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

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Strange Stories Catch Eye: UFOs Over China and Elsewhere

When I was a teen, my eye was captured by many reports of UFOs, ghosts, Bigfoot, Mothman, and all the other things that purportedly went bump in the night. I'm still fond of those tales, especially the ones that appear once and are never seen again. They have the allure for me of the elusive Loch Ness Monster popping up out of the blue and disappearing twice as fast.

So, a few years back, I was intrigued and amused when studies showed more UFO sightings along the track of Russian rocket launches. Suddenly folks were seeing strange lights in the skies while manned and unmanned missions lifted off from Baikonur.

This dovetailed well with the Chinese of Heilongjiang province suddenly feeling themselves under attack as three strange objects burned their way out of the sky to smash into the local landscape. Alien attacks and UFO crashes were bandied about. Of course, this occurred at the same time a Russian rocket failed to reach orbit with a satellite and was destroyed. It's likely the debris is much more illegal alien material than extraterrestrial in origins, crossing borders in a fiery wreck care of the Russian space program. Still, it took me back to the old days for a few minutes. I was sort of hoping the ol' Mothman (or a dalek) might make a fleeting appearance among the debris. 

Wishing you strange days and stranger news! 

For other news of the otherworldly, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2013/08/cia-admits-area-51-exists-what-next.html and http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2011/07/mystery-lights-rural-cemeterymp4.html

100 Million Planets with Complex Life in Milky Way

My friends at Universe Today passed along a study out of the University of Texas, El Paso, stating that our very own galaxy may harbor 100 million planets with complex life. That's not li'l microbes and stuff but multicellular, complicated life ... some of it even self aware. Now that's a lot of hopeful real estate for those of us passionate about the mysteries of life elsewhere in the universe. Now this is places where the conditions for complex life could be right, not where it is known to be. We haven't gotten that far yet. However, the good folks at SETI feel we will know in the next twenty years if life is to be found elsewhere in our galaxy. I'd say the math is one the side of finding that life somewhere.

Now, reaching out to anybody else out there is another matter. The galaxy alone is huge and we are small. Our spacecraft to date are slow ... it took Voyager decades to reach the outer limits of our own solar system. If we want to get out there and check for ourselves, we've got a lot of technological growth to do.

For more, see: http://phl.upr.edu/press-releases/100millionplanetsinourgalaxymayharborcomplexlife and http://www.universetoday.com/112265/there-might-be-100-million-planets-in-the-galaxy-with-complex-life/

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Elon Musk and SpaceX Introduce: Dragon V2 Unveil May 29, 2014 at 10 PM EDT





And, here it is, Dragon V2 unveiled by Elon Musk of SpaceX. It has been nicely edited since I first put it up (YouTube stated it had 0 views when I first posted this and there was a huge amount of opening music when the unveiling was delayed so this is much better now). As you'll see, there are some serious changes in the next generation Dragon.

The version 2 has quite a different appearance, making room for the larger propulsive thrusters for a soft landing on land. It is parachute capable as well. The cabin, if this is what it will look like in the end, is quite luxurious looking. We'll see how this all sorts out.

For additional information, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/05/self-driving-cars-and-dragons-carrying.html

I've had to link a previous post from SpaceX here as the company took down the video, an animation showing Dragon version 1 making the landing tests version 2, which looks quite different, will make. Here's what I said:

The SpaceX gang is getting ready to move on to the next stage of the Dragon's development. As you can see from the simulation, the idea is to make return the Dragon capsule (currently the only capsule that can carry cargo and experiments both to and from the International Space Station) and now they want to take it to the next level. The idea is to return the capsule to land riding pillars of fire back to the ground for a soft landing. At first, parachutes will augment the landing ... eventually only the rockets on the capsule.

In time, if this system works properly, the idea will be to convert this next phase of Dragon capsule into a crew module that Elon Musk ... in some future iteration ... would like to see go to Mars and back.

To make the SpaceX rockets more economical, the idea will be to have every stage return to the ground using this landing system, landing on legs on the ground, to be refurbished and reused. It's an exciting possibility. I hope they make it work.

For additional blog posts on SpaceX and their spacecraft, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2013/03/spacex-dragon-launches.htmlhttp://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2012/05/spacex-boldly-looks-to-blast-millions.htmlhttp://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2011/09/spacex-chief-details-reusable-rocket.html, and http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2011/08/spacex-on-mars-saving-human-spaceflight.html

NASA is moving forward with Mars plans as well, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/05/nasas-path-to-mars.html


For the most popular post I have ever written on the progress we've made in manned spaceflight, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2010/03/progress-in-manned-space-flight.html

For more on the SpaceX Dragon from SpaceX, see: http://www.spacex.com/dragon

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Positive Perspective on Change ...

We don't much like change ... unless it's change in some technological gadget we adore and we have pockets deep enough to pick up the newest model. We are creatures of habit and change just freaks us out.

I was having a nostalgic, regretful, change-fearing moment this morning. I made the very last lunch I would ever make for our daughter. She's fine, but she's had her last high school class today and so I've made the last lunch I'll make for her to send her packing to school. I've done this since she was in kindergarten, so it's a moment for me, you know?

Then it occurred to me, this change can be looked at differently. It has a positive side. Since she was in kindergarten, I've made her the lunches that got her through the day and helped her with her education. Every day I reminded her I loved her with this simple act. Now, my mission is accomplished. Our daughter is getting ready for college and lunches of her own. Mission accomplished. Success achieved. Stand down, Dad, and relax. It was a liberating thought. I wonder how many other change issues this would work with. I wonder how many dark perspectives on life could be turned upside down and viewed as positive perspectives instead.

I'm willing to give it a shot ... without resorting to rose-colored glasses. It all has to be honest and true. Still, I think it will be a liberating approach to dealing with change. How about you?

