Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Hunger Site

A real easy way to help others is to click on to the Hunger Site. The Hunger Site is a non-profit website that allows a browser simply to click on a button to donate money to the United Nations Hunger Relief Fund. You pay nothing. The money is donated by advertisers on the website who give a small donation everytime someone clicks on the hunger button. There are other sites linked that do the same thing for other causes as well.

The site has been endorsed by the New York Times and has been thoroughly checked out as legitimate. The idea was a brainchild of an Indiana man who decided to use the internet in a simple way to help others. The Hunger Site is truly elegant in its simplicity. And it costs the internet surfer nothing but a few seconds each day. You can only click once a day on each of the sites. It's ten seconds well worth the time.

There is so much on the internet that is garbage. For the past six years the Hunger Site has been showing the altruistic possibilities of the world wide web.

Monday, October 30, 2006

And God Answers...

Two weeks ago my Dad was diagnosed with cancer...multiple myeloma to be exact. As you can imagine the news was shocking and sobering. My father then went to the oncologist who performed a bone marrow biopsy which my Dad described as feeling like being stabbed with a knife for 15 excruciating seconds. The doctor said the thing to hope for would be results that come back clear. However, clear results only come back in 10% of cases that have the kind of protein levels my Dad had already tested for.

But the amazing thing is...the tests came back clear! My Dad does not have cancer. He has a fairly rare blood disorder acronymed MGUS. It is a blood disorder that is benign and not life threatening. Patients with MGUS do not suffer side effects and have a normal life expectancy. Instead of chemo or radiation my Dad now only has to have his blood tested every 3-6 months to make sure the MGUS does not morph into myeloma which is extremely unlikely.

I believe in prayer. Hundreds were praying for my Dad's tests to come back clear. And that's what happened. The odds that the tests would be clear were very small. But odds don't mean a thing in Heaven. God doesn't always answer our prayers the way we might prefer. But in this instance...I believe God has things for my Dad to do at Dallas Central Church of the Nazarene. It was a real heartwarming experience to hear the congregation applaud the news this past Sunday.

Miracles are those events which bring us closer to God...a supernatural phenomenon in its own right. So yes, I would qualify this as a miracle. Glory to God.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Don't Fence Me In!

My students and I were studying China and the Mongols this week. We learned about how the Chinese over the centuries built the greatest, most fortified wall the world has ever seen. We learned that it was a dismal failure in keeping the northern nomads out of China. In fact, in the 13th Century the Mongols would storm over the wall, rip away the Mandate of Heaven from the Song dynasty and create the Yuan dynasty with Khubilai Khan as supreme leader over the Han Chinese.

And this got me thinking. If the longest, widest, strongest, most fortified wall in human history could not keep out immigrants...what makes Dubya think that a 7,000 mile wall made of corrugated aluminum will keep Mexicans from crossing the Rio Grande?

The most fortified and guarded segment of our border is south of San Diego and yet that is exactly where more border crossing take place than anywhere else...according to the U.S. Border Patrol Agency. If you build a twenty-foot wall...I would advise buying stock in twenty-one foot tall ladders because that will be a hot seller in Mexico once this wall is built.

The whole thing is an election year scam. The bill passed by the Republicans and signed by Bush appropriates no money for this wall. What? Another unfunded mandate from the Bush Administration? There has not even been a financial feasibility study done on this wall. No government cost estimates. The only funds authorized call for a one BILLION dollar downpayment for the project. And that's just the downpayment!

We are going to spend billions for a wall that will not work. This is simply a way to strengthen the election chances for Republicans running next week. "Vote for me...I'll keep those Mexicans out of our country!"

Illegal immigration is a real problem that needs to be addressed seriously. Building a wall is a short-sighted and lazy way to deal with this problem. Real solutions that take actual thought and dialogue need to be discussed in a serious bi-partisan manner by our government. Both parties need to do the hard intellectual labor of coming up with long term solutions. Let's help Mexico strengthen their economy so people won't want to leave for America. Most of these immigrants don't want to make the dangerous and difficult journey north. They feel no other option exists to keep their families alive.

Let's come up with better ways to enforce the laws on the books. Let's come up with compassionate measures to help our neighbors to the south. Let's use our brains. Instead of empty and expensive measures...let's do some real thinking. Unfortunately that takes real leadership...something not seen in the White House or Congress in a very long time.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Happy Birthday iPod

Today is the fifth birthday of Apple's iPod. When the iPod was introduced Steve Jobs said it would revolutionize the way we listen to music. Most at the time thought he was indulging in the usual Apple hyperbole. But he was right. And boy, do I wish I had bought stock in Apple. A week before the iPod was introduced Apple stock was selling for $5 a share. Today Apple sells for $79 a share.

As much as I am intrigued by new technology I usually wait for the hype to settle down and for the newer improved models tp come to replace the initial 'shock and awe' prototypes. I am pretty hesitant to jump into a new format change. I waited a couple of years before buying a CD player in 1989. I didn't wait quite as long to go DVD. But I was incredulous to join in the iPod craze. I own nearly 300 CD's and was not happy that a new format looked to replace them. Plus the idea of downloading all those discs onto my computer didn't appeal to me.

