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Saturday, April 12, 2014

What Day is it?

Easter Sunday has always been an important day but trying to figure out when that day will actually occur can be quite difficult which is why I, in all my wisdom continue to refer to the Roman Calendar or the Julian Calendar,  introduced by once great Julius Caesar as my ultimate guide to all things date related.  In truth I would forget my own birthday without the use of some outside devise to remind me.

But unlike the set date of a birthday or event in history, Easter has a peculiar set of rules that determines when it can be celebrated.  There are various holidays that have a “floating” date, meaning that the specific day changes from year to year with only a general range of time specified for that holiday. 

Christmas for example is always on the 25th of December, while Mothers Day is held on the second Sunday in May.  Presidents Day is held on the third Monday of February, the specific date changes from year to year, while St. Patrick’s Day is always held on March 17th.  There are a lot of Irish wannabes that would prefer a floating holiday so that this momentous occasion could occur on the weekend of every year but they continue to make due.

Cinco De Mayo always happens on the 5th of May, it kind of has too but Ash Wednesday falls on the specific day of 45 days prior to Easter Sunday, so if you messed up the Date of Easter you would have had to disregard your Ash reserves and forgo lent all together, maybe next year?
Determining the exact date of Easter Sunday requires a PhD in numerology, a Master in Chronology and a good sense of humor. 
Easter is a moveable feast, meaning it is not fixed in relation to the civil calendar. The First Council of Nicaea (325) established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon (the Paschal Full Moon, not just any full moon mind you…) following the March equinox. 
Ecclesiastically, the equinox is reckoned to be on 21 March (although the astronomical equinox occurs on 20 March in most years, so even though it’s fixed it varies…), and the "Full Moon" is not necessarily on the astronomically correct date. The date of Easter therefore varies from 22 March to 25 April inclusive. Eastern Christianity bases its calculations on the Julian calendar, whose 21 March corresponds, during the 21st century, to 3 April in the Gregorian calendar, and in which therefore the celebration of Easter varies between 4 April and 8 May.  That was easy, don’t you think, with Wikipedia’s help.
Regardless of the date, the determining factors of the planets and the gravitational pull of Pluto  on the sands of Hawaii beaches the Easter Holiday is even more difficult to comprehend now that  governments demand a retraction of the word “Easter” replacing the very name with “spring break”.  The essence of our beliefs are being strategically stripped away and whitewashed with the secularism of “political correctness”.
As student I looked forward to the “Easter Holiday” even if I didn't understand when it would be, exactly I knew it was coming and I would be able to have a week off of school.  I could count on having the week off prior to Easter Sunday with the added anticipation of friends and family gathering together for massive meals, laughter, Easter egg hunts and a religious event that gave me a substantial understanding of the importance of that day.
Today is Saturday, the Saturday prior to Easter Sunday and I have to admit I was a little surprised when I realized that Easter was tomorrow.  Each of my kids still in school had differing holiday breaks.  Some had off two weeks ago, some had their break one week ago and our German exchange student has her break next week.
The confusion of the date of Easter is bad enough but when the perplexity of the very holiday is bastardized and reduced to an afterthought then perhaps we have gone too far.  Easter is the culmination of all our Christian beliefs and encapsulates all that we believe.  To the Christian Easter is in remembrance of His resurrection and the pinnacle of His Divine nature.  Without Easter we have no Son of God, we have no hope for an afterlife, we have no reason to believe.
  Easter is perhaps the most important holiday that Christians have, so why have we allowed for its demarcation?  Why have we allowed it to be minimized and marginalized?  Perhaps it’s time to start actually defending this holiday, demanding that this holiday be reinstated and that the word Easter be used to define and describe this Holy Day rather than the insubordinate “spring break”.
Culturally we are in the fight for our souls. We may be losing the battle to secularism but we can still fight for the sanctity of our beliefs and at least be given the time off under the label for which it used to be, a religious holiday.  Perhaps if we take a stand on this we may learn to stand for other important events and who knows, maybe, one day we might start to see that needed change that brings to pass the pure message of love that was so eloquently and simply taught by the one and only Jesus Christ, the true Son of God.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Building a house into a home

For the past three weeks I've been restoring an old house, not extremely old but older than me.  Built in 1930, I could tell because on the old cracked plaster in the living room there was a written note from a Plem Peller, the Designer, I think, with the inscribed date of May 1930.   His or her, it’s hard to tell with a name like Plem wrote in bold cursive that had a flair for the dramatic in a style long forgotten with flowing letters and large P’s that started each word of his or her name.

