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Why I Want To Live In The Land Down Under

May 25, 2015

AustraliaAny place one lives has its positive and negative aspects. When you consider Australia, it is no exception. Sure there are towns like Wagga Wagga where spiders fall from the sky en masse and cover the area in spider webs. Then there are the, as one Aussie called him, “wanker” politicians like Barnaby Joyce, who gave Johnny Depp fifty hours to take his dogs back to America or he would have them killed. Yes, they do drive on the wrong side of the road, but I would have to say that for me the positives outweigh the negatives, which is why I would love to live in Australia.

The list of positives starts with mandatory voting.  Anyone 18 or over must show up at a voting site or they will be fined.  In the United States the voter turnout in 2014  was 36.4%.  That means about one-third of the population is deciding which idiots run the country and what laws  affect all of us. Maybe the results would not change, but I would like to think that the more voters who turn out, the better off we all would be.  Another aspect to mandatory voting is that it seemed to me that Aussies were better informed as to what they were to vote on.  If you make people vote, they just might pay more attention to what they are voting about. I am sure some Aussies just tick off a box so they can say they voted, but my impression is they are in the minority.

Another positive is mandatory vaccinations.  With the exception of medical reasons, every child must be vaccinated.  The U.S. has not required vaccinations, and California is still debating the issue. Even if California passes a bill, the only other states that make vaccination mandatory are Mississippi and West Virgina.

While, as I said, Australians drive on the wrong side of the road, I think I could adapt.  They do have an abundance of is roundabouts, as opposed to four way stops.  Roundabouts are more efficient in moving vehicles through these intersections. There are also more traffic cameras to discourage speeding. We all know that speeding is a major cause in many accidents.

They, like the rest of the world except the U.S., Liberia, and Burma, use the metric system.  Kilometers, kilograms, Celsius, are the measurements for distance, weight, and temperature.  The metric system, based on ten, is far easier to use than ours. When I went into the deli section of a supermarket and was about to buy salami, I felt like a dunce when I had to ask if anyone knew how many ounces were in a kilogram, but the store clerk was very friendly and knew the answer.  I can only imagine the look a Safeway clerk would give a customer who asked the reverse here.

Which brings me to one of the biggest reasons to want to live in Australia.  The people are extremely friendly.  There seems to be a spirit or attitude that says life is good down under.  Maybe because most people are in better physical shape and are enjoying life more, they are friendlier.  Whatever the reason, it just felt good to be around them.

Part of that feeling has to do with their pride in being Australian.  This is probably best shown on ANZAC day.  This is like our Memorial Day except they do a better job of honoring those who have fallen.  ANZAC day is the anniversary of the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey on April 25, 1915.  If you want to know more about this, Peter Fitzsimons book Gallipoli is an excellent account. The day is a combination of reverence (in the morning) and celebration (in typical Aussie fashion, a lot of drinking).

That brings me to the final two reasons to want to move there. The weather is awesome and they do drink a lot.  Sydney has on average 340 sunny days per year, but more importantly, the water temperature ranges from about 66 degrees to 75 degrees.  Oops, sorry, that should be 19 to 24 degrees Celsius.  As for the drinking, they have more holidays than we do and therefore more opportunities to imbibe.

Given all of the above, it would not take much for me to move to Australia.  Whether or not that will ever happen, I do know that just thinking about it reminds me to take life a little easier, enjoy every day, and to stay stress free.

“Four Dead In Ohio”

February 2, 2015

One of the joys of getting older is listening to classic rock and letting it rekindle memories.  The other night I was listening to Neil Young’s “Four Dead In Ohio“, which brought back thoughts of what things were like “back then”.  The song was written about the massacre that had occurred on May 4, 1970 at Kent State University in Ohio.  During a student demonstration protesting our involvement in Vietnam, and particularly our bombing of Cambodia, the Ohio National Guard fired 67 rounds in 13 seconds killing four students and wounding nine.  Some were protesters, some simply bystanders. This picture was a dramatic expression of the senselessness of the massacre.

Kent_State_massacre The question that crossed my mind was, how many    people today would know what this picture or the song is about?  Probably anyone born before 1959, but would someone who is around 20 know?  This was one of the catalysts that helped to bring about the end of that war.

Things have changed quite a bit since that era.  Today, those in uniform are considered heroes. A soldier in uniform is likely to be thanked as they pass by. Many times, someone offers to pay for their meal if they see them in a restaurant. In 1970, and a little before and after, a soldier was more likely to be spit at or called a “baby killer”.  I remember in 68′ not wearing my uniform on a flight home for just that reason.

