Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Importance Of Productive Hobbies

Hobby. That is a word that has gradually faded from our vocabulary. When I was a child, I had hobbies like wood burning, model airplane building, collecting little NFL helmets out of a 25 cent machine, coin collecting, etc. Though some of these hobbies were not "productive", in the sense that nothing tangible was produced at the end of a session of lining up all my little helmets in an "I" formation, what was produced in my imagination was profound. I later became very involved in electronics, and built my own AM radio. I became a Ham radio operator
(Tech+ WE6UTJ). I had a rock collection. I soldered capacitors into guitar amplifiers to change their tone. I re-built a rusted Mo-Ped that my brother no longer wanted from scratch. My friend Tom and I spent hours trying to hammer out the piston which was fused to the side of the cylinder. I had a wooden board with all 50 states that I had to insert into the right location. These are things that require the "production" of imagination. I used to daydream for hours about what it must look like in Ohio. This may have sparked my facination with travel. I have now visited 48 of the 50 states (N. Dakota and Alaska are on my list). I still can feel the wooden piece in my hand, and the little water wheel that it had painted on it. The rocks would glisten in my hand, and I would wonder if they had accidentally placed a rare precious stone into the pre-packed kit of quartz, granite and pyrite. I used to fix my bmx bike up with all kinds of parts that worked just the way I wanted them to in just the right color scheme. I had hobbies - lots of them.

I worry about my ability to instill such joys in the life of my son, who is now three. He has many, many toys, a bike, a tricycle and a deck of all 43 presidents - he can identify them all now, including President Obama. But he also has many flashing, beeping objects around him, and the ever-so-invasive television. Maybe it is chic for parents to over-worry these days, or maybe something really is awakening in me that is a legitimate fear. I watched TV as a child, but there were 7 channels...4 that had good reception. I had electronic toys, but only one or two, and they were radio-controlled cars that required action on my part. So my challenge is to re-ignite my own passion for productive hobbies, to instill that sense of wonder and joy for the simple act of building or collecting something. I want nothing more than to build things with my son, and watch his imagination grow. I have my doubts that his toy laptop computer will stimulate him this way.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Quotes Of Wisdom

...If you follow the business school formula, when something goes down 50 percent in price, it's considered riskier. Personally, I would say it's considered safer—you're paying half.

- Warren Buffet in "A Portfolio Warren Buffett Would Love" By Luke Mullins in US News and World Report. Posted online February 29, 2008

It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense and can’t see things as they are.
- G.K. Chesterton, "The Oracle Of The Dog" 1923

Generalizations are the mother of wisdom.
- Dennis Prager

Always give an example to back up every generalization.
- Dennis Prager

All who are made to be compassionate in the place of the cruel
In the end are made to be cruel in the place of the compassionate
(Or in more readable terms - Those who are kind to the cruel will become cruel to the kind.)
- The Talmud: Qohelet Raba, 7:16

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The first Chakra - my current focus

After four months of searching for work and and over 200 applications sent, I have a position at St. Jude Medical. I sat down this morning at our dining room table and looked into the backyard. The sun streaming through the trees and the patio lattice looked - felt - different. I sensed that now that an undercurrent of unease had subsided I could fully enjoy resting my eyes on the peaceful surroundings. This got me thinking about a book that has long been sitting on my bookshelf that I decided to pull out - "Eastern Body, Western Mind" by Anodea Judith. I was particularly interested in re-thinking the first chakra. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of a chakra, I invite you to take a crash course here.

The first chakra is related to survival. Symptoms of excess in the first chakra are sluggishness, monotony, obesity, hoarding, materialism and greed. Deficiency symptoms are frequent fear, lack of discipline, restlessness and being underweight.
I have noticed that while employed I had the symptoms of sluggishness, monotony, and obesity. Once I no longer was employed, deficiencies such as unease (frequent fear) and restlessness began to emerge and the excesses began to diminish. I have lost weight, and have been at the gym at least 3 times a week every day for the last 3 months. Life does not feel monotonous and my sluggishness is dissipating.

So my undercurrent of unease and worry due to dwindling funds, and fear of losing our home if I were unable to find a job in 2009 appears to have created a deficiency in my first chakra, and while I was employed, it seems that excesses manifested themselves. My goal is to remain balanced in the first chakra now that stability and tranquility has returned to our financial lives.

Here are some ways I think I can help maintain balance in my first chakra:

  • Do exceedingly well at work to ensure I solidify my value to the company

  • Remain stress free - keep things in perspective, "it's just a job"

  • Modify my workout schedule to Fri, Sat, Sun mornings to keep my current lifting cycle progressing

  • Take a vacation every day. Whether that is listening to music, reading, a glass of wine, the steam room at the gym, a massage or whatever - do something every day to relieve stress, and keep yourself from getting wound up.

  • Take a healthy lunch to work. Eat smaller portions and "better" in general

  • Stay off the roads during traffic hours

  • Focus on building a 1 year emergency fund. I had 6 months, but that was not enough to keep from worrying.

  • Maintain a home emergency kit, with 72 hours worth of water, food, etc.

  • Ensure all my insurance plans are sufficiently protecting us

  • Gradually, and methodically reduce expenditures in daily "normal" living so that if a bad time hits again, we will be better prepared to adjust.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Public Speakers Make Gaffes - It's life.

