Monthly Archives: December 2011

New Year’s Eve Day – The Great Whatever

New Year’s Eve day and difficult not to think about 2012 and what it will bring. We are in a moment of relative calm. Kim Jong Il has been laid to rest and N. Korea is quiet for now while we wait to see what kind of leader Kim Jong Un will be. The Arab League observers are in Syria so we are waiting to see if their efforts are fatally thwarted or if we will see a path to resolution. China is talking about turning its attention to space, even though domestic issues might keep Chinese feet firmly planted on earth. It will be interesting to watch. The economy in Europe is still an issue, but we are waiting to see if the intervention of the European Central Bank will help. Our own economy seems to be moving in more positive directions, although faster would be better. Egypt is not stabilized but again there is still potential for positive outcomes.
Iran is a bit of a “fly in the ointment”. Since we have no presence in Iraq we are aware that Iran could form an alliance with Iraq which might put Iraq in the category of nations hostile to the United States. Iran, facing new sanctions because of its nukes, is threatening to hold missile tests right across a problematic section of the Straits of Hormuz and to disrupt oil shipments. We all know “them’s fightin’ words”, but most of us who are sane don’t want a war with Iran so will have to keep looking for political or economic solutions.
We have some breathing room to enjoy celebrating a new year, although we also realize that this is an artificial time break. Monday will follow Sunday and there will be little to differentiate the new year from the old except that we will have to write a new year on our checks and documents, which we will probably forget to do from time to time. In spite of what we know, people enjoy milestones, markers, things that humanize the scale of life and the vast universe around us. This is our moment, once a year, to take stock of where we’ve been and to try to imagine where we want to go. I hope we go to good places in 2012. As Buzz would say, “to infinity and beyond” and then he would whoosh off towards the great whatever. (Sorry to reference Toy Story but we have a lot of toddlers in our family right now.) Let’s drink our champagne, or eat our lentil soup, or watch our fireworks, or kiss our loved ones, or all of the above, and head off with Buzz into the great whatever. Rev up those jet packs.

Boys Names 6 – end of 2011

Here are the boys names published in the local newspaper between 11/6/2011 and 12/25/2011:

Nico Guiliano * Christopher Robert * Joseph Phillip * Max Cooper * Elijah Ramal * Demetrius * Jonah Michael * Samuel Robert * Sabastian * George Andrew * Kayden Elijah * Brody Matthew * Shaquell D. * Klaus Edward * Bishop James * Paxton Emile * Jonah Anthony * Bradley Andrew * Jayden Michael * Karson Zachary * Brayden Kai * Joshua Michael * Bryce Alexander *Tanner Charles * Owen Christopher * Ian Michael * Kevin Michael * David Scott * Isaac Ahmik * Toby David * Kawoon Sangar * Dominick Joseph * Hunter * Jai’den * Jamez Romeo * Gabriel David * Juel’z Miguel * Darin Nicholas * William Chase * Darren Patrick * Cole Michael * Riley Matthew * Dylan Thomas * Tristan Thomas * Johnathan Richard * Thomas * Aiden Louis * Dondray Adrian * Lyndon * Cooper Fay * James Patrick * Kaedan Jonathan * Leo Justin * John Paul Patrick * Liam Shawn * Griffin James * Dylan Joseph * Mason Edward * Logan Thomas * Jakson Patrick * Jack Wade * Lincoln Thomas * William Alexander * Oliver Ryan * Tyler Samuel * Kavion Marquez * Angel Rafael * Elisha David * Jah’mel Khalid * Noah Thomas * Kaleb Anthony * Rikh Leon * Gianni Stephen-Louis * Jackson Elliott * Javonite Lee * Mason Li * Dalton Richard * Trevor Leland * Gavin Alex * Ivan Wayne * Benjamin * Tyrique Lamar * Morgan Terry * Mason Robert * Skye Lachlon * Weston Patrick * Jacob Joseph * Jonah Anthony * Andrew Jiyong * Raylan * Gavin Christopher * Nicholas Christopher * Charlie Scott * Ethan James * Liam Michael * Maverick Allen * Kenneth * Trey Alexander * Hussan * Ean Mitchell * Jackson David * Dominick Vincent * Abraham * Jackson Charles * Braedon Lance * Abed al-qader * Benjamin Kush *Isaac Owen * Adan R. * Markus Samuel * Charles J. * Eric Stanley * Derhyel Enrique * Angel Dejesus * Lincoln Alexander * Jacob Michael * Romeo Dominick * Declan James * James Thomas * Walden Michael

