Thursday, March 31, 2005

Farewell. Be at Peace.

So Terri is dead. After years of suffering, after all the wrangling, a lengthy legal battle, and all the bullsh** that went on around her, she's gone.

Now the "family" if it can be called that, will fight over her bones. Her parents want to bury her with a Catholic funeral in Florida. Her former husband (he is former now, although I guess that would make him her widower) wants to cremate her and bury the jar in his family plot in Pennsylvania. But Terri is finally at rest.

One astounding irony that struck me about the whole thing is that a woman whose condition was reportedly caused by a potassium imbalance that resulted from an eating disorder died because she was deprived of food. And now those who fought over what to do for her will have to fight over what to do with her. Maybe they will do that in private.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Do this in remembrance ...

... of Me. Since it is Good Friday, I wanted to take a minute or two to remember. To reflect on what this day means to me and to other Christians. It's not like any other day; this day stands in sharp contrast to other holidays, even to Christmas. On this day Someone did something that staggers me - He took my place and suffered what I deserved because of His love for me. I have to come back to that reality again and again, because I often forget the simple fact that He is there as opposed to not being there, and that He loves me as opposed to not loving me.

And since He is there, and is kindly disposed towards us, why do we act as if He is not there or is somehow pissed at us? Now I'm not saying everybody thinks that way, but sometimes I do. Sometimes I find myself afraid to talk to Him because I have forgotten the central truth of the Christian faith: God loves us! And he cared for us so much, that He was willing to undergo torture and death to restore our relationship with Him.

I think with all the rage that is evident in our world today - war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Terri Schiavo's case and all the vitriolic rhetoric that has been unleashed by both sides off the issue, partisan bickering over Social Security, not to mention the unnumbered wars in Africa and Asia, the behavior of man towards his kind sinking lower and lower - the truth still rings that God loves us.

I know there are some who would disagree with Me, but I speak from personal experience, rather than theory. I have met the Resurrected One, and continue to meet Him and He welcomes me, even when I try to ignore Him.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Art imitating life?

American Dreams castSo Cornelia and I were watching "American Dreams" this week and what was the story line about? Jack's older brother Ted is on a heart-lung machine and Jack has to decide whether to pull the plug and let him die? Hmmmmmmmm. I wonder, did the producers of this show know how timely its subject matter would be or did they just luck into a scheduling boon

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The final question

Terri Schiavo The court battle continues over Terri Schiavo and whether her feeding tube should be reconnected. As of this writing, a federal appeals court has turned down her parents' petition to have the tube replaced. Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have vowed to take the fight to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has three times refused to hear the case.

Juxtaposed against Terri's case is that of Jeff Weise, a 16-year-old gunman who killed nine people and then himself in Red Lake, Minnesota. Jeff Weise by KARE TV/APThe first person he shot was his grandfather, a tribal policeman. He then took two handguns and a shotgun and wearing his grandfathers' bullet-proof vest, drove to the high school and killed a unarmed security guard, a teacher, and five students. Apparently his father had killed himseld in 1997 after a daylong standoff with police. Authorities have searched his computer and found links to Nazi websites and apparently the kid had a fancy for Hitler and called himself the "Angel of Death".

I cannot begin to imagine the agony in either of these cases. In one a daughter - and a wife - could be lost because her brain is not able to function. In the other a young man cut short not only his own life but also the lives of nine other people for reasons we might never learn.

I am a Christian; I believe life is a gift from God and should not be cheaply taken. As a Christian, I have questioned the Iraq war, and also have grieved the loss of life on 9-11. But the Terri Schiavo case evokes more of a visceral than a spiritual response. Upon reflection, the best conclusion I can come to is that I don't know anything. There is no way that anyone can know what the people in this case are going through, except maybe for those who have faced this horrible decision. The larger political issues are something we have a stake in, but the personal, the intimate issue of living and dying is one we cannot know unless we are in the same boat.

I also didn't know Jeff Weise. I heard the Health Director for the Red Lake tribe speaking about how conditions are on the reservation - 40% unemployment and casino gambling being the major employer. here is also limited health care, and though there are some counselors, pyschologists and social workers, a pyschiatrist is only there on an ad hoc basis. It did not sound too promising. But this is a 16 year old boy, who made a man-sized decision not only for himself but also for nine other people. And he was influenced by opinions that he had no real way of filtering or understanding because he probably could not have realized the enormous consequences of what he planned.

