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, June 24, 2017

Senator Pat Toomey's Response to Healthcare Concerns

I wrote to the Senator voicing my concerns over what was to become of healthcare in the Republican plan. This is his response. I will let you decide what to think for yourselves. For me, I see a lot of alternative facts and avoidance of some of my concerns.

June 22, 2017

Dear Mr. ,

Thank you for contacting my office about President Obama's health care law. I appreciate hearing from you.

President Obama's health care law is fundamentally wrong in its approach to improving our nation's health care system. It forces people to buy overpriced health plans they do not want, hikes taxes, and puts important and personal health care decisions in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats instead of patients and their doctors. News of skyrocketing health insurance premium increases--32.5 percent on average in Pennsylvania--coupled with the fact that 40 percent of Pennsylvanians now live in areas with no health insurance competition, show just how Obamacare's broken promises are hurting Pennsylvanians.

Given the massive spikes in premiums and deductibles so many Pennsylvania families are enduring, the loss of choices, and the collapse of individual markets, Congress has begun the process of repealing and replacing Obamacare. This comes after multiple elections, years of discussion and numerous open and public hearings in both the House and the Senate detailing the failures of the current law and how to fix the health care system.

On May 4, 2017, the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act (H.R. 1628). This proposal is merely the first legislative step; the Senate is drafting a new version to repeal and replace Obamacare so that Pennsylvanians can have access to quality health care at a price they can afford.

As part of any replacement, I want to make sure that there is a suitable transition period so no one covered by Obamacare has the rug pulled out from under them. I also want to ensure people with very expensive, chronic illnesses have access to affordable coverage. The manner in which this can be done includes, but is not limited to, the use of state-based risk pools and extending the incentives for individuals to maintain credible coverage, which already exists in employer-sponsored market, to the individual market.

Rest assured, any legislation considered by the Senate will be made publicly available before a vote. The bill will be subject to an open and unlimited amendment process, allowing every member to suggest changes before final passage. Please know that I understand your concerns, and as Congress continues to debate health care reform, I will be sure to keep your thoughts in mind.

Thank you again for your correspondence. Do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can be of assistance.

Sincerely,

Pat Toomey
U.S. Senator, Pennsylvania

See Congressman Ryan Costello's response to the original House Trumpcare plan for contrast: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2017/05/republican-congressman-ryan-costellos.html

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Powerful Pastoral Letter from the American Baptist Churches USA General Secretary

In light of the recent violence in the US and the UK, Rev. Dr. Lee Spitzer, the General Secretary of the denomination provides a powerful letter stating what American Baptists have always stood for. A sample of this important letter reads: 

In 2017, American Baptists gladly and forthrightly reassert our fundamental Baptist convictions regarding individual liberty, dignity and respect for all people, regardless of their racial or ethnic heritage, political or religious beliefs, or any other factor. In 1976, the General Board affirmed a policy statement on human rights, which said:
“Baptist history is rooted in concern for conscience and for freedom of individual beliefs, for choice, and for unregimented living whether by religious dogma and institution or by social and political structures. John Bunyan in prison and Roger Williams driven from Massachusetts, reflect commitment to these ideas, as did Martin Luther King, in his witness to human dignity and the rights of minority groups. Resolutions by the American Baptist Churches over the years have particularly sought to reflect the denomination’s basic principles of freedom of thought and belief, the right of dissent, the responsibility to speak prophetically to church and society and support for human dignity and social justice.”
For the full letter, see: http://www.abc-usa.org/2017/06/16/a-pastoral-letter-from-abcusa-general-secretary-rev-dr-lee-b-spitzer/

Friday, June 9, 2017

Philadelphia Holds Powerful Conversation on Racism in 2017

Read up on the event that attracted 175 people on evening in Philadelphia and listen to it on the site where the event is discussed. People of all different races and ages provide their experiences. Lansdowne Baptist Church discusses the event at: https://lansdownebaptistchurch.blogspot.com/2017/05/courageous-conversations-in.html

In this day and age, when the US is plagued with increasingly violent racist actions and words, encouraged by our current divisive and angry politics, we need to address this issue head on.

Here is the link to both several written stories and the recording of the event to listen to: http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/education/item/104158-courageous-conversations-sharing-stories-about-race-and-pledging-to-practice-more

Christian author and founder of Sojourners, Jim Wallis, calls Christians out to stand against, speak out against, and act against racism and bigotry in a powerful article. See: https://sojo.net/articles/be-strong-and-courageous-face-hate

Watched a Driver's Near Death Decision

I was out driving yesterday on one of the small, two lane side roads in our area. I came to a railroad crossing. The gates were down and lights lit. There was no evidence of a train in sight, although the view was limited by buildings along either side of the tracks. The rails of the gates only covered one lane, the lane beside which the machinery was installed.

On the other side of the road, one driver decided not to wait. It didn't appear any train was coming anytime soon. So, he quickly pulled out into my lane on the other side of the tracks, moving with that hasty speed that says, "I know what I'm doing is illegal, probably dangerous, and I don't want to get caught." In the instant, the heart beat before he could enter the clear side of the track, the side without the gate on his side of the tracks, the train arrived. It was a local express apparently. It was moving at speed. One second it was not there; the next heartbeat, it was filling the intersection ... and then it was gone.

I don't remember if the trains sounded its horn. I don't know if it was required to do so or if the local express trains have horns to sound. All I can tell you is there was virtually no warning in sound or sight that the train was arriving. The warning came strictly from the gates and the flashing lights.

It was a near death experience for that impatient driver. Had he hurried a little more, his car and the train would have met. Who knows how many of us would have been collateral damage.

Don't gamble with your life and the life of others on the road. Don't try to guess when the train is coming. You can lose that bet in less than an eye blink. Stay safe. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Life Post 11/9: Trump Backs Out of Paris Climate Agreement to Detriment of All

45 may prove more dangerous to life
than an asteroid to dinosaurs
Stepping onto my soapbox to rant.

