Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Another Great Year!

Monday, August 18, 2014

To Over Consume

An economy built on needing people to over-consume. That was what I heard an economic observer say in describing our US economy. It is not the first time I have heard it and the current economic situation is not the only time it has been raised. But the situation since the Great Recession a few years ago has brought it more clearly into focus.

Evidence seems to point to a few pieces of the puzzle why the retail (consumer) economy hasn't picked up as quickly as hoped. One is, the observer said, people are making budgets- and sticking to them. They are also attempting to save more and not using all their discretionary money on, well, discretionary items. As a result the up-tick in car sales earlier in the year has kept money from going into that discretionary spending.

Now, I am not a good example of a frugal, budget-conscious person. I know how to budget but have a very difficult time keeping to it. So I have been as guilty as the next person in lack of savings, etc. But there is much truth in the need for budgeting on individual levels as well as the governmental. It appears that people are working hard at doing that- and therefore the economy isn't growing like it could. Somehow or another that seems like a very unhealthy model on which to base any economy. It is a buy more, spend more mindset. The economy is not satisfied with last year's profit levels- the profits have to be more and more and more.

There has to be a balance here, I believe. I personally am working on that. As I look to retirement and Social Security income I know I will have to be more conscious of what and how I am spending. I wish now I had learned more about how to do that earlier in life. But it is also true that if I had, I might not have been doing my part as a "good" American consumer.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Remarkable Song's Ascent

It's about Biblical images of a shepherd King named David; it's a story of Samson and Delilah; it's a reflection on making love; it's a universal awareness that in the end there's nothing but standing before a Creator and singing.


Leonard Cohen wrote the original verses; John Cale sang the first variation; Jeff Buckley turned it into an anthem; Rufus Wainwright made it more playful; k d lang performed it at the Olympics and helped make it international.

It has been used for weddings, Yom Kippur services, movie and TV soundtracks and 9/11 reactions.


I just finished reading the book, The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah" by Alan Light. It tells the now 30-year journey of what has become an iconic song. Light traces the composer, Cohen, through his career and how this song, barely noticed for the first ten years of its existence slowly rose to the stature it has today.

It is a remarkable song that has a life of its own thanks in part to Cohen's own openness to change. The melody is simple, haunting and unforgettable. The first time one hears it, you think you've heard it before. It builds on its own familiarity and pulls you in. Light examines the song, the various verses added to it, it's use in the movie Shrek, American Idol and as the instrument for a resurgence and appreciation for Leonard Cohen, who as Light points out does the simple and radical thing of rhyming "what's it to you?" or "come to fool you" with "Hallelujah."

In the end for many, it may be the closing stanza of Cohen's original lyrics that speak of an attitude and a spirituality that we all seek to live. It is a holy or broken


I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Here is the now wise elder Cohen singing at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2008.

Note: Go to You Tube and hear the other three remarkable interpretations by
John Cale
Jeff Buckley (life at Sin-e) and
Rufus Wainwright.
Each is unique and will bring out different emotions.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Mid-Summer Days

When in need of more wilderness, I go to my favorite park just down the road- Whitewater State Park. As I have said before summer is usually thought of as a time of green- underbrush, trees, ferns. Greens are everywhere. But it is never boring. It all is on where you look.

Even the ferns are varied in color.

At Coyote Point the wondrous network of roots and trees growing right out of the rocks.

"Underbrush" that's three feet tall in a multitude of colors of green. This borders the path that is never the same from visit to visit.

After climbing through the dusky green of the woods it's out into the sunshine and the presence of flowers. Where there are flowers, there are bees.

In the prairie butterfly garden the colors are even more stunning than they were in spring.

And perhaps even more varied.

Then there are the butterflies.I am learning a little about the differences between butterflies and moths. I thought this was a moth, but it isn't. It's actually a Silver-spotted skipper.

