Friday, June 27, 2008

Boots - Those Eyes!

Yes, her eyes are that color! Check out my set of Cat Pictures!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

O for 3 on Supreme Court Rulings - Exxon Valdez, Gun Laws, and Capital Punishment

The Supreme Court has me befuddled. On principle I am 0 for 3 on the three big cases the last two days, 1 for 3 on desired outcome.

1. On the Exxon Valdez case, it just seems arbitrary that the US Supreme Court would get involved and decide he amount of a punitive damage award. Besides, that was an enormous environmental disaster, not to mention the losses suffered by fishing and tourism. And how is Exxon NOT liable for their employee's actions, even if those actions are contrary to Exxon policy? AND, it's not like Exxon can't afford it.

2. On the Louisiana capital punishment case, if the court is not ruling that capital punishment per se is cruel and unusual punishment, then how is it even their place to decide as to whether a particular crime is a capital crime? I don't get that. Such a decision belongs with the legislative branch.

Child rape ought to be a capital crime if you ask me.

3. On the Washington DC gun laws, well, I agree with others that there ought to be a right of gun ownership and I support concealed weapons laws, though I think we need to be sensible about background checks and waiting periods and such. But for the life of me I have never been able to find the right for individuals to bear arms in the second amendment. I'm glad the DC law was struck down, and so maybe the second amendment came in handy in so doing, but that's not why the bill of rights is there, to come in handy I mean.

Well, that's just me.

ARP Synod Affirms Inerrancy

I did not attend our denomination's "General Synod" this year. I missed some good fun apparently.

I am NOT a denominationally minded person, but neither am I a fan of church independency, in that I think we all need accountability to others. And, though I treasure our theological standards, I also seem to have a personal calling in this secular pluralistic culture to promote what some have called an "ecuminicism of orthodoxy" (ecuminicism within the boundaries of the historic orthodox creeds such as the Apostles' Creed). But my personal views are consistent enough with Reformed Theology and Presbyterianism for them to agree to have ordained me. So they did.

When I was ordained into the Associate Reformed Presbyterian denomination in 1989 I was dismayed to find a abundance of neo-Barthianism (look it up) and in some cases even old fashioned theological liberalism. Apparently the ARP denomination had been flirting with another "ism" that I will call "mainline-ism" for some time.

But things have changed greatly since then. Mainline-ism has been trounced. Neither a theological neo-Barthian or theological liberal (which actually means something in particular as compared to the mudslinging use of the word politically) could be ordained now. I am glad for that and for the theological swing toward a more conservative historic Christian orthodoxy position.

Somewhere along the line, and I do not know the history well, compromises were struck, words were carefully chosen, and the word "inerrant" never found its way into to our standards. Rather, the Bible was said to be "infallible" which in the history of theology means something slightly different.

Yet, it has been quite clear for some time that most of the pastors and elders held to a doctrine of "inerrancy." So, for some reason this matter came up in this year's Synod meeting.

Someone put forth the following motion: That the 2008 General Synod go on record by stating that the position of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church on Scripture is that the Bible alone, being God-breathed, is the Word of God written, infallible in all that it teaches, and inerrant in the original manuscripts.

Though some (sadly) opposed it, it passed overwhelmingly. So, what to do with it?

Another person put forth the following up motion: That the position statement adopted by the 2008 General Synod on the Bible be forwarded to Synod’s Committee to revise the Form of Government and that this statement be included in the vows of ministers and elders at the appropriate places.

I am very happy about that motion.

Finally yet another person saw a second place of needful application and put forth the following motion which also passed: In the Manual of Authorities and Duties, p. 9, the definition of an evangelical, item 1, regarding the Bible, reads, “The Bible to be the inspired, the infallible authoritative Word God.” I move that the position statement adopted by the 2008 General Synod on the Bible replace that statement.

So, while many Christian institutions continue to make hard turns to the left, theologically speaking, our Synod is standing firm regarding the unique and special authority of the Scriptures. I doubt this matter will interest many Greensboro bloggers, and it certainly may dismay others, but I am glad for it myself.

