Sunday, December 30, 2012

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Lone oak tree

While driving to Northfield, Minnesota I noticed this lone oak tree out in a farmer's field.  I stopped the car and hurried across a field until I came to a deep ditch.  With just a 50 mm lens, this perspective allowed for a nice portrait view with the sun behind the snow clouds.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Les Miserables and class warfare

Wow, what an amazing movie is the recently released Les Miserables.  In addition to beautiful music and acting, the story line is captivating, touching heavily on themes related to the Catholic religion, redemption and forgiveness, the law, war and class struggle.

When the suggestion that the tax rate should be raised on the wealthy the term "class warfare" is being bantered around by fiscal conservatives in the USA.  When I hear "class warfare" the struggle between the "haves" and "have nots", as depicted in Les Miserables, is more along the lines of what I imagine. 

Thankfully the United States isn't run by a monarchy, so the citizens are be able to influence the law makers to enact changes that would help to bring about a more just and equitable system.  It is important however that citizens, particularly those who have become disenfranchised, vote and communicate with those in power. The environment and those on the lowest rungs of society don't have much lobbying power. Without getting out the vote, and advocating to lawmakers to support the common good, the voices of the lobbyist for those individuals and corporations with great financial resources will continue to speak most loudly.  I think all might agree that it would be best to avoid the kind of class warfare depicted in Les Miserables.

A final note, did you know that the United States is the world's leader in incarceration?  We have 2.2 million people locked up, which is a 500% increase over the past thirty years (The Sentencing Project).

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Duluth Stream Corps

Why not help people develop job skills while cleaning up the environment?  This is what they're doing in Duluth, Minnesota with the Duluth Stream Corps. Thanks to a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) job skills are being developed while restoring habitat along Duluth's streams.

This program is modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps that put three million young people to work back in the 1930s.  Why not put people to work that would otherwise be receiving welfare or unemployment benefits?  It's a win-win!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Growing Income Inequality within the US

A NationalJournal article, Inequality and its perils, points to the dramatic chasm between the wealthy in the US and the lower and middle classes.  This trend is made evident in a report by the Congressional Budget Office, which reported between 1979 and 2007 the top one percent of households more than tripled their portion of pretax income while the bottom 80 percent realized only a slight increase.

To see how the United States ranks with other nations around the world as regards our income disparity you can view a map in TheAtlantic, Map: U.S. ranks near bottom on income inequality.

The recent discussion in Washington DC about the possibility of needing to raise taxes on the wealthy has given rise to a claim of "class warfare" by some financial conservatives.  Unbelievably, the last time any Republican in the US Congress or Senate voted to raise taxes was 1990. I fear that our nation will become destabilized should there continue to be a growing income gap between those who are able to live quite comfortably and those without. There could in fact be "class warfare", and with such a well armed citizenry it could be quite bloody. Here's to hoping we will work toward greater equity for people living and working in the United States. Creating jobs that pay a livable wage and with quality benefits would go a long way in helping those currently living in poverty.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012

Dreamy suds on the creek

Foam developed in an area where the water flowed from a culvert going from Bassett Creek pond back into the creek.  I added a blue hue when processing this picture to give it more of a dreamlike feeling.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

NRA Doubles down on guns

In an audacious move, the National Rife Association (NRA) held a press conference on December 21st and recommended armed security guards for every school in America. After making this suggestion the NRA spokespeople promptly left the podium and would not take questions.  I'm not making this up. The press conference can be viewed online (Fallout of the NRA's press conference continues increasing).

Rumor has it that being embolden by the recent school massacre in Connecticut the NRA is adding bumper stickers in their Christmas Catalogue…

Imagine a safer America: A revolver in every glove compartment and an assault rifle in each of our schools.

Turn those plowshares into Bushmasters.

Better be nice.  Santa’s packing this year.

Jesus aka ‘Prince of Peace’: Just another misguided compassionate liberal

I love doves, they taste great.

And lastly, to complement the existing bumper sticker, Keep honking I’m reloading…

Go ahead, make my day, cut me off.


The NRA suggests that more "good guys" need to have firearms to fight the "bad guys".  I have to agree that guns in the ‘right hands’ are really no threat to others or me.  So, what might constitute ‘right hands’? 

Someone who has taken a gun safety course and who always keeps the gun(s) safely locked, and who would never provide access to their gun(s) to anyone who hasn’t had a gun safety course. 

