Sunday, March 31, 2013

Ice clouds

One of the things I enjoy most is seeing the beautiful creative patterns in nature that are often replicated across the elements.  For example this picture of melting snow reminds me of a bank of clouds one might see from an airplane window.  What an amazing creation!  Happy Easter to all.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The value of helping others

A popular professor and researcher at Wharton college, Adam Grant, has discovered that doing nice things for others can dramatically improve one's own motivation to work hard which in turn may improve one's standing in life.  He notes: The greatest untapped source of motivation.... is a sense of service to others; focusing on the contribution of our work to other peoples’ lives has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves.

It also turns out that when we help others these same people are then much more inclined to want to help us too. You can read about this and watch a demonstration video from the New York Times website, Is giving the secret to getting ahead?

The greatest use of a life is to spend it on something that will outlast it."   William James

Friday, March 29, 2013

US incarceration rates

Did you know that despite having only 5% of the world's population the United States of America has 25% of the world's prison population?  That stunning statistic and more are found on  a summery provided at Infographic: U.S. Incarceration Rates.  This is a radical departure from the past.  The United States' prison population our prison population grew by an amazing 700% from 1970 to 2005, while the general population rose by only 44%.

Speaking of justice issues, despite the huge financial misdoings on Wall Street very few white collar criminals have been imprisoned.  As one commentator noted "Give a man a gun, he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, he can rob the world."

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Canada Geese are back and complaining

 Just look at all of this snow and ice... 
I told you we should have stayed in 
Texas for at least another week.

Sure, we just flew all the way from San Antonio,
and now you're complaining about
having cold feet?

But hey, you gotta love snow shoeing!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

House sparrow and gratitude

House Sparrow
Yesterday while walking home from a Bible Study I was pleased to encounter a House Sparrow.  It reminded of the old Gospel hymn, His Eye is On the Sparrow, based on Jesus' reference to sparrows in the book of Matthew:

"Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (Matthew 6:26) and "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:29-31)

Later in the day I read from a book, Choosing Gratitude: Learning to love the life you have, by James Autry, that also reminded me not to worry but to have an attitude of gratitude:

"What you have is Enough." ...if you live in gratitude, your attitude is always that what you have is enough. Whatever it is, it is enough.
Yet gratitude goes beyond what's enough for you and yours. Gratitude may lead to generosity for which other people express gratitude to you, but your own gratitude comes from their generosity in allowing you to help.

Monday, March 25, 2013

How about practicing conservation?

Must we in the United States be so heavily dependent upon fossil fuels, like gas and oil?  A short answer is, NO.  An article in the New York Times, Life after Oil and Gas, describes how other countries are utilizing renewable energy sources and practicing conservation. I was surprised and encouraged to learn that thirteen countries are getting more than 30 percent of their electricity from renewal sources.

It was disturbing to realize that European vehicles have been getting 30 percent better gas mileage than American ones.  Recently we are however seeing a dramatic increase in fuel economy, thanks in large part to President Obama's administration, that has mandated an increase the fuel economy up to 54.5 miles per gallon by the year 2025 (U.S. Sets Higher Fuel Efficiency Standards).

I hope that we will continue to work hard at developing renewal energy sources, conserving more and wasting less.  Not only is this good for the environment, it is also more economical over time, and the "conservative" thing to do!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Como Park Conservatory

This is the week spring vacation starts in our school district.  However if one looks outside it is still looks a lot like winter, with snow covering the ground. We did however get a nice dose of green growth at the Como Park Conservatory in St. Paul.  

Friday, March 22, 2013

Who's paying the price for carbon emissions?

Carbon is exacting a huge cost to the planet and humankind.  And yet, we aren't asking that those that are creating this carbon to pay for the impact.  A short video by The Climate Reality Project, The price of carbon, explains how carbon is effecting our environment. Big gas and coal companies should share in the cost of  paying for the huge side effects which result from their businesses.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The value of work and a balanced life

I heard a recording of MIT research scientist Andrew McAfee yesterday on National Public Radio  discuss the possible radical downsizing of the workforce as technology continues to advance (Is technology destroying more jobs than it's creating?) He noted that one of the biggest threats automation presents to human beings is to the ability to fulfill our deep desire to work.  He shared the following quote:

Work saves us from three great evils: boredom, vice and need.  - Voltaire, Candide, 1759

Seems to me that it would be ideal to shorten the work week and or lengthen holidays in order to create a more balanced work environment in the United States.  I've long held that either one is stressed because they have a job, or because they don't have a job.  Either way this is a stressful environment for so many.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Reflections on service with those in need

 “Let us never forget that authentic power is service and that the pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross.”
“He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked St. Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison.”

-Pope Francis

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

More pictures from Minnehaha Falls

A view of Minnehaha Creek
from behind the falls

Icy ground behind the falls

Ice formation on the falls

Monday, March 18, 2013

Behind the falls

Looking out

Ice behind the falls

Minnehaha Falls

I enjoyed a winter afternoon exploring a frozen Minnehaha Falls in south Minneapolis.  It was a bit slippery and muddy getting there, but witnessing the icy beauty was well worth the effort.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Where is the outrage?