Friday, August 15, 2014

All Names are Made Up

Last week i posted on the name of the iconic lake that forms the headwaters of the Mississippi River- Lake Itasca. I was reacting to the fact that the name of the lake was "made-up" by the headwaters explorer, Henry Schoolcraft. He came up with the name of the lake from a Latin phrase he put together, veritas (true) + caput (head). He got

ver- ITAS CA- put.
Sure it sounds like a Native American word. But the Ojibwe name for "Lake Itasca" was Omashkoozo-zaaga'igan (Elk Lake), according to Wikipedia.

At this time I felt cheated. Itasca was a made-up name. It wasn't it's real name. By that, I meant of course, the Native American name for it.

But as I rode across the lake the next day I realized that in and of itself this body of water has no name. It is just a lake. People give it a name. And who is to say that doing something that's actually kind of unique to give it a name is wrong? What if Schoolcraft had decided to name it after the then President Jackson? Would that have been a better or worse name?

I thought further, then, to the naming of the animals- a job given to Adam and Eve in the Biblical creation story. So if Adam named, for example, a "lion" a "lion," what language did he do it in? Aramaic- Aryeh; Hebrew- ari; Greek- léon; Latin- leō? The name I use in English for that animal isn't its real name?

While I may prefer certain older names to newer ones (Denali vs. Mt. McKinley; Tiadaghton vs. Pine Creek) neither name is right or wrong.  We name the names.

So, I apologize to Henry Schoolcraft for doubting and dissing his name for the lake. The more I came to know it last week, the more I realized that its name is Itasca.

And just for fun, here's Bob Dylan on this topic:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Joy of Diversity- An Example

Yesterday I wrote about the joy of living in a diverse country. After I was done I was scanning my Facebook page and came across a posting from the Del McCoury Band and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. It is a live performance from the Letterman show of a song from their joint album. Del McCoury is one of the top bluegrass musicians of the day and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band is, well, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Their album, American Legacies shows the musical power of diversity at work. Here is the live cut from Letterman:

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I Love Diversity

One of the fun things about living in a city like Rochester, MN, is that it is a highly diverse community. Thanks to a number of reasons there are lots of different ethnic groups here. It is not unusual to be sitting at one of my Caribou Coffee shops with people of different nationalities and languages. It keeps me aware of the incredible ways we are all different and yet all the same. Ever since I helped out on the Race Exhibit that the Science Museum of Minnesota developed when it was here in Rochester, I have been grateful for the ways we can share and live side-by-side here.

A couple weeks ago as Ramadan came to a close, Eid al-Fitr is the official name of the end, I happened to be downtown near the local Mosque. I parked across the street and did my errands. As I returned to my car, a gentleman I assume to be Muslim was walking along the sidewalk. He looked at me and broke into a big smile. No, he didn't know me. But he was excited about Eid al-Fitr and wanted to share it. He didn't speak English, but instead mimed that he was happy to be able to eat normally again- the fast was over. At first I was taken aback until I realized what he was doing. He smiled some more and expressed the joy of the end of the fast again. I smiled back and indicated I shared his joy for him.

That is what the wondrous picture of the United States is all about! The idea of a "melting pot" is a non-truth long ago disproved. While we do meld together in what we call "American" it is not a bland mixture of all kinds of different people from places far and wide. There is NOT this thing called "American." It is far more wondrous than that. It is a tapestry, a work of art that has been able to take all these different styles and ideas and personalities and ethnic backgrounds and make it into something of beauty, woven together with common desires for freedom and hope.

Which is why I get so upset at so many who think they have defined being a citizen of this country by a certain ethnic background. There was a time, and it is far less than a century ago, that the "true American" was a northern European. Oh- and Christian. Italians? Jews? Even some Spaniards? Chinese-no way. Japanese? Forget it.

Thank God we have these cross-currents to influence us. We have the ability to interact with people and cultures on a day-to-day basis. We are not diminished as a country by this. We are enriched. Perhaps we can even be a beacon of hope to a world still struggling with differences that lead to war.

As I have been sitting here writing there are some Egyptian-looking men speaking Arabic, some Muslim women wearing beautifully colorful clothing, an Asian-American studying for some exam, a guy with gray hair, young blondes, and others coming in and out.