For another perspective altering challenge, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/05/are-we-brave-enough-to-be-meek-good.html

Self Driving Cars and Dragons Carrying Humans

Google has a prototype of their self driving car out and about, giving test drives to some very happy people. The car has an innocent, slightly goofy looking face about it. There is no steering wheel inside. You just buckle up, tell the car where you need to go, and relax while the computer takes you there. There is no windshield wiper on the front window for you. That feature is up above your head where the camera mounted above you needs to take in the view to navigate. This car, if it makes it to production ... given the automobile industries hatred of newcomers to the field that is problematic at best, will be a boon to those who have lost their ability to drive as they age and eyesight deteriorates and for the blind. For the rest of us, it will be a chance to catch up on other things while the car gets us where we're going. Being a Google product, I suppose it will have its own Wifi hotspot built in so you can Google everything as you ride. To see more, go to: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2014/05/just-press-go-designing-self-driving.html

Leaving solid ground now, Elon Musk, on May 29, unveils the Dragon Mk. 2, the human rated version of the current cargo carrier that he hopes will be the Space Taxi for NASA as of 2017 ... perhaps sooner given the shaky relations with Russia. SpaceX also hopes to begin experiments soon with the Dragonfly, the version that will eventually land on rocket motors rather than parachutes. That version will touchdown gently on dry land, settling down on landing legs so that it may be refurbished and reused, cutting down on the cost of getting to space. The Dragon Mk. 2 will be designed to carry cargo and up to seven astronauts into space. More tomorrow when the human flight rated Dragon is unveiled by Elon Musk for all to see. For more on the unveiling to come, see the article by my friends at Universe Today, at: http://www.universetoday.com/111534/spacex-ceo-elon-musk-to-unveil-manned-dragon-space-taxi-on-may-29/

For more on the Dragonfly concept, see this blog post: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/05/elon-musks-spacex-plans-dragonfly.html

For another article on spaceflight, see how our New Horizons spacecraft is closing in on Pluto: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/05/new-horizons-spacecraft-closes-in-on.html

Daily Vlog #147 Why #NotAllMen is not enough





My friend John Inverso has a powerful point to make with men who don't stand up to other men who express women-hating, misogynistic attitudes. Man up dudes. Good job, John.

For another pressing social issue that has a bearing on this topic, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/05/cable-tv-news-opinion-overwhelms-facts.html

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Drought and Climate Change: Texas, the Bread Basket, California: The Five Minute Response

There are reports out of Texas that eleven water sources will dry up in the next 45 days or so. This is very serious business indeed. The drought in Texas is four years old now. Drought in California is bringing on renewed and sustained threats of wildfires endangering lives and property. The American breadbasket states of the Midwest are under threat of drying out as well. Could it be that in the future, if we do not change our ways, that many hungry Americans will be trying to get across the Canadian border to follow the northward movement of food producing lands? I certainly hope not.

Here's a report that will help you grapple with the details for yourself: http://stateimpact.npr.org/texas/2014/05/06/more-drought-heat-and-water-wars-what-climate-change-already-means-for-texas/

My thoughts and prayers go out to all of those who are currently suffering the ravages of drought and increasingly violent weather (you know the Midwestern states are known for that ... and it will just get increasingly violent according to the science). Be safe and work for positive change in our stewardship of this fragile planet of ours.

And that's the five minute response.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Politicians: Interview Aging Veterans Before Declaring War

I was moved by a Memorial Day special on one of the major news networks. An aging reporter was interviewing an aging veteran. Both had been soldiers in World War II.

Every politician should watch interviews like this, or better yet interview aging veterans personally, prior to beating the drums for or actually declaring war. The interview I saw was conducted with sympathy, kindness, and a gentle touch. Repeatedly, the reporter said to the man being interviewed, it's all right, I was there too, I understand.

I want those politicians to look into that man's haunted eyes. When asked about the war, suddently his eyes got round and distant. You could tell he was seeing another time and place, a battlefield where fear, pain, loss, death, and dismemberment were everywhere to be witnessed and endured. Try as he might, he could not speak much of what he had seen. At one point he chocked out something like, "You were trying to string wire and you would trip over something and then you'd look down and see what that ... something ... was." It was terrible to listen to and watch. He also said, "You've heard of pools of blood ..." and then he trailed away, unable to continue about the horrors of that war so long ago and that D Day landing.

I want all those politicians to watch how much horror this man lives with so many decades after that war ... that just and righteous war ... that good war as we so often call it ... has ended. Has it really ended for the vets who served there so honorably? This interview suggests perhaps not.

Think about that on this Memorial Day, leaders of our nation and all nations. Let it give you all pause before declaring the next war, the next police action, the next preemptive strike. Perhaps we won't have to ensnare our young men and women in quite so many conflicts in the future. We can hope. That would be a wonderful way to honor the memories of all who have so valiantly served.Mem

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Are We Brave Enough to Be Meek? Good News From Christianity

In the Bible, followers of Jesus are called to be meek, like him. Now, today, society equates meekness with cowardice, a mousy timidity, lack of confidence, and weakness. Why would the Bible writers have called on us to act like that? Is that what Jesus did? The answer to the first question is, that writers are calling us to act far differently than that and the answer to the second is no, Jesus did not.

Meekness, as used biblically, means to be strong enough to have great self-control in the face of ever escalating provocation. Meekness is a powerful testimony of our faith. Meekness shows we are willing to follow Jesus, the one who values peace, justice, and love, even when people around us would wish us to do otherwise, and some will try hard to make us respond with violence and anger. It takes a great deal of courage to remain meek today. Each of us must ask ourselves if we are brave enough to embrace meekness.

In 1 Peter 3:13-18, the author calls us to be gentle, reverent witnesses to our faith, even in the face of provocation. In that way, our words and actions counter slander and libel thrown at us. We show a far better way of being. But, it requires courage and a sublimation of our natural tendency to lash out when provoked. How much better would the world be today if we all practiced meekness and a gentle, reverent witness?

Care to find out?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Elon Musk's SpaceX Plans DragonFly Landing Tests





UPDATE: SpaceX has removed this video following the unveiling of their Dragon V2 capsule, which has a markedly different construction than the version 1 shown in this animation previously making the descent and soft landing. To see V2, go to: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/05/dragon-v2-unveil-may-29-2014-at-10-pm.html My apologies for the inconvenience!

The SpaceX gang is getting ready to move on to the next stage of the Dragon's development. As you can see from the simulation, the idea is to make return the Dragon capsule (currently the only capsule that can carry cargo and experiments both to and from the International Space Station) and now they want to take it to the next level. The idea is to return the capsule to land riding pillars of fire back to the ground for a soft landing. At first, parachutes will augment the landing ... eventually only the rockets on the capsule.

In time, if this system works properly, the idea will be to convert this next phase of Dragon capsule into a crew module that Elon Musk ... in some future iteration ... would like to see go to Mars and back.

To make the SpaceX rockets more economical, the idea will be to have every stage return to the ground using this landing system, landing on legs on the ground, to be refurbished and reused. It's an exciting possibility. I hope they make it work.

For additional blog posts on SpaceX and their spacecraft, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2013/03/spacex-dragon-launches.htmlhttp://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2012/05/spacex-boldly-looks-to-blast-millions.htmlhttp://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2011/09/spacex-chief-details-reusable-rocket.html, and http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2011/08/spacex-on-mars-saving-human-spaceflight.html

NASA is moving forward with Mars plans as well, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/05/nasas-path-to-mars.html

For more on the SpaceX Dragon from SpaceX, see: http://www.spacex.com/dragon

Practical Use for Blog Posts ... Beyond the Online Read

I had never realized ... I'd never needed to ... that you could print out a single blog post. That opened a whole new world of possibility.