If you or I said as many words in public as the president of a country with every single word broadcast immediately around the globe, we would be hard pressed to do as well as President Bush. He was excoriated in newspapers, TV News, T-shirts, and every other possible media around the globe for not being an eloquent speaker. In light of the recent (justifiable) uproar about President Obama's insult to the Special Olympics while on The Jay Leno Show, I think it is important for us to have some perspective. I don't believe that we should hang on every word of any public figure, and a bit of tolerance for gaffes is required, considering that every single word that they say is recorded and broadcast immediately in our 24x7 news environment. The left around the world gave President Bush no mercy in this regard, and I beleive it is only to the detriment of public discourse. Here are some Barack Obama gaffes that I include only to provide the perspective that *every* public speaker makes gaffes, even one who speaks very well publicly, as I believe President Obama does.

I doubt we will be seeing T-shirts and posters with these mistakes, however.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Japanese Balloon Bombs in 1944

My excuse for watching the military channel this time is that I am nursing a cough, though the sight of a flame thrower did make me a bit nostalgic. Transfixed to the screen, I pondered why tanks that shot napalm ever went out of style. Sign of the times, I guess. Anyway, the part that de-tranced me and got my ears perked up had to do with a gaggle of hot air balloons with incindiary bombs attached to them that the Japanese Military sent off to the east, in hopes that they would reach the west coast and blow us all to bits. Not sure if they really thought that one through, but there were 5 deaths due to the campaign when a family hiking in the Oregon woods came across a large balloon canvas, and managed to ignite the bomb attached to it while pulling it out. Every civilian casualty is a tragedy, particularly when it involves children. Dresden, the doolittle raids...we definitely have blood on our hands...much more than a family's worth. War is ugly. (*sigh*)

The U.S. Military would never have been able to keep secret today that an estimated 1,000 of the 9,000 balloons that the Japanese sent eastward actually reached our shores. There were 285 "incidents", some of which you can read about here, if you scroll down to the newspaper clippings:

You can learn more about the Japanese Balloon Bombs here:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Three great movies

Gran Torino is such a fantastic film. It is masterful in it's approach to how it requires real human interaction to break down racial and cultural stereotypes and the way that it ends is more powerful than any other I could conceive of...that's Clint singing while the credits are rolling too!

Taken is one of those movies that is so real, and ugly, yet has so much goodness in it also. I loved how Liam Neeson did not have to rely on future world gadgetry to accomplish his task. It made me think of how all these innocuous devices have upsides and downsides. On the one hand, he makes use of the technology to try to track his daughter's captors. On the other side of the coin is that the greatest invasion of privacy in our lives will come from our being candidly captured on digital cameras and video recorders then posted on the internet.

Slumdog Millionaire. Rarely is something that is hyped with so much praise in the media worthy of it. This film is. Complex, deep, raw, and you will see a side of India that they left out from those HD Theatre travel programs. And of course there is Freida Pinto who plays Latika who is very easy on the eyes.


In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate

The 9/11 Shura' Council

Many thanks to God who revealed the Torah, the Bible, and the Quran, and may God praise his messenger, the prophet Mohamed, so that he causes mercy to the two realms. Also, may God praise the prophet's household, his entire companionship, and his followers until judgment day.

With regards to these nine accusations that you are putting us on trial for; to us, they are not accusations. To us they are badges of honor, which we carry with pride. Many thanks to God, for his kind gesture, and choosing us to perform the act of Jihad for his cause and to defend Islam and Muslims.

Therefore, killing you and fighting you, destroying you and terrorizing you, responding back to your attacks, are all considered to be great legitimate duty in our religion. These actions are our offerings to God. In addition, it is the imposed reality on Muslims in Palestine, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq, in the land of the two holy sites [Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia], and in the rest of the world, where Muslims are suffering from your brutality, terrorism, killing of the innocent, and occupying their lands and their holy sites. Nevertheless, it would have been the greatest religious duty to fight you over your infidelity. However, today, we fight you over defending Muslims, their land, their holy sites,and their religion as a whole.

The following is our Islamic response back to your nine untenable, just like a spider web, accusations:

First, "the conspiracy accusation":

This is a very laughable accusation. Were you expecting us to inform you about our secret attack plans? Your intelligence apparatus, with all its abilities, human and logistical, had failed to discover our military attack plans before the blessed 11 September operation. They were unable to foil our attack. We ask, why then should you blame us, holding us accountable and putting us on trial? Blame yourselves and

your failed intelligence apparatus and hold them accountable, not us.

With regards to us, we were exercising caution and secrecy in our war against you. This is a natural matter, where God has taught us in his book [the Qur'an], verse 71 from An-Nisa [sura 4]: O you believers! Take your precautions, and either go forth (on on expedition) in parties, or go forth together.

Also, as the prophet has stated: "War is to deceive."

With regards to the second, third, and forth accusations; "Attacking civilians," "Attacking civilian objects," and "deliberately causing grave bodily harm"

We ask you; who initiated the attacks on civilians? Who is attacking civilian objects? And who is causing grave bodily harm against civilians? Is it us, or is it you?

