Thursday, November 26, 2009

Holidays



Today is Thanksgiving Day, a day during which we show our appreciation for the many benefits we enjoy. And many there are, both personally and as Americans.
Personal thanks, at least for me are, first and foremost, for Barbara, who has enabled me to live a happy and generally prosperous life. We are living quite happily at Luther Acres Retirement Community, where we have made some good friends, and are close to her family, which treats me as one of them.
We should all be thankful for the wisdom of our Founding Fathers, who presented us with a Constitution guaranteeing us freedom in spite of what the political far right says. Their foresight has made possible all those things for which we are personally thankful.
While contemplating this day, I started thinking about other holidays we celebrate. I have sorted them into de facto categories. Let me clarify: I have assigned these holidays to categories which, in my opinion, illustrate the way we actually celebrate them. In some cases they may not agree with the way we normally think of them, and as always, feel free to click on the “Comments” button to let me know if you disagree.
Commemorative holidays are those on which we are supposed to remember certain significant historical events. All except one of them fall on the same day of the week, usually Monday, every year. The thing we remember on most of them is that we get a day off from work. The Monday holidays are Martin Luther King, Jr’s. Birthday, Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day and Columbus Day. The exceptions to a Monday celebration are Thanksgiving Day, which is celebrated on Thursday, and Veterans’ Day, which is celebrated on November 11th each year.
There is only one Patriotic holiday: Independence Day is a picnicking, speechifying, fireworking day, but if you call it Independence Day instead of the Fourth of July, most people look at you kind of funny.
There are several Commercial holidays, bonanzas for greeting card and gift companies. They are Valentine’s Day, Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day, Kwanzaa and Christmas. Lately the church has tried to put a religious spin on Christmas, but it is going to be difficult to override the commercial aspect, which begins around the first of November. By mid-morning on December 25th the living room looks like a truck loaded with tinsel and wrapping paper had smashed into a toy store. The holiday ends on December 26th, when all the kids’ gifts are broken, and the grownups’ gifts are being returned for cash, if possible.
There is one holiday which seems designed just for fun: New Year’s Eve, which precedes New Year’s Day both in time and degree of celebration.
Finally there are two Religious holidays: Easter, and the biggest holiday of all, the Superbowl, at which time we pay homage to the world’s most important organization, the National Football League.
Enjoy them all.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

No Right Answer



One of the first promises of the Hippocratic Oath is “Do no harm.” New treatments of disease are coming along all the time, and I know that a great deal of a doctor’s time is spent in keeping up with the latest advances. But lately I would not be surprised if the average Family Practice Physician came down with a bad case of whiplash from tracking all the changes.
The Obama administration has contributed to this situation. I realize the chief is pretty busy trying to get some sort of healthcare plan through Congress, but perhaps it would be a good idea for him to forbid any new recommendations until he has succeeded. We are getting mixed signals, and unfortunately, if one compares recent releases to earlier ones, they appear to support to the accusation that his plan is going to 1.) ration service more than is now the case, and 2.) run up the deficit.
One of the highly publicized components of his plan is the idea of cutting down on treatment costs by diverting  more resources to prevention. It sounds good, but think of it this way. Suppose 10,000 women get mammograms, and 12 cancers are found. (This is the actual rate according to the Center for Disease Control 2001 – 2005.) 9,988 mammograms were negative, and 12 lives were saved. For the vast majority the whole thing was a waste of money, but for the 12 who were saved, no amount of money is too much. I personally agree, but I also understand that it is necessary to draw the line somewhere.
With the latest release, the administration appears to be backing down on prevention: the long-recommended mammogram, self-examination and Pap smear suggestions have been eased. Why? Because too much money is being spent on examinations of women who have no problem.
Of course, the new release is meant to be a “guideline,” but who wants to bet that the insurance companies will soon be changing their coverage to agree with the guide-line?
It appears that the government has decided to make a cost-benefit analysis on the cost of prevention. Normally that’s a good business practice, and organizations do it routinely to allocate their resources to the projects which are likely to pay off.
This is just one more of those problems that I can see both sides of. But it is a financial decision, and I would not want to be the one to explain to the families of the 12 women in my illustration why they couldn’t get the treatment which would have saved their lives because it cost too much. On the other hand, neither do I want to see huge amounts of money being spent on needless tests.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Reading God's Mind