Another huge difference was the way the war impacted life.  Any male between 19 and 26 was eligible for the draft.  If you were male, you were either drafted, or figured a way not to be.  The nightly news was a constant reminder of the cost of the Vietnam War, body counts were announced from both sides. Today, the military fighting in Afghanistan, and those that fought in Iraq, are really only thought about by their families and relatives.  Most of us go about our daily routine without thinking about today’s conflicts.  News stories about these wars are buried on page five or six of local papers. Ironically, today, the majority are what Creedence Clearwater Revival called “Fortunate Sons” back in 69′.

The only things that haven’t changed are the lies the government tells and the willingness of politicians to send young people into combat.  The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, which allowed the escalation of the war in Vietnam, was as much a fabrication as the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Both, based on slivers of truth, were used to justify our involvement in wars that should never have been fought.  In Vietnam 58,209 dead, 153,303 wounded.  In Afghanistan and Iraq 6,717 dead, 50,897 wounded, and counting.  This doesn’t include the over 100,000 Vietnam vets who have committed suicide and the numbers of suicides from the two recent wars.

The picture from Kent State shocked a nation and made us rethink just what the hell was going on.  As long as we don’t remember it, or are not confronted with the reality of war, we  will continue to stand by and allow young men and women to die needlessly.  Will it take another “Four Dead In Ohio” for us to care?  Or as Bob Dylan said, “How many deaths will it take……….?

 

There is a difference…

January 27, 2015

When I taught a course on the practicality of ministry at Golden Gate Baptist Seminary, the school required students to read a book on the subject.  This could be assigned at any point during the course and the verification of it being read was left to the individual instructor.  I chose to have my students write a paper, only a couple of pages in length, about their reaction to the topics the book covered.  This assignment was given along with the class synopsis and was due the first day of class. While some balked at the timing, I told them they would thank me later when their other classes buried them in homework.

In the instructions I was very clear that I wanted their reaction to the subject matter, especially topics like women in ministry, which was and still is a hot potato.  I was very clear that I had read the book, knew what it was about, and only wanted their reactions.  In spite of it all, I would receive papers outlining the content, no reaction comments, just simply telling me what the book discussed.

Now understand that these were college graduates, in a masters’ program.  In high school or even grade school students are asked to write book reports, but you would think at the college level they would learn how to write a book review.  What I discovered is many of them did not know the difference.

It seems that this is not limited to my seminary students.  If you go to any book review section of Amazon, Goodreads, or just about any site that publishes amateur reviews, this is a common occurrence. Many “reviews” are simply summaries of what a book is about. These are not reviews, they are  book reports.

If I go to Amazon to find out about a book, I will read the synopsis provided by the publisher to see what it is about.  But if I scroll down to read a review, now having an idea of the content, I want to know if this book is compelling, a good read, exciting, a page turner, a disappointment, worth my time to purchase.  Often, I only find a rehash of the blurb I have already read.

This isn’t really that hard.  The difference between a book report and review is rather simple. One is just a summary and the other an analysis.  The problem lies with our education system, it teaches one to summarize, to spew back facts, not to analyze, or to think critically.  We are taught facts and asked to recite them back but rarely to examine the implications of those facts, what do they mean for us?  There is an old joke about why did George Washington cross the Delaware? But the real joke  is we were only asked when he crossed it?

One would think that at the college level students would be doing more analyzing than summarizing, but in my experience this was not the case.  I remember being in college and there were several of us who had been in the military.  We often challenged what a teacher was saying, and could hear the gasps of other students – How dare we question a professor?  It wasn’t until I was in a doctorate program that it became common for a real discussion, give and take, to take place.

Why do people have a hard time expressing how they feel, or what is important to them, or what does this or that mean to them?  It is because we were never, or rarely, taught or allowed to express ourselves. A great example of this is in the film The Dead Poets Society, or a more recent example, but with a little less impact, The Gambler. Both of these show the frustration of a professor trying to get a reaction out of their students.

A fallout of all of this is that we often do not question what we read or hear.  We read or listen to the news and just accept what is given to us.  Questioning has almost become unpatriotic. Ironically, as I was writing this I was given an article about the day Albert Einstein died, April 18, 1955.  The story is about a LIFE magazine reporter who was able to take photos of the family at the crematorium and a few others, like the casket being loaded into the hearse.  I say ironically, because as one of my heroes, Einstein reminds me to question everything.