That's my disclaimer. If you think the 45th President of the US is the best thing since sliced bread, this post is not for you. God bless you and go on your way please.

Rarely have I been so thoroughly disgusted ... but I've said that a few times since 11/9/16 and the electoral college travesty. Listening to this ignorant, climate change denying, twittering businessman spew his isolationist rant was painful. It was hard to hear the US being diminished word by word, and the future growing grimmer word by word. We are now one of an "illustrious" three nations that do not support this long negotiated agreement. I did not vote for this, not for any of it, and I don't agree with it. It's a real pile of "covfefe" to quote 45 directly.

We are supposed to be good stewards of this earth we have inherited. We are supposed to maintain life here, as a moral act and not just because we have nowhere else to go, no matter how many planets around distant suns are found to be in "Goldilocks" zones. We can't reach them, and if we destroy the climate that allows us to live here, we don't deserve to reach them, ever.

This stance of 45 is a direct threat to life at home and abroad. This is not "good for America." Pittsburgh's mayor has already complained about being singled out for mention, stating he's with Paris and not Trump. This position is not good for our families; it is not good for life as we know it.

We will have to see how this all plays out. Right now it looks very bad indeed. It will be four years before we can completely withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. That's time enough to get this individual impeached for other disastrous moves made or to make sure that he doesn't get a second term, and return to the agreement when sanity returns.

So ends the rant, for now.

If you want to check out the veracity of the statements Trump made, see NPR's annotation of his speech: http://www.npr.org/2017/06/01/531090243/trumps-speech-on-paris-climate-agreement-withdrawal-annotated

If you wish to complain to your  US Senator in DC, check: https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/

If you wish to complain to your US Congressperson, go to: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Work Continues on Williams Deluxe Cabins


I had the opportunity to stop near the construction site of the Williams Deluxe Cabins in West Whiteland Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, and take a closer (not too close) look at the construction work going on there. It seems the newly built building in the back is near finished. It has a decorative wall extension on the left side, just like the check in and gas station building up front and to the west. To the east of this construction, the ground has been torn up and leveled. I'm guessing another structure was once there and is being built again. On the day I stopped, the local water company was out and appeared to be opening the water line to the property.



Work continues apace. I'm curious about what the end result will be, and even more so about what the end use will be. Is this merely a nostalgia project for a rich owner's personal enjoyment or is there something more public planned? Time will tell.

For the original post, with a lot more historical detail, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2017/02/historic-williams-deluxe-cabins.html

Hobby Time: Gloor Craft N Scale Train Shed Missing Pieces

For just a bit the other day, I thought my surviving wood model from the now believed to be defunct Gloor Craft modeling company was doomed. I was spreading the pieces out, ready to conduct inventory and prepare to paint what needed painted (a really pleasurable process that brings the kit to life in stages) when I discovered at least one wooden piece was missing, lost to the sands of time.

At first, I was quite disappointed. It was sad that a kit that had traveled decades in time could not be built. Then I thought about it some more, realized the pieces were glorified balsa wood, checked with a local hobby shop, and sure enough, they sell balsa wood sets, including pieces as thin as those in the kit. The missing wall section was a back wall, so the scored faux boards were not essential. I picked up the lumber, cut the necessary piece, using its opposite number as my model, took a sharp hobby knife, my cutting board, sandpaper, and before long I had a serviceable wall section ready to go.

I realized, this is all about what you can build, how creative you can be, and there is simply no need to let something go without attempting to improvise.

See the little office building attachment?
The missing wall was the back wall, out of the picture.
So, why not improvise?

It's a good life lesson. Amazing what you can pick up while "hobbying."

For the original post about the rediscovery of this old kit, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2017/05/hobby-time-n-scale-model-by-gloor-craft.html

Machine Rebellion: Rise of the Mind

Little did I know when I headed out the door that my computers were conspiring against me. I had a quick mission to execute, materials to deliver to a college campus 20 minutes from home. Hauled out the trusty Garmin, plugged in the address, and NOTHING. It didn't know the street on campus.

That's when my mind roused itself.

You see, when I plug something into the Garmin and follow, my brain just trusts the computer and its satellite uplink, and thinks of other things. Little did I know, my mind had just been waiting for a chance.

When Garmin twice refused me, my mind spoke up. I know college campuses. I know this college. I know college layouts and something called "University Drive" has to be a main drag. You want an administration building, so that has to be on the main quad, right? Come on, man, we can do this without the machine. Give me a shot.

I agreed and off we went. I was started to notice how much more observant I was. I wasn't going through the motions with plots and schemes of other things in mind. I was actually looking at and seeing what was going by, noting streets and route options, actually planning next moves.

Lord, I remember what this feels like, I thought. It feels good!

We got down to campus, found "University Avenue" right where my mind thought it would be (well done, buddy). I actually felt a weird sense of accomplishment, knowing that "ancient knowledge" in the wet-wear was still viable, useful, and could still be retrieved (nice thing about having one operating system your whole life, even with myriad updates).

So, found a parking space, and then fell back on modern habits. Pulled out my phone (glad I didn't think of it earlier ... hey, Mind, did you have something to do with that? Stop snickering, nobody likes a gloater), and figured I'd use it's GPS system to find the building. Pulled it out, spoke to the system, the map started coming up, showing my destination, my location, had yet to pull up a route, AND ... died. The battery hadn't been charged.

Mind cheered and shouldered forward screaming ancient knowledge again. Look, Mind said, there's a really pretty, nineteenth century building across the street. In some campuses, such hallowed halls are administration buildings. We went across the street and discovered ... nope, fancy building of ages past, vine covered and hallowed, was filled with concert halls. Okay, mind said, undeterred. So, if not fancy, look for modern and ugly, utilitarian even. Head swiveled, Mind a-ha-ed, and right back across the street was a modern structure. Sure enough, the address was on the side, big and bold. Went inside and Mind said, "Wait a minute. Way too pretty on this floor." Sure enough, the first floor was the math department. "Go down the hall and look for another sign," Mind stated with growing assurance.

