Tuesday, July 29

"Maybe That's Why Little Johnny Can't Read..."

As I have related in a previous post, my love of reading goes back to when I was 12 years of age and my 6th grade teacher challenged me to read Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. My initial reaction, upon seeing the novel's thickness and feeling the heft of the book, was "There's no way on God's green earth am I going to even begin to read this stupid book," or words to that effect. But once I started, the words I was reading with initial reluctance began to pull me into the story and soon I was literally mesmerized by this epic tale of trial and triumph. Every available minute that I could scratch out from my daily boyish routine was devoted to climbing back into the folds of the book, so dedicated had I become to seeing the story to its end.

My transformation from literature no weightier than comic books to recognized and renowned words of true written art occurred in the 1950s aided by a teacher who reflected the majority of the teachers of that era, so devoted were they to truly teaching their young and impressionable charges entrusted to their daily care the love for and the necessity of learning. I owe these teachers a debt of gratitude that I have only been able to repay by continuing my quest for knowledge through the written word and to impart successfully that same appreciative quest on to my daughter. I fear, however, those days shall never be immolated in today's teaching environment.

Date Line - Rochester, New York. The school district for this city provided the seventh and eighth grade students and teachers with the questions and answers for a required test that covered four core studies: English, math, science, and social studies. Despite having the answers to each and every one of the questions, over one half of the students failed! (Source: onenewsnow.com - 7/26/2008).

Connie Leech, the district supervisor for Rochester's secondary schools, stated that this unorthodox method of imparting knowledge was "probably not in the best judgement," but denied that any deliberate wrong doing had occurred. Ms. Leech continued, "I'm not concerned that it's a cheat. What we were doing is giving kids a better sense of the knowledge that they needed for the test. " Not a cheat!?!" Did the test scores count towards the student's final grade?"A better sense of the knowledge..." Ms. Leech! Over half the class failed the test! What sense of knowledge did the failing students acquire in any sense?

I have long been an advocate of publicly funded education and do believe that the majority of the teachers within these schools are striving against ever increasing odds to present essential core subject materials that will benefit each student as they grow toward adulthood. But I am becoming more and more alarmed that our nation's school system(s) as a rule has become broken to the point where it must undergo a complete overhaul.

Here in the State of Florida, the school systems throughout the state gear their academic year to the annual FCAT - Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test - that is administered to students in grades 3 through 11 for the purpose of increasing student academic achievement by implementing higher standards. Sounds good in theory. Problem with that approach is that the teachers finding themselves "teaching to the test." Adversely compounding that approach is that the annually reported test results have gravitated toward a recognition of the individual schools that have an increase in the overall student performance on the test. That is each individual school receives a letter grade based on the overall performance of its students on the test. A school that does expectationally well receives an "A," less so a "B," average a "C," below average a "D", and an "F" for those unfortunate schools that fail to even remotely improve their student's academic scores. Well, one might conclude, those schools whose performance is at a "C" and below would be spurred on in the next year to perform at a higher level. Again, sounds good in theory, but here's the rub. Those schools with high achievement on the test receive a proportionately larger piece of the educational budgets in the form of "cash awards," while those schools that fail to achieve a passing mark receive less monetary support, with the "F" school receiving no additional monies at all. Now tell me that isn't a totally backward approach to assisting those failing schools to pour more resources into improvement. The state in effect is telling these students and their teachers that "You have to get better on your own." No wonder we are seeing more and more parents giving up on our public school systems and opting to either send their offspring to private institutions or to home school their children themselves.

Said one outspoken critic of public education, "The public school system is really not about education. It's primarily about maintaining the appearance they they're about education, while really being focused on increasing the cash flow to the special interest that benefits the system." He continued, "Our children are falling farther and farther behind people in other industrialized countries. They're (our children) on a trajectory to become the hewers of wood and the drawers of water of the twenty-first century." Good God, I hope this portrayer of doom and gloom for our public school system is wrong, but the evidence is mounting semester after semester to under gird this dire prediction. School system after school system is literally bleeding the communities in which they operate dry with ever increasing taxes with ever decreasing returns. Here in Pinellas County approximately 40% of our local property taxes are earmarked for the support of public education, yet this county has one of the highest high school drop out rates in the entire state! There comes a time when throwing more money at an obvious problem fails miserably to attack the root causes of our schools' demise.

If Rochester's secondary schools are any real indication of this systemic problem, it is long past time that the parents who truly care that their children receive a beneficial education that will seed them toward a productive and self-sustaining adulthood to say "Enough!" We demand accountability for where our tax dollars are being spent on education and we want to assure that our children are being dedicatedly provided a real education, not merely a passing grade. Should we continue to accept the status quo, we are not only ashamedly cheating our children but, at the ultimate end, we will cheat our country out of being afforded the smartest and brightest of our country's greatest natural asset...a nation of well educated children ready and capable to assume the mantel of leadership in their homes and communities.

Monday, July 28

"Say What!?!"

I thought the controversy that has been brewing like an unattended teapot in these central Florida environs in which vehemently opposing sides have been debating whether or not the local American League Rays professional baseball team should be permitted to build a new waterfront stadium was to be the low light of our contentious summer. But no. Another bombshell had yet to be exploded.

