Friday, February 29, 2008


My grandmother "Nanny" as a fashionable young lady in the mid 1920's

He Is Sam

In my piece a few weeks back, Joel Gillespie for President - Presenting My Cabinet, I wrote...

"For National Security Adviser I'd go with my good friend Sam. He knows everything about everything. Really, he does. He's amazing."

The other day I did a short little thing on the Kosovo/Serbia tensions entitled WW V.

Billy wrote a worthy and interesting response, to which I wrote a short response back, and then yesterday my friend Sam wrote this:

To offer a little perspective on this ...

The current Serb-Kosovar mess will not lead to another World War. I'd be surprised if it leads to much of anything, other than another enclave/breakaway province in the perpetually troubled Balkans. WWI hinged on the Balkans because of the bellicose alliances European nations got sucked into as they armed themselves to the teeth; it took only a match to set off a powderkeg. If it hadn't been the Balkans, WWI would've started over some other relatively petty assassination, border dispute, international incident, etc. Everyone wanted that war, until everyone saw how horrifying modern war could get -- and by then, it was too late.

Neither the Cold War nor the War on Terror (whatever that means) is WW3. Not even close. Only the Norman Podhoretzes of this world have the fevered lapses of intellect to imagine that a fairly normal state of global affairs is a "world war."

Can't compare U.S. military operations to other invasions because the purposes were different. The Germans invaded other countries for conquest, as did so many empires of the past. We pursued al Qaeda in Afghanistan because the Taliban was providing them safe cover; our purposes were very specific and limited. As a happy side effect of that, the Taliban's government fell. (Then Bush blew it, big time, by shifting all our military resources to an ill-advised invasion of Iraq, but that's way too much to go into here.)

Germany at the dawn of WWII (or at any other point) was nowhere near being "the closest thing to a superpower the world had ever known." How about the Roman Empire, Greek Empire under Alexander, Mongol empire during the Khan line, Carthage at the height of its powers, among many others -- all controlled far greater land, far greater wealth, far more people relative to the standards of their time. Germany was effectively countered by the Soviets in the east, the Allies in the west, and had a mighty short run. In most cases, the aforementioned empires crumbled from within. That is a better analogy to our own "soft" empire.

Also, the majority of grassroots insurgencies have been utterly demolished. Only the rare ones gain any traction whatsoever. Again, read a good history (Gibbon's is a good one) of the Roman empire. Do you know how many pitched rebellions the Romans crushed during their long reign? The Soviets and their various satellites and allies? Heck, Russia was long the land of the failed revolution before 1905 (the first big failed one).

Point being that you can't compare apples and oranges. I'm no warmonger, and I oppose our occupation of Iraq and want ALL of our troops to return home post-haste, including those at the nearly 700 bases we have worldwide. But I also don't compare even our misguided foreign policy with imperial conquest.

A far greater threat to our nation comes from within, and it is composed of economic decline, increasing balkanization via uncontrolled immigration (sans assimilation) and identity-group politics, and declining cultural standards -- which are, after all, what binds us together in the first place, to the extent it does.

Just my .02 "ameros"! (;-}

As I said above...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Mercury Rising

I am a pretty voracious reader, and a science geek. But one of my problems as a blogger is that I am not a good note keeper/bibliographer. So whenever I write what I am getting ready to write I am never ready for the inevitable replies.

These thoughts were stimulated by the article in the News and Record today about the Duke coal burning plant west of Charlotte, as well as an article I read in Wired yesterday about technology and the environment.

NC needs more energy. Duke has got to produce it somehow. Coal is abundant. It is cleaner than ever. Up until recently there had been a lot of attention given to the carbon footprint of this plant. Now the attention is more on the mercury emissions. The opponents seem desperate. But they're on to something actually more serious now.

I think the mercury emissions issue is WAY more important. We have to know the impact of that amount of mercury - where it ends up, how it effects plant and animal life, and ultimately humans. Mercury is nasty stuff.

Coal plants, though cleaner than a generation ago, also generate sulfur dioxide (think acid rain), nitrogen oxide (think smog and ground level ozone), carbon monoxide, various hydrocarbons, various generic small particles, mercury, lead, other heavy metals, and of course carbon dioxide.

I really am not concerned at all about the carbon dioxide because I don't think we have even come close to establishing the degree to which CO2 has any significant effect on global warming, but the rest of those emissions, well, they concern me a lot.

We waste time and money wrangling about CO2 emissions while we send tons and tons of really bad pollutants into the air and water, deforest the last great jungles of the world, destroy one habitat after another, and kill off some of the most wonderful creatures we could even imagine existing.

If I were the devil, and I wanted the earth to become as ugly and horrible and inhospitable as possible, I think I would invent the issue of global warming (and especially the idea of carbon footprint) to divert everyone's attention from the really terrible ways we are already rendering our earth home barren and ugly and a wasteland.

For today, we need to know more about that mercury.

I believe we need a Marshall Plan for alternative and clean energy. We need to incentivize the technical know how of our universities and major industries to solve some of these difficult energy problems together. No, I don't think technology can save the world. But I have come to realize that it is the more affluent countries that become, in time, the cleanest, and that come to care most about the quality of the environment. It only makes sense.

I think we have barely scratched the surface as to car fuel efficiency, solar and wind energy, fuel cells, geothermal, wave and river energy etc.

To me the global warming carbon footprint bug a boo is a distraction. Let's go back to saving our planet from we already know is killing it.

The Heart of Bush

I think this is a great story on Bush in Africa (written by Bob Geldof for Time/CNN online) - revealing the man, his heart, his humor, his quickness, and the contradictions that surround his tenure as President.

This Is Creepy

Folded Umbrellas Outside of Natty Greens

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Medical Morality Tale

The six weeks leading up to my mother's death on February 27, 2001, were perhaps the most difficult of my life. I had the deep blessing and privilege of reconnecting with my mother in a new and deep way, and then she was taken. I have not talked very much about the circumstances of her death, but I think it is time to put the record out there. The purpose of this is not to bring grief to anyone, but to encourage everyone to be vigorous and proactive when dealing with members of the medical profession, particularly surgeons. The qualities needed to make them good surgeons are not those which make them easy to talk to.

After mom died, for the sake of my family, I wrote a letter to the doctors laying out the questions we had. I never sent it. They would not have answered them no mater how many wavers I signed agreeing not to sue were they to admit to anything. But here it is, the story of mom's demise in the form of a letter to her doctors:

(I've added a paragraph at the end as a response to Mary Johnson's wise comment)

Dear Doctors,

My name is Joel Gillespie. My mother. Mrs. Maurine Gillespie, was a patient of yours. As you know she passed away on Tuesday February 27, 2001, while under your care.

On behalf of myself and my three siblings, I want to express my gratitude for the care extended to my mom by all of her doctors and nurses during this terrible ordeal. We know that everyone tried very hard to get my mom through her ordeal, and that you are saddened by her death, as we are.

On our side, four adult children have lost a dear mother, and eleven grandchildren a dear grandmother. As we go through the process of grieving our mother’s loss, we find that that grieving process is somewhat hindered by the questions that accumulated along the way. It was often hard to have time to see and talk doctors, and have concerns and questions addressed. Some of these questions just sort of hang there without resolution, and this makes it harder to move on.

As we deal with our own grief and look to a future without our mother and our children’s grandmother, it would be most helpful for us to have as much understanding as possible about the course of events which led to her death. These questions may well point to our own medical ignorance. We simply don’t have adequate grasp of some of the anatomical issues and physiological processes and treatment realities involved. Some of our questions have to do with simply wishing to understand better how one thing led causally to another. Other questions have to do with why certain treatment decisions were made, and whether certain events could have been foreseen. Finally, some questions have to do with whether risks were adequately outlined prior to her surgery.

We would like to would request an audience with the various physicians who attended to our mother during her last weeks of life and have them answer for us as many of these questions as they could. This would be advantageous to our moving forward. We will be in touch regarding setting up such a meeting. Perhaps it would be good to meet with Dr. Orlandini, her primary cardiologist, Dr. Beard who preformed the ablation, and one member of the surgery team who worked with my mom, perhaps Dr. Sutton Jr. who met with my mom before the surgery.

In order that you might have opportunity to remember the details, and in order for such a meeting to be as fruitful as possible, I am going to try my best to articulate the questions as they stand as of this writing. I will try to write these out as straightforwardly as I can, and of course you must forgive any medical naivete which may reveal itself as I go along. I am writing rather clinically and ask you not to read tone or anything into the questions. There is no tone intended at any point.