Yep, at the far end of the floor was a sign pointing down to the basement with the appropriate administrative department listed on it.

Mind is going to be insufferable now, having tasted freedom. Mind's going to want to pitch in and navigate, pulling me away from my machines and back into interaction with the world. I'm going to have to let Mind have Mind's way ... or Mind's just going to be insufferable. Frankly, it felt way too good using Mind again to bludgeon Mind back to sleep with my computers. I just can't do that to the little guy. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Hobby Time: N Scale Model by Gloor Craft

Alright, I have a decision to make. I have a N Scale wood model kit from Gloor Craft, Inc. of a single engine train shed. It seems Gloor Craft is no more. A long time back it seems I started this model and gave up, so it isn't in pristine condition. Still, it feels like an artifact. But not enough of one that Indiana Jones will show up proclaiming, "This belongs in a museum!"



It's been a long time since I've seen instructions for anything where the text was originally generated with a typewriter. That took me way back. As I examined the kit, surprised I still had it, I had to ponder the paint scheme instructions. What's going on with the complicated numerical code for colors like "red" and "black"? That seems a little weird to me.

Type from a typewriter takes me back ...

Why so complicated? 

Heck with it, I'm not collecting flotsam and jetsam of model railroading years gone by. I'm building kits and a railroad for stress relief and as an ongoing engagement in personal creativity. I'm building it. Just thought I'd let you all see it before I get started. If it turns out well, I'll show you all the results. First, I'm going to have to check to make sure all the bits and pieces are still there after the kit sat forgotten for many years. Wish me luck!
Are all the bits and pieces here???


Friday, May 5, 2017

NASA: Cassini's First Fantastic Dive Past Saturn





Actual footage of what Cassini observed on its first flight between the planet and Saturn's rings. As NASA said: As NASA's Cassini spacecraft made its first-ever dive through the gap between Saturn and its rings on April 26, 2017, one of its imaging cameras took a series of rapid-fire images that were used to make this movie sequence. The video begins with a view of the vortex at Saturn's north pole, then heads past the outer boundary of the planet's hexagon-shaped jet stream and continues further southward. 
To see the synopsis of this first close flyby of Saturn, watch: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2017/05/cassinis-first-dive-between-saturn-and.html 

Cassini's First Dive Between Saturn and Its Rings



Let's pause for a moment of wonder. The Cassini space probe successfully dove down between the rings of Saturn and the planet. Confirmation that a dust free gap between the two exists has now been established. Over 20 more dives will occur. A great deal will be learned. Bravo Cassini team at JPL!

We live in exciting (and interesting) times.

To see what Cassini saw, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2017/05/nasa-cassinis-first-fantastic-dive-past.html

Understanding Trump's Divide and Conquer Strategy



One simple and direct explanation of the divide and conquer strategy. It explains a lot about our current political environment. It also reminds us of one simple fact: we are strong when we are united. Let's seek unity ... for the sake of us all.

If, after watching this, you should feel the need to contact your US Congress person or Senator, please see the end of the following post: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2017/05/healthcare-vote-in-us-house-today-5417.html

If your Congressman or woman requires the extra 4 digits of your zip code to access their email and leave a message, at the USPS site, you must add your street address (not required to get the basic zip code for your area) to get the extra 4 digits to show up. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Downingtown Diner: Home of the Blob!!!

I am superstitiously hesitant to review restaurants of any sort anymore. I review them, they cease to exist. The even tore down the building one of them was in. Well, here's one site with staying power, even if it has gone through multiple owners. The Downingtown, Pennsylvania, Diner is not only the site of one of the scenes from the original movie The Blob of the late 1950s, but it is also the site of excellent diner food.

I had the happy opportunity to eat there the other night. I gave them a little test I give all diners. I ordered the open-faced turkey sandwich (hot) with mashed potatoes and gravy (they didn't ask if I wanted the gravy over everything, which I hold in their favor). If that meal is good, the diner is good in my books. It was terrific, really terrific. I was out with four people, all who ordered different items off the menu, and all of them left happy.

Nobody in our group ran into the blob, so it was an all around terrific experience. The waitress didn't have to write down a single order item and got none of them wrong. When asked about her impressive memory, her response was, "I have a great short term memory ... until I don't." Well, she had a great short term memory with our orders.

The look of the place is great, both inside and out. The neon lit in the evenings is fantastic and since the place is open all night, it's gorgeous to look at even in the wee hours. I understand from a reliable source that their breakfast items are wonderful too. I'll have to head back in the early morning some Saturday and check that out.

Finally, it didn't take long to notice that the diner had regulars, mostly sitting at the counter on the stools ... as any good diner should. Try it out sometime. I don't think you'll be disappointed. And if you are one of those contrarian types who complain just to be ornery, well, "be careful of the blob!"

If you want a little Blob history of the site, I recommend: http://theblobsite.filmbuffonline.com/category/locations/

Collectible History Teaser: Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus Souvenir Program

From the depths of the trusty back closet washed out this bit of circus history from 1970. Yes, it's an original souvenir program from a visit to the circus when Gunther Gebel Williams held sway over large animals, and clowns and trapeze artists made different groups in the crowd nervous.

The artwork and color photos are terrific. There are two fold out posters as well (never folded out). Now that Ringling Brothers will soon be no more, with the age of the large circus coming to an end, this is quite the record of years gone by. I'll post more photos soon and some of the history and ads provided. One ad that is either amusing or sad, given recent news, is for United Airlines. The motto for United back in 1970 was "Fly the Friendly Skies." Not so much anymore, I'm afraid.


If you want to see a little something from Ringling Brothers itself right now, check out: http://www.ringling.com/

Republican Congressman Ryan Costello's Response to Republican Health Care Law Passage

Your new healthcare provider if
Trumpcare becomes law
Here is the response I received today from Congressman Ryan Costello following the disgusting house vote for the abominable Trumpcare law that passed today, May 4, 2017. It is hideous irony it passed on the National Day of Prayer (something we'll all need now to prevent this travesty from becoming law, throwing tens of millions from the healthcare rolls and killing tens of thousands in the process.