But then I saw my first iPod one Christmas when my Uncle Phil and my cousin's Jeff and Greg brought their new iPod's to Grandma's house. I was entranced and about a year later I finally jumped the divide and bought the one I currently use almost two years ago. I use the CD's in the car and as a hardcopy. The iPod allows me to take all 290 CD's anywhere I want. I never have to worry about picking and choosing music for trips. I can easily create playlists and download new tracks from the internet. And the sound quality is pristine. Can't say enough.

So happy birthday iPod.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Me and Hugo

I was in Venezuela when Hugo Chavez attempted his military coup in 1993 which ultimately failed. Chavez was quickly arrested and there were some Venezuelans who were embarassed that their country couldn't even get a coup right. The coup was pretty much a non-event for me and the SNU Brass Choir I was traveling with. Our only direct contact with the attempted overthrow came when our bus (pictured left) was boarded by a helmeted, M-16 wielding soldier. He demanded to see our passports. When he saw that all our documentation was in order he waved us on without incident. It was the closest I had come to an M-16 machine gun. We also noticed similarily armed soldiers at many of the traffic intersections our dilapidated third world bus passed through. We weren't even sure whose side they were on in the coup. The coup became merely another crayon with which to color our experience in South America. I had an amazing time in Venezuela.

Well as the story goes, Chavez served his time, got out and took power the democratic way...he got himself elected president. He has since re-written the constitution and stacked the legislature with his lackeys. Although he has not committed genocide (yet) he has successfully followed the Hilterian path to power. He has positioned himself as a Castro who needs no sugar daddy due to his ace in the hole...oil. We have helped positioned him in a position of power due to our addiction to oil. I am pained by the thought of all those Venezuelan Nazarenes who I met and fellowshipped with having to endure this autocratic demigogue. Venezuela is a beautiful and wondrous country. A nation with some of the most beautiful scenery and friendly people in the world. Venezuelans deserve better.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau

I just finished re-reading Civil Disobedience and Other Essays by Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862). Much of Thoreau's insights ring true over 140 years later. Some good quotes I read along the way...

"I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government."

"I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward."

"Those who, while they disapprove of the character and measures of a government, yield to it their allegiance and support, are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters, and so frequently the most serious obstacles to reform."

"Why does it (the government) not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do better than it would have them?"

"Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison."

"A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight."

"But the rich man--not to make any invidious comparison--is always sold to the institution which makes him rich."

"There will never be a really free and enlightened State, until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly."

"Genius is a light which makes the darkness visible."

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Kung Fu Mentality

Channel 68 here in Dallas has begun showing reruns of the old David Carradine show, Kung Fu. David Carradine plays a half-American half-Chinese Shaolin monk who after avenging the murder of his teacher flees to the United States in the 1800's. Chased by bounty hunters while searching for his American family, Caine helps people in trouble dispensing Daoist advice while he has frequent flashbacks of his master teaching universal truths back in China. The show ran for four seasons on ABC from 1972-1975.

What I like about Caine is that he never loses his temper, raises his voice or even seems in a hurry. Even when he moves fast or engages in martial arts combat he doesn't seem to exert much effort. Most of his strength comes from mind over matter. He only fights in defense and always speaks in a peaceful tone. He never judges and always helps people in need.

I wish I could always keep such calm in hectic situations. I always strive to be that calm eye in the hurricane of life. Caine also lived a life of elegant simplicity. Never carrying anything more than a bed roll and a few essentials. All the garbage we accumlate in life can really weigh us down. It's refreshing to see an alternative. Of course Caine, even in the 1800's, always stood out from society because of this simplicity and peacefulness. He took a lot of grief for being a man of peace and simplicity. I think the same would be true for such a character in the 2000's.

Great t.v. show.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Fembot Katie

So I uh, actually watched Katie Couric's first two news broadcasts on CBS. And I've caught her in bits in pieces in the weeks since. And yeah, I'm sticking with Charlie Gibson and ABC as the network anchor and news of choice. Katie has always been described as perky and engaging. But in her new gig she's a lifeless fembot. Plus, they try to cram so many speciality fluff pieces that hard news is often ignored or glosssed over. I hadn't watched the CBS evening news in years and was quickly reminded how they are definately the most unabashedly biased broadcast out there. White House correspondent Jim Axelrod, with his smirking wise-a#@ attitude makes me want to punch the side of my television. All broadcasts are biased to some degree. But at least there is an attempt on ABC for the appearance of objectivity. And Brian Williams makes me twitch if I listen to him long enought. I dig Anderson Cooper (despite his pretensioness) and Soledad O'Brian. But Katie...go back to the morning shows.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Movies seen so far in 2006

I remember the old college days when I would go to at least a movie a week. It was common to see two or three movies in a week. I'm not including the movie rentals that also supplemented our movie viewing during the week. It's amazing any school work got done with so many movies that had to be seen. Those were the days.