Over the years, I have created several blog sites for churches. I have found a practical use for some of those blog posts beyond the online read.

At the most recent blog site, I included a page with the church's history. For an upcoming event, I was asked to print out that page for use as a colorful information sheet to introduce newcomers to the church.

Later the same day, a distressed person seeking information on where to find food stopped by the church. I quickly printed off the post for her on local food banks and how to approach them. She left reassured that she would be able to find help.

Here's the post I was able to print out to help this individual in distress. It was wonderful to see the post take on a new purpose: http://www.lansdownebaptistchurch.blogspot.com/2014/03/food-assistance-in-lansdowne-and.html

Friday, May 23, 2014

Back to Execution by Electrocution, Tennessee's Dark Road

I was grieved to hear that Tennessee's governor has decided that, with the chemical cocktail of death unavailable, the electric chair will make a fine substitute. That is the wrong direction to head. Heading down the dark road favoring death is never the right road to travel. There are far too many things wrong with our system to continue using the death penalty. I won't go into that now. See an article by Shane Claiborne, who is writing a book on the dark path of execution, for more: http://www.redletterchristians.org/tn-death-row-invites-governor-pray/

I am praying for all involved. I am hoping we as a nation will decide upon a better way. I do not support the horrors committed by those who have headed down the path of evil, but my visceral response and desire for revenge is tempered by two powerful Bible verses: 1 Peter 3:9: Do not repay evil for evil or insult for insult. Romans 12:17-21: Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

It is time to look for a better way, one that does not risk fatal mistakes and damage our collective souls. Let's take the time to rise up in a new abolitionist movement and make the death penalty a thing of the past in these early decades of a new millennium.

For additional information on this volatile subject, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/05/end-death-penalty-in-united-states.html

For a related post on a valuable but forgotten concept, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2012/12/redemption-why-has-america-forgotten.html

For an exploration of our penchant for violence, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2013/01/our-violent-heritage-makes-itself-known.html

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Living by Law's Spirit Rather Than by Law's Bludgeon


I have been listening to NPR's series Guilty and Charged (see: http://www.npr.org/2014/05/21/313118629/supreme-court-ruling-not-enough-to-prevent-debtors-prisons) and getting seriously annoyed. Roughly 30 years back, the United States declared there would be no more debtor's prisons, and that was good (although it should have happened much earlier). The catch 22 idiocy of putting someone away until they paid a debt, making it impossible to pay that debt, was loathsome. Sure, some folks made very poor choices and paid heavily for them. Others were poor folks caught up in a system in which they were beaten down in every way possible ... including debtor's prison.

Now our court system is putting away people who cannot pay some small fine and court fee, following the letter of modern law (although ignoring the law saying this can't happen), but not its spirit. Laws are to ensure justice, not to bludgeon the poor. Among the warehoused folks who could not pay small fines are war veterans now homeless (where is all the "support the troops" frenzy when actual troops come home physically and psychologically damaged needing help). One judge smugly stated that if he gave some form of leniency to one man, he would be making everyone else who obeyed and paid (those with money that is ... those who could afford to contest some fairly stupid charges and walk away without paying actually) a chump. It would undermine society. No, it would show that our court system is humane and working for all our citizens, rather than warehousing and derailing the poorest among us. It was infuriating to hear of an individual who had just gotten a new job, a job that would have allowed him to pay fines over time, and lost it after serving a sentence for nonpayment. It's wrong.

Jesus argued with the Pharisees over letter vs. spirit of law issues regularly. WE need to do better than the Pharisees of old, following spirit over letter, helping those who need help rather than beating them down. Finally, the last obscenity is charging the poor for their expenses in jail, which you know they can't pay if you put them there for nonpayment. This evil little catch 22 system is designed to oppress and ruin people whose daily lives are already difficult at best and miserable at worst. We must do better.

Monday, May 19, 2014

New Career, New Challenges, Partial Solution: Monday as the New Sunday, Making It Work, Part 2

Today, on this very Monday, I figured out for myself what works for making Monday a true day off. Getting out of the house, as I advised in the previous blog post, http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/05/new-career-new-challenges-dealing-with.html, was definitely the solution. For the first part of the morning, I went to the gym with a book and spent time on the elliptical and the stationary bike reading while working out. The day outside was beautiful, so I treated myself to time alone in the town park continuing my reading in the cool breeze, sunshine and shade, and the smell of freshly mown grass wafting through that gentle breeze. I came back and threw the ball for our dog. By lunch I was completely relaxed and ready for whatever the rest of the day and week would bring. Those few hours taking care of my needs for relaxation did the job.

Best of luck to you as you discover your best practices for relaxation!

See this blog post to discover what my relaxation left me open to in the afternoon, http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/05/transformative-power-of-god.html

Transformative Power of God

I have often heard about God's ability to transform us over time. Now, I've lived it ... a little bit at a time.

As a child who moved between fourth and fifth grades, I did not quite fit in with our new culture, moving from one distinct region of the country to another. I became shy and an introvert, finding much solace in books and science fiction TV series and movies (can you say Star Trek?). Now, I'm a pastor and, required to take psychological and career counseling prior to ordination to ensure I was fit, I discovered I am actually pure extrovert. I draw my energy from being engaged with others in groups of any size and I revel in this life.

I still am a big fan of books of many sorts. C.S. Lewis has a couple of wonderful quotes related to this topic. The first is dead on: “The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.” Over the years, God has worked hard with me. The arc of my career path from archaeology to author and editor to pastor shows this to be true. Every step along the road was necessary to who I am now, how I view my theology, how I relate my beliefs to others. 

The second quote deals with how we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves (our neighbors being everyone). Lewis states, “Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did.As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone you will presently come to love him.”


Today I was out waiting in front of the high school gym. I had made a strategic error and had pulled into the wrong parking lot and found my path blocked by a phalanx of school buses, yellow and black filling the road like a swarm of gigantic yellow jackets. Driving a small car, I parked and walked down to the far lot, not challenging the mighty buses. While waiting, a school security guard came out to ask me why I was there. Years ago I would have been worried about this, aghast that I had drawn official attention. Now, to my surprise, I found myself smiling as she approached, glad our kids had her to watch out for them. I explained myself, told her whose father I was and why I was on foot. Then I told her I was a new pastor and just getting into the rhythm of having Mondays off. With this she smiled brightly and we had a wonderful discussion about our churches, mine American Baptist and hers Pentecostal. We compared notes about me being called by a church and her church just starting to search for a new pastor. We were deep into a friendly discussion when my daughter found us. This is a big change in my personality that God has accomplished working slowly and patiently over many years and many encounters with people of all sorts. It's amazing when you can look back and see that impact in your life. 