The picture at the top of this post is by Kim Anderson. You can see more of her pictures if you type “images of Kim Anderson” into the search box and then go.

Girl’s Names 6 – end of 2011

These are the names given to girl babies and published in our local newspaper between November 26th, 2011 and December 25th, 2011.
Hayden Elizabeth * Cora Elizabeth *Dayla Renai * Quah’ny Elise * Lemana Le’Maj * Norah Anne * Bri’Arie * Makayla Lynne * Honesii Muny *Brielle Aurora * Veyda Faith * Giada Faith * Natalie Grace*Juliana Marie * Caylee Noelle *Vivienne Isabel *Olivia * La’Bella Seven * Bella Monet * Ella Creegan * Mayah Chanelle * Gabrielle Airionna * Faith Lillian * Hailey Erin * Mia Grace * Emily Lynn * Rose Amanda * Kate Charlotte * Harlee Sierra * Olivia Elizabeth * Meeyah Marie * Britton Gray * Raina Victoria * Zoey Gloria-Mae * Da’May Milynn Aria * Makenzie Rae * Aaliyah Nichole * Siniah W. Leoje * Zefanea * Hannah Christine * Reese Lynn * Tatiyana Nahrie * Ava Michele * Ella Frances * Rily Ann * Sophia Marie * Olivia Imani * Kerhianna * Harper Abella * Zoe Xiaoxiao * Bridget Elizabeth * Avella Jane * Emily Lynn * Stella Josephine * Mia Grace * Mia Elizabeth * Mallory Sophia * Ryleigh Olivia * Alexandra Delia * Milani Marie * Ruth Day * Paige Mackenzie * Louise Jade * Hailey Elizabeth * Shealynn Rae * Johanna Elizabeth * Latia Emani * Aubrey B. * Brooklyn Nicole * X’Zaira Zykira * Zariah Unique * Mariah Ann * Madison Elizabeth * Chloe Olivia * Jazmyn Lee * Trinity Honestie * Addisynn * Zaniyah Renee * Marley Alexandria * Abigail Grace * Amaia * Aniela * Raelynne Audi Rose * Aluat Dau * Octavia Ann * Amary’Lis Deloris * McKaylee Rose * Royal Janae * Sha’ny Amazing Unique * Maison Lilly * Ayanna Aleana * Vivian Synnove *Kendel Elizabeth * Ameerah Gia * Lavahya Keyowna * Kyleigh Grace * Alexandra Renee * Tayler * Trinity Mae * Katlynn Ann * Aahana Hope * Iraiah Lanell * Rayah Celeste * Avery Nicole * Charli Rose * Aubrielle Baye * Caitlin Morgan * Maryn Rose * Zoey Marie * Stella Colleen

To see more pictures by Kim Anderson like the one at the top of this post type “images of Kim Anderson” into the search box and go.

A Soul-less America? Really?

