Saturday, February 21, 2009

Is This a Financial Crisis?

Photo Credit to Lumaxart

My life savings have shrunk by about 40 percent since I retired eighteen months ago. I am sympathetic with folks who are worried about the state of the U.S. economy. I just don't think it is a crisis.

We use the word crisis far too freely.

Second by second, throughout the world, individuals have crises. Death of a loved one. Crippling accident. Debilitating disease. Starvation. Innumerable types of suffering.
There are almost seven billion humans on this planet. The majority live what most Americans would consider a wretched existence. The Miniature Earth Video illustrates their plight vividly.

When I walk into my local Safeway, I find the amount and variety of food overwhelming. I grew up in this culture. Imagine how it would seem to someone who eats only a bowl of rice or a plate of cornmeal mush every day, if they are fortunate.

I know that millions of people in this country are losing their jobs. Many are losing the houses they worked hard to acquire. I know that is painful. But I refuse to call it a crisis. To do so is callous in a world where children starve for want of a few cents worth of grain each day.

Let us work long and hard to stabilize our economy, but let us not forget that we are incredibly blessed. And let us remember those truly in crisis.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Muzzammil Hassan was a man with a mission. He hoped to counter negative impressions of Muslims post 911. He founded a TV network to get the message out.

Then he was charged with murdering his wife and cutting her head off.

Hassan is a Muslim. I am a Christian. Yet, he and I have something important in common. Both of us are incapable of living a life that is completely consistent with the ideals we profess.

I am horrified by Hassan's alleged crime. But were I to assume that one horrible act makes a definitive statement about all Muslims, I would be a hypocrite. Some Christians have committed horrific crimes, but I do not accept those crimes as being evidence of the failure of Christianity as a belief system.

One act cannot define even a single human being, much less a whole people group. We are far too complex to be characterized by one action, even if it is a wonderfully good one or a terribly evil one. Unfortunately, I am slow to believe that for anyone other than myself. I am inclined to see Hassan as a monster. I wonder what good can he possibly have done that could outweigh the evil of his alleged crime? However, I am quick to believe that whatever good I have done can cover all the evil I have perpetrated, with plenty of cover to spare.

Judging an action can be straight forward. For example, it is wrong to murder. But judging a person would entail knowing all that they have done and weighing each of those things on a cosmic scale.

We can distinguish right from wrong. We can hold people accountable for their actions. However, we are too limited to make a final assessment of a person's life.

Hassan will stand trial for his wife's murder. We humans can pass judgment on whether he committed the crime. We can decide the penalty he must pay in this life. We cannot decide his eternal fate.

I leave that judgment to someone infinitely more qualified than me.
Photo Credit: Where Evil Lurks by Stacie Babenko

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Googling without a keyboard

You know the drill. A question arises. Even if you have an Iphone in hand, there is a period of laborious typing and clicking that is required to get the information you like. Or so I thought.

I got a new cell phone recently. I usually bottom feed on the cheaper phones, and this time was no exception. Even so, I soon learned that the phone has remarkable voice recognition capability. I can just say the name of a contact and the phone finds it for me and one button push launches a call to that contact. I didn't even have to teach the phone how I pronounce the entries in my contacts list. It does a remarkably good job of understanding me and getting the right contact. If it is wrong, I get to try again and it learns to do better next time.

Then it occured to me that voice recognition can allow devices like mobile phones to hear a search phrase, such as "zygote definition". Bam, up pops a nice list of possible web references.

Oh, but it doesn't stop there. A friend bought software for his Iphone that allows him to hold the phone up to hear music playing in a room. The software figures out what song is playing and gives a link to all the information you might like to have about the song (Hey, that is the Yardbirds and it was 1963!). I imagine it also allows you to download the song for a buck.

But why stop there. How about adding a tiny web cam to a bluetooth earpiece. When you meet someone and blank on their name, you quietly say "who", or maybe use a special little clicking sound. The camera snaps a photo of their face and searches a data base to find not only their name, but notes you have made about them (Amway fanatic, divert, divert). One more little clucking noise and you hear the last twenty entries on their twitter feed. (Oh, hi aunt Tilda, how is that hysterectomy healing up!)

No need to stop with faces. Yep that is a 56 Chevy. No, that's Vesuvius, not Krakatoa.

I see some real possibilities.

Twitter and Tiny URLs

At first I found Twitter pretty boring. Even the most succinct among us may have trouble saying something of interest with 140 characters. I get it that the idea was to simply let people know what you are doing from hour to hour. Frankly, it generally seems a case of TMI (too much information).

Then I ran across Twitter streams from news sources. An example: nytimes The Caucus: Caterpillar CEO Contradicts Obama Over Jobs

I will sometimes check news sources frequently if I know there is some hot story going on. But twitter posts form news sources would be a very high tech version of some much older news feed technologies. The advantage is the ability to include live links (as above). However, I kept noticing the url's with tinyurl inserted. Then it occurred to me that many URL's are quite long. They would easily consume a lot of the 140 characters that Twitter allows. Tinyurl is a service that takes a typical long URL and creates a new URL that directs folks to the same web page.

As far as I can tell it is a "free" service funded by advertising and donations. There seem to have been a few glitches, but as the service catches on I imagine lots of smart people will be working out the bugs.

So Twitter plus Tinyurl, now that might turn into something.