AVG Eight Ate My RAM

A while back I got frustrated at how slow Norton's anti-virus programs made my system, so I dumped them for the free and nimble AVG. My computers sped up remarkably as I multi tasked, often with several big programs going at once. Recently AVG has been "nagging" me about upgrading to version 8 from 7.5. So I finally did the upgrade. Still free, but my computer slowed to a crawl. I looked in the processes running and saw that AVG was using some 80M of RAM. But certainly the problem was more than that - there must have been some new feature that was gumming up the works. I fiddled with it but couldn't fix it. So I uninstalled it and reinstalled version 7.5. My machine responded with much greater speed. I did my control/alt/delete to call up the task manager and looked at the running processes and AVG 7.5 isn't even in the top five of my currently running programs in terms of resources used. I wonder if a anyone else has had any troubles with AVG 8.

Does Anyone Know Where This Is?

Today, June 26, is the 19 year anniversary of my father's death at age 59, in 1989, just before we moved here. So I've been thinking about him a lot today as I always do on this date. This is a picture of my grandmother Mary Sue Gillespie (Nanny), my grandfather, Curtis Claunch Gillespie (known in the extended family as "Brother"), and my dad, Curtis Claunch Gillespie, Jr (known in the extended family as "Sonny" and to me as "Daddy." This was one of my attempts at scanning (before I really knew what I was doing), and of a tiny little print, and it is much pixilated (sorry), but still the picture has a certain charm. I wish I knew where this was taken. Does anybody know? Dad moved from Tampa Florida to Columbia SC when he was 13. By the looks of it he was younger than that in this photo. My guess is that this was taken in the late 1930's or very early 1940's. My grandfather had family in Kentucky and had worked for some time in Chattanooga. He and my grandmother also lived for a while in Greenville SC.

There is this mystery about your parents' childhoods and upbringing. You want to understand and know them, then, but it is so hard. It always seems just out of reach.

I have Iris Dement's "My Life" playing in the background. Looking forward to seeing her Saturday at Cat's Cradle. There is a song on the CD called "No Time to Cry." She is reflecting on her own father's death, and then on how little able she is to grieve given how busy she was and is.

My dad died suddenly and unexpectedly on June 26 and I had to move and report to my new job here on July 1. I have always wondered how much the lack of time to grieve impacted me. It really kind of sucked.

Here is the chorus - not a real pick-me-upper - but it kind of resonates with how I feel about my dad's passing.

I've got no time to look back, I've got no time to see,
The pieces of my heart that have been ripped away from me.
And if the feeling starts to coming, I've learned to stop 'em fast.
`Cause I don't know, if I let 'em go, they might not wanna pass.
And there's just so many people trying to get me on the phone.
And there's bills to pay, and songs to play,
And a house to make a home.
I guess I'm older now and I've got no time to cry.

Friday, June 20, 2008

L'Abri, The Manor House, Greatham England, in Fog, 1978

I spent three months at English L'Abri in Greatham England in 1978. It was a very important part of my spiritual journey, and I was baptized there. Here are some pictures of some of the people, and of some of the things we did. I was twenty. You can learn about L'Abri England, and elsewhere, here.

Firefox Three Not for Me

I love Firefox. It's the only browser I use. Wednesday I downloaded and loaded Firefox 3. The reviews had been very positive.

But then I ran into the address bar, or the "location bar" as Firefox now calls it. Well, apparently a lot of folks like it. In Firefox 3 the address bar includes addresses not just of URL's you have typed out, but of bookmarked sites, stars that you can click next to URL to bookmark it, and various other color codes, highlights and such. It has this sort of hyper auto complete feature, in which the program is really trying to hard to guess what you want to type next. It's annoying.

Anyway, I guess there are snazzy folks who like all that, but not me. I like a clean address bar, and I even clear mine out every day or two of its history or memory. I like it to have the URL's to the relatively small number of sites I go to regularly, and that's it.

So, I poked around and found a tool for converting Firefox 3 into Firefox 2's address bar, and did that, but it was only a half fix. So I uninstalled 3 and reinstalled 2.

I did find some directions for how to undo this Firefox 3 feature, posted by Zac Garrett, Techno Geek which has one playing around with "about:config" which scares me to death, but maybe I could do it. So I may reinstall 3 and try this.