I have been trying to uncover some of the history of this old house (not to be confused with the TV show) but interested in how the house was built, by whom it was built and why.  The history of who we are is so important and some of that has to include the things we create.  Knowing the history of a house changes the very essence of that building from a house to a home but so far I've been unable to even verify or substantiate the name Plem Peller.

Up one street and further east is another grand home and when I say grand I may be understating the fact.  This home was built in the 1920s by the Vice President of Perfection Stoves and heaters, William Clapp.  Doesn't ring any bells, it didn't for me either but the house is or was spectacular.  9 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms, slate roof, copper gutters and built as a Pennsylvania Colonial Revival, I didn't even know that Pennsylvania had a Colonial Revival let alone a home style.

With nearly 16,000 square feet of living space, yes sixteen thousand the rooms are huge and spacious, the accouterments are spectacular and easily on par with the estate at San Simian in California built by William Randolph Hurst.  It goes to show I guess what real money can do.  The history of that old house is really quite nice with only three owners over the past 90 years, two with large families and the last a pair of older, non married Las Vegas high rollers, an uncle, who continues to dye his hair and kept referring to me as “kid” reminiscent of the Vegas of days past, and his nephew who apparently sold a tech company for millions a few years past. Both it seems the house and the pair has had better days.

I could go on about that grand palace of a home and the current owners but the salient point is in the process of making a house into a home.  It really has nothing to do with the building style, the architecture or trappings of wealth nor those difficulties of poverty.  A home is a creation and must be built in almost the same fashion as the actual construction of the building.  A home needs to be orchestrated and planed using solid materials and techniques that ensure stability and safety.  Failure to follow the plans will ensure instability and eventual failure of the very thing one is trying to build. 

Whether it be a castle or a humble four wall lean to the plans needed to build a home are essentially more important than those to build a house.  I look at my own life and the homes my wife and I have created.  I've built or remodeled every home we've lived in trying to make the structure of that house more livable, nicer and more in line with our dreams of building a home.  During the process of constructing that superficial life the building of our home continues.

Even after the last nail is driven or the paint has long sense dried the process of building a home never ends.   Even when the children are grown and gone the necessity of a home built on a substantial foundation should never be overlooked.  It is in that foundational process that a home continues to survive and thrive. 

I can build a house, I could probably build a castle, and I would need some physical help at this point in my life but I have to admit that I could not build a home by myself.  The partnerships needed, the cooperation of time and effort, the designation of love and companionship, the humility and compassion required to sustain others is a full time job and for most require the help of another.  To this I thank my wife eternally for she has been there with me to drive each nail of love, lift each and every wall of sanctity, and sustain the foundational principles that ensure that what we've built remains standing.
It can be done alone and many courageous men and women have stepped up to carry those burdens.  They have done a wonderful job but the real fight to maintain a home is so much better with a loving, devoted husband and wife, male and female, creating that essential balance that life requires in order to successfully excel from one generation to the next.

Next time you have to make a repair to your house, a loose door knob, a broken window or even a complete remodel, don’t forget the lessons learned.  We need to tighten the bolts of our foundations, repaint our interiors and tune up our minds and spirits in order to maintain the integrity of the spirit that is ultimately the gauge of whether we live in a house or a home.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

rtdezine: Unequal pay

rtdezine: Unequal pay: Today is the day that the salaries of Men and Women are compared.  I guess you could call it salary day or lack of salary day for the many w...

