Thursday, September 8, 2011

President Obama's Speech

I made several notes during tonight's speech. Don't be surprised if I make mistakes. I won't even claim to be Superman. I even have a few quick reactions. Good grief, this is real time blogging. Don't be surprised if I have second, third, even fourth thoughts, especially if I must go out and fight Daleks....

Obama began his speech with some platitudes. Americans used to give their fair share of work and contributions (e.g., taxes, etc.) and get their fair share of rewards. Anybody could make it in America. For some decades now that has changed. That compact has been broken. (Note: Quite a few bright people on the left and right have said similar things. I can agree with those comments.)

Obama then went on to praise small business. He noted they are the ones who create the most jobs. There is, again, significant evidence to support that claim. He advocated cutting taxes on them.

My next note is about Obama's comments on infrastructure. He compares us -- unfavorably -- with China. I will note they are far behind us and have much catching up to do. Some people think they will not be able to, especially given population patterns. He praised private construction companies, saying they will be the ones to do the work rebuilding our infrastructure. He mentions schools as needing rehabilitation. I wonder what he thinks of the people who are starting to pursue "unschooling" as a better way of learning.

Obama condemned earmarks, boondoggles and bridges to nowhere.

Obama cited bipartisan support for measures such as he is proposing in the past. I will note at this time that Speaker Boehner is not smiling, but that VP Biden is.

Obama next addressed financials. He said that debt must be stabilized in the long run. He also noted that Medicare must be reformed to strengthen it. I wonder what analysis has been done on the concept that large amounts of medical spending is useless. Far to much is spent on a person's last few months of life. When Mom had some surgery back in the 1980s, she came home and lived quite healthily and independently for nearly two decades.

Obama then mentions the low taxes on the very rich -- and uses Warren Buffet's observation that his tax rate is lower than his secretary's. Increasing numbers of people are mentioning how the very rich are making out really well at the expense of the middle class. Even some conservatives are calling it a kind of class warfare. On a similar note, he said that the tax code should not favor the best connected but those who serve the country. Again, an interesting variety of people are saying similar things, albeit in different ways.

Obama then commented that we need to out build, out educate, and out innovate all other countries as we have done in the past..

He addressed the outdated patent process. He said it must be easier for individuals and companies to get patent protection for their work.

Obama used the phrase "Made in America" to point to what he and others want to be the future of our country. Even Boehner applauded that comment. Obama said the next generation of manufacturing must take root in America. He mentioned briefly the role that scientists and engineers will take in this work.

My last note has Obama saying it's time to "cut most government spending and cut most government growth." This is clearly reaching out to Republicans.

The talk ended at 7:41 by my watch. After the speech network news switched to reports of a new terror threat that could coincide with 9/11.

That's the end of my quick notes. If it isn't up to my usual writings, please understand. I haven't done this kind of thing much.

Metro Washington Mensa in the Summer

This is what I wrote for Metro Washington Mensa's newsletter for September. I am posting everything I now write for that publication here as well.

The column follows as it appeared.

I've had an interesting month in Metro Washington Mensa. Between Mensa events and events that I invited our members to, quite a bit has happened of note.

Possibly the most Mensa oriented weekend was the last weekend in July. There was quite a bit on our calendar. I began that weekend by attending, once again, Herb Guggenheim's Salon at La Madeleine. This was, as usual, an occasion for many fascinating conversations on a variety of topics. Herb's practice of having everyone write down a question for discussion helps not only attract thoughtful members, but also sparks a variety of discussions. Even before the “formal” discussion begins, we talk about all sorts of things ranging from culture to politics to management at companies where we have worked. Or, perhaps, I should say mismanagement. Those of us in tech fields are particularly well acquainted with poor management. I've even given talks on the subject at Regional Gatherings, focusing on the mess at NASA. Two, given at Snowball in 2003 and 2004, about the Columbia accident helped set my current course in life. That Friday I do remember, among other things, I remember seeing Stefan and hearing Herb's wife Leslie briefly mention Veterans Administration health care. Since I am a veteran, I took especial note of that. I'm trying to follow up her comments now.

On Saturday I awoke early enough – with the weather pleasant enough – to head out for a six mile run. How many of you are runners – or even get much physical exercise? While our minds are good, we also need to take of our bodies. I look forward to living as long as Mom – who passed on at 93 – and Uncle Don – who made it to 92. Keeping physically active also helps keep one's mind sharp. When I am running alone, I also think about the day ahead – and more. After the run, I had a good breakfast, read some e-mail and got ready to head out.