But there is one thing I know: Jesus Christ is the One who is the answer to these questions. With Him, death's sting is taken away. Easter reminds us that death is not the end and that forgiveness is available to all who seek it -- in Red Lake, in Pinellas Park, wherever. And the best thing I can do is pray for the families left behind in both these cases - I don't think the Supreme Court will act in the Schiavo case - that they would find solace and comfort in Him.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Cease striving and know ...

Laurel & Hardy under a piano that God is God. That's what the Bible says, but in today's dual-income , high-paced, high-stressed household, that is nearly impossible to do. I came across an article detailing a study recently by the UCLA Center on Everyday Lives of families that followed 32 families living in Los Angeles for a week to document their lives. They found some things that were not encouraging about our modern lives. It seems that the Osbournes aren't the only screwed-up bunch of folks in our country.

This study had researchers following the families around with video cameras to document their lives, archaeologists documented all their stuff, and they took spit samples to measure the amount of stress hormone produced in the body during different times of the day.

Here's some of what they found.

Moms working outside the home

This shouldn't be a surprise, but most of the families needed two incomes not only to have a nice house and a car, but also to keep the bills paid and food on the table. The result? Husbands still work as much and wives bear the lion's share of the responsibilities, even if they work. The researchers found that big surprise this erodes the families from within! And what is lost? Play time, conversation, courtesy and intimacy.Cartoon by First Baptist Church of Kenner And the researchers also said that overstressed parents have effectively abandoned the field to their kids! Huh? According to this article the focus has moved from child-centered to child-dominated society because parents have no life after the little darlings go to bed.

Also we have no time for one another. The study found that some families barely talked to one another when they came home from work. Even my dog gets excited when my wife comes home! Why? Because dogs are pack animals and they have elaborate rituals for greeting one another when a member of the pack is gone. He is getting to the point where he barks me a welcome too. Maybe we should learn from him.

No time to dream

This study found that few people have any time to daydream, to visualize or even make time to take a walk with their children. In only one of the 32 families did the father take a walk with his kids. American kids have less time at home, and spend no time in the yard. Play time is organized and scheduled by adults.

One family had four or five after-school activities for their kids, including fencing, and ice hockey, and music lessons. They communicated mostly by pager, Blackberry or cell phone.

We have too much crap!

The study also found that the typical American family owns more than the Egyptian Pharaohs put in their burial vaults for the next life! And most of it is clutter. And we keep buying more stuff and piling it on top of the stuff that we already have and don't use.

Strangers in the same house.

The study also found that we don't spend any time together. Families gathered in the same room just 16 percent of the time. In five of the families studied, the whole group was not in the same room ever! And forget about mom and dad having a little schwerve time when the kiddies hit the rack. In only six out of the 32 families did mom and dad spend more than 10 percent of their waking hours in the same room without a child.under stress by Phillippe Tarbourech Photography

What to do?

The study did not give concrete suggestions on what to do to reduce this vortex of family dysfunction. Some of the research I looked for had some suggestions on how to reduce stress in daily life, but implementing it is going to be tougher than just reading it.
The National Institutes of Health's Medline Website lists some suggestions for both individual stress management and family health. They have a copyright on this stuff, so I won't list it here, but check out their website. It has a lot of helpful information. Whether we can implement any of this stuff is another question. But let's hope it doesn't' take a "shot across the bow" like a heart attack or a car wreck to get us to slow down.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Cult of Bracketology

So I promised that I would not talk sports on this blog anymore, but I have to make an exception now. Stay with me and you'll understand.They're playing bas-ket-ball

For the next couple of weeks (until April 4th) the whole country will be focused not on the war in Iraq, not on Social Security, not on whether to drill for oil in the Arctic Game Preserve, but on 64 teams playing a game.

I like to call it the Cult of Bracketology. All around the country there will be people, normally reasonable people, level-headed, responsible people living and dying by how their college basketball team fared.

Did UNC win over Oakland, will Duke play Kansas in the regional final, does Farleigh Dickinson stand a snowball's chance in hell against Illinois, and where exactly is Creighton (and is it CRAY-ton or CRY-ton)?

