Monday, June 30, 2008

Obama Gives His Version of Patriotism

In a speech early today in Independence, Missouri, Barack Obama articulated his views on what patriotism is – and isn’t. And, I must say, as a speech-maker, he is smooth as silk.

He has a very natural relationship with the tele-prompter, reminiscent of Ronald Reagan and, of course, Bill Clinton. John McCain could take some lessons from Obama on this score for sure.

In his talk, Obama touched “all the bases,” similarly to how he delivered the “race” speech. He was inclusive. He did not offend anyone. He nuanced the various implications of meaning. He sounded sincere and compelling.

Fairly early in his speech, he said the following: “Surely we can arrive at a definition of patriotism that, however rough and imperfect, captures the best of America’s common spirit.” How can you argue with that?

Obama then continued to say that “Patriotism…

“..starts as a gut instinct, a loyalty and love for country rooted in my earliest memories.” Nothing wrong with that, either.

“ always more than just loyalty to a place on a map or a certain kind of people. Instead, it is also loyalty to America’s ideals – ideals for which anyone can sacrifice, or defend, or give their last full measure of devotion. I believe it is this loyalty that allows a country teeming with different races and ethnicities, religions and customs, to come together as one.” Whew! But idealistically right on!

“..can never be defined as loyalty to any particular leader or government or policy.” OK, but key word for me is “defined”.

“ supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” Better not argue with that; it’s a direct Mark Twain quotation, and Mark Twain, of course, is all-American.

“..must, if it is to mean anything, involve the willingness to sacrifice – to give up something we value on behalf of a larger cause.” (Referring to military service) Again, I find myself agreeing, though Obama himself has not served in the military.

The rest of the speech expanded upon and enlarged on these and some other great-sounding concepts. In honesty, there isn’t a whole lot with which to take issue.

So why do I have this gnawing uneasiness in the pit of my stomach, hinting that maybe this man’s words flow a whole lot easier than his establishing of a record that would validate them?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How Do We Integrate Faith and Politics?

I am reading with great interest these days how significant numbers of “evangelical” Christians, admittedly mostly of the younger set, are supporting Barack Obama in the Presidential race. Many, of course, would think it not at all out of the ordinary.

At the least, I guess it reflects changing views among youthful evangelical Christians who may desire a more nuanced faith application, rather than swallowing without question the faith of their fathers. There’s sure nothing suspect about that.

What does make this trend noteworthy is that for almost a generation, evangelical beliefs have been intertwined with political conservatism (a la James Dobson’s denouncing yesterday of Obama’s “theology”). But, apparently, the times, "they are a changing".

How, then, DO we blend faith and politics? One thing is for sure: it can’t be answered here. We can, however, glance at some smatterings of thoughts.

Prior to the Reformation, Thomas Aquinas’ ideas (greatly over-simplified here) that man-made law can gain a sort of validity if it is embedded in the moral order of creation, had great appreciation.

After the Reformation, three “new” ribbons of thought developed on this concern: Luther’s “dual kingdoms” concept, Calvin’s separate “church” and “secular” governments, and the Anabaptist idea that God “uses” the state to punish evil and protect good but that church and state are separate.

Again, these are greatly over-simplified here, but what is maybe most interesting of all, is that all four of the mentioned convictions continue to influence our thinking today.

One predominant theme survives all four, however, and that is the assertion that God’s decrees supersede the laws of mankind. At the same time, Christ himself told us to “render unto Caesar (man’s civility) that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s.”

It looks to me like a great deal of nuance is going to be required for all of us, if we are going to be well-informed, faith-valued voters in November.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Optical Illusion? Or a Morph?

Today’s post takes a “break” from any real thoughts or ideas. Instead, have some fun with the image above.

If you believe you’re looking at Albert Einstein, just take a few steps back from your computer screen, to about 10 or 15 feet.

Whoa, that’s not Einstein; it’s morphed into Marilyn Monroe.

You can explain it if you want to. I’m just content observing the phenomenon.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Nine Pitches, Nine Strikes, Three Outs, Inning Over – That’s a Wow!

Last night my son Doug shared his Mariners season-ticket package with me, and, as it turns out, we not only got to see a (recently rare) win by the M’s, but we also saw perhaps the most eventful game of the year.

Only the mention of one player is necessary: pitcher Felix Hernandez

At one point about a third of the way into the game, the 22-year-old struck out seven of eight, including six straight (one shy of the Seattle record), AND including all three outs in the fourth inning on the minimum nine pitches. It’s one reason why they call him a phenom and predict such great things for his future.