What a beautiful place to live.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

In Memory: Robin Williams

I watched the story break across Facebook yesterday after supper. Robin Williams, age 63, had died, most likely of a suicide. A man who brought so much laughter and joy to our world over the past three decades is gone. Reports started coming that he had been wrestling with depression recently. He was also well-known as a recovering alcoholic-addict who at times has struggled with sobriety.

The combination of addiction and depression is a lethal mix. While one does not necessarily cause the other, they can be difficult to untangle. Both need to be treated.

Fortunately that message also spread across Facebook last evening. Like the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman from a drug overdose last winter, Robin Williams death raises awareness of this deadly disease.

We will miss Williams' humor and insanity. May there be a lesson for all to learn as well.

Monday, August 11, 2014

A 60-year Memory

It was but a week after my 6th birthday. I was probably feeling my oats. I was thinking I was bigger than I was, more mature, more able to do things. I knew more than my mother. She was just being over-protective like all parents.

"Don't go on the big sliding board. It's too tall. And especially don't go on the parallel-bars type sliding thing, either."

Did I listen? Of course. Not. And as is often the case, parents do know better. I lost my grip and fell the 8 or 10 (???) feet landing square on the upper left arm. Probably the only thing that kept it from being a compound fracture and breaking the skin was landing on it directly. It held it in- but not together.

"Don't tell my mother!" I said to the playground worker. "She told me not to go up there."

"Sure, kid," she probably thought. "You just fell and probably hurt yourself badly and I'm going to let you just go? Think again!"

We only lived half-a-block away and someone ran to get Mom. First to the local hospital where Dad met us. X-rays showed that surgery of some kind was needed that they couldn't do there. Take me to the big hospital in Williamsport.

Off we went, Dad driving. I vaguely remember being in the back seat. I don't remember pain or anything in particular. Perhaps (probably) they gave me some kind of pain medicine at the ER.

I did have surgery to put everything together properly. I spent a week in the hospital. It was sort of fun, as I remember it now. It was, in retrospect, my first experience with illness and death. There was this other boy in the pediatric ward with me. One day I noticed that he wasn't there. No one told me anything and didn't seem to want to. Many years later I realized that he probably died from something. (This was the mid-1950s!)

Anyway, that crazy, top-heavy body cast kept me from being able to walk at first- hence the wheel-chair. I missed partial days in my first week at school, still in the cast. When they took the cast off I needed physical therapy and remember wearing some kind of traction sling.

No permanent damage, although my wife and I discovered when I went to get fitted for a suit many years ago that the arm which was broken is about an inch shorter than the right.

Guess that's the story for today.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

All Within a Lifetime

Feeling kind of lazy today, so I looked up events for August 10. These three interrelated events took place today, 66 years ago. No special significance, just interesting.

  • ABC enters network TV at 7 PM (WJZ, NY)
  • Allen Funt's "Candid Camera" TV debut on ABC
  • WABC TV channel 7 in New York, NY (ABC) begins broadcasting

Saturday, August 09, 2014

A 40-Year Memory: He Resigned!

He was a very sad, sick, paranoid man. Probably an alcoholic. As is so often the case in such situations, he was therefore his own worst enemy. He was not the worst President in history. Far from it. In the midst of his illness he did some things that were almost out-of-character, except for his own self-importance, grandiosity, and narcissism. In today's Tea Party-era, he would be considered an unfit for office "liberal." But it was not his politics that brought him down. When you put your politics into such a toxic personal environment, you are doomed.

He was later pardoned by his successor, Gerald Ford. It seemed self-serving and a bad idea at the time. It was not. It saved our country much pain and even worse division. As of this date in 1974, the political storm of Watergate was over, the reign of Richard Nixon finally brought down. He would probably have been the first president to be impeached AND convicted.

On the morning of August 9, 1974, Nixon gave his farewell to his staff. Toward the end he had what Bob Woodward has called a moment of clarity and said the following:
Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty; always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.
This could probably explain much of what happened. Nixon was a man filled with fear which often leads to anger and hate. He brought his own defeat.