Here's wishing you some little moment of insight in your life.

For a post on God's love for us all, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2013/07/good-news-from-christianity-powerful.html


City Views Gave Me Perspective on Climate Change Denial

My trip into Philadelphia recently had an unexpected consequence. It gave me some perspective on why we are reluctant to believe in climate change. Being in the city was just so impressive. There all around us was the creativity and technical prowess of humanity. The skyscrapers juxtaposed against the buildings of centuries past looking like a science fiction background against humbler architecture. The sunlight glinting off those huge buildings early in the morning, long before it has reached the streets.

The soaring monuments to our faith dotting the landscape and lifting our spirits. The interiors of such spaces speaking to our aspirations and our awe in everything.

Then there is the artwork scattered through it all. The joy to be found in the whimsy and the thought provoking masterworks of many people. And all around us was the seemingly secure masses of humanity. All of us together, moving from place to place in mostly orderly ways and undertaking civil pursuits. It was all very reassuring.

The green spaces gave all the right grace notes of nature amid the brick, concrete, and steel. Nature manicured and well behaved.

It is so easy, in the confines of a great city, to believe that we, the human race, are the masters of the universe. It is easy to imagine we have it all under control and what we see around us will last forever. It has that feel about it ... in the best kept neighborhoods and business districts.

However, last week it was reported that the West Antarctic ice sheet is collapsing, melting into the sea at a rate now unstoppable, which will eventually raise the water levels 10 feet or more. Worse, this will open up melting and movement of ice in Antarctica's interior, dramatically further increasing sea levels. Very worst of all, this process first forecast in the 1970s is no impossible to stop. We are now faced with impacts of our actions that we cannot take back with all our technological prowess.

We need to shake loose from the over confidence we gain from all the amazing things we have done and the cities we have made. We are being as destructive as we are being creative. One scientist recently said, irrational overconfidence leading to dumb decision making may be the undoing of us all.

However, if we act now, we may be able to slow the rate of ice loss and give our children and their children more time before millions must be displaced from their homes and move to higher ground. This will be worst on those who are poorest and live on unsatisfactory low ground because they have been unable to afford better, safer locations. Let's all help those future sufferers now. Perhaps we can mitigate against the very worst of what we have already set in motion. It is worth a try, before many of the amazing places we have created and the inspiring artwork we have produced is submerged beneath a rising tide created from our own indifference ... or blind refusal to see past our own technological skills.

For additional posts related to climate change, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/05/increasing-weather-energy-global.htmlhttp://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/05/cable-tv-news-opinion-overwhelms-facts.html, and http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2013/06/co2-critical-issue-friends-efforts-to.html

For a little foretaste of what this may mean for our descendants, see: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/117799/climate-change-will-force-us-abandon-cities-if-we-dont-prepare-now?utm_source=digg&utm_medium=email

Adventures in Fitness 22: One Guy's Attempt to Knock the Rust Off: Bring a Book!!!

I admit, this one should have been more obvious. But with the gym having a large bank of flat screens up front and headphone jacks on most of the equipment, it was hard to think go going old school.

However, if you're going to spend a lot of time at the gym on something like the elliptical or the stationary bike or maybe even the treadmill, bring a book. I tried it for the first time today and it was a revelation. At first it was a little challenging focusing on the page while working out on the elliptical. However, soon enough I was engrossed in the story and the time on the machine flew past. It was truly amazing. It is easy to remain on the machine longer as you are focused on something entirely other than your own sweating body and the random complaints it is throwing at you to try to get this madness to stop. Keep reading and working out. You'll go longer and enjoy it more.

That's this week's revelation. Who knows what comes next?

Awestruck in Philadelphia

A room with a view!
Okay, I admit it. I grew up as a suburban kid. As an adult I've spent the last 20 years in a borough, you know, a small town, where parades and carnivals are still held and the public park really does have a bandstand. So, I get into a big city and I hate to admit it, but I'm awestruck, gobsmacked, really impressed. Our daughter was honored by a statewide organization on Friday night. She sang the national anthem for them and they put us up for the night on the 15th floor of the Sheraton downtown. That was impressive enough.

Nighttime ...
Dawn's early light ...

Then we opened the curtains and took in the view. I have to say, as a pastor I was very impressed with the dome and cross of St. Peter's and Paul's at nearly eye level with me so high in the sky. Nighttime and dawn views were equally inspiring. Seeing the sunlight slowly work its way down the sides of those skyscrapers in the early morning, I just couldn't help but be impressed with humanity's creative genius.

Centuries of architecture close together ...
Independence Mall, with the Liberty Bell, was worth a pause for reflection. The grounds are beautiful. The exhibit will make you think (once you get past the National Treasure movie jokes you just can't help but make when seeing Independence Hall, if you're a geek). The exhibit of Washington's house just outside the Liberty Bell pavilion with its well thought through discussion of slavery's complicated and awful history in the U.S. was fitting.

The artwork all around us was fascinating. The whimsy to be found with the giant playing pieces, the LOVE pavilion, sculpture, and fountain, and this unique airplane re-purposed into greenhouse were happy finds.

Finally, lunch at the Reading Terminal Market was a treat. Be prepared to make hard choices though with so many vendors and so much good food.

Philadelphia on a Friday and Saturday proved to be a very good walking city (easier than others I've ventured into, although many have had their particular charms). Come prepared with comfortable shoes and plenty of energy.

Then only snags to be found are getting into the city. The Schuylkill Expressway is a nightmare. It is too narrow for the major corridor that it must be, leading into and out of the city, but with the river on one side and rock faces on the other, there's not much to be done for that. Take the train if you can. If you must drive, find a central location near where you want to be and shop for the best parking option. You'll find many.  Enjoy your stay. 

Sloggin' Thru Blogging: Volume with Quality for a Viewing Bump

Stephen Colbert called it the "Colbert bump." That rise in attention that came from being on his show. Well, this isn't that useful, but I have found if you put out five or six posts in a single day, one after the other, you will get a significant bump in viewership for the day, lifting the total numbers into the hundreds. Make sure, however, that in the process you work for quality content. You don't want to burn readers drawn to you with bad content that sends them away angry, vowing never to return. There is no reward in that.

