Mom turns 80

MomA big day. On February 22, Mom turned 80 years old. Wow.

First of all, she looks great. (That’s her on the deck of the Admiral circa 1954.) She’s in great shape due to the luck of good genes and taking good care of herself through the years. I can still see her on the living-room floor when I was a boy with a little wheel on an axle, rolling forward, then up, forward, then up. Even then, she had this kind of, “hey, I don’t know about you, but I’m planning on living for a while,” attitude. We would just say, “hey, I can’t see the television!”

Richard Dawkins: The Greatest Show on Earth

Or, so he thinks. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of Dawkins. Or, maybe, was a big fan is more accurate. His book The Selfish Gene, published in 1976 had quite an impact on my view of evolution. Nowadays, Dawkins is known more for his anti-religious rants than for his science writings. Why? Well, maybe because he describes religion as a “virus of the mind.” He, of course, is not alone in these sentiments; it’s quite popular these days to make fun of religious people and their faith.

But, this is a book about evolution, right? It was supposed to be and that’s why I read it. It was about evolution, mind you. I’d say a good 90% of it was. I guess he couldn’t help himself the other 10% of the time; bashing dim-witted Christians who believe in the Creation as told in Genesis. I made it through, though, and, for the most part, enjoyed it.

Richard Dawkins knows of what he speaks when it comes to evolution. I already knew that and it’s the only reason I put up with his rants.  Oh, how I wished the book would be more about evolution.When he digs in to the meat of it, it’s really good. When you’re done, you really have a feel for how evolution works; how time progresses during the changes, sometimes slow, sometimes abrupt. It’s really remarkable when you think about it.

He starts his book with a lengthy exposition on dog breeding. Why? Because it’s something that we can all see and understand. We can easily see the difference between breeds of dog, say a Chihuahua and a Great Dane. And, we all know that these vast differences are due only to a few thousand years of selective breeding by humans. And, most of that time, the humans had no knowledge of genetics. They simply “selected” by behavior or physical characteristics. If dogs could change this much in a few thousand years, imagine the changes possible in a few million years.

Another great story Dawkins recounts is that of the “domesticated silver fox.” This is a case where a Soviet scientist bred foxes for tameness. He simply bred together foxes that were nicer than the others and what resulted were foxes that really looked and acted like dogs. Now, keep in mind that we now know that in our dogs there is absolutely no fox genes, only wolf. So, without boring you to death, what this really gets at is just what is a species anyway.

And, this subject, is exactly what the debate between evolutionists and creationists is all about. Dawkins would be far better served by educating us on this subject more and stomping on our souls less.

It’s a Hurricane

It seems like just yesterday that I sat here writing about my Emily on her 18th birthday. The previous post to that one was reflecting on her high-school graduation. After getting over the fact that I just don’t write much anymore, I figured I’d better get to work on a post concerning her college graduation.

Words cannot describe how proud I am of her for sticking to it and graduating. I realize that I’m projecting my issues a bit, but it is not an understatement to say that her graduating college has been the number one priority for me. Yeah, yeah, morals, ethics, blah blah blah…I’m telling you that finishing college was the only thing that mattered to me. The other stuff was going to come anyway. She would be a good person whether she finished school or not. Tragic movie-style scenes used to play out in my head: I’d be dying in the hospital bed and whoever was standing beside me there at the end (sometimes Annette was dead already), I’d groan, “…whatever else happens, I don’t care…just make sure she finishes college…”

So, she’s done it. She has a Bachelor of Health Science – Respiratory Therapy. She’s been hired at Barnes Hospital here in St. Louis, she’s found herself a great little apartment in Maplewood and she is on her way to a great life. I officially pronounce her a Category 5 Hurricane.

An evening with David McCullough

David McCulloughJohn and Marjie were gracious enough to consider us when they had two extra tickets to hear David McCullough speak down at Powell Hall tonight. And, though I am woefully behind in reading most of his books, I, like you, have seen and heard many of his endeavors on PBS. And, when I saw an hour of him on the Charlie Rose Show, it really inspired me. He has a love of history coupled with some very, very good communication skills.

He spoke most passionately and emotionally on the subject of Public Education. No matter where the speech took him, he always seemed to come back again to the subject. His overall sentiment was, it’s up to the parents. Some of the biting criticisms he had were along the lines of “less soccer for the 6th grader and more family field trips” or “when you go the parent-teacher conference, ask the teacher ‘what can I do to help you.’ ”

That was also his answer when he wondered aloud what he would say to the new president. He claims he would simply say, “what can I do to help.” And, as long as one does not interpret that statement as “when can I get on the Federal payroll?” then, I most heartily agree with it.