Someone who is peace loving, and would only use a gun as the last resort to save himself or herself or a loved one, and who ALWAYS will live alone or with others who share such a disposition. 

Someone without a criminal record, or who has anyone with a criminal record living in his or her household, and who will NEVER have a criminal record or will EVER have another with a criminal record living in his or her household.

Someone who is always level headed, and NEVER experiences road rage or fits of temper, who will ALWAYS be level headed and will NEVER have a hot head living in his or her household.

Someone who is not, or EVER WILL BE mentally ill, or have a person suffering mental illness living in his or her household, NOW OR IN THE FUTURE.

Seems sensible to me, what to you think? Ideas on how we can provide so that such screening to ensure that above criteria are met?

Finally, the recent doubling down by the NRA has me thinking of one of its biggest advocates, the late Charlton Heston.  Despite the fact that he played to role of Moses in the Ten Commandments, I can just about imagine his cold dead mouth saying, “To hell with the sixth commandment, America’s got the second amendment!”  God bless America!?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Good guys and bad guys

I got sucked into a couple of Facebook discussions yesterday, where I was quite promptly dismissed for "misguided liberal compassion".  You see, I was guilty of challenging a statement made by one of the persons on Facebook that the only things the government should fund are those that were listed in the constitution.  Oddly, in an early dialogue, this same person was mocking President Obama for no longer supporting the space program.  Seems for some the President can do nothing right!

I kinda chuckle when being called on the carpet as a misguided liberal.  Many years ago I presented to a group of retired gentlemen from a service organization on the mentoring program I was directing. After the presentation one of the guys asked me afterwards, "What are you, some kind of a 'do gooder'?"  The man sitting next to him then inquired of his club member, "And what are you, some kind of a do badder?"

If we are to quick to stereotype others into liberal and conservative camps, with one being all good, and the other evil, it doesn't make for a civil conversation or a willingness to compromise.  The more strident voices I heard on Facebook seemed to loath compromise and viewed Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner's willingness to flex on a possible tax increase as spineless.

This holiday season I'll be saying a prayer for our government leaders and those many Americans who are no longer open to change and compromise.  As my friend, Father Gregory Boyle often loves to say, there is no "us and them", there is only "us".

Friday, December 21, 2012

Snowy crabapples

I love the simple elegance of these crabapples topped with a layer of freshly falling snow.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tracks from the watering hole

Tracks from the watering hole
Someone went for a drink in the pond at Bassett Creek Park and left their tracks behind...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

God in Schools

I noticed a well written editorial in this morning's StarTribune, from a friend, Rolf Olson, which I am reposting:

In the days since the tragedy and evil that befell Newtown, I have heard and read comments about the event occurring because "they have taken God out of the schools." As a Christian pastor and husband of a public school teacher, I want to challenge these unfounded and often thoughtless comments.
Assuming that they come from people of faith, I wonder how they believe that the creator of the world could be excluded from some part of it through human effort. The Bible clearly affirms that God is everywhere (Psalm 139). Schools are obviously included.
I want to affirm that God is in our schools each day:
• In dedicated teachers and staff, many of whom are people of faith.
• In caring students who share their lives in many servant efforts.
• In supportive, involved parents.
When our daughter was murdered five years ago, some of the greatest evidence of faith and love came from teachers, students, parents and staff who supported us with prayer, gifts, cards, hugs and tears. Some of my wife's deepest faith conversations have occurred with fellow staff members -- in school and out.
If people are advocating public school prayer as the sign of the divine's presence, then what shape would they like that prayer to take, in whose name will they pray, and to what deity will they pray?
The challenge in public schools is to respect all perspectives. The teachers I know refrain from telling others what they should believe, but they are certainly open to sharing their personal faith outside of class when asked.
I have no doubt that God was present at Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday, just like every other day. When those children and staff fell, God's arms held them close. And when they died, God's heart was the first to break.
In our anger and frustration, it may make us feel better to rage. But let's choose appropriate targets that lead to constructive solutions. I trust that God will be with us in the conversation.
THE REV. ROLF OLSON, Richfield Lutheran Church, Minneapolis

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


This reflective photo from the pond at Bassett Creek Park has something of an in and out of focus feeling to it.  It is something of a feeling to which I can relate.