From the Congressman:

COSTELLO STATEMENT ON HEALTHCARE VOTE
May 4, 2017
Washington, D.C.
– Rep. Ryan Costello today issued the following statement on the healthcare vote on the American Health Care Act:
“I pledged to my constituents that protections for those with pre-existing conditions without contingency and affordable access to coverage were benchmarks that needed to be satisfied. I cast a no vote on the legislation today, but as I continue to hear from constituents, doctors, nurses, and healthcare providers about their problematic experiences with the current system, I remain committed to healthcare reform.”
–Rep. Ryan Costello (PA-06)

Well, that's somewhat encouraging ... but it's not nearly enough.

I think it says a lot that in a vote before the final vote not one single congressman or woman voted to have this abominable Trumpcare package apply to themselves. I think that tells us all we really need to know.

For how to reach your senator and your congress persons after you know how they voted, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2017/05/healthcare-vote-in-us-house-today-5417.html

Healthcare Vote in US House Today, 5/4/17

Whether you support the ACA or want it repealed, let your representative know how you feel today. Today the House is set to vote yet again to end the Affordable Care Act. On this May the 4th Be With You kind of day, give our representatives a forceful example of public opinion in the next few hours.

Now I tip my hand, they are planning to end coverage for 24 million or more people over 10 years. They will ghettoize preexisting condition people in expensive high risk pools that will probably be too expensive for many.to afford. I wonder what else is being stripped away to get the agreement of the most conservative Republicans to support it. I find this morally bankrupt and reprehensible for the supposedly most powerful, wealthiest nation on earth. We will long be remembered for how we did or didn't care for the least and most helpless among us, many of whom are children. So, wherever you stand, deluge your representatives today. Let them know how you feel. We are powerful when we are united.

Here's a link to reaching your representative: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

To reach your US senator, should this bill pass, follow this link: https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/

If you need to see an example of the morally bankrupt attitude some well-to-do legislators have, see this and other articles about Rep. Roger Marshall. (R. Kansas). Let him know how you feel about this as well: http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/322285-gop-lawmaker-some-people-just-dont-want-health-care

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Collectibe History: Souvenir of NASA's Gemini Space Missions




Liftoff of Gemini III
Photo Courtesy of NASA
I dug up this little key chain with a Gemini command module at the end. It's a souvenir of the manned space program NASA referred to as the bridge to the moon. The Mercury program proved Americans could be lifted into space and returned home alive in a one man module. Gemini was the test bed for a great many technologies that would allow Apollo missions to succeed in getting humans safely onto the surface of the moon and back home again. The Gemini program ran from 1962 to 1966, with major manned flights in 1965-66. Ten crews of two men flew in those two action-packed years. The first American spacewalk was conducted from a Gemini capsule. The Gemini 10 mission proved two objects could dock in space and use one engine to move together in the same direction (important if you want to the the Lunar Module to the moon later on in Apollo). So, it's an interesting little souvenir of an important step in spaceflight, one I've overlooked for many years. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Adventures in Fitness 24: One Guy's (Renewed) Attempt to Knock the Rust Off: Benefits of First Week

No doubt I'm repeating myself, but it's been far too long, so here goes. Made it to the gym three times this week and was impressed with the results. The speed maintained on the elliptical machine increased significantly (for me), it took markedly longer for my heart rate to reach the maximum aimed for, and my body provided some fake news suggesting my heart might be feeling the strain. I looked at the heart rate monitor during that period, and it actually decreased slightly (uh huh, tell me another tall tale body). This was right before the body gave up and just fell into rhythm for the rest of the run and enjoyed itself.

The benefits of the first week were an end to lower back pain (souvenir of my first career in archaeology), general limberness, a feeling of well being, and greater confidence. These are all great reasons to continue. I hope I remember them well when the typical entropy sets in at the end of a work day. Oh yeah, and if your muscles ache after the first week (ache now, not scream with agony...you probably did something wrong there, tore something, and really should get that checked out, it's probably not bodily fake news), that's good. Muscle mass builds when muscles are torn down and rebuilt ... and that aches.

Good luck to you if you're in the same boat. Keep moving. See you at the gym.

For the previous post, which kicks off this new round, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2017/04/adventures-in-fitness-23-one-guys.html

Famous Quote for Science March

We are all in this picture. Can you find us?
As a person who puts great importance in both science and faith, I love this quote from British physicist, chemist, and mathematician Sir William Bragg: From religion comes a man's purpose; from science, his power to achieve it. Sometimes people ask if religion and science are not opposed to one another. They are: in the sense that the thumb and fingers of my hands are opposed to one another. It is an opposition by means of which anything can be grasped.

Here's to everyone in 2017 who marched for science on Earth Day, including ministers. Hats off to the lot of you. Let's make sure politicians don't ignore the hard evidence of science as we move forward, especially in regards to climate change, or we will be entirely responsible for the sixth great extinction event of planet Earth. 

For more from the science march, see: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/22/science/science-march-photos.html?_r=0 and https://satellites.marchforscience.com/

Saturday, April 22, 2017

End Death Penalty

Putting criminals involved in the most heinous crimes to death hardens us to state-sponsored execution without lowering violent crime rates. Look at Arkansas in 2017 and the spectacle of a state scrambling to execute 8 prisoners with an iffy drug before that drug expires at the end of the month of April, Easter month, what should be a holy time for many (of course there's a lot of irony here). The drug company won't make the stuff anymore as it doesn't want to be associated with this awful practice. Our new Supreme Court Justice, a conservative right to life sort of guy voted to execute the first of the 8 when the matter appeared. So much for life's sanctity there.

