Saturday, March 31, 2012

Oil subsides continue under the influence of money

The recent voted by the US Senate to protect $23.5 billion in tax breaks for oil companies is disheartening.  (Senators who voted to protect oil tax breaks received $23,582,5000 from big oil). Interesting to see the strong correlation between the money received by those voting for big oil tax breaks by the oil and gas companies versus those that voted against the subsidy.

I like the recommendation made by one observer that legislators wear the corporate logos of those businesses who are so magnanimously supporting their political campaigns. They would look a little like race car drivers.  However I'm not sure however that their suits could accommodate so many logos.

Even a "conservative" meteorologist like Paul Douglas has gone on the record questioning the Republican support of our national energy policy. Mr. Douglas notes something that I've long been chagrined about, "conserve" is a root of the word conservative. (A message from a republican meteorologist on climate change).

One of the simple things that our automotive industry could to to help us conserve energy would be to add gas gages to our vehicles that provide instantaneous measurements of fuel economy.  While making a couple of longer road trips in a Prius this week I found I was much more conservative in my driving that I would have  been otherwise. I could see the significant improvement in miles per gallon (MPG) when driving 55 MPH versus 70 MPH.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Signs of diversity on a college campus

On a recent college visit I discovered signs of diversity on the posters at the Carleton College's Skinner Memorial Chapel .  The following opportunities were posted on the bulletin board...
Skinner Memorial Chapel
Carlton College

Chapel Banners
  • Torah through A Rabbinic Lens
  • Interfaith Social Action - live love, make change
  • Bhagavad Gita - Study and dicussion group
  • Shabbat Services
  • Mindful Eating - The Mind, Body, Spirit series
  • Make the time for quiet - Centering Prayer
  • Buddhist Meditation
  • Qur'an Study and Muslim Discussion
  • Compline Services - A short, simple service of evening prayer from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer
Carlton is the third oldest college in Minnesota, having started in 1866 by the General Conference of the Congregational Churches of Minnesota.  The college is now non-denominational with no religious ties. Interest in understanding other cultures and religion was also evidenced in his trimester's most popular class on Taoism.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Value of "wasted time" to spark creativity

Mechanical beast put out to pasture
I enjoyed listing to author, Jonah Lehrer, on Minnesota Public Radio yesterday speaking about creativity.  Among other things he noted that Albert Einstein once observed that creativity is the residual of wasted time.

One of the under discussed keys to creativity is a feeling of frustration with an inability to find an answer to a problem.  Then with time, often when we are relaxed, an elegant solution arrives at a time least expected.

Mr. Lehrer has written a book "Imagine: How Creativity Works."

A high school classmate observed between his studies... "Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time."

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Neighborly "win-win" deals

I just saved my neighbor a couple of hundred dollars and may be up just about as much.  How is this possible?  Well, a big oak tree went down in my neighbor's yard and I asked if he might like help getting rid of some of the wood.  He enthusiastically agreed.  So I brought my chainsaw over and had at it.  I made about 6-8 trips home with wood in the back of our car.

I'm also getting the benefit of many great workouts; first cutting the wood, then hauling it home, next hauling the wood up the hill in a wheelbarrow to the storage area in our back yard and finally splitting the wood.  

The oak dry for at least a year before burning it in our wood burning stove.  
I gather wood.  
I build fires. 
Oh what happiness. 
Oh what joy.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tips to avoid a nervous breakdown

Though it may sound hard to believe, one man's nervous breakdown turned out to be a valuable life lesson.  According to a StarTribune article Todd Patkin was an over achiever that was plagued by depression and anxiety throughout his life.  Then after a prolonged period of despair and a doctor visit he realized that he needed to love himself unconditionally.  Following are the additional tips he has to share with others.
  1. Exercise regularly.  It both helps both by releasing endorphins and aids sleep.
  2. Don't listen to the news.  Rather than listening to anxiety producing stories find some motivational reading.
  3. Keep in mind it is not all about you.  People may treat you badly, but that often stems from their own weaknesses.
  4. Be present in your relationships.  Really be focused and listen when you're engaged with others.
  5. Focus on what's working.  Remember to take credit for the good things you do throughout the day, and not just the things you wish you could have done better.
Mr. Patkin has a book out entitled "Finding Happiness: One Man's Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and - Finally - Let the Sunshine In."