Unequal pay

Today is the day that the salaries of Men and Women are compared.  I guess you could call it salary day or lack of salary day for the many women who get short changed by the “system” or perhaps clap your hands in joy and smile allot with a stupid grin day if you’re a man.  It takes approximately 15 months for an average woman to make what a man makes in 12.  The question is why?  Why do women make less for doing exactly the same work as their male counterparts?

One suggested reason is the inability of many women to negotiate properly for themselves.  Many women undersell their own abilities, fail to negotiate using their strengths and are hesitant about promoting themselves, fearful of coming across as crass, or insensitive, leaning more toward the desire to be accepted and liked rather than rock the boat for better pay and benefits.

There was a study done recently regarding the position of women as negotiators and an interesting pattern emerged; women may not do well negotiating for themselves but when they fight for another woman the salaries tend to be equal to that of their male associates, helping researches to understand the underlying motivations of women.

Women really are the nurtures and caregivers, thinking of others before themselves.  They routinely use compassion and rely upon their feelings when making decisions.  The analytical aspects are not left out but the bonus of empathy creates a balance that perhaps brings a more rounded and long term solution to any given problem.  To many this may sound like a push toward segregation of duties and a push back to the days before “women’s lib”. 

There are many, both women and men who pine for the old days when men would go off to work, slave all day in the preverbial coal mines of industry, leaving the wife to care for the kids, leaving her dressed in peals and high heels, her day solely dedicated to her husband and the care of their offspring.  There is some credence to their arguments for societal reasons with one being that if more women stayed home the children of this world would be better suited for today’s challenges.  Another is that if women stayed home the jobs they currently possess would have to go to the men letting them be the primary breadwinners and providers with the end result being a more stable family life.

The reality however is much more complicated and controversial than a simple fix of all women quitting their jobs and donning aprons over dresses.  Women were essentially forced to work during the Second World War, when production of war materials was needed and available men were not available.  Women stepped up and liked the independence and freedom and have been a major force in the work place ever sense.

I wonder how many women would like to turn back the hands of time and revert back to what used to be.  How many would opt for a life of homemaker, help meet or handmaiden or more appropriately domestic partner.  Wondering is only that a dream of insignificant proportions for the reality far exceeds the desire for most, even for those who wish fervently most women have to work regardless of what they truly believe or desire, and that brings us back to the essential question of why women get paid less for doing the same job as men.

As suggested above it’s primarily a negotiating issue and in a large part only in relation to the salaried employees.  Hourly pay for men and women are essentially equal.  Men do get promoted easier and that is still an issue to overcome but for salaried employees and only those in private industry the issue of pay is due to a woman’s inability to sell herself.

It has been suggested and studied that when women stop looking at themselves as the target of negotiated salary discussions and start using their spouses, their children and even their pets, their mortgages, car payments etc…as the motivator the salary negotiations turn out to be more in line with a mans. 

Obviously men and women should be paid the same for doing the same job, really no discussion there.  Should women stay home, are they better suited for domestic life, perhaps but those realities of our own making have made that scenario very improbable.  Kudos for those who accomplish that goal and also desire to live that life but for many women and I know this is hard to do, stop thinking of yourselves when negotiating  your salary, start thinking of others first.  Stop being so selfish and start thinking about your husband’s retirement or your kid’s college or your pets, they all depend on you to bring home the bacon.  If you’re going to work you might as well be well paid.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The grandeur of the watchful gander

In a solitary field covered mostly with snow, the faint lines of the football grid could be seen but no players, no fans, no concessionaires hawking their wares.  Almost in the middle of this vacant field sat two birds, one slightly larger than the other, the other sitting, its legs folded gracefully underneath its body its long neck curved in an arch allowing its head to curl into the warmth of the feathers on its back.

Presumably as it rested the other, larger bird stood erect, its head straight up, its head moving slowing from side to side, its body only inches away from his resting companion.  The occasional piece of trash would fly over the once green pastures of competition causing the larger goose to follow its path but it never moved and only watched, waiting for a real threat.

The busy road passing the football field had hundreds of cars driving by in all directions, there were students leaving school, ignoring the field and the sole occupants of the grid iron, more concerned with the thoughts of boyfriends, homework and getting across the street to the bus stop to worry about the two birds on the field.