The fascinating thing about this exercise is that as you work forward, you generate new and interesting ideas for additional posts. The writing process fires the imagination, leading to quick research, and more interesting writing. The very process of writing leads to the next post, which fires the idea for the one after that. It really is a wonderful exercise if you have the time to pursue it.

Good luck, fellow blogger. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Theologian Speaks to One of the Worst Abuses of Power

Theologian Henri Nouwen (1932-1996), in his book Finding My Way Home, speaks powerfully and angrily of what he considers to be the worst abuse of power. Sadly, that abuse continues today. He states: 


God looks at us and weeps because wherever we use power to give us a sense of ourselves, we separate ourselves from God and each other, and our lives become diabolic, in literal meaning of the word: divisive.  … But there is something worse than our exercise of economic and political power. It is religious power. When God looks at our world, God not only must weep but must also be angry—angry because many of us who pray, offer praise, and call out to God, “Lord, Lord!” are also corrupted by power.  … The most insidious, divisive, and wounding power is the power used in the service of God. … An unfriendly or judgmental word by a minister or priest, a critical remark in church about a certain lifestyle, a refusal to welcome people at the table, … and countless other hurts often remain longer in people’s memories than other more world-like rejections. Thousands … have turned away from God because they experienced the use of power when they expected an expression of love. 

The italics are mine. Henri Nouwen goes on to speak of the power of love, which "liberates, reconciles, and heals" instead. What say you? 

Strong Remarks for Christians from Centuries Past on John 10:1-10

John 10:1-10: “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

The Bible commentator, Matthew Henry, who lived in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century (1662-1714) wrote about the thief and bandit trying to get at Jesus flock. He also wrote about the rest of us. I have to say, his point of view is striking, refreshing, and bracing. He's right. We need to do better. 

Matthew Henry writes: How industrious are wicked people to do mischief! What plots will they lay, what pains will they take, what hazards will they run, in their wicked pursuits! This should shame us out of our slothfulness and cowardice in the service of God.

In the face of the efforts of so many thieves and bandits, who are extremely busy trying to tear down Jesus' flock, pulling us apart from within and without, we really do need to step up and get busy proving we have something of value to offer to society. Consider this the gauntlet dropped and challenge given. How will you respond? 

New Horizons Spacecraft Closes in on Pluto

Artist's concept courtesy of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/
Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI)
In July of 2015, a robotic spacecraft a long time on the road will fly past the now demoted once upon a time planet Pluto ... now a "plutoid" or "planetessimal" ... to give us our first close up view of our frosty outrider near the solar system Kuiper Belt boarder lands. New Horizons began the trip in 2006, and is only the fifth probe to travel so far outward from the sun. It is the first robot to swing past Pluto, ever. So far, the intrepid long haul traveler has been on this road trip for 3035 days and has another 334 days before observations begin in earnest. Closest approach is still 427 days away. Once again we are reminded how very big our solar system is. At the time of this writing, as New Horizons draws near the orbit of Neptune, it remains 4 AU from Pluto (an AU being the distance between the Earth and the Sun). That's a long way ... but child's play compared to the distance already covered.

Another name given to Pluto, one of the largest examples of this type of body, is an ice dwarf. Ice dwarfs are "planetary embryos" and the Kuiper Belt is full of them. Pluto is also doing something no other body outside the comets does. It is shedding atmosphere like a comet and New Horizons will hopefully find out why. The long endurance probe is also hopefully going to shed light on comets that come in and give Earth a swat from time to time so we can learn a little more about that as well.

If all goes well, I have heard there is thought being given to finding another target to explore once New Horizons passes Pluto. This should get interesting out on the icy frontier. Stay tuned for next summer. It'll be some cool viewing on those hot, sultry days in July. 

New Career, New Challenges: When Monday Is Your New Sunday: Dealing with the Day Alone

Ignore this at your own risk!
I have successfully transitioned out of one career and into another. With the change came an adjusted "weekend." Monday is now my second day off. This is strange. I have never had Mondays off regularly, when no holiday is involved.

For those of you who are just coming to grips with this situation, now that I've had a few months to deal with it, I have a little advice.

This is your day off and you need to respect that. This is a day when you need to recharge your batteries and relax. If you do not, you will soon find yourself exhausted each and every day, making adjustment to your new career and schedule exceedingly difficult.

This is not a day to do loads of housework and home repair all by yourself. This is not the day to catch up on office work. This is not the day to squirrel yourself away behind closed doors because you feel strange about everyone else being at work while you are not.

Get out of the house. Get out of the neighborhood. PLAN ahead and do something that will relax you. You really need this when coming to grips with a new job, a new career, and a new weekend. This is not optional. Make sure you actually take the time off and do something for yourself. If you don't, you will soon reap the whirlwind sown by the seeds of your stubbornness.

Good luck.

J.S. Brooks Presents Breaks 100,000 Views!

As I tell everyone, celebrate the small victories. This blog post has now been viewed more than 100,000 times in its life. That's small potatoes for many sites, but it is an achievement for me here. I'm taking a moment to stop and savor the li'l victory!

As a blogger of very part time status, I have to say, it takes a lot of material written to reach those numbers. I'm sure I could have been smarter and more efficient about it in some ways ... but I enjoy the process and like doing what I like doing. Thanks for making this happen. I appreciate everyone who stops by and checks something out here. I really appreciate those who have elected to follow me here. You have no idea how much that means to this blogger. Thanks again.

Okay, done! I feel better.

Writing Strategy: Break Up Your Topic. The Five Minute Response

I was at a book publisher's convention in New York City a while ago and made a discover that could be lucrative to all writers. If you are looking to write a book on a particular topic ... don't. Write a series of books on that topic, breaking the subject down into its component parts. Make each part the focus of a smaller, less expensive book rather than one tome of greater price.

I saw this time and again at the different publisher's booths. Whole series on just about every topic you can imagine. So, write what you know is still good advice. However, now add the caveat, just don't write all about what you know on one topic in one book.

And that's the five minute response.

NASA's Path to Mars





A little inspiration for those who worry that NASA's human spaceflight program might be dead or dying. Of course, with money for these missions linked to the minds in Congress ... there is still reason for fear. Here's hoping you all get to experience the joy I grew up with in the Apollo program.

Earth Rise Courtesy of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

Image courtesy of NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

On February 1, 2012, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter took this photo of Earth rising over the moon. We haven't seen a view this epic (well, perhaps but I don't remember when) since the Apollo astronauts walked the lunar surface. Here Earth is seen rising over Rozhdestvenskiy crater, which measures 112 miles in diameter. Most of the time, the LRO had her camera pointed to the lunar surface making studies, but fortunately for us, her view was extended periodically and we are treated to "Earth rise." This takes me back to Carl Sagan remarking that all of us who have ever lived, all our history, all we are is to be found on that pale blue dot" ... well, disc in this case. That brilliant blue ball teaming with life is home. Perhaps we should treat it better and each other better as ... we have nowhere else to go.