Our first question has to do with the decision to take my mother off the medications prior to the ablation procedure. We understand that she needed to be symptomatic in order for this procedure to be successful. However, in going off the medications several days before the procedure, my mom was left in a very vulnerable state. He tachycardia intensified to the point that she was admitted to the hospital with a pulse in excess of 200 and a dangerously reduced blood pressure. Her lungs had significant fluid build up. The emergency room doctor noted that she was in failure. She likely had been in this state for some time. In our judgment she should have been more closely monitored during this period of time. Could such an extended period of time with such elevated heart rate so stressed her heart and heart valves that it contributed to her mitral valve failure?

In the ablation procedure the doctor identified two primary “bad” pathways. One of these was close to the “good” sinus node pathway. Our understanding is that in trying to knock out the bad pathway the good pathway was impacted, which ultimately led to the necessity of getting a pacemaker. In other words, he missed. Is it normal to try to take out a bad pathway so near to good pathway?

The process of getting her pacemaker to work properly was quite frustrating for my mom and for us. The pacemaker could not be made to stick. It kept coming unhooked from her heart tissue and then just dangling inside her heart, causing her heart to beat in all kinds of irregular ways. t would help us to understand better what sorts of things can contribute to such difficulty, and whether any of this could have been related to her subsequent mitral valve problem. In particular, could problems such as perhaps improperly coordinated contractions of her atriums and ventricles have contributed to her mitral valve failure?

At one point one of the nurses made comment about something “funky” having gone during the pacemaker procedure. We are curious as to what this might have been.

It seems probable now, after the fact, that the problem with getting the pacemaker leads to “stick” had to do with the friability of her heart muscle tissue, a friability caused undoubtedly by her long term use of prednisone for her late onset asthma. It was, in the end, this tissue friability that killed her, and which we believe should have been predicted. Perhaps the pacemaker problems in addition to the fact of her long term use of prednisone should have caused increased concern about her surgical risk after the mitral valve blew out.

One thing that has concerned us as well is the fact that there was knowledge of a “murmur” of some kind noted in the primary cardiologist’s records both in July and December. My mom had no history of heart murmur or of mitral valve problems. Should not this murmur have been checked out earlier through ultrasound? Could it have been early signs of valve trouble and could this have impacted the decision to proceed with the ablation? Did Dr. Beard know about this murmur?

After the catherization procedure revealed the blockages and confirmed the ultrasound’s finding regarding her mitral valve, it was explained by the surgeon that my mom indicated for valve replacement and bypass surgery. Risks were outlined to her as 8-10%, with the usual risks of stroke and heart attack (etc.) mentioned. Because of her history of asthma and prolonged use of prednisone the issues both of her lung capacity and problems with tissue healing were discussed, which also imposed risk as to her recovery, risks which were also rated at 8%. Her decision to have the surgery was difficult and calculated based on the information she received from the doctors prior to surgery.

After my mother managed to get through the bypass/valve replacement surgery and off the heart lung machine, the surgeon commented that when he got into her heart he found that its anatomy was very unusual, that the walls of the heart were thickened and that there were fatty deposits like little tumors in the heart, and that as a result it had been quite hard to get the tissue valve seated. Because of the time spent attempting to place the tissue valve, and then the additional time spent putting in the mechanical valve, she was then on the heart/lung machine much longer than was good, which had terrible consequences for her eventual recovery, particularly the four days spent on the respirator due to having to wait three days to close up her chest.

Prior to her open heart surgery, my mom had an ultrasound taken in the emergency room (which I refer to below as the “external” ultrasound). This ultrasound showed evidence of valve problems. The catherization procedure undergone the next day also showed evidence of such mitril valve problems in addition to coronary artery blockages. In addition, in the period of time after diagnosis of these problems and the actual surgery, she had on at least one occasion, perhaps two, taken the test whereby she swallowed the ultrasound camera which then enabled the doctors to see the back side of her heart. I refer to this as the internal ultrasound. She may have had another external ultrasound done as well.. Were not the external and internal ultrasounds intended to enable the surgeons to see her heart more clearly, and would not they have enabled them to understand her heart’s “unusual” anatomy. Could they enabled the doctors to make a different call regarding the decision to go with the tissue as opposed to the mechanical valve? Would they have enabled the doctors to mention the possibility of the valve not fitting right is as one of the surgical risks and challenges, which again could have impacted the decision to have the surgery?

During the surgery, when the surgeon came out to inform the family that my mother would most likely not make it through, he spoke of the reason as being primarily the friability of her tissue which caused problems in suturing. he acted as if it would have been a miracle for anyone in her condition, given her tissue friability, to have survived a surgery of this kind, even though he had said her surgery risk factor was 8 %.

Again, our question is whether this issue of friability could have been anticipated given her long history of the use of prednisone? And if so, in laying out risks of surgery should the surgeon have mentioned to my mom and to us the possible problem of tissue friability? It never came up prior to the surgery and in discussion of risks. This is the single biggest concern we have.

Although her life would have been more limited and less active had she not had the surgery, and though in time her coronary artery likely would have closed off and she would have died of a heart attack, my mom’s week in the hospital prior to surgery proved that she could live with the valve reflux if properly monitored and if given appropriate medications. Had the surgeon mentioned the risk of suturing given a likelihood of tissue friability due to use of prednisone the decision to proceed with the surgery could have likely have been very different.

The evening before my mom died the nurses had put her on the c-pap machine to help her breathe. According to what the nurses later told us they had to take my mom right off the c-pap because her blood pressure dropped quickly. We do not understand what the relationship is between her being on the c-pap and her blood pressure dropping. How does the c-pap cause one’s blood pressure to drop? Does being on the c-pap impact or stress the heart in some way?

When we last say my mom at 12:00pm on Tuesday the day of her death, the nurse mentioned that they were intending to put her back on the c-pap machine after we left. Was this done and could this have been causally related to her blood pressure dropping as it did prior to her heart stopping?

After my mom died the doctor explained to us that her heart had just stopped. But it had been explained to us already by the nurse that her blood pressure had dropped, setting off the alarms, but her heart continued to beat and that she had continued to breathe, and that attempts were made to reverse or correct her blood pressure drop, and that only subsequently did her heart actually stop.

It seems to us that some event caused her blood pressure to drop as it did. Either something caused her heart to stop beating effectively (a bypass graft coming undone, the valve misfunctioning, her coronary arteries getting blocked, etc.) or something caused her to lose blood internally, such as a hemorrhage.

As far as you can know what caused her heart to stop beating effectively, and is there an identifiable cause of that, such as being put on the c-pap machine?

(Added after Mary Johnson's wise comment...If my memory serves me correctly we decided within a very short time not to pursue any sort of lawsuit. Yes, mistakes were made, but my mother also made enough mistakes in her own self care for us to blame her demise on anyone else. I think I learned three things. First, doctors, particularly surgeons, tend to be overly optimistic about what they can pull off. That can lead to unwise care decisions. Second, once you're in the hospital it is almost impossible to have a good substantial talk with a doctor (this has been verified for me as a pastor a hundreds over as I have sat with anxious families). Third, after anything goes awry, doctors are so scared of lawsuits they do not want to talk. It would allow wonderful closure for a family if a doctor could say "I'm sorry, my hand slipped and I nicked the artery" or whatever. But they can't admit to anything because of malpractice suits breathing down their necks all the time. This helps nobody. I carry no grudge about the medical care, and cherish the memory of my mother. Nor do I really await any answers. I stumbled across this and thought, well, I wrote it, I may as well publish it somewhere . Maybe someone will benefit from it. I don't know, maybe not.)

Mom - We Miss You

Taken in early 1950's. Maurine Gillespie, my mom. I was not born yet so obviously I did not take the picture. It was damaged but I cleaned it up as best as I could with my limited skills in that area. This is my single favorite photo of my mom.

Maurine (Sanders) Gillespie
b. March 27, 1932, Sherman TX
d. February 27, 2001, Columbia, SC
m. Curtis Claunch Gillespie, Jr. 1952, Sherman Tx
Mother of Michael Curtis, John Robert, Joel Sanders, and Mary Adeline
Grandmother of Rachel, Shannon, Stephen, Heather, Rebekah, Michele, Laurel, Mary, Anna, Sanders, Madeline, and Joshua

It would be a high honor on this the anniversary of her death if you would remember her with me and peruse pictures of here here.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Things You Do For Love

The Drudge Report has a great small montage showing the idiocy of the Clinton campaign in trying to score points by circulating a photo of Obama dressed as a Somali tribal elder. The montage shows Hillary Clinton, George Bush, and Bill Clinton all doing the same. I guess Clinton's people wanted to show that really, you know, deep deep deep deep down, Obama is a secret Muslim after all. I am starting to wonder what Obama's political message really is, but this is ridiculous. Read the Drudge article, you'll like it.

