Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Fees in "public" education

Remember back when public education was free in America? As a Baby Boomer I do. Well, those days it seems are long gone. It now appears the majority of citizens are resistant to paying taxes for what used to be perceived as our common good.  An article, "Public schools charge kids for basics, frills", in the Wall Street Journal, by Stephanie Simon, notes just how expensive it can be to have a child in the public schools.  Ms. Simon cited how one Ohio family paid nearly $4,500 in fees for classes and school activities for their three children enrolled in the public school. Welcome to the world of no new taxes and increased fees!

As noted in an early blog entry, Extracurricular activity fees in schools, our family discovered a plethora of  activity fees for students attending our public school. All of these activities were free back when Baby Boomers, such as myself, went through public school. I shamefully have to admit that the Baby Boomer generation may be the most affluent, greedy and selfish generation in American history.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Reflections from cabin time

All hands on board putting in the dock
Dog on dock
Over the long Memorial Day weekend I enjoyed time away with my family in Wisconsin, at my brother and sister-in-law's cabin. I was reminded of a few favorite sayings while savoring the rustic setting...

  • While putting in the cabin's dock and boat lifts I was reminded "Many hands make light work."
  • Out fishing I recalled there are no guarantees of catching fish... that's why they call it "fishing" not "catching."
  • "If you snooze you lose." I was up early to witness a spectacular sunrise.
  • Don't believe everything you see on the news or read in the paper, especially the weather predictions. Despite a forecast for bad weather on Saturday, it was sunny and superb.  
  • "Every dog has its day."  The dogs at the cabin had a blast with each other and the chipmunks.
  • Bad jokes, like bad wine, get better with age (Okay, I made this one up).
  • Sunrise and loon
  • Having fun with family I was reminded you can pick your friends, but you can't pick your family ;-)  I'm blessed to have a great family, albeit a bit eccentric.
Sunrise over Fish Lake

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Mentoring in service to others

Minneapolis police officer on horse
I had the pleasure last night of helping to serve a meal once again to some of the people impacted by the tornado in north Minneapolis.  It was an added delight to see one of the volunteers, a young man, "K.J." who was matched many years ago in the Kinship mentoring program.  He was there serving others with his Kinship friends, Walt and Heather Carpenter.

K.J. was a little guy when he got matched up with the Carpenters, who lived nearby by him in north Minneapolis. Now he's 14 and can look them in the eyes.  Walt jested that he's got to be nice to K.J., having himself grown up in a family with brothers that grew to be bigger than he was.

Horses drawing attention and adoration
The Carpenters are very involved members of Christ English Lutheran and exemplary models of service.  During the meal last night Heather was organizing the food and volunteers, while Walt was manning the dishwasher.

There was a great turn out of a few dozen volunteers helping out.  And again, the Northside residents were most gracious and appreciative.  As is often the case, those serving may have been more blessed than those receiving.

When leaving the church it was interesting to see a couple of police on horseback who were patrolling the area. The horses were a big hit with residents.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Value of educational degrees

I tend to believe that there is often and inverse relationship in this society between salary and the value of ones job.  It seems that day care providers are among those on the bottom ladders of the pay scale, while someone who can sell things to people they don't really need is highly compensated.

Researchers at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce discovered there was considerable difference in the financial values of college degrees. Their study, "What's it worth? The economic value of college majors." indicated engineering degrees were the most profitable degrees, while those in Psychology, Social Work and Education yielded the poorest paying positions.  Not too surprisingly engineering students were predominately male (84%), while females made up the majority of those in Psychology/Social Work (74%) and Education (77%).

While in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin - River Falls I had an encounter that caused me to question the value of my soon to be masters degree in Guidance and Counseling.  While checking out at an outdoor store the cashier recognized my credit card being associated with River Falls.  He noted that he had graduated from the same university.  I inquired of his major.  Much to my chagrin, Guidance and Counseling was the response.

As many parents reminded us as children... life is not fair. So, study hard kids to become a doctor, engineer or perhaps a lawyer, so hopefully you won't have to come back and live at home after you've graduated from college with your expensive degree. Or, perhaps better yet, become a plumber or electrician so you can save some college expenses and help with your parent's household projects.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Northside tornado update

Kitchen volunteers
Food line
Yesterday I went back north Minneapolis to serve victims of the recent tornado.   My old workplace, Christ English Lutheran Church, on Lowry and Oliver Avenues North, was serving meals and providing fellowship to nearby residents.  Only one block away from the church trees were down and roofs uplifted from Sunday's storm.  Most of the folks I visited with were among the 2,000 residents still without power.