Finally, this image reminds me of the Arthur C. Clarke short story I read as a kid titled "Earthlight." It is nice to see the reality and admire its beauty.   

Cable TV "News": Opinion Overwhelms Facts, Reports Pew Research Center

In 2013, the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism reported on the state of the news media and found it woefully lacking in integrity and substance on cable and local broadcasts. The chase of the almighty dollar has cast facts out the window in favor of cheaper sports, weather, and traffic on local "news" programs while the big three of cable (CNN, Fox and MSNBC) are leaning heavily on the cheapest of opinions in place of pricier factual reporting.

We won't bother with the local "news" broadcasts today. Let's look instead to the "big three" of cable. Chief offender in the opinion over fact puffery is MSNBC with 85% opinion to 15% factual reporting, followed by Fox with 55% opinion to 45% "facts" (is this the "fair and balanced" approach???), and CNN trailing behind last year, actually favoring substance over stupidity with 46% opinions to 54% facts. This is an all around disgraceful debasement of what is supposed to be the vital fourth estate that keeps the populace informed and democracy safe.

Sadly, the numbers for CNN will continue to drift under the new president, Jeff Zucker, upping the opinion count at the expense of facts, driving them deeper into the mud to wallow alongside MSNBC and Fox. Chasing the dollar and the ratings has replaced the desire to provide solid facts for the consuming public. And, checking a study on "Mass Media Influence on Society" (see www2.uncp.edu), the results are insidious, in my opinion (see, they have me doing it too). In 2012, the Nielson ratings for the top cable "news" channels (read "opinion channels" based on what was consumed) gave the following grim report:

The top 13 programs viewed were all on Fox and were opinion driven programs (read propaganda to put a finer point on it), followed by five for MSNBC, and two for CNN. None of this was solid news programming. All of it was the more lucrative and societally dangerous opinion programming. Big profits, bad news for brains. You note I have not provided the names of these shows ... I don't want to give them any credit here.

This little bit of depressing research was inspired by watching a brief clip of Bill Nye attempting to explain why climate change is real and dangerous to a CNN "host" and deniers. Frankly, I was appalled at how ignorant the questioners were (I know real journalists and they would never allow themselves to appear so unprofessional and downright uninformed on the air). Worse, they would not let the person I presume they invited on the show finish a single point. Finally, when the demand was made to know why the majority of the public didn't believe climate change was happening, Bill hit the nail on the head when he got out (barely), "Because of YOU." He was right. Because of the propaganda currently pouring out of the cable "news" networks in profitable opinion shows, and the large numbers of people being warped by their cheap and uninformed but lucrative opinions that feed bias rather than inform, many people are coming to believe dangerously stupid and false opinions to be truth.

One bright note from the Pew study. PBS, ABC, CBS, and NBC are still providing news nightly, actual news, reliable news, far more often than the cable sources. Please seek out and reward the dedicated few who still believe the fourth estate has an important role to play in a democracy ... before we as a nation fall apart, divided by a wave of profitable and useless opinions provided by networks with no dedication to truth who are willing to provide dangerous false opinions instead of actual facts to a public far more interested in being entertained than informed, even when such entertainment can lead to great harm and even death for many.

But, please, do not believe me. Check it out for yourself at stateofthemedia.org and make up your own mind. 

Help from on High: You Are Not Alone

How many times in your life did it seem it would end like this ...
and then somehow didn't? 
Recently I received a new devotional guide, The President's Devotional by Joshua DuBois. It is an inspirational read and a great way to prepare for the rigors of the day ahead. Today's reading was particularly inspirational for me. It was based on Luke 4:24, 28-30. In this passage, Jesus aggravates the hometown crowd, reminding them, among other things, that a prophet is not accepted in his own country. Infuriated, the crowd tries to drive Jesus to a cliff outside of town to throw him off and stone him. It doesn't happen that way. It was a close call.

The author then asks us to think back on all the close calls in our lives that we can remember. He states we would like to think we had something to do with getting ourselves out of at least a few of those. Joshua concludes, "If we consider each and every case--each accident that didn't happen, each bad call that turned out all right--we'll see the hand of providence, of God. Just as Jesus, when backed up against a cliff, simply disappeared through the midst of the crowd, so does he help us press through the toughest of times in an almost miraculous fashion, with so much ease that we scarcely recall the crisis when the moment has passed."

It is an awe inspiring thought if you allow for this possibility in your life. Are you open-minded enough in this "age of reason" to imagine that you have been helped innumerable times past one disaster after another by God? Toy with the idea. Think back on those moments when life went sour and how you are still here. I know I am. It gives me pause and hope, both at the same time. It allows me to conclude that, while awful events happen in each life (often at the hands of others who have lost their way ... or through our own bumbling) with regularity, we don't face them alone. I like that.

One final word on the subject from the master of horror, Stephen King. He sees evidence of God in the number of times the semi blows past us on the highway and doesn't run us down (a reference to Pet Sematary). 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

We Aren't Ready for Extraterrestrial Contact, Scientist Says: ARE YOU SURPRISED?!

I love my friends at Universe Today and I adore their articles. However, the "extensive" study by astronomer Gabriel G. de la Torre of the University of Cadiz of 116 university students determined we are not ready to meet brainy E.T.s. De la Torre asked students about their astronomy knowledge, their religious beliefs, and their belief in the presence of E.T.s in our sprawling universe. Survey says, "We aren't ready." We don't know enough.

I could have saved this astronomer time. Check out the news. Extremists abduct school girls to sell into slavery or forced marriage. The solution to gun violence ... more guns for everyone. People on the left and the right refusing to listen to anything either side says on the tribal bias that if you don't believe like us you are both stupid and the enemy. Imprisonment largely by race in for profit prisons that have no incentive to provide prisoners with any means to better themselves and be released. People so propagandized by commentators that they will not entertain any other point of view or any scientific result that does not agree with their narrow philosophy of life. Creating ever more destructive weapons to maintain peace, throwing huge dollar amounts into that process while letting people around the globe in marginal regions where poor folks are forced to live starve when the weather turns sour or the local governments go crazy. Allowing the planet to burn for the sake of corporate economies.

No, we are not ready to meet extraterrestrial civilizations. We simple aren't civilized enough at this point.  I would not be at all surprised to find out that somewhere on the edge of our solar system there is an E.T. buoy broadcasting a "Do not enter, do not feed the animals" message to galactic civilizations everywhere to protect them all against our particular brand of crazy.