Being a young pitcher with a 5-1 lead, he struggled a bit in the sixth inning. But he and two relievers hung on to get the win. Second year pitcher and interim closer Brandon Morrow got three quick outs in the ninth with some near-century mark velocity to shut down the Marlins. Final score was 5-4.

All in all, it was a great night at gorgeous Safeco Field, and an even better time with my son. You can order food right from Doug’s seats (they deliver it in a minute or so), and because it’s so convenient, I always eat too much. But what a way to go!

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Psalms of Ascent

My wife and I continue to be awed by the degree of enrichment we experience each week as we worship in our Lutheran venue. Yesterday was another wonderful case in point.

Our Pastor, Don Jukam, had the privilege, more than a decade ago, of living and studying in the Holy Land for a year or two. While there, he soaked in as much of the historical and geographical aspects of Jewish religious culture as he could. The blessing for our congregation, now, is that we become privy to these wonderful, often little known, insights.

Yesterday’s sermon revealed one such elucidation. One of the lectionary readings for the day was Psalm 100, which includes these familiar phrases:

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing…. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.”

Pastor Don pointed out that the Israelites often came from various distances, some as far as 90 miles, to visit the Temple (where God was thought to dwell) for feasts and worship. The approach was an uphill walk to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. As they approached the city, after sighting the Temple in the distance, they would break into song for the remaining steps in the journey - complying with the above Psalm.

What did they sing? If you look at the Psalms, beginning at the 120th and continuing through the 134th, you’ll notice a small sub-title that says A Song of Ascents. It was the prayers and praises in these Psalm songs – mostly dealing with the anxieties and exultations of life itself – that the Hebrew people sang as they drew near to the sacred site.

Here are smatterings of what they sang (most of them very recognizable to us even now):

“In my distress I cry to the Lord, that he may answer me… I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come?... My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth… I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord’… Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you’… Unless the Lord builds (our) house, those who build it labor in vain.”

What an incredible experience that must have been for this ancient civilization. I wonder if it’s still practiced today? Our Pastor intimated that, on a given Sunday morning, he’d be willing to lead a song-filled march up the hill from downtown Poulsbo to worship services in our church. What an impression that would make!

Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Our Multi-Dimensional Granddaughter, Hayley

We have learned to love and appreciate each of our sweet granddaughters just for who they are. All are God-gifted in many marvelous ways.

When I checked my son Gregg’s blog this morning, I was delighted to find a post about 11-year-old Hayley, our middle sweetheart. You can click here to read what Gregg wrote about Hayley. Hint: she's a "blue-ribbon" kid.

Hayley is a fascinating, multi-dimensional blend of fun, physicality, and spirituality, while at the same time possessing a wonderful depth of intellect. You can see what I mean by clicking here, here and here.

So, this post is Grandpa’s and Grandma’s loving recognition of our very special Hayley – on a day (any day that you read this) her dad has declared as “Hayley Day”.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Isaac Bruce Will This Year Wear the Red and Gold

I realize that strange things are happening these days in sports, what with the lack of team loyalty and the ever-present passion of athletes to better themselves financially – and to keep the big bucks coming in as long as possible. Players will switch teams at the drop of a hat, it seems, if they can get a better deal somewhere else.

Admittedly, a lot of these “switches” occur near the end of a player’s career, when a team feels they can no longer afford them, and so they are somewhat understandable but rarely acceptable. And it still hurts when it happens. Like when Joe Montana went to the Kansas City Chiefs, or when Jerry Rice went to the Raiders.

Well, this year the tables will be turned, for me at least, as the San Francisco 49ers have gained a quality player who has spent his entire career with the “hated” Rams, now of St. Louis and formerly of Los Angeles. Wide receiver Isaac Bruce will this year wear Red and Gold instead of blue and gold. He’s gotta be relieved not to have to wear that ugly ram’s horn anymore on the side of his helmet.

From what I read, he’s said to have quite a bit left in his tank, and hopefully that will turn out to be true. His former Rams coach, Mike Martz, now the offensive coordinator for the 9ers, says Bruce hasn’t lost much, even though he is now 36. “He’s a lot like Jerry Rice,” said Martz, “always in impeccable shape.”