But, what can you do to “help?” Well, help what? right? Isn’t that the question?

Anyway, listening to Mr. McCullough has inspired to write a bit, so there you go.

If Jesus could do it

I figure if Jesus could get up after three days in a tomb, I could maybe write a blog post.

I had my usual Holy Week schedule this past week: Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. For me, the usual combination of playing guitar and cooking. It’s what I do.

Saturday morning I was watching the History Detectives on PBS and one of the stories got me thinking about mythology and religion.  The story starts like this:

George Washington’s cherry tree, Betsy Ross’ flag, Paul Revere’s ride…now Muhlenberg’s Robe may be added to the list of debatable Revolutionary War legends.

The story goes that in January 1776, Lutheran Reverend Peter Muhlenberg turned his pulpit into a recruiting station for revolutionary fighters. During a fiery sermon, he tore his robe from his shoulders to reveal a uniform, and at once rallied 300 able-bodied congregants to the patriotic cause.

So, off go the history detectives to discover that a.) Though the robe is made of the right material and is of the right age to be the robe, there’s no way to prove whether it really is or not and b.) Rev. Muhlenberg most certainly did not tear it off during the sermon to reveal the uniform and likely did not rally the 300 right there on the spot. The story is probably a concoction derived seventy-plus years later when German immigrants needed to feel special about their role in the war up there in Pennsylvania.

But here’s my beef: we all too often ignore the plain obvious facts right in front of our face. 1.) Rev. Muhlenberg was a Lutheran Minister who lived and preached during the birth of our nation 2.) He gave up (took off?) his robe to wear the uniform of revolution and 3.) he convinced many of his congregants to fight against the British.

So, you see how the “myth” compacts and teaches us the story? The real story. The myth is good. Leave it alone.

On another note, I felt obliged to defend the Methodists a bit during this story. As the story goes, the “American Anglicans” (aka Methodists) would not fight the king. This is true enough. One must look inside John Wesley’s head a bit for the answer though.

I won’t bore with all the details, but we could safely say the Wesley simply did not like our founding fathers. He thought them buffoonish hypocrites. His main moral contention was, of course, their ownership of slaves. They demanded “freedom?” …right. The Wesleyan movement had already played a role in abolishing slavery in England years before.
Anyway, sometimes it’s healthy to read about people that our history books tell us are heroes, saints practically; to read Wesley just cut them down and insult them…well, it’s good for you sometimes.

It was raining in the city

It was raining in the city. A hard rain.

No, really, it was raining hard. I was staring out the sixth floor hospital window onto a big, old, dark city. A river bending around us like some monster’s sinew. In the bed, my seventy-eight year old mother currently enjoying her morphine drip. She deserves it; she’s spent Christmas night in the ER of this equally big, old, dark hospital and now, a couple days later, just got out of surgery to have a colostomy bag hooked up. We’re all saying to each other, “she is not going to like that.” Flash forward a couple more days and after eating some dinner, the bag begins to fart. She says, “Oh, I hate this bag.”

It’s Christmastime and I’m watching the Sound of Music with her in the hospital. Then, it’s time to leave and she says, “I’ll finish watching and see if they still fall in love.” They do, I watch it every year. I always make everyone in the room stop and take notice when the scene comes where the Captain is singing Edelwiess and Maria is off stage. Then the moment comes. I say to mom this year, “here it comes…wait for it…there it is! She’s fallen in love with him.” What a woman that Julie Andrews is. She’s on my list, you know.

We all hated the hospital, but kept it to ourselves. You want the best for your mother, right? Well, this wasn’t it. But, it was her hospital. Kinda like her car. I want her to have a better car, but she doesn’t and she won’t. And, after a couple of nights of all night partying by some of the guests, she’d had enough and asked for a private room. Much better. We told her when you go back for your surgery, you may as well just ask for a private room right of the bat.

The first surgery (for the bag) went well. The night before, my dad pulled me aside to whisper, “you’re gonna be with her tomorrow morning, right?” Even now, I’m proud to say, he wanted to make sure I was going to do the right thing.

Tonight, the new year is here. She looked really good tonight. Almost back to normal. She really is in good shape. After the tumor comes out next Friday, a couple of weeks of some slow recuperation and some pain, she’ll be back to this point, but for good.