You are attacking us in Palestine and Lebanon by providing political, military, and economic support to the terrorist state of Israel, which in turn, is attacking unarmed innocent civilians. In addition, Israel attacks Palestinian and Lebanese civilian objects by bombing them and destroying them. Furthermore, Israel is causing grave bodily harm by using weapons that are forbidden internationally, such as: cluster bombs in Lebanon and the rubber and live ammunitions in Palestine and breaking bones of Palestinian children. Moreover, the Israeli criminal list is long and endless, against civilians in Lebanon and Palestine.

In addition, was it not you that attacked an entire population in Iraq, destroying civilian targets and its infrastructure? Was it not you that has killed one million Iraqi children caused by your oppressed economic sanctions, which you imposed after the first Gulf War? In fact, it was you who had wiped out two entire cities off the face of the earth and killed roughly half a million people in a few minutes and caused grave bodily harm by nuclear radiation? Did you forget about your nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

You are the last nation that has the right to speak about civilians and killing civilians. You are professional criminals, with all the meaning the words carry. Therefore, we will treat you the same. We will attack you, just like you have attacked us, and whomever initiated the attacks is the guilty party. In God's book, verse 193, Al-Baqara [sura 2], he states: The sacred month is for the sacred month, and for the prohibited things, there is the law of equality. Then, whoever transgresses the prohibition against you, you transgress likewise against him.

God stated, in verse 179, Al-Baqarah [sura 2]: And there is (a saving of) life for you in Al-Qisas (The law of equality in punishment), O men of understanding, that you may become Al-Muttaquin (the pious).

God also stated, in verse 40, AI-Shura [sura 42]: The recompense for an evil is an evil like thereof.

In verse 45, Al-Maida [sura 5]: Life for life, eye for an eye, nose fora nose, ear for an ear, tooth for a tooth, and wounds equal for equal.

In verse 193, Al-Baqara [sura 2]: ... Let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression.

With regards to accusations five and six. "Crimes in violation of the law of war." and "Destroying property in violation of the law of war":

Who is breaking the law of war in this world? Is it us, or is it you? You have disobeyed all heaven and earth's laws of war, to include your own laws.

You have violated the law of war by supporting the Israeli occupation of Arab land in Palestine and Lebanon, and for displacing five million Palestinians outside their land. You have supported the oppressor over the oppressed and the butcher over the victim.

Also, you have violated the law of war by attacking an independent sovereign Arab nation with you first crusade campaign in 1991. By force, you have occupied the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf. In addition, today, you are occupying Iraq and Afghanistan.

Also, you have violated all laws of war, and in particular, your treatment of Prisoners of War, in Afghanistan and Iraq. We are the best example of such violations and your "Black Sites" for torturing prisoners. This, and with your "Abu-Ghurayb" prison in Iraq. Guantanamo camps are witness to all of that.

So, you are the first class war criminals, and the whole world witnesses this. You have no values and ethics and no principles. You are a nation without a religion. On the other hand, we are a great nation, with a great religion, values, ethics, and principles, which we comply with and follow, and we invite people to following our ways. History will testify on our actions. You should look back at Salah Al-Din and how ethically he treated your crusader ancestors that were prisoners to him. We fight you to defense our nation, our religion, and our land. All heavenly and earthly laws guarantee our rights to do so. We, Muslims, are content with God's book, the Quran, to fight you with. God has granted us to fight, in verse 39, Al-Hajj [sura 22]: To those against whom war is waged, permission is given (to fight,) because they are wronged and verily, Allah is most powerful for their aid.

God stated in his book, verse 190, Al-Baqara [sura 2]: And fight in the way of Allah those who fight you, but be not the transgressor, Allah likes not the transgressors.

With regards to the seventh accusation, "Hijacking and/or endangering a vessel or an aircraft":

In return, we ask you: Which is more dangerous; Hijacking and/or endangering a vessel or an aircraft, or endangering an entire population with a military occupation, killing and endangering innocent civilians by starving them with an economic sanction?

If you do not respect the innocent in our countries, then we will do the same, by exposing you to danger and hijacking in the air, at sea, and land.

In God's book, he ordered us to fight you everywhere we find you, even if you were inside the holiest of all holy cities, The Mosque in Mecca, and the holy city of Mecca, and even during sacred months.

In God's book, verse 9, Al-Tawbah [sura 9]: Then fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, and seize them, and besiege them and lie in wait for them in each and every ambush.

Remember, that you are the ones who attacked the Iranian civilian aircraft, flight 655, in 1988 with your Cruise missiles over the Hermuz straights, killing all of its 290 passengers, among them 66 children. They are still shedding tears today over your victims. Does your blood have a value and the blood of Muslims not?

With regards to the "Terrorism" accusations:

Who are the real terrorists? Is it us, or is it you? America is the terrorist country number one in the world. Is [sic] has nuclear weapons of mass destruction, and the hydrogen bombs, and the biological weapons, and its ocean fleets are around the world, threatening countries' security and safety and any country that is not subjected to its oppressed will.

In addition, America is the main shepherd of the main support to the Israeli terrorism against Muslims in the occupied state of Palestine, and also support and bond with the terrorist governments of the Arab and Islamic world, which, in turn, oppress and suppress their own people that are calling for freedom, and the application of Islamic law.

We do not possess your military might, not your nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, we fight you with the almighty God. So, if our act of Jihad and our fighting with you caused fear and terror, then many thanks to God, because it is him that has thrown fear into your hearts, which resulted in your infidelity, paganism, and your statement that God had a son and your trinity beliefs.