And all for something that we all crave and appreciate -- loyalty. Loyalty to your school or your father's school or your mother's school or granddaddy's alma mater.

I can understand some of that because from my bio at the top of this blog you see I was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. They had a saying when I was growing up: 'Basketball is a religion and Dean Smith is God.' Dean of course was the UNC coach for 35 years. Now Roy Williams is the coach and the Tarheels are in the tournament as a top seed.

But both Mom and Dad went to both Carolina and Duke! So what is a young man to do? My dad and I used to go to Kenan Stadium Kenan Stadiumin Chapel Hill for football games. It was like going to the Roman Amphitheatre or some sacred temple.

The sky would be a brilliant blue, as would the uniforms of the Carolina team; the grass was perfect, and green and outlined in white, and the leaves in October would be resplendent with fall colors. The smell of fresh cut grass was in the air, as was the smell of tobacco smoke (this was North Carolina after all). We used to get hot dogs and Cokes and go to the game. Sometimes we would stop by the old Porthole restaurant where my dad worked when he was in college at Chapel Hill. Or we would go to the Ramshead Rathskellar on Amber Alley. But it was me and my dad -- and that was all that was important to me.

But we also went to Wallace Wade Stadium at Duke and watched Kip Keino run in the Martin Luther King Games. We also watched Duke football games, and picked splinters out of our backsides from the old wooden benches they had there. Duke Chapel

And my parents would have parties for the ACC tournament, back in the days when Phil Ford and Walter Davis played for UNC. Duke sucked back then (until Jim Spanarkel, Gene Banks, Mike Gminski, and the rest of Bill Foster's crew came within a Kentucky game of the national title).

So we lived and died with our teams. But the most important thing was the time we shared. Time with my dad was at a premium -- and not all of it was good, particularly as he and my mom started to split. When my dad died 10 years ago at age 65, I knew that the memories we made were all I would have of him. There wouldn't be any new ones.

But whenever I hear the Carolina fight song, or smell a cigarette outdoors, or glimpse brightly colored trees against a brilliant blue October sky, the memories that come back are mostly good ones. So for the next few weeks, enjoy being part of the cult of bracketology. Take some time to go nuts over your team. It might make a lasting impression.

Friday, March 11, 2005

So I think ....

Anger!I have an anger problem. I sometimes find myself flying off the handle, usually over stuff that in the larger picture is really not that important. Like whether a co-worker uses headphones to listen to a program or allows it to play so I can hear it across the room. Or whether someone cuts me off in traffic; or when people stop to sample everything they can at the local food warehouse and block the lane. Ask my wife how I am when I get "scary."

And come to find out, there is a vicious loop to this kind of behavior. The hormone that causes aggressive response, the "fight or flight" juice cortisol, itself feeds back into the brain and lowers the controls on the aggressive response. So the more pissed I get, the more I am ready to do something. And that's not good. A 6'5", 233 pound man in a bad mood is not a good thing, especially if he is behind the wheel of a car.

I know that every body gets angry -- we all have that response at one time or another -- and in my case it usually stems from frustration and fatigue. I'm tired because I don't get enough sleep, so I have to rush to get the day started, which is frustrating because I don't like being rushed. Then once I choke down some groceries and get out the door, I have to deal with traffic -- other sleep-deprived, stressed people who are trying to get to work just like I am.

And once I get to work, the deadline pressures, and the noise, and the conflict that happens from working with other people up the level of cortisol. And throw some caffeine on top of it, and we are primed for a problem. Usually it comes out as smart comments, or other more passive-aggressive things. But sometimes, it comes out more aggressively, either in my driving, or in the way I respond to people, or in my general attitude.

I don't mean to be a prick, really I don't!

I heard one psychologist use a cognitive-behavioral way to deal with it, but I have not been able to remember it when the heat is on. The counting to 10 method is part of it.

1. Think! Why am I angry? What triggered this response? (Am I frustrated, threatened, etc?)
2. What do I want to come of this? (I want to be left alone, I want to resolve this conflict, I don't want anything to happen)
3. How do I reach that resolution? (what steps can I take to reach that goal?)
4. Work the plan.