Monday, March 26, 2012

Power of role modeling

I witnessed first hand the power of role modeling over the weekend while cutting up some wood at a home down the road.  The homeowner's youngest son, Michael, decided to tag along, watch and learn while I was sawing up parts of the large oak tree into firewood sized pieces.  Being just a little guy of about three I couldn't always quite make out what he was saying, but I was impressed to watch what he was doing.  He observed my chain saw that I brought in a black case, hard hat, gas, oil and ear muffs. Before I knew it little Michael found a bright yellow hard hat somewhere in his house/garage that he proudly wore. A little while later I  noticed his pink ear muffs, likely from his older sister.  Next came a hacksaw, and soon after swim goggles for his eyes. Being a great observer Michael noticed that when I added gas and oil little,and so he dumped some dirt onto the top of his little silver hacksaw to fuel it up. Finally he produced a black nylon pouch to put it all his equipment in, akin to the chainsaw case.
Oak firewood

Little Michael's dad was thankful that I could help him get rid of a pretty sizable chunk of the oak tree that had fallen in his yard.  While he owned a chain saw, he didn't know how to go about sawing up a big tree without pinching the chain, etc.  I realized that I too was modeling behavior observed from my dad, who used to cut a whole lot of wood for the outdoor furnace they needed in order to heat their home in Bayfield, Wisconsin.  While I didn't often get a chance to operate the saw, I too was able to watch and learn.

This reminded me of "an old saw"... kids may or may not do what we tell them to do, but they are most likely to do what they see us doing.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Hunger Games as social commentary

Jennifer Lawrence playing the role of
Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games
(photo from StarTribune c/o Murray Close, Lionsgate)
If you are not a teenager and haven't yet heard, "The Hunger Games" is the first of a wildly popular best selling book series by Suzanne Collins. It has also just been released as a movie.  I went to the movie yesterday with our daughter and found it action packed, more than a little bit violent, and providing hard hitting social commentary.

In a radio interview Suzanne Collins noted how the impetus for the book was spawned from seeing how widely popular "reality television" had become in American culture. She likened this to the Roman gladiator games, where the entertainment occurs at the expense of the participants, as in old Roman times fighting to their deaths in the coliseum, or being publicly ridiculed on television in today's world.

The widening economic disparity occurring in the United States is also reflected in the futuristic Hunger Games. People in the capital region live lavishly, while the surrounding 12 districts are working to simply eek out a living.  This graphic novel and movie are wake up calls to the often cruel and voyeuristic nature of reality television and our rapidly growing economic gap.  Let's all live and work so that we don't spiral down this trajectory toward The Hunger Games.

Friday, March 23, 2012

HUGE store, no bike rack

I rode my bike earlier in the week to check out a Menards home improvement store that had recently been rebuilt in Golden Valley. Turns out it went from being a large store to a huge one, with 250,000 square feet of shopping area.  It even had slow moving escalators to accommodate carts moving between the vast first and second floors.

Despite the gigantic building and good sized parking lot it didn't even have one single bike rack.  I encouraged the help desk manager to consider asking the big wigs to invest in a bike rack. Granted, it might be tough to haul a bag of cement or some 2x4s on bike, but the good Lord knows they've got plenty of other things for sale that could fit in a back pack or bike trailer.
If small is beautiful, this my friend is a M  O  N  S  T  R  O  S  I  T  Y.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Marketing small packages with big price tags

Yesterday I was feeling like I had been taken for a ride after forking over $13.39 for  1/2 fluid ounce (14mL) of touch up paint for our car ($12.48 plus $.91 tax).  That equates to $1,597.44 per gallon.  The marketing folks with Toyota gave the color a valuable sounding name, "Barcelona Red Metallic". Sadly when I checked the little cylinder containing this high priced paint it was simply labeled 3R3.  How exciting is that?

The paint, however, felt like a steal after examining a recent hospital bill. I had been  to the ER for a few stitches needed by an eye. The bill included $86.20 for a one gram tube of Erythromycin.  This tiny tube of ointment was prescribed to reduce the likelihood of infection.

