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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Selfie - Signpost to the End of Time or What?

Even my dog's doing selfies!
Brendan Greely wrote this piece on Bloomberg the other day, blaming the rise of the "selfie" and rampant narcissism on capitalists who make money exploiting the all-to-human absorption in ourselves.

I disagree with Mr. Greeley, however. I don't think it's a case of capitalists creating narcissism, but rather a case of capitalism responding to rampant narcissism with products that narcissists like. Greely seizes upon the cell phone camera and the ease with which we can take pictures of ourselves as causative for a rise in self-absorption in society.  This is typical behaviorist, progressive socialist thinking.  We rush to blame our flaws on some external influence that made us this way. And while, I will admit that external factors may have a profound influence upon our characters, choice is, I believe, the deciding element in any societal shift.

Besides, I don't think all self-portraiture is narcissism. If you don't put up some kind of picture of yourself, it works out like those old pen pal letters where you communicate for years with someone that you wouldn't recognize on the street because they never sent you a picture. A picture of yourself is not entirely about you.

People who communicate with you want to know what you look like now. They even like older pictures of you, so they can jog their memories and know which one of their classmates was you. Sure we may have less than honorable intentions when we post pictures of ourselves when we were 23 and svelte and many people do. Okay, that can be a bit dishonest if you're trying to make people believe you're a 23 year old hottie when you're really a 58 year old grandmaw. But at the same time there are a whole lot of us who do post gritty, realistic self-portraits as our Facebook avatars, updating them as we age. People want to see faces when they are talking to someone, even if it's on Facebook Chat or Twitter.

Oddly enough, people tend to get more "likes" and comments on a new self-portrait/avatar change than they do on almost anything else they post on Facebook.  Why? Because people want to see your face - your real face. It makes you more alive. People want to know you've gone native since you moved to Washington State and grew back your hair to hippie length and it's gone all white and curly.  Your face tells your friends a lot about yourself.

Do companies make money on our obsession with self-portraiture. Yes, of course they do. Is that a bad thing?  Not really. We need stuff. Advertisers want to sell us stuff. Why not make it easier?  So let them make money. We get value for our pageviews in that we get to keep up with friends.

One positive outcome may be improving the lot of retired men. Women have always tended to outlive men because they are better networkers than men, who have long tended to become isolated once they retire from work. Technology has given men a tool to not only maintain their connection with their friends, but also to restore old lost connections as well.

Thanks to Facebook's "narcissism business", I've reconnected to dozens of old friends from my youth. I've reconnected with loved ones long lost and follow the careers of children I taught in school 30-40 years ago. I can trade pictures in an instant with my kids and one day, I hope, with my grand-kids and great grand-kids.

It's not the fault of technology, greedy capitalists or godless communism that so much self-absorption and self-centeredness exists in the world. We've always had that going. These kinds of people would have been chipping sexy selfies out of marble thousands of years ago if they'd had the talent and the marble to do it. What's nice about Facebook is the more egregious narcissists in the group leave mostly digital pictures of themselves rather than marble busts littering the place. Bits and bytes, thank God, are very simple to erase. Don't blame technology, though. Technology is but a tool.

"The fault, dear Brutus," as Shakespeare put it, "is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

© 2013 by Tom King

Friday, December 13, 2013

Why I Celebrate Christmas Anyway

Every year at this time, some dear soul feels compelled to tell me I'm committing sin for celebrating Christmas. Then they tell me, as though I didn't already know, that December the 25th was originally a pagan holiday.

I know this.

Then, of course, there are some anxiety-ridden humanists out there who tell me they are offended because I celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday.

Well, I can't help that. They should get over themselves.

I'm still going to celebrate Christmas. Yes, it was once a pagan holiday with roots going clear back to the Babylonians. That has nothing to do with anything. I'm not worshiping Tammuz on Christmas. Most people who celebrate Christmas don't even know who Tammuz was. While the date itself was once a pagan holiday, it has been so thoroughly co-opted by Christians the pagans hardly count anymore. Besides, December is a nice time to celebrate something. Without Christmas the last month of the year would be as bleak as February is.  And if you don't like some of the symbols, just don't use them. There are lots of things you can decorate with besides Santa Clauses or holly wreaths.  Symbols are what you make of them. So make your own symbolism. Explaining the meaning of the symbols you choose can even be a part of your witness during the holiday season.

It's not like Christmas is a holiday which replaces any holy day which God has instructed us to observe.  A case could be made that worshiping on Sunday is a man made substitute for the ten commandment Sabbath, a celebration commanded by God, but Christmas is not celebrated in place of anything which God commands us to celebrate.

I'm like Martin Luther. He once used a German drinking tune for one of his popular hymns. When criticized for using the devil's music for a hymn, Luther asked,  "Why should the devil have all the good tunes?" To this day, Germans remember the hymn, but have long forgotten the drinking song. The drunks quit singing it because it sounded too much like a hymn.

As children of God, we are not prohibited from celebrating things like the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day or other secular holidays.
Apparently it's okay not to be cheerless and self-righteous about things God has not prohibited. The Jewish Christians made a big deal about Christians buying meat that had been offered to idols. It was sold cheap at the markets once the priests had drawn out all the blood for the sacrifice. A lot of Christians, being out of the mainstream religiously were struggling to make ends meet. Paul said he saw nothing wrong with it. A good deal is a good deal after all.  He did caution, however, that if a weaker Christian were to be tempted by your eating meat in front of him that had been offered to idols, then you, as the "stronger" Christian who had no qualms about it, should be careful not to cause the other believer to stumble by doing so.

Christ, Himself, was criticized for sharing meals with and going to parties with sinners. His response was that he had not come to save the righteous, but sinners and he kept right on offending the Pharisees and Sadducees. I think his example applies nicely to Christmas celebrations. After all, what better place to witness to sinners that to go where they are gathered to celebrate a holiday built around the birth of Christ?

Several friends of mine have relatives who are pretty militant about not celebrating Christmas. One son won't bring his kids to Grandmaw's while the Christmas decorations are up. It's hard to know what to do when someone you love goes holier-than-thou and jumps all over you because you celebrate a holiday that makes you happy and brings you joy.

Rather than give it up, here's what I'd do.  I'd acknowledge that the pagan origins of the holiday might well cause my criticizer to feel uncomfortable with all the holiday decorations and activities. I'd be honest that you feel no such qualms and explain that you receive a real blessing from celebrating the birth of Christ and peace on Earth goodwill toward men with your fellow human beings whatever their race, creed, color or faith. Tell him you recognize that the celebration of Christmas offends his conscience and that you will respect his desire not to participate in your holiday festivities.

I would remind him at the same time that respect goes both ways and that it also offends you when he criticizes you for participating in a holiday for which you can find no scriptural prohibition and which offers you such a wonderful opportunity to share the love of Christ with your fellow man.  He may choose to witness by refusing to participate and that is his belief and his right. Many churches and belief systems demand that their adherents refrain from joining in Christmas celebrations.

It is also, I would explain, my choice to witness by sharing Christ through unselfish giving and by joining in the carols and holiday celebration. I choose to witness by participation. Christ did. He went to parties, weddings and even threw a couple of what my church used to call "eatin' meetin's" Himself.

The question of whether to celebrate Christmas arises every year. Personally, I think those of us who believe it's a good thing should not hide our light under a bushel. If it's too commercial, simply don't fall into all that.  Besides, merchants are people too. The annual spending spree on Christmas celebrations is good for business and thus good for every working person out there.

No, I won't try to change anyone's mind about Christmas at all. I shall, instead of disputing in the temple, go out among my friends and neighbors and spread a little good cheer and sing some carols about joy and peace and goodwill toward men this Christmas season with anyone who would receive it gladly. Eating, drinking and sharing fellowship with everyone, sinners included, is, I think, what Jesus did. I also remember from Scripture, that he was roundly criticized for it by the very same people who later killed him, in part, because he didn't praise them for their nonparticipation in worldly celebrations.

So, I think I'll celebrate this season.