God stated in his book, verse 151, Al-Umran [sura 3]: Soon shall we cast terror into the hearts of the unbelievers, for that they joined companies with Allah, for which he has sent no authority; There [sic] place will be the fire; and evil is the home of the wrongdoers.

God also stated in his book, verse 60, Al-Anfal [sura 8]: Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into the heart of the enemies of Allah and your enemies.

Also, God has informed us, in his book, of what is in your heart from fear and terror towards us, and that you fear and have been terrorized from us more than God himself. Verse 13, Al-Hashir [sura 59]: Of a truth you (Muslims) are more feared in their (the infidels from Christians, Jews, and others) hearts, than Allah. This is because they are men devoid of understanding.

Therefore, you do not fight us face-to-face, man-to-man. But rather, you fight us from behind roadblocks, trenches, and warplanes, which are thousands of feet in the air. Your status in Iraq and Afghanistan does not need any further explanation. God has demonstrated to us your mental and your defeated fighting moral status.

God has stated in his book, verse 14, Al-Hashir [sura 59]: They fight not against you even together, except in fortified townships, or from behind walls, their enmity among themselves is very great, you would think that they were united, but their hearts are divided. That is because they are a people who understand not.

Our prophet was victorious because of fear. At a month distant, the enemy did not hear from him. So, our religion is a religion of fear and terror to the enemies of God: the Jews, Christians, and pagans. With God's wiling, we are terrorists to the bone. So, many thanks to God.

The Arab poet, Abu-Ubaydah Al-Hadrami, has stated: We will terrorize you, as long as we live with swords, fire, and airplanes.

With regards to the ninth accusation. "Material support to terrorism":

America is the number one, and the largest country in the world, in spreading military might and terrorism. Also, America is the principle and greatest supplier to the occupying terrorist state of Israel in Palestine. Also, America supports and finances the terrorist regimes that govern the countries of the Arab world, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.

Nevertheless, we are defending our rights, land, religion, and our oppressed Muslim brethrens [sic] around the world. Therefore, we would spend all of our money and properties for this cause. This is not strange, since Muslims are all part of the same Umma [community].

We will make all of our materials available, to defend and deter, and egress you and the filthy Jews from our countries.

God has ordered us to spend for Jihad in his cause. This is evident in many Quranic verses.

Verse 195, Al-Baqara [sura 2]: And spend of your substance in the cause of Allah, and make not your own hands contribute to your destruction, but do good; for Allah loves those who do good.

We ask to be near to God, we fight you and destroy you and terrorize you. The Jihad in god's [sic] cause is a great duty in our religion. We have news for you, the news is: You will be greatly defeated in Afghanistan and Iraq and that America will fall, politically, militarily, and economically. Your end is very near and your fall will be just as the fall of the towers on the blessed 9/11 day. We will raise [sic] from the ruins, God willing. We will leave this imprisonment with our noses raised high in dignity, as the lion emerges from his den. We shall pass over the blades of the sword into the gates of heaven.

So we ask from God to accept our contributions to the great attack, the great attack on America, and to place our nineteen martyred brethren among the highest peaks in paradise.

God is great and pride for God, the prophet, and the believers....

Signed: The 9/11 Shura Council

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

Ramzi bin As-Shibh

Walid bin 'Attash

Mustafa Ahmed AI-Hawsawi

'Ali 'abd Al-'Aziz 'Ali

Sunday, 3/1/1429h

Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Perspective on Guantanamo Bay

One of the first executive orders that President Obama gave was to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. There are 245 enemy combatants being held in the prison. Today, 3/13/09 he ordered that the term "enemy combatant" be struck from the vocabulary of his administration when describing those held in the prison. The president ordered the closure to "restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great even in the midst of war, even in dealing with terrorism.".

The point of this blog is only to provide perspective on who we really are holding in this prison. Here are some facts that you will not hear from the mainstream press:

A few points from the book "Inside Gitmo: The True Story behind the Myths of Guantanamo Bay"

- A young female Navy medic who was asked to approach a detainee she had treated in the past. The man grabbed her head, smashed her face against the bars, and inflicted such damage that she has had 16 reconstructive plastic surgeries on her face.

- A female nurse who while treating a detainee in the hospital was punched so hard that it fractured her nose. The detainee then shouted that “this infidel whore’s blood has defiled me. Bring me fresh clothes!”

- Guards who have a noxious “cocktail” of feces, urine, semen, spit, and vomit flung into their faces and who then clean themselves, change into fresh uniforms, and resume their duties rather than let their buddies down by taking time off.

- More than 400 attacks on guards and medics occur annually.

- Detainee plots to kill guards, and how one attack came perilously close to success.

- Riots in the hospital in which medical personnel were threatened with death.

- A returning National Guard soldier who is too embarrassed to tell his friends where he served because the reputations of soldiers at Guantanamo has been so slandered.