To see the rest of the article, see: http://www.universetoday.com/111743/are-we-ready-for-contact/#more-111743

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Do Not Let Culture Define YOU!

From a book of the same title working toward an end
to the sex slave trade by Shayne Moore and Kimberly McOwen Yim.
http://www.amazon.com/Refuse-Do-Nothing-Finding-Modern-Day/dp/0830843027
Each and every day, each and every person is bombarded with opinions and exclamations about who we should be, what society expects of us, and defines success for us ... often in ways that make no sense or are harmful to our persons. DO NOT ALLOW THIS FLOOD OF HARMFUL IMPRESSIONS DEFINE YOU! You are unique, you have worth, you are a person of interest and value.

Today, body image is dictated by Photoshopped images of men and women, boys and girls, who bear little semblence to reality as it is lived. Bodies are ruined when impressionable people, teens in particular, work terribly hard to try to meet these impossible standards. Tell me if you can, what is the point of a "thigh gap," really? Is it to make you weak, emaciated, lacking in muscle? Why do we want bodies defoliated as if we were all pre-pubescent children. Is that a healthy way to face the world? Is that a true ideal to be reached for? Or would you rather have a healthy, age appropriate look with a fully functioning body?

We should not allow ourselves to be conned into thinking our status in society is rightly determined by some electronic object or other we own ... and object that will be obsolete next season. Our automobiles do not tell the world who we are ... just how much we are willing to pay for a thing that will wear out in due course. Our furniture, our houses, our possessions should not, must not be the reason for our existence and the measure of our worth. Our families, our friends, those we help through this often difficult and challenging life, those are the ones who matter. Our belief in peacemaking, in the power of love, in friendships cultivated, in life well lived in service of each other. Now those are worth striving for. Why do we want to continue to pursue consumer dreams of glittering life in the fast lane that leaves many frustrated and hopeless when they cannot keep up with "the Joneses." How can it possibly be a good thing when young people without access to heaps of money or decent job opportunities become twisted and hopeless when they cannot achieve these things that have been touted as the definitive signs of success in our world.

Never, ever allow your culture to determine your worth and define your value based on your race, your sex and/or sexual preference, your age, your height or any other damned nonsensical thing people can come up with to divide us. Do not be beaten down or humiliated by the lies spawned from fear and bigotry, even though the drum beat of hate is so mindlessly omnipresent in all our societies. Rape is never justified, sexual slavery and forced marriage is an abomination, keeping children from education because of gender is twisted and the miserable list goes on and on. We all need to stand up for the rights of every single man, woman, and child around this globe of ours.

Do not let greed steal our planet, our only home, from us. Do not be convinced that economic forces trump a livable biosphere. Do not allow the bottom line to deny our children and their children from having a habitable planet just so industry can wring the last liquified dinosaur from the ground with ever more intrusive and polluting methods. Rail against an industry that insists that only when each and every human being has one or more of their products will we all be safe, even when those products are designed with only one purpose in mind ... to kill. That way lies madness.

Stand up for humanity. Stand up for YOUR humanity and the humanity of others. Live for peace, live for decency, live for real values of love, joy, hope, mercy, generosity, sharing, caring, kindness and every other virtue that uplifts humanity, protects the planet, and ensure life for all of its creatures. Say NO to all the images and arguments that try to define you by your products or other measures that are intended to sell you products or services or to keep you in a subservient place. That is not life as it is meant to be lived. That is debased and must be fought.

Take care of yourself! Wishing you peace.

The Long and Short of Finding Stories on the Web

I have been looking for good stories online for some time now. I have stumbled across a couple of sites that hold hope for me. I'll let you know more about them later. But, if you are looking for the same, try these sites:

Longreads: The Best Long-form Stories on the Web (so they say themselves). The site address is simply: http://longreads.com/ There are stories organized by a wide range of categories. You can search for stories and you can organize that search by story length rated by the minutes it will take to read them, which I find clever.

Gives Me Hope: Uplifting very short stories contributed daily by average folks. These stories will perk up your day and give you all sorts of little illustrations that can be incredibly useful. The site address is: http://www.givesmehope.com/

For a very different sort of story ... very different ... see this blog post: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2009/04/survey.html


Desperately Seeking Peace? Try Walking Prayer

Get out and see the world
Feeling stressed, anxious, jittery, worried about tomorrow? Well, have I got a spiritual practice for you!

This will work in any weather conditions, provided you dress appropriately (short of dangerous storm conditions ... if signs are being uprooted and blown down the street or your neighbor's house goes sailing by, don't go out ... otherwise, give this a shot), although a sunny day works best.

This is called the walking prayer. It is a very old practice, predating all the screens we use today by hundreds of years. The idea is to get out into the natural world and take it in with all the senses you have. In this way, you draw close to God through God's creation while you walk, hence the name the "walking prayer." As long as nature is around you, it doesn't matter if you are in the city (okay, you'll probably want to head to a park), suburbs, small town, or rural locations. Get out, clear your head by concentrating on what your senses are telling you, and observe the nature that you find around you. It is an amazing exercise that will clear your head and give you some peace ... at least for as long as you walk and pay attention to the world around you.

The first time I tried this, I was blessed with a beautiful experience. Within five minutes, the natural world leapt forward, filling my senses, brightening around me, showing me intricate patterns, amazing sprays of color and shading, sounds of birds, breeze, and water, the gentle caress of the warm spring breeze ... and I did indeed feel closer to the creator of the universe, which was a blessing. The other extraordinary feature of the experience was that the human-made world seemed to dim, go a little gray, and recede into the background while all else burst with vibrant life.

This spiritual exercise, this walking prayer, can be repeated again and again, day after day, relieving stress after stress. Give it a try.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Statistics Staggering on Reading Resistant Population

I wrote and edited books for 20 years. I love books. I'm glad I did not see these statistics until now. I checked a number of sources ... and still don't believe them. Well, truthfully, I don't want to. The percentages are staggering, shocking, depressing ...

Of all college graduates, 42% will never read another book.
Of all high school graduates, 33% will never read a book again.
The percentage of U.S. families who have not darkened the doors of a book store this year, 80% (I hope e-books accounts for at least some to that ... but the above figures don't bode well)
The percentage of adults who have not entered a bookstore in the last five years, 70%.

I could go on, but that was jaw dropping enough for me. If you want more, see: http://www.statisticbrain.com/reading-statistics/ or a number of other sites. The stats are similar and equally depressing to a book lover. It does explain to me, however, why, years ago, one father asked the question he did. We parents were gathered at the meet your child's teacher session before the year began. The teacher was discussing the advantages of reading along with your children to encourage this essential skill. The father in question asked ... when should I start reading to my child. The teacher almost suppressed her shocked look and gasped, "Now."