Many Americans believe that programs like the Welfare program, or Medicaid, or subsidies for low-income housing or Pell Grants for low-income students and a number of programs designed as safety nets against hardship, homelessness, and a cycle of poverty are actually perpetuating the cycle of poverty. In an article called “The Anti-Establishment Strategy” by Thomas B. Edsall from the New York Times on Christmas Day, Mr. Edsall, who is talking mainly about Mitt Romney’s stand on these issues, reveals a number of important pieces of this growing “movement”. He quotes Martin Gilens, a professor of politics at Princeton, in “Why Americans Hate Welfare”, “In large measure, Americans hate welfare because they view it as a program that rewards the undeserving poor.” He summarized the General Social Survey  conducted from 1972-2010 “[b]oth blacks and whites were highly critical of the effects of welfare, with strong majorities of both races agreeing that the program encourages ‘people to work less’ – 73.7 in the case of whites, 74.1 percent in the case of blacks.
Mitt Romney is campaigning against spending to help the poor. He is against Social Security and feels that health care dollars should be passed on to the states and health care programs should be designed and administered at the state level.
In 2010, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, programs for the poor, seniors and children represent about a fifth of the federal budget:

786 b.          Medicaid
                     Children’s Health Insurance
                     Earned-income tax credit
                     SSI for elderly and disabled
                     Unemployment Insurance
                     Food Stamps
                     School Meals
                     Low-income Housing
                     Childcare programs for abused and neglected children
21 b.            Pell college grants for low-income students
 7.2 b.          Headstart

Romney said the following (as quoted by Mr. Edsall) in an op-ed published on December 19th in USA Today,
Over the past three years, Barack Obama has been replacing our merit-based society with an Entitlement Society. (me – all this in three years, wow)
If we continue on this course for another four years, we may pass the point of no return. We will have created a society that contains a sizable contingent of long-term jobless, dependent on government benefits for survival. (me – then let’s find some jobs fast)
Government dependency can only foster passivity and sloth. (me – gross overgeneralization)
The Republican Party and now Republican candidate Mitt Romney have been pedaling this nonsense for quite some time now. Our grandparents and great grandparents lived in an America without any programs to assist the poor. Did everyone have a job then? Do we really believe that discontinuing these programs will put everyone to work? We know that is not true. We know that there are always poor people and that there probably always will be. Do you think all seniors will have tolerable retirement years if we take away the Social Security program (which we pay for)? Do you think all seniors can work until they are 75 or 80, that there are even enough jobs for all seniors to work this long? Do you think someone will care for neglected and abused children if we have no agencies dedicated to this? How has this worked for the developmentally disabled and the mentally ill? Will we really be able to live lives surrounded by the poor struggling to survive and ignore their plight? Will we be able to live happy and productive lives amid the misery of others?
We have already answered these question. We choose not to live in the Middle Ages (also called the Dark Ages). We choose to live in a society enlightened by history and compassion. It is expensive, and some people do take advantage of the benefits we provide, but most who receive aid truly need it. We do have more poor people than ever, but they are not poor because the programs for the poor are so great that they quit jobs to join the ranks of the poor. The newly poor are victims of the economic shifts we have experienced over the past 3 or 4 decades. They will not be poor forever. I do not believe that we are creating a dependent “underclass” that will choose to languish in poverty forever. The answer to those who are taking advantage of the system or who have become “institutionalized” by the system is not to drop the entire system but rather to pay special attention to these two groups and help them move on. The answer to those who rip off the system is aggressive programs to unearth fraud.
The GOP or the media did not do us any favors by inventing the term “entitlements”. It has a negative connotation that deliberately lumps all programs together and makes it sound like people are getting something for nothing which American people feel is wrong. Plunging the world back into times when being poor was almost criminal and the poor had to put up with conditions that were unsanitary and squalid will not improve the lives of any of us.
Mr. Edsall ends his article with the statement that “We are headed toward an ideological confrontation over the next 11 months of an intensity rarely seen in American political history.” But I say we have already answered this question and we should not be wasting time pursuing a course that proved too awful to contemplate long ago. Why have to relearn a lesson our forefathers had already learned? Say no to this “soulless” view of America.