So next time someone asks you, “How was that book?”, I hope you will give them more than a summary of what it was about.  Give them the emotion it evoked, the impact it had on you, whether it affected the way you think.  Good or bad, what was your reaction?

Oh, and always question what you read, what you hear, what you are told. How else are we going to learn? How else are we going to expand our viewpoints? How else are going to be able to get along with each other?

Happy reading!

 

 

Can You Hear Me Now?

January 4, 2015

Listening“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” –Bryant H. McGill

In the Simon and Garfunkel song “The Sounds of Silence” there is a line that says, “People speaking without listening”.  It seems to me that it is rare today to find someone who actually listens.   We have a lot of conversations during each day, but how much listening is taking place?

Have you ever shared something with someone who as soon as you have finished, and sometimes before, they relate what you have just said to something in their life?  A person who is actually listening would ask a question or two, or would, at least, offer a comment of some kind related to what you have just said.  Sometimes as you are sharing information you can see the other person’s brain working, just waiting for you to finish so they can jump in with what surely is more important to them than what you have said.

In the episode of Frasier titled “Breaking The Ice”, the character Roz (Peri Gilpin) is talking about a problem she has and Kelsey Grammer injects how is father has never said, “I love you” to him.  She responds with, “Maybe if he had, you wouldn’t be so emotional needy that when a close friend asks for your advice, you steer teh conversation back to your own problem”!  That is a great question.  Why are people so needy that they can’t listen, at least for a minute or two, without sharing their own story?  Is it the only way we can converse, by relating a fact from our own life?

When I used to do pre-marital counseling I had an exercise that helped teach a couple to listen.  I would have them sit facing each other, knees touching, toes touching, holding hands.  One of them would then tell the other ten reasons why they loved the other person.  Maintaining eye contact, the other person could not respond until all ten reasons were said. Then they would switch roles.   It was amazing how hard it was for the listener to remain still and quiet.  Often about half way through the listener would turn to me and say, “So I can’t respond yet?”   By the way, this is a great exercise for any couple having an argument, get in position and let each of you say how they feel without responding until the other is done.

It is said that listening is an art, a skill.  Evidently, the majority of us are neither artistic nor skilled.  To me this seems odd.  When did we all stop being listeners?  If you think about it, we begin life as listeners.  As children we are listeners, at least at first.  I guess maybe this is where we begin to tune others out.  How many times have you heard a parent say, “Listen to me, pay attention”?  By the time we reach adulthood we have developed the skill of not listening.

Sadly, to gain back a skill we should have never lost, we need to relearn the art of listening.  Books and DVDs are made to help us, at an expense of course.  But the expense of not listening is worse.  Not only is money lost in companies, but lives can be lost if one is not listening.  From a man using an elevator when not hearing that there was a fire above, to an airline pilot mishearing taxi instructions that led to a fiery crash, to who knows how many deaths when a nurse or doctor mishears, causing latrogenic deaths.  For most of us, the consequences are not so high, but how much better would our relationships be if we listened?

The reason therapy works, often, is that we simply have someone who will listen to us.  Just imagine how much better the world would be if we all took the time to listen, especially to someone with whom we disagree.

Thanks for listening!

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of Shaving

January 1, 2015

art of shaving chairMost men hate to shave.  It is boring, repetitious, and time consuming.  Evidently women hate shaving too.  Thirty five percent say they despise having to shave their legs.  Together we all spend billions of dollars each year on something we hate.  The amount spent on shaving has dropped due to the acceptance of facial hair on men but we still spend a lot.  A large amount is spent on disposable razors (an average of $111 per year per person) which actually are the most expensive tool for shaving.

I happen to be fortunate enough to only have to shave every other day and with a goatee and mustache do not need much time or effort to accomplish the task.  But now after years of hating to put a razor to my face, I actually look forward to it.

When I volunteered for the Army, to avoid the draft in 1966, they sent us to Ft. Polk Louisiana for basic training.   As we stepped off the bus that delivered us to the base, we were met by drill instructors in Smokey the Bear hats who lined us up and began looking us over.  The idea was to intimidate us and establish who was in charge.  As one of them stepped in front of me he looked me up and down hoping to find a reason to yell.  He looked at my face and said, “Soldier, what is that on your face?”  Being nineteen and naive I said, “Peach fuzz?”  He screamed back at me, “How often do you shave?” I replied, “Maybe once a week”.  His face was getting red and he yelled “And what do you shave with?”  I said, “An electric razor”.   I could see the veins popping in his neck, his face about two inches from mine as he said, “An electric razor, what are you going to do in the jungles of Nam when you can’t plug it in?”  I said, “It’s rechargeable”.   You could almost see the smoke coming out of his ears as he bellowed, “In this man’s army you shave everyday and you use a razor.   Get in those barracks and shave that stuff off your face, do you hear me?”  “Yes sir.”  So I started shaving every day from that point on.