Abdullah Salih Al Ajmi was captured in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, released from Guantanamo then orchestrated a homicide attack blowing up an Iraqi police station murdering 7 policemen. 26 Iraqis were wounded in the attack. Folks, please understand that "wounded" could mean that the fire and concussion from the blast ruptured the sinuses, blew out the eardrums, lodged shrapnel in the chest, and blew the victim 20 feet through the air into a concrete wall causing a spinal fracture so the victim is now paralyzed, deaf, and burned on 50% of the body and must undergo reconstructive facial surgery. Many who are wounded in situations like these wish they had died. According the the wall street journal, "While in detention, he told interrogators that his intention was 'to kill as many Americans' as he possibly could." ...and Iraqis, apparently.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin As-Shibh, Walid bin 'Attash, Mustafa Ahmed AI-Hawsawi, and 'Ali 'abd Al-'Aziz 'Ali who are co-conspirators in the 9/11 attacks recently filed the following document with the Guantanamo bay military commission:

I will quote just one portion: "Many thanks to God, for his kind gesture, and choosing us to perform the act of Jihad for his cause and to defend Islam and Muslims.
Therefore, killing you and fighting you, destroying you and terrorizing you, responding back to your attacks, are all considered to be great legitimate duty in our religion"

I wonder if the medic who had 16 reconstructive surgeries feels we need to "restore the standards of due process " for this gentle fellow who smashed her face in, or if we amply restored "the core constitutional values that have made this country great even in the midst of war, even in dealing with terrorism." by releasing Abdullah Salih Al Ajmi back into the wild to murder and maim?

Perspective, folks. Just a bit of perspective is all I ask.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


I somehow managed to cut enough class in high school to play guitar that I was only exposed to the book about the jaded rebel who hates "goddamn Cadillacs", and missed out on a spectacular read. I sat riveted for the better part of an hour tonight reading Hemmingway's "Old Man And The Sea". The old man represents so many things lost in our men today. He is impoverished, and unlucky, but his faith that he will catch the big one is unshaken. He is a reliable mentor to a young apprentice, and when he embarks on his lonely journey for a marlin, and snags one, his resolve is relentless. I read the catch as an important aspect about life. He finally gets what he was looking for, but it is pulling him further out to sea away from the security of land. He notes that the lights of Havana have faded, but never indicates that he would ever consider cutting the line. So once you get what you are looking for, sometimes it takes tremendous courage to remain committed to your goal. You have to be willing to let it take you where it will, and have the confidence that you will be able to navigate back home after you have been taken for a ride. I can't wait to find out what is past page 76...

History Should Not Be Altered. Period.

Yesterday evening, I was in my local B&N bookstore and picked up "On The Origin Of Species" by Charles Darwin and David Quammen. I flipped to what was supposed to be the last sentence of the original "The Origin Of Species" by Darwin, and it read:

" There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."

The ORIGINAL from "The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection" sixth edition by Charles Darwin p.429 as found on reads:

"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."

Why? Why did the book I held in my hand not want to indicate that Darwin believed that there was a creator to the universe? Unless there is a later edition where Darwin himself struck that bit about the creator, I really am concerned. Don't play with history! It is what it is, even if it is uncomfortable.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Economic Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

I would love to know what would happen to the job, credit and stock markets if the government temporarily took control of our free press and banned discussion of these topics. Of course the media would go berzerk talking about the the inability to talk about the economy - but stick with me. If we did not hear about the high unemployment numbers, credit crunch, and stock market dropping I wonder if investors, creditors and employers would start investing, crediting and employing again.

An extreme example of media scare tactics that I shared with a close friend on October 26th, 2008 was a headline on that read: "Abandon hope. Recession's scope, now global is burying U.S. corporate profits." The image above the headline was a tombstone that was inscribed with "Q3". That is an over-the-top example of how media outlets increase readership with shock value. It is irresponsible, but we "buy" it. If scary news was ineffective on increasing audience attention then here in Los Angeles we would not begin the local nightly news first with the double murders then the single murders then move onto milder events like rapes, car crashes and child abductions - but this regimen is thrown into chaos by the mother of all attention grabbers - the news helicopter police chase video!

My friend responded to my marketwatch article with a New York Times column by Robert Shiller of "Irrational Exuberance" fame that asks "Can Talk Of A Depression Lead To One?"

For the past few months, after the usual blast of critically important tragedy that we must know about the news turns to the economy. I have noticed that KTLA appears to be growing tired of this routine though, which may be good news. The sooner we all get bored with being told how bad things are, the sooner things will get back to normal. The "crisis of confidence" may be a side effect of living in the information age. 24x7 news + the internet = full time shock factor. When I was a kid, if it was raining and the paperboy decided it was too cold to get up, then you were not in front of the TV at 5pm or 11pm, you missed 2 days of news. Now, thanks to ferret cam, you can satisfy all your ferret desires at any time:

What was wrong with daily updates via newspaper again?

What Existed Before The Universe?

These mind-bending questions have been entering my head a lot recently, which is probably an indicator that I need a job. Ok, so if Astronomers, Physicists, Genesis and the Pope all agree that there was a beginning to our universe, a common question is "If God created the universe, who created God?". Gerald Schroeder offers the following to think about - Let's assume that there was not a Creator to the universe. In order for the chemical reactions to occur at the time of the big bang, there must have been laws of nature like quantum mechanics, gravity, and the conservation of energy to enable those reactions to occur. So who created those laws? It is in effect the exact same question about who created God. If the laws are eternal, then why did they exist? Laws with no time, matter or energy to act upon? Purposeless laws? So either way, whether you believe in a Creator or not, there are lots of unanswered questions. Stephen Hawking says we should just forget about talking about them, because the big bang is a singularity, and that means that nothing can be studied before it. It is the beginning of time, matter, and energy.