Oh, and for real, last month I drove to Columbia SC to attend a certain public ceremony. In order to please my guests, I had to wear a tight heavily starched shirt, wrap this crazy thin garment around my neck and tie it into a double knot, put on a black wool suit, wear heavy black shoes, and stand there looking all serious and earnest. So, does that make me a mobster, a gangster, or worse maybe, a stock broker? Just kidding! and no, it was a wedding not a funeral.

Flower Power

Was looking for something else and came across this! If this does not at least partially qualify me for hippie-dom I don't know what will! More here. My daughter says I look like a girl. But "nice teeth" she adds. Taken I think in late summer 1974.

The Religiously Irreligious

Except, Nancy, I would say that few people have as much zeal - religious-like zeal - as the non specifically religious, the tolerantly and vaguely religious, indeed, the religiously irreligious.

The Real Axis of Evil

I was very glad to hear Obama talk about education, and especially about how our kids need education across a range of subject areas, and how we need to get away from teaching to tests.

This is all very good. I like it. But...

We got into No Child Left Behind in the first place because our public school system, broadly speaking, sucked. It was failing our kids. The fact is, it is an embarrassment. We should all be ashamed.

I am a strong believer in public education. I am a strong supporter of public school teachers. I was a public school teacher for five years. But our system of public instruction is broken beyond the ability of its traditional overseers being able to fix it. I think it is beyond reform.

There is an Stalin-esque alliance, an axis of evil, an unholy trinity that holds our public school system in a death grip. This alliance is made up of the state departments of pubic instruction, the university departments of education, and the various teacher's unions or associations.

There are good and well meaning people in each of these groups who care about our children, but the system as a system is guaranteed to look after its own interests and not that of our children or our families (or our teachers).

Throw in the federal government as in "No Child Left Behind," with it's earmarks and scoring systems, plus ladder climbing superintendents whose upward mobility depends on good scores and it all just gets worse.

Until this triumvirate is broken I see no hope for real or lasting or effective change. It will just be window dressing, moving the furniture around, sloganeering.

What OUGHT and what NEEDS to happen is that responsibility for education needs to pushed down as much as possible to the local level, even as we keep per pupil funding as even as we can. Education is simply one of those things in life that works best locally. It is, oddly, one of those things where, until local communities have to step up, they won't, and when they have to, or until they are no longer made irrelevant, they will step up.

We have to change the certification rules for teachers. Teacher certification classes mean little compared to a lot of other things that make for good teachers, like decent IQ's, knowledge of material, general knowledge, work ethic, love of students, etc. All those extra education-course requirements, along with the woefully low pay, just keep good teachers out of teaching. Students majoring in education typically have the lowest SAT scores of all the students on a college campus. Great, huh?

Smart teachers unshackled by teaching to the test (and freed from having to take a million teachers' classes at night just to be able to make a little more money) will have the time, energy, and creative freedom to plan great classes. When I taught high school physics, chemistry, and physical science I was given a course title, a lab closet filled with thirty year old junk, a chem lab with enough HCL, H2SO4, HNO3 and other stuff to eat a hole to the center of the earth, and enough sticks of Sodium to blow the water out of lake Murray. I had to pick text books, plan scope-and-sequence, order lab material, write my own tests (for which I gave partial credit on most questions since it was so much math based - so, no machine scoring for me), clean up those closets, you name it. Hard work, huge amounts of time, most nights up late preparing or grading (I think I made $13,000 my first year - oh, but I had all summer to holiday in Spain, right John?), but we had some fun and compelling classes.

We need to break up the school districts. I am not convinced these consolidated monster districts actually save us money but even if they do it's not worth it. It makes the system seem like the Queen Mary navigating the Haw River. It's just too big, too slow, too cumbersome, too "one size fits all." Break it up. Smash it. Give more leeway to the local principles. Give more freedom to the local teachers.

All the new construction in the world won't make up for poor teachers. Give me good teachers in ratty buildings over mediocre teachers in new buildings any day. With good teachers magic happens.

And Republicans, just be quiet already about merit pay. It doesn't work. There are no objective criteria that won't end up meaning more conferences, more classes, more time "in the system" under the sway of the unholy trinity. The only way to discern real merit is subjectively, and that will never fly, unless we follow a military model and promote those we know by observation worthy of promotion. I don't think that will work.

As I have said before, it is one of the hardest things in the world to be a good teacher. If you have not done it I don't think you have any idea how demanding it is. It's a 15 hour a day job. It's exhausting. And it's rewarding. But it pretty much becomes your life. I'm afraid it's also way too easy to be a bad teacher. If we raise academic entry requirements (as in, you know, med school) and raise pay substantially, teacher quality will take care of itself, and we'll just have to let the bad teachers retire out of the system.

I realize that my ideas won't in reality be passed either. But Obama is dreaming if he thinks that just casting off NCLB is going to bring in some golden era of education. It will just bring us back to the same mediocre place we were in before. That's a place I don't want to be. American public education will still suck.

Oh, and one more thing...speaking of special interests...we tend to think of such interests as corporate, Madison avenue, greedy old men in suits...but the aforementioned educational triumvirate is a triple play of special interests and lobbying. Just cross them, you'll see.

Old and Wrinkled

I know this isn't an inspiring photograph. It's the bark of a very old Tulip Poplar tree on the Beech Bluff Trail off a finger of Lake Higgins that eventually crosses Fleming Road. There are also some very old Beech trees along that trail - hence the name. I like to wonder, "What has this tree seen in its day." I wish there were really Tree Beards in our world that could talk to us. Though Tulip Poplars do grow quickly, given the height and girth of this one, and the deeply fissured bark, I would not be surprised if it were a hundred years old, saved from the saw by the boggy creek bed and steep hillside. Its beautiful back in there - lots of birds - you should check it out.

Falling Slowly - My Favorite Oscar Moment

I had gone to the back of the house for just a moment, and when I came back Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova were on stage singing "Falling Slowly." "Anna, Anna" I called out to my daughter, "come here, quickly" hoping not to awaken the others in the house who were sleeping.

Anna, her sister Heather, and I had rented "Once" over Christmas holidays and fell in love with the music. One of the songs had even become Anna's cell phone ring tone.

When later they actually won the Oscar for best original song in a movie I called out for Anna again. Glen Hansard's acceptance speech was humble and delightful and fantastic, as were Marketa Irglova's words after they brought her back up (having whisked her off the stage a little too quickly first time around).

As I said in my rambling re-entry back into blogging this January, "Once" is a beautiful little Irish film. OK, yes, it is filled with typical Irish street language, so it's not for the kids. It has Indy film all over it, from the simple camera angles, to the linear story line, to the utter lack of special effects. In his acceptance speech Hansard said the movie's cost was only $100,000!.

It is a slow film, slow-like-life slow. It is about music, and about how circumstances brought two people together to make music for a week - a once in a lifetime opportunity. It's about wisdom, knowing how to know the difference between a fleeting relationship opportunity and the more substantive and real relationships that need mending. It's a really sweet film. Beware, if you watch the movie you WILL buy the soundtrack!

And how real life has imitated art. Now Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova are touring together, when they can. Their voices really work together. They even toured with Bob Dylan this summer, and if you think that is like being relegated to the old folks tour, word is Bob Dylan has never been better, and lit up the stage this summer like never before.

So, listening to "Falling Slowly" was my favorite Oscar moment.

You can watch and listen to the movie clip from Once where their characters are putting together "Falling Slowly" together for the first time while in a music store here. here.

You can watch them on Letterman here.

My favorite song from the movie is Marketa Irglova's "If You Want Me."

Correction: My favorite song is The Hill. I like "If You Want Me" too.

To B or not to B, That is the Question

OK, so I don't know what has come of Billy's call to boycott the Wyndham Classic. But seeing as I voted for Billy for mayor, and more or less agree with him about corruption in our local political system, I wanted to explain to him why I won't join the boycott.

The first reason is that I don't go to the tournament anyway. It's just too expensive, and I'd rather watch golf on TV.

Secondly, I think the GGO (in its various iterations) has been good for Greensboro over the years.

Thirdly, the GGO is much older than the current leadership of Greensboro.