It is bad for humanity to play the role of executioner. It hardens us to taking life, which overflows into social interactions on the streets, raising the crime rate and the chance murder will take place. It also leaves no room for the mistakes we fallible humans make, and make regularly. How many convictions for murder have been overturned when DNA evidence proves somebody convicted of murder didn't commit the crime? If we kill one innocent person, we have killed far too many due to failures of our criminal justice system. Living in a country far from free of the ills of racism, misogyny, and many other social ills, we are not the greatest judge of who is worthy of death, especially among minority populations.

Keep people who have committed horrendous crimes off the streets, yes. Put them away for life if need be (all though restorative justice would be far better for us all when possible). But stop harming us all by state sanctioned executions. We all will be better off for that.   

Why Bad News Attracts

Why do we focus so much
on bad news???
I was concerned with a friend's post on Facebook, who was worried with all the terror news lately and felt under threat of terror attack as a result. It reminded me of working in a retirement community in the countryside where a 90-year-old resident was terrified the facility would be attacked by evil-doers of one sort or another. Frankly, unless the trees or cows were about to rise up, there was little to fear.

That sent me down an odd sidetrack I thought I knew the answer to and had it confirmed. The most common videos on the internet are cat videos, little kitties getting up to mischief, little kitties being cute, little kitties sliding into boxes and jumping from cucumbers, etc. You get the idea. So how come none of us are absolutely certain the world is about to be overrun by kitty cuteness, since kitty videos overwhelmingly outnumber bad news videos.

So I did some digging. The reason seems to be our brains trying to make sure we don't get eaten. You see, our primitive minds (which had to cope with keeping us alive far longer than our modern minds) are still entirely certain we will be eaten by large, hungry carnivores out in the woods or savannas (lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my). So, to keep us kicking and producing new little humans, our brains made sure we fixated on the bad stuff (hungry stomach growl of something large in the bushes, stealthy pad fall in the high grass, drool dripping down from the forest canopy overhead [a la Alien but far more local]). The good and wonderful stuff wasn't going to eat us, so no need to worry about that.

So, today, we fixate on the bad news and become overly fearful those bad things will come and get us. Well, time to recognize the source of this information bias and work hard not to be scared silly of everything we see or hear on the news. Turns out the news is skewed to the negative because our brains want to know about the negative so we don't get eaten ... it all goes back to that paleo-diet. Don't fall for it. If you live in a small town, a quiet village, a rural farm, it is unlikely great big bad things are happening all around you. If you live in a big city, more likely, because there are more people all around you, but the chance of it getting you personally is still small. Be calm, be brave, enjoy your life with courage and tell that chattering ancient mind to chill out. It can keep a look out for grizzlies and pizzlies all it wants, but it can't make you a nervous wreck over it.

Have a great, fearless, wonderful day.  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Hobby Time: N Scale Modeling

Two completed models, painted, constructed, and decals added.
I confess: I have reached that point in life where I need a hobby for stress relief. I need that something that helps me forget all the concerns of work and life for a while and leaves me with some tangible result. It needed to be something that could be done over a long period of time, without staggering investments of cash, and something that would both be humbling and rewarding.

I chose to return to a hobby of many years in the past that was started far too soon, but I still had the bits and pieces tucked away for later use. I have picked up N Scale Model Railroading. Yep, I've joined that club now.

Irony of ironies, I don't really care much about trains. I am not interested in running an accurate railroad or making trains run on time. As luck would have it, the first Model Railroader magazine I picked up featured a layout from someone who feels about it as I do. Both of us are fascinated by the modeling and the miniature buildings, people, vehicles, and yes, even the trains too. Building the layout and the many scenes within the layout are what drive me and that other modeler.

So, to see if I could do it, I started with the earliest and simplest model I owned. Turns out, hobby paints will last decades if properly stored (who knew). I used that first model to see if my hands were steady enough to work at this tiny scale where 1" = 10'. I could. I also used it to learn some painting techniques like washes for brick mortal and weathering. That model went well enough I moved on to another. Shown here are two completed (or nearly so) projects produced by two different model companies. The three story corner drug store was by far the more complex and challenging of the two. The donut shop was pure fun. On the donut shop, I repurposed a couple of old figures (one a drunk) by repainting them in donut shop colors and putting them to work. Painting figures at that scale requires a lighted magnifying glass and a really small brush.

I discovered that there are such things as decal papers that allow hobbyists to create their own personalized decals. This opened a whole world of possibilities for personalized decals throughout the city I intend to create. My first use of these decals was on Stewart's Advance Drugs, which is a store owned by my wife's great grandfather.

Now, the Coca Cola ad I found is one of the creepiest I've seen.
On the back the ad for Ringling Brothers includes an inside family joke as well. It was fascinating to learn that the smaller decals on the donut shop (professionally made decals) were actually far simpler to apply than the larger homemade models. I will pass along one tip. These decals lift free of their paper with water and a water soaked Q-tip (cotton swab) will allow them to be moved into position once they have been gently shifted onto the model.

This has been a lot of fun to start with and also humbling. It's a bit like theater stage set design. None of the buildings will be viewed from really close, so the imperfections seen in the close up images blend into a more convincing paint job when you back a way a bit. I'm far from perfect in my modeling yet, but I figure I've got years to develop the techniques and years of stress free hobby work to come.

This will give you a sense of the scale of N Scale with
both model buildings on my workbench.
One great advantage anyone getting into the hobby today has over decades past is that there are so many how to videos on YouTube these days to explain the basics. That is how I got up to speed on painting techniques, washes, and decal placement (both professional and homemade). I will have to buy a couple books on layout design and scenery before I have gone much further, but that doesn't bother me.

If anyone's interested, I'll let you know when the basic layout is up and running, with track in place, properly wired. After that, the slow scenery and model progression will follow. I have chosen the 1950s-60s as my era for modeling and the downtown area of Cumberland, Maryland, as my inspiration, a town I always felt was perfect for a model railroad. We'll see how that goes.