The big event on Saturday was Dave and Liz Remine's Corn Boil out in Virginia. I first got to know Liz and Dave when I joined Mensa up in New Jersey three decades ago. I remember enjoyable parties at their home. I can also remember the two of them coming to dinner parties I began organizing at local restaurants. My criteria for choosing those restaurants was fairly simple. They had to be good restaurants – and they could not be part of a major chain. Good Time Charlie's qualified. TGIF didn't. One very memorable evening started at a restaurant. We all then then proceeded to see the film Starman at a local theater. I won't discuss this evening more in this column. Just ask me about it the next time we see each other at an event. You will be amused. You will also learn a bit about one incident that pushed my politics in a libertarian direction.

I ran into quite a few interesting people at the Corn Boil. Besides Liz and Dave, there were local leaders such as much of the ExComm, Heather Poirier, her husband, and two people with whom I have another connection – the Hash House Harriers. Possibly the most interesting conversation I had at the Corn Boil, though, was with the people from Roanoke. We talked about photography a bit. They encouraged me to come down to Roanoke and do some serious photography there. I think I will in the not too distant future. I did some photography at the Corn Boil. You can see the results on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/27233112@N05/sets/72157627319392996/.

That evening I returned to Maryland. I would have liked to attend Herb and Leslie's Saturday evening party, especially since they told us it would be going on into the wee hours of Sunday, but I do need my sleep – and Sunday morning I had another special event to attend.

Sunday morning into afternoon was the annual Fourth of July Crab Feast at St. Mark's. Fourth of July? You need a sense of humor. The service begins with members of the College of Crustaceans processing in, dressed in some Crab outfits and acting rather silly. You can see my photos of this event on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/27233112@N05/sets/72157627332865134/. People at St. Mark's really enjoy my photography. They are now calling me the church photographer. Now you know why I had to be well rested for that event. People at St. Mark's are also quite intelligent. During one recent conversation, Louise said to me “My IQ is only 147. Charlie's (her husband) is over 160.” They are also warm, friendly people. I hope MWMers and my friends at St. Mark's get to know one another better. I think it will be better for all.

Sunday concluded with another fine party at Alex Belinfante's. I know I miss Keren – but not nearly as much as Alex does. Besides the usual attendees (Alex, Jared Levine, Bruce Ford, more), Alex invited friends from other circles, especially artistic ones. I did some photography of this event as well. You can find my photos on Flickr at .

The first weekend in August I tried to bring together friends from a variety of groups. On Friday evening I put the Dupont Circle galleries First Friday open houses into our calendar. I also got Beltway Bob – a Hash House Harriers local Friday night Happy Hour tradition – to meet at The Big Hunt on Connecticut just south of Dupont Circle. I mentioned the Beltway Bob Happy Hour on littlem. I also plugged both events at St. Mark's. A number of hashers came to The Big Hunt and had an enjoyable time. Alas, I got a poor response from both MWM and St. Mark's. One MWM member did try to reach me on my cell phone, but I didn't hear it ringing. It got loud some of the time at both The Big Hunt and the trip around the galleries. I think I will try this again in November. Perhaps the fall will be better for this kind of thing.

We also have a new SIG. Our newsletter editor Colby Hostetler – who is doing a fine job – has added a SIG she has named the Guest Events for M's. These events are designed to bring together Ms and speakers on the hot topics of the day. See her announcement for more information.

That's enough for now. I definitely plan on attending Dave Cahn's party this month as well as some other events. I look forward to seeing many of you soon.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The End of the Space Age?

This started life as a column for the local Mensa newsletter. I happen to be Member at Large for Metro Washington Mensa. Our group covers Washington, DC, the inner suburbs of Maryland and Virginia, but part of the group extends out to West Virginia. Believe it or not, you can reach West Virginia in a few hours of driving. OK, maybe not at rush hour. This column might have some interest for people even in other parts of the world. This column is a response to the leader The end of the Space Age and the articles Into the Sunset and Spooks in orbit.

Here's the column -- unedited.

As I write this column, the space shuttle Atlantis is on not just its final voyage, but the final voyage of any space shuttle. The Economist magazine cover for July 2nd-8th, 2011, has on it a photograph of a shuttle orbiting Earth with the title “The end of the Space Age” on said cover. The Economist makes several interesting points in that issue. Launching humans into space is expensive – and has few benefits, if any. Robots can do the work for such things as communications satellites, weather satellites and exploration of both other planets as well as the rest of the universe.