On this past Friday the Strawberry Festival Beauty Pageant Committee announced...hold your breath...that hence forth the contestants in this annual event would no longer be required to participate in a swimsuit competition. Oh the humanity! Well, in my opinion, there goes the neighborhood.

Tradition! Where is the hue and cry to maintain this time honored tradition to endure the talent portions of such extravaganzas so that at long last the time would arrive for the aspiring young ladies to parade across the stage to the admiring gazes of the audience and the critical review of the judges? Is nothing sacred any more? Next thing you know the Miss. America pageant will take a serious look at eliminating the swimsuit competition. Or, perish the thought, Miss. Universe. What is the world coming to?

In response to the critics that questioned this drastic revamping of the pageant, Ms. Sandee Sytsma, the festival queen coordinator stated, "We didn't take lightly breaking tradition," suggesting that the pageant received complaints in prior years that the swimsuit portion of the evening's contest actually precluded many other would be participants. Sounds pretty wimpy to me. In lieu of swimsuits, the ladies will now appear in casual wear outfits...and the grade point average has been elevated from 2.75 to 3.0. Now that is a step in the right direction, although it no doubt will diminish the otherwise likelihood that at least one of the contestants will attempt to provide an answer to a well thought out question that will leave the contestant, judges and audience scratching their heads.

"Okay, Miss. McMasters, take a big breath. As one of the ten finalists in this year's Miss. Garlic Beauty Pageant, sponsored by Sparkling Breath Mouthwash, and the winner of the talent portion of the pageant...and by the way, your consumption of the 21 chilly peppers was truly spectacular...please answer the following question for our esteemed panel of judges."

"Okee-dokey Biff. I'm ready."

"Great. "If you could have one wish come true, what would that one wish be?"

"Oh my...do you mean other than me like winning this contest?"

"Yes, 'like' that."

"Gee Biff...I have so many wishes that I would like to come true." I 'd certainly like it if there was world peace and no more like wars and stuff...and that all the children had mommys and daddys that loved them, and like plenty of food for everyone to eat, and like really clean air to breath, water too, and this global warming stuff would like just go away, and like everyone could like go to a doctor whenever they felt like it, but I wouldn't like want to have a dream like I had last night where I dreamed I had eaten a really nasty chilly hot dog and it made me so sick, and I like threw up all over my evening gown, and..."

"Thank you...thank you, Miss. McMasters. We 'like' get it."

Listen..I get it too. If it were not for the awarding of education scholarships to these aspiring young women for their winning efforts, I would have no difficulty in saying farewell permanently to all beauty pageants, few of which are little more than thinly guised means for commercial exploitation. If such events are to continue then by all means the elimination of the "beauty" portion of the contests, currently overly hyped and emphasized by gratuitous displays of sexuality, would be a most welcomed alteration. There is a grace to womanhood that need not be sexually exploited, but enhanced by the deliberate display and appreciation of their God-given talents and mental acumen. I appreciate the appearance of a good looking lady in a bathing suit as much as the next male, preferring to enjoy that appreciation in its proper setting, like walking along a beach. Parading in swim attire in the glare of stage lighting serves no viable conclusion other than to garner a wider prurient spectator.

Having said that...I need to locate my ticket to this weekend's Miss. Biker Babe Pageant.

Thursday, July 24

"Gone But Not Forgotten..."

"Evelyn was an insomniac so when they say she died in her sleep, you have to question that." Thus begins the latest Garrison Keillor novel, Pontoon.

I have long been a fan of Mr. Garrison, he being the host of the weekly PBS radio program A Prairie Home Companion, and the author of a series of comedic novels based on the inhabitants of a fictional Minnesota town, Lake Wobegon. My appreciation of Mr. Garrison's writing talents began when at a neighborhood yard sale I picked up for twenty-five cents a worn copy of his first Lake Wobegon novel by the same name. It has continued to be one of my favorite reads for years, and I wait with great anticipation to purchase his latest publication as soon as it is released.

Pontoon is an entertaining and quick read that centers around the latter life of the now departed 83 year old octogenarian, Evelyn, the members of her dysfunctional family, and the town folk who interacted with this lady of quirky exuberance. Evelyn Frances Powell did not begin to come into her own until Jack, her husband of forty-four years, passed away, having lived his life in quiet desperation, believing that the heavens had conspired against him to fail at everything he attempted, which, judging by the few people who could tolerate him, was little. Barbara, her over-weight and over-bearing, melancholy daughter, having discovered the body of her Mother, begins to realize that her Mother led a secret and very happy life, one filled with adventures and an unrequited love affair with Raoul, a man Evelyn had meet years earlier. At first these startling and disturbing discoveries began slowly to awaken Barbara to the truly unique person her Mother was and provided the daughter with the evolving impetuous to begin to transform her own life into a like mold.