Short Term, Medium Term, and Long Term, Energy That Is, Swimming Pools...

Earlier this week (or was it last?) Ed Cone noted one of the problems associated with the "pro-drilling" argument. No matter how fast we move it will take a long time before new oil from offshore sites, or oil shale, or from ANWR, to come online.

This issue is one where I think we all have to compromise, and we all have to suffer together, and as much as possible question not only "special interests" and entrenched ideologies, but even in some cases to our own ideologies. I know, that's easy to say...

I just don't see us getting out of this energy mess from the left or the right.

I think we have to take a strong super short term, short term, medium term, and longer term approach, and everyone's special interest has to give - everyone's, yeah, even mine.

I don't think we will ever return to the days of cheap energy. I am not sure that is all bad. We have not been good stewards of cheap energy, and have wasted very precious resources we only get to use once. We can't simply blame that bad stewardship on the government or corporations. It's our collective fault. We'a culpa.

Now is our time, together, to have the wisdom to look not just a year ahead, or five or ten, but even twenty and fifty, yes, even one hundred years ahead. The well being of our children and their children depend on it. Our national security depends on it.

There is almost nothing "free" about the energy supply/demand "market." Both supply and demand are controlled and manipulated by powerful forces. And all the while real demand is growing as huge nations modernize. There is little we can do to stop that. There is little we should do. "Oh, India, we're sorry to inform you and your people but you have to stay poor while we use all the world's energy. It's for your own good." Yeah, right.

There is no short term fix that will take prices down to levels of a year ago. The best we can hope for is to decrease price increases. Perhaps changing the rules on how who gets to invest in oil futures, and how much "down" is required, would help. I try, but I do not understand this very well, and I don't think most Americans do, and it is hard for politicians and pundits to get this message across.

Leaning on suppliers to pump more, as Saudia Arabia seems willing to do, will marginally help. Perhaps opening up a portion of the strategic reserve would help a little.

I do not understand very well how the the value of the dollar, and thus Fed policy, impacts this issue, though lots of talking heads seem to think it does. They just disagree with each other on how and how much.

Somehow we are going to have to decrease consumption, increase domestic supply, all the while biding time for all the amazing and new forms of renewable energy awaiting us down the high tech highway.

But there are things we can do NOW however that, incrementally speaking, could lower our consumption and even if just slightly decrease the pressure our demand is placing on supply.

Of course, there are all the everyday ways that people can use less gas and electricity. The government could help by increasing incentives to replace low efficiency appliances, heating and cooling, electronic devices, etc. Perhaps there could be incentives for encouraging public transportation and carpooling.

We could also force all automakers who make OR sell cars and trucks in the US to increase efficiencies of their fleets. All of a sudden it's everybody's business what everybody drives, and it's in our national interest to force these changes.

Personally I would like to see us lower the highway speed limits to 55 or 60 again. This would have an immediate short term impact on our oil demand. Fuel efficiency of cars and trucks plummets as speeds increase above 55 or 60 mph. We did it once. We survived. We can do it again.

It costs money, and I am not sure where to get it, but it seems we have to start looking at a future with much more local and intermediate distance public transportation, which may mean a much increased investment in rail systems and such.

I'd go ahead with some, but not all, of the off shore drilling plans, as much as it pains me to say so. I have never supported offshore drilling, but the benefits as well as the weight of world wide evidence regarding the safety of offshore drilling forces me to conclude that we simply have to do this. It won't matter much today or tomorrow, but ten years from now our kids will thank us.

I'd stop the ethanol idiocy immediately. People need corn. Our air needs woods, not agricultural fields. This ethanol deal has been a political boondoggle and a human disaster. We need to stop it. People need that corn, period.

I can see designating a few out of the way places in the Rockies for oil shale. It ain't pretty, but it beats some of the options, especially if it can take some of the pressure off coal. The technology is there, and it's now financially realistic.

I cannot bring myself to support oil drilling in ANWR. I am not sure my opposition is fully rational as much as symbolic. I think we just need to leave ANWR alone.

Drilling for oil and natural gas will increase our domestic supply in the 8-25 year range, maybe longer. it's a stop gap.