This guy, Dr. Neil Clark Warren, says that anger can be managed. I don't like the way I feel when I lose it. I don't tend to be an exploder, like Bobby Knight; I tend to be more like the Manhattan Project -- building the pressure until the core melts down. Now I know why the Apostle Paul said "don't let the sun go down while you are still angry." He didn't say "don't get angry." Even Paul did that. But he said don't let it hang around. Don't keep it like some treasured possession. So that's what I need to learn to do. Let it go.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Oh Danny boy ....

Dan Rather of CBS News
the rates, the rates are falling.
Oh Danny Boy, Brokaw has stepped away.
Oh Danny Boy, your colloquialism's appalling.
Oh Danny Boy, today's your final day.

I watched you there,
In hurricane and tempest,
Afghanistan was not too far away.
You sat and stood,
Like television's Everest
"Part of our world,"
each night I'd hear you say.

Oh Danny Boy,
You once wished us all "courage."
Your eyes grew wet,
when war was in the news.
But Danny Boy,
your fairness lost its moorage
Instead of facts,
you gave us just your views.

Schieffer's too old,
and Roberts isn't ready
To take your place,
no matter what they say.
But Danny Boy,
the ratings were not steady,
So Danny boy,
you have to fade away.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Ship a B+; people made it worth the trip

Bas relief of 'heroes' on the Carnival ValorOkay so this is the last post on the trip. I told you that the Valor was the flagship of the Carnival fleet. So I thought I would post a few images from around the ship to let you know what it's like.
This is one of them. They are bas relief sculptures of American heroes and heroines. Now a few of these things would be okay, and maybe that was the idea, but they seemed to be everywhere! Teddy Roosevelt, George Washington, Martha Washington, Sojourner Truth, on and on. And they were illuminated with - you guessed it - red, white, and blue lights. And there were eagles all over the place too. Golden eagles, rampant eagles, the Eagle's Lounge even had some that looked quite lifelike.

Allow me some personal bias here. I work in Washington, and there's sculpture everywhere there. Good stuff, heroic stuff, stuff that means something. In comparison, these things looked cheesy and cheap, perhaps because I was expecting something else when I read about the ship.

Anyway, the bars and lounges were also named for heroes (or heroines) including the room where they have karaoke, the Paris Hot lounge, which is filled with statues of Josephine Baker, the actress who went to Paris to find work because of segregation laws in Hollywood.Paris Hot Lounge There was also the Lindy Hop bar, named for Charles Lindberg, which featured a rotating piano bar with several scale models of the Spirit of Saint Louis hanging from the ceiling. It was okay. Cornelia and I went there one night, and the guy playing the piano was talented, but after a while, it was like "why are we here?" so we left.

Another room was Winston's Cigar Bar, which was amidships and was the place that you went if you wanted to smoke without being in the casino or outside. This place was laid out in "faux" red leather couches and wood paneling and featured a happening jazz trio. Winston's Cigar BarThese guys were laying down a def groove, with upright bass, piano and drums. I would have liked to catch their act more, but the room was so smoky all the time that I could only stand to be in there a few minutes. Cornelia is real allergic to smoke too, so we kind of caught the trio's act on our way to dinner.

We ate dinner each night at the Washington Dining Room. We had late seating because we did not want to be rushed while enjoying the warm weather. The people at our table were the best part of the trip. One couple was from Idaho, and partied the night away. Long after we had gone to bed, they would be up doing stuff. Another couple was from Minnesota, and the wife was also a cosmetologist. Another couple was from Rhode Island and another couple was two singles -- one guy from Louisiana and his girlfriend from Texas. The conversation around the table each night and the good times we had after dinner at the shows and in the disco made this trip.

By the way, this ship had a PHAT disco. It is called "One Small Step" after Neil Armstrong's phrase when he landed on the moon. The guys spinning in this joint were smokin' and they kept the groove going until the wee hours of the morning.

Some people go on cruises to enjoy the shipboard life. I tend to like where the ship is going. If the ship were going somewhere cold in February, I'm not likely to be on it. This one was going somewhere warm and that was what made all the difference.Sunset over the CaribbeanIn the end I would give the Valor a B+. It was a good trip, the food was good, the entertainment was top notch, although some of it did not fit my taste. The musicians were as good as I have heard anywhere. But the booming of the waves was irritating, and it took three days to readjust to being on land because our cabin was tossed around a lot. Was it worth what we paid for it.? Yeah I guess so. Would I go on the Valor again? Maybe. It is a younger crowd, and we did have a good time. And that is why we went on vacation. Later, y'all. The Rave will turn to other stuff next time.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Freedom ain't a state . . .