The pages and chapters turn quickly as the reader follows with voyeuristic interest the progressing stages of the varying reactions to Evelyn's death to fulfilling her last wishes on the manner that she wished to have her remains disposed, which specifically instructed that she be cremated, a blowing ball as the vessel to be employed for her ashes, and a private celebration on the shores of Lake Wobegon prior to her being plunked into the lake's chilly waters. Wherein the namesake of the book Pontoon comes into play, I'll leave that to be humorously discovered by those who choose to read the book.

An excerpt from the chapter of Pontoon... "Evelyn was a whistler, she learned it from him (her Father). The rest of the family was disposed to gloom, dark Lutherans who pitch down the rocky slop of melancholy and lie there for days, sighing, moaning, waiting for someone, usually Evelyn, to rope them in and haul them back up and comfort them with dessert. A people waiting for the other shoe to drop. Phlegmatists. Stoics. Good eaters who went for recipes that start out 'Brown a pound of ground beef and six strips of bacon and in a separate pan melt a pound of butter.'" These well written words are just a select few among the many other gems that Mr. Keillor weaves into this well written folk tale that will leave you most assuredly laughing, occasionally shedding a tear, and most certainly appreciating a story that reflects many of the foibles that comprise the human condition. For an enjoyable summer read, I recommend it highly.

Wednesday, July 23

"A Sad Legacy..."

"I would rather die an Indian, than live a white man." Thus spoke Sitting Bull, the warrior chief and renowned holy man of the Lakota tribe. His words became prophetic when early on the morning of December 15th, 1890 Sitting Bull was fatally shot first in the chest and then the back of his head. His crime? Allegedly for failing to acquiesce to the demands of the federal government that he conform to the white man's rules and way of life. His real crime? He was an Indian. Upon hearing of Sitting's Bull's death the New York Times crowed that Sitting Bull was finally "a good Indian."

I have just completed James Donovan's in depth historical book A Terrible Glory - Custer And The Little Bighorn, in which many layers of historically inaccurate accolades attributed to George Armstrong Custer's legacy as a Civil War hero and "great Indian fighter" were stripped definitively away. Custer was a consummate product of his own vanity, ever seeking greater tributes to bolster his over-inflated reputation as the American hero of his time. In truth, Custer was an opportunist among a nation of opportunist that sought fame and fortune at the expense of lesser beings who stood in their way to achieve their goals, selfishly guised in the lofty proposition of Manifest Destiny. Chief among these unfortunates were the native American Indian cultures that populated the American landscape, who wanted nothing more than to avail themselves of the bountifulness of the land's natural resources, to raise their beloved and honored families, to preserve their social order and cultures, and to live their lives in peaceful solitude. But the newly arrived Europeans, as a rule, would have none of that, seeing the Indian as an impediment to their quests for acquisition of the lands that had been in the birthright possession of the Indians for incalculable generations long before the first white man set foot on American soil. The Indians were thus reduced to sub-human, regarded as "savages," and systematically eradicated with no more remorse than one would regard the elimination of a rabid animal. Custer led his infamous 7th Calvary into the teeth of these native Americans at the battle of the Little Big Horn firmly believing without a hint of hesitation or remorse that his assigned ordered foe aligned in the thousands before his troops on that fateful day had no inalienable right to remain in existence. The Indians had had enough. They were fighting to the death to stave off the unrelenting forces of genocide. History would mark Custer a hero and elevate the battle into untarnished and unquestioned fame and fable. The truth...Custer deserved the inglorious death that brought him that infamous day to the throne of grace.

There are many shrill voices in our country and throughout the world that zealously proclaim America to be the epitome of evil. These are the voices of jealousy and hatred of our unencumbered freedoms and prosperity. But it must be acknowledged that such disquieting rage is not without some qualified merit, for our history as an opportunistic nation speaks to numerous incidents wherein our country's proclaimed self-interest came at the detriment of other nations and peoples. As a nation we have not always made the best choices or upheld the best ideals as we sought to place our country's alleged "best interest" above other entities that would suffer the consequence of our subordinate policies.

The foundation for these often times unsavory suspensions of our better angels stem from our own internal history, the civil war of the 1860s and the subsequent campaign to remove any vestiges of our native Americans, wherein, in the quest to place the white man in the position of preeminence, our forefathers illegally absconded with over eighteen million acres of Indian land, deliberately and diabolically obtained through lies and fraud, and enforced by the systematic and unconscionable slaughter of thousands upon thousands of native American men, women and children. Yes, these atrocities occurred in our distant past and I had no perosonal hand in their instigation. Yet, I feel deeply ashamed and am angered that this is part of our nation's history.

America is a good and decent country that is comprised of good and decent people who are caring, honest and charitable. It is our government leaders, the captains of commerce, and a minority of individuals who regard race, color or creed as a basis to subjugate entire classes of individuals that comprise those who too often lose sight of our America's ideals. This is what I take away from the reading of Mr. Donovan's book...that when our great nation of good and decent people blindly and without opposing questions accept the doctrine of "Our Nation, Right Or Wrong" do we risk becoming less than what President Ronald Regan proclaimed and called us to be, "The shinning light set upon a hill."

Mr. Donovan correctly entitled his book, "A Terrible Glory." Ultimately our forefathers achieved their conquering quest to become the sole proprietors of the American west. But at what price? Our nation's conscience suffered an immeasurable blow for having done so in such a despicable manner. "We the People" must be on constant guard to assure that our nation's best interest do not succumb to subverting our conscience of being the best we can be for the sake of expediency. "We the People" are better than that. "We the People" must be ever vigilant to be better than that. Our nation's overriding legacy of decency demands no less.

Tuesday, July 22

"Peak-A-Boo...I See You!!"

Anyone who has elected to utilize air travel post 911 have come to reluctantly tolerate the intrusive requirements one must endure in order to board a commercial aircraft. I have come to accept and prepare for the necessity to devoid myself of any items that I may be carrying on my person, to place those items in a tray for x-ray scrutiny, to remove my belt and my shoes if requested, and to comply with any additional requests that may be demanded so that I may pass at long last unobtrusively through the metal portal to the departure gate beyond. In the name of personal security and safety, we fellow travelers have come to accept with little protest these minor invasions of privacy. Having some additional assurance that there isn't a crazed ideologue sitting next to me intent on blowing us all out of the air so that he may be welcomed home in the afterlife by a bevy of vestal virgins is worth the few inconveniences that are imposed on my time and liberty.

As with any well-intentioned enterprise there have been reported incidences where the persons in charge of performing the security screenings have taken their procedures to extremes. Such was the case in recent months when a young lady failed the wand test due to the private fact that she was adorned with nipple rings beneath her bra. Explaining such was the case, the inspectors would not be satisfied with a visual verification of the woman's jewelry, but demanded that the implements be physically removed. To say that she was irate at such a infantile invasion of her privacy grossly understates her well justified ire. Such personal embellishments might set off an explosion of passion for her significant other, but the chances of them bringing to ground a typical passenger aircraft I would gage to be rather nil. But take heart fellow travelers. Modern technology has the answer to prevent such personal embarrassments coming in the near future to an airport near you.

I read today that the Miami International Airport has just installed the latest piece of scanning equipment; a full-body X-ray. Should this equipment be adopted industry-wide airline passengers will no longer need to undergo the embarrassment of disrobing in some overly air conditioned room to prove one is not a deranged terrorist. One may merely step into the booth fully clothed and the machine will in a blink of an eye strip the person down to their birthday suits. Now that's progress! According to the spokesperson for MIA's Transportation Security Administration, "It allows us to detect threat objects that are not metallic and that cannot be detected by metal detectors, and items that are sometimes missed even in a physical pat-down, in a non-intrusive manner." Yea right!! How many people do you and I know who would willingly permit some total stranger to ogle us in the all together to further assure that we weren't attempting to smuggle on board some illicit contraband or weapon of mass destruction? Maybe it's just me, but I'm thinking not too many.

Listen...if you want to see me sans clothes, you'd better bring your check book! I'm not free, but I am reasonable. Just ask my wife.

Monday, July 21

And They Both Said "You Betcha!"

Judi and I had the privilege of being honored invitees this past weekend at the wedding of the son of one of our dear friends from our church. It also didn't hurt that daughter Megan was a bridesmaid in the court, being granted that honor for having introduced the bride and groom to each other a couple of years ago.

Judi and I were initially planning to be merely attendees at the ceremony in Cocoa Beach on Saturday afternoon. Apparently Megan had another idea, she having suggested to the bride and groom to be that "My Dad would just love to do the marriage blessing at the reception." That was certainly news to me, but when approached by Paul's (the groom's) Mother and Dad and formally asked if I would do so, I was honored to have the privilege. I later discovered, rather impromptu, that not only was I to supply the wedding blessing, I was also to offer the prayer at the rehearsal dinner. Hey, Judi and I got two very good meals out the deal and we had a bang up good time of not only enjoying the beach, but the opportunity of meeting new people and basking in the fellowship that always accompanies such glad events.

I can't say that my rehearsal dinner prayer was anything that would make folks write home about. When people are hungry and all but licking their forks in anticipation of digging into the meal set before them, any time taken up beseeching our Maker to take a firmer hand in world politics is decidedly ill-advised. Bless the food, tuck in the napkin, and let's get after it!

I did take some time, however, in composing the words of the marriage blessing. I have little doubt that most of the sentiment was lost on the happy couple and, most likely, the majority of the folks who had already discovered that the adult beverages were free for the asking. Still, I am a firm believer that marriage is not to be entered into lightly, that it is ordained and blessed by God, and to invoke His blessing on the union needs be approached with sincerity and reverence. I did, therefore, choose my words carefully with the intent that all who cared to listen would understand the seriousness that all marriages require that only begins to come more clearly into focus when the wedding day is later revisited with only the aid of photographic recollections. My words of blessings were as follows...

"I am a believer that man's destiny is best realized through God's prefect Will...that no person comes into the life of another person's heart without God's hand to guide and shape the encounter. And so it has been for Paul and Lauren...their separate journeys through life have come to this day and their individual paths have today been co-joined to travel the remaining road before them as one. For this we are thankful and praise God for his wisdom in making it so.

Paul and Lauren... From this day forth, may all of your hopes and dreams be renewed with each new sunrise. May your disappointments be few and your sorrows even fewer, and may each be forgotten with each sunset. May all of your future memories be as joyous as is this day's. May God lighten your hearts so that they will be forever filled with ever increasing and over flowing respect, admiration and love for each other. And may God continuously pour out His richest blessings on you both with His love and peace throughout all the days He has set aside for this very special union that pleases Him immeasurably. Therefore, go forth from this hour in God's grace and love and strive in His presence to be happy all the days of your lives together."

Being involved in a course that helps couples learn how to "be married" and as facilitators in a course for divorced individuals who failed to learn how to "be married," Judi and I realize that it takes more than just ardent and fervent prayer to keep a marriage whole. But this we know also...selflessly seeking God's guidance on a daily basis to bind two souls together stands a far better chance of succeeding than to just merely stand on the sideline and let events take their course.

God said, "What a beautiful wedding ceremony. Now invite me to the marriage." Prayerfully I hope that my few words of beseeching God's blessings on behalf of this newly wedded couple will spark a desire on their part to indeed invite Him to their marriage.

Thursday, July 17

"A Promise Of A New Season..."

Our home here in St. Petersburg is on an avenue that is lined with Magnolia trees to proudly designate and identify the section of the city in which we reside, Magnolia Heights. The city planted two of these beautiful trees in the front of our home and both were thriving in the early part of this spring. But one day Judi and I both noted that the smaller of the two trees was losing all of its leaves, having been infested with a plague of grasshoppers that was consuming every morsel of green vegetation until not one single leaf remained on any of its branches. Even though I eradicated the infestation, we feared that it would never recover. What was once a beautiful thing of God's beauty, we were sure was gone forever. Then one day a few weeks ago I detected a couple of buds sprouting forth in a few places along its barren limbs, then more and more each and every following day until soon the buds began to transform into new leaves, and it has seemed almost over night that our little Magnolia tree was festooned with dozens and dozens of new leaves. It had stubbornly survived and is now even more a thing of beauty than before.

Tonight, as I was standing beside it contemplating all that I had heard and learned earlier today from the physician who will be performing my heart surgery, I noticed at almost the apex of the tree that soon to come flourishing forth shall be a magnificent Magnolia blossom. Our little tree has never previously put forth a single flower, but now it is only a few days away from proclaiming gloriously, "Look at me! I'm back and I'm better than ever!"

I am taking great comfort in that simple perceived message, for on August 4th I will undergo by-pass surgery on my heart and am fully expecting to lay claim to what my doctor has promised that when I fully recover in six to eight weeks I will "feel and act like a totally new man." I ain't dead yet. It is going to be a slow and initially painful process...but I've got roads still to travel that God shall direct me along His intended path. "Once lost, now I am found." God willing, our little Magnolia tree and I will welcome many a new blossom in years yet to dawn. I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, July 15

"Fire In The Theater..."

I recently checked in on one of my favorite blogs that I try to read each week and was presented with a post that was both disturbing and thought provoking. To capsulate, the author, a young mother with her small child, were traveling in their car when they approached a heavily utilized intersection that was being populated on all sides by a large contingent of Right to Life advocates, the majority of which were holding placards to further emphasize their cause. According to the author, the signs these individuals were displaying contained not only slogans that were designed to be supportive of their cause, but highly graphic, full-colored images of the carnage that is associated with the premature abortion of an unborn fetus. When the traffic light turned red in front of them, the mother was unable to quickly proceed through the intersection and thus avert what turned out to be a very deliberate encounter with the demonstrators, who proceeded to press in even closer to the stopped vehicles to more vigorously emphasize their opposition to abortion in raised voices and by thrusting their signs toward the vehicles' windows. The mother's daughter became visibly upset by the demonstration and the Mom did all she could under the restrained circumstances to shield her child from the highly disturbing images the little one could so easily see from her seat. This mother and child were apparently not the only witnesses to this volatile demonstration, but several other adjacent vehicles also had other small children as occupants and the accompanying adults were doing whatever each could to protect their children from being exposed to this deliberate attempt to sensationalize the carnage of abortion. The question asked by this mother, and a fair one, is when does an expression of righteous opinion, regardless of its moral grounding, exceed the bounds of public decorum and common decency?

Let me state again for the record...I am one hundred present opposed to the cavalier utilization of abortion as a means of expedient birth control. I contend that abortion is morally and ethically inexcusable under any circumstance save when it is employed as a last measure to prevent the death of the mother. My personal jury is still undecided in the cases of rape or incest, but as a means to uphold one's personal right to selfishly direct one's destiny at the expense of terminating a viable pregnancy because it is inconvenient to the lifestyle of the female boarders on criminal.

Having staked out that piece of moral ground, I must also lay claim to my personal adherence to upholding one's right to free speech, regardless of how distasteful or contrary to my personal beliefs the content of that speech may be. However, as with any recognized and honored rights of personal freedom, there must be some self-imposed constraints and limitations in exercising those rights. It is most certainly a prudent thing to do to alert the patrons of a crowded theater that the structure is on fire. But to do so in such a manner as to invoke unrestrained panic would most likely unnecessarily inflict much more catastrophic consequence than would the fire. It should be the quest of every individual to inspire others to at least consider entertaining one's point of view. Conversion by coercion is not conversion. It is intimidation and best and alienation at worst. Were it my goal to persuade another individual to adopt my Christian faith, would I not stand a far better chance of achieving that desired outcome as a worthy example by exemplifying a consistently God honoring lifestyle that desires only to cause no harm to my fellow human beings, than to beat that person senseless over their head with an amplified edition of the King James Bible? Some times just being ethnically and morally right without the need to resort to bombastic justifications and overly righteous certifications is sufficient to create cohesion of like-minded opinion.

I am of the opinion that the author of the post very closely shares my abhorrence of abortion. Furthermore, I think she would join me in applauding and perhaps even encouraging any person, whether singularly or as a group of like-minded individuals, to express their heartfelt conviction that abortion is a crime against humanity, but doing so in a responsible manner. And I am certain that I agree with her that the manner by which this particular collection of zealous demonstrators accosted she and her daughter, and all the other unwitting participants in this spectacle, was entirely unnecessary and totally inappropriate. Their intended message is worthy of being maintained continuously in the public square. Their chosen method of delivering that message, however, was lost to those whom were repelled by abject anger and indignant disgust. There must be maintained a purposeful sense of propriety in dissiminating ideas in the marketplace, otherwise the wrong message is conveyed. These demonstrators, all be they morally grounded in a righteous cause, delivered entirely the wrong message. And for that they should be righteously ashamed.


This past Sunday afternoon Judi and I were invited to a special gathering of a very special young man. His name is Jason, he is a captain in the Army, and he is home on leave from his second tour of duty in Afghanistan. In seven days, he returns for his third.

I had the privilege and honor to be his basketball coach when he was in high school. Jason was a rebounding terror, believing that if the ball came off the rim it belonged to him. As good as he was in that sport, Jason excelled in football, so much so that he became a defensive standout at Carson-Newman College in Tennessee. He graduated with scholastic honors and a proud commission as a second lieutenant in the army. Upon graduation he began to fulfill his military obligation for the tuition assistance he received as an ROTC cadet. He has done so honorably.

Our church has constantly kept Jason, his parents, Rich and Janice, and his younger sister, Kristen, in our prayers these many months that Jason has been deployed, first in Afghanistan, then Iraq, then back again to Afghanistan. In seven months he will have fulfilled his obligation and will return to begin a family with his wife of a little more than a year. Our family and all his many friends will continue to pray for his well-being as well as for all the men that he has the responsibility for leading. If America's military is comprised of the best of us, then Jason is truly among the best examples of what a true man of genuine integrity and selfless service needs to emulate. I am proud to call Jason my friend, and although I am decades older than him, I am not ashamed to say that I look up to Jason as well. A better role model I would be hard pressed to find.

Rich and Janice have been special friends to our family for years. Their daughter and our daughter, Megan, literally grew up together. Kristen spent many a night in our home and we always found her, as we still do today, to be a pure delight. Janice is the head nurse in the heart surgery unit at the hospital in which I will have my up-coming by-pass surgery performed. She has faithfully promised that she will personally see to it that only their best nurses will attend to me while I am in their care. " I assure you," she said as we hugged good-bye, "you will be treated like a V.I.P." Of that, I have no doubt.

There are so very few things in life that have and maintain intrinsic value. For me I value my faith in God, my family, and my friends. None of these three gain in increased value unless one cultivates each. As one invests intentional time to God, to their family and to their friends, one grows beyond the bounds of oneself to discover and cherish the truth that none of us were put on this earth to do life alone. It is the investment in others that becomes an investment in ourselves, the dividends of which cannot be measured in worldly goods or materialistic accomplishments. This I know...on the day that I undergo my surgery, Jason on some desolate battlefield of Afghanistan will be praying for me and his Mom will be lovingly overseeing my recovery. I, on this side of my surgery and beyond, will be praying for Jason and his family. This is what makes God happy. This is what friends and family do. Nothing else matters.

Monday, July 14

"A Rose By Any Other Name..."

My beautiful wife has over the twenty-five years of our marriage displayed many endearing gifts, qualities and talents that I have come to greatly and lovingly appreciate. Two of her most ever present gifts is being blessed with a profound and overly-heightened sense of smell and hearing. Her olfactory and auditory sensory perceptions would give a full-blooded Kentucky tracking hound and an Alaskan eagle a serious run for their money.

There is hardly a week that goes by that I don't hear the following words of concern, "Do you smell that!?!," or "Do you hear that!?! My usual (and honest) answer is, "No." That's not to discount the fact that what she smells and/or hears isn't indeed a reality. It's just that I am, as a member of the male species, apparently wired differently. I suppose that is why Fathers make lousy Mothers. Mothers are blessed (some would say cursed) with the ability to know what their child is doing even when they are completely out of sight. With Fathers, if the child is out of sight, we forget we even have a child.