Yeah...I need a job.

Monday, March 9, 2009

I Fight To Stay Focused...And Often Lose

If I am sitting in my office with my feet propped up on my bookcase with a nice cup of coffee and a good book, I will remain there for hours...and hours...and hours. I get absolutely absorbed and transported by a good read. Not much else in life can create such sustained enjoyment as reading. So why is it I become a feather in the wind when I get in front of my computer?

My above anecdote gives me hope that I do not have a neurological, psychological or physiological problem such as ADHD or dyslexia that precludes my ability to focus. Instead, it seems to be something directly related to attempting to accomplish things via the computer. Since I spend so much time in front of my computer, I notice my inability to focus on a single task more than I might if I were not so attached to it. Case in point - I just had a thought to check my email, mid-sentence. So what did I do? I clicked over to the tab where my Yahoo! mail inbox was open. Why don't impulses to pay a bill, or make a phone call plague me while I am reading a book?

One possibility is that switching between tasks on a computer is so *easy*. It only takes a second to click a tab, close all the windows to look at a spreadsheet on my desktop, or other actions. It is almost as though if the thought to perform some action on the computer occurs, I am obligated to act on it. I mean, it's *right there* and it will only take 5 seconds. However, the price to pay for this diversion is very high for me. Once I flip back over to what I was originally doing, I must now re-adjust my mind to enter the "flow" of what I was working on. A computer operating system has a routine it uses to perform this switching between tasks called a "context switch" when it switches between system operations and user operations. This is a very expensive operation in computers, but can be even more expensive for humans, because we require much more orientation and focus time when beginning a particular activity.

So my goal is to adhere to a set of rules that will prevent so many "context switches":

- Before working on a particular action on the computer, set a clear goal to accomplish before flipping over to do anything else.

- Check email at most once per hour. Anything more frequent is a waste of time. Even for checking email, have a set goal. "I will check my email - I will take whatever action is needed for each email, then delete so my inbox is not cluttered."

Ok, now I can check my email ; )

What Alternative to prayer exists for the non-believer?

I have been out of work for almost 4 months. It is the longest unemployment stint of my entire career, and it is taking it's toll on me and my family. I have acted as though my full time job now is to find a job, and have even taken the approach of putting on a suit and physically walking my resume' to job locations when I have not received a response to an email or online application. Every day, I visit all the job boards, check my emails for new job alerts, and keep track of my job applications diligently. This morning, I felt like I wanted some force more powerful than my own to help me. It is a very rare, and odd feeling, as I am an advocate of personal responsibility and I don't look to others to bail me out when times get tough. The desire to call on a higher power, I feel is natural to humans, and like many natural desires, we must wrestle with them, find substitutions for them, or fight them in order to remain happy. I don't know for sure, but I would guess that even the bible forbids the overuse of prayer for the self.

Over the past few years, I have had a revelation in thinking about gratitude. There is even a book that I recommend on the subject simply called "Thanks!" that evolved from a doctorate thesis of Robert Emmons, PhD. Because I do not have a personal relationship with any God, focusing on what I am grateful for has given me the comfort I was looking for. I thought about my wife, and my children, and how they are all healthy. I thought about my neighbors, who are 2 months behind on their mortgage, and I am current. I thought about the light that was beaming down from a bulb energized by an electric company that works flawlessly - the food I ate this morning, the car that I hop in and twist a key and it starts, being home and helping my 3 year old steer his bicycle around the block, the neighborhood I live in, the computer I am typing into, my fingers and hands that still work beautifully, the freedom I have to get into my car, and drive anywhere I want - there is an endless litany of things that I have to be grateful for.

So now when times get tough, I become thankful. Not only does this bring me tremendous internal comfort, it helps my family to see me with a smile on my face.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Academic Writers Generally Do Not Communicate Well

I remember reading a textbook while I was in college and after reading a paragraph three times and still not comprehending, thinking "Wow - this stuff is really way above my head." Recently, I re-read that same paragraph, and said "Wow - this writer is terrible. I can distill this entire paragraph down to a single sentence." It is common for academics to write in flowery speech. I have a hunch as to why this is, but I will leave that for another time. My point in this post is to give examples that support my belief that academic writers do not communicate well.

Example 1: Cornell West.

"Niggerization is neither simply the dishonoring and devaluing of black people nor solely the economic exploitation and political disenfranchisement of them. It is also the wholesale attempt to impede democratization—to turn potential citizens into intimidated, fearful, and helpless subjects.

Since the ugly events of 9/11, we have witnessed the attempt of the Bush administration—with elites in support and populists complacent—to promote the niggerization of the American people. Like the myopic white greed, fear, and hatred that fueled the niggerization of black people, right-wing greed, fear, and hatred have made all of us feel intimidated, fearful, and helpless in the face of the terrorist attacks. And, as in the 19th century, we’ve almost lost our democracy. "

The result of reading this leaves me with no better understanding of what his invented word means. It is all generalizations, with no specifics. What specific actions in the Bush administration promoted niggerization? What does 9/11 have to do with niggerization? How exactly have we almost lost our democracy? He spouts generalizations, but offers no examples to back them up. One thing I learned from Dennis Prager is that every time you make a generalization, you must offer an example that supports your generalization, lest the generalization is not rooted in reality.

