alaska.
I think that her message resonates with many folks who feel that they are victims of the system. Many who are buying her book may enjoy the whole getting back at "the man" part of it?  Of course I am generalizing a bit.. Sarah Palin's message is more than payback.. but there does seem to be a revenge aspect to her message.

You may disagree with me. What do you think Sarah Palin's main message is? Is there something specific that she has said that attracts you to her? Or is it something more general like the Tea Party movement? Do you think that folks are attracted to her anti-establishment message or to something more positive?

Botoxic Pastor

I grew up Episcopal on Staten Island in New York City.. mom, my siblings and I attended services every Sunday. I have some pretty good memories of church back then. So when I saw this Fox News story below I was a bit surprised:
NEW YORK — A New York pastor accused of using church funds to pay for plastic surgery has been ordered to serve five years probation.

The Rev. William Blasingame also must pay back $84,537 to St. Paul's Memorial Episcopal Church on Staten Island.

Prosecutors say he paid for personal luxuries, including tens of thousands of dollars worth of plastic surgery and Botox treatments, with money earmarked for the needy and the upkeep of church grounds.

Defense attorney James Hasson said Wednesday that Blasingame plans to sell land he owns in Georgia to cover the restitution, the Staten Island Advance reported.

Blasingame pleaded guilty to felony grand larceny in September. He could have faced 15 years in prison if convicted at trial.

His lawyer says Blasingame is "very sorry."
Yet I have to admit that I was not too surprised about a story of a pastor feeling entitled to people's offerings.. I have been involved in church finances for many years.. but using donations dedicated to the poor for Botox.. now that is low.

Redneck for Life

One of my favorite Twitterers is Redneck For Life. The picture below is captioned Redneck Car Door Lock. A few tweets that give you a flavor of his strange appeal to a guy like me:

You might be a Redneck if...If going to the bathroom in the middle of the night involves putting on shoes, jacket and grabbing a flashlight.

You might be a Redneck if...Your house doesn't have curtains, but your truck does.

You might be a Redneck if...Jack Daniel's makes your list of "most admired people."

You might be a Redneck if...You have flowers planted in a bathroom appliance in your front yard.

You might be a Redneck if...Your idea of a 7 course meal is a bucket of KFC and a sixpack.

You might be a Redneck if...You look upon a family reunion as a chance to meet "Ms. Right."

You might be a Redneck if...You ever used a weed-eater indoors.

The Rules of First Contact

Anyone who knows anything about Star Trek is familiar with the concept of First Contact. Here is a thought on it from a Trekker:
The term first contact describes the first official encounter between representatives of two races or governments. Occasionally, the official first contact takes place years or even decades after members of the species involved have first met.
That seems to be an okay segue to an AP article titled
SPIN METER: Did Obama grovel?
The article begins by saying:
Some conservative commentators seized on President Barack Obama's deep bow to Japan's Emperor Akihito over the weekend, accusing the U.S. commander in chief of groveling before a foreign leader.
The article goes on to say that this is not too unusual and gives examples of how other presidents acted when they interacted with other foreign leaders. It seems silly to call President Obama's act of respect as one of 'groveling'.. comes across to me as pure spin.

What do you think? Did President Bush grovel when he held the hand of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's hand? Or do you think it an act of humility to acknowledge another countries leader according to the customs of that country?

I wonder.. what would the Captain of the Enterprise do?

Empathetic Relationships are Therapeutic

Last Monday I spent an afternoon with a very old (he is young but we have known each 32 years) friend. The few days before were pretty dark ones for me emotionally.. I was depressed about life in general and honestly I was feeling sorry for myself. As we shared our lives with each over lunch and many cups of coffee I felt something happening to me.. the darkness was lifting and my burdens were lightening. I went away from our time together renewed and refreshed.