Syria is on My Mind

I want to understand what is happening in Syria. I decided to paraphrase two articles I found online in order to improve my understanding. I’ll link you to at least one of the articles when I am done plundering them. It’s not a pretty story. Hafez al-Assad was the father of the current Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad. The father headed a harsh dictatorship. Since Bashar al-Assad is a British trained doctor, it was hoped that he would be less harsh than his father but this is not proving to be the case. So far 5000 Syrian protestors are dead and 50,000 have been arrested.

There are also a number of different ethnic and religious groups which make up the population of Syria and this is complicating matters. These groups are: the Sunnis, the Christians, the Shia, the Alawites, and the Druze.

In mid-March a resident in a small southern city in Syria began the protests which have since escalated. He was protesting the torture of students who posted anti-government graffiti. Recently there have been a number of defections from the military who have been used to quell the protests. The government is stepping up the violence in response to the defections and the protests. The majority of people in Syria are Sunnis but the elite and the military are Alawites, so sectarian struggles are adding to the unrest. It is also believed that gangs and groups of thugs are further complicating the situation.

There have been attempts from outside Syria to halt the violence. Neighbors of Syria have registered their disapproval (Jordan and Turkey) and Russia, usually supportive of the Syrian government, is also critical. The Arab League is scheduled to send hundreds of observers into Syria. Syria has agreed to this but it remains to be seen how many obstacles will be placed in the paths of the observers. There are also economic sanctions in place and the Syrian economy is suffering. Tourism, once a good source of income, is now almost nonexistent.

Apparently if the Arab League is not effective in curtailing al-Assad and others, who the United Nations says are guilty of “summary execution, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, torture, including sexual violence, as well as violations of children’s rights” (report of UN Human Rights Council in Geneva), then international resources will be sought out to intervene (i.e. the UN).

This looks like another of those situations where Syria, if it wins the expulsion of President al-Assad, may still be faced with years of chaos before it finds its way to a stable government. Meanwhile, once more, we are witnesses to the senseless abuse of people who wish for more freedom and who put their lives at risk to get it. There is little or nothing we can do for the Syrian people except to make sure the world is watching and to hope that President al-Assad will learn that he could win the love and respect of his people by loosening his control over their freedom of expression and providing more opportunities for all his people to live a productive life.

Reprise – Science Fiction Book Lists

Have you earned your science fiction chops? Everyone needs the classical underpinnings of a good sci-fi reading background. It should include at least the following, although some of these authors have many more titles:
Robert Heinlein
·         Strangers in a Strange Land
·         Starship Troopers
·         The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
·         Time Enough for Love
Arthur C. Clarke
·         Childhood’s End
·         2001: A Space Odyssey
·         The Fountains of Paradise
·         The Light of Other Days
·         3001: The Final Odyssey
Ray Bradbury
·         Fahrenheit 451
·         Something Wicked This Way Comes
·         The Martian Chronicles
·         The Illustrated Man
·         The October Country
·         Death is a Lonely Business
Isaac Asimov
·         Foundation Books (Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation
·         I Robot
·         The End of Eternity
·         The Robots of Dawn
Kurt Vonnegut
·         Slaughterhouse-Five: A Novel
·         Cat’s Cradle: A Novel
·         Mother Night: A Novel
·         Breakfast of Champions: A Novel
·         The Sirens of Titan: A Novel
Douglas Adams
·         The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
·         Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
·         The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul
·         The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time
·         The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
·         Life, the Universe, and Everything
·         Mostly Harmless
·         So Long and Thanks for all the Fish
Frank Herbert
·         Dune
·         Dune Messiah
·         The Dosadi Experiment
·         Destination Void
·         Children of Dune
·         God Emperor of Dune
·         Heretics of Dune
·         Chapterhouse Dune
Aldous Huxley
·         Brave New World
·         The Doors of Perception: Heaven and Hell
·         Eyeless in Gaza: A Novel
George Orwell
·         1984
·         Animal Farm (not really sci-fi, more political allegory)
You could then branch into fantasy like Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” books (I think there are 12 so far, Harry Potter sort of fits in here also. Perhaps the Carlos Castenades “Don Juan” books, the “Star Wars” books, and the “Star Trek” books might also make the list.
These books help define where our future will go. Do books predict the future or create the future? It doesn’t matter. If you have a great sci-fi background you will be there. These books are mind-expanding, like algebra. OK, maybe you don’t like algebra, but algebra is brain training. It sets up certain pathways in your brain that you might not develop from any other discipline (although geometry also helps, and physics). In terms of helping with logical thinking I don’t think there is a more powerful tool than mathematics.
If you don’t read these books you will also fall behind the cultural curve. Certain allusions will elude you. Who are the Aes Sedai? What is a space elevator? Who is Trillium? What are suspensor chairs? It will just go on and on, the number of potentially important things you will not know.
Here is the rest of my sci-fi “hits” list.
Carlos Castenades – becoming a “warrior”
·         The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge
·         A Separate Reality:  Further Conversations with Don Juan
·         Journey to Ixtlan:  The Lessons of Don Juan
·         Tales of Power
·         Second Ring of Power
·         The Eagle’s Gift
·         The Fire from Within
·         The Power of Silence:  Further Lessons of Don Juan
·         The Art of Dreaming
Kim Stanley Robinson
·         Red Mars
·         Green Mars
·         Blue Mars
J. K. Rowling
·         Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
·         The Chamber of Secrets
·         The Prisoner of Azkaban
·         The Goblet of Fire
·         The Order of the Phoenix
·         The Half Blood Prince
·         The Deathly Hallows
Margaret L’Engle
·         A Wrinkle in Time
·         A Wind in the Door
·         Many Waters
·         A Swiftly Tilting Plane