Fourthly, and most importantly for me, I don't do boycotts unless there are extreme, unambiguous, and reprehensible, moral and/or human life issues at stake.

I've come to this position or approach through the ad-infinitum calls for boycotts from conservative Christian and liberal environmental groups over the years. The thing is, once I really start to get nit picky about it, it is hard to find any product that is not tainted by some policy or behavior I find objectionable. It's like the Kevin Bacon thing, except that for most of us our purchasing decisions place us less than six degrees from evil of some kind. I do believe I would have to remove myself from the world altogether not to need a good moral shower everyday.

But it is into a fallen broken sinful often wicked world I have been cast. Rider on a storm I am. If there is a clear unambiguous way I can keep money out of the hands of wicked men and women who would corrupt and despoil and kill, well, I would, and I suppose that by not buying porn, drugs, AK 47's, men's club memberships, and the like, well, I do what I can. But generally boycotting (with a mind and a conscience) just sucks me deeper and deeper into a dark abyss.

I am reminded of Isaiah's words:

"Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips"

Obama Been Laudin' (Himself)

OK, so I have been on a week to ten day fast from we101 and local blogging to get some other things done, but my brain has not been dormant. If I repeat what others have said , or said better, please forgive me.

I watched the Obama speech from Houston the evening of the Wisconsin primary. I will admit to having a goose bump or two, and then that awful sick feeling of "oh no, something is going to happen to him." Probably just paranoia, but then I read about the lax security. Was THAT an accident?

Obama definitely has the "it" factor.

As the speech wore on and on and became more and more self referential, I became bored. "Some people say about Obama..." Seems like he likes the sound of his own name too much.

I loved a lot of what I heard. It all sounded so wonderful, fabulous, beautiful, dreamy.....impossible.

As much as I don't like Hillary Clinton, and as much as I think her candidacy would be good for the Republicans, I think her basic point, as poorly as she is making it, is sound. Obama is in la la land. He can use all the wonderful rhetoric he wants, but will that cause all the warring parties in Washington to fall at his feet, cast down their crowns, and give up their principled, cherished, and/or well funded agendas? I don't think so.

David Brooks I think hit the nail on the head in this morning's News and Record editorial piece, which can also be found on the NY Times.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Back Yard Snow

Thursday Morning, February 14, the corner of my backyard.

Monday, February 18, 2008


One pointless World War started in that area - could another?

Summers Past - Down By the River

This was taken while on an "Across South Carolina" bike ride in May 1977. The four of us stopped at a bridge in lower state SC on the ride from Columbia to Charleston - on Highway 178 I think - to watch the locals at play. It wasn't long before we got in on the action ourselves!

For more pictures of adventures past look here.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Charles Barkley Is Stupid (Can I Say That)

I am not one to lump together Christians and Republicans, or necessarily even Christians and conservatives, since "conservative" covers all kinds of views about all kinds of things...

Having, said that, what Charles Barkley said is just stupid.

Based on the fact that many conservatives, and many Christians, whom he simply lumps together, are opposed to abortion and gay marriage, he says that they are fake Christians, because, as we all know, Jesus says we aren't to judge. Barkley goes on to say that he is for abortion and for gay marriage.

Since he said that "we are not to judge," and also says he is for gay marriage, does he think that gay marriage is wrong, but it's not his place to judge it. I'm confused.

But to the the main point. In fact, Christians (or non Christians - there are many atheists who oppose abortion) don't oppose abortion because they are being judgmental in any negative sense. They oppose abortion because they believe that children in the womb are human beings and that it is not our place to kill them. Being pro-life is not a matter of being "judgmental" at all. Well, except that we judge the lives of the unborn to be precious and significant.

Christians (or non Christians) who oppose gay marriage aren't being judgmental either regarding the public policy matter of gay marriage. According to Barkley's logic I think it would be "judgmental," and therefore wrong, to oppose any sort of marriage arrangement between consenting adults. I wonder, are there any marital arrangements that he would, in judgment, oppose? I suspect that there are.

Again, the issue of marriage per se, legally, is something that comes under the jurisdiction of the civil authority. We're talking public policy here, not private attitudes towards our neighbors.

There is truth to the notion that Christians are not to judge those outside of the faith. The Apostle Paul makes this very clear in 1 Corinthians 5. Specifically he is talking about Christians who are "not associating" with people outside the faith who are "sexually immoral people...or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world." There are many Christians who really need to take those words to heart (I just made a judgment - oh my!).

There is an appropriate judgment that is to take place inside the faith. Paul made one about Christians failing to associate with non Christians for the reasons cited above.

Yes, we as Christians are all "in progress" but we're all in progress towards a serious goal of holiness and Christlikeness and honesty and purity and love and goodness. We are called over and over, not just to forgive, but to exhort, to encourage, to admonish if necessary, so that we won't be deceived and dragged down by the enemy of our souls, whom we believe to be real. We are to bear one another's burdens when we fall, and when we fail, and we are to be careful not to be haughty, and to realize that we are each and every one weak and prone to fall. . It's a serious business being a Christian, and no walk in the park.

But of course we together in community as Christians have to exercise judgments of all kinds. In fact, Barkley himself brings out one of the judgments we are to make. For example, I think we are to make a judgment as to whether people are being unduly judgmental. How can we call a person on being judgmental without making a judgment about his being judgmental? But mere "making judgments" is not the point of Jesus' words about judgment anyway. He makes clear what he means. He does not want us as Christians to be going around looking for the faults in others while not considering our own faults. We are to have a much greater concern about our own sin than the sin of others. We are not to be proud or holier-than-thou or look down upon others.

We cannot be asked to forgive if there is not something to forgive, if there is not an offense. But again, Jesus there is talking more about sins committed by one person against another. I think he said something about forgiving 7 times 7 times, or was it 70 times 7? I forget.

But none of this has anything to do with public policy. It IS the role of the civil authority to judge, to bring justice, to establish laws and to enforce them. In a representative democracy, we the people (for better or for worse) are part of that process of making laws and enforcing them. We vote. We speak freely. We even make judgments about public officials. Well, at least bloggers do that, and news people, and talk show hosts, and Hollywood personalities.

In effect, we as Christians wear two hats, the private Christian person hat, and the public policy participant hat. Sometimes the hats get confused. Barkley and others need to understand this. How we view the issue of abortion is not the same as how we think or feel or act personally toward those who are pregnant and in need. How we view the issue of gay marriage is not the same thing as how we treat, act toward, and deal with our gay neighbors.

I think Barkley was being terribly judgmental in what he said. I am SO deeply offended.

Maybe I shouldn't say "Charles Barkley is stupid." I'll try to remember to change that title sometime. Sounds kind of judgmental.

And may God help the good people of Alabama.

Looks Like Flowers Not Snow

The wet sticky Valentine's Day snow makes this tree look like it is in bloom!

Check out my Flickr photo stream, including lots of recent photos of downtown Greensboro, here.

Friday, February 15, 2008


I had a small growing migraine today and went home to take a little magic pill and try to sleep it off. It's a 1-2 hour process if I catch it in time. Otherwise it's an all day bear.

I went to sleep and had two dreams. First I dreamed of sitting in a sandbox with my older brother and his friends at our first house on Trenholm Road in Columbia. The event occured when I was two. In the dream I was lookign at the others, not myself, and my brother was 7ish.

Second I dreamed I was in my grandmother's house on Grande Avenue in Sherman, Texas, walking around, looking into the various rooms and closets. I could smell the unique smell of her house vividly in my dream. I haven't been in that house since I was maybe 14.

In the dream it was a younger me looking around her house. My parents and grandmother were alive. Yet, somehow inside the dream I reminded myself that I was really 50, and that they were gone. Inside the dream I started saying, "What happened to my life? Where did it go? What happened to my kid's childhood? What about all those things I haven't done? What good have I done in the world?"

I had this sense of terror run through my mind and heart while still in the dream, and I woke up really upset. I couldn't go back to sleep. Is this what midlife crisis feels like? Otherwise, when I'm not asleep, being 50 doesn't bother me a bit.

Oh, and the sandbox dream. That is legit memory. I have remembered that before, just not as vividly. Oh I know, it could all be a creation of a mind affected by some spice eaten at lunch, but when I awoke and thought about it it was like, "Yeah, that was real, I remember that" - kind of like being shown a photograph of yourself in some situation years before, something you haven't thought much about before, and you go, "Oh yeah, I remember that." Same deal.

