Monday, September 29, 2008

While Rome Burned...

Today in Washington, D.C., the House of Representatives voted down the $700 billion bail-out bill. For those of you who have been away visiting another planet, or are just coming around from a week-long Margarita bender, let me update you:

--Last week the President of the United States took to the airwaves in an uncharacteristic press conference to announce that a bail-out plan was CRITICAL for the economic health of our country.

--Almost immediately, Presidential wannabe Senator John McCain announced that this crisis was SO important he is suspending his campaign until the crisis is resolved; Senator McCain and his opponent, Senator Barack Obama, returned to Washington to sit in on the high-level discussions.

--Senator McCain declared he would not attend Friday’s Presidential Debate unless the crisis was solved; but since a resolution was “close”, he consented and took part in the debate anyway.

--Yesterday a bail-out agreement was hammered out between CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS. The whole world breathed a sigh of relief. Undisclosed sources confided that neither McCain nor Obama would probably be in Washington when/if the vote on the bail-out reached the Senate floor.

--This morning, the bail-out plan FAILED in the House of Representatives, and not necessarily on party lines: 140 Dems & 65 Reps in favor, 95 Dems & 130 Reps against. It seems the LEADERSHIP on both sides of the aisle failed to do their jobs.

--On news of the bail-out’s defeat, the Dow Jones Industrial average dropped 778 points (7%). S&P500 dropped 8.8%. NASDAQ lost 9.1%.

--Finger-pointing from both sides of Congress immediately ensued.

--The House of Representatives GENEROUSLY agreed to reconvene on Thursday (three days from now)… instead of taking their normal recess.

Meanwhile, on the other side of this great country of ours, a team of Mathematicians at UCLA have discovered a 13-million-digit prime number – that is a number divisible only by itself and 1. It was an accidental discovery, as they were trying to determine each citizen's share of the National Debt.

My friends, it's time to take off the gloves! It is time for action!

It is time to pass the salt!

Friday, September 26, 2008

What the world needs now is...

It’s been a stress-filled week.

Following in the wake of Hurricane Ike, gas prices shot up and rumors of fuel shortages abounded. We are just weeks away from the presidential election, which is once again uncomfortably close for my taste. The economy is tanking and the president wants to borrow another $700 billion to prop up banks that made risky loans.

I wish he would share some of that money to prop up my credit cards!

And at the church I have spent the last couple of weeks putting out “brush fires”, holding meetings in preparation for Charge Conference, and interviewing candidates for our choir director position. And last night Oregon State beat USC! Lord help us!

Now, if you want to hear no-punches-pulled commentary on the political scene, visit my friend “Joe Baseball”. If you want deep, theological reflection, I recommend reading Sky at “Kyrie Eleison”. I don't yet have a blogger friend who discusses college football, outside of Johnnie's occasional post about the U of M Tigers at "Finding the Balance".

While all of that is important to some, what I have to offer today is what I think the world really needs.

No, this time it’s not a Margarita.

Hey, a Margarita is not always the answer to the world’s problems!

Okay, maybe it is.

No, what I have for you today is…


Cats, actually.

And not just any cats. These are the Hemingway cats that live at the Hemingway House Museum in Key West, Florida. On any given day, there are approximately 60 cats that roam the grounds at the big house on Whitehead Street.

Most are descendants of Snowball, Hemingway’s six-toed cat. And yes, most of them also have the extra digits on each paw.

It’s called polydactyly, a genetic abnormality. The condition is not harmful to the cats; it makes them unique. The Museum operators feed and maintain the “herd”, providing high-quality cat food, the necessary shots and medical care; most are spayed or neutered, leaving a few breeding pairs to maintain the stock.

Yet, three years ago, the US Department of Agriculture got involved. A former volunteer, who was dismissed when it was discovered she was secretly trapping the cats and having them neutered and spayed, complained. The USDA, acting on an old animal welfare law, threatened to remove the cats from the property.

The government’s argument was that the Museum could only “display” the animals if they were in cages or otherwise confined to the property (i.e. an electric fence).

Apparently they think that is more humane.

After three years of wrangling, threats, lawsuits and alterations to the fence surrounding the house (but not electrified), the Key West Citizen newspaper reported yesterday that the Hemingway House Museum has finally come to a mutual understanding with the USDA, resulting in the necessary license to “display” the cats.

Your tax dollars at work.

So the next time you are in Key West, stop by the Hemingway House Museum.

Pet one of the cats.

It’ll make you feel better about the world.

And look for the USDA Seal of Approval.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sounds Cool to Me!