Let me make a plea ... although if you're reading this I'm hoping you also read books, so this might be simply preaching to the choir. Guys and gals, books are your friends. Contained within well chosen books are the wisdom, the expertise, the experiences, the ideas, the encouragement of experts in a great many fields. There is such power waiting for you between the pages of books. Books can challenge you, expand your horizons, give you new insights and approaches, enrich your life right in your own living room. If you haven't read a book since high school or college, you have forgotten ... or maybe you have never known ... the pure pleasure of reading a book of your own choosing for your own purposes. You have forgotten, or you never knew, just how empowering the ideas contained in those books can really be. And that just refers to the nonfiction side of the aisle.

In the fiction world, you can go anywhere, any time, any world and escape into a very different reality. These alternate realities present truths in different forms, in stories, that allow you to grapple with many hard questions in an enjoyable way. They are written by men and women dedicated to the great and ancient art of storytelling, one of the most venerable arts of humankind. These authors are experts in their craft and they want you to journey with them for hours ... commercial free hours mind you ... and help you to unwind from you hectic days in ways far better than may be found in front of any screen ... including this one.

These numbers suggest one of many reasons why we are such angry people and so easily fooled by the pundits on talk shows and the shills working for corporations. Spend a little time with the autobiography of the showman P.T. Barnum and you'll start to understand just when you are being fed a line of B.S. Turn off your TV, your radio, your computer. Give all those screaming for your attention from one wing of a party or another a rest and instead pick up a book. Wade into some other realm of fact or fiction. Feel your nerves sooth and your mind expand. Sit there and explore ideas with people who have spent many years researching what they have written (with some exceptions ... you do have to choose wisely among books like anything else) and enjoy the simple pleasure of learning something new from someone dedicated to helping you learn.

As a word of encouragement, the statistics say 50% of U.S. adults can't read at the 8th grade level. Don't let that stop you. Start with simpler, introductory books and work your way up. If you find a subject, any subject, that fires your passion, you'll find a way to increase that reading grade level. Keep a dictionary close at hand ... or Google ... and you'll do fine.

One final statistic I found telling. Only 15% of prison inmates are literate. I'll let you draw your own conclusions from that. 

Smart Neanderthals and Fossil Galaxies ... The Five Minute Response

Science news gets more humbling and stranger all the time. I particularly love the humbling part. Now, archaeologists find that those Neanderthals were not at all the bumbling morons we took them for. There they were, living for some 250,000, making tools, successful kills, artful objects. We'd already discovered there was some sex going on between us and them ... which began to shift opinions. And now this.  We admit now they lived in harsh environments that would have us today weeping like little babies, curled up in a corner. So, way to go Neanderthals. Way to go archaeologists for admitting the change of mind on the whole who is an evolutionary failure thing.

In other news, my friends at Universe Today informed me we of the Milky Way have a fossil galaxy orbiting us. It has very early forms of stars with very little heavy metal. Segue 1, as it is know, had one round of star formation and then gave up the whole thing as a bad idea. Now, there's your evolutionary dead end.

And, that's the five minute response.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Increasing Weather Energy: Global Warming and the Polar Vortex Explained




Two days ago, we received 4.42 inches of rain in a few hours, more elsewhere, and serious flooding ensued. People needed to be rescued from cars and buses drowned out in flood waters. The 27 mile commute I have took 2 1/2 hours to complete, including several detours for flooded roadways. The paper today reported this was more water in one storm than had been recorded in our area in the 142 years of measuring rain that has occurred. This is one of the predicted effects of climate change, which the vast majority of scientists continue to try to tell us is real and we really, really must address. The problem is scientists tend to be bad at communication with the public, hence the awful name global warming ... which seems silly when we get winter blizzards. Fortunately, Hank here explains this simply and directly.

With climate change storing more energy in the planet's atmosphere, energy that will be released, we will get more energetic storms of all types. Ask the Midwest and South how they feel about stronger tornadoes. Hurricanes will continue to increase in strength. Droughts will be worse and last longer. Average snowfall will become average blizzard falls if we do nothing to address this situation. Nation's breadbaskets will be moving to other locations. Some will dry out completely, which is bad news for everyone who is in the habit of eating regularly.

Infrastructure ... which in many places needs serious improvement already ... will be increasingly stressed by violent weather. Roads will continue to crumble (this last winter's snows left our roads looking like the Midwest after the glaciers of the last ice age receded, filled with holes gouged out by the retreating ice), bridges will be stressed to the breaking point, and the ever spooky sinkholes will grow in number and size.

This is not a pretty picture. It will be terrible for business. Stressed economies could fail entirely. Then, of course, there are all the pretty coastal communities ... time for stilts or time to say goodbye. Worse, many poor people around the world have been relegated to the lowest of the low lying areas. With increased flooding, decreased polar ice, and increasing ocean water height, these people will be in ever increasing danger of death by rising tides. That's not right. It's not moral.

If none of this moves you, think about your own family. Think of your children and their children. Think of how they will curse this generation, the generation that knew the problem and could have done something while there was time to do something, and chose not to for fear it would ding their own personal and corporate economies. Our own families will not thank us for that.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Why We Write ...


Twentieth century Christian writer and theologian Henri Nouwen is one of my favorites. In his devotional book, Bread for the Journey, I found this wonderful reason why we write ... or why we should. Henri argues,
  One of the arguments we often use for not writing is this: "I have nothing original to say. Whatever I might say, someone else has already said it, and better than I will ever be able to." This, however, is not a good argument for not writing. Each human being is unique and original, and nobody has lived what we have lived. Furthermore, what we have lived, we have lived not just for ourselves but for others as well. Writing can be a creative and invigorating way to make our lives available to ourselves and to others.
  We have to trust that our stories deserve to be told. We may discover that the better we tell our stories the better we will want to live them.
I find these terrific reasons to write. I have written books and articles for over twenty years. I have blogged for a few years now. I do not believe my writing has made an earth shattering difference, but I do like to get my unique perspective out there, just in case it is a help to anyone. Having published in niche markets, I have no illusions that I'm reaching mass markets ... certainly that is not the case with my humble blog. But, if I can touch a heart now and then, help someone having difficulty, or present a different perspective to just one person now and then, I'm happy. Henri Nouwen is right. Write to make your life, your unique experiences and perspectives, available to others. Who knows where it will lead? Thanks for reading.

Now, go write.

For advice on effectively delivering what you write in a public forum, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2010/08/speak-convincingly.html