Girls in Action from Henry High School
I would guess somewhere between 250-300 people stopped by for the community supper.  There were about 10 pastors there to provide a listening ear and 20 volunteers helping to serve and clean-up after the meal.  Among the volunteers were three young ladies from Minneapolis' Henry High School Girls in Action.

I had the pleasure of welcoming folks as they entered, and informing them of their choice fried chicken or Chinese meals. Despite the adverse conditions there was a positive and gracious spirit among those with whom I had the opportunity to visit.  They were appreciative of the meal and seemed to enjoy the warmth and fellowship provided by Christ English Lutheran.

Man with walking stick from storm
Christ English hopes to host a Camp Noah later in July for neighborhood kids impacted by the storm.  Volunteers will be needed.

One gentleman had a beautiful walking stick that he had recently made from a branch that had broken off in the storm.  He had peeled off the branch's bark and will be adding the date of the tornado to the stick to keep as a reminder.

After the supper I drove down the street to see how the clean-up efforts were coming along.  There seemed to be tarps over all of the roofs that had been uplifted and many of the trees were cut into sections and piled along the curb.

Street with trees cut up on curbside
I was a bit disturbed to hear a radio broadcast that not only will there be a long wait for contractor help to rebuild, since spring is their busy season, but also that many may be resistant to working in north Minneapolis because of the reputation it has for being an unsafe place.  This was quite the contrary of my experience last night, when I found it warm and inviting.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Fear-based decision making

Star Tribune columnist Gail Rosenblum hit the nail on the head when she noted how much of the current Minnesota legislative discussion is stemming from fear-based leadership (Moving forward, let's not be led by fear").  She shares a few examples of how our political leaders have been focused on responding to people's fears, rather than building on strengths and being affirming of others, especially those who are different than ourselves.  Fearful thinking has people wanting more guns, opposing gay marriage and desiring greater regulations for voting.  Research indicates there is far less fraud than most of us have imagined to exist.  Research also shows guns lead to more deaths, often accidental owner deaths.

Ms. Rosenblum cited the invocation provided by a pastor at the State Capital this past week as an example of instilling fear rather than understanding.  Shouldn't be any wonder that this pastor would have give such a fear-based message when one considers that he works for a ministry called "You Can Run But You Cannot Hide."

Knowing the many benefits of marriage, why would we not want to share this opportunity with those who are biologically wired toward homosexuality?  I've had three guy friends who have all left their wives later in life for male companions.  My marriage or sexual identify was never threatened by any of these capable and caring individuals who felt trapped into a heterosexual lifestyle that didn't fit them.

This fearful versus affirming paradigm parallels the two opposing ways in which people view the world; from a deficit/scarcity based mentality versus an abundance perspective.  Many think of life as a "zero-sum game." This leads to unnecessary competition and creates fear of all others, who are perceived as threats to one's own limited resources.  How much more enjoyable life is when we don't have to fear others who don't look like us, speak like us or worship like we do. Businesses have long known that they need a variety of perspectives and skill sets to be successful in a diverse world. When you get right down to it, there really is no 'us and them', there really is only us. How about we put our fears away and get to know others? By doing so we can achieve far more, while all boats are raised!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tornado hits close to home

Car crushed by fallen tree
Trees down
A couple of days ago just three miles from our home a tornado touched down in north Minneapolis.  It devastated dozens of homes and took down hundreds of trees. Amazingly only one person died and 30 were hospitalized as a result of the storm. Sadly one volunteer, Floyd Whitfield, died while helping out at a neighbor's home. Power to over 20,000 homes was knocked out.

Residents leaving
Damage to house from uprooted tree
I went over to the Northside yesterday morning to see if I could help. Volunteer efforts were being organized by Urban Homeworks.  Seems they were inundated with volunteers and unprepared for dealing with such a disaster.  Even though volunteers are "free" they still need direction and supervision.  With fallen trees, live electrical wires and the possibility of stepping on nails, etc. safety is also a major concern.
Tree top sheered off by tornado

Interested in volunteering or providing financial support? Given the initial outpouring of support, it was recommend that volunteers check back in the days and weeks ahead with Urban Homeworks.  Financial contributions to assist the victims are being managed though a variety of sources including www.GiveMN.org.