What will they think of next!?! This from Saturday's L.A. Times:

SoCal officials to pave over road grooved to play the William Tell Overture

From the Associated Press

September 20, 2008 -- Officials in northern Los Angeles County are putting an end to the car-tunes that are driving residents crazy. Lancaster city officials said this week that they're paving over a quarter-mile strip of asphalt grooved to play the William Tell Overture when auto tires speed over its surface.

The road was completed earlier this month as part of an ad campaign for Honda. It's engineered to play the overture -- also known as the theme to the Lone Ranger -- at perfect pitch for motorists driving Honda Civics at 55 mph.

But nearby residents aren't amused. One says the road music sounds like a high-pitch drone. Another says it keeps him and his wife up at night.

Lancaster officials plan to pave the grooves over on Tuesday.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Waiting for my muse

It’s Saturday morning and I am sitting here watching my usual home-improvement shows on the tube.

I started watching home-improvement shows back in the early days of PBS’s “This Old House”. Every Saturday I used to watch with fascination as Bob Vila and Norm Abram would envision the possibilities for an old house, then make it come to life.

Of course, I also marveled at the budgets for those renovations. I remember one house in Georgia that the homeowner had purchased for $300,000 (a lot of money 20 years ago). The TOH crew found water damage and rotten beams; Norm had to break the bad news to the homeowners: It’s going to cost a little more. The homeowner replied with indignation: “Money doesn’t grow on trees! We’ve only got a budget of $200,000 for renovations.”

I began to think money did grow on trees… and they were hiding a big one!

More shows followed, some good, some not. From “Hometime” (with Dean Johnson and Robin Hartl) I learned how to install ceramic tile, build a deck and lay hardwood flooring. I think this was also the first show featuring a capable female carpenter.

For years I have watched “Trading Spaces”, more for the entertainment value: hosted by the perky Paige Davis, with a cast of designers that keep it “interesting”. Frank does the “country” look. Vern usually goes modern. Doug just seems to try to piss off the homeowners by doing the exact opposite of what they want. I always cringe when Hildi is on – she is the one responsible for covering the walls of a small bathroom with plastic flowers, and the walls of a bedroom with feathers!

Genevieve is my favorite designer, about the only one of the bunch I would allow in my house. Known for her big hoop earrings and bare feet, she always did something fun with her makeover room!

My current favorite shows are the “house flipping” shows. But they are pretty predictable: a novice buys a neglected house at a bargain price, determines to fix it and sell it within 4 weeks, finds unexpected challenges along the way, complains about the budget, runs over the timeline and the budget, but still sells the house for an enormous profit!

Unfortunately, unlike the early “TOH” and “Hometime”, today’s shows are not so much about showing us “how-to”, but rather giving cable-made faux-celebrities an opportunity to mug for the cameras: “Look at what I did”… leaving out the “boring” [important] details.

All of this is a lead-in to why I am sitting here watching television. In fact, I am supposed to be upstairs beginning an extensive renovation of the bathroom. I promised to get this project done this year, and the year is quickly slipping away.

The problem is, I haven’t found the inspiration I need to get it going. I need a muse!

You see, the space is only 5’x10’ – just barely enough room for the necessary fixtures. If this was my own house (instead of the parsonage that it is), I would expand the bath into an adjoining bedroom and create a luxurious spa. Unfortunately, that won’t be possible.

And the budget is only $1,000, hardly sufficient for anything so dramatic.

Yet, the tub needs to be refinished, the plumbing fixtures need to be updated, the tile surrounding the tub needs to be replaced, the lighting needs to be updated, the sink counter needs to be replaced, and a ventilation fan (desperately) needs to be added.

But I am determined to not simply replace the cracked and broken tile with boring, white 4x4’s. I want it to be yet another unique creation that future clergy families will appreciate.

Always leave it better than you found it!

So here I sit… waiting for my muse.

Maybe if I sit here long enough, the Notre Dame game will come on and I won’t have to think about this anymore.

Go Irish!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Yes, I am a pirate...

Q: What does a Pirate drive to work?


Q: Where does a Pirate go after work?

A: To a BAR-R-R-R!

Q: How does a Pirate call his mates?

A: On an AYE-phone!

Q: Why did the Pirate move to Memphis?

A: For the BAR-R-R-R-B-Q!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Awesome, God!

You may remember this from the opening crawl of the 1977 blockbuster movie “Star Wars”, designed to give movie-goers a feeling of the vastness of space as the story of young Luke Skywalker unfolded.

Of course, that was fiction.

No, really, dude. [Geek!]

But this is real!

It is an image of the very real spiral galaxy “Messier 83”. This gorgeous photo was taken recently by the European Southern Observatory and published online by USAToday. What amazes me is that this beautiful galaxy is actually 15 million light-years away.