I think that counselors and psychiatrists do pretty well these days.. the stigma of going to these folks is different than it was years ago.. sometimes these counseling professionals do little more than listen and offer supporting words to hurting people.. of course many times therapy is much more than simply listening.. but I am not sure it is all that much more

I took a pastoral counseling class in bible college and studied various approaches to "biblical" counseling. One approach offered in a book by Jay Adams is called nouthetic counseling.. it is basically counseling by confrontation.. the classic example is responding "You can't or you won't" when a person says they cannot change. I think on rare occasions people do need this kind of kick in the pants by people who love them.. not sure that this works apart from a loving relationship. Who would pay to be talked to in that way?

I think that what people need most in life is a sense that they are "heard".. that someone really hears them and understands what they are saying. President Bill Clinton used this phrase that I like: "I feel your pain".. yeah.. I know that it has been mocked and overused but it does capture what people really need in life - empathy.

I think that most of us do not need nouthetic counseling.. we do not need people in our lives who only offer "tough love".. what we need most when we are hurting is empathy and people who are willing to sit with us and hear us out. My thought for the day.. hope yours is a great one! And I would be interested in hearing about your experiences with counselors.

E6: 250 miles on a Charge

Hard to believe the claims made in the video. According to this Wall Street Journal piece:
BYD has said it would start building beachheads in America by the end of next year by launching the e6. It plans to pick a specific region within the U.S. and initially market “a few hundred” e6s to government agencies, utilities and other corporate fleet customers, priced at slightly more than $40,000.
I am not ready for an electric vehicle yet but this one is pretty tempting.

The Most Powerful People

This week Forbes Magazine announced it's list of the 67 most powerful people in the world.. here are their ten most powerful:
  1. Barack Obama: 48, President of the United States of America
  2. Hu Jintao: 66, President of the People's Republic of China
  3. Vladimir Putin: 57, Prime Minister of Russia
  4. Ben S. Bernanke: 55, Chairman of the US Federal Reserve
  5. Sergey Brin and Larry Page: 36, Founders of Google
  6. Carlos Slim Helu: 66, Chief executive of Telmex in Mexico
  7. Rupert Murdoch: 78, Chairman of News Corp
  8. Michael T. Duke: 59, President, CEO and Director of Wal-Mart
  9. Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al Saud: 85, King of Saudi Arabia
  10. William Gates III: 54, Co-Chair Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
A few things that I found interesting about the top ten:
  • Half of the folks worked in the private sector and half in a government position.. maybe power comes in those two flavors;
  • All of the folks are men - Angela Merkel (55 year old Chancellor of Germany) came in at #15.. less than 10% of the 67 listed were women;
  • The average age of the top ten is 60.4 years.. interesting.. tomorrow I will be 60.5 years old.. I am starting to feel so powerful;
  • Numbers five and ten on the list includes two people.. sometimes power can only be had when it is shared;
  • Six of the ten listed live in the United States.
I also like this quote from the Forbes article that accompanies the list:

I love power. But it is as an artist that I love it. I love it as a musician loves his violin, to draw out its sounds and chords and harmonies.
-Napoleon Bonaparte

I do wonder if anyone on the list doesn't love power? Can anyone have this kind of power and not like it? I think that most on this list probably have a healthy respect for the power that they wield. What do you think?

Freedom Leg: No More Crutches

According to Emma, the gal in this two minute video who broke her foot, the Freedom Leg transfers the weight of her step to her upper leg, enabling her to continue to use the muscles in her leg as she moves around without compromising the progress of her mending foot, which remains in a cast.

Honoring Courage, Sacrifice, and Heroism

Paul Rieckhoff is the Executive Director and Founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), and the author of Chasing Ghosts. In his September blog post titled “Immeasurable Courage and Uncommon Valor”— Sgt. First Class Jared C. Monti Rieckhoff gives us a glimpse into the heart of a courageous soldier. A few excerpts:
Last Thursday, we were reminded of what true courage, sacrifice, and heroism is all about. At a private White House ceremony, worlds away from the polarizing health care fight and the latest Kanye West stunt, President Obama posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to the family of Sergeant First Class Jared C. Monti. The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest decoration for military valor. It’s received, not won. And it’s a distinction so rare that in 150 years, less than 3,500 servicemembers have received it. To put it in perspective, this is less than the number of troops that have bravely given their lives during the Iraq war.