Merry Christmas to you all and God bless us every one.


© 2013

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

They Can't Come Up with a Better Holiday Than Noodle Ring Day?

Police could never crack the infamous Chicago Noodle Ring.
December 11 needs a new holiday.  

"National Noodle Ring Day"?  Really?  I don't even know what a noodle ring tastes like. Sounds like an Asian or Italian pasta cartel to me - somebody smuggling cans of Spaghetti-O's or something!  And that's the best they could come up with for a holiday? I can think of three new national holidays right off the top of my head better than that.

1. National Dress Up Like Young People Day - Anyone over 50 should put on a hoodie, some baggie pants (no belt) with a nice ugly pair of Fruit of the Looms (or a thong for you guys that are really brave) and go down to the mall and embarrass your children and grandchildren.

2. National Ask an Intelligent Question Day - When you go out to day, find someone who's standing around all slack-jawed with a vacant expression and ask them an intelligent question like "How far is it to the sun in kilometers?" or "If I heat calcium carbonate so it releases CO2 and bubble the vapor through an aqueous solution of ammonia and sodium chloride, will sodium bicarbonate precipitate out of solution?" 

3. National Stare Up At the Sky Day -  Get out your tail-gating gear, find a few friends to go along with you and drive to a large parking lot at a mall or Wal-Mart. Then spend the next few hours staring up into the sky while drinking and eating hot dogs and Fritos. Perhaps bring along a telescope or binoculars. If anyone asks what you're looking at, say, "What?  You didn't hear? Well, I suppose it's one of those need-to know things. Don't worry though. They say it will all be over quick."  Then say nothing else.

How much more fun would those national holidays be?  Hmmmm.  Now all of a sudden, I'm hungry for Spaghetti-O's!

© 2013 by Tom King

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Let the Christmas Music Begin!

It's my favorite musical time of the year, a time when we remember the author of our salvation, our life and our very being. Ignore the "Bah Humbug" crowd. Christmas has inspired the most beautiful music ever written and sung.  To get things started, check out this inventive and beautiful version of the Little Drummer Boy.


And God bless us every one!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Atheists Ain't Got No Songs - The Great "Is He real?" Debate

Apparently, Atheists are forming their own churches with all the attendant zeal of a Pentecostal tent revival. They've even come up with some music - a far cry from when Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers wrote and performed what they called the only song in the Atheist Hymnal - "Atheists Ain't Got No Songs".  I find this an interesting development since I just got off a bloody comment thread/flame war over a column I wrote maintaining that atheism fits the criteria for a religion. My atheist readers took umbrage.


I learned some fascinating new ugly names for Christians in the process.  The thing is, I looked up the word.  Religion, it seems, is a system of beliefs about the universe and how it operates. Usually there's some kind of god involved in the system, but not necessarily. A religion is in some part based on faith.

Christians, Jews and Muslims believe in a God, by faith, trusting that God is sitting up there watching us do whatever it is we're doing and doesn't want to reveal Himself openly for reasons of his own.

Atheists believe there is no god, also by faith, trusting that he's NOT sitting up there watching us do whatever it is we're doing and doesn't want to reveal himself for reasons of his own.

Agnostics haven't a clue either way.

The only advantage I can see that atheists have is that they don't have to worry about capitalizing the personal pronoun when talking about him/Him. They certainly feel called to defend their faith when it is attacked, usually with a vehemence reserved by religionists for blasphemers and cartoonists who draw pictures of Mohammed. Most of the Atheists I know are particularly sensitive about what constitutes an attack on their own belief system and respond with unflagging zealotry in defense of their own position on the state of the universe. These guys are also incredibly quick to decry the same level of enthusiasm among religionists defending their own belief system.

Pot and kettle if you ask me.

Just one man's opinion.

© 2013 by Tom King

Sunday, November 10, 2013

When One Plus One Does Not Equal Two

Let the wife make her husband glad to come home and let him make her sorry to see him leave.”  

  - Martin Luther

There is a little trick I have learned over the years that has made a huge difference in the quality of my relationship with my beloved wife. It is the pause and the quiet breath before speaking. In that moment, whatever is happening, being said or done, I try to think before I speak. What is really going on? What is she really trying to say. What does she need. It's merely an application of the Golden Rule - Treat others as you want to be treated. But it is more than that. It's putting yourself in her place and trying to understand what need I can fulfill. Sometimes it's not exactly the one being requested or the situation is not as it seems. If you are confused or do not understand, even if you are hurt or offended, stop and think about her first. Take that long quiet breath - careful, it's not a sigh you're going for. It's oxygen to the brain.

She does this for me all the time - thinks of me over her own needs. It is why we've lasted 39 years. It's wonderful to be loved so much, but what is even more wonderful is to love so much. In this way, 1 plus 1 equals wonderful.

© by Tom King

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Happiness and Joy: Why is America a Sadder Place Than It Used to Be?

© Floyd Scholz, Master Carver
I wound up in a discussion with some banjo players recently about happiness and joy. A recent study found that the United States, the world's entertainment and fun leader and arguably the wealthiest in the world (how else could we afford that much debt), ranked a mere 21st in "happiness" among all nations. Ironically, Iceland, a land of perpetual winter, with a population ranked nearly the highest among nations for alcoholism and seasonal affective disorder ranked number 1 in "happiness".  Given that a pint of beer costs what most people make in a day there, one has to be pretty determined, not to mention hard-working to have an alcohol problem in Iceland.  So why, asked one wag, aren't we happier than we are?

At the risk of offending ardent feminists, I'm going to comment on this matter. I believe it has something to do with sex - not the kind you have mind you, but the kind you are. Men and women ARE different. The thought police like to say we're no different, but we are.  Scientists once tried to prove it was just how we were raised by giving girl children building blocks and other boy toys and by giving boys Barbie dolls and play houses when they were toddlers in order to demonstrate that it was all about environment.  What they learned was that building blocks are useful in building the accouterments for hosting tea parties and in building play houses and the toy people to live in them.  They also learned that if you bend Barbie at the waist and grasp her by the legs, she makes a serviceable gun and playhouses are good cover in a firefight.

Happiness is experienced differently for different people.  Men, a congenitally goal-directed lot find happiness more frequently in pursuit sports, combat sports and games and in hobbies which produce something like woodworking, hot-rod building, gunsmithing and comet-spotting.  Women, on the other hand are biologically hard-wired to create and nurture family circles tend to find happiness in social activities, collecting, making stuff for others and things which serve to make those around them happy with some sort of relative uniformity.

I worked as a recreation therapist for many years and found that women gained more therapeutic benefit from activities that met this need to create balance and fairness and nurture happiness in the entire group. Even when I had girls going along with boys in horse-back riding activities, the boys were all about racing, positioning their horse farther ahead in the line, exploring trails. For the girls it was more about the social aspects of the trail ride. Even when they engaged in "racing" it was usually more about establishing a social bond than it was about winning the race.  The only times I ever got hard-nosed competiton with girls was over boys or when it was my happy circle vs. your happy circle. 

My contention is that as women in American culture have moved into leadership roles, they've brought with them this need for everybody to be happy (a good thing in healthy families) into the culture itself. We've become less about what we accomplish and more about how we feel as a result. But I think men and women are wired one way or the other, whether you believe God did it or some lengthy evolutionary process. I think as women have brought their need for everything to be a win/win into the public square, it's changed the game.  I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing. I am saying that it explains the rise of progressive socialism (the political need to make everyone happy and equal) and the increasing difficulty we have as Americans with being happy.

It seems that for women to be happy, everyone around them must be happy or their joy cannot be complete. It is why women take hostess duties so seriously. Biologically, they need for everyone at the party to be having a good time or they cannot be happy themselves. Don't confuse happiness with joy, however. 

When Christians talk about joy, it's a different thing than happiness, which is more transitory. Joy is a transcendent experience - a confidence in the outcome of life. Joy is something we get when we've made sense of our life story and gained peace with who we are and what we are. If we gain joy, then happiness comes far more easily to us. As Nehemiah said, "The joy of the Lord is my strength."