For the past several thousand years certain members of the human race have been accepted as people who knew what God had in mind for the rest of us. Through their study of the Torah, Bible, Koran, Vedas and other writings sacred to various religions, the prophets, rabbis, priests, pastors, seers and others have been the purveyors of the contents of God’s mind. It’s their job, and we respect their expertise.
But when the workings of God’s mind are revealed by nuclear physicists, that’s not their job – that’s news – and we are rightly a bit skeptical. It’s the suggestion of Holger Bech Nielsen, of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto, that an expected event in the near future is something that God does not want us to create, hence He is causing a ripple to travel back through time from that event to the present day in order to sabotage any possibility of its occurrence. It’s like the paradox of going back in time to kill your grandfather. And believe it or not, while not exactly buying in to the idea, other reputable scientists are not actually dismissing it either.
At this point a little background is appropriate. While time travel does not happen in the macro world, scientists use the concept to describe certain situations in the micro world of particle physics. A working definition of “causation” is as follows: For events A and B, we may say that A causes B if all the following propositions are true:

1.)    B follows A,
2.)    If A had not occurred, neither would B,
3.)    Either A is in physical contact with B, or there is a series of events x connecting A and B, such that if x is interrupted, B does not occur.

This rough definition is true in both the macro and the micro worlds. However, under certain conditions in particle physics, the whole thing works in reverse. It’s important to understand that it’s not the case that B now causes A; it’s really going backwards from the result to the beginning. It is as if Humpty Dumpty’s innards flowed back into the shell, which reassembled itself and hopped backwards unto the wall. Because of the constraints of both language and mathematics, physicists say that the events “went backwards in time.”
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a tremendously powerful “atom smasher” straddling the border between Switzerland and France. It was completed last year after 15 years in construction at a cost of 9 billion dollars.
 Scientists hope that the LHC will be able to discover the Higgs boson, the “God particle” as it has been called by somewhat imaginative scientists. The existence of this particle has been predicted by the extremely accurate mathematics of particle physics, but it has never actually been discovered. Nielsen and Ninomiya theorize that the almighty does not want us to create this particle because it is “abhorrent to nature.” As a result, He sent a ripple backwards in time to cause the LHC to break down.
Nine days after the LHC started up in September, 2008, a faulty electrical connection failed, which led to a cascading series of breakdowns throughout the system. Operations were halted until November 20, 2009. Nielsen and Ninomiya would not be surprised if the LHC continued to be troubled by similar unexplained delays and breakdowns.
I think these men are reaching quite a bit in their explanation. It was determined that the connection failed because of a leak in the solder. How about this for an explanation?: The workman who did the original soldering job fouled up.
Scientists have been vigorously, and I believe rightly, protesting the injection of religious beliefs into the science classroom. How about leaving the reading of God’s mind to the clergy? It’s not only common courtesy, in this case it’s also common sense.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

It's Always Bah, Humbug Season In Washington


As I wrote on November 14, I have been having a hard time getting the cover of my book to print correctly. I have skipped writing for several days because I have spent most of my online time trying to get it straightened out. Now, by Jove, I think I’ve got it. I should know for sure by the end of the month.

On a different note: Some 50 or so years ago there was a novelty toy, the Ultimate Machine,  in circulation in the form of a small box with an electrical toggle switch on the side. When someone flicked the switch, the lid rose and an arm and hand reached out, flicked the switch off, and retreated back into the box, whereupon the lid closed. All this activity was accompanied by an irritating buzzing noise.
It seems to me this is a metaphor, admittedly rough, for political activity. Whenever something, such as a proposed program, becomes important to their constituents, our legislators spring into action, appear to be furiously doing something constructive while making loud noises, all the time trying to return to the status quo as quickly as possible.
Both parties are demonstrating this at the present time. The Democratic Party electorate wants a healthcare program passed. After convening numerous committee meetings, hearings, etc., the house finally passed such a bill, and the Senate is now about to consider a similar one. The objective is to return to the days not too long ago when the party could do no wrong in the eyes of its followers.
The Republicans, whose followers are against any tax increases, spending increases, and just about anything else, are putting on a great show by calling the healthcare plan a cover-up to conceal the desire of the Democrats to take away all our liberties, raise our taxes, and turn the country over to the socialists or fascists or whatever. Their objective is to get their constituents back to automatic head-nodding at whatever wild accusations they can invent.
It’s politics as usual.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Our Universal Agreement