My Merry Christmas Farmhouse And My Wishes

Merry Christmas to you if you celebrate it.
Happy Holidays to you if you are celebrating anything at all.
Peace on Earth for all of us.

Nature, we could use a peaceful year from you too. None of these earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, mud slides, blizzards, tornadoes, avalanches; let’s have calm seasons, gentle weather, perfect balance. Dream big. Let’s have a moritorium on violence and a rash of prosperity and new beginnings.

I am painting with a big brush. I will not get into particulars because that might be counterproductive; but let’s have a year when we make wise decisions that secure positive outcomes and give us time to relax, breathe, and see what we want our futures to be.

From my house to yours, best wishes!

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson – A Book

Daniel H. Wilson wrote a great book. Robopocalypse may be difficult to pronounce but it reads like a dream. I wasn’t sure that anyone could pull off a human-robot war after some of the famous writers who have already been there, but Mr. Wilson’s characters, both human and humanoid did the trick. There are plenty of heroes in this war and one of them is Cormac Wallace, MIL#GHA217. Wallace finds an intelligence “cube” which stored data for Archos or Big Rob, the head of the opposition forces. By unlocking the information stored in this cube Wallace tells us chapter by chapter the story of the war and the heroes who helped win the war.
Who are the heroes? Well we have Jack Wallace, Paul R. Blanton and Lonnie Wayne Blanton, Mathilda Perez, Mr. Nomura, Lurker, Lark Iron Horse and the Gray Horse tribe and more. Not all of them live through the war, but the war would probably have been lost without their actions.
I was afraid that the events which immediately preceded the war would overshadow the war itself. It looked like the war would be too short and too one-sided, but the narrative, as it swings back and forth between what is happening to the humans and what is happening to the robots is every bit as imaginative and suspenseful as the buildup to the war.

Mr. Wilson also finds time to address a few of our human faults like our failure to be good caretakers of planet earth and our difficulty embracing diversity. His approach is organic to his story and is not at all heavy-handed, but he lets us know we are not perfect.