A look south from Lowry Avenue

Monday, May 23, 2011

Muslim friends, please don't stereotype Christians

Over the past few days I have gained a greater appreciation of the frustration Muslims must feel who have been stereotyped by the actions of a few fundamentalist on the fringes of Islam. 

First, a pastor is invited to provide a prayer for our legislative leaders at the State capital, who's message is so inflammatory of the president of the United States and a multitude of others that the entire episode is deleted from the records. 

Then, a Christian radio prognosticator indicated that at 6 PM on May 21st the Rapture would occur.  Bible believing Christians would be taken up to heaven and heathens would be left behind to face God’s judgment. 

Finally, Minnesota’s legislators were up until midnight over the weekend addressing how to put forward a constitutional ban on same sex marriage. Many of this group of politicians, most of whom would self identify as Christians, are holding a no compromise stance on raising taxes among the wealthiest Minnesotans, despite a huge budget deficit. 

As a Christian these events have me baffled. I learned Jesus was always welcoming outcasts and demanding we care for the most vulnerable among us. For those who have been given much he said much would be expected in return.  He demanded we care for the children and most vulnerable among us. Jesus was also clear that no one would know when the end would come. 

To the events of the past few days I can only say… Lord have mercy.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Research recommendations regarding climate change

Bird's nest in Redbud
An editorial, "Clean energy is necessary but not free", by James Lenfestey, points to investment needing to occur in order to reduce the United State's carbon emissions.

Research findings on America's Climate Choices is available at the National Research Council's website. Following are some of their observations.

Decisions about the exact magnitude and speed of response efforts will depend on how much risk society deems acceptable. But in the Committee's judgment there are numerous motivations for action, including for instance:

The faster that greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, the lower the risks; and the less pressure there is to make steeper and potentially more expensive reductions later.

Investments currently being made in energy-related infrastructure and equipment will lock in emissions commitments for decades to come. Enacting relevant policies now will provide crucial guidance for those investment decisions.

The risks of continuing "business as usual" are greater than the risks associated with strong efforts to limit and adapt to climate change. Policy changes can potentially be reversed or scaled back if needed, whereas many adverse changes in the climate system would be difficult or impossible to "undo".

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Tibetan experience through song and dance

I attended a Tibetan production "Kipo" last night at the University of Minnesota's Rarig Center.  It is fairly billed as "a circus of spirit, song and dance from Tibet, the land of snow." The performance incorporates beautiful costumes, music along with a talented and enthusiastic cast of characters.  The show portrays a young man's journey, which includes life in rural Tibet, travel across the country and a brief visit to a monastery.

The main character, Tenzin, loves music and dance, and is sent off to be a monk in Lhasa.  It is determined he would be a poor fit as a monk, and consequently is encouraged to follow his passion in the world of song and dance.  China's invasion of Tibet in 1959 requires Tenzin to travel to India in order to realize his dream, and be afforded artistic freedom.

The play is performed by  the world-renowned Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts and stars Tenzin Ngawang.  KIPO! means "happy" and celebrates the essential spirit of Tibet; the basic goodness that is inherent in all of us. More information about the play and theater company is available on the internet, tigerlion.org.

Following is a quote from the 14th Dalai Lama regarding happiness...

I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy.  From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering.  Neither social conditioning more education nor ideology affect this. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment.  I don't know whether the universe, with its countless galaxies, stars and planets, has a deeper meaning or not, but at the very lest, it is clear that we humans who live on this earth face the task of making a happy life for ourselves.  Therefore, it is important to discover what will bring about the greatest degree of happiness.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Measuring and reducing carbon dioxide

The vast majority of scientist have concluded that our world's increased output of carbon dioxide is leading to global climate change.  This is resulting not only in global warming, but also increasingly severe weather patterns; floods, droughts, etc.  So, what's one person to do about this?

As Mahatma Grandi suggested, we should be the change we want to see in the world.  A website, carbonfootprint,  provides information on measuring your carbon footprint along with suggestions to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide you contribute to the environment though your lifestyle.  Lot's of great practical suggestions are provided.

You and I can't make much of a difference in changing the wasteful habits of other people, but we can change our daily habits to make changes for the good.  And, as Margaret Mead has noted, "Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Please join with me in being the change we want to see in this world!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Death of Harmon Killebrew and old time baseball

The passing of baseball great Harmon Killebrew yesterday reminded me of how drastically the sport of baseball has changed since the 1960s. An article, "So long, Killer" in the Star Tribune notes some of these changes..

