Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Nerds Succeed

Watch out when nerds get successful. Like David Kwong on TED talks. He takes two nerdy obsessions- magic and crossword puzzles and puts them together. How does he do it? I have no idea but he's good.



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Unsurprising Surprises

Like most everything else in the world, we should not necessarily be surprised by what happens when change begins. Just because we plan on the change, try to think through it, even believe we are ready for it, when it comes right down to it, we are clueless about how we will respond.

Or at least we need to be open to be surprised, shocked, enlightened and expecting the black swans we didn't know would happen to us. Last week the black swans came out of their hiding place and I was surprised that I was just like everyone else.

"This is what happens when you move into retirement," my wife said as I couldn't figure out why I was feeling like I was. "It can take months to be ready for this."

"But I was so ready," I wanted to say. "Why is this happening to me?" Yep, that good old fashioned expression of terminal uniqueness. Yep- I'm unique just like everyone else. That means when, even with a year of planning and processing, as the events truly do unfold, you begin to realize that this is really happening.

The times aren't changing- they have changed! It is a whole new world. All the things that move along with this change of movement toward retirement is one of those major life-events that bring to the front all the feelings of loss and grief. It is a time, again, when the passage of time becomes more than real- it is right there in your face. "Look at me! See me! This is real!"

It is as much a step into the unknown as the graduations from high school or college, the new career or new job. Even looking at this move as a "third career" for myself insulates me from some of the underlying issues of mortality, physical ability, health and change.

Then word came that a colleague had died suddenly. He went for a bike ride and collapsed. He is just ahead of me by five years. He is the first of my cohort to die in our older years. Several have died of cancer, AIDS and premature heart attacks. This one is that reminder of reality.

So I have been unfocused, distracted, angry, sad, working harder at staying healthy (bargaining?), depressed and just generally denying things.

I wasn't supposed to do these things. I was supposed to have worked hard so they didn't happen and I could just slide into this whole retirement with no repercussions. In short, I wanted to do it without the pain and the fear, the uncertainty and concerns that always happen.

But here I am anyway. Just like you or anyone else. So w hat do I do about it?

The same thing I have learned how to do over the past 25 years- accept it and move through it. Make the most of what I can do and let life happen. The Serenity Prayer comes to mind, of course:

God, grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, and
Wisdom to know the difference.
But that is only the beginning. It is a deep sense of acceptance that must also be rediscovered anew each day. In order for that we all need to learn to look inside ourselves and be honest about what is happening- and then talk about it. Other people are essential to that process. They call us to be aware- mindful- of who we are and what is happening. Denial is not a healthy place to stay. It gets us stuck in what was instead of what can be.

So for myself, this (re)newed awareness empowers me by pulling me out of where I was into where I can go. That's all I have. That's all any of us has. So take that energy and channel it into hopeful and productive actions.

Let's see how that works.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Backyard Harvest


The time is getting close for these first cherry tomatoes of the season
With a promise of more to come
Not to mention peppers
And the still flowering hen and chicks

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A 45-Year Memory: Man on the Moon

A bunch of things happened in 1969. Perhaps the most momentous, July 20, when humans stepped onto another place in the universe for the first time.

I was working for WMPT radio in South Williamsport, PA, that Sunday afternoon. We switched over to ABC News feed and I watched the coverage on TV.


Much later I sat at home and saw the incredible fuzzy black and white pictures as Neil Armstrong made the giant leap for mankind.

I will never lose the awe of that day.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

In Memory: Johnny Winter

He looked and acted old when he started. His soul was that of a blues master.



Friday, July 18, 2014

Closing The Barn Door



Picture of the Chevy Truck on the concourse at Target Field after Futures Game MVP Joey Gallo's home run hit the windshield.