I personally strongly advocate nuclear energy. Here we have a medium term (10-50 years) solution that would radically impact our energy independence. The more I read about the new generation of reactors in France and Japan the more encouraged I am about this option. Yes, there is the waste issue, but with a good breeder reactor system we can recycle a lot of the spent fuel. Other very environmentally conscious countries store the waste safely; I think we could too.

There is the huge advantage of cleaner air. There is also the advantage of reduction in need for more environmentally damaging energy sources, like coal. A new generation of nuclear reactors could gradually replace the need to burn as much coal, natural gas, and oil, clean up our air, and lower our carbon footprint at the same time.

But all of this is to bide time for our long term energy future, a future we cannot fully envision, but which will involve renewable energy sources like the sun, wind, chemical potential energy (new types of photovoltaic cells perhaps) , gravitational energy, and the mere energy of motion - whether lassoing the motion of a car as it slows down to recharge a battery, or that of the tides or rivers. We have just barely scratched the surface of alternative energy, and now that energy generally is more expensive, there is more and more incentive for the private sector to invest heavily in the next technology. This is the blessing of higher energy prices.

I would also be OK with a large investment of federal money into R&D, though recent calls for the nationalization of oil refineries make me nervous. But I think if we come up with strategic and efficient ways of incentivizing universities and other corporate research centers, then a large public investment in energy would be called for.

We're in a bind. For the long term, renewable energy is the only answer. But we can't get from here to there quickly. We don't even know what "there" is. Both for the sake of national security (and independence) and economic vitality we have to use the traditional means we have for the short and medium term as we prepare for a world most of us will never see.

I remind myself that it is those countries that are economically strong that have the means to be environmentally protective. If our economy tanks people will do what they have to, just as people everywhere do, to get by. And that usually is very bad for our fellow creatures, for clean air and water, and for protective habitats.

Perhaps this is the chief irony of environmentalism; to have a clean world that is good for people and which offers safe haven for all God's creatures takes economic vitality. And yet, at some level, obtaining that economic vitality has an environmental cost.

In the end it is a necessary cost for the good of mankind and the health of the earth; it's just hard for someone with a heart for the earth's good to pull the trigger on oil drilling or nuclear power or other traditional means of obtaining energy.

I just think we have to, if we want to get from here, where we don't want to be, to there, which we can't even see.

Obama Just Seems Like Same Ole Same Ole

I like him, and I don't care what color his skin is or how often he goes to church, and I am not writing this to support his opponent, but the more Obama is out there in the public arena, the more he just seems like same old same ole to me. He's a politician, a good one, and I don't begrudge him that. I just don't see the "new way." I think all that is just smoke and mirrors.

Two questions nip at my mental heels.

First, what would a new way of doing politics in Washington (or Greensboro) really look like, and not look like? What would be the signs, the signals, the actions, that shows that a person is doing politics differently?

Second, is it possible for a person to get elected who does not follow the "old way" (as compared say to someone who talks about not following the "old way")?

I wonder. But I am pretty sure whatever this "different way" is, I am not seeing it in this election.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Magnolia Blossom

Ah, can't you just smell it?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

New Politics? For Real? Then End Earmarks?

For all their talk about bringing a new "way" to Washington, neither Obama nor McCain seem to doing too much that's new or different. So, I've been thinking, what would really BE different. How about agreeing to work between now and election day to pass bills putting an end to earmarks. If there is anything that tempts corruption in both parties, and snookers the public, it's earmarks. They just need to go. Period. Nothing ought to go into the a bill other than what the bill is about. Period. Shoot, the politicians don't even know what their voting for half the time.

Good for the People of Ireland

Homeland of my great great great grandfather Patrick Gillespie, a place I so want to visit (and live for a while?), the people stuck it to their own leaders, and the European establishment. Hurray for them.

Downtown Haze, Rain in North Greensboro

I was walking up South Elm Street yesterday (from the Green Bean back to my office), about 3:30 I think, and noticed the air. It's hard for me have a thought without wanting to write, and I was already composing a sentence with silly alliteration to describe it - "heavy humid haze hangs"....but my the time I got back to my office other things took front seat. Anyway, it was Columbiaesque outside, just not so hot. I was surprised today to read about the fire "down east" (as they say in these parts) bringing the smoky air back this way.