I listened to a show recently on public television with a panel of journalists discussing the topic of whether or not the media understood poverty.  They observed that has been a shift away from the public responsibility of creating awareness of issues of injustice, including poverty, toward focusing on stories that sell to middle and upper middle class readers; providing them with the stories they want to see. Seems the once prophetic role of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable has greatly diminished. The poor don't purchase newspapers. One of the panelist observed that "outrage was bred out of journalist", to which there seemed to be general consensus.  The outrage at social injustice that was clearly communicated in the 1960's has turned to complacency.

I was delighted to read an opinion piece in today's StarTribune addressing this topic, Income inequality shapes Minnesota tax debate.  That said, it didn't make the list of the top 8 news stories being read online, six of which were sports related.

So, is it any wonder that the income gap has grown dramatically, and yet we're not seeing a genuine sense of outrage?  Where is the public sense of concern when a quarter of our nation's children under the age of five are now living in poverty* (American dream vanishing for 16.4 million children)?

“This is a national disgrace. Parents alone cannot protect children. Parents have no control over the massive joblessness and foreclosures and misguided tax cuts for the wealthy that have ravished our economy,” said Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund. “Congress needs to wake up and change course to protect our children and their families. We must stop this devastation in our communities and protect children from all budget cuts. We need to invest in the health and education of our children and create jobs for their parents today.”

Perhaps the new Jesuit Pope, Francis, will bring light to this topic? The Jesuit order has traditionally been in solidarity with the poor.

To quote a bumper sticker... "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."

Poverty is defined as an annual income of below $22,314 for a family of four - $1,860 a month, $429 a week, or $60 a day. Extreme poverty, defined as an annual income of less than half of the poverty level, means $11,157 a year, $930 a month, $215 a week, or $30 a day for a family of four.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Pocket knives being allowed back on airplanes

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is reversing their position on banning pocket knives on airplanes.  We can all take comfort in recognizing that pocket knives on planes don't open envelopes, people do.

This can't be welcome news for the pocket knife industry. The TSA daily confiscates 2,000 small knives, so the need to replace these knives will be greatly diminished.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Anna Lappe speaking on sustainable agriculture

New Orleans Jazz Band
It was well worth the price of admission (free) to not only hear Anna LappĂ© speak on promoting sustainable agricultural practices, but also to be entertained by the Bill Evans New Orleans Jazz Band at yesterday's Westminster Town Hall Forum.

Heading up the Real Food Media Project, Ms.  LappĂ©  stressed that sustainable farming is not only more environmentally friendly, but also even more productive than current industrial agricultural practices.

Anna Lappe
One of the amazing statistics that Anna shared was that the world's current agricultural practices are either directly or indirectly responsible for a third of our human induced carbon footprint.  The greatest contributors to this are the places we are farming (including rain forests), what we are farming (large monoculture crops), and how we are farming (many vast caged animal farms).

Book signing of Diet for a Hot Planet
photo c/o
What are some things  you can do to be a part of the new paradigm shift toward sustainable farming?  Buying locally from Community Supported Agriculture (CSA's) can help.  But even more important is to work at the local, state and national levels to implement farm policies that will benefit sustainable practices, rather than subsidize huge monocultures that rely heavily on fertilizers and pesticides, and are more vulnerable to droughts/floods, etc.  We can also relearn cooking to minimize our use of processed foods.

It is also vital to model healthy food purchasing and preparation for our children and youth.  Here in the USA they are annually bombarded by $2 billion dollars worth of marketing in food products.

Anna's talk was also broadcast live on Minnesota Public Radio and is available for listening from their website.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Sustainable farming

Pea blossom
There is a myth that the only way that we can feed the world is though industrial agriculture.  A six minute video, Food MythBusters, punches holes in this corporate propaganda.

A variety of short videos on the topic of nourishing food are available from the website Nourish.

I'm looking forward to hearing more about this topic when Anna Lappe, author of Hope's Edge: The next diet for a small planet, presents at the Westminster Town Hall forum today at noon!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Less stuff, better quality of life!

A wildly successful entrepreneur, Graham Hill, had the big house, fancy car and lots of gadgets.  However he discovered considerably more happiness after he dramatically downsized.  You can read his story in the New York Times, Living with less.  A lot less.   Among other things he now designs small, efficient homes.

Discarded stuff found during our summer park clean-up
Did you know that we've got way too much stuff here in the USA when we have a $22 billion dollar storage industry and 40 percent of our food gets thrown away? Thanks to bigger homes Americans now have three times the amount of space as they did 60 years back.

In addition to being a burden to maintain, our stuff is also a problem for our planet. One of the biggest contributors to global climate change is all of the stuff that is being produced, used and thrown away. It is about time we take a hard look at downsizing, and refusing to buy all of the latest new and improved gadgets. Not only will it reduce our carbon footprints, it will also likely enhance our happiness, as we have less stuff to worry about!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Monday, March 11, 2013

Vast income disparity in United States

Did you know that in the USA the average CEO makes a whopping 380 times what the average worker makes?  Unbelievable isn't it?  Want to see just how radically the wealth income is skewed check out the following video, Wealth Inequality in America.  The top one percent have 40% of the nation's wealth, while the bottom 80% only has 7% between them.