Had they looked they would have easily seen the two geese, the two devoted companions resting in this place of supposed solitary protection.  They would have seen the resting one and the one standing guard and would have seen the lesson of life that many of us forget.  They were too busy, too rushed, too involved to notice the profound example of life at its best.  They without the eyes to see could not fathom the fidelity of one to another and the glory surrounding that emotion of service.

Vigilant and attentive the geese stayed and rested, too weary perhaps to continue on their southward migration.  They sought out a refuge of land and found the football field, right in the heart of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and right on the edge of two major streets, protected only by a thin fence.  As I watched waiting for the light at the intersection to change two students jumped the fence and entered the field.  Their goal was not to harm the geese, it seems as though they only wanted a short cut from one street to the other but as soon as the two entered onto the field the guarding goose moved into action and without fear or hesitation moved its wings to their full width and honked its loud cry in warning to the approaching students, they quickly altered their path, staying on the rubberized track and taking the long way around.

The sitting goose never moved, its head still buried deep into its feather, knowing the other would watch and protect.  Knowing that the rest it needed would be reciprocated soon for her companion and she would stand tall and watch while he slept.  In concert they fly, they feed and live almost as one, a marriage of nature and perhaps of God though design they follow their genetic blueprint as most animals do but in their adherence we learn the true purpose of life.

“Chose this day whom ye will serve…” for that service will determine who we become.  Who is it that we truly wish to be?  The geese may not have a choice in the matter, a goose is a goose and a lion is a lion but man has the ability to be whatever he chooses and therein lays the mystery of life.  Some choices are obviously very difficult and some are almost impossible based on circumstances and past choices but in all cases a choice can be made.  An incremental decision to change the past, alter the future and start the move toward the divine nature that is inherent in all of us.

The goose may be only a goose but that devoted trait is laudable and admirable, not only to other geese but to those who had the privilege to witness nature performing at its best.  Following the natural path is best left for the animals but for man who has the beautiful and wonderful ability to choose regardless of genetic predisposition and past habits or circumstances, he can change his life in an instance and do so for good or ill, never really being bound to the genetic powers that control the migrations or habits of the animal world.  He is completely free to change whatever he will change the only problem is in his will to change and in that desire to want to seek the truths that set him free.

I chose to be more like that goose, proudly watching and serving my companion, doing by duty regardless of the threats and discomforts of life, staying the course despite the pressures of life pulling me and swaying me toward more pleasurable option, short term fixes that only ensnare and eventually enslave.  I want to be free to fly away, free to choose to continue to choose knowing that a wrong choice only limits those future choices and limits my essential ability to progress.

Those geese did eventually leave, having rested and regained their strength but their short visit gave to me a renewed and inspired view of my own need to be vigilant and at the same time being with others who can watch over me while I need to rest.  

Thursday, March 6, 2014

tumbleweeds and Math

Driving on the 215 freeway north toward Romoland, population, who cares, a giant tumbleweed pushed by the wind dodged through the traffic with an almost sentient purpose of playing chicken (If I have to explain the game of chicken…well just look it up).

As my little Toyota Corolla approached the game was on.  The tumbleweed seemed to grow in anticipation of the match, his thorny and jagged appendages stiff against the forces of the other vehicles that sped past, his stance stable and waiting, slightly moving from side to side but right in the middle of the lane.

From my perspective the tumbleweed was a giant with a diameter of nearly six feet across and a circumference of what looked like a rolling monster of prickly brown barbs ready to scratch and maim the thin red paint of my car.  But this was a contest, a challenge, a dual of epic proportions, it was me against nature and my little red cars paint be damned I was not going to be the first to blink.

With each passing meter my hands gripped the wheel, holding the car steady, my audible words of comfort and support telling the little warrior to “stay the course, there’s nothing that weed can do to us”, leaving out the obvious that the cars finish and luster could be compromised by the encounter, I didn't want to scare the little guy.