Which, 40 years later, is what scares me about much of what I see and hear today. The levels of anger and hate is almost visceral at times. It is paranoid and seems good at building "enemies lists." What may keep us from another Nixon-type event could be that at this moment this is not based in one man with a lot of power. While hate may bring on its own defeat, the scary part may be what it does on its way down.

May we not, as individuals and as a nation, fall prey to the always easy road that hate seems to lay out for us. May we instead continue to talk, even in disagreement, and see that we are a diverse and powerful people when we stick with our greater values that have allowed us to survive, even a man like Richard Nixon.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Frog Camo

Thursday, August 07, 2014

A 50-Year Memory: Tonkin Gulf Resolution

It gave Lyndon Johnson the power to fight in Vietnam. It was based on a supposed aggression by the North Vietnamese in the Gulf of Tonkin. The House of Representatives voted unanimously to support it. In the Senate two voted against it- Wayne Morse (D-OR) and Ernest Gruening (D-AK). They were, of course, seen as unpatriotic. The result was, of course, the Vietnam War.

It was all a lie- or at least a big prevarication. We were probably the aggressor- or at least a provocateur. The resolution had been sitting around on desks in the White House for several months waiting for the right moment.

Early August 1964 was the time.

Over the next decade it tore our country apart.

A very sad day to remember.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014


At the Headwaters of the Mississippi:
To trace the history of a river or a raindrop . . . is also to trace the history of the soul, the history of the mind descending and arising in the body. In both, we constantly seek and stumble upon divinity, which like feeding the lake, and the spring becoming a waterfall, feeds, spills, falls, and feeds itself all over again. — (Gretel Ehrlich, Islands, The Universe, Home)

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Who Would Have Thought?


The lake that is the headwaters of the Mississippi.

I always assumed that it was a native name.

Wrong. Very wrong.

Believe it or not is comes from a Latin phrase:

Veritas caput.
Let me show you that again:
ver-ITAS CA-put.
Yep. It's a fake name.

Here's the entry from Wikipedia:
The Ojibwe name for "Lake Itasca" was Omashkoozo-zaaga'igan (Elk Lake); this was changed by Henry Schoolcraft to "Itasca", coined from a combination of the Latin words veritas ("truth") and caput ("head") though it is sometimes misinterpreted as "true head." It is one of several examples of pseudo-Indian place names created by Schoolcraft.
I am crushed.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Just a Little Picture

Sunday, August 03, 2014

In Honor of 66

To all born in 1948 this the 66th birthday year.

In honor of my year cohort I put together a video for us traveling Route 66. I Googled and surfed and found pictures for every year. I added a few personal pictures for some of them then added titles and music.

Three things struck me when I was done:

  • How many years 66 years really is. I really do understand that it IS a lifetime.
  • How things that seem like just yesterday were in the FIRST HALF of the video
  • The song is already coming to the closing and it was only a few years ago.

For your enjoyment, then, here is my trip along Route 66:

Pictures in chronological order.
Sixty-six years. Wow!