  • In 1959, back when Harmon was leading the league in home runs, he made $9,000 a year. Today million dollar salaries are commonplace, with the Minnesota Twins player Joe Mauer, (currently injured) in an 8 year salary contract worth $184 million.  
  • Game tickets were affordable for families of modest means. Baseball used to have special "knot hole" games, where one paying adult could bring in a station wagon full of kids for free. Now to purchase one ticket in the farthest back seat in the outfield at the Target Center costs $29.  A hot dog and coke would set one back another $12.  There are no more knot hole days.
  • Games were aired over local television and radio waves. Today to watch baseball on television in the Twin Cities one has to purchase an expensive cable package.
  • The Twins team used to play in a modest Met stadium.  Now they play in a publicly subsidized state of the art Target Field.
  • Like Harmon Killebrew, players used to stay with one team for most or all of their careers.  Now it is difficult to keep track of players, given how often they move from team to team.
  • Players in Killebrew's day were drug free.  Over the years the pressures to win, along with advances in pharmaceuticals, have caused many baseball greats to utilize drugs/blood doping to gain an advantage.
It seems, as with so many things in this affluent country, we've taken sports to the extreme.  And, I dare say that in doing so professional baseball is going to kill itself.  While the rules of baseball have stayed the same, the sport has become big business, and by becoming such has lost its allure for many, including this guy.  RIP Harmon Killebrew!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Team spirt alive and well in Ultimate

Armstrong HS Ultimate (AU Gold) singing to
St. Cloud Cathedral's Ultimate team after a close game
I've enjoyed attending many Ultimate (frisbee) games this spring, watching our daughter play for the Armstrong High School girl's team.  In addition to being a fun game to watch from an athletic perspective, it is also inspiring to see the camaraderie among and between teams.

After each game the teams share a cheer/song for the opposing team.  At tournaments an award is given for  team exhibiting the best spirit of the game.  Sometimes fun games, such as "ninja" are played following a game when the teams combine all their members.  Individuals also may receive a spirit of the game award for outstanding sportsmanship.

Ten Things You Should Know About Spirit of the Game (SOTG)™ 
1. The golden rule: treat others as you would want to be treated.
Spirited games result from mutual respect among opponents. Assume the best of your opponent. Give him or her the benefit of a doubt. You would want the same for yourself. But if you are thick-skinned, do not assume that your opponent is. Maybe you should think of this rule as, "treat others as you would have them treat your mother."
2. Control: SOTG takes real effort.
SOTG is not just some abstract principle that everyone adopts and then games run smoothly without effort. Close calls are made in tight games. Hard fouls are committed. SOTG is about how you handle yourself under pressure: how you contain your emotionality, tame your temper, and modulate your voice. If you initiate or contribute to the unraveling of spirit, the concept falls apart quickly. If you act to mend things (or at least not exacerbate the situation) by following (1) above, the game heals itself.
3. Heckling and taunting are different.
Ultimate has a long tradition of good-natured heckling. Heckles are friendly barbs, typically from non-playing spectators. Heckling can be fun, but taunting is unspirited and wrong. Harassing remarks after an opponent's foul call or close play are NOT heckling: they are abusive taunts which create unpleasant playing conditions and often escalate to acrimonious disputes.
4. SOTG is compatible with championship play.
It is a fallacy to argue that the stakes are so important that some aspect of SOTG can be cast aside. Time and again, great teams and star players have shown that you can bring all your competitive and athletic zeal to a game without sacrificing fair play or respect for your opponent.
5. Don't "give as you got."
There is no "eye for an eye." If you are wronged, you have no right to wrong someone in return. In the extreme case where you were severely mistreated, you may bring the issue up with a captain, tournament director, or even lodge a complaint with the governing body. If you retaliate in kind, however, a complaint may be filed against you. We recall point (1): treat others as you would have them treat you, not as they have treated you. In the end, you are responsible for you.
6. Breathe.
After a hard foul, close call, or disputed play, take a step back, pause, and take a deep breath. In the heat of competition, emotions run high. By giving yourself just a bit of time and space, you will gain enough perspective to compose yourself and concentrate on the facts involved in the dispute (was she in or out; did you hit his hand or the disc; did that pick affect the play). Your restraint will induce a more restrained response from your opponent. Conflagration averted, you may resume business as usual.
7. When you do the right thing, people notice.
When you turn the other cheek, you know you've done the right thing. You may not hear praise, there may be no standing ovation, but people do notice. Eventually, their respect for you and their appreciation of the game will grow.
8. Be generous with praise.
Compliment an opponent on her good catch. Remark to a teammate that you admire his honesty in calling himself out of bounds. Look players in the eye and congratulate them when you shake their hands after a game. These small acts boost spirit greatly, a large payoff for little time and effort.
9. Impressions linger.
Not only does the realization that your actions will be remembered for a long time serve to curb poor behavior, it can also inspire better conduct. Many old-timers enjoy the experience of meeting an elite player who remembers their first rendezvous on the field and recalls the event in detail. A good first encounter with an impressionable young player can have considerable long term positive impact.
10. Have fun.
All other things being equal, games are far more fun without the antipathy. Go hard. Play fair. Have fun.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Lake of the Isles homes