The clearest area of focus is water,  caused by melting ice and snow on the pond. The brownish colors are tannins from the leaves and other natural material.  After a nice foot of snow a few days ago most all of it melted with temperatures well into the 30s.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The touch

This is my much simplified version of Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam".  I noticed this image while on a walk around the pond at Bassett Creek Park.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Reflections on elementary school shooting

Thoughts and prayers go out to the children, adults and families tragically impacted by the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. How sad it is to hear about the guns a woman collected being turned on her and the people from her community.

Naturally, there is a lot of communication about this on social media. Some feeling strongly that in a nation where 30,000 people die annually from gun violence, it is a public health issue.  I had communication with someone who believed that guns don't kill people, any more than a spoon makes people fat.  I don't know about you, but I would feel far safer being confronted by a depressed or deranged individual with a spoon and pint of ice cream than that same individual with a semiautomatic rifle and box of ammunition.

There in the US we have a great prevalence of guns, which is combined with a society that glamorizes violence.  This is a toxic mix.  I hope that we will soon have stiffer gun controls and that people with guns will keep them safely locked up.  Interested in collecting something, how about spoons?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Mallard couple

Mallard couple standing on the ice and fresh snow
This lovely couple was with a flock of mallards on the pond at Bassett Creek Park.  They're hanging out in small portion of water that stays open year round thanks to flow from a nearby drainage culvert.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The business of global climate change

An article in Forbes, Conservative, small government strategy for fighting climate change, suggests that we need the entrepreneurial spirt of business to respond to the growing devastation being caused by global climate change.  The author, Bob Inglis, notes that last year we broke an insurance record for spending on disaster claims, with 14 events that totaled $47 billion.

The following solution to our energy needs was proposed by former South Carolina Congressman Inglis:

    • Do a revenue-neutral tax swap that reduces taxes on income and shifts the tax onto carbon dioxide, thereby attaching to fossil fuels an approximation of the cost of their negative externalities. [Note: Make sure to keep this revenue-neutral. You may have to add revenue elsewhere in a grand bargain, but the goal of this tax swap is the correction of a market distortion, not the raising of revenue.]
    • Eliminate all subsidies for all fuels, thereby correcting yet another market distortion called government failure.
    • Re-examine and streamline EPA regulations as we tax energy pollution, crafting a more logical approach to a cleaner environment that combines measurable outcomes with the transparent and accountable price signal from a carbon tax.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

How do you measure happiness?

An article in the StarTribune, Smiling all the way to the bank, claimed that according to a "wealth sentiment monitor" the average income that would make people happy in the United States is $161,810.  Really?

It makes sense that a company specializing in the area of investments would suggest that an accumulation of money can buy happiness.  However quite to the contrary I've heard scores of people talk about when they were happiest was when they were "dirt poor", perhaps still in school or recent graduates and living on a shoestring budget.  They were living life fully, not stressed by house payments, running in the rat race, etc.  On the flip side, how often we've heard about winners of the lottery having a dreadful experience with all of the added stress and pressures provided by their sudden wealth.

I dare say that a state of well-being and contentment aren't directly linked to financial wealth.  I recall hearing a youth groups share of their mission trip to Mexico of how happy and joyful so many of the kids were.  Despite being extremely poor by US standards they were rich in family and community.  Our health and engagement in a community seem would be far better happiness indicators of happiness.

The natural environment also impacts our sense of happiness. Fresh air, clean water are immeasurably important to our sense of well being. Paradoxically it has been noted that we are as rich as our ability to do without things.  That's likely not something your wealth enhancement advisor will tell you.

One might also ask if "happiness" is among the more important aspects of one's life to measure.  Consider the lives of great leaders, inventors, musicians, artists, scientists, etc.  Much creativity and productivity comes in people's lives during times of  adversity and when we are not always "happy".

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Snow Salmon

Snow Salmon
I spotted a highly rare Snow Salmon swimming hurriedly upstream of Minnehaha Creek.

As it swam by I asked why the hurry.  It gasped something like "Its a croc".

This explains the recent disappearance of the Pond Croc from Bassett Creek Park.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Snowy Theodore Wirth Park

Theodore Wirth walking bridge
over Minnehaha Creek
After finding my pair of dusty snow shoes in the garage I headed over to Theodore Wirth Parkway.  The parkway and Minnehaha Creek, which flows through it were especially beautiful the the freshly fallen foot of snow.