There are those who accept the feminine ideal of happiness - everyone being okay - who also have come to the mistaken conclusion that in order for everyone to be happy we all must be equal. By "equal" they take it to mean "the same". Unfortunately, for that theory, making everybody the same (uniforms, equal pay no matter what job you do, same houses, same transportation, etc.) sameness seems to have have exactly the opposite effect.

Perhaps our problem is that Americans have lost their joy. Perhaps, where once we were certain that life would get better and that there was some meaning to our sojourn here on this earth, we have come to think of life as either an arbitrary crap shoot, the result of random chance and random evolution or, worse yet, the result of exploitation and manipulation by the privileged class. I think that's an artifact of the rise of the introduction of a pervasive post-modernist philosophy into our culture. Post-modernism rejects the idea that things will get better and that life has meaning. There was a poster/bumper sticker that was popular in the 70s and 80s that proclaimed, "Shit happens!" The underlying message was that things just happen arbitrarily. There is no meaning; no grand purpose. You can't do anything about it. The supposedly wise among us, the university professors and television pundits, proclaimed it a realistic view of the world and many in our culture accepted it uncritically as truth. Our cutting edge films and television shows these day reflect that emptiness and despair.

It's as though the whole country has developed bipolar disorder and swings alternately between despair and mania - neither of which are any fun let me tell you. It makes sense that it should be so, if, as the gurus say, life is meaningless.  Fortunately, there is still a sizable core of Americans left who believe life does mean something, that we ARE going somewhere good and that playing the banjo on the back porch is plenty fun and expresses our inner joy thank you very much.

Just one man's opinion,

Tom King

© 2013 by Tom King

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Geezer or the Giraffe

A Problem With the Logic...


My sister posted a riddle on Facebook, the answer to which, she claims I got wrong. She also got it "wrong" and has changed her avatar to a Giraffe.  Here is the riddle: 
  • 3:00 am, the doorbell rings, and you wake up. You have unexpected visitors. It's your parents, and they have arrived for breakfast. You have strawberry jam, honey, wine, bread, and a variety of fine cheese. What is the first thing you open? If you get it right you have bragging rights on the post, but do not tell the answer! If you get it wrong, you must change your profile picture to a giraffe.
My answer:  THE DOOR
The supposedly correct answer:  YOUR EYES

Sis was doing some serious gloating over my mistake let me tell you, but I disagree with the "correct" answer and I ain't doing the Giraffe. The story asks its question about what I need to open first after I've already opened my eyes and gone to see who's at the door. The decision-making process it asks about begins there, not in the bed. You cannot know it's your parents or that they are at the door if your eyes are closed. The question is deliberately flawed to play the "gotcha" when you get it wrong as you surely will if you do not think logically about the question. The answer is a logical cheat. It gives you information that your parents are here, at the door and you have all this stuff for breakfast and then asks you to make a decision based on information, that you cannot have with eyes closed, as to which thing to open first. You cannot know any of this stuff if you are asleep or your eyes closed. 

At the point the question is asked, you must already be awake and up. The decision asked about, must therefore be made at that point, not while you're back in the bed, eyes closed. To get the answer "your eyes", you must ignore the context of the question or rewrite the story so that you're lying in bed with your eyes closed when you make the momentous decisions "What do I open first?" This is not specified, so, based on the information given in the story, one must deduce that the decision point is after your eyes are already open, but before the parents are admitted to the house (which we are not told has happened yet). So, "your eyes" is not the correct answer to this puzzle - Quod erat demonstrandum.

The problem is that kids who make these things up are not learning logic in school and precious little about the niceties of the English language apparently. To quote Professor Digory in C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, "What are they teaching in schools these days?"

So which is it to be............the geezer (me) or the giraffe?

© 2013 by Tom King

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Cowlick Conundrum

Unlike Alfalfa, I didn't have to
grease mine to make it stick up
I used to have a cowlick right on top of my head when I was a kid.  It stood straight up like Alfalfa's on The Little Rascals.  For years, I just wore my hair in a burr and looked like Zondor from Planet Zoombar what with my skinny physique, big head and flappy Dumbo ears.  As I drew close to maturity, Mom let me grow my hair out and we had to let it grow at least three inches long on top in order for the Royal Crown Hair Grease to hold the cowlick down successfully.  So I wore a Ricky Nelson pompadour held in place with this icky grease stuff.  What I would have given for a tube of hair gel. Brylcream and Vitalis were totally ineffective and guys in them days did NOT use hairspray unless they wanted to be beaten up and left for dead on the playground. 

For years I had to tell the barber not to cut the hair on the crown of my head short or it would stick up. As I got into my 30s however, my instructions about leaving it long on the top seemed to cause my hair stylists some confusion. Then one day I gave my standard instruction to the old-fashioned GI barber I had gone to that day, about not cutting it too short on the top because of the cowlick.  He just kind of stopped and you could see him trying to decide something in his head.  Finally, he reached over and took a mirror off the counter, turned me to face the wall mirror and held the hand mirror up so I could see the back of my head.

"I don't think you need to worry about that cowlick anymore," he said. "I think it fell out."

I could see in the mirror, to my horror, that my Father's bald spot had broken out on top of my head. "Oh, well," I thought philosophically, "At least I won't have to wear Royal Crown hair grease on top of my head anymore."  I never did like that stuff anyway.

I'd been wondering why I hadn't seen my cowlick in a while.  I just thought the Royal Crown was doing its job exceptionally well. Nowadays I'm 59, white-haired and am growing my hair down my back. One day I hope to get it long enough to braid into a sailor's queue.  It's kind of a race as to whether I'm going to reach the requisite length or go completely bald first.  I'm hoping the stuff will quit falling out because I'm tired of being stuck in the perpetual pony tail phase. I'd like to get ahead long enough to achieve my sailor braid. It's on my bucket list next to taking disco dancing lessons.

I tried tying two pony tails, one on each side, the other day but it made me look like zombie Pippy Longstocking.  The dog hid under the desk and Sheila threatened me with scissors.

Oh, well, que sera sera as Doris Day used to say. I bet Doris never had trouble with cowlicks.

© 2013 by Tom King

Sunday, October 13, 2013

10-13 Skeptic's Day

Download Skeptic Day card here.
October 13th is Skeptics Day.  That said, one would be entitled to be skeptical of my editorial skills since I goofed up and accidentally published this Howdyyadewit post here instead of where it's supposed to be ---- HERE!

It was late, I was tired (and you may insert the usual excuses here).  Sorry if I confused anyone.  - Tom

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Protecting Our Princesses - A Male Chauvinist View

She may be a bit more militant
but the shoes still match the bow!
Every Halloween it's the same. THE most popular costume for girls is some sort of princess outfit. There is, however, increasing pressure on parents these days to teach our daughters to reject the "princess paradigm" for women and adopt what these self-appointed "experts" call a more"kick-ass" role model.

Well, perhaps some of these would-be cultural paradigm shifters missed it, but some of Disney's princesses were pretty "kick-ass" in their own right. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for teaching our daughters to be self-assured, independent of spirit and self-reliant. We tried to teach our own daughter that when she was growing up and I think she learned the lessons well. I'm very proud of her independence and her feisty self-assurance. She's a pistol, I'm here to tell you.

At the same time, we need to be careful not to make men out of our girls as we try to teach them to become more durable women. The trick is not to train out of them, the very biological characteristics that make them who and what they are. 

Women's contributions to our world and to the quality of life in our world are unique. We need that ability to nurture, that instinct to protect the sanctity of the family circle and that ability to find win/win solutions. Men don't do that so well. We're more about kicking buttocks and taking names. We're more linear in the way we approach life. Point us at a problem and we roll straight over it. But ask us to figure out what everyone around us needs to make them happy and we're lost. That is a gift, not given the male of the species in any great quantity.  It is a uniquely feminine gift. It is the example of our mom's and wives and sweethearts that keep us males from driving straight over the goal-directed precipice that lies at the end of our distinctly male style of thinking.