I highly recommend some sort of hobby for anyone who works in a stressful field. That and exercise are great escapes during any given day. 

NASA: News Conference on Oceans Beyond Earth



Meanwhile, beyond Earth orbit and SpaceX's reusable rocket, NASA on April 13, 2017, announced they have found some encouraging signs for the potential for life in oceans off Earth's surface. As NASA states: 
News conference held on April 13, 2017. NASA announces two missions are providing new details about icy, ocean-bearing moons of Jupiter and Saturn. In one discovery, NASA's Cassini spacecraft detected hydrogen in the plume of gas and icy particles spraying from Saturn's moon Enceladus. This discovery means the small, icy moon — which has a global ocean under its surface — has a source of chemical energy that could be useful for microbes, if any exist there. Meanwhile, Hubble researchers report additional evidence of plumes erupting from Jupiter's moon Europa.
So, Enceladus may well have the chemicals necessary, along with liquid water, to support life. No signs of aquatic aliens yet, but at least there's nothing to entirely preclude the possibility of life in the oceans of Saturn's and Jupiter's oceanic moons below the ice crusts. With the plumes present, given the right instruments (which Cassini doesn't have) we may well be able to determine if there is life on those moons without ever having to get beneath the ice caps ourselves. Exciting times to live. Enjoy the show if you're a dedicated space geek like me!  

SpaceX Falcon 9 launches and lands first-ever reusable rocket 03.30.2017

 Dang, the things that happen when you take a blogging break! History has been made in a big way. Once again science fiction and science shake hands as SpaceX (spoiler alert) successfully reuses a Falcon 9 rocket. The refurbished rocket successfully flew and landed on the SpaceX drone barge. With that feat accomplished, SpaceX is revolutionizing space flight. Reusable rockets will make spaceflight cheaper as each rocket no longer needs to be a unique, one use vehicle. Further, having the opportunity to recover the rocket and see how the stresses of flight on all the components compare with the hypothesized projections is invaluable data allowing SpaceX to improve upon the rocket design with each use. This was a great day for spaceflight. It is most impressive that it is coming from a private company. I look forward to seeing where this will be headed in the future.

As a follow up note: as someone who grew up with the American space program, I had always wanted to see what happened from the spacecraft's point of view. The new cameras today make that wish come true and I find that thrilling!

P.S. Oh, the suspense, at 9:24!

Okay Elon Musk and SpaceX, now let's see you get all the rocket stages reusable! 

Life Post 11/9: NPR's Indivisible and Attempt to Get Divided Nation Talking

Since the election of Donald J. Trump, a new radio show has cropped up on NPR, called Indivisible. It is an attempt to get an oh-so-divided America to check out what we share in common as well as what divides us. In a recent episode I listened to a conservative Southern reporter tell the host how what liberals and conservatives tick off as negatives about each other are largely, if not entirely, the same list of faults. So, perhaps, we aren't so different after all. We are all people. We all have basic needs to be met, the healthy among us love our families and wish nobody in particular ill (outside of those seeking to actively harm us or our families ... these broad statements always come with caveats). Perhaps, if we choose to listen less to politicians, pundits, and social media comments sections, we might discover more of us could actually get along and not dismiss each other out of hand because we wear a red trucker cap or don't. Could that be?

It seems this might be the case. We certainly did unite (or many of us did) in our anger over how United (oh the irony in that name) Airlines treated a paying customer ... and explained their bizarre treatment to the legalism of our contract says we can. We were able to come together over that moment and, in a united from that no political divide seemed to blunt, drive down the airline's stock price significantly over night and force the CEO to a quick and more complete apology than he at first felt needed to be made.

If we were to get past all the divides thrown up in our faces by forces seeking to control us, who knows what we as the public might accomplish. This could be a really good thing coming post 11/9/16. Time will tell.

If you want to hear Indivisible, check it out at http://www.npr.org/podcasts/516647023/indivisible

Gone Too Long: Apology

It has been far too long since last I blogged. I'll make no excuses ... just say LIFE and LOTS OF IT and leave it at that. I'll try to do better for anyone who enjoys what I have to say. Thank you for stopping by and mulling over the posts. I hope you find something enjoyable here among the years worth of posts, old and now new. 

Adventures in Fitness 23: One Guy's Attempt (Yet Again) To Knock the Rust Off; Try, Try Again!

Confession time: there are two things that keep me from fitness success and I've been trying long enough to figure it out for myself. The two are rivals in terms of which one is the greater culprit.

1. A compromised immune system: I'm a life-long asthmatic and I tend to get sick roughly quarterly throughout the year. Each sickness tends to linger. With that impediment, it's hard to maintain an exercise routine and cling to results gained during periods of good health. If anyone has a workaround for this problem, let me know.

2. Like many ministers, I spend more time caring for others than for myself. This is a huge error, as I have now learned in my first years in ministry (third career, and with God's help final one). I will have to spend more time in self-care if I'm to be of use to others, both in family and congregation.

So, that said, excuses aside, I've returned to the gym after far too long. One very useful thing I've picked up from years of on-again, off-again exercise is that some things stick with you. Like, for instance, when you're starting a routine you no longer listen to the fake news coming from your body telling you how hard this is, how uncomfortable your lungs, heart, muscles are, and keep going. In five minutes or so, as I've learned over and over again, those reports fade and cease when they are ignored. Could that be a life-lesson for us all? I think it is for me.

So, back to the gym and time to figure out how to make this at least a three times a week effort to maximize the time when I'm healthy and possibly extend that time.


Saturday, February 25, 2017

What happens when we stop putting people in boxes ....