I'm thinking that for the hospital to charge such an exorbitant fee they ought to at least consider giving this ointment a fancier name.  How about...
  • Euphorically Enriching Erythromycin? (enriching the pharmaceutical companies), 
  • Sinfully Soothing Erythromycin? (sinfully priced), or
  • Golden Touch Erythromycin? (priced more per gram than gold, currently trading at $53.17 per gram)
Anyone in need of a good deal on some eye ointment? I've still got some left over. For a mere $40 I would be willing to part with 1/2 gram of the Everlasting Elixir Erythromycin ;-)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The value of being focused

Canada Geese enjoying the morning sun
We would be better off if we stopped talking on a cell phone while driving, quit reading emails while talking on the phone and didn't work while eating our lunch.  Contrary to popular belief, multitasking makes us less productive and efficient with our time according to CEO and author Tony Schwartz.  He's written a blog entry about this for the Harvard Business Review, "The magic of doing one thing at a time."

Some of the things he recommends individuals to do in order to clearly set their own boundaries include the following:
     1.  Do the most important thing first in the morning.
     2. Establish regular, scheduled times to think more long-term, creatively, or strategically.
     3. Take real and regular vacations, when you are truly disconnected from work.

One of the small things I've done at times to enhance my focus is to simply not listen to the radio when driving.  Or better yet, listening for the sounds of birds while walking or riding a bike!

Monday, March 19, 2012

The power of forgiveness

Cattails in this morning's sun
Isn't it nice to read an article in the newspaper that isn't instilling fear into our lives?  I read one such article yesterday, "Forgiveness, hope wins out over crime in juvenile court".  The columnist, Jon Tevlin, shared a story of how a woman forgave a 17-year-old boy who had stolen and totaled her car.  The victim of this crime was a 76-year-old woman who had been a foster parent for about 50 kids, and understood how good kids can end up doing some pretty stupid and bad things.

While in juvenile court the crime victim gave the guilty party two stones, one of which was inscribed with "Hope" and the other with "A special prayer for you".  Following this act of forgiveness they hugged and the boy sobbed.  Hope was born anew in this young man's life thanks to a redeeming act of forgiveness and compassion.  Too bad we don't get to hear more inspiring stories such as this in the news.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Extremely warm temps on St. Patrick's Day

In the spirit of St. Patrick's Day I added a touch of
green to a picture of yesterday's sunrise
It was nearly 40 degrees above the average high temperature yesterday. The day topped off at 80 degrees.  This is the earliest time on record that we have reached 80 degrees in the Twin Cities.  Trees are starting to bud out, robins abound and the ice is mostly gone from Bassett Creek Pond. I spotted a muskrat busily swimming around in the pond.

Angular ice chunk floating in water

Saturday, March 17, 2012

As overheard by the pond....

Goose right: "You're one stuck up, pretentious, pompous and proud Canada Goose."
Goose left: "Oh yah? Stop your honking, cause I'm like rubber and you're like glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you!"

Seems some geese never seem to grow up!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Bassett Creek Watershed Management Commission

Crab apple tree by Bassett Creek Pond
I enjoyed my first meeting today as a commissioner with the Bassett Creek Watershed Management Commission (BCWMC). Participating in monthly meetings seems like a small token of appreciation for all the enjoyment my family receives from living adjacent to Bassett Creek Park.  It felt good to join a dedicated group of citizens representing the many communities through which Bassett Creek flows.

The primary functions of the BCWMC are to minimize the risk of flooding and to improve water quality.  Thanks to successful projects over the past thirty years flooding has been greatly minimized!  Our primary efforts are currently focused on improving water quality within the watershed and restoring the shoreline along Bassett Creek.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Processed red meat can be a killer

A recent study done by the Harvard School of Public Health discovered that eating processed meat, such as hot dogs, bacon and cold cuts increases the odds of developing heart disease and diabetes.  The increased risk caused by processed meat may be that it has considerably more salt and nonsalt preservatives than does unprocessed red meat.

Though I may sound AntiAmerican by writing this, I hope that more of us will begin to realize that hot dogs, while cheap and easy to make, aren't all that great for us. I'm pleased to report I haven't read any studies indicating a problem with eating an occasional piece of apple pie along with a scoop of natural vanilla ice cream.

A Tofu, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich is starting to sound better and better to me.  Actually, there are literally hundreds of tasty and creative ways to prepare tofu.  "Healthy tofu recipes and cooking tips" from Eating Well, provides some tasty ideas.