That itself would seem odd - a fire east of here effecting our air - but the storm in north Greensboro Thursday was similar. It was cool to watch from my office window. I could see the rain, the lightning, the ominous clouds drifting not west to east or south west to northeast, but east to west! I called home and yes, it was pouring they said. When I left the office not much later it was clear we had gotten creamed - Richland Creek was almost overflowing, trees were bent down from the weight of the water, many trees were split (hurray, a few more Bradford pears gone!), tree limbs of all kinds were down, and trash containers were strewn everywhere.

We have had three or four huge storms where we have been absolutely deluged by rain, and I have checked two days running and there has been no record of any rain at the airport. I would guess that we have had six inches more rain in the last month than they have had there.

Heather at Graduation

This is one of my favorite pictures of my second daughter Heather. It was taken by my fourth daughter Anna (on the right in this picture) as we hid from the rain underneath the stadium overhang trying to do the graduation picture thing. I just love the candid take, and the joy that beams forth. Indeed, the picture would be sheer joy but for EVE. Perhaps it was appropriate after all that graduation day was gray and rainy. Despite dropping most of the program, there was still a remembrance of Eve Carson. 2008 will always be remembered for that event. It's still so hard to believe all that, almost too much to think about. Yet, amidst such sadness, life goes on, as do friendships and laughter.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Iris Dement at Cat's Cradle June 28

Iris Dement, one of the very best singer songwriters of our day, will be paying at Cat's Cradle in Carrboro on June 28. I don't know if it's sold out. Last time she was there it was standing room only. I'm going with my daughter Heather, who went with me last time, two summers ago. I wrote a review of that concert on this blog, and would be most honored if you would read it.

For some Iris Dement is an acquired taste. I fell for her in an instant on the way home from church one day when I turned on Prairie Home Companion, and heard that voice. It's hard to know what genre to place her in - folk, alt-country, old-country. She has a high twangy singing voice for sure. Her songs are simple, but real, SO real, and she has a gift for turn of phrase and melody. She has a wry mischievous smile and a wonderful rhythmic southern speaking drawl. There is a melancholy streak in her music (as with mist good song writers). One just senses she has suffered more than her share in this life and knows of what she writes.

You can get a taste of her music at There are also several clips of her on You Tube.

Look, I'm a rocker, so if I like this twangy songwriter from the other side of the Ozarks, then she must be good! And for all you left leaning types out there, she has written one of the very best protest songs since the sixties - it's called Wasteland of the Free. It's not quite War Pigs, but it's good! I've pasted the lyrics below.

If you'd like to download ten songs from iTunes to get a feel for her music, and have a nice CD to boot, I might suggest the following:

Sweet Is the Melody - from My Life
Our Town - from Infamous Angel
When My Morning Comes Around - from The Way I Should (tissues needed)
Easy's Getting Harder Every Day - from My Life
He Reached Down - from Lifeline
I'll Take My Sorrow Straight - from The Way I Should
These Hills - from Infamous Angel (the first song of hers I heard - on PHC)
My Life - from My Life
Wasteland of the Free - from The Way I Should
No Time to Cry - from My Life

And if you have five more bucks to fill up a CD...

God Walks the Dark Hills - from Lifeline
You've Done Nothing Wrong - from My Life
Mama's Opry - from Infamous Angel
Calling for You - from My Life
Trouble - from The Way I Should (with Delbert McClinton)

Here are the lyrics to "Living In the Wasteland of the Free"

We got preachers dealing in politics and diamond mines
and their speech is growing increasingly unkind
They say they are Christ's disciples
but they don't look like Jesus to me
and it feels like I am living in the wasteland of the free

We got politicians running races on corporate cash
Now don't tell me they don't turn around and kiss them peoples' ass
You may call me old-fashioned
but that don't fit my picture of a true democracy
and it feels like I am living in the wasteland of the free

We got CEO's making two hundred times the workers' pay
but they'll fight like hell against raising the minimum wage
and If you don't like it, mister, they'll ship your job
to some third-world country 'cross the sea
and it feels like I am living in the wasteland of the free

Living in the wasteland of the free
where the poor have now become the enemy
Let's blame our troubles on the weak ones
Sounds like some kind of Hitler remedy
Living in the wasteland of the free