The last several years we've been averaging a movie a month. Kimberly and I alternate movie picks...both at the multiplex and the video store. We don't rent many movies nowadays...but when we do we usually get two...one for me and one for her. But our movie viewing has slowed to a halt due to our schedules jumping into baby prepartion overdrive. Below are the movies I've seen this year on the big screen. July was the last time we made the trip to the theater.

My ranking system is based on the following criteria...

* One Star - Horrible. Total waste of time. I am dumber for seeing this movie.
** Two Stars - Not great, wouldn't personally recommend it. But I can see some production value and maybe other might get something out of it.
*** Three Stars - Decent. Maybe I even enjoyed it. Wouldn't see it again necessarily. But didn't feel I wasted my time.
**** Four Stars - Good movie. Probably would be willing to buy it for my DVD collection. Includes guilty pleasures. Good stuff.
***** Five Stars - Absolute classic. Rises above the standard fare. One for the ages. Not too many of these in the pantheon.

The Family Stone - *
Tristan + Isolde - ***
Failure to Launch - ***
Mission Impossible III - ****
The Breakup - **
The Lost City - **
The Lakehouse - **
Nacho Libre - ****
The Devil Wears Prada - ***
Pirates of the Caribbean 2 - *** (three stars is a major disappointment for this movie)

So yes, so far I'm sad to say that the two movies I've enjoyed the most at the multiplex were MI:III and Nacho Libre.

We'll be lucky to hit our magic number of twelve movies this year. I am greatly anticipating the the Bond flick, Casino Royale. The trailers look great. We'll see if Daniel Craig can pull of the legendary tuxedo. I also want to see Jet Li's last kung fu movie coming out this month.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Texas Renegade Radio

A few years ago I discovered a fantastic radio station in Dallas on the dial at 89.3 fm. It's a community station run on pledges and it plays every type of music available. They have shows dedicated to Texas Blues, rockabilly, jazz, reggae, hip-hop, country, rock, surf music, latin, gospel and more. They have speciality shows on each of those genres. For example, they have a show comprised entirely of Grateful Dead concerts. They also have talk shows such as Empowerment Radio for the working class. In the evenings they focus on blues and rockabilly.

I love eclecticism. And I love how this station represents the vast mosaic of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. You can listen live at www.knon.org. If they are playing something you don't like...just wait around or check their schedule...and they'll play the stuff you love but the mega-monopolized clear channel radio stations of America won't.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

How Cool is That?

Saw an interesting item on the ten year anniversary of the release of Weezer's sophomore album Pinkerton. I've dug Pinkerton from the first. It was released the day after I landed in Spain for my yearlong sojourn on the Iberian peninsula. I heard the first single (El Scorcho) on Barcelona radio and bought the CD at Virgin Records on the Passeig de Gracia. The album was considered a failure by the music industry. It only went gold and caused lead singer/writer Rivers Cuomo to spiral into a depression culminating with him living in an apartment with the walls all painted black for a year. The guitars were harder edged, the lyrics overtly emotional and the chords a bit all over the place for standard radio fare. I thought it was awesome.

A strange thing soon happened. Other gen-x'ers, fed up with Nirvana clones, began picking up the album and digging it. Soon it became a cult classic. It is often considered the album that kicked off the emo movement...or at least one of the pillars of that style of alternative music. Several years later Rolling Stone changed its review from worst allum of 1996 to one of rock's classics. It has since gone platinum and is considered one of Weezer's best albums and one of the best albums of the 1990's.

The article I was reading compared it to The Empire Strikes Back, saying that Empire was darker and harder edged than Star Wars: A New Hope. Many people didn't get it at the time and only appreciated it later as the best of the trilogy (Don't even mention the other crappy films in the series!). Sometimes it takes time to recognize genius. I like all the songs on Pinkerton (named after the opera Madame Butterfly), but my favorites are The Good Life, Why Bother, and Across the Sea. Ten years. Man I'm getting old.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Travel by Numbers

Just read an interesting blog by a traveler who touched on some ideas I have thought about quite a bit myself and agree with wholeheartedly. Most Americans travel the world as if they're on the Amazing Race (a show I love to watch but not to adhere to as a travel philosophy.) checking off things on a to-do or to-see list. Most modern travelers don't spend anytime soaking up the ambiance or the culture of the place. They're too busy running around like madmen from tourist trap to tourist trap taking pictures to document that they've seen something interesting. They also forget that the journey is a huge part of the experience.

What's worse are the inane travel stories that issue forth upon their return. Most of the stories are mere descriptions of sights we already know are cool and awesome. We don't need the same old description of the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal. Tell us something we don't know or at least bring us a new slant.

This blogger said travel stories should fit into seven categories...

1.) Bus Stories
2.) Bathroom Stories
3.) Airplane Stories
4.) Animal Stories
5.) Hotel Stories
6.) Food Stories
7.) Guide Stories

Tell what happened to you at the famous sight...or what happened to you on your way to and from the sight. We can all see the Parthenon in a picture. We can read about the Pyramids in a textbook. Tell us about the experience. And when you focus on the experience...it makes traveling more than checking off things on a list...it becomes a metaphysical journey connecting us with the human experience.