For those scientifically challenged [like me] Wikipedia says a “light-year” is a unit of measure based on the distance light travels in a vacuum in one year. To put it in more simple terms, that’s almost 9.5 trillion kilometers. Now, multiply that by 15 million and you get… a galaxy far, far away!

Yet another testament to the vastness of our universe and the amazing creative power of our God!

Our God is an AWESOME God!

Can I have an “Amen”?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Forgive me, but...

Okay, this is going to sound really petty and uncaring, not at all what one might expect to hear from a Christian pastor, but I’m going to say it anyway.

Last week, both federal and local officials warned people living in the Galveston area to evacuate in advance of Hurricane Ike. “Evacuate or face certain death” I believe is what they said.
Hell, even I started to pack!

Many left.

Some didn’t.

Now hundreds of thousands of tax-payer dollars have been spent trying to rescue the idiots who didn’t leave.

So, I’m watching the news this morning and they go to a relief center set up by FEMA -- again, your tax dollars at work. The camera pans down a long line of people waiting to receive FREE food and supplies being handed out by the National Guard.

And there he stands. "Asshole of the Year". Complaining that the line is so long… Complaining that FEMA should have set up more than one area where he could get FREE ice, “‘Cuz, y’ know, I’m a diabetic and I need ice to keep my insulin cold.”

I read a sign once (I believe it was over my secretary’s desk) that announced: “The lack of preparation on your part does not necessitate a crisis on my part.” Indeed.

Did I mention this was all FREE???
FREE to people who chose to live in hurricane alley! FREE to people who chose NOT to evacuate in the face of a hurricane! FREE to people who chose NOT to plan ahead in case the power failed… which it always does!

FREE to people SO ungrateful for the FREE government assistance they are receiving that they dare complain about having to stand in a long line to get it!

Want me to carry it home for you too???

We live in a great country. And I hope I never have to endure the devastation of a hurricane.

But frankly, I think it’s time we revisit Darwin.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Things That Go Bump in the Night

Recently these crazy thought have been keeping me awake at night. Maybe sharing them with you will exorcise the demons...

Obama says we’re in “the silly season” of the campaign. I agree. Thanks to the diligent reporting of FOX News, we know the exact frame style and lens maker of Sarah Palin’s eye glasses. And the Dems have calculated for us how much Cindy McCain’s outfit cost at the Republican Convention.
This reminds me of a news article from several years ago when the first female Bishop was elected in the Episcopal Church. The reporter felt the need to tell us how the Bishop was dressed and the color of her fingernail polish. I don’t remember that being mentioned in previous announcements of male Bishops.
I just wish someone could tell me where Joe Biden buys his suits… man, he always looks sharp!
The difference between Democrats and Republicans:
According to Barak Obama, if you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig. But, according to Sarah Palin, if you put that same lipstick on a pitbull, it becomes a “hockey mom”... and, presumably, the Vice President of The United States! Hmmm.
Survey Says:
An unscientific survey of my congregation at the Church Dinner last night indicates that most are fed up with the political campaigns of BOTH parties and wish they would be over soon. The common sentiment expressed was, “This has been going on so long I just don’t pay attention anymore.”
Inflation News:
Signs that the candidates need to focus on issues rather than lipstick and clothing include the recent announcement that the “99 Cents Only” stores are being forced to raise their prices. After 26 years of selling items for 99 cents across California, Nevada, Arizona and Texas, inflation finally caught up with them, creating losses for both of the last two quarters.
The new price of goods at the “99 Cents Only” stores – 99.99 cents… thus maintaining truth in advertising.
Endangered Historical Site:
What with all the hurricanes and evacuations of Key West, an important story was almost lost. Last month the “Key West Citizen” newspaper reported that the “Chart Room” is under attack. Managed by the Pier House Resort and Caribbean Spa, the Chart Room is the hotel-room-sized bar in which Jimmy Buffett played his first Key West concert, and where he met his wife. Over the past 40 years, it has served as the watering hole for other important figures, including author Tennessee Williams and treasure hunter Mel Fisher.
The first sign of trouble came when the manger cut out the free hot dogs. The bartenders felt that was an important tradition of the bar, so they paid for the hot dogs out of their own pockets. One bartender also created an outdoor smoking area for patrons, which the management said had to go. In August, two bartenders were fired, and a third one quit in frustration.
It seems the management would rather fill the space with another quaint little boutique catering to tourists rather than a locals bar filled with real character, the smell of stale beer and cigarette smoke, and Key West history.
I Told You So:
Yesterday, USAToday newspaper reported that attendance at the nation’s Mega-Churches is dwindling, slowly, yet measurably. Seekers who are just looking for entertainment are moving on, and many who stay are stuck in a beginner’s faith mode.
Oh, no! Who will we try to copy now?
Mega-Church pastors have recognized this trend and are scrambling to re-tool their ministries to try to reverse the decline. Bill Hybels, of Willow Creek, finally admits, “I don’t think anyone is wandering around looking for a mild dose of God… They want to know: ‘What would a life centered on Christ look like in my life? What would that feel like? How do I go about it?’”
Note to Bill: We have for a long time called that “discipleship”.