Although we seldom realize it, we are all party to an agreement which we entered into without our consent at the moment we spoke our first word. We all agree to speak a common language.
This has worked reasonably well for thousands of years, and because it has done so well, it has not changed much, other than adding some new words and changing styles, for several millennia. The basic idea is that every thing or event – real, imaginary, solid, emotional, whatever – is relegated to a class, and when it is necessary to consider an individual entity, that entity is given characteristics which differentiate it from other members of the class.
For example, Huey, Dewey and Louie are individual members of the class “ducks.” And classes are put into other classes – “ducks” is a member of the class “birds,” and “birds” is a member of the class “animals,” and so on. The ongoing events could have been classified in other ways. H,D and L could have been put into a class of two-legged animals, or animals that have white feathers, or any class we choose.
And in fact, we do make up new classes as we need them. Attorneys sometimes make a class of “people who used a certain medicine and got ill from it,” or scientists select a class of “people who have certain illnesses in order to study the efficacy of certain treatments.” Any individual entity belongs to many classes, depending upon what characteristics we are interested in at a given time.
There is no doubt that through language humankind has achieved great things and developed wonderful systems, e.g. transportation, government, economics, medicine and others. And of course, the inventions of modern science and technology – antibiotics, computers, space travel, etc. would never have come to pass without the greatest invention of all: language itself.
But there are also drawbacks. The major one is that we single out an entity from the ongoing process, and give it a name. At that point we have automatically relegated the entity to a class, and thereafter we tend to attribute characteristics of members of that class to that entity. But as an individual, that entity may not, in fact probably does not, have all those characteristics. Although beagles and pit bulls are both dogs, they differ in innumerable ways.
We have real problems when it comes to classes of humans. When an American  Muslim decides to run amok and kill 14 persons, we tend to ignore the fact that millions of law-abiding Muslims are as horrified as non-Muslims; thereafter we look suspiciously at anyone who “looks like an Arab,” or wears a head scarf.
Or take the class “Christian.” Does a member of the Catholic church resemble in any way a follower of the Amish faith? Perhaps the most dangerous classifications of all are “those like us,” and “all others.”
There is a second problem with classifications – once an entity has been put into a class, we think that individual will not change. But even a zebra knows that a well-fed lion is not the same as a hungry lion. And I can vouch for the fact that Glenn(age 80) is not the same as Glenn(age 16), or Glenn(age40).
I know there is nothing we can do to change our language situation; one does not suddenly invent a new language that thereafter everyone uses. But we can become more aware of the situation and problems that arise.
Joyce Carol Oates said it best, “Homo sapiens is the species that invents symbols in which to invest passion and authority, then forgets that the symbols are inventions.” Let us try to remember.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Alternative Worship Sunday



To paraphrase Duke Ellington, “There are two kinds of music, good music and all the rest. Don’t spend any time on the latter.” Actually Duke was speaking about worries, but for my purpose today, “music” is a better fit.
There is no doubt that religion has spawned some of the world’s greatest music. Bach cantatas and masses, and Handel’s Messiah spring to mind. I have sung and heard some beautiful choir settings, and there are a few hymns, e.g. Angels We Have Heard On High and Silent Night among others, that are beautiful. For some reason Eternal Father, Strong To Save always makes me puddle up. And I always love to hear a good soloist sing O Holy Night.
But aside from 10% to 15% of church music, the rest, at least to me, is bad poetry set to mediocre music. I am a little more lenient than the Duke, so replacing his binary scale (0-1) with the decimal scale (1-10), I would rate much of it between 0 and 4.
Now a new practice, alternative worship, has become popular in many churches. It brings with it its own “alternative worship music,” an oxymoron to rival “country music” and “rap music.”
The words to AWM are usually projected onto a screen – not the music, just the words. If you don’t know what is loosely called “the tune,” and very few people do, you are out of luck. At least with a hymnal someone with a modicum of musical education can figure out the tune. But with AWM this is not as big a problem as it sounds because there is not much of a tune.
Anyway, the words keep repeating and repeating until someone, and I have yet to figure out who, decides to stop. Then it just stops! It doesn’t seem to matter where one is in the music, it ends right there! I am expanding my decimal scale to include negative numbers.
But in following Duke’s (paraphrased) advice, Barbara and I have figured out a way to handle alternative worship service: we have come up with the concept of alternative worship attendance. One Sunday a month we do not attend. It just happens to coincide with alternative worship service Sunday. Today’s the day.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What Is The Spirit?