Feminists like to say funny things like "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." 
Perhaps that's true in some sense, though I seriously doubt it. The important thing is that a man needs a woman to make him truly a man. That's no shame to a man, just the way God made us. Together, a man and woman form a complete person. It's not just that the physical parts fit. It's the heads and hearts as well. It turns out that men and women are symbiotic creatures. We're each given half the equation.  Call me a romantic, but I have found this to be the truth. Were I to lose my soul mate, I might go on, but something will always be missing until we are reunited at the end of it all.

It may sound chauvinist and you may call me a stupid male if you wish, but we need our princesses - not as helpless objects, but as partners in the struggle of life. Someone once noted that Eve was made, not from a bit of Adam's skull to be above him or from his foot to be beneath him, but from his rib to stand at his side. You women are the reason we men willingly rush to stand between the dragons and our families.

And if the dragons do manage to get past us, we need to know they still have Mama to deal with.  So, what's wrong with that?

© 2013 by Tom King

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Banjo Proves Vital Instrument in Survival of Shackleton Expedition

Dr. Leonard Hussey's Banjo is preserved by the London Maritime Museum

Brett and Kay McKay mentioned an unusual bit of banjo history in their post today on The Art of Manliness.  Apparently Dr. Leonard Hussey, meteorologist and a member of the ill-fated 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition led by Ernest Shackleton, owned a five-string banjo. He brought it along on the expedition and played it frequently, leading crew sing-alongs on board the expedition's ship Endurance - at least until Endurance became wedged in the ice and began to break up. Shackleton ordered the men to abandon ship.  His plan?  To hike 346 miles across the ice to Paulet Island dragging 2 lifeboats weighing a ton each and from there to row to the South American mainland.

Dr. Hussey
Shackleton ordered the men to leave behind everything except 2 pounds worth of personal possessions. The men were forced to ditch money, jewelry, extra clothes and keepsakes. The only things allowed to exceed the two pound limit were the surgeons' medical supplies and Leonard Hussey's 12-pound banjo. The thing was practically an anvil next to what the others were allowed, but Shackleton ordered it lashed underneath one of the lifeboats and brought along.

Shackleton called Hussey's banjo “vital mental medicine” and told the crew they would need it before their long and grueling journey ended. Later, Shackleton would credit Hussey and his banjo as “a vital factor in chasing away symptoms of depression” in the crew during the long journey and subsequent sea voyage.

Autographs of the Shackleton crew on Hussey's banjo.
Steve Martin once said, “The banjo is such a happy instrument–you can’t play a sad song on the banjo –it always comes out so cheerful.”  You can be singing about the most awful things and it still sounds cheerful. Hussey apparently shared some of the same characteristics as his instrument of choice. Shackleton said this about Hussey in his book.  " The demons of depression could find no foothold when he was around; and, not content with merely "telling," he was "doing" as much as, and very often more than, the rest. He showed wonderful capabilities of leadership and more than justified the absolute confidence that I placed in him. Hussey, with his cheeriness and his banjo, was another vital factor in chasing away any tendency to downheartedness."

So next time you go on an expedition or even a vacation, consider leaving behind the extra fancy outfits you'll never wear and the 20 pound bottle of shampoo (the hotels have little bottles of shampoo and they replace them every day). Instead, invest 12 pounds of luggage weight and bring along your banjo. Who knows, it may turn out to be instrumental to your survival!

One final note on the banjo itself.  The instrument is called a 5-string banjo, but the headstock looks like a six string classical guitar headstock. A banjo type of the time called a banjo-zither had this type of headstock and Hussey's banjo may have been something like the modern six-string banjo made popular by LeAnn Rimes, Keith Urban and Robert Plant.  It can be played like a guitar, but has the sound and durability of a banjo.  If anyone has more information drop me a note.  The banjo itself as displayed in the museum only has 4 strings as you can see, but there seems to be the faint shadow of a fifth string on the head. The banjo-zither was a sturdy wooden backed design with six tuning pegs. It generally was strung with only five strings, but could accommodate a sixth.  Can't tell for sure if this one has a wooden back.  The company in Britain that is making a Shackleton tribute banjo that's an open back traditional 5-string. One commenter on the site did say the Hussey banjo was a banjo-zither.

Whatever it was, apparently the "glory-beaming banjo" as Twain called it, saved the day for Shackleton and his boys.  Pretty cool, little piece of history.

© 2013 by Tom King

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Meggers Sulking - My Masterpiece - Sort Of!

The Drawing:

The Story:

I was reading the book "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" back when we had a daycare in our home. I wanted to learn to draw. It was nap time and Meggers was 12. She got into some kind of mischief and I made her sit in time out for a few minutes.

While she was sitting I sketched this picture of her sulking using the technique taught in the book. It's my favorite picture I ever drew. Haven't done another half as well since. It's pretty much the only drawing I ever did where you could tell who it was that I was drawing.

I can still see that hat, the sloppy shirt of her brother's and the raggedy jeans. She was giving me the "Big Ig". The girl made sulking an art form!

Someone suggested I use this image to create a character for a book. Actually that's not a half-bad idea.


© 2013

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Six Types of Humorists

Donald Wolfit
The great English Actor, Sir Donald Wolfit (right) was asked on his deathbed how he felt about dying. "Dying is easy," he opined. "Comedy is hard." I agree with whoever said there is a certain amount of pain behind most, if not all humor. Not all of them, but a lot of comedians have led tragic lives or at least experienced hardship. I think to survive, humorists learn to laugh. Others simply shoot themselves.

There are six basic types of humorists I believe.

Jokesters - For this group timing is everything and surprise the key. These are kings of the one-liner and the "two guys go into a bar" brand of humor. Great jokers include - Rodney Dangerfield, Bob Hope and Henny Youngman.

Storytellers - These are the folks that take a hard look at things we find serious and find the humor in it. Human foibles and awkward situations form the meat of their humor. Great storytellers include Bill Cosby, Garrison Keillor, Mark Twain, Lewis Grizzard, Justin Wilson, Patrick McManus and James Thurber as well as great comedic actors like Robin Williams, Dan Ackroyd, Danny Kaye, Tim Conway and Dom Deluise tell stories through their portrayals on screen.

Observational Humorists - These guys look for the ironies and disconnects between what we say we believe and what we actually do; between what we accept as perfectly normal and what it really looks like if you stand back a little. Great observational humorists include - Jerry Seinfeld, Gallagher, Andy Kauffman, Peter Sellers and Steve Martin. They put square pegs in round holes and show us why they don't fit and make us feel a little guilty that they don't.

Linguistic Humorists - Someone once said, "Who would pun would pick a pocket. These folks have fun playing with words. Linguistic humor includes funny poems, Limericks and puns. Some famous linguistic humorists include - Bennett Cerf, Edward Lear, Abbott and Costello, Groucho Marx and Ogden Nash

Bathroom or Anal Humorists - These folks create humor by describing out loud, what most of us do behind closed doors and wish no one ever knew we did there. The laughs come from the discomfort we feel talking about farts, people's bottoms or other naughty bits and sex. - There are few well-known bathroom humorists because as they learn their craft, most successful humorists move away from the potty-mouthed sorts of humor to something more mainstream since there's more money in it. It's a good way to get attention at first, but gets old after a while. I mean, how many times can you say the "F" word before it stops getting a laugh? Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Kathy Griffin and Andrew Dice Clay started out doing some of that uncomfortable "dirty words" kind of humor. Some gradually grew out of it, notably Murphy. Some never did and their careers wax over time as audiences tire of the cheap "naughty" humor and forget they are supposed to be laughing.

Physical Humorists (clowns) - Folks who rely on physical humor use unexpected situations, pratfalls and awkward moments to mine laughter. Great physical comedians include Dick Van Dyke, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Chevy Chase, John Cleese, Lucille Ball, The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers and Carol Burnett.  Oh, and Laurel and Hardy - forgot them (thanks Paul).