Maybe a week or so after my mother died, (I was so distraught), I had the most amazing and incredible dream. In that dream my mother was right before me, just sitting there, being herself, kind of like a very realistic hologram maybe. And I was able to look closely at her from every angle and notice every little detail of her face, her hair, her jewelry, her clothes. The dream was in the most vivid bright Technicolor. It seemed to last a long time. I woke up utterly exhausted.

I think physiologically that that dream required of my brain an enormous amount of work, which is why I awoke so tired. But that dream was a gift from God, a real blessing. That image is fixed in my mind to this day.

Why am I writing all this on a blog?

Derek and the Dominos - Layla

As I alluded in an earlier post, Thursday I went out for a walk after dark. For most of the walk I listened to my iPod. I was in a 70's frame of mind, so I clicked on ""Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs" by Derek and Dominos. OK, so I have been listening to this record since it was put into general release in the early 70's. For well over thirty years that record has been with me - through thick and thin.

I've always wanted to rank the songs, and hey, what is blogging for?

The story of Eric Clapton's passion for his good friend George Harrison's wife Patti Boyd is legendary, and provides much of the grist for the songs on Layla, "Layla" being Clapton's make-believe name for Patti Boyd.

From all I have read over the years Clapton was totally and completely swept up by his (then) unrequited love for Ms. Boyd, and was suffering deeply and greatly. He was a sick dog. But it made for some great songs.

"Layla" is not a polished album. It was recorded more or less live-in-studio, without a whole lot of rehearsal. Thankfully Clapton met and pulled in Duanne Allman before the recordings really got going. Their dual guitars on Layla is the stuff of legend.

Clapton has never been a really great singer, but on Layla his voice is filled with almost a desperate pathos. A few of his vocal duets with Bobby Whitlock are superb, especially on "It's Too Late" and "Little Wing." There's footage on You Tube from a pre-Duanne version of Derek and the Dominos who appeared on the Johnny Cash Show singing "It's Too Late."

This is manly music, but manly in a manner which reveals the deepest passions of the heart and soul. Despite its rugged nature, and the genre, I find it almost symphonic in places.

Hopefully I'll fully annotate this list at some point, but for now here are my favorite tracks, from favorite to least.

And just a few notes....There have been many great versions of Hendrix's "Little Wing." This is the most unique version of all I think. It is magisterial, symphonic, and exquisitely fragile and beautiful all at once. I have no idea how they squeezed all those possibilities into that one song. The guitar solo (or duet) is as good it gets. Speaking of great guitar duets, "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" contains what is for me the greatest electric guitar duet ever. I must have listened to it a thousand times, and it still thrills me....."Bell Bottom Blues," yet another song of unrequited love, was my favorite song on the record for years. It was recorded sans Allman. Clapton spills his guts out in this song... "Do you want to see me crawl across the floor to you?" Check out the lyrics here. They'll make a grown man cry.

I've been jammin' and playing air guitar to "Key to the Highway" since forever. It's one of my favorite car songs - a great song for a long night drive, just played over and over. And I love the way Clapton sings in a lower register the first line, especially the word "key" - "I got the keeeeeeee to the highway....." It's cool.

Finally, just a word about "Layla" itself. I'll admit to having tired of the song at one point, as I think many did, though I do think Clapton's unplugged version gave new life to it. But the original song found it's way back into my heart somewhere along the way. Some of my rockin' friends don't like the long ending. I think it's my favorite part. I love good piano in a rock song, and when I was younger I picked out most of Layla. I somehow never seem to want the song to end.

Well, all for now. Here is my list:

1. Little Wing

2. Have You Ever Loved a Woman

3. Bell Bottom Blues

4. Layla

5. Key to the Highway

6. It’s Too Late

7. Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out

8. I Looked Away

9. Thorn Tree

10. Why Does Love Have to Be So Sad

11. I looked Away

12. Anyday

13. Keep on Growing

14. I Am Yours

Walkin' Before Midnight

"I went out walking, before midnight, out in the moonlight just like I used to do"

That was last evening. There was a very bright half moon. Contrails, lit up by the moonlight, streaked from SW to NE. One of them went right through Orion's belt. Looked like a long sword. Very cool.

Late in the afternoon the day before, Wednesday, I went on a walk,ending right at dusk. I wrote about it that night, to post Thursday, but what I wrote didn't seem to fit with the snow!

More signs of season's change. The alder catkins were longer, and more of them were open, or blooming. I didn't have my camera with me, but if you want to see a picture look here. I saw several Silver Maples in bloom. I doubt the snow and cold killed those blooms but we'll see. Tree buds are swelling. Even the dogwood buds seem larger.

Tea Olives are in bloom. The aroma of Tea Olive is my favorite aroma in the world. I don;t know if it's the soil, the weather, or a different variety of tea olive, but the aroma does not quite seem as strong here as in Columbia, but get close enough and it's there. Ahhh.

A large honeysuckle bush was in full bloom and quite aromatic.

Birds were twittering all around in that way they twitter in the Spring when they are busy nest building and mating and such. It's a different twitter than in the summer or fall. Remember, this is an especially good time to feed the birds, since last year's natural supply of berries and seeds is diminishing, and the bugs and new seeds haven't really come out yet.

A huge flock of Robins covered a yard and trees at Regents Park and Beaconwood. Robins usually aren't as energetic as this crowd. These guys were down right rowdy. I made double sure they were Robins and not Thrushes. I have no idea whether they were coming or going, but it felt like a red breasted version of "The Birds" for a few minutes there.

I love the stand of pines as Bass Chapel crosses over lake Jeanette near the club. Most of them are Short Leaf, with a few Loblollies scattered here and there. Makes me feel like home.

More and more small flowers are blooming, especially on the south facing slopes. These small early spring wildflowers are my favorite.

All for now.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Breaking Trust

Before the United States went into Iraq, a friend and I would often talk about the relative wisdom of what was looking more and more like an invasion. Almost everyone in the world believed that Saddam had WMD's. He had driven the inspectors to hyper frustration. Still, the cold hard data was not there as we considered going in. The decision was made on grounds that seemed somewhat flimsy. I kept saying to my friend, "Bush has to know something we don't. He would not just lead us into a war for no good reason." I don't think that Bush lied, as many do. But he was over eager to see limited data as conclusive, or, those other more nebulous "save the world from evil dictators" ideas ruled the day for him.

At any rate, we found no WMD's, and Bush lost public trust. His leadership has suffered greatly.

President Clinton was a bald faced liar. He lost public trust. His leadership suffered greatly.

Both men's ability to provide effective leadership on a host of issues was compromised.

Government (and government officials) cannot function well without trust. It is crucial. Even the appearance of dishonesty or corruption undermines the people's respect for their government, and the ability of that government to be effective.

But trust is not something you can just lay claim to. It is not automatic. We don't have an entitlement to the trust of others. Trust is one of those things in life that has to be earned. Once trust is betrayed it is extremely difficult to regain it. Ask any man who has said "I am sorry" after having had an affair.

In my view, and in the view of many, the Greensboro City Manger's Office has betrayed trust. It has shown disregard for truth. It has patronized us with his lame and contradictory explanations.It has created the appearance of corruption.

The deal that was apparently struck between the wings of the City Council, in light of the real reasons people are deservedly frustrated with the City manager's office, rings totally hollow to me. I suppose that neither Perkins nor Rakestraw had support for their respective motions, so Barber worked out a deal that the majority could live with. But "lame" as applied to what has been asked of the city manager does an injustice to that word "lame."

In failing to address the actual issues that have caused so much pain and disunity in our community, the City Council has exacerbated the trust issue. It's decision was arrogant in my view because it brushed aside the substantive issues and replaced them with meaningless directives for improvement. It was patronizing and condescending.

I'd like to be able to say, "Those folks spent hours together in a room; they're good people; we can trust them. They must know things we don't know. We have a duty to go along for the ride."

No, we don't. They have further damaged their credibility in a moment it most needed to be upheld.

As I said above trust has to be earned. But there is another aspect to trust. We as human beings are prone in our frailty to many sins. The more open and accountable our lives, the easier we make it for others to trust us. Trust is enhanced by a consistent record of openness, transparency, and acceptance of responsibility. Secrecy kills trust. Again, on this count, the City continues to have a chance to release documents; yet they only own up to even having the documents after somebody else releases them. I simply do not believe that all these documents are bound by some sort of legal mandate to be under wraps "due to an ongoing investigation."

There is no more important role the civil authority provides than protection of its citizens. But because our Police Department is still under the cloud of this scandal, it itself has a trust problem with the public. When we face such an upsurge in gang violence and so many other serious issues, we need a police department that is above reproach. We don't have one because their employers are not above reproach.. Nagging questions remain.