You have probably noticed that on the right-hand sidebar there is a picture of a book, with the caption “Available Soon.” I am having a hard time getting the cover to print the way it’s supposed to. It looks perfect on screen, but the proof copies do not have the bar code on the back. I have been going around and around with the printing company, but the problem remains unsolved. But I’ll get it yet.
 However, today I want to write a bit about the book itself. What is it about? Albert Einstein wrote, “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe – a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.”
When we plant a seed and a plant grows, we say, “The seed grew into a beautiful plant.” But it is a lot more than that. In order to reach their full potential, seeds need to have certain essential nutrients available: nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, sulfur, magnesium, calcium, etc., as well as water for hydrogen and oxygen, and open access to light and air.
Plants acquire the necessary nutrients through their root systems.  Without the introduction of seeds, all the nutrients, sunshine, water, etc. would remain dormant forever. And without the nutrients the seeds would just remain seeds forever.
This begs the question: Why should there be an interaction? Why do not seeds just remain seeds, nitrogen just remains nitrogen…water just remains water, etc.? What invisible creative action causes these apparently unrelated entities to transcend and transform themselves into producing something that is more than just the sum of its parts: a brand new plant? Some invisible creative activity must be at work.
Persons with a religious outlook will attribute the underlying process to God, Jehovah, Allah, etc., while those with a scientific outlook will attribute it to entropy or perhaps, “tiny strings vibrating through ten or eleven dimensions.”
I call it the Spirit. The book is an investigation of that Spirit.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Veterans Day



On Veterans Day, (formerly Armistice Day), November 11th , the USA paused to honor the veterans who have served in the United States Armed Forces. The program at Luther Acres included taking a picture of all veterans present, approximately 100 men and women, followed by a program of patriotic and nostalgic music by local musician Mick Cochran. Each veteran received a Nepalese coin made from a spent brass bullet casing used during WWII, and three received special citations for serving 20, 24 and 38 years respectively.
Upon seeing how many veterans were present, I estimated that about one of every five residents of the retirement community had been in the service.
In this particular group, many served during WWII and the Korean War. But even those who served in peacetime have faced dangers, foreign dangers that we sometimes tend to forget. From the beginning of the 20th century to the present time (2009) there have been seven hostilities classified as conflicts, as well as six other overseas “incidents.” This does not include the permanent presence of service personnel in Europe, Japan, etc.
Some of these activities come under the heading of “just” wars – the justness, or even the necessity of others is open to question. But there is no question that those who served deserve thanks every day of the year for their willingness to sacrifice time, effort and even their very lives in answer to their country’s call.
Mick Cochran’s program included music from as long ago as the War of 1812,  the Civil War and WWI, but most of his selections were from the WWII era. He also included other patriotic numbers including the Star Spangled Banner, God Bless America and the one I would have chosen for the National Anthem if I had been in Congress in 1931 – America, The Beautiful. Many of the songs were of the sing-along variety, and the audience enthusiastically joined in.
It was a fine program of appreciation for those who have done so much to make such programs possible.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Who Will Cast The First Stone?