Knowing all this, however, does not guarantee that you can tell a joke or perform a pratfall so that it looks funny and not painful. I think the key element to being funny is the ability to get outside your own head and look honestly at yourself and the people around you and to not take yourself too seriously. I've never known a self-absorbed or dishonest person who was really funny - at least not deliberately so.  

Humorists might be abrasive or hard to get along with, but somewhere in their core they really do realize what silly creatures we all are including themselves. All that is, except the bathroom humorists.

Those guys can be real jerks!

Just one man's opinion,

Tom King
© 2010

Friday, September 20, 2013

God Bless the Maytag Engineers......

And I am not being flippant!

Our Trusty Maytag!
My wife and I went upscale a few years back and bought ourselves a Maytag. We'd bought the commercials and the old girl proved herself over more than a decade.  To understand how amazing that is, you have to understand how the King family washes.  For that entire time, we ran about 5 loads a day and 6 on Sunday.  The washer had Sabbath's off, but that's it.  My Sweet Baboo believes in cleanliness - before, after, next to and as a fundamental part of practical godliness.

So the first time I smelled burned rubber and saw blue smoke emanating from beneath the washing machine, my heart sank.  Every washer we'd ever know, had thrown a belt at least once, if not two or three times while we owned it. Like I said, my sweetie puts a lot of miles on a washer.  

Every time prior to this I'd spent most of a solid day taking apart the washer, removing the old belt and reinstalling a new one.  Generally this involved disassembly of the transmission, support structures, removal of the water pump and a lot of bruised knuckles and cut hands.  I HATED replacing belts.

So when I contemplated tearing into the Maytag, I was, to say the least, less than pleased. I ran into town to the parts place to buy a belt.  When I gave the man my model number, I was horrified when he brought back, not one, but two belts. The parts guy assured me I'd need them both.  As I drove home, I was calculating how many days of work I was going to lose and whether I had enough left in the bank account to call for professional help when I inevitably screwed the job up.

I took off the back panel and to my utter dismay could not find the belts. Were they inside the transmission housing?  Would I have to remove the tub or disassemble the entire machine. I was just about to dial for help when I noticed that there was a drive shaft extending down through the bottom of the machine.  The bottom also seemed a bit higher off the floor than the other machines I'd worked on.

Curious, I tilted the machine up so I could see underneath.

"Oh, joy!  Oh Rapture!"  I quoted the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz in my excitement. Okay, I admit it. I'm weird, but that's not the point of the story.

There on the bottom of the machine in plain sight, unblocked by any struts, supports or anything that required unbolting, were the belts, worn slick from constant abuse by our resident Laundry Nazi.  I didn't even have to unbolt anything.  They were held taught by a spring tension pulley.  All I had to do was roll off the old belts and roll on the new.  No wrenches, not banged knuckles or bloodied fingers save the ones I got trying to take the back off the machine for no reason.

I don't know who the engineer at Maytag was who designed the drive belt pulley system on Maytag Washers, but I could kiss him full on the mouth!  I don't care.  When we moved to Washington and eventually out onto our own, our apartment came with a washer and dryer in our bedroom.  It's a small apartment.  It's nice. The dryer keeps us warm in the winter.  Both are Maytags.  

So last Thursday, when acrid smoke began billowing from underneath the overloaded washing machine and the wife began hyperventilating, I was able to say with confidence, "No problem, I've got this."  I tipped the machine up, pulled off and cleaned the old belts making them good for another day or so and ordered new belts for 8.95 online.  They arrived this morning and it took me 2 minutes to swap out the old ones and voila!  The machine is working and I am a hero around here.

If any appliance maker makes it to heaven, I do believe it will be the guys from Maytag who had the good sense to design that drive belt system for their washing machines.  I wonder if there's a path to sainthood for appliance design engineers?  I'm not Catholic, but I know people!

Just one man's opinion,

Tom King
© 2013, Puyallup, WA

I'm Not a Physicist, But I Play One in My Head.......

Naming the stuff of the final frontier
I am not a physicist as the title to this piece suggests.  I'm a writer.  That said, since when has a lack of credentials ever stopped a writer from naming things. The term "robot" was invented by a writer. A "waldo" is a mechanical hand, named after a sci-fi story by Robert A. Heinlein.  Writers also gave us words like zero-G, gas giant, terraform, android and its diminutive form - "droid", deep space, computer "virus" and a host of other words.  Even the very idea of orbiting telecommunications satellites, sprang from the mind of a scientist turned writer, the inimitable Arthur C. Clark of "2001 a Space Odyssey" fame.

So in the grand tradition of writers poking their noses into areas they know only enough about to get themselves confused, I am proposing a new handy term for physicists to use for something they don't yet understand.  I know, thoughtful of me, right? 

Here's the problem.  The universe seems to be expanding at a rate that is not so fast that it tears itself apart, nor so slow that gravity collapses everything in on itself but at a speed which, for the sake of a stable cosmos, is "just right".  Physicists have a lot of theories about why this is so, but they don't have a really good term for it, so I am wading into the fray to help at least give us a working word to use when we're talking about it.

I propose we call this "just right" speed of cosmological acceleration the "Goldilocks Expansion Constant". I know, cool right - the whole fairy tale imagery and stuff?

And as to all that so-called "dark energy" they say is driving the Goldilocks Constant?

I call Him God

© 2013 by Tom King

Monday, September 16, 2013

Facebook Guilt Trips & True Friendship

I get tired of the guilt trips people on Facebook keep trying to put on people who are supposed to be their friends. It's all about love people and about understanding what that truly means. If you have "friends" who never "like" you or send you Farmville bunnies, don't get all in a snit and delete them because they aren't "true friends".

Instead, ask yourself, "What have I done to be a true friend to them?"  Do I send them stuff designed to make them feel guilty and force them share my stuff or say nice things to me so I won't delete them? That's not friendship. That's blackmail and incredibly self-centered. 

If that's what your friendship is about, then delete me, but know this. I won't delete you because you don't have time to read my 5 blogs or my interminable Facebook posts on politics, religion and banjos. If I make you smile once in a while or feel better, then that's fine. It is what I intend to do. I don't need you to pat me on the head for it. My self-esteem is quite intact, thank you.

Just read and enjoy and perhaps smile a little - it's all guilt free.

With love and understanding,


Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Proper Use of Campfires

Throughout history, there has been no more iconic human experience than that of singing and telling stories around a campfire. Since pre-historic times, the campfire has drawn us together in the darkness. The campfire was the basis of the tribe. As humanity spread out and our population grew, the fires got bigger, but they were still there.  We looked into the fire and found a common impulse, a shared dream if you will and we passed along the dreams of our fathers and mothers, our own dreams and the dreams of our children. For most of us who gathered round the fires, it was a dream of peace.

Not so for those who gathered outside in the darkness.

The campfire is a wonderful metaphor for the way that God works in us to change us. The fire is the center of the circle, within our very hearts. It warms us and binds us to itself and to one another. If we join our neighbors, friends and loved ones around that fire, we are inevitably changed by it. It draws from us depths of love, kindness, empathy and comradery we may not even have suspected were there in the first place. Worship as an act of faith in God works the same way. It is no accident that the imagery for the Holy Spirit of God is often depicted as a fire.

There are those who reject the fire. Their goal is to draw us away from the fire and to themselves. They delight in making themselves the center of gatherings. What they lack, however, is the power of God, symbolized by the fire - the power to warm those gathered about them.  They attempt to change those they seek to lead by external means - by force, threats or by enacting LAW and penalties for disobedience.

Changing man from without, by force of the will of another, is always doomed to failure. A movie filmed by German director, Leni Riefenstahl, documented the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. It is called, appropriately enough, "The Triumph of the Will".  The film was honest about how the German nation was expected to be changed - externally, by the power of the will of the Nazi leaders. Ironically, within a dozen years, Riefenstahl could have just as well done a sequel to her first movie and called it "The Defeat of the Will".  Forcible change from the outside inward never works.