So Long, Farewell:
Today an auction is being held at “Platinum Plus”, the ”sexually oriented business” / strip club just around the corner from the church. The club was closed almost two years ago by a multi-agency raid. Apparently now they are trying to recoup some of the expenses from a two-year undercover operation by selling off the contents of the building. The building will be auctioned off later this year.

My question is, who in the world would want to buy a ratty old sofa that a long line of horny drunk guys have occupied while skanky naked women grind against their “laps”?

On second thought, don’t answer that. I don’t really want to know.
Well, now that I have gotten all that off my chest, I feel much better!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Way We Were

Memories are a funny thing. For example, I can’t remember what I ate for dinner last night (although I’m sure it was delicious!). But last week, my brother sent me a link to Google Earth, which took me to the following picture:

The house on the left was our home for three years in Dearborn, Michigan.

You might wonder why Dearborn sounds familiar. In the early 70s it was a mostly white suburb of Detroit, but today it has the highest concentration of Muslim Americans than any other U.S. city.

I suspect that is why Google Earth has taken street-level satellite photos of Dearborn, but not of Memphis.

The house looks much smaller than I remember. But then, so was I. I was six when we moved there, nine when we moved away. Still, I’m pretty sure that if I set my mind to it, I could probably draw a blueprint of the house: two bedrooms downstairs, one large room upstairs for the boys, and a basement!

Seeing the picture of that house brought back a virtual flood of memories.

For instance, I remember the pussy willow tree in the backyard behind the garage, and the neighbor’s pear tree that dropped fruit into our yard. I remember the hole I dug in the ground after reading “Mole Family Christmas” – yes, I was planning to move into it. I remember the newborn kittens we found just beyond the fence and tried to nurse back to health; they died. I remember shoveling snow into banks and hosing down the middle to create an ice skating rink, where we played hockey with neighborhood friends. I remember playing Monopoly with my brothers in the garage.

I still hate Monopoly.

With the help of Google Earth, I took a virtual stroll around the neighborhood. The house to the left has two chestnut trees in the front yard. One time we collected the nuts and Dad tried to roast them in the oven. It made a terrible mess as they all exploded.

A couple houses down was a playmate – no, not the Playboy kind, although she might have done that since… who knows. Anyway, one day her father took us to this place called “McDonald’s”.

They say you always remember your first time!

The house on the corner of Harvard and Cornell looks just like I remember it. That was where Robby lived. He’s one of the guys who came over to play hockey with us. He was a little older than me, and we had a falling out over a preying mantis.

Long story.

Turning the other direction, there was the house where our babysitter lived. And at the end of the block, just around the corner, was where Katie Donahoo lived. She was a cute little Irish lass – did the Irish dancing, had the costume and everything. I was briefly smitten with her, going so far as to memorize the “Irish Blessing”, just in case I ever got the opportunity to talk to her:
May the road rise to meet you,May the wind be always at your back,May the sun shine warm upon your face,The rains fall soft upon your fields and,Until we meet again,May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Kind of creepy, in a third-grade stalker sort of way.

In those days we all used to walk to school… “uphill both ways, through two feet of snow…” Actually, Oxford Elementary was only a block up the street. I liked my teachers, who exposed us to so many interesting things. One time we got to sample whale meat; another time a brood of preying mantises hatched in the classroom and when we returned from the weekend there were hundreds of them all over the classroom. One time we smeared Vaseline on index cards and set them on the windowsill to study air pollution.

And I’ll never forget the time my aunt sent a coconut to my second-grade class from Hawaii and the principal had to bring a machete to the classroom to break through the husk so we could eat it.

Of course, there were some things I did not understand back then. Like why some kids got to ride a Greyhound Bus to school.

But you might imagine my disappointment as Google Earth took me there, only to find that the school has been torn down and a subdivision has taken its place. I guess everything changes after time.

And that’s why we have memories – to take us back to happier times, to remind us of the good ol’ days.

It’s been a lovely cruise. Thanks, Bro!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008