Sgt. Monti was only the sixth recipient of the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, all posthumously.

Like those honored before him, Sgt. Monti is to be revered for his exceptional bravery and tremendous personal sacrifice. At age 17, before he was eligible to vote, Monti enlisted in the Army. Returning from his first tour in Afghanistan, he was already highly decorated with the Bronze Star and the Army Commendation Medal for valor. A consummate soldier, and equally humble, his own father didn’t know Monti received the Bronze Star until he found it resting, tucked away in his son’s drawer.
But the day that would come to define his gallant service and leave a legacy beyond what many of us could fathom occurred on June 21, 2006 in Gowardesh, Afghanistan, near the Pakistan Border. Sgt. Monti was in charge of a 16-man patrol from the 3rd Squadron of the 71st Calvary Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division. Positioned on a mountaintop, Monti’s team was swarmed by Taliban fighters. While engaging the enemy, Monti simultaneously radioed for help, until he saw that one of his men, Pvt. Brian Bradbury was badly injured, and exposed to enemy fire.

Sgt. Monti’s patrol leader volunteered to rescue Pvt. Bradbury, but Monti insisted he be the one to go, saying: “No, he is my soldier, I’m going to get him.” Despite the intense enemy gunfire, Monti ran into the open and attempted twice to retrieve his wounded comrade. On his third try, he was cut down by a rocket-propelled grenade, and died shortly thereafter. His actions in that moment, however inspired his men to thwart the Taliban fighters, thanks in part to the air support Monti had called for before his death.

This past Sunday would have been Monti’s 34th birthday.
Please read the rest of the story here.. it is a way to honor a veteran on this day we dedicate to those who have given all for freedom.

The picture to the left is one of my courageous son taken over in Iraq. Today I am taking a moment to remember the joy I felt when he came home and giving thanks for his service. In my son I see the qualities of honor, courage, sacrifice and heroism that Paul Rieckhoff saw in Jared C. Monti. Our veterans deserve to be honored today.

Please take a moment of silence with me and meditate on the service of those who have given so much and have asked for so little.

Confronting a Scary Diagnosis

Lew Alcindor (aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) was playing basketball for Power Memorial High School when I was attending Brooklyn Technical High School in the 1960s. His prowess on the court was legendary even back then. I loved watching Kareem play college and pro basketball.. he always reminded me of my New York roots.

So I was saddened today when I heard that he has been diagnosed with leukemia. According to this LA Times article:
The disease was diagnosed in December. But Abdul-Jabbar said his condition can be managed by taking oral medication daily, seeing his specialist every other month and getting his blood analyzed regularly. He said he expects to lead a healthy life.

Abdul-Jabbar acknowledged he was scared after visiting his doctor and learning of the diagnosis.

"The word 'leukemia' is a very frightening word," he said in a phone interview from New York. "In many instances, it's a killer and it's something that you have to deal with in a very serious and determined way if you're going to beat it."
I can so resonate with a scary diagnosis.. we were scared last year when Ann was diagnosed with Devics Disease.. living with things like cancer, ALS and other life threatening diseases can do a job on your brain. It causes you to confront the fleeting aspects of this thing called life.. it sometimes refocuses your attentions to things like prayer and worship that transcend life.

Have you ever been given a scary diagnosis? How did you react? Do you have any suggestions for others in similar situations?

Celebrating the Fall of the Wall

Today Germany and the world celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Lech Walesa, the former head of the Polish Solidarity movement, spoke to the gathering (along with others world leaders) and then toppled the first of a chain of giant colored dominoes set up along a 1.5 km (0.9 mile) stretch where the Wall once stood. The first 2 minute video sets up the second 3 minute recording of the dominoes falling.