Went on a walk yesterday around Minneapolis' Lake of the Isles.  The many large, diverse and beautiful homes and gardens provided great viewing.  At times it was hard to decide whether to took lake side or residential side.

When viewing these homes I wondered about a few things...
  • What do these people do for a living that they can afford such homes?  Perhaps they inherited them?
  • How can they afford the taxes and maintenance required of such large personal residents?
  • Don't they get lonely in such large homes with very few residents?  Wonder if they would like a house guest or three?
  • What must their heating/cooling bills look like?
I marveled at the beautiful gardens and interesting architecture.  One of the homes was having an estate sale.  They had items for purchase in the garage, by the sculpture gardens and in the music room.  We purchased some CDs and a kite.  Now I'm prepared for the next time someone tells me to "go fly a kite."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Canada Geese and goslings

Out from under mom's wing
Under mom's wing
Tulip in front yard
It was fun to see these three little goslings under their mom's wing this morning.  Turns out there were five all totaled, packed together and enjoying the warmth of Goose down.

To the right is a picture of a spring tulip in our front yard.  Its red color contrasts nicely with the spring green of the yard and park beyond.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Spring in the park

Canada Geese with gosling under wing

Weeping willow catkins

River birch catkins

Gosling under wing

Friday, May 13, 2011

Faith community's role in helping others in times of need

Gary Reierson
I attended the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches' (GMCC) annual meeting earlier in the week.  Gary Reierson, the CEO and President reflected on the fact that they are working to do more with less.  Resources have diminished while the need for services has increased, with greater numbers of people of finding themselves unemployed, homeless and or hungry.  GMCC has a number of programs which engage people of faith to meet human needs.

GMCC's 2010 Annual Report
With the public's inability or opposition to raising taxes to provide a safety net to the vulnerable among us, it seems that the faith community is going to be looked upon to do more to respond to human needs.  One current example of this is the flooding taking place in Memphis, Tennessee.  I've heard that the faith community has taken the lead in sheltering and housing those impacted by the flood.  The American Red Cross, typically the first responder for situations such as this, has welcomed their intervention.

Looking at the role of the church in the future it may be wise to consider redefining its primary function from being a space for worship, to one for feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, nurturing infants and toddlers and providing counseling to people in their times of need.  Who knows, with the continued rise in health care costs, churches might even find themselves needing to serve as clinics for those under/uninsured.

A Minnesota Without Poverty, has a skit "Budget holes and hotdish", which speaks to the folly of trying to plug the serious financial needs of the state with church funding.

Sports cathedrals and hero worship

Watching ball game from last row
I attended my first Minnesota Twins baseball game at their year old multimillion dollar stadium, Target Center. It was amazing to be a part of the sell out crowd of 38,000 plus thousand for a Wednesday  midday game.

Turns out the free ticket that I received for the game was in THE very last row in center field.  It provided a great panoramic view of the proceedings.

Joe Mauer fan watching
the real Joe warm up
I was amazed to see how many spectators were wearing Twins jerseys with player's names emblazoned in large letters on the back.  Mauer and Morneau were the Twins players with whom most people chose to identify.

Seems we are living in a nation that loves sports superstars.  On the entertainment front "American Idol" is a popular television program that supposedly helps develop new idols.  Don't most monotheistic religions strongly discourage idol worship?

Older fans
I enjoyed taking the bus into the game.  It dropped me off within a block of the stadium.  It cost $1.75 going downtown, during off peak hours and $2.25 for the return trip home during rush hour.

"#1 Twins Fan" and "I love Justin" fan

Enthusiastic fans
MTC bus