Capture MN photographer
It was an unexpected surprise to find another Capture Minnesota photographer out shooting photographs.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

Snowy Sunday

Office view
Great weather for a fire
We had a snow that went all day!  Being in a drought this is certainly a blessing for us, though a bit of a hassle for people who have to travel by air or car.  It is great however for people who might prefer to travel by ski!

A view of Bassett Creek on my walk to church
Milkweed pod encased by snow

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Ice and clouds

The geometric ice patterns on the pond at Bassett Creek Park were complemented by the dreamy white morning clouds.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Gun violence and escalation of gun sales

Gander Mtn. Advertisement
Tragedy befell a Minneapolis family earlier this week when a four-year-old boy shot and killed his two-year-old brother with a gun that he found in his home.  The gun was a purchased by the boy's father at a Gander Mtn. store (Loaded gun that killed 2-year-old was stored behind pillow). 

While it is not directly the gun store's fault that this accident occurred, the prevalence of guns in our society makes accidents like this much more likely to occur.  I find it particularly appalling to see the Rambo style assault rifles that are advertised and sold by stores like Gander Mtn.  I understand the marketing of guns and rifles for hunting purposes, but it appears much of of what is being marketed is for "self defense". 

With the escalation of gun sales, both over the counter and through the underground market, it is becoming increasingly common that the police are out gunned by the "bad guys", who have higher caliber weapons.  The United States weapons race is not limited to our overly ambitious military industrial complex.

"Gun World"
Have a gun in your  home?  Be sure to keep it locked up and away from young hands.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Frozen creek ice

Ice on the creek

It was interesting to observe the different geometric patterns on the ice that developed on this recently frozen portion of Bassett Creek.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Lake rage

American Coots and Mallards
Believe it or not I overheard an instance of lake rage by a male mallard the other day.  I'm quite sure I heard him heard saying "Move it out you two old coots and get out of my lane".  The old coots took the high road, and just kept on swimming, without even a honk or a quack, as they were passed on the left and right by the lead footed mallards.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

American Coots and Lake Passing Gas

American Coots
With no waterfowl on Bassett Creek Park's pond I headed over to Medicine Lake in Plymouth, Minnesota to see if I could once again find the migrating Trumpeter Swans.

I wasn't able to locate the swans, but did come upon a couple of dozen American Coots.  They were swimming together about 20 yards out. They were diving for weeds and snacking.

Lake Passing Gas
On the way back to the car I passed over a bridge that had a great view of some ice that was transitioning with the warmer temperatures.

Icy designs
Much to my surprise I discovered that the lake was passing gas through small holes in the ice.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Pond gator

Pond gator
I noticed that most of the waterfowl we've enjoyed around the pond at Bassett Creek Park have all but disappeared.  Perhaps more than just a coincidence that I recently spotted this pond gator ever so slowly creeping around the pond? Some might think this is a crock, but I'm thinking clearly a gator! Gators tend to be found in the southeastern United States, while Crocs can be found all over the world.

Monday, December 3, 2012

United States Immigration Policy: Give me your highly talented, your wealthy…

I can’t help but think what a starkly different attitude our nation has today toward immigration as compared with previous generations. Consider the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of you teamming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Our forbearers welcomed immigrants from around the world, many of whom were in desperate circumstances. Now we have immigration policy that provides priority to those who are either very wealthy or have an education we think might be valuable for commerce.  For the deep-pocketed investors our country developed the EB-5 Immigrant Investor program.  The government offers conditional visas for people who invest $1 million in new or recently created businesses, or $500,000 for businesses in rural or high-unemployment areas. The GOP-controlled house recently passed the STEM Jobs Act.  This bill would provide automatic permanent residency to immigrants working toward advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  

So now, rather than welcoming immigrants who are working as migrant workers, landscapers or roofers struggling to feed their families we are giving top priority to those who can offer much intellectual or financial capital to our wealthy nation. I don’t know about the history of others who have ancestors that immigrated to this country, but I’m pretty sure my kin were dirt poor Scandinavian farmers. People of their ilk wouldn’t qualify to immigrate under these new policy priorities.

Given our change in attitude toward immigration I’m thinking we should update Lady Liberty’s inscription with “Give me your highly talented, your wealthy, the elite few that can help ease our nation’s debt.  The best and the brightest of your third world shores.  Send these the well healed and secure to me.  To all else I lower my lamp beside my fortified door.”