In response to a report which appeared recently in the Wall Street Journal, American International Group Inc.'s CEO, Robert Benmosche, who was paid around $10.5 million this past August to take over and cure the ailing company, announced that he was not going anywhere. Apparently Mr. Benmosche decided he could make do on his pittance of a salary.
AIG was given a government bailout package of up to $180 billion (yes, that’s …illion with a b) because the company was “too big to fail.” I would think that if it’s that big, it is probably too big to exist.
But I digress – Even though he is terribly frustrated by the  government’s salary caps (the government now owns an 80% stake in the company), Mr. Benmosche has told the company’s 100 highest paid employees that he will stay on and fight for their pay.
 Under the government's caps  plan, cash salaries for the top 25 highest-paid executives will be limited in most cases to $500,000. The plan also calls for perks in most cases to be capped at $25,000. Obviously talented employees are not going to hang around a company where their salaries are limited to $525,000. Who would?
I hate to say this, but Mr. Benmosche is probably correct in thinking employees  are likely to leave. They are being wooed by companies who did not receive bailout money; those companies are free to go back to their greedy practice of paying obscene salaries.
What ever happened to the idea that when one takes a job, one agrees to do a specified amount of work for a specified amount of pay? Apparently I was in a minority when I worked – I did the best I could. I couldn’t have done any better if my salary had been doubled, tripled or whatever.
Or perhaps I was really in a majority, a vast majority. I am guessing that most people do their job to the best of their ability. A year-end bonus is nice, but they work just as hard whether or not they get one.
Even though Mr. Benmosche and I both live on planet Earth, we live in different worlds. I cannot imagine my being able to shop for Christmas in Singapore, any more than he can imagine his not being able to if he so desired. Nor can I imagine my turning down Mr. Benmosche’s salary if it were offered to me, any more than he can imagine agreeing to work for $30,000 per year. Now be honest - can you?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Things That Glow In The Dark



Although I usually come up with subjects for my blog in the hour before the alarm sounds, last night was an exception; I woke up about 3:15 and had trouble getting back to sleep. About 4:00 I decided to get up and prowl around a bit, and I discovered the house was not quite dark. In addition to the night-lights in the bathrooms, every room in the house displayed little red or green lights. So I decided to take a survey.
In the bedroom there is a clock, a smoke alarm and a big red emergency button. (We live in a retirement community.) Fortunately, we have never had to use either the smoke alarm or the emergency button, but they are there. After checking the rest of the house, I made up the following table:

Room/Device
LEDs
Clocks
Other
Bedroom



     Smoke Alarm
1


     Alarm Clock

1

     Emergency Button


1
Hall



     Smoke Alarms
2


Bathroom 1



     Night Light


1
     Beard Trimmer
1


Bathroom 2



     Night Light


1
Office



     Smoke Alarm
1


     Telephone
1


     Surge Protectors
2

1
     Modem
4


Kitchen



     Microwave

1

     Stove

1

     Coffee Maker

1

     Smoke Alarm
1


Living Room



     DTR

1

     DVD Player
1


     Telephone (Messages)


1
Garage



     Door Opener


1
          Totals
14
5
6
          Power Cost/Device/Month *
.30
.50
.40
          Monthly Device Cost
4.20
2.50
2.40
          Total All Devices/Month


$9.10

* Estimated by WGAL television investigation.

That’s over $100 per year! And our house is not particularly techno-savvy!
 Using the above estimates you can figure out how much you are spending for things that glow in the dark. You need to keep in mind that you have these devices for either safety or convenience, so before you start pulling plugs at night, you need to weigh how much these factors are worth. Also, pulling plugs on stoves, microwave ovens, etc. is a bit impractical.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Christian Dichotomy