Example 2: Joe Cruz, Williams College

" My first aim in this paper is diagnostic. I will argue that skeptical arguments originate in a tension between our epistemic principles. Individual principles enjoy our endorsement both from the first person perspective as well as from the perspective of understanding why our cognition operates according to those principles. Skepticism, I claim, arises from the unexpected interaction of some of those principles. From this diagnostic claim, I move to a more critical stance. We may ask after the epistemic credentials of the individual principles implicated in skeptical arguments. If the individual principles are genuinely constitutive of our epistemic cognition, then we may be led to a kind of pragmatic resignation with respect to skepticism. That pragmatic resignation would involve the insight that the principles involved in generating skeptical arguments are crucial to thought as we have it, but that their interaction leads to conclusions that are unexpected and (to some) odious. If, on the other hand, the very principles involved in skeptical arguments are suspect, then we have a way of addressing skepticism and perhaps of answering the skeptic. I scout this second line here and conclude that the particular principle used in generating (some) skeptical arguments is not one that we should view as
normative with respect to our reasoning."

Well, I certainly agree that my skepticism with regard to whether or not there is value in my reading this article has led to pragmatic resignation.

Dustin Wax, a teacher of Anthropology in Las Vegas has a few great examples of academic-speak, and how to avoid getting caught into the trap of using it.

What should be the primary purpose of religion?

There has never been a civilization that did not have a form of diety worship. Widely accepted atheism is a relatively new development in human history. Some view this as an overall win for societal progress, and others view it as a loss. In America, the arguments against religion are often along theological lines, but not enough focus is paid to what I believe to be the paramount purpose of any religion: Influencing us to act in ways that makes others' lives better here on earth. The major religions of the world, Christianity, Judasim, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism all have sacred texts that demand certain behavior from us. Based off of my limited religious study, the religion that appears to be most concerned with our earthly behavior far more than afterlife, theology, messianic prophecies, etc. is Judaism, and specifically the first five books of Moses, also known as The Torah or the Old Testament. It is *obsessed* with ensuring that we act a certain way. I will give specific examples of this later, but I want to address Secularism and Atheism in a personal way for a moment.

I grew up with almost no religious teaching and still do not attend any religious service. The only exposure to church and the bible that I received was through occasional attendance of services in order to meet merit badge requirements for my Boy Scouts activities. I never felt connected to religion or God in any significant way, and as of yet I do not have a personal relationship with any God. I am open to the possibility that a God exists, and books like "The Science Of God" by Physicist Gerald Schroeder are certainly offering me compelling arguments in favor of the existence of a God. What is more important than whether I have faith in a God or not, is my behavior, and that is what I believe to be the primary purpose of religion. That said, I am not aware of any contribution from the secular world to this end. If there is a secular 10 commandments, I am not aware of it.

Examples of how Judasim improves our behavior:

These are just a few of the examples that have had the most profound impact on my life from Rabbi Joseph Telushkin's fantastically simple to use book "The Book of Jewish Values":

Example 1:
From Mishneh Torah "The Laws Of Theft", Bava Kamma 10:9

It is forbidden to purchase an item from the person who is responsible for protecting that item. For example, if someone who works at a supermarket offers to sell you dairy products at a discount, you may not buy them because there is the possibility that this person stole those goods from the supermarket. This is so important because if everyone practiced this, there would be much less theft, as the market for reselling the stolen goods would not exist.

Example 2:
From Deuteronomy 22:1,3

This text demands that you return lost objects. From Telushkin's book: "Jewish ethics regards keeping a lost but potentially identifiable object as a particularly serious sin, for this is not only a form of thievery but a sin for which one can never fully repent. Even if one subsequently regrets one's dishonest behavior, it is very unlikely that he will be able to find the person to whom the item belongs; therefore the finder will have no way of undoing the evil he has committed (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, "Laws of Repentance", 4:3).

Example 3:
Ethics of the Fathers 6:6

If you repeat an idea that was created from someone else, you must always cite who created the idea, lest the audience believe that you created the idea. It is viewed as a form of double thievery in Jewish law: You steal the credit due to the person who first enunciated the idea, then you engage in what Jewish ethics calls "stealing the mind". You deceive your listeners into thinking that you are smarter or more knowledgeable and insightful than you really are.

So those are just a few examples from Rabbi Telushkin's book. There are 365 in all, one behavioral modification for each day of the year. I believe it is this Jewish contribution of behavior modifications that makes the largest impact for good in our world. In over 2,000 years, there has been no superior set of behavioral guidelines developed - even by non-religious thinkers during or since the enlightenment.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Why Conservatives Are Viewed as Divisive

There is common charge made against Republicans and Conservatives that we are the ones who are creating the ideological divide that is now so deep in America. However, we have to look at this in a historical context in order to really see how it is liberals that have changed their ideology, creating the divide, not conservatives. If John F. Kennedy were alive today, he would be a member of the republican party. I can prove this to you with excerpts from John F. Kennedy's inaugural address.

"We dare not tempt [our adversaries] with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.."

This is exactly what President Bush believes, yet President Obama does not speak in these terms. He, instead uses language like:

"Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint. "

The language is aimed to create a feeling, instead of making a statement. The examples of changes like this that have occurred on the left are legion. Dr. Martin Luther King is another example of a figure that is revered by democrats, but have thrown many of his values under the bus that Rosa Parks rode in on. To exemplify this point, here is a quote from a sermon of Dr. King - it is necessary to read the thought in it's entirety to fully understand the impact of what Dr. King was saying.