I don't care if the parties running the city or the GPB are Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, men, women, black, white, Asian, or Hispanic. I don't care at all. I am not prone to conspiracy theories. This has nothing to do with party politics or power politics. I personally have not the slightest thing personally against Mr. Johnson. I don't care what party he is or what his political leanings are. We're dealing here with fundamental issues of honesty, integrity, and honor.

Yes, Mr. Melvin, we do need to move on, but not by continuing to sweep these matters under the rug. I know you have done wonderful things for our city, but you just don't seem to understand that failing to address these trust issues undermines the very goals you have laid out.

I hope that the people who have allowed us to see so much of what has otherwise been denied us will continue to do so.

Since Mary Rakestraw's motion did not get to a vote, I consider it a card that can still be played, as of course is Mr. Perkins' opposing motion.

I have a funny feeling that Hammer and Holder have a stack of documents ready to be released in due time. I hope the City leaders will be forced into openness and candor, even if they cannot bring themselves to provide it.

Sugar Mountain Silhouette

My daughter at Sugar Mountain over Christmas holidays.

Hey, I Don't Feel Like Jumping Out the Window

I've been listening to Coldplay all day for some odd reason - seems to help me concentrate - and I don't feel a bit suicidal. I don't get it. They always had that effect before.

And would anonymous please quit ragging on Bob Dylan. Say another bad thing about him and I may show up at your doorstep singing Highway 61 Revisited over and over in my very worse Bob Dylan imitation voice. It will drive you crazy.

Oh God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son"
Abe says, "Man, you must be puttin' me on"
God say, "No." Abe say, "What?"
God say, "You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin' you better run"
Well Abe says, "Where do you want this killin' done?"
God says, "Out on Highway 61."

Over and over and over and over and over and over....

I'll even bring that little "whooooeeeee" sounding thing. Hah!

Dear Mary Rakestraw

Dear Mary,

I don't know you. We've never met. But I am glad you're on the City Council.

I have a request to make of you. Don't make that motion tonight that the city fire Mitch Johnson, well, unless you know for certain that you have the votes.

If you do, and if the motion fails to pass, it would be perceived by too many people as poor form to keep bringing that matter up. So just wait.

I don't think the other side has the votes for a motion in Johnson's support. Yes, in this case it is better to to let the issue fester a little while longer.

Reading the News and Record editorial this morning, it looks like the Old Greensboro crowd is pulling together against rabble rousing "outside forces" such as yourself. From reading that editorial it would seem that you and Trudy Wade are country bumpkins, not worthy of the dignified and serene City Council.

You see, before you and Trudy Wade were elected, the City Council operated with strict decorum and mutual respect. There was hardly ever any controversy. It was a love fest. We all remember that, don't we?

But now the floodgates have been opened and the hillbilly's from the county commissioners are flooding in.

Mary, I wish I knew what Margaret Banks thought about the editorial. Have they pulled the plug on her? Just seems strange to me.

Anyway, back to point, don't make the motion. If you do, and if it fails, then it will slow the momentum of those seeking openness and accountability, and will hand a victory to the Old Guard.

Let a few more things come out first.



Playing in the Snow

My daughter Heather took this over the holidays at Appalachian Ski Mountain near Boone. she and her friend Becca Angle were in the chair just behind the one pictured. She took this with her little Canon point and shoot. I think it's a super photo. And appropriate to the day today!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ten Favorite Albums of the Nineties

I was out walking Wednesday in a Cranberries kind of mood (I have a weakness for Irish Bands), which brought my mind a blog chain a few months back on favorite bands of the 90's, so I thought I would add my own list - looks like what one would expect from a fifty year old guy!

In no particular order...

U2 - Achtung Baby (1991)
Bob Dylan - Time Out of Mind (1997)
Counting Crows - Recovering the Satellites (1996)
Soundtrack City of Angels - (1998)
Tom Petty - Into the Great Wide Open (1991)
The Wallflowers - Bringing Down the House (1997)
Radiohead - OK Computer (1997)
Iris Dement - My Life (1994)
Gin Blossoms - New Miserable Experience (1992)
Sweet Old World - Lucinda Williams (1992)

My Favorite Modern Building in Greensboro

The new Wachovia building - on a sunny winter afternoon.

No Free Environmental Lunch

Bubba over at Noteworthy wrote yesterday about the recent studies, discussed in the Wall Street Journal, that are making it clear that from a greenhouse gases standpoint the switch to ethanol is not what is often hoped for claimed. The Wall Street Journal article is based on two recent studies released in Science Magazine. NPR, MSNBC, and Forecast Earth have all run with the story as well.

Unfortunately this "revelation" comes after Congress's most recent energy bill. The fact is, people have been talking about this for a long time. It's not rocket science conceptually, just hard to model mathematically.

The prophet Amos wrote: "Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him,
or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him."

We think that we have finally fled Big Oil, only to Find Big Agriculture is there to get us, and just we escape him, we run into Big Environment. The more politicized these important issues are, and the more driven by the hype of climate change doom, the more impacted by moneyed interests, the more likely we are to go from one bad idea to another.

Greenhouse emissions aren't the only concern of course. We also have a national security interest to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Ethanol can help with the latter, a little, eventually.

But do we really want to say goodbye to millions of acres of forest land, with the biodiversity contained therein (as well as the effective carbon storage) and say hello to millions of acres of finely manicured heavily fertilized biological deserts of corn (or even switch cane) fields. I don't.

It is right to be thinking all along about emissions and pollutants on the one hand, and lowering our dependence on non domestic energy on the other. We need to find solutions that serve both ends.

Ethanol gives us a false security that as demand rises supply will rise with it. But perhaps it is better to start thinking about reducing demand through greater efficiency and through sustainable energy sources that don't increase greenhouse gases as much. We have barely begun to invest what we need to invest in solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal energies. We have hardly gotten off the starting gate with regard to approving higher mileage standards for cars and trucks (Oh, did I mention Big Detroit).

And, in my view, we have not gotten serious enough about new nuclear plants. Nuclear is a safer and better option environmentally. Just do a search on "new generation nuclear power" and you will see what I am talking about. Plants are not only much safer, they use different cooling systems, and require less land and water resources. No, we can't run our cars on nuclear energy, but we can replace much domestic oil and coal use by nuclear and thus free up more oil for automobiles and other industries where oil is a key energy source.

But even better still would be fund a vast research and development effort ti find clean sustainable energy sources - like a Marshall Plan for energy. We can do this! Ethanol is not the answer.

And we need to get serious about higher efficiencies for cars, houses, appliances and many other day to day things that need energy. It's hard to change habits. We need incentives to do so.


Can You Help Me Name Our Buildings?

I've taken a few pictures of downtown buildings over the last few months, and would like to name them accurately, but I don't know the names of many of them. Nor do I know much about architecture, so I can't really name the "type" (genre?) of building it is. I also don't know much about the history of when these buildings were built, which would be nice to add.

Really, anything you can think of would be great. Also, some of the buildings are reflected off others. There are a few "jumbled" reflections. If you can name those structures you get bonus points.

If any of you would like to help you can go right to my Flickr site and see that most of the recent pictures are of buildings north of Market. Scroll down a page or two ands there are many buildings south of Market. You can add comments right below each picture, or, you can add comments here on this page.

Go to the set Guilford County and all the building pictures I have so far are there.

I'd love the help as I try to present Greensboro and Guilford County to the world!


Jumbled Reflection Downtown Greensboro

Seems this picture serves as a metaphor for our city government at the moment!

Can metaphors be visual? Not sure of the right word here. Art and English majors, help!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Unassisted Triple Play

Something in the paper this morning got me thinking about baseball. Then my daughter wrote to me about a poem she was writing in a poetry class at UNC. She was asking for ideas about a topic. It had to be about a special event. Baseball being on the mind, I reminded her of her unassisted triple play. We reminisced. I think she may write about that.

In all my years of playing, coaching, or watching baseball and softball I have had the privilege of seeing only two unassisted triple plays. Both of them were by my daughters, and if I may be so bold as to say, not by my daughters most gifted in the game.

The first happened with my third daughter Laurel on her 10 and under softball team. She played out of Summerfield, but the "league" was the "NW League" and included teams from Oak Ridge, Brown Summit, Huntsville, Bethany, Colfax, etc. It was mid June, and tournament time. Every year a double elimination tournament ended the season and decided the champion.