Perhaps, then, it is best to call this next picture, 
taken two days later of a different truck 
on the concourse at Target Field:

Closing the Barn Door After the Cows Have Been Stolen.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Overwhelmed

  • With Baseball: The All Star Game activities were wondrous and fun. More- much more to come. But it has taken its toll on my writing and sense of movement forward.
  • With Pictures: All that baseball has given me more than enough pictures to sort through, tag, classify, and decide what to keep. It is taking its toll on my writing and sense of movement forward.
  • With Change: I didn't realize it until my wife put it together for me at lunch today, I am just now beginning to really work on this whole retirement thing. I have been a little unfocused, preoccupied, and somewhat inattentive. That, too, is taking its toll on my writing and sense of movement forward.
  • With Ideas: Perhaps because of the first three, my mind is having a field day of thoughts and possibilities. Then they kind of flit around, go whizzing by the edge of consciousness, then dive back under the surface before some of them have a chance to be caught. Such takes a toll on my writing and sense of movement forward.

Forgiveness is therefore requested if any of this has had any impact on you. Not that I'm all that important, but I thought I would just say it anyway.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

All-Star Game Festivities: 1

It all started on Sunday at Target Field. A beauty of a day with all the pomp and fun of baseball - the summer game.


Bullseye with the ball outside the field.

The outfield ready for The Festivities!

The Futures lineup of teams. Flags for each country.

The MVP, Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers prospect,  hit a two-run homer in the sixth. It hit the Chevy Truck on the concourse. He may very well become a star!

The Legends and Celebrities softball teams.

Vikings football star Adrian Peterson hugging Snoopy.

Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers warming up with Peterson. Yes, Fingers still has his mustache.

Keep tuned. There's lots more to come.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Taking (Another) Walk


Just some pictures from my exercise walk last week. It seems like there's always something to take pictures of.






Rochester is a beautiful city.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

In Memory: Charlie Haden

One of the greats, Charlie Haden, jazz bassist died yesterday. A remarkable musician in many genres and styles. His bass gave foundation and life to a great deal of music. One of my favorites was his duet album with pianist Hank Jones, a Grammy nominated album in 1996.

Here is my favorite cut, Spiritual. Perfect for a Sunday morning. Rest in peace, Charlie.



Saturday, July 12, 2014

Hens, Chicks and Sand Worms???

It starts out with just a good, standard, backyard hen and chicks.

All of a sudden it starts to get these things that look like they are the prototype for the sand worms (or whatever they were) from Dune.

Then I realized that this is a flower... a real flower.

Or rather, these are flowers.

Many flowers.

Kind of neat, huh?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Miscellaneous

1) Futbol!
Go Argentina! No reason other than to keep Latin America strong.

1b) George Vecsey's book Eight World Cups is a fun read and a good way to get initiated into the futbol culture. You will also find out how corrupt FIFA has been.

2) All-Star Game!
Fun begins today in Minneapolis. I'll be there on Tuesday- another bucket-list-type of event.
Go American League!

3) LeBron who?

4) I missed this on 7/1. We've been Midwesterners for 30 years! I don't miss much from the East Coast except the closeness of the ocean. Other than that, give me the more open horizons. (I guess the oceans are a really open horizon!)
On Wisconsin! Go Minnesota!

5) Bart Ehrman has a book to refute those (very few) writers who have tried to say that Jesus actually never existed in any way, shape or form. It is an interesting book, considering the subject is really kind of "Ho-hum!" in theological circles. Never thought that Jesus DIDN"T exist.

6) If you are already three years behind on your reading, why would you even stop in the library and only get out more books to push the old ones further back? I guess I am addicted to reading. One book is too many and a thousand never enough.

7) I am trying to kick up my exercise a notch or two this month. I am attempting to do some exercise every day in July. (One month at a time!) So far I have been 11 for 11. This includes biking outdoors, biking indoors, a group cycle class, a group Indo-row class, a Yoga session, a hike and a 3.5 mile walk. If you get the chance to find an Indo-row class- do it!

8) Surprise! The most difficult of all the above activities? Yoga. It just never stops. Quite a good workout. And it's good for the soul, too.

9) A two-week break from music performances. But then four in one week. It is a melodic summer!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The [RANT] Again

I have had this rant before.

I will probably have it again.

But we are continuing to go downhill on the slippery slope of hatred, partisan bullheadedness, ideological stonewalling, making any disagreeing person the personification of evil itself, and the desire to lash out and punish others who disagree.

It has been particularly evident in the years since Obama was elected president, but a closer look will show that, I believe, it has been going on since Clinton was in office, was a little more subdued during W. Bush's term (due to 9/11 I am sure) and ramped back up when we elected Obama.

