The Thirty Minute Blogger

Exploring Books and the Writer's Life, Faith and Works, Culture and Pop Culture, Space Science and Science Fiction, Technology and Nostalgia, Parenting and Childhood, Health: Physical and Emotional ... All Under the Iron Hands of the Clock and That 30 Minute Deadline

Friday, August 31, 2012

Book Review: A Man On The Moon by Andrew Chaikin

In honor of Neil Armstrong's passing, I offer you a marvelous look back at the Apollo program and the 24 heroes who are/were the only humans ever to walk on the face of another celestial body. This book is 670 pages of well researched, very well written text covering the moon program and all those who flew to and returned from the moon. Here is an excellent history of what we once achieved when we had vision and courage, despite living in desperately difficult times. Moon walks were no cake walks. As stated in the cover blurb, "After the horror of the Kennedy and King assassinations, amid the deepening quagmire of Vietnam, the moon landing brought the sixties to a triumphant end." I highly recommend this book. Do not be daunted by its size, be inspired by its history and the clear-eyed, engaging way that history is told. In 2007, this amazing book was published in a new edition with an Afterword commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Space Age.

To honor Neil Armstrong, here's a short passage on the challenges faced in the LM's descent to the lunar surface, which so many of us watched in black and white on TV on the night of July 20, 1969 (I fell asleep before Neil and Buzz actually set foot on the moon's surface ... but I knew they had made it safely there).

As the LM got very close to the moon, Armstrong and Aldrin would enter the most hazardous portion of the descent. Somewhere in the last 200 feet, they would be too low to abort successfully if the descent engine quit, for the LM would be going too fast for the ascent engine to arrest the lander's plunge and start the ascent stage upward again. The astronauts, borrowing a term from helicopter pilots, called this part of the descent the "dead man's curve." ... 
In these final moments Armstrong's gaze would be directed almost entirely at the moon, and he would rely on Aldrin's steady reports on altitude, horizontal speed, and descent rate. The first part of the LM to touch the moon would be the three long metal probes attached to the footpads; at that moment, a blue light labeled LUNAR CONTACT would glow on the instrument panel. Aldrin would be watching for the contact light, ready to call it out. At that moment, Armstrong would shut down the engine, and the LM would fall the remaining three feet to the surface. (pp. 167-168)

To give you a sense of just how risky this business was, Michael Collins orbiting overhead had been trained in 18 different methods of rescue and recovery of the LM should something go wrong during descent or ascent.  This landing had never been done before and the risks were high. I strongly recommend you get a copy of this book and find out about all the other risks and threats that truly made these 24 men and all those who supported them back on earth real heroes of exploration.

Here's hoping we return to deeper space soon, in honor of Neil and the other 23, and for the benefit of ourselves and the rest of the world.

Oh by the way, today, August 31, 2012, there will be the second full moon of the month. This is the rare "blue moon." It is also the day that Neil Armstrong will be laid to rest. How appropriate for such a rare breed of explorer.


If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at: http://www.oldlinepublishing.com/bookstore-marketplace/children-s-books/michael-and-the-new-baby/ldren-s-books/michael-and-the-new-baby/


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dealing with Difficult People in Dangerous Times: Finding the Soft Side


When living in volatile times, dealing with people who have been immersed in dangerous ideologies and encouraged by strident propaganda in many forms, it is useful to turn to someone who survived the experience for wisdom on how to deal with such people. Paul Ruseabagina, hotel manager of the Milles Collines in Rwanda, is one such person. On April 6, 1994, Rwanda descended into hell. The nation's president was assassinated and centuries-old divisions between the Hutus and Tutsis rose up and lead to the slaughter of far too many. During the genocide that followed, Paul Ruseabagina was able to save over 1200 Tutsi and moderate Hutu refuges hiding inside his luxury hotel. He used the talents he'd honed as a hotel manager for flattering and changing the minds of difficult people to help keep these innocents alive while so many others were dying in the streets, in their homes, and in the churches they had taken sanctuary within. Here is his reflection on one approach to dealing with persons who have come to kill others. Note that there is no Rambo or John McLean in this approach, but a far more subtle tactic, a tactic that worked.
I have since thought a great deal about how people are able to maintain two attitudes in their minds at once. Take the colonel. He had come fresh from a world of machetes, road gangs, and random death and yet was able to have a civilized conversation with a hotel manager over a glass of beer and let himself be talked out of committing another murder. He had a soft side and a hard side and neither was in absolute control of his actions. It would have been dangerous to assume that he was this way or that way at any given point in the day.  … The cousin of brutality is a terrifying normalcy. So I tried never to see these men in terms of black and white. I saw them instead in degrees of soft and hard. It was the soft that I was trying to locate inside them; once I could get my fingers into it, the advantage was mine. If sitting down with abhorrent people and treating them as friends is what it took to get through to that soft side, then I was more than happy to pour the Scotch.  
From An Ordinary Man: An Autobiography  

Food for thought in contentious days ...