In 2007, Jamie Leigh Jones testified at a Congressional hearing that she had been gang-raped in 2005 by as many as seven co-workers while working in Iraq for KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton. After an Army doctor examined her and gave forensic material to her employer, she was placed under guard in a shipping container, where she remained without food or drink for 24 hours. Finally a friendly guard gave her a cell phone which she used to call her father. She was released only after her father asked the US embassy to intervene.
When Jones tried to take legal action, Halliburton/KBR used a clause in her contract, which required disputes to be settled by arbitration, to block such action.
In 2007, Jones filed a joint civil suit against Halliburton/KBR and the only assailant she could identify. According to the legal papers, Jones was given a knockout drug while drinking with KBR firefighters.
“When she awoke the next morning still affected by the drug, she found her body naked and severely bruised, with lacerations to her vagina and anus, blood running down her leg, her breast implants and pectoral muscles torn, which would later require constructive surgery. Upon walking to the rest room, she passed out again,” according to the papers.
Jones' account was confirmed by U.S. Army physician Jodi Schultz. Schultz gave the rape kit she used to gather evidence from Jones to KBR/Halliburton security forces, after which the rape kit disappeared. It was recovered two years later, but missing crucial photographs and notes. Jones’ lawyers said that 38 other women have contacted her, reporting similar experiences while working as contractors in Iraq, Kuwait and other countries.
On September 15, 2009, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Jones, and found that her injuries were not in any way related to her employment and thus, not covered by her contract. She is now cleared to have her case heard in open court.
Senator Al Franken has reversed the usual career path: he became a comedian first, then went on to become a Senator. Jones testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in October, 2009, concerning Senator Franken's amendment to the FY 2010 Defense Appropriations Bill. The amendment restricts contracts between employees and companies which use mandatory arbitration in their employment contracts. This measure was passed by the Senate by a vote of 68 to 30. In order to get 68 votes in favor of passage, there must have been at least eight yea votes cast by Republicans. The votes against were all cast by Republicans.
I am certain that most of those Senators, both for and against, are good, practicing Christians. How, then, could they in good conscience have cast such widely divergent votes on such a heinous subject?
One of the descriptions of the Christian God is God, the father. But the Bible tells  us of two fathers with opposite characteristics: (1) the old Testament’s jealous and vengeful God and, (2) the loving God of the new Testament.
The Roman god, Janus, was depicted as having two faces because it was believed that he could see transitions from an old vision to a new vision. I believe that modern day Christians see the difference between the jealous God and the loving God not as a transition, but as a split, which determines their outlook and approach to life.
Thus a father who identifies with the old Testament’s God tends to lay down a set of rules, let his children alone as long as they follow the rules, and punish them severely when they break the rules. A father who follows the God of the new Testament is more inclined to take his children’s responsibilities upon himself, reward them when they do the right thing, and quickly forgive them when they transgress. Both fathers are following the Bible.
By itself, either approach has its problems. The old Testament father can be too harsh; the new Testament father can be too easy. After all, Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” He did not say, “Love your neighbor better than you love yourself.” I am quite sure He meant the golden rule to include children as well as neighbors.
The old/new Testament approach applies not only to children, but to life in general. Republicans, who tend to identify with the old Testament (although they may not realize it) sometimes appear to be somewhat heartless, and even vindictive. And Democrats, normally new Testament followers, often tend to relieve people of responsibilities they should assume personally, while at the same time giving away the store.
I want to be quite clear on this: any given individual tends to follow one or the other description, but may vary his or her approach in a particular situation. I can’t say whether the 8+ Republicans who voted yea normally follow the old Testament, but they followed the new Testament on this occasion. The 30 nay voters fit the old Testament, Republican profile.
The yea voters in this case apparently decided that protection in a situation such as that undergone by Jones was a responsibility that should be assumed by the employer. As for the nay voters, John McCain explained that he did not think that the government should come between employers and employees. Apparently he and his fellow Republicans decided that neither Jones nor KBR had committed any wrong, thus they should handle the situation without interference.
Both the yea voters and the nay voters are all believing Christians who just happened to fix upon opposing descriptions of God, the father.
Questions for the yeas: To what extent do you think an employer can and should control employees who are not on duty? To what extent do employees have any responsibility for their own actions?
Question for the nays: If you actually believe that the government should not interfere in the employer/employee relationship, are you ready to roll back wage and hour laws, child labor laws, OSHA, hazardous material laws, and many others?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Law Of Unintended Consequences