One Year Later: Politics As Usual

It has been a year since our country elected Barack Obama president. I remember how I naively thought he would bring a new era of consensus and bipartisanship to our country. I remember the atmosphere of hope that seemed to permeate the airwaves of our country.. he really seemed to be a different kind of leader.

The following excerpt from an opinion piece by Doyle McManus this week in the Los Angeles Times describes where many of us are a year later:
When the Gallup Poll asked voters last month if Obama had kept "the promises he made during his presidential campaign," only 48% said yes. And when the pollsters asked whether voters considered Obama a liberal or a moderate, 54% called him a liberal -- a big jump from the 43% who gave that answer on election day in 2008.

Many of those disillusioned voters are moderates and independents, people who voted for Obama not because they supported liberal programs but because they responded to his call for a post-partisan politics. To be sure, Republicans in Congress haven't given Obama many chances to pass bipartisan legislation; they have opted instead for drawing sharp contrasts. At least in the short run, that strategy appears to be working.

Instead of a new centrist consensus, Obama's first year has produced a backlash -- and not only among zealots of the Republican right. Polls show conservative views up across the entire electorate.
My first reaction to the clip is to wonder why the Republicans are painted as the folks not wanting and blocking bipartisan legislation.. like the president and the Democrats want it but they do not. It seems that this is a subtle way to give the president a pass and not paint him as a leader who is either unable or unwanting to achieve bipartisanship.

The reality of Barack Obama's presidency is that it is politics as usual. Democrats are in power these days and they certainly are acting like it. When Republicans had the presidency and a majority in congress they also acted liked it. All the talk of bipartisanship is hollow rhetoric. Nothing has changed much in our capitol.. lobbyists still lobby.. backroom deals are still made.. cynicism rules the day and hope is no where to be found.

It has been a disappointing year for independents and centrists who supported President Obama last year thinking things would be different.

Have A Little Faith

An inspirational 5 minute interview with best selling author Mitch Albom.
You can get his new book "Have A Little Faith" at Amazon and other places.

Pensions up for Greedy Weasels

With the country experiencing record levels of unemployment this Wall Street Journal article titled Pensions for Executives on Rise (Arcane Techniques, Generous Formulas Boost Payouts as Share Prices Fall) caught my attention. Here are a few clips from it:
Pensions for top executives rose an average of 19% in 2008, with more than 200 executives seeing pensions increase more than 50%, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis.
Executive pensions rose even as the share prices at the companies declined an average of 37% in 2008 and many firms froze employee pensions and suspended retirement-plan contributions.
The article goes on to detail the great deals of execs at Merck, Connoco Phillips, Exxon Mobil and other benevolent entities. I know that some folks feel that corporate executives are entitled to lavish benefits like these pensions.. heck.. folks in our congress get great lifetime pensions after just a few years of "service".. but I mean really.. what is it going to take to change the executive weasel compensation culture in Corporate America?

And in a related NY Times article titled 23 Private College Presidents Made More Than $1 Million reported "The presidents of the nation’s major private research universities were paid a median compensation of $627,750 in the 2007-8 fiscal year — a 5.5 percent increase from the previous year".. hmmm.. a few academic weasels?

iPhone Bacon Case

Thanks to my friend crownring I finally found a reason to want an iPhone!
Click on the photo to see many other great bacon treats :)

Awesome Clichés - or are they Awful?

This cartoon got me thinking about the clichés that I seem to use on a regular basis. Some are good ones (I think) because they communicate ideas effectively but some are just silly or simply untrue. Here are a few.. with comments :)
  • Time heals all wounds - maybe patience more than time.
  • Can't see the forest for the trees - I thought the forest was the trees.
  • Look what the cat dragged in - now that is never good news.
  • As hot as hell - and how hot would that be?
  • God's green earth - isn't the desert His too?
  • Between a rock and a hard place - why not between two rocks?
  • Blood is thicker than water - not always.
  • If it ain't broke don't fix it - get an annual physical anyway!
  • I wash my hand of the whole matter - you better if you are a cook.
  • As American as Apple Pie - I prefer lemon cream pie.
What is your favorite cliché? Your least favorite?