The truth be told I really didn't have a choice in this encounter with destiny, the semi-truck on one side and the shoulder of the road on the other prevented me from moving out of the lane and cowering into a more practical position of neutrality.  So there I was only a second from impact, instinctively covering my eyes from the impending explosion of thorns and seed pods when a gust of wind, too strong for even the mighty tumbleweed, pushed the soldier ten feet into the other lane.

The old Mac Truck with its huge front grill, polished to perfection with gleaming chrome and shiny black paint hit the monster head on, demolishing the tumbleweed into a billion shards of sharpened pins, the life of that tumbleweed was over.

But like all horror stories the evil never really dies it only morphs and changes to rise again, greater and meaner than ever before.  The tumbleweed is very much like an unknown nemesis, sitting quietly on the side of the road, stacked against fences and walls, just waiting for its chance to spread its prickly progeny in any uninfected areas.

Just like in western’s, I've always liked the drama of witnessing the fight of man against nature or Indians, the fast guns and the faster good guys but in almost all such stories the glaring untruth of the tumbleweed seems ever-present.    The tumbleweed is not a native to the US and it certainly was not around during the rush toward the west.  It was not a constant reminder of the sadness of the cowboy or the lonesome or dreary existence of the trials faced by the pioneers.  It does however share in the current persona that is the old west and in some small part in the perseverance and almost insurmountable resolve demonstrated by those early explorers and settlers.

 Through Hollywood’s early intervention the tumbleweed has become an Icon and has developed the reputation as the official representative of all things forlorn and all things western.  But the humble beginnings of the tumbleweed in the US tells a different story, not a story of resolve or tenacity, nor one of firmness or determination but one of a lackadaisical, unpretentious, lazy, ne'er-do-well, taking advantage of others hard work and secretly imposing itself in all that is pure and undisturbed. 

Originally known as Salsola tragus or Russian thistle this pervasive weed is a hitchhiker from the Ukraine and most likely made its American Debut in an unassuming shipment of flax seed, ending up in a desolate area of South Dakota around the years 1870-1874.  No one really noticed and no one really cared but the expansion of the weed filled the country like a “weed” (sorry couldn't resist).

From 1870 to now the tumbleweed is found in virtually every Midwest and western state with serious incursions into Mexico and parts of Canada.  From very humble beginning this weed has not only demonstrated its resolve but its floundering woefulness.  Perhaps it could have been controlled or even eradicated but initial efforts would have had to be profound, immediate and swift.  Like many things insidious the tumbleweed took hold and filled the environment, changing the very landscape and the opinion of that evil into the one we have today, an accepted and important part of our history. Unfortunately and just like all history, the memory of what really happened has been rewritten to accommodate the victorious.

The weeds of our society are more pervasive than most of us realize and the history that is being written about our resolve will also be recorded based on how we react to those initial invasions.  Math is a good example.  As a teacher teaching math has always been a challenge but recent changes in educational attitudes have demonstrated the lack of resolve to do what is needed to ensure math proficiency.    New programs seem to be introduced each year with promises of student heightened learning and greater understanding and each year most students move on through the courses with little or no basic understanding of math.

We have forsaken the very basic principles of teaching and have allowed students behaviors to dictate educational necessity.  Learning math requires practice, doing problems over and over again, memorizing facts and tables so the basics of math become automatic.  Learning higher skills without the basics can never really be accomplished.  So it is with life lessons. 

When we pander to societies, mostly our youth, desire not to work and still offer fulfillment we are only adding to their lifelong discontent and their eventual hatred toward those who allowed them to succeed without merit and without work and so it is with the tumbleweed.  Moving by the winds of change, no real work involved, simply being and depositing its ill gotten spawn wherever they rest. 

We are a society of tumbleweeds, holding none to blame and requiring nothing.  It’s time to sit them down, make them sit, make them work, make them do problem after problem until they understand the realities of responsibility and the joy of real learning through honest effort….It may already be too late but like the old saying “better late than never”.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Modern Slavery

There is an estimated 700,000 sex slaves in the world today. 700,000 people, boys, girls, sisters, brothers, daughters and sons, forced into an incredible world of hedonistic, violence, drugs and forcible rape.   That 700,000  is only an estimate of those forcibly taken and does not include those young girls and boys who work the streets within civilized cities, runaways and lost children who are manipulated into thinking they are worthless and must comply in order to survive.  All of these unfortunate souls are forced into a life of unbelievable violence degradation.