Using mostly disposable razors,  Gillette shaving cream, and after shave lotion, the act of shaving became something I didn’t really think about.   This went on for thirty years, day in day out. Then I met a terrific woman who is now my wife who said I didn’t need the after shave.  One less expense to deal with.

About six years ago I decided to grow a goatee and mustache, and managed to cut down the time it took to shave and the amount of shaving cream necessary to get the job done.  Another decrease in expense.

Three years ago I wanted to change how I shaved, mostly out of boredom, so began looking at alternatives to the disposable razor.  One afternoon while browsing the mall I walked into a store called The Art of Shaving, that sold only shaving items .   My first thought was — ARE YOU KIDDING?, how can a store survive on just shaving paraphernalia?    I looked at electric razors thinking since that was how I started, maybe I could go back to one.  The salesman came over and started asking me about how and when I shaved and showed me what he said was a better way to shave.

Needless to say I walked out with a lighter wallet and a bag of shaving stuff under my arm.  Now that I have been using their process, I not only enjoy shaving but look forward to the days I do.  If you have never tried these, and still hate to shave, you might want to give them a shot.

The first step is a couple of small drops of pre-shave oil that helps to set up your whiskers.  Then with a shaving brush heated by warm water, you place a very tiny amount of their shaving cream on the brush and work it into your face.  I haven’t moved to a shaving cup, as of yet.  It is amazing how little it takes to lather up and cover all of what needs shaving.  Then I use a Gillette fusion razor that glides over my skin.  After rinsing my face I apply a couple of drops of the after shave balm which has no odor, which my wife likes, but leaves my face feeling smooth and fresh.

kitThe best part of all of this is once you have the products, they last a long time.  My jar of shaving cream will be good for about two years. So shaving is no longer as expensive as it used to be.

Do I wish that I never had to shave?  You bet.  But with the products from the Art of Shaving, my “chore” has become a pleasant, refreshing experience.

Dr. Don, The Counterfeiter

November 22, 2014

$10bill

 

 

It is interesting to me how a person can have an unusual experience one day and then several days later, run across a reference in an unrelated source that mirrors the event.   I just started reading Stephen King’s new novel Revival, and came across this passage.

“….but always looked at me the way a storekeeper studies a suspicious twenty-dollar bill.  Maybe it’s all right, the storekeeper thinks, but there’s just a little something…off about it.”

In my case it was a ten-dollar bill.

We have been shopping at Whole Foods for over ten years and I have never experienced anything like what happened to me recently.  Dropping into the Capitola, Ca store for what I thought would be a quick in/out for just a large jug of water and a bag of tortilla chips, became an embarrassing adventure.

The 15 items or less lines we not in use so I got in line behind two people with carts full of groceries.  The clerk either was new or just normally slow but it was taking an inordinate amount of time to ring up each item.  Finally, when he was done with the first customer, the man paid with a hundred-dollar bill.  The clerk looked it over, held it up to the light and after about a minute determined it was good, gave the man change and moved on to the next customer.  She unloaded her cart and divided her things into two groups saying she would pay for one then the other.  The clerk, with his turtle like speed, began ringing her up.  For the first group of groceries she paid with a credit card. When the second had been totaled, she pulled out a hundred-dollar bill.  Yes, as you can guess, the clerk looked it over, held it up to the light and again after about a minute deemed the bill sound, gave the lady her change and off she went.  Now it is my turn.

After waiting very patiently for the two people to get done, my two little items were rung up for a total of $5.38.  Usually I pay with a credit card but this day I actually had cash on me and figured the amount was too small for my Visa.  So I handed the clerk a ten-dollar bill, and almost said “I just printed this one”.  Fortunately, I did not as the clerk looked over the bill and proceeded to hold it up to the light as he had done with the two larger bills.

He was taking longer than he had on those two and after about two minutes said, “I don’t see a watermark”.  He then called over another cashier who looked the ten spot over, held it to the light, said, “I don’t either, you better have a manager look at it”.  She then looked at me and said, “it’s not that we don’t trust you”.  About now my patience was wearing thin.  I had given the clerk an old style ten dollar bill (pre-1996) which doesn’t have a watermark, and offered to give him a different one.  He said, “No, I need to see about this one”.  I looked behind me and there were about five people in line waiting and looking at me like I was some kind of crook.  Anyone that knows me knows that it was taking everything I had not to say something at this point.