Occupy Wall Street Rally
I'm pleased to see that my favorite shopping place, Costco, is backing a rise in minimum wage, Rejecting industry dogma, Costco backs calls to lift minimum wage. I would challenge anyone to visit a Wal-Mart or Sam's Club, and then a Costco and compare the mental/emotional states of the workers. I'm always impressed with the positive attitudes of the people I've met who work at Costco.  Quite to the contrary, I've noticed many employees of other large corporate stores seem to be considerably less cheerful or even helpful.

Paying a livable salary is actually good for business, take it from Costco's chief executive Craig Jelinek,  “Instead of minimizing wages, we know it’s a lot more profitable in the long term to minimize employee turnover and maximize employee productivity, commitment and loyalty.”  I also find it also makes for a far superior shopping experience.

Poverty is not an accident.  Like slavery and apartheid, it is 
man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.  
-Nelson Mandela

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Settled and unsettled snow

Interesting to see the dramatic contrast between the snow that had been thrown from the sidewalk, foreground, and the existing newly fallen snow in the background.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Polarizing debate and people

Things have become more polarized than ever in Washington DC among the nation's political leaders.   It seems that there has become an "us and them" mentality across party lines. This is also prevalent in social media. Why is this?

In his book "Us and Them: Understanding your tribal mind", David Berreby notes how people are often keen to create "human kinds" aka classifications based on categories such as race, nationality, culture and political movements.  These human kinds are what occurs when the real world meets our human minds.  They aren't perceptions, but rather beliefs.

The tendency to place too much stress on supposedly unchanging traits rather than the impact of situations is called a fundamental attribution error. Social psychologist, Lee D. Ross first defined this human tendency. As these beliefs become engrained there becomes an expectation of "essentialism", whereby it is expected that people be "the same" in all times and places.  

What is the solution to this gridlock by "red" and "blue" politicians?  A number of veteran politicians have suggested that people across party lines need to socialize more, and they just might discover they have far more in common than they do in differences.  

We would all do well to get to know others outside of our ethnic backgrounds, nationality, or political movements. We are indeed just one human race.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Beautiful freshly fallen snow

Bassett Creek,
flowing through,
Theodore Wirth Park
Falling snow added to the dramatic geometry of this
fence along Minneapolis' Theodore Wirth Parkway

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Snowy morning at the sculpture garden

We had about 10 inches of snow the past couple of days.  This snow accentuated the lovely outdoor sculptures at the Minneapolis Walker Art Center's Sculpture Garden.

In addition to what I've posted here I have more photographs on my website,

Cherry spoon and cathedral
Sculpted with snow

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A vision for simplifying one's life

If we are to successfully turn back the tide on global climate change, those of us who are used to living on much must learn how to radically cut back on our consumption.  This is the starting point for Ted Trainer's article "Your delightful day: The benefits of life in the simpler way", produced by the Simplicity Institute.

Mr. Trainer has a vision of a world in which people would have considerably more leisure time as their dwellings diminished in size and they learned additional skills and how to live cooperatively in a small interdependent community. He envisions..."The town's resilience will be a function of the number of its people who can make and grow and do and fix many things. It will not depend much on high credentialed specialized experts, professionals, let alone on corporations or government bureaucracies."

For this to be successful the town's people will have to have a different orientation than what is common in a capitalistic society. "The dominate orientation will have to be giving and not getting, and people will have to derive satisfaction from caring, helping, seeing others and their town thrive - and knowing that the more they do of all these things the richer their own lives will be."

Wow, quite a vision isn't it?  I wonder how many small communities there around the world that already exemplify such a vision?  Seems odd to think that progress and sustainability might require 'advanced' nations to learn from those 'less advanced', as they seek to develop skills which may have already been lost from generations previous. The way many aboriginal people lived, in harmony with nature, may indeed be a more sustainable lifestyle than our current consumer culture.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Tracks and patterns

Snow dunes

Cracks in the sidewalk,
accentuated by melting snow

Animal tracks and shadow
Tractor tire tracks

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Waiting for spring

This maple tree seed was found patiently waiting for spring amidst the snow and ice.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Gun control proposal in Illinois

I've heard countless times throughout the gun debate how guns are similar to cars, and how even though there are thousands of car related deaths, we wouldn't dare ban automobiles. 

Seems legislators in Illinois have picked up on this concept and are looking to regulate conceal and carry permits much like cars, including the following requirements:

-40 hours of training, 20 must be at the range
-Applicant is responsible for all training costs
-Applicant would be required to have $1,000,000 insurance liability policy
-Training would be administered only by the Illinois State Police

Friday, March 1, 2013

Icy stand of trees... a sign of spring?

Icy image of trees
Much to my surprise I discovered an icy stand of trees imprinted on the pedestrian bridge decking earlier this week.  This image was cased by melting snow. The optimist that I am takes it as a sign of spring ahead.

I added the green hue to enhance the spring effect!