We got little kids with guns fighting inner city wars
So what do we do, we put these little kids behind prison doors
and we call ourselves the advanced civilization
that sounds like crap to me
and it feels like I am living in the wasteland of the free

We got high-school kids running 'round in Calvin Klein and Guess
who cannot pass a sixth-grade reading test
but if you ask them, they can tell you
the name of every crotch on MTV
and it feels like I am living in the wasteland of the free

We kill for oil, then we throw a party when we win
Some guy refuses to fight, and we call that the sin
but he's standing up for what he believes in
and that seems pretty damned American to me
and it feels like I am living in the wasteland of the free

Living in the wasteland of the free
where the poor have now become the enemy
Let's blame our troubles on the weak ones
Sounds like some kind of Hitler remedy
Living in the wasteland of the free

While we sit gloating in our greatness
justice is sinking to the bottom of the sea
Living in the wasteland of the free
Living in the wasteland of the free
Living in the wasteland of the free


Me and Edward Waters taking in the view at Hanging Rock. Picture taken by our hiking buddy Mike Ehrhardt. Check out my Flickr photostream. Oh, and yes, that is a sheer drop of a couple of hundred feet just the other side of my knees! I love it out on the edge!

The Celtics Wake Up, While I Sleep!

When they got down by twenty I turned off the TV and went to bed. I can't stand the Lakers and really want KG to get his ring, and have always pulled for the Celtics for some reason. What a surprise to wake up to the news - good news to me - of their comeback. Too bad I missed it, but at least I don't have a migraine today!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Obama, Gaddafi, and Jerusalem

Muammar Gaddafi scolds Barack Obama for his statements regarding Jerusalem to pro Israel lobbyists last week. Has it been our position in pursuing peace talks that Jerusalem should be the undivided capital of Israel? have we encouraged that position? It seems to be a position that would make any Israeli-Palestinian peace process impossible, unless the UN has actual dominion over the city, in which case how is it really Israel's capitol? Does anyone have the skinny on this?

Gaddafi went on to say several other things that seemed to correlate with Thomas Friedman's piece in this morning's News and Record regarding the way people in Africa and the Middle east view Barack Obama, referring to Obama as "our Kenyan brother." That is sweet, but is good for Obama?

Jimmy Johns, 1000 Prints, Trumpet Vine, Green Space, Mini Stores

Just got back from Jimmy John's. It has become my favorite haunt when I don't have a lunch appointment that otherwise takes me away from downtown. I love their # 14 Club Tuna on 7 Grain Bread. Yum.

I tend to eat late when "I eat alone" (George Thorogood just came to mind), and I tend to like to read. I always concentrate better when there is noise around me. They always have good music at Jimmy John's - another plus.

On the way back I stopped at the corner of Washington and South Elm, just outside of 1000's of Prints, you know, the store on the corner with the vines all over the south wall. I had thought that all those vines were Virginia Creeper, but lo and behold there's a bunch of Trumpet Vine blooming. I love Trumpet Vine blossoms, especially the color - same color orange as the sweatshirt I am wearing now, which is a hoodie of an ACC school and NOT Virginia, Virginia Tech or Miami! A sweatshirt you say in this weather? Well, it isn't "this weather" in my building. It's freezing!

Anyway, I can also see the lovely orange trumpet vine outside my window - it's nice, especially set against all that green!

Speaking of green, there needs to be more of it downtown. I like the park several blocks north, but there remains a woeful lack of green space generally. City's need green spaces. These don't have to be big. Tiny little "parks" with grass and a couple of trees and benches are great. You find them all over many cities. There are enough empty lots that I think we could have more of these spaces. It would make the downtown experience more pleasant, especially for the pedestrian. Our city still is not very pedestrian friendly.