The economics of slavery are in full force with many forced into addictions to ensure their compliance, forced to sell their bodies under the watchful overview of a pimp, who proclaims to be their benefactor but can easily make 300,000 per girl, per year, making this form of capitalism worth 21,000,000 billion a year.

If you were a slave there were ways to broker your freedom. Once you were free you stayed that way.  An important turning point was the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Emancipation Proclamation broadened the goals of the Civil War. While slavery had been a major issue that led to the war, Lincoln's only mission at the start of the war was to keep the Union together. The Proclamation made freeing the slaves an explicit goal of the Union war effort, and was a step towards outlawing slavery and conferring full citizenship upon ex-slaves.

What we need today, for the nearly 27 million slaves worldwide, is a new Emancipation Proclamation, a document that unifies the world to the unspeakable atrocities of human trafficking and slavery.  There are more slaves now than in anytime in world history and we think we've come so far? 

Slavery in the early 19th century had a relative cost of around $40,000 per slave, creating a serious investment and commitment with the realization that most slaves were well kept (still slaves) but they were fed and cared for and for the most part the owner understood at least the economic considerations of keeping his investment profitable.

Today a modern slave can average about $90 with some prostitutional costs hitting the higher levels of cost, make up, clothes, jewelry, no visible bruising nor strung out, non-responsive products, that all costs money to maintain.  The other side, the lower end, is mostly within the third world where children are sold for a few dollars by desperate fathers and mothers in order to buy rice for the remaining children. No maintenance needed, just work them until they die. 

From an economic stand it’s easy to make back your initial investment without having to worry about maintaining or “marketing” the product.    Supply and Demand has worked well within the modern slave trade, especially within the third world, providing unscrupulous land owners, businesses, pimps, etc…with a well of ready and replaceable bodies that virtually cost them nothing.

Not too long ago unsuspecting parents and teen age girls were lured into a scam of modeling and free trips to Paris when at the last moment the police stepped in and rescued the girls who were getting ready to board the plan that would have taken them away from their mothers and fathers, not for the promises of fame and fortune but to be sold to lecherous and evil traffickers that prey on the unsuspecting.  These girls and families were the lucky ones, hundreds of thousands of others are not so lucky and many are never found, alive or dead.

Slavery in any form is still Slavery and it needs to be abolished and those responsible given the harshest of sentences imaginable.  Just like the children of African families, the mothers ripped from their husbands arms the daughters displaced and sons stolen in unmerciful raids of familiar theft.  The scars that never healed are still a part of our society, even now, generations later those scars are a visible and constant reminder of a serious breach in morality.

Modern slavery is having the same effect but on an even greater scale.  The 27 million is only an estimate of the true numbers and it is feared that those currently enslaved is much higher, with the related costs and lifelong burdens, the psychological effects, the loss of humanity, at the peak of our existence.  Like slavery throughout history it is assumed that it is an historical phenomenon, many believing that we are a better people more enlightened, more sensitive, we would never allow such a thing to happen in our age.  But just like the slave trades across the Atlantic, and just like the slaves sold to eastern European royals and just like the slaves by the Japanese during the wars, slavery is and will most likely remain with us a stark reminder of how little progress we actually make as “enlightened humans”, we are now worse than ever before.

When profits outweigh morality, when political capital outshines honesty the cause of the human condition will always be a shadow in the glaring reflections of those that lead.  We have too many shadows today, not enough light to shine away those black places, not enough glory to banish the darkness. 

And I guess the worst part is those shadows of darkness are growing, infecting our own souls, our children and our families as we feign from left to right, dodging the shafts of gleaming reality, lurking, slinking from the truth that is our lives.  We can do so much better, be brighter and more of a shining light to all who see.  But alas the world of woe strains hard at our measure, leading us to disbelieve in ourselves and in our own divinity….