"I want to deal with one or two of these mighty precious values that we've left behind, that if we're to go forward and to make this a better world, we must rediscover.

The first is this—the first principle of value that we need to rediscover is this: that all reality hinges on moral foundations. In other words, that this is a moral universe, and that there are moral laws of the universe just as abiding as the physical laws. (Lord help us) I'm not so sure we all believe that. We never doubt that there are physical laws of the universe that we must obey. We never doubt that. And so we just don't jump out of airplanes or jump off of high buildings for the fun of it—we don't do that. Because we unconsciously know that there is a final law of gravitation, and if you disobey it you'll suffer the consequences—we know that. Even if we don't know it in its Newtonian formulation, we know it intuitively, and so we just don't jump off the highest building in Detroit for the fun of it—we don't do that. Because we know that there is a law of gravitation which is final in the universe. (Lord) If we disobey it we'll suffer the consequences.

But I'm not so sure if we know that there are moral laws just as abiding as the physical law. I'm not so sure about that. I'm not so sure if we really believe that there is a law of love in this universe, and that if you disobey it you'll suffer the consequences. (Yes) I'm not so sure if we really believe that. Now at least two things convince me that we don't believe that, that we have strayed away from the principle that this is a moral universe. (Lord help him)

The first thing is that we have adopted in the modern world a sort of a relativistic ethic. Now I'm not trying to use a big word here; I'm trying to say something very concrete. And that is that we have accepted the attitude that right and wrong are merely relative to our . . . [recording interrupted]

Most people can't stand up for their convictions, because the majority of people might not be doing it. (Amen, Yes) See, every body's not doing it, so it must be wrong. And since everybody is doing it, it must be right. (Yes, Lord help him) So a sort of numerical interpretation of what's right"

If anyone in the American Civil Liberties Union (an organization dominated by the left) has ever read this sermon of Dr. King, they certainly do not live up to his values. For example, the ACLU threatened the county of Los Angeles with a lawsuit if they did not remove a tiny cross from it's seal. The weak city council members caved to the ACLU, and ordered the cross removed, and replaced with a Spanish Mission with no cross:



The absurdity of this example is remarkable. The centerpiece of the seal is the Goddess Pomona. Yet, the ACLU had no problem with this religious symbol. It is an obvious attempt to eradicate any semblance of Christian history from our lives. This is divisive.

It is my belief that the accusations that are levied at the right from the left are the result of a psychological phenomenon known as projection.( An example of the left's use of projection is when they accuse the right of being intolerant, but in fact, the left is far more intolerant than the right. The ACLU was intolerant of a tiny cross that had been there since the seal's inception. Those who support imposing the "Fairness Doctrine" which would require that opinion media give equal time to issues on both the left and the right are intolerant - because they would never offer the same amount of time from conservatives on the front page of the New York Times, CBS, ABC, NBC, or College Campuses, all of which fall almost uniformly left of center on any social issue. Of course their argument is that these mediums are not "opinion media" and everything that they report is fully objective. It is not difficult to prove that there is a left-leaning slant in virtually every major news outlet in America.

Are there divisive people on the right? Of course there are. Michael Savage may share many of my values, but the man is a jerk, and quite frankly, a very unhappy man. Unhappy conservatives should stop being conservative. They do nothing to help my cause, and America would be a better place if he were replaced with more kind and well-adjusted talk show hosts like Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, Mike Gallagher, and Hugh Hewitt. And, no, my leader is not Rush Limbaugh. Again, I may agree with many of his values, but he is arrogant and cynical. Not helpful for espousing my values.

Perhaps it is these few voices that are so loud that fuel the fire that conservatives are divisive. I would invite those on the left to listen to William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Larry Elder, Dennis Prager, and other voices of reason to learn about conservatives. Then, it may become clear that when American values are defended, it is not divisive, it is necessary to maintain America as the beacon of hope and opportunity that it is viewed as around the world.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A historic day

Today, January 20th, 2009, Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States of America. Although I did not vote for Mr. Obama, he is my president and the American Flag is flying outside my home today. My three year old son, who can identify and pronounce all U.S. presidents now has learned how to say "President Obama". The feelings of such excitement and optimism surrounding President Obama I have never witnessed in my lifetime, and to be totally honest, I long to experience such a feeling of passion over the election of a conservative president. Am I Jealous? Yes. I want a conservative to rally around, to ensure that we maintain a government that works to create dignified retirement and help families find jobs at a decent wage, as President Obama also wants. I also agree with President Obama that we should focus on what works, instead of ideological dogmas. The problem is that we often work with ill-defined metrics to determine whether our goverment is "working". Was our government "working" when the director of Fannie Mae touted the increased number of sub-prime mortgages?

My greatest hope is that President Obama will have the ability to stand up to his own constituents when it comes to focusing on what works. Recently he noted that tax cuts would be an essential part of economic stimulus. That resonates well with me, as I have a belief that Americans do more for America when they keep more of their earned money than the government does when it has our money. I would be happy to throw this ideology in the trash can when it is proven not to work.

There was one factual error in President Obama's speech. He said "Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath". There were only 43 Americans who have taken the presidential oath - one of them took it twice. Grover Cleveland was both the 22nd and 24th president, the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms.