Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Soda tax? Bring it on.

I had lunch yesterday at north Minneapolis at a restaurant that didn't serve water.  When I asked for a glass of water the owner pointed me to a cooler full of many different types of soda and a bottle or two of water.  I managed to get the meal down beverage free.

Sadly, soda is the drink of choice for many, especially in poor urban areas.  All too often when driving through the Northside in the morning I would see kids with a can of soda waiting at the bus stop.  Thanks to soda, unhealthy foods and lack of exercise, we've got an epidemic of both obesity and diabetes.  In my Pop/soda? Just say NO! blog I've got 15 reasons to avoid soda pop.

I was pleased to see an article in the paper this morning "Would you cut back on soda if you had to pay a tax on it?.  It was discouraging however to see that the proposed tax would only be a penny per ounce and is already facing stiff opposition.  Given its harmful effects on the health of our nation it seems to me it should be taxed along the lines of liquor.

It was estimated that the proposed tax would raise $13 billion a year in revenues while also saving $17 billion in medical costs, by diminishing the occurrence of heart disease and diabetes. What is not to like about that?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Seeking to understand other perspectives

An editorial in the StarTribune begged the question "Higher ed leans left. But why? And so what?".

My immediate reaction was, why naturally academics lean to the left. Scholars tend to be well educated and inquisitive, why wouldn't they believe in things like evolution and global warming? However I also know and believe that there are many bright, caring and capable conservatives, who are not all easily painted with one big brush.

This editorial quotes social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who observed "Our shared values make it difficult for us to entertain alternative hypotheses... We humans are experts at using reasoning to find evidence for whatever conclusions we want to reach. We are terrible at searching for contradictory evidence."

The growing choice of unfiltered media outlets provide opportunities for people to gather "news" that fits with their values and political leanings.  If we are sincere about gaining a balanced and informed view of the world I would suggest it is critical for us to explore outlets that provide differing views from our natural inclinations. So rather than just listening, reading or viewing news sources that cater to our beliefs we stretch and grow by listening to differing perspectives.  So folks who usually just watch FOX news might benefit from viewing MSNBC and vice versa.

While it is valuable to get news from varying sources, it is also important to check the validity of information we receive, especially over the internet.  One source to check on the truth of urban legends is Snopes.com. I'm thankful for news sources, such as National Public Radio, that provide extensive, well grounded reporting.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Military needing to hold bake sale for bomber... NOT

Headline news is that the United States military has made a small step to reduce its 2013 budget by proposing to congress a 1 percent decrease in spending ("Pentaagon to trim budget for first time in decade").  This would bring the Pentagon's budget down to $525 billion dollars.  They're not likely to be holding bake sales for the purchase of bombers just yet. 

One of the erie aspects of the new military is the increased use of unmanned vehicles, such as drones, that can attack an enemy without risking the lives of US troops.  Some consider the use of drones to be unethical and illegal. Utilizing drones in countries where we are not at war is a point of concern for at least one former US government official...

“I think they do, because you cross a border and you go into a country with whom you are not at war under any definition known to man of war and you start to kill people with military implements and in some cases with military people pulling the trigger or pushing the button,” said Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief-of-staff for Colin Powell.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The problem with snap judgements

Snap judgements, we make them all the time.  It is often faster and more convenient to make quick decisions than to slowly work through additional information, whether we are shopping or even deciding if we should trust someone.  The only problem with these snap decisions is that they might be ill informed and wrong.

Mark, a friend with whom I walk in the morning, shared a "simple" puzzle from a book by Dan Kahneman's book, "Thinking, Fast and Slow".

Here is the "simple" puzzle. Don't try to solve it logically, but rather listen to your intuition:
A bat and ball together cost a total of $1.10.
The bat costs one dollar more than the ball.
How much does the ball cost?

For most of us the number that comes to mind is 10 cents. This puzzle evokes and answer that is intuitive, appealing and wrong. Do the math and you'll see. If the ball costs $.10, then the total cost will be $1.20 ($.10 for the ball and $1.10 for the bat)--not $1.10. The correct answer is 5 cents.

Mr. Kahneman also notes how we tend to generalize from our experiences with the concept of "What you see is all there is" (WYSIATI).  This method of making judgements provides an "illusion of validity", thus making it easy for us to develop broad generalizations from our limited experiences or information.

In a world where we are bombarded by information, this serves as a reminder to slow down in our decision making. It also challenges us to gather information from multiple sources, and allow time for the processing of information... that is at least if we hope to have a better chance of making a more accurate judgement.  

Thursday, January 26, 2012

New plant hardiness zones based on warmer temps

Eastern Red Bud, now growing in northern climates
The impact of global warming has not gone unnoticed by farmers and gardeners.  As a result of the warmer temperatures the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map has been updated.

A broadcast  on Minnesota Public Radio discusses the impact on plants of a five degree warming in temperature.

The trend of warmer winters certainly was evidenced this year in the Twin Cities. January 19th, when it finally dipped below zero in the Twin Cities, was within a day of setting a record for the latest day of the winter with a temperature below zero.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Impact of the internet on our brain

A brief article "15 ways the internet is changing our brain" suggests the internet has both beneficial and detrimental effects on the operation of our brains.

Benefits include:
  • We don't have to worry about remembering a lot of trivial information. We can store phone numbers, addresses, etc. on the computer and can quickly search for data on Google, or some other search engine.
  • We're better at being able to locate the information we need
  • Scores have increased on intelligence tests
Areas for concern:
  • We don't give things our full attention the way we once did.  Increasingly people are multitasking; using social media, surfing the web, listening to music, etc.
  • Our memories have been weakened. We have lower rates of recall.
  • It is more difficult for us to concentrate.  Deep reading is becoming increasingly difficult for many.
  • We're becoming physically addicted to the bombardment of stimulation provided by the internet.
  • Many of us become more interested and distracted by new information provided on the internet or via email, rather than focusing on existing knowledge and important, but perhaps less exciting tasks.
  • Becoming accustomed to short bursts of information we are more likely to become distracted and unfocused even when we are no longer online; perhaps to the detriment of friends and family.
  • Creative thinking may be hampered.  We are more likely to depend upon the internet, and less  likely to rely on our memory, which is required to do our own thinking.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New growth in old Detroit

"You have to make a way out of now way".  These are words of wisdom that 96-year-old philosopher Grace Lee Boggs learned while living in urban Detroit.  A fascinating interview with Ms. Boggs, "Becoming Detroit", is available for listeners on the American Public Media show "On Being".

She is helping those from her community to change and grow from  the unemployment crisis in Detroit, where one third of the land is vacant.  Rather than just protesting, she encourages us to consider revolution as evolution. She notes is that the current environment provides us with a chance to re-imagine work in a different way.

One of the tangible ways she is building community is through encouraging urban farming.

Among her insights .... We have to restore the neighbor to the hood.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Trickle down economics not working for 99%

The merits of trickle down economics were roundly debunked in an editorial "Five misconceptions about economic fairness" by David Morris.

Consider that since 1980 the average annual income of the bottom 90 percent of Americans has increased a minuscule 1 percent, while during that same time period the income of the top one percent has doubled!

The United States of America, long know as the land of opportunity, has become a place where  a poor person is less likely to become rich than in most other industrialized countries

Photo from Occupy Minnesota protest
Despite the rhetoric of the far right, redistributing income to the 99 percent is actually much more likely to work its way into the economy than keeping it in the hands of the wealthy, who are much more likely to hold onto those dollars. A dollar in tax cuts on capital gains results only in 38 cents of economic growth, while that same dollar in unemployment benefits fuels the economy at a rate of $1.63.

Lastly, Mr. Morris, who works with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, points out that taxing the rich could indeed significantly help to reduce our national deficit.  If only the richest 400 families paid the statutory rate of 39 percent of their income (to be reenacted next year) an additional $500 billion would be raised over 10 years.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A picture of promise

This photo represents promise. First in a new day, with the rising of the sun. Then, with seeds, which if planted have the potential of developing into a large, beautiful maple tree.

 I've  loved these whirly maple  aka "helicopter" seeds since childhood.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Fractal patterns in nature

Fractal patterns with ice and branch
Fractal pattern of ice cracks
Earlier I posted some pictures of ice cracks that seemed to mimic roots or branches.  I've since learned that these may be defined as fractal patterns.  In the book "The Fractal Geometry of Nature", B.B. Mandelbroth defines fractal patterns as a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size of the whole.  Snowflakes perhaps are one of the best examples of this.

Fractal pattern in tree
The tree, pictured right, appears to have a fractal pattern that imitates the veins of a leaf.

I learned of this term from a fellow photographer on the Capture Minnesota website.  These past few months it has been a blast to view pictures uploaded by photographers, both professionals and amateurs, from around the state.  This contest will be drawing to a close at the end of January.  Shortly thereafter a book will be published with a couple of hundred of the top photographs.  I wouldn't want to be the one having to rendering down the amazing variety of pictures portrayed on this site.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Warm thoughts for cold weather

Pictured above is one of my favorite family photos.  It was taken about 14 years ago, and is of my older brother and our daughter.  I had just purchased a point and shoot camera at a garage sale for my brother (pictured). This was a demo shot was taken to make sure the camera worked.

This picture reminds me that you don't have to pay top dollar for all of your stuff. Used items from a garage sale or thrift store can often do the trick. It is also a reminder to take time out to notice and smell the flowers when you can.  For, as is the case in Minnesnowta, the summer flowers quickly fade with the arrival of fall and winter months.

Our pretty little girl, now 17, and will be moving on before we know it.  What a wonderful thing it is to savor the precious moments we now have together with our family and friends.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

View of the ice

With the mild snowless winter we have been having up to this point the ice on Bassett Creek Pond has been mostly exposed. Normally buried under the snow it is amazing how different the ice can look depending on one's proximity and lighting conditions.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

People driving your crazy? Seek first to understand.

I could see I ticked off a neighbor as he mouthed displeasure while I was passing by him in my car, driving down the hill.  I could easily understand his frustration, since I had been driving partially in his lane.  Coming up the hill what he couldn't see however was that  I had just passed a pedestrian and given her wide birth, and had not yet pulled fully back into my lane.

Countless times have I been in my neighbor's shoes, upset with drivers who I think are going too fast, too slow or perhaps driving indecisively.  What I don't know is if they may just be learning to drive, perhaps elderly, lost, or may even have a vehicle that is need of repair.  Sometimes it is clearly apparent when someone needs to drive slowly, like the sedan I was recently behind, who turned ever so slowly around a corner, with a mattress and box spring roped on top. Often, however, there are no immediate visual clues that help us to understand the annoying habits of other drivers.

My impatience with drivers was painfully made aware to me about 14 years ago when our daughter was still very young.  We were going out for lunch and a man with a walker was moving slowly in the line ahead of us.  Our daughter determinedly told the older gentleman "move it out buster".   Thankfully he seemed just as understanding as I was embarrassed.

In addition to driving less frequently I am also working to slow down in passing judgement on the actions others.  The Prayer of St. Francis helps redirect my impatience....

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Chinese New Year Celebration

We attended "Dance of Joy" this past Sunday at the O'Shaughnessy Auditorium in St. Paul in celebration of the upcoming Chinese New Year. Also known as the Lunar New Year, this is the most important of traditional Chinese holidays. This year it begins on January 23rd.

As a part of the Chinese New Year tradition there is a twelve year rotation, with animals representing each of those years.  2012 is the Year of the Dragon.  People born during the Year of the Dragon are thought to be characterized by excitement, unpredictability, exhilaration and intensity.

This event was  hosted by the Twin Cities Chinese Dance Center.

Monday, January 16, 2012

MLK Day of Service

Volunteers with Project Sweetie Pie
Dr. Martin Luther King Junior once noted "Life's most persistent and urgent question is 'What are you doing for others?'"  So it seems appropriate that a call to service goes out on this national holiday when we recognize the life and work of Dr. King.

There are a plethora of service opportunities working with youth, seniors, wildlife, etc.  Locally Hands on Twin Cities provides a listing of hundreds of things and places were people can help out.  On February 18th they'll be hosting a Volunteer Expo at the Mall of America.

This past year I've have the great enjoyment of volunteering in the following different areas of service:   
  • Helping launch the Victory Peace Garden with the 4-H,
  • Serving on the board of the Crystal Fund for Community Progress,
  • Chairing Stewardship efforts at Valley of Peace Lutheran, 
  • Working with Project Sweetie Pie on urban farming in North Minneapolis, and
  • Tutoring math with third graders at Noble Elementary
Victory Peace Garden
In all cases I discovered truth in the paradox that through giving we receive.  What can be more satisfying than helping a young person gain skills that will last them a lifetime, or growing vegetables that will feed folks in need, or even helping people give of their resources to worthy causes?  

One final remark by the late Dr. King "Everybody can be great because anybody can serve.  You don't have to have a college degree to serve.  You don't have to make your subject a verb to agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love."

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Tips for burning wood more cleanly

With the last couple of posts related to the benefits of wood burning and then the problems related to soot, the following posting seems in order.

 There are several tips in the publication Wood Stoves and Air Pollution; Clean burning wood stoves minimize health risks produced by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Studies to minimize the emission of soot from burning wood.

The biggest reason for a smoky fire is incomplete combustion.  This can be caused by an inefficient model stove, wood that isn't seasoned properly, burning of household waste, or a fire that isn't burning hot.  Following are some recommendations related to these common soot related issues.
  1. Purchase an advanced combustion stove.  These stoves have catalytic combustors that ignite smoke gasses and particles at a lower temperature than older models, resulting in a more thorough burn. 
  2. Store wood under cover to allow it to dry properly.  Then burn only wood that has air-dried for at least six to eight months, ideally hard woods, such as oak, maple, or ash.  
  3. Don't ever burn household trash, such as plastics, magazines, etc.  Trash emits toxic fumes and may also result in hazardous ash.
  4. Start fires in the stove with dry kindling and an open damper.  Gradually increase the size of the wood.  It is best not to open the wood stove door too often in order to reduce unwanted emissions indoors.
  5. Don't allow the fire to smolder. A smoldering fire is the worst emitter of soot and pollution.  This can also lead to creosote deposits in the chimney, which in turn could result in a chimney fire.
  6. Keep the stove well maintained by checking for leaks and cleaning the stack pipe and chimney.  

Friday, January 13, 2012

Climate change involves not just CO2, but also soot and methane

A couple of important studies on climate change have recently hit the news.  First came a report on the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide within the United States, EPA: Power plants are top global warming culprits. According to the Environmental Protection Agency power plants released 72 percent of the industrial greenhouse gases this past year. The biggest culprits were coal-fired plants followed by oil refineries.

While it is tempting to simply point to the energy sector as the villains of our exorbitant carbon dioxide emissions, yet they are helping to fulfill the needs of us American energy addicts.  In addition to focusing on cleaning up the power plants and refineries, we too must look at ways of curbing our use of fossil fuels.

In another report an international team of scientist are recommending that in addition to focusing our attention on decreasing carbon dioxide emissions we should also be working to reduce discharges of methane and soot, Climate change not just about CO2; study says cut methane, soot to slow warming, save lives.  It has been calculated that there are 10 to 1 returns on investments for efforts to reduce soot and methane.  Just within the United States it is estimated 14,000 air pollution deaths in people older than 30 by the year 2030 could be prevented. Additionally, a reduction in methane and soot could, over  the next 30 years, diminish by about 0.8 degrees Fahrenheit projected warming in the U.S.

Additional information on the impact of soot is available from an article published in 2010 by Sanford University, Best hope for saving Artic sea ice is cutting soot emissions, says stanford researcher.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Stored wood and wasted resources

Wood gleaned from neighbor in raised beds
Yesterday I was salvaging fire wood from a neighbor's home. To do this required a a somewhat awkward phone call to my neighbor, who is a widow, asking if she might allow me to haul the old wood away.  Her husband had stored up a large, nicely stacked woodpile in back of their home, with anticipation of burning it sometime in the fireplace.

As one who regularly gathers and burns wood, I painfully watched this wood pile ever so slowly rotting over the past 5-10 years.  Even a hardwood, like my neighbor's oak, only stays hard so long before it turns "punky". This process is also know as splating. The fungi do their work to rot away the wood, which over time turns it useless for burning or woodworking.  Thankfully my neighbor's wood was not rotted to the point of being worthlessness for burning.

Jotul wood burning stove
This experience reminds me of a passage in the Bible where Jesus tells his disciples "You are the salt of the earth.  But if the salt loses it saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet." (Matthew 5:13).  We all have talents and resources that can benefit others, what a shame if we save them up for some later date that never comes.

PS  While some have concerns that wood burning releases CO2 into the atmosphere, it actually is CO2 neutral. Carbon stored in wood is emitted into the atmosphere as it decomposes.  So by burning wood, instead of carbon-producing fuels such as propane, or electricity from a coal-burning plant, it actually can reduce once's carbon footprint, depending on how much fuel is required to cut and chop the wood.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Enjoying record breaking 52 degree day

Snow boarding fun
Yesterday afternoon, when the weather warmed to 52 degrees Fahrenheit, people were enjoying the artificial snow at Elm Creek Winter Recreation Area in Maple Grove.
Nordic ski race

Given the extremely mild winter we've had thus far, some of the city lakes still have areas of open water. Global weirding is alive and well.  While many are thankful for the lack of snow and mild weather, those who work in industries that rely on snow are hurting big time.  An article in the StarTribune, Minnesota businesses are seeing red ink in brown winter, discusses some of the impact of the warm dry winter.

One outdoor winter enthusiast, Alison Gannett, has even started "The Save Our Snow Foundation", to demonstrate solutions to climate change that can be cost-effective, reduce pollution and increase energy security, while also saving our snowpack and our planet's ecosystems.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Three bachelor Mallards telling photographer jokes

Three bachelor Mallards

Mallard A: "...So, did you hear the one about the photographer that couldn't get the special heron picture he was desperately hoping for? Seems the park's budget had been slashed, so while they still had a few Great Blues, unfortunately they were out of Greenbacks."
Mallard B: "Right, I know that nature photographer. He's the one I see every year hitch hiking south for the winter, because he can't afford to fly."
Mallard C: "By the way, did you know that all photographers have photographic memories? Unfortunately, most of their memory cards are full..."

Monday, January 9, 2012

Nobel peace prize photographs

Doug Knutson presenting at a
Luther College Alumni luncheon
Great to see an article about Doug Knutson, a photographer and Luther College alumni in  the StarTribune (A Nobel cause: Photographing the winners).  He's been following his passion and taking photographs of Nobel Peace Prize laureates since 1979.

You can view Doug's beautiful black and white portraits of these distinguished leaders at the following website, Nobelpeaceportraits.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Central Lutheran love story

Central Lutheran with steeple and bell tower in downtown Minneapolis
Sanctuary and organ
Earlier this week I enjoyed a visit to the downtown Minneapolis church were my mom's parents met, Central Lutheran.  My grandparents, both of Norwegian ancestry, became acquainted in the later 1920s, after having come to the city to further their education. They attended a young adults gathering at the church.  Grandpa Dybvig moved to Minneapolis from a farm in Colton, South Dakota.  He later enrolled in the University of Minnesota, where he received degrees both in electrical engineering and the law school.  Grandma Anderson came from a farming family that had immigrated from Norway to Cokato, Minnesota. She became a registered nurse through Fairview's school of nursing.  They later launched their family after moving to Dayton, Ohio.
Stained glass window
with Norwegian flag

Back to Central Lutheran.  It was in 1928 that Central's current neo-Gothic type cathedral-type building was dedicated to accommodate this burgeoning congregation.  It was built with a seating capacity of 2,500. Though the early plans included a clarion bell town, the crash of the stock market precluded its construction.  In 2003 a generous donor provided a designated gift to complete the bell tower addition, as initially planned.

Over the years Central Lutheran has become increasingly diverse as it works to be a model of vibrant urban Lutheran ministry. I have a special appreciation for Central's outreach, as among many other things it hosts Kinship's fall harvest party.  The senior pastor, Rick Nelson, is also a long-time Kinship mentor for a young guy from Minneapolis.

Ring the bells for Central Lutheran, as it continues to stand tall in service to the people of Minneapolis.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Finland's educational goal? Equity in education.

If you're interested in education and have just a few minutes I would highly recommend reading an article in The Atlantic entitled "What Americans keep ignoring about Finland's school success".  Following are just a few insights from Finland's highly successful public educational model.
  1. They don't have private schools.  All are invested in their public school system.  (In the US the approach seems to be to send one's child off to a private school or start up a charter school if you don't like your local public school).
  2. They only have one standardized test near matriculation of voluntary upper secondary school. Teachers independently devise their own tests to measure progress. (No teaching to the frequently required standardized tests).
  3. The main motivation is cooperation between teachers and schools. (The latest trend in the US is competition).
  4. Free school meals, access to health care, psychological counseling and guidance are offered to ALL students in the Finish school system. (The trend in the US is to access activity fees for most everything and staff fewer guidance counselors.).
  5. Teaching is a prestigious well paid profession which requires a masters degree. (Teachers seem more apt to be reviled rather than revered in the US, and only require a bachelors degree). 
  6. Though not discussed in the article, Finland also supports a love of music and the arts throughout their school system.  (The arts and vocational opportunities have been dramatically reduced with the increased emphasis on reading, writing and arithmetic in the US).
The corporate takeover of our school system is not working.  I hope that we might lean from Finland, and not simply discard them as socialist.  As Paul Wellstone liked to opine, "We all do better, when we all do better."  I hope that we might learn from Finland and start doing better for all of our students in this country.  

Rose hips and legacies

Rose hips are what is left behind after a rose has blossomed.  They are high in vitamin C and can be used for making herbal tea, jam and are even an essential component of Slovania's national soft drink.