Prayer Blogoversary Invitation

One year ago today I sat in a hospital room watching my wife Ann receive a chemotherapy treatment. Feeling a bit prayerful I started a new blog and called it Daily Prayer. Now 52 weeks and 187 posts later I find that I no longer post there every day. I still regularly pray but don't always feel like writing about what I pray.

So I thought that I would invite you to write a prayer or devotional thought on prayer to be posted there with a link back to your blog. I would also be open to making it a group authored site if anyone would commit to posting once a week. If you are interested please email me and let me know how you would like to be involved.

Meatball Wars

In this picture taken on Sunday Chef Matthew Mitnitsky of Concord, NH celebrates after his meatball weighed in at 225.5 pounds and broke the world record for the largest meatball. The competition was set off in August when someone in Mexico set the record with a 109 pound meatball and was advanced by Talk Show host Jimmy Kimmel in Los Angeles with a 198.6 pound meatball. Chef Mitnitsky said he got involved "to bring the meatball back to the East Coast because that's where it originated."

I do suspect the record might be a bit of a PR stunt for Nonni's Italian Eatery 

Afghanistan: Why Are We There?

Matthew Hoh was a 36-year-old foreign service officer serving in Afghanistan until he resigned his post last week. Mr Hoh is a former Marine Corps captain who served multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He received citations for uncommon bravery. He seems to be a credible voice in the Afghanistan discussion.

I found this call-in interview session with Mr Hoh to be an informative one and considered Hoh's thoughts about our efforts in Afghanistan to be insightful. Here are a few excerpts of his responses to questions:
  • I resigned because I reached a point in my conscience where I could not support the loss of American lives for a goal I don't believe serves strategic US interests. If I agreed with this policy, I would have remained working in Afghanistan at the provincial level.
  • I was hired as a limited non-career foreign service officer. I was sworn into the foreign service as as foreign service officer for at temporary period of time. The US government "deputizes" people in such manner to make up for shortfalls in manning or to bring in people with specialized experience.
  • Upon arriving in Afghanistan and serving in both the East and the South (and particularly speaking with local Afghans), I found that the majority of those who were fighting us and the Afghan central government were fighting us because they felt occupied.
  • I feel that our two goals in that region should be the defeat of al-Qaeda and the stabilization of Pakistan ... If anything, evidence suggests our presence in Afghanistan has destabilized Pakistan.
  • The people we are fighting, for the most part, in Afghanistan are fighting us because they do not want to be occupied by either a foreign army or a central government force. Simply put, al-Qaeda does not exist in Afghanistan and 60,000 troops with the hope of stabilizing the Afghan central government which may or may not succeed in 5-10 years time will not defeat al-Qaeda.
I find the views of Mr Hoh to be compelling ones. I admire his resolve and his courage of convictions. I hope he will be heard by those who influence policy in Afghanistan.

I think that the questions we need to ask in Afghanistan are the whys and not the whats or the hows. I think that if we focus on how to win and what we need to do to succeed we will miss asking the question of why are we there. I am hoping that our president is asking the right questions.

The Ginormous Oasis of the Seas

This 2 minute video (above) shows the Oasis going under the Danish Great Belt bridge. Even with its smokestacks retracted there was only two feet of clearance between the highest point of the ship and the bridge.. to make it even scarier the ship moved through at 20 knots/hour to make sure it was sitting deeper in the water.

The Oasis of the Seas is an amazing cruise ship. It sails 20 stories high and, set on end, is equivalent to the height of the Empire State building.. it is 5 times as large as the Titanic. It set sail today and will face it's first obstacle today when it exits the Baltic Sea and must squeeze under the Great Belt Bridge, which is just 1 foot taller than the ship — even after its telescopic smokestacks are lowered. Simply an amazing ship.. there are several videos on YouTube if you are interested in viewing the features of the ship.