Babies- 1948
Harry Truman-1948
Brooklyn Dodgers- 1949
Korean War- 1950
Einstein photo- 1951
Marilyn Monroe- 1952
Young Elvis- 1953
Walt and Mickey Mouse- 1954
McDonalds- 1955
Nelson Mandela Trial- 1956
Milwaukee Braves Win- 1957
The Edsel- 1958- We are 10.
Castro- 1959
A Sixth-grade class- 1959
JFK- 1960
Junior High- 1960
Yuri Gagarin- 1961
Pope John XXIII- 1962
I Have a Dream- 1963
Assassination- 1963
Beatles- 1964
WW II Veteran’s grave- 1964
Bob Dylan- 1965
Star Trek- 1966
Super Bowl I- Lombardi- 1967
Seven-day War- 1967
1968- Kennedy and King
Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock- 1969
(We are 21)
Man on the Moon- 1969
College Band- 1969
BMW- 1970
Brandenburg Gate and Wall- 1970
Salzburg- 1970
Nixon and Hoover- 1971
Moravian Star- 1971
Cesar Chavez- 1972
Wedding- 1972
Munich Olympics- 1972
Godfather- 1973
Western Wall Jerusalem- 1973
Church- 1974
Nixon resigns- 1974
Spain Leaves Franco Behind- 1975
Apple Prototype-1976
Star Wars- 1977
Rolling Stones- 1978 (We’re 30)
Iran Occupation- 1979
U2 Cover- 1980
Phillies Win- 1980
Reagan Inauguration- 1981
Letterman- 1982
Mother and Daughter- 1983
Pete Rose- 1983
1984- 1984
Prince- 1985
Jack Nicklaus- 1986
Bill Gates- 1987
AA- 1988 (We’re 40!)
Fall of the Wall- 1989
Nelson Mandela- 1990
Perfect Storm- 1991
Candidates Debate- 1992
First World Trade Center Attack- 1993
OJ- 1994
Tiger Woods- 1995
Derek Jeter- 1996
Packers Win- 1997
Harry Potter- 1998 (We’re 50)
Prince, Party Like It’s- 1999
Y2K- 2000
September 11- 2001
Spiderman- 2002
Fall of Saddam Hussein- 2003
Facebook- 2004
Katrina- 2005
Letterman Show- 2006
Surge in Iraq- 2007
Obama Election- 2008
Bridge- 2008 (Age 60!)
Michael Jackson- 2009
Spain Wins World Cup- 2010
Japan Earthquake and Tsumani- 2011
Lincoln- 2012
Pope Francis I- 2013
All-Star Game- 2014
To Infinity and Beyond…..

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Heroes: Part 3- Women Heroes

When I started writing about my heroes, I listed a bunch of men. Well, here's the group of women who would make my list of Top Heroes. Their witnesses have been just as powerful to me as the men. (Listed alphabetically.)

  • Dorothy Day- Co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, she was a tireless advocate for the poor and social justice based firmly in her understanding of the faith. A confirmed pacifist, she often found herself in trouble with the established church and government.
  • Betty Ford- It took courage for a First Lady to admit to being an addict. Much of the progress we have made in reducing the stigma that chemical dependence has had is thanks to her.
  • Anne Frank- For one so young, Anne Frank is perhaps the hero of heroes. She was able to maintain hope and light in her life in spite of the horrific circumstances. This quote says it best: "Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart."
  • Helen Keller- A personal fight against her own disabilities make her another of those special heroes. An activist and outspoken author, she was the first deaf-blind person to get a Bachelor of Arts. When I think my problems keep me from succeeding she and Anne Frank humble me.
  • Mother Theresa- a human saint. She had many demons no one knew about but kept on moving forward in faith. Perhaps without her doubts she wouldn't have been so faithful. "If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one."
  • Rosa Parks- To take a seat on a bus and thereby start a revolution. It is not in the BIG things that we make a difference. Sometimes it is just sitting down in the right place.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt- Another First Lady who took stands of courage. She spoke out on racial issues, she held her own press conferences, she was more than just Franklin's spouse. She was Eleanor- and in many ways FDR was her spouse. An example of feminism before it existed. What a role model for anyone.
  • Theresa of Avila- A mystic with a heart open to God's grace, this 16th Century Spanish nun was a theologian, guide of the inner life, and instrumental in the Spanish renaissance.There is deep truth in her understanding: "I do not fear Satan half so much as I fear those who fear him."

Friday, August 01, 2014

Thursday, July 31, 2014


Listening to BBC on public radio the other afternoon, the amazing dedication of health care workers in difficult situations was brought home. They were interviewing a volunteer worker who has just returned from West Africa and the Ebola Virus outbreak. She had just described the horrors- medically, physically, and psychologically of the situation. She reported on her own nightmares she has been experiencing since returning. She talked about the graphic awfulness of the scenes and the upheaval in so many lives.

The interviewer then asked, expecting an obvious answer, "Would you even consider going back there into the midst of all that?"

"In a heartbeat,"
was the immediate answer.

The interviewer was flabbergasted. So was I.

Amazing dedication. These workers are amazing.