Man can only be changed from the inside out by the submission of the will to God. It is the transformative power of a relationship with Him and spending time around the fire of His grace with others that works the change. Over time, mankind has been changed by this principle despite a long and bitter ongoing war against the lust for power and the exercise of the human will to dominate and coerce.  

Our time at the campfire must be inclusive if it is to be effective. We must draw people to into the circle, not push them away. There is no place for hard words, name-calling, strong-arm tactics or bullying in our prayer and worship circles. We are told not to even call another person a fool, lest we endanger our own souls in the process. We are told that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there amongst us. It is not accidental that Jesus, Himself, performed his first miracle at a celebratory gathering. Throughout His ministry, He was criticized for hanging out with sinners, tax collectors and harlots.  His own circle of followers were a mixed political bag to say the very least.

And finally Christ was murdered by those who believed there were people in their communities who were not good enough to join their circle; who resented Christ's invitation to all and sundry kinds of sinners to "Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest." 

Some of my conservative colleagues ridicule the idea of sitting around the campfire, holding hands and singing "Kum-ba-Yah" as a way to change the world.  They forget that Kum-ba-yah is a Christian song that invites the lost, the sad, the lonely and alone to join our sacred circle. Perhaps if we all spent a little more time around the campfire; if perhaps we spent more time including our neighbors instead of pushing them away; perhaps, then, we could get past our differences and find that common faith that could bind us all together in peace.  

We surely aren't going to get there by passing dueling House Bills.

I'm just saying,

© 2013 by Tom King

Thursday, September 12, 2013

World Peace Through Nomenclature Change

 A friend's little boy the other day, stumbled over the pronunciation of the Czech Republic in his geography lesson.  He called it the "Quiche Republic". His mom, of course, dutifully posted the incident on Facebook. I though about it for a bit and am now convinced the kid was really on to something; something that could bring about world peace in our lifetime.

I now believe that every country in the world should be named after food. I think the political ramification of such a policy would be far-reaching.  I mean how hard would it be to stay angry at your neighbors in, say, Pizzaland or Hamburgerslovakia.  Would you really want to shoot missiles at Mashed Potatopolis or Chocolatecakehastan?

There are a few countries that already tried naming theselves for food - mostly smaller city-state style countries. Unfortunately, history proves that everybody needs to participate in nomenclature change or the delicious-sounding countries will be snapped up by countries with more war-like sounding names.  The Sandwich Islands, for instance, have always been a peaceful garden spot in the Pacific. They were at one time an independent nation till they were gobbled up by the more war-like sounding "United States".  And we all know the fate of city-states like Bologna, Neufch√Ętel, Roquefort, Worcester, Weiner and Asiago. Swallowed up by Italy, Germany, England, France and Austria - all hungry countries with non-food related names.  Turkey has long had to fight for it's independence and Greece has managed to keep clear of dominations since the Goths and the Vandals forced them to cut their cholesterol way back.

How much better would it be if every nation was named for something tasty?  Deutchland could become Sauerkrautland - still with the attitude, but more digestible. Switzerland would become Schnitzeland and as suggest, Italy would become just plain Pizza or possibly Pasta. China could indulge its need for world domination alive by calling itself Top Ramen.  The United States could still be united, calling itself "Cornutopia" or the "Onion Steaks of America". Canada still "could" by retaining the "can" part of it's name but make it "Canasalmon", since we don't know what a "can o' da" is. |

Isolationist nations could name themselves Brusselsproutia, Liverland, Broccolikia or Beetavania. The states could name themselves for condiments - Mustardia, Ketchupstan or or Saltundpepper. Mayonnaisia would get along with everybody. Every country could have it's own unique array of cheesy provinces.  

Instead of Peace Conferences or Summit meetings we could have Pot Lucks and Smorgasbord's. Everybody at the conference would have to bring enough to feed their own family plus enough to share. We could have cookoffs instead of wars. Picnics instead of invasions. We'd always invite Chile to the Barbecues and failing to bring along Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne would be considered impolite.

Instead of fighting AGAINST global change, we could fight FOR change.  We'd educate children to support Global Nomenclature Change.  We could rewrite history books in order to highlight the peacefulness of food-related geography. We could ridicule anyone who didn't accept the idea that Global Nomenclature Change was the wave of the future. And if, indeed the world is getting warmer, we'll all just bake to a nice golden brown together in peace and harmony.

Kinda like those family Thanksgiving dinners when you were a kid......

© 2013 by Tom King

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ernie McQueen - A Teacher of Tenacity

An old schoolmate of mine passed away this past week.  A big (actually very big) good-humored guy, Ernie was one of my teachers in a way.  When Ernie was in 10th grade at Keene Public School I was in 7th.  I weighed about 95 pounds soppin' wet. Ernie weighed rather more.  We all had PE together and played flag football during September through December. Flag football at KPS was something of a contact sport which we played in those white PE uniforms that look like underwear - no pads, no helmets.

Following the mysterious reasoning of adolescent males, my quarterbacks decided that, since the skinny kid with the horn-rimmed glasses was useless for anything else, I should become a lineman.  Ernie always seemed to line up across from me whenever we played.  The teams were usually the same guys with a few exceptions. Being last chosen, I would always wind up on pretty much the same team every time - those destined to lose.  I never asked.  I just took up my place on the line.  During baseball season, it was deep right field where I couldn't do much harm. Ah, well....

Blocking Ernie was a challenge to say the least. He used to go over me like a freight train.  I'd throw myself at him with all I had and Ernie would swat me aside like a pesky fly and go clobber my quarterback.  When I was on defense, I could outmaneuver him so long as he didn't get a clean hit, but it took so long to get round him I seldom was able to get a hand on the quarterback or whoever had the ball. If Ernie did manage to get a solid block on me, however, I would wind up flat on my back in some sticker patch deep in my own backfield watching little birdies circle my addled brain.

Ernie once told me, "King, I admire your stubborness." I'm actually kind of proud of that. Ernie taught me a lot about tenacity that season.

© by Tom King

Monday, September 09, 2013

Pet Peeve: Spamming for Jesus

I find no record of God ever having hired a PR team.
One of my pet peeves is using Jesus to promote spam. It happens a lot and many people who are insecure in their relationship with Jesus seem to take the command to share a Facebook post, e-mail or Tweet if you aren't afraid of Jesus as a heavenly command.

Fair Warning: I ALWAYS delete anything I receive that ends with some version of "Share this if you are not ashamed of Jesus".  As anyone who reads my stuff is well aware, I am NOT ashamed of Christ. I am openly Christian and take a good deal of abuse for it in the forums.  I do not have any need to prove I am not ashamed by passing along somebody's attempt to arm-twist for Jesus. If I find the post to have exceptional value, I delete the "not ashamed" bit and pass the post along on its own merits. Otherwise it goes straight into the dumper.

I find that a good deal of the share-if-you're-not-ashamed posts I receive contain a disturbing level of lies and misattributions.  People write up something that makes God look like He's not fooling around and really means it and/or attributes the quote to someone who never said it, then tack on the "not ashamed" bit and send it to people who trust them.