Even during that slightly more subdued era with W. it was still there. Bush was seen by many as an evil man- or at least the evil puppet/front man of the truly evil Dick Cheney. Only the 9/11 attacks at the beginning of his term moderated the anti-Bush rhetoric for a while. Obama (and Clinton before him) did not have a Dick Cheney or a Donald Rumsfeld to be the surrogate devil. Eric Holder and Hillary Clinton have been some of that in this administration, (and now the VA) but overall, Obama, like Clinton, tend to be in the center of the spotlight identifying evil in our country.

This is just plain INSANE! (Here truly begins The Rant.) When have we become a country so divided that one side will attack the other when it does what your side had once advocated? When have we become a country that makes anyone, ANYONE, who disagrees with a policy or political position (read: ideology) is by definition unpatriotic, a menace to democracy, or even guilty of treason?

This is just plain INSANE! Democracy is NOT founded on a particular political ideology. It is not conservative or liberal. It is based on many things, including the will of the people. Yet both sides interpret the "will of the people" as being in 100% agreement with "our side" of the issue. The will of the people elects a president. But it also elects the legislators. OBVIOUSLY the will of the people encompasses BOTH sides. The will of the people is broad and deep and can be a very large umbrella.

But both sides refuse to accept the legitimacy of the other side. By ideological definition, the other side has to be wrong- because it isn't my side, the right side. Many political science students see this current divide in  our nation as beginning with Newt Gingrich who came into power on that type of bandwagon. Before that, in people like Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush the divides, while present, were also able to be bridged.

THAT is what a politics of democracy is all about. Discussion, discourse, finding middle ground, yes, even that horrible "c" word- compromise. Democracy does not work any other way. I don't care what the ultra conservatives or ultra liberal say. THAT IS NOT DEMOCRACY. It is an attempt at ideological bullying at best, and ideological dictatorship at worst.

And, again, BOTH sides practice it. Daily. Ad nauseum.

On Fox and MSNBC.

Across the Internet and Facebook.

I am %$^##**% sick and tired of it.

Yes, I lived through the previous years of division- the 60s with Civil Rights, the Vietnam War and Watergate. It was awful. Nixon was made the great Satan, but compared to today's discourse, he was downright cordial. His "enemies" list had nothing to do with ideology (though outwardly based on it) but was rather the result of his own mental health issues of paranoia and desire for power and probably addiction or alcoholism.

Perhaps part of the problem is that we are in reality a far more diverse nation than we have ever been. Most issues at this point are decided in polls by a bare majority. Yes, the polls jump all over the place depending on how you ask the question. You know- "Have you stopped beating your wife?" type questions. And yes, nonsense polls are presented every day that show some nonsense correlation instead of a cause that usually can be twisted and spun to support my side.

Example- I heard a question in a poll the other day:
Do you feel your freedoms have been eroded - or something of that general nature. A majority said yes to that.

The right-wing media pointed out that this is the result of Obama ignoring the constitution.

The left-wing media could have pointed to the Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case or the beginning of the erosion of the constitution in the Bush administration.

BOTH SIDES WOULD HAVE BEEN RIGHT! (Sorry about resorting to yelling. This is a big issue for me.)

It is time for a change. Have there always been crazy extremists? Of course. They just have never had the wide public availability that social media and a 24-hour news cycle provide.

Do we need the whole spectrum of opinions? Of course. The conservative side reminds us of our limitations and the need to have a degree of common sense. (Yes, I said that. Don't kick me out of the liberal camp.)  We need the liberal camp to keep us on our toes and honest about our moral responsibilities to others.

I am a radical/liberal. But I also know that I can't have all my beliefs and ideas brought into law. That is not how democracy works. Do I get disappointed when "conservative" laws are enacted? Of course I do. But that is how we work in a nation like this. It is why, over the years, the pendulum swings back and forth.

I could go on rambling, since I have started down that path. I will stop. I have had my say. I pray that we will become more cautious in our rhetoric; I pray that we can learn to talk with each other, not at each other, or only with those we agree with. We wouldn't be here as a nation if that hadn't happened in 1776 and in many years since.

[Rant over. Back to the lazy days of summer.]