Laurel's team had had an OK season. Middle of the pack. Seems Merle Norman was their sponsor. They had lost their first tournament game and were thus playing in the loser's bracket. They were playing Brown Summit, a better team, with a coach pretty much nobody liked because he always argued calls and coddled his players. Laurel's team wasn't supposed to win the game against Brown Summit. My second daughter Heather also played on the team.

I was a merely a parent volunteer who often coached third base.

For some reason Laurel was playing shortstop. I think she mostly played catcher but not in that game. Maybe someone was hurt or on vacation. The game was in Brown Summit. It was a hot summer evening.

In the top of the first inning, BS loaded the bases with their first three batters. So, bases loaded and no outs.

Their clean-up batter hit a rope, a low liner right at Laurel at short. Laurel was playing in, pretty close to the base path.

Laurel had a good eye and good reflexes and caught the ball. Good thing. It would have killed her if she hadn't! One out. As so often happens, runners tend to take off on hard hit liners. That happens even in the big leagues. So the runner from second took off and more or less ran into Laurel just as Laurel caught the ball. Laurel tagged her more by reflex than anything. Two outs.

The runner from third had taken off for home. Before the play was over she would cross the plate, and then run almost all the way back to third.

I was in the stands. I immediately started screaming at the top of my lungs "tag third" "tag third." I'm still hoarse, ten years later!

The other coach saw what was going on and he started yelling for his runner to go back to third. There was a moment's confusion on their side because the girl didn't know she had to re-tag home on the way back. So, the runner is heading back to third. Everybody in the stands on both sides is screaming at this point. Laurel is confused. I don't think she really had a clue at first! But then it was like she awoke, and off to third base she went. The third basemen had no idea what was going on so Laurel had to tag the bag. Laurel got to the bag just before the runner did. She tagged it. Out three. Unassisted triple play. Amazing.

Her team went on to win the game due in no small part to that first inning and a later home run hit by my second daughter Heather. After that the team went on to win the loser's bracket and played for the championship. They lost but it was way way fun.

More briefly, the other unassisted triple play I ever saw "live" was by my second daughter Heather. She was at this time playing in an older age bracket in a game up at Bethany. Heather was also playing short. There was a runner on first and second. The batter hit the ball hard high into the air. At first it seemed to everyone, runner's included, that the ball was long gone. But it got hung up in the wind. Heather drifted over toward second base. She was standing on the bag when she caught the ball and the runner from first ran right into her. Three outs within maybe half a second.

Laurel had done a search for unassisted triple plays on Google. There is an interesting Wikipedia article about them. They are very very rare and usually result from good fortune than great skill. I've seen two, the two described above.


I love baseball (and softball)!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Hovering Heron!

I have always believed that life's richest blessing come to us in unexpected moments. I had three of those moments Sunday. Here's one:

I went out for a walk. On pretty days I prefer to workout outside. Sometimes I run, sometimes I walk, other times I walk/run. I have a four mile route, a five, and a seven.

I took off at about 5;15 for the four mile walk up to the "circle" at Lake Jeanette and Elm Street Extension and back home.

Last evening it was very windy as you know - and a bit nippy. I was on the footbridge across Lake Jeanette, the one further out from town. Now, to set the stage I was walking a I suppose south southeast. The sun was setting south-of-west to my right. The wind was from my right as well, out of the west, or west southwest. I was about 2/3s across the bridge when a great blue heron crossed over the footbridge maybe 30 feet ahead or me and 20 feet high, flying roughly eastward with the wind at his back. I stopped to watch him. I was surprised as he made a long leisurely loop across the larger open water to my left. Gradually he completed his 180 degree turn until he was flying west, right toward me, toward the sun, and against the wind. When he got to where I was standing on the boardwalk, maybe 20 feet above me, his forward motion stopped. He was flapping his very big wings but only just enough to stay stationary relative to me. He just "hovered" there for about thirty seconds, or so it seemed. It was like I was watching "Bird in Flight" at an IMAX movie. His head turned slowly to the right and to the left scanning the water ahead. He completely ignored me. Then he stopped flapping, tucked his wings a little, and glided in a slow downward angle against the wind and off to my right, disappearing beyond the road bridge.

I am guessing that with the sun descending in the west that there was some way in which the light from the descending sun (which he was now facing) gave him an ability to see fish in the water without them seeing him, and he was hovering for that reason - to look for fish. He seemed pretty "purposeful," and I am thinking that this might be a familiar strategy - he gets a fish, he takes off, does another long loop, hovers, and gets another fish, etc. But I don't really know.

It was pure childlike happiness for me. It brought tears to my eyes. I consider it such a privilege whenever I get such a view of such a creature. This heron was beautiful. His legs seems perfectly relaxed. His wing span must have been four to four and a half feet.

Nothing in this world gives me more joy than such unpredicted sightings. I feel so at home outside. The trees, the clouds, the wind, the birds, the wildflowers, the spiders and bugs - these are my friends.

And the animal creatures - the animals are so "other" - there is such a profound mystery in their existence. Of course I believe that we were all made by the same creative mind.

Amidst such turmoil and ugliness of life, good and beauty shines forth still.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

N&R, David Wray, SE High

Well, after feeling dirty just getting involved with such a mess as the N&R handling of the SE High MRSA (non)affair, and feeling rather repentant for my denunciations, and even saying I was with the N&R on the "memo" issue, I have managed on a slow Saturday to read the Troublemaker's newest revelations on his site. WOW! You've got to read it if you haven't. What a week! I appreciate all those whose doggedness has helped bring so much important information to light this week. The secrecy is the most troubling, as Roch said somewhere. I hope an avalanche of information now starts to tumble into the public eye, and if people get buried, so be it. The pattern of jumping to conclusions and bringing dreadful harm to the reputation of decent people has to end. Someone has said that the reporting on the David Wary matter is better now. I am glad for that. But whether it is a HUGE issue such as the Homestead/PD/David Wray matter, or a small localized issue as with SE High, there also seem to be deep patterns. Yet still, on the Greensboro Police issue, in all the dark clouds I see a very bright silver lining here - a chance to get a pretty fresh start. Let justice roll down like waters...

And, as my personal poet laureate GM Hopkins has said, despite all the mess we make...

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Spring Is Coming!


Gerard Manley Hopkins

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring --
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy pear tree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs have too far fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden – have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

Around the Corner

Hopkins or Woodward - Reflection on a Week of Controversy

It's a beautiful day outside, and I can't wait to go out for a long walk and see what new signs of Spring have erupted all around me. I was very happy the other day to see catkins on the the alder bushes down by Lake Jeanette growing longer and opening up. And then I got to stop and watch two bluebirds working on a nest.

I confess I have an activist and fiery journalist lurking down inside me, but I am more Gerard Manley Hopkins than Bob Woodward. I think I would have been a good lawyer, but I decided when I was twenty that I did not want to spend my life arguing

Sometimes I get riled up, and the journalistic/activistic juices flow. I know when that happens that I am inclined toward hyperbole, and I may end up doing unto someone in the same way he or she has, in my view, unjustly done unto another. There are, to me, real justice issues at stake here, very small town/local as this matter may seem, and I wish to stand on the side of those whose character I believe has been unjustly besmirched. I just can't do my own besmirching in the process.

I have written much this week about the MRSA case at SE High School and how it was reported. When I originally e-mailed John Robinson at the News and Record, he had the reporter give me a call. That call really dismayed me. I believe that journalists need to set a higher bar of "due diligence" when people's good names and reputations are at stake. I feel very passionately about that, and I do strongly believe that in this case there was not proper care taken for the reputation and integrity of some very fine people. I also believe that there was a very very important back story that should have been investigated before claims of such terrible and woeful negligence were made. I know the folks at the N&R think that amounts to letting a story die. I think it just means slowing down the process until one is sure.

I really can't say any more on the subject, which kind of stinks, but in time, the full story will come out and will be available to everyone, and then they can make a judgment. I would ask those who read the N&R articles to withhold judgment until that happens, and it may take a while. Do not let these claims buried in your mind and memory cause you to distrust a highly respected school principal, a 35 year veteran of teaching and long standing coach held in high esteem. A man's reputation can be destroyed by reckless words and personal claims which cannot be refuted due to privacy issues.

As for myself, I want to go back to being GM Hopkins instead of Bob Woodward. That is where my heart lies.

Whereas I do believe that our paper erred, and erred in a way that put a cloud over the names of good and decent people, in my own passion to address the issue I spoke in the way that, well, I can speak when I am juiced up. As I said before, I think the Scriptures call me to guard and protect my neighbor's reputation. And that includes the reputation of John Robinson and Ryan Seals and the others who have worked on or commented on this story. I don't believe that this matter reflects their best work, but I can say that about every third or fourth sermon I deliver.