A couple of other business ideas. I hear that a grocery store is going to be built eventually in the site south of Lee. In the mean time, somewhere along Lee, I think there is need for "mini" versions of 1) a real grocery store, 2) a Kinko's type store, and 3) an Office Depot type store. Mini versions. I am sure the prices would be higher and the selection of course less, but it is for these things that I most often have to leave downtown. OK, a book store would be great too, but small bookstores seem to be a thing of the past. I wonder if Borders or Barnes and Noble could have like a small "satellite" downtown. That would be cool too.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Jakob Dylan Seeing Things

While listening to Pandora (well, while looking at the screen while listening), an ad popped up for Jakob Dylan's new record "Seeing Things" due out June 10 - that was yesterday right? Anyway, I clicked on the MySpace link and almost all the new songs are there on the site. It's an acoustic record, with that laid back passion I like about Jakob Dylan. It's a different sound than that of the Wallflowers, though I like them too. Check it out - Seeing Things.

All That Foreign Oil Controlling American Soil

Is nothing sacred.

I'm speaking of the Chrysler Building.

Yeah, ole Bob pretty much had it right 30 years ago:

All that foreign oil controlling American soil,
Look around you, it's just bound to make you embarrassed.
Sheiks walkin' around like kings, wearing fancy jewels and nose rings,
Deciding America's future from Amsterdam and to Paris
And there's a slow, slow train comin' up around the bend.

But then, our own oil companies aren't doing too badly either. I'm not one to beat up on "big oil" as if they hold the key to evil in the universe, and I am no expert in things financial (to say the least), but it seems to me that the Republicans have screwed themselves by killing the recent "tax big oil" bill. There was more to that bill than a luxury profit tax I realize.

So, if supply/demand is part of the reason for higher oil prices, you'd think the oil suppliers would be getting most of the windfall. Are these companies the supplies? What is their relation to, say, the Saudi government? If it's speculators, well I don't understand who would get that windfall. Maybe somebody could explain that for me. Where do the oil companies make their money?

The only problem I can see having with the tax that was defeated is if the revenue just went into the general fund to be spent on whatever. Was it going to 1) used to fund alternative energy research, or 2) used to relieve consumers of higher gas prices? Maybe someone could tell me, or show me where I could find out.

But with the war in Iraq going "better" (relatively speaking) these days, and with the economy, though sluggish, refusing to go into recession, oil prices may end up being the biggest issue of the campaign. It impacts everybody, and everybody hard. I filled up my Spectra the other day with regular - $50! It's killing me! Our 15 year old Nissan van holds 16 gallons. Do the math.

So this is an issue that is hitting everyone hard, and as far as I can see it, the Republicans just handed a V to the Democrats. We may as well just call it now and spare ourselves five MORE months of this seemingly endless process.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The "Softball" Prejudice of Low Expectations

Along the way I've heard the phrase "The soft prejudice of low expectations" many times, usually in political campaigns. I've always had a tendency to nod "yes," without much thought, thinking of it mostly as it applies to education.

On Saturday, in a conversation with a softball parent, I realized that I have been articulating the same principle for years, but just didn't put the principle and the phrase together.

I'm talking about girls rec league softball.

The softball folks in Summerfield and in the "NW League" have been complaining for years about how the girls don't have as much field time, how their fields aren't as nice, their budgets aren't as big and so forth as the boys. I don't know how much of that is true. What I do know is that they don't deserve equal treatment and equal facilities and equal opportunities - not yet. Why? Because they don't take the game seriously enough to deserve equal treatment.

What cred do I have? Well, I have had five daughters who have each played years of rec softball. Three of them have also played school softball, two have played travel ball, and one was an outstanding high school softball player who would have been an outstanding college softball player were it not for a career ending shoulder injury. She was amazingly good. And she played rec league baseball one year. I have coached several rec softball teams, and assisted on several others. I've also watched the boys practice and play - a lot.

OK, first, let me address you non sports fans. Some of you just don't like sports. Fine. Some of you were treated terribly by coaches or teams along the way. I am sorry. Some of you sucked at sports and you've had a chip on your shoulder all your life for being picked last at recess. I am very sorry for that, but don't take it out on me, OK?

The reason the girls rec teams don't deserve equal treatment is because neither they, their parents, nor their coaches expect them to excel. The girls are not really expected to know the game, to know or learn how to catch, throw, swing the bat, know what to do with the ball when they get it, know whether they need to tag or runner or touch the base, etc. They are not expected to pay close attention to the game while it's in progress.