I enjoyed this book immensely and once again I end up asking, “How do people think up this stuff?” I’m also saying, “Bring on the movie, please.” Done. The movie directed by Steven Spielberg is coming soon.
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I Don’t Think America is Waiting With Bated Breath

Obama’s plan to prod the economy had many aspects. Since we did not get to see if the whole plan would work, the plan was split into its individual components. We didn’t get to see if any of those worked either because each separate part of the plan was voted down. Now we have arrived at the last recommendation in the Obama plan, which would allow the current break on social security taxes to continue for another year and would keep extensions to unemployment insurance. It seemed that this part of the plan, on its own, had some chance of being voted into law; until the House linked it with the Keystone Pipeline Project. Nebraska has a problem with the Keystone Pipeline and, since it puts Nebraska in the position of having two pipelines passing through it, one right over a key water reserve, we are right to support Nebraska on this issue. It should never have been linked to the payroll tax cut or unemployment benefit extensions. The House Republicans knew this was untenable when they did it and to act shocked now is disingenuous. They killed this bill and they did it for political reasons.
I shouldn’t really express an opinion on this because I am retired and do not stand to gain any tax relief or unemployment benefits from this plan. Still I can’t help having some feelings as I am watching this play out on the news in the week before the holidays. I am not sure the America people want to have this issue as the one that inspires them to say “enough”, or that they want to stand and fight on this minor battleground. First of all, it makes us look like charity cases, which we may be right now, but perhaps not so desperate that we have to “take a loan” (so to speak) from Social Security. This is a very small tax cut, not really a tax cut at all, and some say it may affect Social Security in the future. It is not that working people will not be happy to have a little extra spending money, but we understand that you are lending us our own money to buck up consumption and speed up the economy. The extensions of unemployment insurance are harder to give up, but these only help the recently unemployed. So many other groups are not being helped by this. I wish we had gotten grumpier when all the other recommendations in this plan were turned down. We are watching a fake stalemate which is really about the election and not about helping the American people.
I do hope the Congress passes these two attempts at financial assistance for Americans who need relief. I just hope we remember this represents only one tiny part of the plan to speed up our economy and that the sorry Republicans, who cannot agree to any tax increases for the wealthiest Americans, are not adverse to using this last ditch strategy, which was once part of an organized economic plan, to stage more political theater in Washington. I guess this activity is supposed to help them get elected in 2012 as the watchdogs over American spending. I think we would rather have you keep these pittances and do something more spectacular, risky and productive that would help us for more than one year and would not put our future at risk.

Aleph by Paulo Coelho – A Book

People who read a lot are often what I call “word people”. They love words, their meanings, their histories, their connotations, even, sometimes, the sounds of them. I am no exception. When someone recommends a book with the title Aleph as in the case of the book by Paulo Coelho, the title attracts me without even knowing what the story is about. Aleph is name of the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the Arabic alphabet, and, also, the Aramaic alphabet. In this case the Aleph is also a “spiritual world, in a parallel universe, where time and space are eternal and always present”. It is when you find yourself, temporarily, at a nexus of your personal time and space.
There are people who spend their lives looking for “spiritual enlightenment” of one kind or another, and Aleph is a book that would appeal to this group of people. Mr. Coelho explains that he has become too comfortable with his life in his South American home. His “spiritual teacher”, “J” suggests travelling. Mr. Coelho realizes that he is still trying to solve a puzzle from a past life so he decides to open himself up to travel. He commits himself to a number of book signings and after parties and eventually commits to a trip across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. He has been warned to watch out for a Turkish woman, and feels that he has avoided that possibility by travelling in Russia, until he meets Hilal.
This type of book is not really my cup of tea but it was a quick read so I finished it. The idea of making a physical journey and having it turn into a spiritual journey is certainly not new and some of life’s greatest lesson are probably learned when we leave our comfort zone. However, I am not totally convinced of the truth of past life regression, or of having to make up in the present for things done in a past life. Despite my personal reactions, people who do follow a “spiritual” path may find Aleph quite interesting.  Meanwhile I did enjoy learning a new word and this rather esoteric aspect of its meaning.
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I will give Paulo Coelho another chance. His book The Alchemist is still on my list and has been called a “modern classic”. I plan to read it along with my long list of other titles.