Even as I write this, I imagine that lots of other smart folks are thinking of other innovative ways to use short frequent messages to offer a potpourri of info in a compact stream. So maybe I won't count the idea out just yet.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Fairview 1956

This video was created by the state of Oregon to communicate the need for special care for citizens with special needs. The intent of the video is to show that humane care was being provided at Fairview, but also to remind the public of the need to support such institutions financially.

Many will find the video disturbing.

In Our Care from Oregonian News on Vimeo.

I am posting it because as I wrote my post about Bud Fredericks, it occurred to me that many younger people would have little idea of what it meant for a special needs child or adult to be cared for in an institution.

Fairview is closed now. Generally, if care for special needs children and adults cannot be provided by their families, a system of group or foster homes is relied upon to provide care.

When feasible, special needs children attend public schools, receiving extra attention as required. This is referred to as mainstreaming.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Two Roads Diverged For Bud Fredericks

Twenty years into his career, on a fast track toward becoming a Marine Corps general, Bud Fredericks resigned his commission. He was in his early 40s and had no immediate prospects for employment. Why did he do it?

Bud's military career was very gratifying, but the birth of his fifth child, Tim, forced him to choose between the Marines and a whole new direction that would provide more direct support for his family.

Bud graduated from a highly competitive Jesuit run high school in 1944. The military offered support for college, followed by Officer Candidate School.

Bud's military career flourished. By the mid 1950s he was a major and a strong candidate for further promotion. The Marines sent Bud to Stanford University to study history as a part of his preparation. He completed the requirements for a doctorate in history, lacking only a completed thesis.

Bud's marriage to Dot also prospered. She adapted well to life as an officer's wife. She also coped with Bud's long absences as they raised four children. In the 1960s Bud commanded one of the few military units that had trained to fight guerrilla warfare. His unit was ordered to Vietnam in 1964.

When he returned from Vietnam, Bud was posted to the ROTC at Oregon State University. He was able to transfer his credits from his studies at Stanford to a graduate program at the University of Oregon.

Bud and Dot's fifth child, Tim, was born in 1966. Tim has Down syndrome.

Bud reminisced, "We were fortunate to have a doctor who told us to take Tim home and love him". Forty years ago, children with Down syndrome were usually placed in institutions.

Bud and Dot supplied love, but did not know how to foster Tim's early development. Books at the UO library were oriented toward institutions. “They were sad books. There was nothing in them to help us.” said Bud.

In 1967, Bud was about to be reassigned to Vietnam. Dot dreaded his absence. Their teenage children were opposed to the war.

The decision to resign was not an easy one. Bud cherished his time in the Marines. He loved the camaraderie. He excelled as a Marine Officer and had an opportunity to grow. However, Bud could see that his family needed him.

He never told them how much it hurt him to leave the Marines.

Bud changed his focus to special education at UO. He also sought a paying position. A chance conversation led to a job at Teaching Research, an arm of the Oregon higher education system.
While working on his thesis, Bud met Vic Baldwin at Fairview Hospital. Vic admired Bud's research and helped him procured a $40,000 federal grant.

While pursuing his second career, Bud worked with Tim to help him reach his full potential. Bud and Tim actually travelled on a lecture circuit where Tim delivered a speech about what it is like to have Down Syndrome. See page 2 of this newsletter for the full text. Tim joined the Boy Scouts. He attained Eagle Scout status.

The federal government began to see a need to mandate special education opportunities for children. Bud and Vic gained support in Oregon and at the federal level. Decades passed. Bud contributed to special education projects worldwide.

Today, Tim, 42, lives independently, works and is married. Bud's dedication contributed to a richer life for Tim, and for countless others.

Missing La Roca

S0me businesses are a victim of their own success. La Roca has become La Rockita and is located in a spacious, gleaming, restaurant a block from the old taqueria.

For many years La Roca was a fixture on the main drag through Philomath. The tiny building was crammed with a small kitchen, pop dispensers, and storage for beans and rice. No seating inside. Fortunately an aging roof shot out of one side of the building, supported by steel poles painted a hundred times, yet still showing numerous spots of rust. Under this canopy one could sit at small picnic tables adorned with plastic table cloths.

Ordering was an odd experience. You stooped before a small window. The relative gloom inside the restaurant combined with the screen on the window make it almost impossible to see who his taking your order. But immediately after the words leave your mouth, they are are shouted loudly and rapidly in Spanish. Soon the rushing noise of the soda dispenser assures you that your beverage is on its way.

But the best is yet to come.

Soon your name is shouted at a small side window and you are presented with a steaming, foil wrapped bundle. The multitude of delightful cooking smells from the take out window motivate you to rush back to your table and peel away the foil to reveal a burrito that looks just like any other, only larger. However, inside the bland flour tortilla exterior is a cornucopia of flavors, textures, and smells. Highly seasoned meats. Slow cooked beans. Vivid green guacamole with a perfect smooth, creamy texture.

From the first bite to the last, your mouth explodes with flavor.

As you eat, the pleasure is so great that the gritty highway traffic twenty feet from where you sit becomes a pleasant vista. The roar of passing log trucks may not quite drown out the local riff and raff telling sophomoric jokes at the next table, but your profound bliss allows you to see them as colorful and engaging.

The food is still great at La Rockita, and it is nice to be able to see the staff and chat with them. Nonetheless, I find myself missing La Roca.