 I am sure you have heard of the Law of Untended Consequences. Today’s blog is an example drawn from personal experience.
When I was three years old, my father lost his job and his home because of the great depression. Subsequently I was sent to live with my grandparents, where I had to share a bed with my aunt Dorothy, who was seventeen.
Aunt Dorothy took it upon herself to teach me about praying. Although she died in 1967 at the age of 51, a simple prayer she taught me over 65 years ago still exerts a strong influence on me today, although not in the way she intended.
Of course, I had to learn the “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer which I dutifully recited every night. One night I said to aunt Dorothy, “This ‘if I should die before I wake’ scares me. How can I be sure I won’t die before I wake?”
Aunt Dorothy said, “Ask God to be sure to let you wake up in the morning.” So I added that to my prayer.
Then I said, “What if the world ends tonight; then I’ll die?”
Aunt Dorothy said, “Ask God not to let the world end tonight.” Another addition to the prayer.
One thing Aunt Dorothy always stressed is that you’ve got to believe that what you are praying for will really happen. When I asked how you do that, she said, “Just keep telling yourself that it will happen the way you asked.”
To avoid having to keep telling myself that God will let me wake up in the morning, and he won’t let the world end tonight, I shortened it to “He will, it won’t.” I went around all the time thinking, “He will, it won’t, He will, it won’t.” After all, I knew what I meant, and I was sure God would too.
I soon got to the point where I accented what I was thinking by matching my actions to the cadence of my thinking. For example, if I touched something with my left hand while thinking “He will,” I then had to touch something with my right hand on the “It won’t” half of my system.
I eventually outgrew this continual “He will, it won’t” thinking, but I found that I didn’t outgrow the doing things in pairs. If I even glanced out the corner of my left eye and saw my shoulder, I had to glance out of my right eye and catch a glimpse of my other shoulder. If I blinked once, I immediately had to blink again. I am sure many people thought I had a nervous tic, and they were right.
Even today I catch myself doing it, and I have to believe other people sometimes wonder why I make such funny moves. I’m just trying to look out the other eye.
So you see why I believe in the power of prayer. It worked. I have always been able to wake up in the morning, at least so far. And the world hasn’t come to an end. Opps, I just touched my face with my right hand. Excuse me while I touch it again with my left.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Hudson River Cruise



From October 17th through the 23rd we were on a cruise up the Hudson River. Since arriving home, I have been sick for three days, and have had a sick computer for a couple of other days. I think both the computer and I are now doing OK, at least for today.
I had never seen the Hudson, and I certainly didn’t realize how BIG it is. One of the most interesting stops for me was at West Point. It was raining, cold and an altogether miserable day; even so we were impressed. The soggy view of the river was still gorgeous. We saw as much of the campus as we could from the bus, and spent quite a bit of time in the visitors’ center.
I will say this only once, and you can rely upon its being true for every day: We arrived back at the ship in time for the cocktail hour. After all, one has to have priorities.
Without going into too much detail, we took self-guided walking tours of Troy, Catskill and Kingston. Between stops the on-board historian, Sandy Balla, told us of the history, economics and life style of the various cities, from the time of the Native Americans through the Dutch through the English, and into the American adventure.
We also learned something of the local art styles and crafts. The Hudson River scenic paintings were beautiful, and local artists are still creating them.
I wish to mention the Maritime Museum at Kingston. On display are early marine objects, paintings, ice boats, and river exhibits and memorabilia of all kinds.
No trip on the Hudson would be complete without a visit to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Home, Library and Museum at Hyde Park. The home is strictly Victorian style, and I have a hard time understanding how such a charismatic leader could come from such a depressing atmosphere. As is typical for presidential museums, FDR’s is devoted to his successes, of which there were many, with very little attention paid to his shortcomings, and he had a few.
Upon our return to the New York Area, the captain took us on a close-up look around the Statue of Liberty. It was a great reminder of the ideals that, sad to say, seem to have slipped a bit.
We also took a three hour bus tour of NYC. Besides the choking traffic and far too many buildings to remember, we saw the Strawberry Fields (a John Lennon memorial), the Dakota where Lennon lived, and Ground Zero, now a construction site. Ground Zero was a reminder of that terrible day in 2001 – another day which shall live in infamy.
It was a good cruise – I highly recommend it. Please view the pictures  for a visual sampling.
One more thing: we have tried to visit as many presidential homes or libraries as we could; so far we have been to eleven. I wish everyone, Democrat or Republican, could see all of them – all presidents have had their triumphs and failures. Not surprisingly, they appear to be human.