The full article, "Read meat: Avoid the Processed stuff", is available at Harvard Health Publications.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sugary beverages linked to heart disease

Health researchers are giving us more reasons to give up regularly drinking sugary sodas, sports drinks, fruit drinks, kool-aide, etc.  Utilizing a long-term study it was discovered that men who drink one sugar-sweetened drink a day were 20% more likely than their peers to incur coronary heart disease.  The primary researcher, Dr. Frank Hu, suggested sweetened drinks should be enjoyed only sparingly.

Surgery beverages have also been linked to increased likelihood of diabetes, high blood pressure, weight gain and a variety of other chronic diseases. A couple of years back a Nurses Health Study also linked sugary drinks and heart disease for women.

You can read more about this research on ABC's News website, "One Sugary drink per day raises risk of heart disease".

Monday, March 12, 2012

Dramatic warming of Great Lakes

The impact of climate change is readily observable in our Great Lakes, as noted in a recent article in the Duluth News Tribune: "Report: Great Lakes winter ice cover has decreased 71 percent since 1973". This report doesn't include the current winter, when a mere 5 percent of the Great Lakes surface froze over.  During an "average" winter 40% of the lakes are ice covered.

Mother nature's icy artwork
While we continue to realize dramatic climate change there appears to be no appetite in Washington DC to make a change in the gas tax.  A StarTribune article, "Highway funding stuck in reverse", describes how it is highly unlikely that politicians will raise the taxes necessary to support mass transit and transportation infrastructure needs during an election year.  Seems their interests in being elected and catering to those who fund their campaigns get considerably more attention than the long-term viability of the planet.

Minnesota Congressman Chip Cravaack has expressed opposition for taxes to support transportation needs, noting that the cost ultimately gets passed down to the consumer.  Seems to me "the consumer" is the operative word. People are rapidly consuming way too much and leaving behind a planet that may soon no longer be livable for future generations. Taxes on consumption would provide clear incentives to conserve energy and change our wasteful behavior. Gas taxes in the US are far less than most all of Europe, where conservation efforts are more advanced.  Norway has a fuel tax both for road use and CO2 impact.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Surrounded by ice

These pictures were taken at the pond at Bassett Creek Park.
To enlarge a picture simply click on it.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Icy beauty

Ice foam

Rows of cracks
While walking yesterday around Bassett Creek Park I noticed some foam on the creek that I found quite interesting.  So, I went back home to get a camera and see if I could capture some of the beauty.  On the way to shoot the foam I couldn't help but wander out on the pond to explore.  It turns out there were a lot of interesting things to see out on the ice.  To add to the adventure I got to hear some significant cracking while touring the pond.  Not to worry however, I avoided walking near the outlet and inlets to the pond, where the ice was not as solid.

I tinted the pictures blue in post production processing to add some interest.

To enlarge, simply click on picture.

Ice cracks
Ice lightening

Friday, March 9, 2012

The hidden cost of adolescent bullying

Relationships should be the fourth "R" in school.  This is a recommendation made by Rachel Simmons at the Westminster Town Hall Forum yesterday.  She is the author of Odd Girl Out - The hidden culture of girls. Ms. Simmons noted that children should no more be expected to be good at social skills any than we would expect them to know automatically understand math, reading or writing.

She also observed that society expects a "good girl" to be a pleaser, follow the rules, be a good student, likable, and be friends with all.  There are problems with girls being pressured in this way.
First, they lose social permission to express their strongest opinions.  They also don't develop the skills necessary to be assertive. Lastly, they become fearful of conflict.

Ms. Simmons noted how popular bullying behavior has become in the media.  She observed that "reality" television has turned humiliation into entertainment. Why should we expect our children to behave civilly when they witness the mean spiritedness of television celebrities, and yes, even our politicians?

IB students from Southwest High School
Prior to Ms. Simmons' presentation a group of students enrolled in Minneapolis' Southwest High School International Baccalaureate (IB) program eloquently spoke about what they believe. A few students also shared graciously of their considerable musical talents.

Jazz musicians
Rachel Simmons presentation, "The hidden cost of adolescent bullying", was broadcast live on Minnesota Public Radio.

A listing of upcoming Westminster Forums are available on the web.