Yes, it’s been hard seeing her like this; in the hospital and nursing home. But, it makes us ask the hard questions of ourselves. Will we be ready for this? First, will we be ready for our parents’ passing. Then, will we be ready for our own infirmities? Where will we go? Who will take care of us? I’ve very proud of her for taking care of herself through the years. I hope I can live up to that high standard.

The world keeps on turning

Well, it’s official. I was laid off last Friday, asked to stay through Wednesday, and hired Thursday. We move down to the Post-Dispatch building in downtown St. Louis in two weeks. “We” being my whole group less three. The CFO, and two clerks were let go. One of the clerks I hired six years ago; the only other guy in the department. I’ll miss him. He never believed me that I hired him because he faxed from a submarine. During his interview, I asked what he did in the office on the submarine and he just kept saying, “you know, filing, faxing, regular office stuff.” Then I’d say, “Yeah…but, from a submarine!” So, I hired him.

My job is a strange hybrid of complexity and dullness. Multiple relational databases that I’m paid to simply understand, but in the final analysis, it’s just counting how many papers went out and how many came back. And now, mix that with the uncertainty of the newspaper business being in a severe, some say deathly, down turn. I’m along for the ride. What else do I have to do? as they say.

Are newspapers going away? I don’t know. Did trains “go away?” Did radio go away? Industries have to evolve to survive. When industry leaders care more about their profit than their mission, then they will cease making profit. Identifying that mission can be a challenge to a multi-generational industry. You hear it, but you don’t believe it.

There is certainly no shortage of news these days. It’s just that the newspapers can’t compete. Their biggest problem? They’re too costly to produce. Our metro daily wholesales for sixty-nine cents and thirty-two cents of that is just newsprint. Throw in the twenty-three cents to delivery it…well, you can add. It’s no wonder that some papers are choosing to cease printing one or more days of the week. The return is just not worth it.

My prediction

Well, as you know, I was very wrong in my early prediction on who the candidates would be. I predicted Hillary and Giuliani. Crazy, huh? But, one must be bold in one’s thoughts, so here goes for tomorrow:

Obama: 338 electoral votes

McCain: 200 electoral vote

This election has been so very different in so many ways. If Obama wins even bigger, I won’t be shocked. If McCain were to somehow win Florida and Virginia, that would probably mean he wins some other battleground states and he could win. Very unlikely as we look at it tonight, but not impossible.
As my friend Ken always chides me, “what do actually think about this, Richard?”

Well, it’s actually quite simple: this was a race until Sept. 17th. You know what happened that week. the market meltdown. Panic set in, and most folks blamed the status quo, read “republicans,” and that was that. Obama is “not that” and we want “not that”. Now, could Obama have won without that boost? Absolutely; as I said, it was real race.  But, now, we have to blame somebody for the meltdown, so who better to blame than the Republicans. It’s an easy out. The pendulum swings back and it will swing back again some day in the future.

Tomorrow, I’ll comment on our new President-elect.

Her name was Bernice

Marble Bust of Bernice MorrisonHer name was Bernice, though it seems many, including Carr Pritchett, spelled it Berenice, with an e in the middle. Is it pronounced the same? I don’t know; I assume so. I’m sticking with Bernice.

She comes from a time before the war, when Missouri had plantations and those plantation owners owned slaves. Those slaves tended the tobacco and hemp fields and that tobacco and hemp made Bernice’s grandfather very, very wealthy. That grandfather, known simply as “the captain” along with his wife Lucy raised Bernice from about the age of nine. Her mother had died when Bernice was just five and her father when she was just nine years of age.

Sara Catherine Swinney was Bernice’s mother’s name and she died at the young age of twenty-eight. I have done extensive research and have come up with literally nothing concerning the cause of the woman’s death. What I know for sure is that she was adored by her father. On her massive gravestone in Glasgow, in huge letters, just one word at the top: “Kate.”

Kate Swinney Grave

[author's note: I have created a page entitled "A Large Influence for Good" that you'll see at the top of the blog. This entry that you're reading now is the first installment of longer work that I've been researching for a while now. I will periodically use regular blog entries to write and then paste them into the page dedicated to the topic. Additionally, I will add directly to the page as I develop what I hope to be a magazine article.]

Two Couples

Richard & AnnetteIke & Mamie

Two couples; both married on July 1st. The couple on the left in 1983, the couple on the right in 1916. Both married in the bride’s mother’s living room. The couple on the right, in Denver CO. The couple on the left honeymooned in…that’s right, Denver CO. Supernatural baloney? Supernatural, perhaps. Baloney? Perhaps not.