Or, they get some of this stuff in their email box or see it posted on Twitter and feel like poor old Jesus must need a PR boost.  It was this very kind of nonsense, human beings thinking God isn't doing well public relations-wise that gave us things like these:

  • The Crusades:  An early version of the if-you're-not-ashamed-of-Jesus tactic.  The pitch went something like, if you're not ashamed of Jesus, you'll pick up you sword and go take Jerusalem back from the Muslims since apparently God couldn't hold onto it on His own.
  • Sunday Services:  An early church PR committee changed the ten commandment Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, something for which there is no scriptural authorization.  It was a PR gimmick by the Roman church to attract more pagans to services. The priests figured that since the pagans were already going to temple on the "venerable day of the sun", they would be less inconvenienced in converting if the Christians worshipped on the same day everybody was used to.  Moving the day of worship also distanced the early church from the Jews - a double bonus considering the bad press the Jews were getting at the time.
  • Hell:  The priests were having trouble with all the emphasis on love and mercy in Christian theology. As the church became more a government than a faith, the theologians were tasked with finding a tool in scripture they could use to keep the troops in line.  By twiddling with the nuances of Greek and Hebrew and ignoring virtually every scripture that clearly described the how the gift of eternal life is given, the priests borrowed the Greek idea of Hades, something the pagans they were trying to convert were familiar with and gave it a more diabolical twist.  The doctrine of an ever-burning hell and eternal torment has been used for more than a thousand years with suitable embellishment as an effective tool to scare people into showing up on Sunday and making regular contributions to the church. Don't believe me, shop around some of the churches out there and you'll hear sermons as scary as a Freddy Krueger movie. In high school, I read Cotton Mather's famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God". That sermon made Puritans weep and faint from terror all over New England in colonial America and had the added benefit of increasing attendance and the weight of the contents of the offering plate. It also increased Mather's power over the colonists and there, my friend, is the link to the dark side.
  • The Military/Governmental/Religion Complex:  It started with Constantine marching his army through a handy river and proclaiming the all "baptized".  At one time the church political held frightening power over the Western World, with the power to elevate and destroy kings and princes.  A Muslim Fatwah was amateur stuff next to a Papal Bull. During all of this, the faithful were treated to the spectacle of church bishops, cardinals and even popes with stables of mistresses, incredible wealth and political power.  Cardinal Richelieu was responsible for a great deal of the corruption in the French government that brought on the horrors of the French Revolution. When ever you get some megalomaniac or gang of politicians trying to "take over the world", the first thing they do is make sure everybody knows that God is on their side whatever hellish business the politicians are fixing to get up to.
In all of this mess, however, the church invisible - made up of the humble faithful sons and daughters of God throughout the ages - has continued to thrive and grow, not by beating it's collective chest and proclaiming, "I'm not ashamed of Jesus," but by study, prayer and sharing their faith. The true church, the golden thread through the tangle of denominations, factions and sects, moves forward ever growing, not through political manipulation nor by misguided attempts to make God "look better", but by living by the Golden Rule and loving God with all their hearts - walking with Him in their daily lives.

Why should I need to say "I'm not ashamed of Christ," much less send often-poorly written and even misleading spam to ten friends within the next 24 hours so that God will send me money if I do and so He doesn't strike me with cancer if I don't?

People who tell me they are "not ashamed of Christ" sound disingenuous. As Shakespeare once eloquently put it, "Methinks thou dost protest too much."

I'll let God handle his own public relations thank you very much and I won't participate in your efforts to fix up his "rep". I don't feel at all qualified to appoint myself his press secretary, especially if I'm going to have to use guilt, shame, intimidation, lies and bullying to do the job. Jesus described the scene at the judgment where God's PR guys would show up and say, "God I did all this stuff for you, I got you some really good press on Facebook and wrote thousands of tweets to boot.  Let me in." 

And God looks 'em in they eye and goes, "Funny, I don't remember hiring a public relations team."

Just one man's opinion.

Tom King

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Parallel Parking - It's Not Her Fault She Can't Do It

Men like to rub it in that a large number of women have difficulty parallel parking. Actually, it's not their fault. In IQ testing, women tend to do more poorly at spacial-perception and mental rotation tasks in 3 dimensions (Linn and Peterson, 1985) .  It's a biological thing. Men naturally do better at mentally perceiving paths through three dimensional space. God apparently meant for us to be adapt to different roles we would have to assume by giving us different skill sets or at least the ability to develop those skill sets.

Visual-spacial perception is just one type of intelligence at which some people do better than others. Mentally calculating the path your car will take to arrive in a spot between two other cars is something that draws on that brand of intelligence. It's useful in sports, engineering, driving, hunting or any human activity that requires planning how you or something you are manipulating will move through 3 dimensional space.

The increasingly slim male dominance in this area might be a result of some element of natural selection dating back to when men were the hunters of the tribes. If you didn't have very good visual-spacial intelligence, you would have trouble aiming a spear or arrow and hitting your target. You'd be a lousy hunter and no woman would want to marry you because you couldn't put enough meat on the table to feed the kids. So over time, guys with good aim did better at winning mates, feeding their children and passing on their genes to the next generation.

Women on the other hand blow men out of the water at social-perception - reading social situations, interpreting nonverbal cues, etc.. And why not?  For all those millenia they had to run things back in the village while the menfolk were out stalking wild game. Their ability to read body language and intonation helped in managing social interaction between families within the villages and with raising children who are pretty much only able to communicate through nonverbal means for most of their first two years. It's why my wife could hear a baby cry and know exactly what it wanted, while I had to wait till they were 2 or 3 years old and could tell me in plain English. It's why I have to count on her to stick an elbow in my ribs when I'm being awkward in social situations.  It requires acute social perception to manage interactions between groups of women and children.  I know.  I managed a day care center with over a hundred kids and 26 female employees. I finally hired a couple of males to work the after school program so I'd have someone who worked for me who would tell me what they wanted and not expect me to guess. Like spacial perception, social perception developed more strongly in women because that ability made them more successful mothers, wives and family management specialists.

Women also have developed generally better verbal skills which could explain why they talk so much and why many men talk so little. If we were talkative, we'd have spooked the game!

So how about let's ease of on the parallel parking jokes? Remember, you can't read a 3 month old's mind and she probably can.

Now that's a real trick.

© by Tom King

Thursday, September 05, 2013

My Favorite Uncle Bobby Story

My Uncle, Elder Bobby Rider, passed away this past week. He was a lovely man.  He served as an SDA pastor and conference worker all his life, continuing to preach the gospel and minister to others long after he retired. He was a gentle good-humored man whom I always admired.  At Friendship Camp one summer, I saw an example of his low-key leadership style in action. It was a typical Lone Star Camp Summer - damp East Texas heat that sapped the energy out of you. We, camp staffers ran around in soggy cutoffs all day and beat the heat by hitting the lake, whenever we couldn’t stand it any more. Running from classes to meals to camp councils, you didn’t have time to change, so we stayed wet most of the time. As a result, most of us suffered from a condition known by the indelicate euphemism, “Crotch Rot”.

You get “Crotch Rot” through a combination of an energetic life style and damp blue jean cutoffs. The guys that wore regular bathing suits never had this problem and you would think the rest of us would have figured it out. But it was the 60's and cutoff blue jeans were what everyone was wearing, so, like fashion slaves in every generation, it never occurred to us to go out and buy swim trunks. Swim suits where what you wore if your mama packed your clothes for the summer. Instead, we just fought the rash as best we could and endured constantly damp shorts for the sake of being like everyone else, a practice we thought of as expressing our individuality. Most of us accepted rot as a normal condition of camp life and dealt with it without complaining. You slept naked and Vaseline was your best friend. Sleeping in the nude was the most widely accepted treatment for crotch rot and only caused us concern on one occasion that I remember. 

During the summer of 72, I bunked with the bachelor waterfront staffers up at the old North Cabin, a screened lodge overlooking the row-boating area at the upper end of the lake. It was a lovely spot. We had an indoor fireplace, huge shuttered screens that we kept open to compensate for the lack of air conditioning and steel WWII surplus U.S. Army hospital cots with extra long legs that lifted the mattress to the same height as the windows. The tall beds allowed us to sleep directly in the cross draft between the two 15 foot wide screened windows - one on the lake side of the cabin and one on the side facing the road. The high beds also meant you were entirely visible from the paths on either side of the cabin. This might have been a problem except that all of us worked on the waterfront and to a man had contracted varying stages of crotch rot. The discomfort associated with the rot had taken us long past caring about trivial things like personal privacy.

My roomies, Tim Ponder and Bill Taylor and I had developed a system that allowed us to sleep naked (part of the prescribed treatment for “The Rot”) without disturbing the delicate sensibilities of the young lady staffers who, in an explicable outbreak of administrative trust in our youthful dedication to abstemiousness, had been assigned to a room in the northernmost wing of the lodge. The new boarders next door needed to be able to get past our windows and around to their cabin door without being flashed, so we made allowances for their delicate sensibilities and tilted the roadside screen so that it was mostly closed but still allowed the breezes from the lake to pass through the cabin, while still blocking the view of the girls passing by. Then, we warned our new neighbors to stay off the lakeside path around the cabin in the early morning and to use the slightly longer (and less "scenic") front path to get to their cabin door.