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Take a Break and Swing

This is the best and most profound swing song- in my not so humble opinion. Benny Goodman (clarinet), Gene Krupa (drums), Harry James (trumpet), Babe Russin (tenor sax) and Jess Stacy (piano). Sing, Sing, Sing! Nobody is second rate; everyone has incredible solos. This is the full 12-minute version from the famous Carnegie Hall concert in 1938.

This showcases very rare talent at its best. It also demonstrates why this song is the quintessential swing number. It cannot be beat.

So take your 12 minutes and enjoy, scratches and all.



Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Things With Wings

Whitewater State Park, like the rest of Southeastern Minnesota is settling in for summer. Lots and lots of green, especially since we seemed to be living in a rain forest the past month or so. Last week's visit to the park brought some pics of fauna and not as much flora. To be specific- here are pictures of

Things With Wings











We'll call this one The Pollinator

Ooops! Forgot these other things with wings- birds....




Monday, July 07, 2014

It's Been A While

I haven't posted a video from the fine folks at Playing for Change in a little while. This one is neat. Here's what they have posted about it:

We started the song with Carlos Varela in Havana and it features over 75 Cuban musicians around the world, from Havana and Santiago to Miami, Barcelona and Tokyo. We recorded and produced this track with Jackson Browne, who explains that “traveling with Playing For Change across Cuba was one of the most rewarding and inspiring musical experiences of my life.”

Music brings us so much light and helps us find our way back home. In honor of the late great Manuel Galbán, ”un hombre sincero de donde crece la palma”, with music you live in our hearts forever.


Sunday, July 06, 2014

The Real Issue with the Hobby Lobby Decision

As usual details get in the way. We get mixed up on the highly visible and miss out on the crux of the matter.

Reading Facebook and many other first reaction posts to the recent Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision you would think that the decision was about abortion. Many people on the pro-Hobby Lobby side made the very good breakdown that Hobby Lobby was not, for whatever reasons, NOT unwilling to pay for birth control, per se. It was not wanting to support certain contraceptive methods that many feel are abortion-related. So, in essence, that makes it sound like abortion is the issue.

On the other side many took issue with the supposed right of a company to a) be treated like a person with freedom of religion rights and/or b) have the right to make medical decisions based on these religious freedoms for others, specifically, women.

These, too have valid points.

But lost in the abortion/contraceptive frenzy was perhaps the most dangerous part of the decision. It is one of basing many kinds of decisions on religious grounds and whether these are good things. The list of "what-ifs" and hypothetical situations could fill up many blog posts. Does this mean, for example:

  • Now Christian Scientist parents can legally refuse, on religious grounds, medical treatment for their children, even if it means saving their lives.
  • Now the right of religious parents to refuse vaccinations for their children and the public schools may not be able to keep those children from attending.
  • And of course, now, small, closely-held family-owned companies can refuse to pay for vaccinations or even medical treatment itself, on sincere religiously held beliefs.
I will admit that I raise these without deeply studying the decision and its broad and narrow interpretations. They are simply the places we might find ourselves on an always slippery slope.

I also will readily admit that there are many slippery slopes on both sides of the argument. That is the problem with any such controversial decision. If there were not a myriad of possible dangers the decisions wouldn't be controversial. The question underlying some of this is, as I discussed a few weeks ago, the issue of conscientious objection. In this case, objecting to being required to do something that goes against your principles.

I continue to be a supporter of the ideal and philosophy of conscientious objection. But, there may be times when
  • saving or promoting life legally trumps such conscientious objection or
  • you must be willing to pay the consequences if such objection is not upheld.
There is also the other issue- having a corporation, even a closely-held, family-owned corporation- be able to impose a religious belief on its employees. Sure there are extremes that are always possible- making an employee attend a church or prayer meeting or something clearly coercive. While someone may try that (there are enough kooks in the world!) it won't go very far. (I hope.)

Add to that what amounts to the personification of organizations that has been going on for a period of time. Is it really true that corporations have the same rights as people? Is it really the case that corporations can be treated like individuals? That makes no sense to me. Even with a closely held company like Hobby Lobby it is not- and cannot be held in many ways to the same standards as we hold individuals. Yet they have increasingly been getting the same rights.