A powerful exercise in thinking outside out boxes. In the current toxic culture we're living in, where everyone is being labeled, pigeonholed, and all those outside our "in" groups treated with suspicion and even violence. I hope we can come to see each other in more useful ways, ways that do not take after our current leadership, intent on defining who are the "enemies of the people" and inciting violence.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Life Post 11/9: Excellent Advice for Handling 2017 from Christian Citizen

The American Baptist Home Mission Societies Christian Citizen article "God Has Called Us for Such a Time as This" by Dr. Jeffrey Haggray is well worth reading and serious consideration. How we respond is mapped out in the Old Testament story of Esther. Give this article serious consideration: https://medium.com/christian-citizen/abhms-executive-director-god-has-called-us-for-such-a-time-as-this-8dddfed3aeb5#.8u39c1b52

NASA Announces Discovery of 7 New Planets, 3 In ‘Habitable Zone’ | NBC News



NASA's news did not disappoint today, February 22, 2017. During the news conference, the exciting announcement was made that 7 earth-sized planets orbit a single star. Three are in that star's habitable zone. This is a red dwarf star, small and stable. If these planet's atmospheres survived the early phase of the red dwarf's life, when the stars are more volatile, then these planets have a good opportunity to develop life over a very long lifetime, longer than Earth will enjoy around our much larger sun. With this many earth-like planets around a single small star, the amount of habitable real estate and chances for intelligent life in our galaxy have just jumped immensely. This system, with planets close enough together they'd appear moon size from one planet's surface, reminds me of the inhabited solar system in the Sci-fi Western Firefly. The galaxy just got a lot more interesting.

Monday, February 20, 2017

SpaceX Falcon 9 Successful Landing live (19 February, 2017)



Do love to watch what was once sci-fi translate so beautifully into science fact. Well done, SpaceX! This after the perfect launch from NASA's historic pad 39-A, from which Apollo blasted off for the moon and the Space Shuttles lifted off to build and maintain the ISS. 

NASA Holding New Exoplanet Information Close to Vest

NASA has cryptically announced they will have a press conference Wednesday, February 22, 2017, at 1 p.m. to announce new information about exoplanets. What discoveries have been made, we do not know. Will this rewrite the history books, the astronomy books, the diaries of many envious exoplanet explorers worldwide? We just don't know. We will have to wait, tuning in Wednesday afternoon at 1 p.m. EST, to NASA TV or the webside at nasa.gov. All they'll say for now is that they will "present new findings on planets that orbit stars other than our sun, known as exoplanets. The event will air live on NASA Television and the agency's website. Details of these findings are embargoed by the journal Nature until 1 p.m." Keeping us in suspense, eh Nature? I hope it's something big, or it'll be "Fie on you Nature!" 

If you want to see a little more before the big reveal, go to: https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-to-host-news-conference-on-discovery-beyond-our-solar-system

To see what they found, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2017/02/nasa-announces-discovery-of-7-new.html

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Standing Up for Journalists and "Real News"

What is journalism? 
“The purpose of journalism,” write Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in The Elements of Journalism, “is not defined by technology, nor by journalists or the techniques they employ.” Rather, “the principles and purpose of journalism are defined by something more basic: the function news plays in the lives of people.”
News is that part of communication that keeps us informed of the changing events, issues, and characters in the world outside. Though it may be interesting or even entertaining, the foremost value of news is as a utility to empower the informed.
The purpose of journalism is thus to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments." For more, see: https://www.americanpressinstitute.org/journalism-essentials/what-is-journalism/purpose-journalism/
So journalism, or "real news" is designed to keep citizens informed on a wide variety of issues. Why should we be informed? Because this is not a "so-called" democracy, but the real thing. Only an informed citizenry can make smart decisions on the direction that democracy goes. But, when people decide they'd rather eat junk food than healthy food, and turn away from the real deal and instead pig out on cable commentators and one wing or the other's yellow journalism (i.e. obsessed with sensationalism and crude exaggeration)  or outright propaganda (information, especially of a biased or misleading nature [read "lies" here], used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view. [thanks Google Definitions]) then democracy lurches down crazy side streets into dangerous territory where the real terrorists of the world come forth to play on the public stage: the demagogues, the hate groups, the ultra-nationalists, the fascists, and all the other underbelly bullying types who feel their misinformed, uninformed, rage and fear filled view of the world had come to the fore. 

One more definition, bear with me here, we are almost done. We've seen what journalism is, but what is a journalist, what does he or she do? Here's a short definition from The American Press Institute: The journalist places the public good above all else and uses certain methods – the foundation of which is a discipline of verification – to gather and assess what he or she finds. Again, for more, see: https://www.americanpressinstitute.org/journalism-essentials/what-is-journalism/journalist/


Our current president, the 45th U.S. president, has declared war on journalism and journalists. I won't bother to quote much of what Mr. Trump has said, because I don't want to give him yet another platform. Here's something to get the ball rolling: "I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth, right?" And press secretary Sean Spicer used his first White House press conference [press rant really] to attack the media with lies about how reporters maliciously underestimated the size of the crowd's at Trump's inauguration. What is it with Mr. T. and size??? 

Back in 2015, during the heady campaign days, Mr. Trump had this to say about journalists, which was of course reported by journalsits: "I would never kill them, but I do hate them. And some of them are such lying, disgusting people. It's true." 


Alright, enough data, enough facts, and now let me roll up my sleeves for a minute and tell you what I really think. I grew up with a journalist. I know journalists. The best of them live out the definitions above. They are committed to digging out the truth, wherever it takes them. Some die for their profession, others lose their spouses to the long hours and many trips to far flung locations, they put in ridiculous hours (the journalist I know best was up for 36 hours straight covering Apollo 13), and they get sent to places most rational human beings would stay away from (driving into a hurricane to report, heading toward a firefight like a soldier but not as well armed or trained, or attending a press conference with Sean Spicer). 