If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at: http://www.oldlinepublishing.com/bookstore-marketplace/children-s-books/michael-and-the-new-baby/ldren-s-books/michael-and-the-new-baby/


How The Dark Knight Rises Should Have Ended

 Here's a little bit of humor to start or end the day. It is always best to have a little something to laugh about, especially since adults have such a great laughter deficit in their lives. There are so many possible alternative endings here. Which one do you like the best?


If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at: http://www.oldlinepublishing.com/bookstore-marketplace/children-s-books/michael-and-the-new-baby/ldren-s-books/michael-and-the-new-baby/


Monday, August 27, 2012

Gently Put Away Pain and Fear of Past Challenges

On the ordination trail for ministry, my path went through a counseling center in Massachusetts. I met with skilled individuals with whom I explored my past and saw just how profoundly our early years can impact the present decades later. Over the years of seminary, I had shed some childhood and college fears (foreign languages -- I did much better in New Testament Greek than Junior High French [in retrospect, is that really such a big surprise] and similar matters). However, in this center we got down to the nitty-gritty of it all.

As a kid, I'd had eye troubles. My eyes would not track across a page of text, find the next line, and move on. I'd lose my place at the end of each line, have to find what was read, find the next line, read it, and repeat. The muscles in the eyes just would not coordinate. It cost me two years of schooling to get those eyes straightened out. Well, I was in school, but learning what was offered with my very slow reading speed was challenging at the very best. Yet, as a kid, I refused to believe this issue in any way impacted upon my intellect or my ability to learn. I saw the bad grades associated with my struggles as signs of my own faults (laziness, lack of gumption, whatever you want to call it) and I was ashamed. As a result, I didn't come into my own in school until my junior year of high school. From second grade until eleventh feeling shame and refusing to admit my eyes had been in any way contributing to the problem. That's a lot of years of needless guilt. Let me tell you this. You carry that around with you decades later. It does not go away easily. 

But the counselors put it in perspective for me. They pointed out what an achievement it was to go from someone who could not read well to someone who not only loves to read but writes for a living as something quite close to astonishing. I had never thought of it that way. I finally gave myself permission to both accept the struggle for what it was and to look and see how far I'd come from those early years and all I'd accomplished despite those lost years and the struggles throughout that period. 

Now I can gently put away that pained child and the fears he felt, packing them back into the past where they belong. I'll move forward reminding myself just how far I've come and all I've done since and feel ready for the next challenges to come down the line rather than feeling shame for what was in the past that I had very little control over anyway. It's time to move forward. 

Is there anything in your life from long ago that still burdens you? Have you stopped to think how far you've come since then and all you've managed to accomplish in spite or because of those struggles? 

And, if you know and love a child who is currently struggling, tell them to take heart. They too can accomplish much in the future. Tell them a short version of my story if you think it will help. 

Have a blessed day, free from the burdens of the past.

My heartfelt thanks to the good counselors in Massachusetts for the wonderful work that they do in such a caring way.


If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at: http://www.oldlinepublishing.com/bookstore-marketplace/children-s-books/michael-and-the-new-baby/ldren-s-books/michael-and-the-new-baby/


Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Question for Leaders is Why?

I was listening to a TED talk by Simon Sinek entitled "How Great Leaders Inspire Action." As I'm headed for ministry, I wanted to see what he said had to be done. The talk was intriguing and challenging. He stated that an organization can be divided into three spheres, the outermost equaling What is done, the second circle in is How it is done, and the innermost, crucial circle is Why it is done. Every visionary leader has been able to answer succinctly Why he or she does what she or he does. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an example. Dr. King's "Why" was, "There is God's law and there is human law. Until God's law replaces human law, there will be no peace." It is short, sweet, and powerful.

This is a challenge I found worth taking. I am working it out. The basics for it I am pleased to say were present in me all along. However, as any writer knows, it's how you say it that is more than half the battle. Saying it well means you have refined it well in your mind as did Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. What follows is a very rough draft with the basic "Why" statement followed by its explanation in multiple parts. Is this the sort of vision you'd follow? Does this inspire action in you? I'd like to know.


Why do I pursue ministry? Why do I believe? Why am I willing to serve?

I believe in the wonderful community God has planned for humanity. God invites us all to help build that community, and the peace, joy, and justice for all that accompany it.

I believe the living, loving God offers us the opportunity to help build God’s community* here on earth. I believe in showing others they have that opportunity.

I believe our personal God, the Creator of all, came to earth in Jesus to show us how best to create and live in that divine community.

I believe Jesus left us God’s Holy Spirit, the Spirit that empowered Jesus, as our personal guides and provider of courage, that we might fearlessly proclaim and help to build God’s community.

I believe that Jesus, in coming and obeying God by doing all he did and saying all he said, threw open the door we had erected between ourselves and our loving God in our misplaced desire to "do it all by ourselves." Out of love for us all, Jesus  took that opened door off its hinges and shredded it so that it could never be closed by us again. God will never be shut out that way again. God did all this for love of us.

I believe this loving God not only has a plan for the divine community of peace and joy for all humanity, but also has a plan for each of our lives, a plan that, while challenging and even frightening at times, leads to joy through service to others. I believe this is what we are made for and what we most fervently desire, even when we are not aware of it.

This I believe. This I want to share. The joy this brings me I want to kindle in others. I want us to journey together as members of God’s wonderful community, gathering others along the way as they are attracted to the joy we share. This is what gets me up in the morning. This is why I serve God and others. 

* This community has been referred to in the past as the in-breaking Kingdom of God. Today, I believe "community" is a term more easily grasped. Others have chose "ecology of God" to be more all encompassing. I find "community" more direct.

To hear the original TED talk, go to: http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html

I encourage you to take the challenge yourself. It is quite the exercise.


If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at: http://www.oldlinepublishing.com/bookstore-marketplace/children-s-books/michael-and-the-new-baby/ldren-s-books/michael-and-the-new-baby/


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Adventures in Fitness 10: One Guy's Attempt to Knock the Rust Off: What You Watch Makes of Difference!

My adventures take place at a gym that has all the machines pointing toward a bank of TVs at the front of the facility and little units with headphone jacks strapped to each machine. I've sampled the offerings and I can tell you this--of the various networks, and this is one guy's unscientific opinion, the very worst to watch while exercising is any food/cooking network. Don't get me wrong, the programming itself isn't inherently bad, but, before the workout is partly complete, your stomach is growling, you are distracted and off your pace, and you are destined to go home and eat up those calories you worked hard to burn off. News networks are next in line on the negative distraction scale. They suck you in with some item you find intellectually stimulating and then make an abrupt turn into pontification on some issue that is just designed to piss you off. Before long you are off your stride, cursing under your breath, and no longer receiving the benefits of stress reduction that good exercise can provide. The various reality programming (with the exception of chefs screaming at hapless cooks ... why don't any of those guys end up with broken noses?) can provide stimulating amusement that distracts you from your own body's various complaints, especially in the early stages of your training when your body will whine relentlessly for the first ten or fifteen minutes trying to make you quit before begrudgingly giving up and going along with the exercise. In this case, distraction is good ... especially with shows in which contestants are involved in physical activities. It's nice to see someone else struggling along with you. It beats sneaking peeks at the person next to you who has obviously been training for YEARS and is moving ever so much faster than YOU. Best of all for this guy trying to knock the rust off, is the sports channel programming. They may occasionally make comments about your team that mildly pisses you off, but that's expected. Mostly though, the pace is fast, the comments upbeat, the music quick tempo, and the conversation lacks a depth of intellect requiring severe concentration to follow. Perfect! So there you have it.

Happy exercising, whatever you choose to watch ... or not. 

P.S. As an alternative, try tuning out and practicing the spiritual discipline of silence. Pick one word you want to focus on (perhaps joy or endurance) and repeat it to yourself over and over again. If you have good balance, close your eyes while you do this for brief periods and see what you can accomplish. You might discover you are even more relaxed than usual after your routine.


If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at: http://www.oldlinepublishing.com/bookstore-marketplace/children-s-books/michael-and-the-new-baby/ldren-s-books/michael-and-the-new-baby/


Adventures in Fitness 9: One Guy's Attempt to Knock the Rust Off: Listening to the Body and More

Part of me wanted to consider this week an "epic fail" on the exercise front. After a full day's work and volunteer work with our church's Vacation Bible School in the evening, I was "dog tired" and my body was crying for sleep, not a trip to the gym. That combined with the stress and lack of sleep over a difficult situation that is promising to get more difficult before it gets better, by Friday night I was calling it a day by 9:30 PM, even though we had no VBS that night. Again no gym.

This morning I returned to the routine and was greatly surprised. My body sang when the routine began and throughout what became a marathon two hour session (okay wise guy, we'll see what you call it when YOU'RE 52, have just come off 6 1/2 years of even and weekend courses for YOUR M.Div. degree, and ... sorry, getting a little defensive there) in which I ran faster on the elliptical and arc trainer (what I've been apparently mistakenly calling a stair stepper until now ... thanks Google) than ever before and lifted weights with greater ease. It seems the week away gave my body a chance to recover and the muscles a chance to knit up bigger and better than before. So what I had thought of as an "epic fail" became a win. Moral of that story, listen to your body and take the breaks your body tells you it needs. Don't use this as an excuse to drop your exercise routine but don't abuse yourself in pursuit of an arbitrary schedule. If you persist in doing so, your body may just find a way to sideline you for a month or more to get even. I know; I've been there.

The little revelations just keep coming (well, they're revelations to me buddy). I wonder what I'll discover next.


If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at: http://www.oldlinepublishing.com/bookstore-marketplace/children-s-books/michael-and-the-new-baby/ldren-s-books/michael-and-the-new-baby/


Thursday, August 23, 2012

NASA Rover Curiosity Makes First Mars Trip, Continues to Make History!

 All is well with the Curiosity rover's drive system as it makes its first test drive on Mars. The rover is ready to go. It has fired its laser, used its chemistry cam, and now started its long journey of discovery on Mars. Our avatar is now ready to take us exploring ...  and with HD cameras so we at home can join the mission vicariously. What more could you want? Well, maybe Marvin the Martian showing up ... but besides that.

Let's hope some quaint little town doesn't crop up with long dead relatives of the rover crew eager to great them. That's my round about way of saying the crew has honored sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury by naming the landing site after him.

Complete MSL Curiosity Descent - Full Quality Enhanced 1080p + Heat Shie...

 Here is a view never seen by humans before. The descent and successful landing of a rover on Mars. Here Curiosity's heat shield is ejected and the landing completed using the brand new Sky Crane system. Now, you get to see it in color HD video. Enjoy the ride. Welcome to Mars!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Promoting Ignorance Ain't Bliss: We Reap the Whirlwind of Dumb

There's a foul wind blowing in the world today ... and it smells like stupid. It is the fragrant harvest from the eager plantings of the seeds of ignorance in many toxic forms for many decades. It has consequences, for individuals and humanity alike.

Republican Representative Todd Akin is the most recent devotee of dumb who unwittingly yanked aside the curtain and exposed the smallness of the person who follows the credo "keep 'em ignorant, keep 'em happy in their ignorance, give 'em bread and circuses so we can steamroll them." Rep. Akin promoted the incredibly ignorant stance of many radical anti-abortion activists that states in cases of "legitimate rape" (Rep. Akin's words) the woman's body will shut the reproductive system down and she won't get pregnant. Medical professionals will tell you that stance is as ignorant as the ancient Greek belief that women who stood on hilltops when days were windy would become pregnant. I'm delighted to report that this incredibly ignorant pronouncement was jumped on by nearly everyone, including the Republican Party hierarchy (to their credit). Rep. Akin compounded the problem by defending himself with the statement, "I misspoke one word in one sentence on one day, and all of a sudden, overnight, everybody decides, 'Well, Akin can't possibly win." What foolishness. Perhaps devious foolishness. It certainly tries to divert attention from the main issue. The real, vile, contemptible thesis behind this statement is that no woman who becomes pregnant in a rape has truly been raped. She must have "wanted it" or "enjoyed it" as no woman who is truly raped will ever get pregnant. Her reproductive system will shut down or throw up "God's little shield" as they like to say, trying desperately to wrap this evil lie in religion. And of course, all of this is being promoted by a member of the power structure that decides the laws of the nation. Women, how many of the males in the House and Senate do you imagine harbor the same vile idea and will seek to use it to deny abortion (a tragic but sometimes necessary option) to you all under any circumstance?

Since this was written, it has come out that VP hopeful Paul Ryan endorses this view of rape. The Republican party has placed an abortion plank (very conservative, not beneficial to women) in their party platform based on this bad science couched in biological ignorance. Further, Mitt Romney is employing the tactics of ignorance by continually lying about the current administration's reform to Welfare, stating that the President has removed the back to work provision. This has been found to be a blatant lie by all fact checking organizations. But, Romney and crew continue to use it because the ways of ignorance require repetition. It is known that if you repeat something, no matter how foolish, long enough and loud enough, some people will believe you. In an exercise of collective ignorance, in this age, we have chosen to be skeptical of all organizations, no matter how non-partisan, that do not agree with our personal opinions, especially those opinions fertilized with rank stupidity. This creates a perpetuation of ignorance that leads to incredibly bad decision making ... such as, rough 30 U.S. states give rapists parental rights! What?! Oh yes! Ignorance based decision making reaps the "whirlwind of dumb," creating much suffering when acted upon.(Seem like a one-sided political rant ... well, Todd Akin started it and gave me my launching point but neither party is free of blame in this regard. Both have made and perpetuated incredibly dumb decisions based on faulty data ... ask our military personnel how that has worked out for them.)

We live in an anti-intellectual climate where all experts are suspect and any idea requiring research or actual thought is deemed a lie. If we continue to move forward in this way, we will continue to foul our own nests and bring about our own downfall. There are too many of us and our tools are too powerful now to let ourselves fall into the clutches of ignorance. We must not allow those who apparently don't have our best interests at heart continue to manipulate us with ignorance in all its forms to their profit and our loss. It could be the death of us all if we continue down this path of rampant stupidity.

Pick up a book, do some research, defy the powers of ignorance. It never leads to bliss. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Laughter as Defense

Balance power with laughter!
I quote from Robert Darden's wonderful book Jesus Laughed: The Redemptive Power of Humor (which I recommend to everyone):

Laughter is hope's last weapon.
Crowded on all sides with idiocy and ugliness, pushed to concede that the final apocalypse seems to be upon us, we seem nonetheless to nourish laughter as our only remaining defense. Or perhaps better stated, our laughter is our way of crossing ourselves. It shows that despite the disappearance of any empirical basis for hope, we have not stopped hoping.
Wonderful words for trying times. Everywhere you look, you find screamers telling you of doom and destruction (it is a political year after all AND the end of the Mayan calendar AAAHHHH!!). Death to all who don't believe like me. Doom for all who don't follow MY party, MY slogan, MY campaign rhetoric. Laugh at them all. Spread joy in the midst of chaos. Angry elements don't like laughter, not one little bit. They can't be taken so seriously if they are being laughed at. It was the court jester alone who could tell the king his plans sucked and get away with it (if he was both witty and clever). Do you know why clowns use white face with bright colors over them? Yes? Excellent, you are a well informed person. Now sit down and be quiet so I can look smart to the rest of the readers here (Jesus' whiskers!) For those who don't: the white represents death. The bright colors around the eyes, nose, and mouth represent laughter. The clown laughs in the face of death. So should we all.

In an episode of Star Trek (the original series or TOS for trekkers), the crew of the Enterprise and a Klingon battle cruiser were forced to battle for the enjoyment and feeding of a strange alien entity. Their escape came through laughter. They laughed that evil one right off the ship and out of their lives. Gene Roddenberry knew what he was talking about there. So do Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and all the other satirists.

So, laugh today, laugh tomorrow, and keep right on laughing. The power to be hopeful is in your hands!


If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at: http://www.oldlinepublishing.com/bookstore-marketplace/children-s-books/michael-and-the-new-baby/ldren-s-books/michael-and-the-new-baby/



Sunday, August 19, 2012

J.S. Brooks Public Service Video via Glove and Boots: Back to School Boot Camp

 Here is a video message for EVERYONE who is returning to school, and I do mean EVERYONE ... except those of tender ages. Parents: use your own judgment. If your kids are below high school age, view this first. It is great advice. Wish I had seen this as a kid!


If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at: http://www.oldlinepublishing.com/bookstore-marketplace/children-s-books/michael-and-the-new-baby/ldren-s-books/michael-and-the-new-baby/