Martha Stewartlike Maine or Virginia, but it sure beats being in the joint. I wanted to stop my cruise blogging to comment on today's release of Martha Stewart from jail.

She's out, run for your lives!

It's kind of like the old Godzilla movies, where the monster starts stalking Tokyo and you see all the people staring with their mouths open and then running in terror (but of course the screams never matched the mouth movement). Martha boarded a private jet in West Virginia today and winged her way back to her New York mansion, where I'm sure everything was PERFECT.

Of course, now Martha has to start house arrest for the next five months, but she can receive her $900,000 a year salary, can work 48 hours a week, and can waltz around the house, which she bought for $16 million in 2000. Today she ran around with her horses.AP Photo of Martha Stewart with her horses

While in home confinement, Martha can also entertain colleagues, neighbors, friends and relatives - as long as they're not criminals. Convicted felons aren't allowed to consort with other convicted felons.

Did we forget that? Martha was convicted of a felony, of obstructing justice and lying to the U.S. government about her shenanigans involving the sale of ImClone stock. And did we forget that her perfect highness was once a stock trader herself?

But now, the media predictions are that she will step in crap and come out smelling like a perfect tea rose cut from her immaculate garden. Why? Because she has two TV shows (including a new version of "The Apprentice" on NBC) and her multi-billion dollar housewares and clothing empire to run. And she still faces an SEC hearing on her ability to run a publicly traded company.

But isn't her story uniquely American? Michael Milken bilks people in junk bonds and he gets a light prison sentence and rebuilds himself; Bill Clinton gets some head from an intern in the White House, and now he's an author, a heart by-pass survivor and is co-leading Tsunami relief; this writer does his best to screw up his life, and yet is forgiven and redeemed. So there's hope for Martha, too.

Maybe prison was a little humbling for her. Maybe she realizes how fleeting prosperity and riches can be. In her statement after getting out of the joint, Martha echoed Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, saying "there's no place like home."

I personally like Oscar winner Morgan Freeman's statement in The Shawshank Redemption: "Everybody's innocent in here; didn't you know that?"

Maybe Martha has learned something. Or maybe she's putting a happy face on the same stone-cold opportunist she was when she went to prison. Let's hope not.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Is it Sint Maarten or St. Martin?

St. Maarten FlagEither way, you spell it, it was a great place to be in February. We landed there the day after our stop in St. Thomas, so there was back-to-back snorkeling (we were on the Dutch side, which has the better beaches; the French side apparently is more rocky).

The ship terminal is very modern, which is a new addition because apparently in recent years, passengers had to be tendered into the port city (Phillipsburg).Map of Sint Maarten/St. Martin We decided to skip the onboard excursion and save money on the trip to Dawn Beach, where we wanted to go snorkeling. Orient Beach is more famous for being a "clothing optional" beach, but even Dawn Beach was topless if you wanted.

We skipped the cabs inside the ship terminal because they were $15.00 a person if you did not have three or more people. If there are more than three people in your party the price drops to $6.00 a person.

There are plenty of locals outside the ship terminal willing to drive you around and we were able to negotiate a price of $7.00 each to get to Dawn Beach. It was a little bit of an adventure, because the car was beaten up and the driver had his wife in the car with him, but he got us where we wanted to go and promised to come back when we asked him to be there. And he did! Not bad huh?

The water was rougher on Dawn Beach than in St. Thomas, but the sun was warm and the sky was clear, so I enjoyed that part of the trip. But my mask leaked and so I curtailed my snorkeling. Cornelia spent the better part of three hours in the water, and because she was wearing her shorty wetsuit, she was able to enjoy a great time. Dawn Beach, St. MaartenThere is a coral reef right off shore (you could see it from the beach) and the fishes were abundant. Cornelia even saw an octopus in the wild, changing colors to mask itself and everything. But my leaky mask and the strong current limited my enjoyment.

Our driver told us that St. Maarten has to import all its food (on the Dutch side) because things will not grow there very well. The French side, according to him, is more verdant and has vineyards and more agriculture. It also has more of a European feel, with sidewalk cafes and shops that seem more appropriate for Marseilles or Nice than a Caribbean Island.