I’d like to forget all the times I’ve seen the Rams’ #80 streak down the sidelines, make a move on a 49er back, and take a perfectly-thrown Kurt Warner pass to his chest for a score. This year it’ll be a welcome contrast. I now look forward to watching him add to his scoring totals.

Because this Fall he’ll be wearing #88 in beautiful new colors, and he’ll be tucking in throws from Alex Smith.

Monday, June 09, 2008

She Chose Her Words Carefully

For whatever reason, I’m not much into political observations of late. But when Sen. Hillary Clinton “gave up” on her presidential bid last Saturday, I, along with many others, took a close look at what she actually said.

Amid tears from her loyalists, she said this (regarding Sen. Barack Obama): "I endorse him and throw my full support behind him." Sounds pretty straightforward, right?

Well, maybe. Here’s also what she said: "Today as I suspend my campaign, I congratulate him on the victory he has won and the extraordinary race he has run.” The key word here is “suspend”.

Political pundits point out that by “suspending” her campaign, instead of “ending” it and releasing her pledged delegates, she keeps open a raft of options. The significant one is that she keeps “control” over the 1600+ delegate votes she won in the primaries.

Why would she do this?

Dick Morris, former Clinton insider and presidential advisor now impassioned to keep any Clinton out of the White House, said today that Hillary is still a factor in the presidential race:

“…the former First Lady will be slowly circling overhead during June, July, and August waiting for Obama to make a mistake or stumble. Throughout the next three months, there will always be the possibility that he errs so badly that Hillary gets back into the race. Should another pastor rear his head or if one of the mythical tapes that are said to be about to emerge does, in fact, exist, Obama cannot rest secure in the nomination as long as Hillary is overhead, waiting.”

Kinda reminds me of the Shakespearean (MIS-)quotation, “Heavy hangs over the head that wears a crown.” (ACTUAL quote is, "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown," but who’s checking?) In any case, Senator Obama is apparently not yet free of Clinton maneuverings – not by a long shot.

The next five-plus months of campaign rhetoric (and eventualities) could be quite interesting. If only I really cared a bit more.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Avoiding the “Herd Instinct” of Unnecessarily Anxious Americans

One of the first lessons I can remember learning from my mom was, “Don’t follow the crowd.” Her advice, of course, was focused on teaching me the difference between right and wrong and on the importance of doing right even though everyone else was doing wrong.

But not following the crowd can have a host of other benefits as well, not the least of which is monetary. Take the current gasoline price issue. Everyone, it seems, is freaking out over spiking gas pump numbers.

Some families have cancelled summer driving vacations. Some of my fellow-retirees are worried that they won’t be able to drive beyond going to the store. A lot of people are completely rearranging the way they spend money (not a bad idea anyway). But is this really necessary?

Today I heard on the news an example of the “herd instinct” to which I referred in the headline. I’m not picking on Californians, but that’s where this story came from. It seems some auto dealers there who sell high-gas-mileage hybrids are pocketing up to a $6,000 premium per vehicle (above MSRP) on the Toyota Prius and other such hybrids – because apparently people will “pay anything” to cut gas costs. Huh?

Now, wait a minute, folks. The tendency of Americans to panic in unison and flock to make questionable decisions, has always amazed me. Why in the world would a person pay a $6,000 premium, not to mention a $30,000 auto expenditure, to “save” money? Has anyone bothered to do the math?

Actually, my son Gregg did so about a year ago. With his older Caravan all worn out anyway, he bought a very nice, pre-owned Toyota Prius that he says gets about 35 miles per gallon overall average. It’s obvious he and Elaine made a wise move back then – and it holds true especially now.

But back to the math on what’s generally happening around the gas pump. Let’s look at a theoretical example. If you drive a paid-for car that gets an average 18 miles per gallon (like I do), your annual gas cost (at today’s $4/gallon national average) is $2,222 for each 10,000 miles you drive. Your car’s amortization is a separate issue and is only affected (goes UP) if you buy or lease a new vehicle.

If you DO acquire a new hybrid vehicle that averages 30 miles per gallon (like the pictured Ford Escape Hybrid I’ve looked at) your gas costs for each 10,000 miles will drop to $1,333 if gas remains at $4/gal. That’s a savings of $889 on gas per 10,000 miles.

But it cost you $36,000 for the privilege (much more in some cases), ignoring, for a moment, the plummeted trade-in value of your present gas-guzzler. Does this make any economic sense?