Girls coaches are not really expected to know how to coach. They aren't really expected to teach the girls the fundamentals of the game. They aren't expected to know how to run a practice.

Nobody cares terribly much if at the end of the season any particular girl still cannot hit the ball, cannot catch the ball, cannot throw the ball, is clueless on the bases, has very little idea of what to do when the ball comes to her in the field. Well, deep down the girl cares, because it is no fun being no good.

Ah, the pathetic parent says, "it's not about winning, it's about having fun." Well, I never said anything about winning, and will get to that in a moment. But I can say with authority that it is no fun to suck. It is no fun to strike out over and over. It is no fun to miss simple pop flies. It is no fun not to be able to catch balls thrown to you. It is no fun not to know what to do with the ball. It is no fun to be in a panic because you're on base and you have no idea whether to run, and everyone is yelling. It is no fun when the pitcher walks every batter. It is no fun to lose because your team is pathetic.

I'll tell you what is fun. Swinging the bat with the right body motion and making solid contact with the ball is fun. Fielding a grounder and throwing a runner out is fun. Catching a fly ball is fun. Knowing that you have to tag that runner coming at you and doing so is fun. Dramatic competitive games played well are fun, no matter who wins.

I coached a girl one time who had no more business on a softball field than I would have fixing your car. Swinging a bat to her meant letting it drop from her shoulder. Throwing to her was little more than dropping the ball hard. Catching the ball? Are you kidding? We prayed no balls would be hit to her lest she be killed. We'll call her Mandy.

I ran a fast paced practice with the team divided into groups. I'm no genius - I read the equivalent of "Coaching Softball for Dummies." I patiently taught Mandy how to hold her glove with the ball coming toward her. Slowly she learned how to catch. Patiently we drilled her in how to stand and how to hold and swing the bat. Gradually she improved. She was a fast runner but we had to teach her when to run and when not to. Through very laborious drills taught to our team by a UNCG player, she learned bit by bit how to throw the ball.

Mandy was afraid of the softball. That is the kiss of death in baseball or softball. So I had made up a drill which the mothers hated and which proved to work wonders. I pick three girls at a time and place them about twenty feet away from each other right up against the backstop. I would get two other guys who could throw the ball hard. With me included we would have three throwers and three "catchers." I would say out loud, so that everyone would understand, that our goal was to hit each girl right on the nose, and that her goal was to keep us from doing that, NOT by moving her body or head, but by catching the ball. Some of the mothers objected. I explained that the reflexes in the head are amazingly quick and it would be almost impossible to actually hit anybody in the head from forty feet away. Then we would start. We would throw hard. At first, the girls would be jumpy, moving their bodies away, holding out their gloves. "No!" I would shout. Don't move your body. Your glove is your friend." I'm telling you, by the end of the season not one girl on my team would flinch at a ball coming at her head. Flip the glove up. Pop. Throw the ball back. Now that's fun.

Even with all that, half way through the season and Mandy still had not caught a regular hit ball, hit a pitched ball, or thrown a ball straight to another player. She played right field or left depending on who was pitching.

One day she was up to bat in a close game with runners on. I was coaching third (and pacing, and maybe praying). The pitcher was good. Mandy was at least swinging level by now. Then it happened - bat met ball, a low liner just over the bag at first and down the right field line, a stand up triple. I was so happy for Mandy I think I cried. The whole season was worth that one moment. She was beaming. Now THAT was fun! I think we lost the game. Who cared.

The next game she was in right field. The batter hit a high fly to right. Mandy had to drift back, resisting the instinct to run up on the ball. She put up her glove. The sound of the ball sinking into her mitt was as beautiful as Beethoven's fifth. I was the happiest man alive. Mandy was beaming. Again, THAT was fun.

Sadly, such is not the norm. I got frustrated coaching rec teams because the travel teams stole the best players toward the end of the season and the teams disintegrated.

But all in all, expectations for girls, as compared to boys, are very very low. And this I believe to be a form of profound prejudice and a radical disservice to them. It's not the case in high school programs. My daughter Shannon's coach at North West had very high expectations. But younger, at the rec level, as compared to the boys, the expectations for girls are just not there, and that's not fair.

And now I think I understand better the real meaning of this principle in other more important areas of life.