Finally, and here for me may be the most blinded-by-privilege understanding:
Would we agree with this decision if it had been brought by a Muslim-owned firm?
Many would be screaming persecution and prejudice at a moment's notice. In spite of what some may believe, the freedom of religion DOES apply to Muslims and Jews, Buddhists and Hindus.

Back when the Supreme Court outlawed sanctioned prayer in the public schools, I believe it was someone like Martin Marty, professor and wise man of the history of religion in America, who wondered aloud what might happen if a Christian child living in an area where some non-traditional religion was in political control, were forced to pray a different kind of prayer? "Whose prayer?" was the question he asked.

In any case, I am not attempting to answer these questions. They are simply a few of the thoughts that the Hobby Lobby case brought to mind. One of the real difficulties of freedom of religion (and religious conscience) is that we all have a different interpretation of what that might mean. As long as the decision is one that agrees with OUR beliefs, we support it. But religious conscience is tricky- since it is based on "theology" of some kind that is, believe it or not, ever changing.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

A Great Tradition

As an old Band Geek, things like Drum Corps Competitions (DCI) have always been fun. Last Sunday I had the opportunity to be at a local, early-in-the-season show featuring some great marching, music, and showmanship. It is called River City Rhapsody and featured 8 drum corps working on perfecting their shows over the next six-weeks of touring. They end in Indianapolis in August for the DCI Championship.

It is always impressive to sit in the stands as these marching groups of about 150 16-21 year old young people show off their hard work. They spend the summer touring and practicing- and pay for the privilege. They sleep on buses between events and on gym floors in schools willing to put them up. Each corps has its traveling entourage that keeps it all moving. The level of commitment is phenomenal! Don't let anyone tell you that youth are lazy. Maybe some are- but so are a lot of those over 21 (or even 60). It is for the music, the honor, the wonder of performance. What an experience it must be for them.

I was impressed last week by the energy that goes into the shows- and the ways they have to get creative in so many different ways. When the corps stretches across the whole 100 yards of a football stadium and still sounds together takes hours of practice. The ability to throw the "rifles" or "swords" into the air and then catch them- ON THE BEAT!- is remarkable. To memorize the music for the show and then play it while marching and moving in all different directions. I remember high school and college marching and how even after several weeks of playing the same pre-game show, I would have trouble remembering what I was supposed to do while still marching and hitting the yard lines. I even wrote one of our college drills - and had trouble with that one, too!

The winning corps last week was the Cavaliers from Rosemont, IL. They were the most accomplished of the groups, although the other top 4 were close behind and will probably tighten the scores and switch places in the winnings many times over the next weeks. I was struck by the Cavaliers use of space- the spacing of the different instruments and the way they allowed the sound to shift and move as a result. They managed subtlety in the midst of the loud and awesome, not an easy trick.

Here is part of how the Cavaliers wowed the crowd- a marimba feature.


I tend to be partial to the corps that placed #3 last week- the Madison (WI) Scouts, one of the pioneers in the field and one of the original founding corps of the DCI. For many years until the 1990s, the DCI Championship was regularly held in Madison. They seemed to lack energy and sound power, but it was also obvious that they knew they needed work on their show. It was obviously an excellent show, but it is early in the season. I have a hunch their proud heritage and commitment will keep them at the top of the corps.

Taking a look at the footage below, an early rehearsal footage with the explanation, I can see how they will have to really push the show in order to catch the crowd. It is a visually stunning show and could do really well if they can convey the energy across the field into the stands (and to the judges.)




The #2 Corps was another long-time favorite of many- The Phantom Regiment from Rockford, IL. Their theme this year was a beautifully done show on "Swan Lake." Here is one of their early videos showing the work that goes into it.



If you get the chance to see a DCI event this summer, you won't be disappointed. There is power and joy in what they do. These kids love it- and it shows.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Happy Birthday, USA

Independence Day
July 4, 2014

A Picture Gallery from Philadelphia





Since It Is the 4th of July

For the week of July 4 I stopped by my neighbors, the Bald Eagles over by the Zumbro River. They were both at home and posed well for some pictures. So, for the 4th, here they are, from my own neighborhood.