Now before you start yelling that commuters can drive 50,000 miles or more a year, I fully acknowledge that the situation is somewhat different if you drive a lot. However, in this example, you’d only break even after driving 400,000 miles and only begin to have actual savings after that. To put it another way, there are no savings until you’ve driven your new hybrid for 400,000 miles! How many YEARS will it take for you to drive 400,000 miles?

If gas prices continue to rise to $6/gal, as some have predicted they will by Labor Day, there will still be little cause to think about an immediate hybrid. Because even at that, the breakeven point (on a $36,000 hybrid) is at 270,000 miles. That's a lot of miles, folks, even if you reduce it by the slimmed-down value of your trade-in.

What does all this mean? By Fall, even if you drive 100,000 miles a year, it'll take you a little more than TWO AND ONE-HALF YEARS before you'll actually save money over your present vehicle (assuming the aforementioned conditions). And even if gas prices continue to rise after that, all that happens is that the breakeven mileage point will correspondingly continue to drop, but at the same slow rate.

So, if you’re like my wife and me, who barely drive 12,000 miles a year in our retirement (a lifestyle, not a car), it’s probably far better not to panic into a new hybrid and to just drive our 18 mpg “guzzler” with a light foot. It'll cost us 35-cents a mile for gas in the Fall, if all goes as predicted. When the Acura wears out, hopefully not before some time has passed, we’ll then calmly and rationally consider a Ford Escape Hybrid, rather like my son did. And we'll avoid running over the money cliff right now with the crowd.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Is Wall Street the Cause, the Effect, or the Method?

I’ve been doing some thinking lately – and even conducting a bit of research – on the causes of rising gas prices, and the finger of suspicion can point elsewhere besides the oil companies (not that they don’t bear their share of guilt and greed).

As far as the rising prices by themselves are concerned, we only have to look to the Wall Street darlings if we want to express our “gratitude”. As long as crude oil is a commodity that can be bought, sold, traded, and speculated upon, we consumers are up the proverbial creek without a paddle, as it were.

The irony is it appears that, even right now, there is no apparent shortage of world gasoline supplies (which one normally assumes is a reason that prices might rise), though overall worldwide demand is slowly increasing. So why are prices going up so drastically?

A lot of the answer appears to be that the perceived anticipated future demand on the world’s oil supply by (who else?) Wall Street speculators is contributing mightily to today’s inflated prices at the pump.

If you want to really depress yourself, consider as well what Wall Street has effected on the Real Estate market. All was apparently working just fine, thank you, until Wall Street "commodified" loans into “investment packages” that, again, could be bought, sold, traded, and speculated upon. The result? A “ten-pin” knock-down effect when interest rates rose and demand decreased, that has flattened the industry.

Now guess where the vast majority of Americans have placed their investments (and trust for their very future)? You got it: Wall Street.

Are we crazy? Based on Wall Street's handling of oil and real estate, does anyone but me see the potential for a gigantic financial black hole here?

I guess the moral to this story, if there is one, is to think through very carefully where you are placing your assets/money if you expect to preserve your retirement accumulations and/or have something for the future. I must say that I’m admittedly getting a little skiddish about several sectors in the stock market, for the short term at least, if not for some time. Prudence might be a good watchword in this regard.

Monday, June 02, 2008

My Trophy Fish

I got some good news today by email. The mounting of the 17-lb Brown Trout I caught in Lake Michigan a year ago is about finished and almost ready for shipping from Wisconsin (it's shown in above pic – I love the “blood-drip” look).

To get a relative idea of the actual size, it’s about the length of a yardstick from tip to tail. This fish is the third largest Brown the taxidermist has ever worked with, and he’s mounted the Wisconsin state record Brown. It was the second largest Brown my guide, Fritz Peterson, had ever landed.

Known officially by its latin name, salmo trutta morpha lacustris, the Brown trout is native to northern Europe (including Finland, hmmmm…) and, in actuality, exists in two versions of the same species.

In addition to the “lacustris” strain (lives in lakes, spawns in rivers) which mine is, there is also an anadromous strain (lives in ocean, spawns in rivers or lakes), kind of like a sea-run cutthroat. How they got to our continent is anyone’s guess, but some say the fish actually migrated here via ocean currents. That makes it one hearty fish species.

I hear my trophy will be “finely tuned” and ready to ship in a week or three, so now all I have to do is to decide where to place it in our home. One of the spots I think would be nice is right over the entrance to my office.

“Over my dead body,” my wife informed me.