Judi's acute hearing came to the fore again Friday evening when she came into the living room where I was engaged in the multitask of reading a book while keeping track of the baseball game on TV. "Do you hear that!?!" "No." "I hear scratching noises in the attic." "Congratulations." I think we've got rats again." "Okay." "Don't you want to come listen?" "Not particularly." "Well, I'm telling you that it's a rat and it's making all kinds of scratching sounds." "Gotcha. I've got traps up there and with any luck the next sound you will hear is a loud snap." "I don't know if I will be able to get to sleep with all that noise." "I think we'll be safe for the night. Our two fearless cats will protect us." "What good are they going to do if they're down here and the rat is in the attic?" "Rats have a sixth sense about stuff like that. It wouldn't dare come down here with cats roaming around." Judi tromped back towards the bedroom muttering something about my lack of urgency.

I never doubted that Judi's assumption about the nosies emanating from our attic was indeed a rat, most likely of the Fruit Rat variety. We've had them before, but not very often since blight killed our two orange trees in the side yard. Still, this is Florida and with the summer's heat these creatures seek refuge, especially in attics that have air conditioning ducts that they can chew into and enjoy a constant breeze of cool air. I was confident that my numerous traps, baited with irresistible bits of Butterfingers candy bars and large enough to capture a bull elephant, would eventually do the trick. I checked the attic on Saturday morning. No evidence of a rat's fatal misstep. Saturday evening came and Judi again entered the living room to announce, "The rat is back...but it's making a bonking sound." "A bonking sound?" "Yes...it sound's like it is dragging something around." "Maybe it's its luggage," I offered. "Not funny," she retorted. "I'll check the attic again tomorrow after church and see if it left any kind of comment card." Off she trudged back to the bedroom muttering again under her breath.

No sooner had we walked in the back door from church yesterday when the first words she uttered was, "Do you smell that!?!" "No." "Well, I do and it smells musty." "Could be my socks," I suggested. She didn't laugh. "There's a dead rat in the attic, and I'll bet you it's caught in one of your traps. That's what was bonking around last night. It was trying to get loose." I'll go check." Sure enough, after a little scouting around, I located the now very dead rodent that had indeed appeared to have struggled with obviously no success to extricate itself from the trap. "Well? I heard her inquiry from down below. "Was I right?" "Partically," I replied. "There's a tiny little overnight bag with a note stuck in that says, 'Thanks for your hospitality.' Yes, you were right. Stay put and I'll toss it right down!" Screams...

Later that evening we decided to go out for a bite to eat. Upon starting up the car, Judi said, "Do you hear that!?! "No." "Neither do I. I just want to keep you on your toes. And, speaking of toes, you need to change your socks!" She's a laugh riot, my Judi.

Friday, July 11

"Xiangrou Gone!!"

I cannot begin to express how sorely disappointed I am with the news released today that effective with the commencement of the China Summer Olympic Games next month that one of my favorite delicacies is to be removed from all Beijing restaurant fare...Xiangrou. That would be "dog meat" to you and me. Doesn't just the thought of eating dog just curl your toes!! Does me.

The city's waiters and waitresses are being directed to "patiently suggest other options to diners who order dog," so said Xiong Yumei, Beijing's Vice Director of the city tourism bureau. "Yummy," as he is affectionately called by his closest personal friends, emphasized that the consumption of xiangrou, which translates somewhat freely as "fragrant meat," is eaten by some Chinese believing it to contain health-giving qualities. You couldn't prove it by me, not would I wish to put that assumption to the test. The closet I ever want to come to eating anything that has the word "dog" associated with it is the variety you burn to a crisp on the grill, slap in it in a bun and cheer on your local baseball team while wolfing it down. I've heard it stated that if one really knew what went into making your average frankfurter, one would be far better off eating the real McCoy. Some tidbits of information, in my opinion, are best left unexplored.

Were I to have the opportunity to travel to Beijing to take in the summer games, I dare say even the merest suggestion that canine was a recommended menu choice would be sufficient to put me off my feed for several days. I am just now getting comfortable with the idea that one can eat snail and not die a horrible gastric death. Were I made "King For A Day," I wouldn't recognize any country as being remotely civilized that permitted the consumption of dog meat as a menu staple. That would leave out in the cold the countries of North and South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and the Philippines. And I am keeping a very wary eye on France...they of the "Let's try these slimy little dudes and see what's that like!"

Some times I really wonder what drives people to experiment with things that just seem to be so obviously risky. Like the person on the Internet that posted a film of himself having his tongue slammed in a rat trap! Don't you just wonder what in the name of common sense would posses an individual to even consider such a thing in the first place? "Watch this, Bubba. I'm going to be famous!" Strange...the paramedics weren't that impressed. We may think the Chinese to be strange for eating canine, but I bet they think the same thing about some of the foods we eat. "You're going to eat that!?!? Gross!! To each his own, I suppose. Now if I could just locate the pickle relish...

Wednesday, July 9

"Not What I Was Expecting..."

Look familiar? This space-aged looking contraption is the last thing I focused on yesterday before the administered anesthesia sent me into la-la land. The cauterization of my heart went well, but the results are far less than I had hoped and prayed for. Looks like I am a prime candidate for some additional surgery of the by-pass variety.