I am sorry for the hyperbolic language that I used for the reporter, the paper, and for Mr. Robinson. I don't know the reporter, and I don't really know Mr. Robinson, but in my interactions with him to date he has always acted with patience and kindness toward me. I don't like the firebrand version of me.

I really do believe that deeper reflection is needed in journalism as to how better to safeguard the reputation of our neighbors. This bothers me in politics, in radio talk show, on the nightly news - pretty much across the board.

Since I cannot go any further than I have gone anyway with this story due to privacy issues and legal counsel, I will let it rest for now. Residual comments I will deal with as seems best at the time.

I don't want the fact that I have little stomach for public controversy to keep me from writing, so I hope to go back to trying to build up rather than tear down. Well, except I will continue to defend historic orthodox Christianity from ignorant accusations and misinformation, just to keep the playing field level, so to speak.

I say that, and then the memo comes into my mind, and I get fired up again....No, others can handle that matter better than I can, and in that mater I stand with the News and Record over against the city.

In fact, this is where hard driving journalism has its most significant role, in keeping the government honest, or trying to anyway.

All for now.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Joel Gillespie for President - Presenting My Cabinet

Along with many others I have come to the basic conclusion that the skills needed to win the presidency are very different than those needed to be the president. I wish we had better way of doing this whole election thing.

OK, another thing I believe. I believe that of the people I know, I could spend a few minutes and easily pick five or ten people who would make perfectly good presidents, people who have common sense, wisdom, an ability to work with others, integrity, humility, and a good solid work ethic.

Oops, I may have just ruled myself out. But I'd still like to be President anyway. Well, really, I'd like to organize a nationwide "nobody" vote campaign. Now that would get the politicians attention if nobody voted!

But somebody's got to do it, and I think I would like being President. Having a chief of staff who can just tell me everyday what I need to do, and who would also watch my back, and wake me up for key appointments - that would be way cool. Having people to write speeches would be the bomb. I'm tired of writing speeches (there is an elderly man in our congregation who likes to tell me after a sermon, "good speech!" And getting to meet all those officials from other countries, well, I think I'd be good at that. But I don't have a ranch to take them to, or an island. Hmm. I'd need to figure that out. It would be super to have a cabinet, all these smart people around me to help me figure out what to do. I'd like that.

OK, starting with Chief of Staff, that would have to be my good friend Forrest Tilley. He is well organized, protective, able to manage lots of difficult people, and would keep the office tidy. He is the man.

For the EPA I think I'd go with Jeffrey Sykes - a good writer, passionate environmentalist, and nice guy.

For HHS, or whatever they call it now, Cara Michele maybe. But she might not like all the office work.

For Surgeon General I'd go with Joe Guarino. Actually Joe would be a much better President than me. I could ask him to be the VP in title, and I could just say first day, here Joe, you have the reins, wake me up when you need me. So, if Joe is VP, Maybe Hogg for surgeon general; he has passion about health care issues and understands what it is like for ordinary folks (not that he is merely ordinary) to get health care. He would kick some butt.

For National Security Adviser I'd go with my good friend Sam Gaines. He knows everything about everything. Really, he does. He's amazing.

For Defense Secretary, hmm, maybe Fec Stench. But then, I was thinking it would really spice things up to have a curmudgeon for a Press Secretary. I mean, if I really wanted someone who could talk for half an hour and say nothing I'd just choose myself. Instead, I'm thinking Fec Stench. But he would also be a good Secretary of Defense.

if Fec were Secretary of Defense I think I'd go with Sarah Beth Jones as Press Secretary. She's funny and smart. I would like to hide in the audience in disguise and ask her questions. But if she didn't want that job she could be Secretary of Education.

For CIA director I think I'd go with the Troublemaker. Give that guy the tools down at the CIA building and the sky is the limit as to what he could find out about our enemies, oops, and maybe me....

For FBI Director I am thinking maybe Ed Cone. It's hard to figure out just where to put Ed. But I'd like a guy in a briefing who can just say something like "John Jones has a great take on illegal weapons here." I mean, short, sweet, and to the point. I don't like long meetings.

Poet Laureate? Well, that would have to be Billy Jones for sure.

Secretary of State? I'm thinking my friend Kyle Suggs. He gets along with everybody. Or if he didn't want to do it maybe I could go with Steadman Harrison. He has been almost everywhere in the world already.

Attorney General. Hmmm. I don't know that many lawyers. I need help on that one.

Department of Homeland Security? I'm thinking Mary Rakestraw for some reason.

I think Dr. Johnetta Cole would also be a good Secretary of State or Education Secretary , so maybe I need to go back and start over.

Or not. Being President is hard. I'm tired. Time for a nap.


A Question for Greensboro Bloggers

OK, I admit it, I have been pretty much lost as to the David Wray/Black Book issue since it began. I'd like to read A good "David Wray for Dummies" book. I can just see the bright yellow cover.

I have a question for bloggers who have written on this subject before. If you had known about the just released memo two years ago how do you think that would have impacted your take on the whole subject? Maybe your answers would help me understand the whole issue better.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Sometimes I Just Expect Better

Over at E. C. Huey for Guilford School Board there is an interesting piece about MRSA-gate, and by that I mean the N&R's cover up of their own pathetic reporting practices. Well, that is not Huey's angle, that's mine. You should read Huey's story, which includes John Robinson's story.

In his piece Huey references and quotes John Robinson, whose own piece is really full of bologna. Robinson says one thing that sends chills down my spine, "I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. When a reporter calls with questions, tell what you know even if you don’t want to. If you stonewall, you put yourself at the mercy of those who WILL talk to the reporter."

Wow, such power. They must really get off on that. Hey, it may be true. That may be how this world works, but I'm thinking, did I just get transported to China or Iran? Weird.

Contrary to what is claimed by Mr. Robinson, and further commented upon over at Huey's, the school administration does in fact know the appropriate steps to be taken, and they were taken. As to Robinson’s take on the urgency of the story, well, there were two stories, one which should have been released immediately, one which should not have been. That a student at a school has MRSA is a matter of public health and people need to know that. But the question as to whether people at the school had been encouraging the student to wrestle anyway knowing he has a staph infection is a whole different matter. That really needs to be checked out. The original reporter told me that leaving messages late on a Friday amounted to doing “everything” to fact check his story. So, he e-mails or leaves a voice mail late on a Friday and does not hear back by the deadline, and he considers that doing everything? All that needed to be said was that a case of MRSA had been reported. The rest could have waited. The reporter also said to me that he was under pressure to print the story. That interests me.

The wrestler in question wrestles not only at SE but also in a wrestling club in Jamestown. Has anyone looked into that? The same wrestler had been diagnosed with staph a month before and had not been wrestling with SE since then. Had he been wrestling at the other place? I wonder? But anyway, what was the big public health issue on Friday?

Robinson’s comments that doing a better job getting the story amounts to killing the story is ridiculous. You’re talking about ruining a man’s reputation. Give me a break.

And, by the way, the Cox’s have no record of having been contacted by the reporter. Maybe he called them, maybe he didn’t. What number did he call - the school number? Was Coach Cox around? A cell number? A home number? Did he leave a voice mail?

How many voice mails do you get which you do not access or even know about for an hour or two. I get a lot. The Cox’s know of no call. They are truthful people.

By the time Tuesday came around, after the original story, particularly given what had been released Saturday, you bet that folks aren’t going to talk to the reporter. I wouldn't. Besides, the information that school officials potentially have which would vindicate them they can’t release. It’s not only HIPAA laws it’s valid local GCS regulations about releasing information about students. But by Tuesday it was too late for that.

This story on Saturday had nothing whatsoever - not even the slightest little thing - to do with keeping this from turning into some nightmare. The kid hadn’t wrestled for the school for a month. What nightmare was avoided? The school would not let a kid who had not wrestled for a month wrestle? So, where is the big news in that?

Is anybody other than me curious that the same kid was back in school Tuesday? It’s a sidebar, but I am curious.

In other words, there was nothing happening or going to happen that was kept from happening by the Saturday story. A boy who was not wrestling anyway continued not to be able to wrestle. Wow. That’s big news.

The public has a right to know the real story, and that is the motive behind the parent’s anger at the coaches. This story is the same old story - a parent mad at a coach because his little boy isn’t playing enough or whatever. Been there. Done that. It will all come out, in time.