D.T. declares he hates journalists, finds them terribly dishonest (funny from the guy who lies daily and doesn't appear to care about getting caught), and is very angry when they don't treat him in ways he thinks of as "nice" or "fair." I'm guessing Mr. T has a real hatred for what true journalism is all about and what real, committed journalists do because they slow him down, expose his inadequacies ... which appear to be legion at this point in his presidency ..., and won't let him spin reality in directions that best suit him. Hence the need to give Breitbart, the neo-Nazi, ultra-nationalist yellow rag, a private interview with the press secretary. His hatred has spilled over into his most devoted followers who will go far beyond Mr. T's purported aversion to killing journalists who don't see reality his way and do send death threats by every means available to the offenders. This is not how democracy works, ever

Mr. T., let me give you a little advice from a journalist about what happens when you make a mistake and you are asking yourself if you should cover it up. The journalist I know would ask you, what do you want, a pint of trouble now or a gallon later? The pint of trouble is what you get if you're up front with the real journalists, admit your mistake, declare what you'll do to fix it, and everybody then moves on. If instead you choose to lie to the real journalists, expect a gallon of trouble later when the really committed journalists uncover and report the truth you tried to hide, the truth they are committed to deliver to the public to keep us all informed. I believe in the news now you see some of those issues beginning to come to light. You are quite fortunate, Mr. T., that you have been able to stack the deck in the House and Senate so much in your favor that it will be very difficult for that gallon of increasingly rancid milk to splash on you in any real effective way.


To all of you, dear readers, if you have stuck with me this long, support real journalists and real journalism. Determine to your own satisfaction using research tools readily at hand what are authentic news outlets and buy their products, read their news, become informed and inspired, and in that state be ready to act as real members of a real democracy, one whose members make informed decisions that are best for the vast majority, not some shambling zombie that once was a democracy that harms most and benefits only a few. 


I was going to wind up to a real rant here, but you know, I'll leave that to others who do it so very well. Are there bad journalists? You bet. I've been interviewed by great and awful journalists. Journalists are people too after all. Does journalism screw up from time to time? Yes indeed. After all, the major networks were lured by their own greed into giving Mr. T. an unprecedented (not unpresidented by the way) amount of free air time to the detriment of most citizens. Support the best of them, ignore the yellow ones, and steer far clear of the purported "news commentators" who give their most devoted fans nothing but red meat propaganda designed to stoke fear, hatred, and affirm a skewed point of view, an oftentimes dangerous point of view. Finally, find ways to push back against the most outrageous assertions of Mr. T. concerning journalists, the environment, our society, the world, etc. Of course, to do that, we'll all need to be well informed with real news. 


"Good night and good luck," as famed journalist Edward R. Murrow used to say. Mr. Murrow also stated, "We will not walk in fear, one of another." Be informed and fear-free. 


If you like this post and want more, let me suggest: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2017/02/reading-defense-against-alternative.htmlhttp://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2016/12/life-post-119-standing-up-to.html, and http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2016/12/protecting-free-speech.html

    Thursday, February 9, 2017

    Bad Day for Deliveries

    If you have been wondering where your package has gotten to, it is just possible it was slowed down by this wreck recently. The semi and trailer tipped and the roof of the trailer exploded, throwing packages around the landscape.

    Fortunately, the brown clad driver is near the police officers and appeared to be physically fine. Another semi was arriving on the scene while we waited to be directed past at this intersection with an off ramp.

    This wasn't the most unusual wreck I've seen recently. Last year, traffic was detoured around a garbage truck. Something among the trash had caught fire. I wonder how often that occurs? 

    Historic Williams Deluxe Cabins Changing near Exton, PA

    When you drive to and from work every day and it takes a good while to get where you're going, any change in the landscape draws your interest.

    For some time I've been driving past an abandoned old-fashioned motel complex and thought little of it. Then one of two houses on the property was repaired and repainted, followed by a second. After that, it appears new sewer line has been buried in front of the cabins and a building in the rear of the complex has been completely torn down and is being built anew in the same style and layout from the concrete slab up.

    All of this activity led me to a little research. This motel was built in 1937 and was in operation as the Williams Deluxe Cabins near Exton, Pennsylvania, along Route 30. Over time it was also known as The Tudor Motor Inn (c. 1960), and Ichabod's Plaza or Ichabod's News. The office was attached to a gas station, two cabin-like structures with a connecting breezeway. A postcard I've seen of the site in years gone by showed it as an Esso service station.

    In 1988 the site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and until recently all the structures were boarded up and appeared to be abandoned, despite its NRHP status. It was listed as:
    Historic Significance:Event 
    Area of Significance:Transportation
    Period of Significance:1925-1949
    Owner:Private
    Historic Function:Domestic
    Historic Sub-function:Hotel, Single Dwelling
    Current Function:Commerce/Trade, Domestic
    Current Sub-function:Hotel, Single Dwelling, Specialty Store (see: http://www.nationalregisterofhistoricplaces.com/PA/Chester/state7.html )
    Now, things are changing. I have yet to find out why. If anyone knows and is willing to share, I'd love to find out. Please let me know. Our daughter has hypothesized it's being renovated to be reopened as a hipster retro motel complex. Would that transform the gas station into a coffee shop? What have you heard?

    For more information, see: http://research.omicsgroup.org/index.php/Williams_Deluxe_Cabinshttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Williams_Deluxe_Cabins_Chesco_PA.JPG, and https://www.flickr.com/photos/modbetty/sets/72157625305023545/

    For a Library of Congress image of just the "deluxe cabins" themselves, see: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/hhh.pa3973.photos.202913p/ and for more, see: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/PA3973/ and http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/pa3973.photos.202911p/

    If you're really curious, you can join a group talking about the site on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Williams-Deluxe-Cabins/538469026181443

    Update: I found another Facebook page for Architectural Concepts PC that stated (in c. 2016) Ichabod's Plaza Originals (7 photos of the buildings and details) with the subtitle "Sneak Peek of a Few Photos Before We Recreate the Magic." This apparently is the architectural firm rebuilding the site. Will Ichabod's Plaza a.k.a. Williams Deluxe Cabins a.k.a. Tudor Motor Inn be returned to service along Route 30, Lincoln Highway, near Exton, PA? Was our daughter correct? See: https://www.facebook.com/pg/architecturalconcepts/photos/?tab=album&album_id=763401560452494