As far as I know, we had no problems that summer with Peeping Thomasina's (at least no one actually lodged a complaint) until Friendship Camp, when Mrs. Overby moved into the north wing. Mrs. Overby always came as a volunteer during the annual charity camp and was a regular feature of the hot East Texas summers--like drought and mosquitoes. As a Christian and a Goldwater conservative, she heartily disapproved of our hippie lifestyles, our music and our long hair. Of course, we gave her the standard warning about the lakeside path, and congratulated ourselves on being quite thoughtful and reasonable young men. Mrs. O., however, took exception to our sleeping attire and having to walk round the front path to get to her door. She had two impressionable and very proper young ladies staying with her that summer and the mere idea of three Bohemian nudists lounging about the next door cabin, cooling their chafed thighs in the night breezes filled her with Victorian horror. She decided to complain.

Now, every summer, Mrs. Overby went ballistic over some perceived outrage that one of us had committed and there was a sort of pool going about how many days she’d last before she’d lose it and come stalking up the trail to the camp director’s office in her flowered frock and Minnie Pearl hat to complain about us heathens next door. Uncle Bobby was the Texas Conference Lay Activities Secretary at the time and the one charged with organizing the weeklong camp for underprivileged kids. At his right hand was my aunt, the famous and feared Hattie Lee, who believed in a strict hierarchy of command and required instant obedience of us camp staffers. She put on a stern front, but could be incredibly kind and thoughtful as well. The two of them made an incredibly powerful management team.

One morning halfway through the week, I ran into Uncle Bob talking to a couple of pastors out by the cafeteria. He motioned me over and told me Mrs. Overby had been to see him. "She’s complained about you guys sleeping in the nude and wants it stopped immediately!” Uncle Bob said sternly. Next to my roommate Tim (who later became a pastor himself and actually worked for Uncle Bob), I was the one most intimidated by authority figures. I shifted uncomfortably on the hot sand, more from embarrassment than from the heat on my bare feet. I figured Aunt Hattie had passed along orders for us to immediately cease from “sleeping nekkid” and all such other ungodly behavior.

Uncle Bob let me squirm a bit, then broke into a broad grin. “Weeeeell,” he winked at the other snickering pastors. “I figured Mrs. Overby and the girls weren’t going to have a whole lot of other excitement up there this week, so I didn’t worry about it too much,” he chuckled. To my amazement, he never said anything else about it. I waited anxiously throughout the rest of the week. I just knew Mrs. O. would go over his head to my Aunt Hattie, but to my relief, I never heard another word about it.

I told the other guys about the complaint. Partly in fear of my Aunt Hattie, Tim & I adopted a basic beach towel loincloth for our sleeping attire. The loincloth was a compromise between modesty and comfort. It looked like a standard loincloth worn hanging over a leather belt strapped around the hips - kind of like Tarzan. You could drop the flap in case of emergencies or raise it up to catch the breeze. Bill, an ex-Army medic who’d just come back after serving a tour of  Vietnam and tended to be a little jumpy, refused to compromise at all and continued to sleep crotch-to-the-wind as usual, except that he inexplicably began leaving a light on beside his bed at night. He may have been using heat from the lamp as a drying agent. We weren't sure. Bill was a  little scary sometimes, so we didn’t comment on this unusual practice. On being told of our half-hearted compromises and realizing we were younger and had more energy to put into the struggle over the nudity issue, poor Mrs. Overby gave up complaining. I think she was afraid we’d stage a protest and burn some undergarments or something. Anyway, she chose to cope with us by refusing to even acknowledge our existence for the rest of the week. I don’t think she ever spoke to us again, at least not that I can remember.

Nothing else interesting happened the rest of the week until Mrs. Overby’s young roommates startled a sleeping "deadly snake" on the lakeside path at 3 o’clock in the morning the last night of camp. They said they had quietly sneaked out to the ladies’ shower building early, so as to enjoy a warm shower and so as not to wake Mrs. Overby.  Coming back, they claim to have "accidentally" taken the wrong path in the dark. On the trail, they said they saw a "snake".  Startled by their flashlight, the "snake" apparently rushed at them, and then crawled off into the bushes. At least that’s how they accounted for all the screaming and giggling outside our window in the middle of the night. The girls weren’t bitten, but their screams startled Bill who sat straight up in bed, decided the V.C. had sneaked inside the perimeter and reached instinctively for his M-16. Not finding it, he swatted the bedside lamp into his lap instead. Unfortunately for Bill, the lamp was still on. The light bulb was also naked. Fortunately for Bill, the layers of Vaseline protected him from serious injury. The bulb made a little sizzling sound and then blew out. The "snake", as far as we can tell, got away clean!

We were never able to confirm what exactly what sort of "snake" startled them. I'm sure Uncle Bob heard about it, but he never said anything to us, though there was a lot of snickering and meaningful looks among the pastors the next morning at breakfast.

Uncle Bobby was a problem solver of the first order. The previous summer at Friendship Camp, we had a larger number of campers than usual. These were under-privileged kids that churches throughout the state paid for so that they could attend summer camp at Lone Star. I was rowing instructor that summer and the first morning of Friendship Camp, I came to rowing class and found 27 campers crammed on the benches ready and waiting to go boating. I had 5 boats and 9 life-jackets. When I polled the group, I found that half could not swim at all. The other half couldn’t speak English. I delivered the safety drill and sent as many kids, as I could get lifejackets on, out in 4 boats with two each aboard. No one got much on-the-water time that day and someone, probably the counselor, who had to sit on shore with the kids that were waiting for their turn, apparently complained bitterly to my Aunt Hattie. 

Meanwhile I compared notes with my buddy Mark Miller over in canoeing and discovered he had  the same problem I did. While we were having a good old gripe about it, Aunt Hattie came by. My Aunt Hattie is something of a force of nature. She was dreaded and feared throughout the conference by all evil-doer’s and shirkers. Even I was a little intimidated by her and I was kinfolk!  She promptly order Mark and I to "take all the kids out on the water the next time." 

“Without life-jackets?” we asked incredulously. We’d seen most of the kids’ swimming prowess demonstrated, usually after they fell into the water getting out of the boats. 

“You’re both being insubordinate,” she snapped.  She spun on her heels and went looking for Uncle Bob. We ran into him later in the day and he called us over. My Uncle Bob, always a problem solver, asked us if we could handle the group if we had enough life jackets. We shrugged and said we supposed so, but we wouldn’t be able to do much teaching with that many kids.

Here I learned a most powerful life lesson

Uncle Bob smiled at Mark and I in that benign, pastoral way of his and asked, “Can you make sure they have fun?”

My Uncle Bob changed the way I thought about camp and teaching and almost everything else I ever did in my life. He drove straight to town and bought enough life jackets for everyone and the next day, Mark and I dutifully loaded the kids up in every boat we had that would float (and in some cases gave brief instruction in the fine art of bailing) and set sail with the most ragged, overloaded and joyful flotilla of campers I ever worked with. We kept the kids safe and we made sure they had fun. That was the point of the whole thing, after all as Uncle Bob explained to us. 

In the process of solving the problem, Uncle Bob managed to praise our concern for safety and at the same time to help us understand what we were really supposed to be doing with those kids. Then off he went to town to fix the problem. The lesson lasted me the rest of my life. Whenever I faced a problem or difficulty, I always hearkened back to Uncle Bob's question. "Can you make sure they have fun?" He never had to say, "Think about the real reason you're here." He didn't lecture.  He just grinned the way he always did and asked the question we should have been asking ourselves – "What's the point of what you're doing?"  

God go with you, Uncle Bob. I learned a lot from you.

Tom King