Finally, a manager came over, looked at the bill, held it up to the light, and said, “it’s okay”, and walked off.  The clerk then gave me change and said, “have a nice day”.  No “I am sorry”, no apology of any kind for making me wait for at least ten minutes, and for making me look like one of the F.B.I.’s ten most wanted.

As I walked to my car, my brain was going, what the hell just happened?  The more I thought about it, the madder I was getting.  When I got home, I went to the Whole Food’s website and wrote out my story pretty much the way I have here, under the heading of a bad customer experience.  It has been a week now and I have not had any kind of response.

I do understand a store’s concern over counterfeit money, and there have been recent stories in the San Jose Mercury News about people being caught passing phony currency.  My problem is the way I was treated with no effort to acknowledge this was an embarrassing situation.

Will I continue to shop here?  Yes, we like the products, especially the produce.  Will I ever pay with cash again?  Not in this lifetime!

In Stephen King’s novel, Revival, the reference above is about the way the main character’s girlfriend’s mother looks at him.  He says, “looking back, I have to think that Delia Soderberg’s suspicions were justified.  I was a counterfeit twenty.  Good enough to pass in most places, maybe, but not in her store.”

So thank you Whole Foods for making me feel like a counterfeit ten-dollar bill.

 

Let’s Hope We Find A Cure! – Part II

October 22, 2014

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Before I start, if you are looking for Part I, it isn’t posted yet.  The reason being it refers to a disease that is also spreading across the country, but the one I am going to talk about now has exceeded it in epidemic proportions.

The disease I am referring to, is stupidity.  Understand that the word is defined as behavior that shows a lack of good sense or judgement.  Somewhere along the line it seems a major portion of the population decided it was easier to not exercise good sense and blindly base opinions on a lack of information.

The media has not helped in curing this problem.  Pick up any newspaper, liberal or conservative (terms that have done more to make people stupid, but that is for another post), and look at the headline, then read the article.  More often than not they say two different things.   A recent example: “The President’s Credit Card Was Rejected”.  Now if that is all you knew you would think he has bad credit or went over his limit.  But neither of those is the truth.  Once you read the story, you find out the bank declined only because of possible fraudulent use and a simple phone call would have resolved the issue.  Now most of us have had this happen, and while at first a little embarrassing, we are glad our credit card companies are watching out for us.

One of the funniest and saddest headlines was “Weapons of Mass Destruction Found”.  This would imply that Bush was right and Americans did not die in vain.  Oops, turns out these weren’t the ones Collin Powell had said were there, but leftovers from previous wars.  The conspiracy theorists are having a field day with this one, the government lied, what else could they be hiding?  The government lied, no duh!!  What do you think got us in the Iraq war in the first place?

The biggest example of stupidity has to be the “Ebola” scare.  There are more people expressing opinions, fostering fear, and spouting inaccurate information than I have ever seen.  We now have an “Ebola Czar”.  Give me a break!  At the time of this writing there were three cases in the United States.  What we need is a “Stupidity Czar”.  Stupidity has infected more people and is more contagious than Ebola by far.  Oh, and has killed more people than Ebola, worldwide.  Someone put on Facebook that “more Americans have been married to Kim Kardashian than have died from Ebola”.

Social media seems to be spreading stupidity at an alarming rate.  How many times have you seen a post or message stating some fact or another that when checked out is untrue.  A simple fact check with sites like Snopes.com  can cure most of the ignorance that is perpetuated online.  The problem is that there are too many people willing to send the false story along without checking the facts.

Ironically, while writing this, I had to leave to go to a book signing by author Garth Stein who wrote “A Sudden Light”.  During his talk he made the point that we have become too dependent on the information highway and are not interacting with each other.  We tend to only look at web sites that agree with our ideas and therefore do not expose ourselves to different opinions.  Too many people rely on one news source for keeping up with the world.  Somewhere along the line we lost the ability to have healthy discussions on issues and forgot that it is okay to agree to disagree.

As bad as this epidemic is, there is a cure, there is hope.  Open your mind, listen to someone you disagree with and see if maybe they have a point, check the facts of a story before re-posting it.  Above all don’t be so quick to judge or label someone or something.  People are not really stupid, they just lack information that would allow them to use good sense and good judgement.

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