This picture was taken at the Beltzer Rose garden located at Bassett Creek Park in Crystal.  Mr. Belzer donated and cares for the rose garden in memory of his wife, who enjoyed the park immensely.

What a beautiful legacy!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Learning from different perspectives

I'm almost always skeptical of people who profess to know "the truth" about things.  Seems each of us only gets only small glimpses of the truth of things, and so need the insights of others to assemble even just a few pieces of the puzzle, in order to make sense of the greater whole.

Yesterday I noticed some maple seeds shimmering in the early sun rays. Pictured at left are a variety of perspectives of these seeds taken within just a few moments of one another.  Amazing how differently they appear, depending on how the sun strikes them, the angle at which they are viewed and what appears behind them.  Image how greatly their appearance is altered in the afternoon versus evening, or during the spring, fall, winter or summer months.

Imagine again what varying descriptions one might have of these same maple seeds base on touch, sight, taste or sound.

I'm reminded of the story of four blind people that were each introduced to an elephant and then asked to describe the animal.  One was lead to the tail, and he felt it very much like a rope.  Another felt the vast firm side of the elephant and described it to be like a wall.  The one whom was led to the leg of the elephant felt it very much like a tree.  Finally another person who was brought to the trunk described it  to be just like a water hose.  All accurate descriptions, yet very limited in their overall understanding of the complex nature of a large elephant.

Struggling to make sense of the complexity of people and experiences one of my counseling professors loved to quote the Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard.. life is a mystery to be lived, not a puzzle to be solved.

Earlier on in college I discovered his free spirited perspective on the nature of things doesn't work as well in biology or chemistry class, where the goal seems to be learning to categorize and distinguish things by their properties, etc.  

How can we hope to accurately describe the complexity a person based on our limited history and perspective? As unique individuals created in God's image I love the way God described him/herself to Moses from the burning bush (Exodus 3:14), "I am that I am".  How's that for a definition?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Rapid growth in subsidized lunches

A piece in the StarTribune, "Subsidized lunches", noted the dramatic increase in children qualifying for free or reduced rate meals.  This past year there were 21 million children who were eligible for federally subsidized food programs, up 17 percent since 2006-07. To qualify for a free lunch according to the federal guidelines a family would need to be making less than 130 percent of the poverty level.  This would equate to $29,055 for a family of four.  It is mind boggling to think that within the city of New York 62 percent of the children were eligible for free lunch this past year.

One of the impacts of this trend is the growth of working poor. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. We now have millions more who are no longer able to afford life's necessities: food, shelter and health care.  It is hard for children to do well in school when they're hungry, homeless or sick and can't afford to see the doctor.

How much do you know about poverty?  There is a quiz, sponsored by "Half in Ten", on the web.  The goal of this organization is to cut poverty in half in ten years.

Thoughts for the New Year

I recently came across a book marker from a used book store "What Goes "Round" that had a thought provoking quote printed on it...
"The best practice for being where one wants to be, 
    is the practice of being where one is..."

As someone who is at times directionally challenged, this dovetails nicely with another expression that I love...
"Where ever you go, there you are."

Monday, January 2, 2012

Bird nest

Bird's nest with snow
One of the benefits of winter is to see such structures as bird nests, which typically go undetected when trees are fully leafed out.

Walking to church yesterday I spotted a bird's nest that happened to be at eye level.  Pretty impressive to see how well constructed this nest was, simply woven of twigs and grass.

It had been raining the day before and then turned to snow later on New Year's Eve.  Much of the ground developed a coating of ice overnight.  The sidewalk was brushed and made an interesting pattern, with icy craters (right).

Fifteen years of playing boot hockey helped me successfully navigate the icy sidewalks.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Watching for Dick Tracy

This picture was taken earlier in the week from the Foshay Tower.  I call it "Watching for Dick Tracy", because it reminds me of the television cartoon "Dick Tracy" that I used to watch in the 1960's.  The show used to start with a black and white squad car driving through traffic in a busy city intersection, with all of the cars pulled over for Detective Tracy.  One of the cool features was his large wrist watch that had a video camera and phone feature.  Seems we're coming very close to that with the new smart phones.  Who knows, 2012 just may be the year that they introduce the "smart" wrist watch... perhaps an "iWatch"?

I was hoping to catch a police car screaming down the avenue, but couldn't wait any longer, as my parking meter was running out of time.  I witnessed a steady stream of buses heading south on Marquette Avenue, taking folks home from work.

My best to all the readers of this blog in the New Year, 2012!