Seems there are a couple, perhaps three arteries on the left hand side of my heart that are of a much smaller size than they should be...so much so that the insertion of a stint into each is not an electable option. My cardiologist described it as not unlike a tree branch that grows out of the main trunk. The branch that supports all the other branches further out should be of significant size to promote a steady supply of nutrients to travel to the smaller branches beyond. Apparently my main support "branches" are of the spindly variety. What to do? Replace the smaller, unhealthy branches with larger and healthier branches from another part of the tree. In my case, most likely taken from my leg. Sounds doable to me. The question yet to be answered is when?

I am scheduled to have a follow up consultation with a heart specialist next Thursday. It is at that time that I anticipate having all of my many current and nagging questions answered, the biggest one being "How soon?" Normally, I would opt for the "sooner the better," but I was told that the period of time I would need to fully recuperate is four to six weeks. That posses yet another problem. My present employer permits only two weeks per year of "off time" - for vacation and, if need be, sick leave - and I have pretty much already shot my allotment for this year. We are essentially a pretty small company with not a lot of revenue reserves. So the chances of my boss granting me four to six weeks sick leave with full pay is not very likely. Dilemma, to say the least. Too many unanswered questions and "what ifs" to consider at this time. It is best that I wait until I hear all the particulars from the heart surgeon next week to begin to formulate any type of plan. No sense in adding unnecessary concern on an already difficult situation.

I think I would be more willing to accept this unexpected news were I feeling less than in good health. When one's tooth is aching, one is very ready to undergo the rigors of seeing a dentist. When the old chompers are working just fine, one sees little need of making a visit to the dentist a priority. Overall I feel great...but now I know there is a problem lurking that cannot be long ignored. Like the character Roseanna-dana-dana of Saturday Night Live was fond of saying, "Well if it ain't one thing, it's something else." I can relate...

Thursday, July 3

"Watermelon...Not Just For Breakfast Any More!""

Tomorrow is July 4th! Hurray!! That for me means I get a three day break away from the gigantic headaches I've been dealing with in trying to manage a very complicated health care construction project. The time away from those stressful responsibilities will be most welcomed.

As many of you know (Okay...the two or three who actually ready my blog) I am a voracious reader. I consume books, magazines and news articles like some people consume popcorn, and I am always looking for off beat articles that peak my interest and perhaps make for follow up commentary. I ran across one today on the msn.com home page under the heading "Fruit Punch...Can Watermelon Trigger Same Effect As Viagra?" How could I possibly pass up that intriguing title?

It appears that scientist are taking a closer look at the natural chemicals that are found in your garden variety watermelon, and among them is a substance called citrulline. Citrulline reacts naturally with the body's enzymes to create a chemical reaction that produces arginine, which is an amino acid that has been proven to be beneficial to the heart and the circulatory and immune systems. Are you following me so far? Arginine boost the production of nitric oxide, which relaxes the blood vessels and mimics and produces the same effect as does Viagra. Got the picture now? As we have been constantly reminded and bombarded for years on television, those little blue Viagra pills have been touted as the "sliced bread" in the treatment of E.D. Let's hear it for good old Mother Nature who has had the remedy packaged all along in that favorite summer time treat!

"Not so fast," says the scientist. Although watermelon has most certainly the potential of getting a rise out male consumers of that delicious fruit, it is neither "organ specific" (I love that phrase!) nor are the effects to be expected to be a long-lasting experience, and one would have to consume about six cups of watermelon to produce enough arginine to acquire the desired end result. I don't know about you, but six cups of watermelon sounds to me like a prescription to spend a great deal of the holiday weekend traipsing back and forth from the bathroom. That's the down side. The up side, however, is that the natural ingredients found in watermelon do not produce the well documented side effects that the warning labels on Viagra caution could occur. You know the drill...if your ears start to ring, your vision get blurry, and you are unable to get behind the steering wheel of your car without a shoehorn after four hours, perhaps you should consult your doctor.

Not sure that any of this information is of any particular interest to anyone but me, but one never knows. There are some males souls who can't take Viagra because they have other medical conditions that preclude that available avenue to sexual bliss with their mates. Watermelon may be the answer. There also may also be a few females who find this information worth a try when hubbies' pilot light needs a little encouragement to reignite. "Here, my dear...have another slice of this delicious watermelon. It'll do us both good!" Oh well... I just found the article to be intriguing and perhaps worth a laugh. Whatever works, I always say.

I hope everyone has a glorious 4th and remembers to celebrate the heritage that the founders of our great nation laid on the line in order that we may live in freedom today. On Tuesday of next week I go into the hospital for what I hope and pray is merely a cursory look around my heart by my cardiologist. If he finds nothing of particular concern, I should be in and out in a day. If some repairs are needed...who knows. I'll let everyone know when the ordeal is behind me. In the mean time I have called my beautiful wife and expressed to her my sudden keen interest in consuming large quantities of watermelon over the coming holiday weekend. "Why certainly, my honey," she replied. "But what made you decide to add that item to our festive menu for this weekend?" Said I, "I was just thinking about fireworks and how watermelon just seems such a perfect compliment to that activity...don't you agree?" She did. Whoopee!!