The Economist points out that human space flight was a consequence of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. Americans got really interested when the Soviet Union launched the first satellite in October 1957. In 1961 John F. Kennedy set a goal of landing Americans on the Moon before the decade was out. That goal was met in 1969 with the landing of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon on July 20th. How many of you remember that day? I watched them walk on the Moon on a Sunday afternoon into evening while I was living in Palo Alto, California. We were riveted to the TV screen. Apollo 12 lasted from November 14 through November 24th. By that time I had moved to Poughkeepsie, New York and was working as a physicist at IBM. I don't remember Apollo 12. Apollo 13 was the aborted Apollo mission. It lasted from April 11, 1970 through April 17, 1970. My strongest memory of that mission is the film “Apollo 13.” The last Apollo mission happened in December 1972. I don't remember that mission at all. That was my last semester of full time graduate work in physics. I was getting fed up with, I thought, physics. It turned out to be late 20th century academia. I discovered that when I was doing grad work in social psychology in the 1970s.

What got me interested in space again? I read Gerard K. O'Neill's book “The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space” in 1977. I was fascinated by the idea that humans could be living in space colonies within our lifetimes. I thought I could be one of those humans. I joined a group called the L5 Society which was advocating such colonies. Why would humans want to build such colonies? One idea which had been proposed in the 1960s was to build giant solar power stations in Earth orbit to supply power to the entire Earth cheaply and cleanly. L5's slogan was “L5 by 95.” I did not know at the time how hard that would be. I learned about the difficulties in the 1980s. Still, though, by this time I was clearly committed to a future where humans lived and worked in space in large numbers for the benefit of all of humanity – at least those of us in free, technologically advanced societies.

What of the future? The two shuttle disasters revealed an agency afflicted with major problems. The loss of Columbia in 2003 resulted in an investigation that showed an agency that could not lead anymore. In fact, the agency had become – and had been for a long time – hostile in many ways to new ideas. Not Invented Here had become an acronym – NIH.

We've discovered other problems. First off, humans cannot live in space – at least at the present time. We and the Russians have sent several hundred humans into space for periods that have lasted several months and, in a few cases, more than a year. All of the people who have spent even that short a time in space have come back much weaker, needing years to get back to the normal human strength. These are people who are in excellent condition for most humans. Anyone who takes a multiyear trip to Mars will, most likely, come back in even worse shape. Living there would be impossible.

We can also look at Antarctica. Humans first discovered Antarctica in 1820. 1820? It took that long for humans to sail that far south. The continent was ignored for the rest of the century. Humans first paid real attention to Antarctica when Scott and Amundsen raced for the South Pole a century ago. Amundsen's team won, reaching the pole on December 14, 1911. Scott's team reached the pole, but died on the return. This could be viewed as the early 20th Century equivalent of the race to the Moon. It cost much less than Apollo. Humans did not really make any strong efforts regarding Antarctica until after World War II. We now have some bases there for research and some adventurous tourists.

The Space Age, then, must be finished – as finished as the Roman Empire. Perhaps it is. Perhaps we will only use the “inner space” of communications satellites, weather satellites and other things connected to the real well being of humans. We may send off a few robots to explore elsewhere and a few orbital observatories to look at the rest of the universe. “Star Trek”, “2001: A Space Odyssey” and more will be viewed as 20th Century myths. Awhile back on Facebook I commented “If you had told a resident of Haight Ashbury in 1969 that none of the space exploration stuff in “2001: A Space Odyssey” would have come true 40 years later but that General Motors would be in bankruptcy and that Lincoln would be selling luxury, high end pickup trucks, they would have told you to cut back on the LSD and go talk to the nice people down at the Free Clinic.” Karen Caron and Jody Carlson liked that quote. A couple of space cadets didn't even get it.

I will say, though, that the First Space Age is finished. With real reform, we may be able to build a real future for humans in space. Open democratic reform, though, is needed. Open democratic societies do a much better job of really advancing human civilization. Such societies are open to new ideas and new people. They are better at creating real progress. They are better at solving problems over the long haul. They respect their people and try to make lives better for all. We all know they fail at this all too often, Still, though, they are the best kinds of societies that humanity has created so far. Winston Churchill once said “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” Those solar power satellites are looking increasingly possible. People are struggling for real reform in tech fields. I know – I am one of them.

I will close by comparing three years: 1621, 2011 and 2525. Those of you old enough to remember might remember the song “In the year 2525” back in the 1960s. I have it on a CD. It was look at a future of fantastic myths -- and possibly dark times. It was very different from what we have today. What about 1621? That was the year John Donne became dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, England. A few years back I read the book “A Cambridge Companion to John Donne.” Why? I was curious about a man I am descended from. I was stunned about how similar I was to this great man who lived four centuries ago. I'm not is his league, but I was surprised about how we thought and felt about things. Now, let's compare our times. If I could take a time machine back to 1621 and tell Donne about a typical day for me, he would be thoroughly surprised. Listen to stereo? I could even take a small one back to show him. Drive a car? Live in an air conditioned house? Communicate via the Internet? He would learn much about the great accomplishments of humans in the past four centuries – and be surprised at how similar today's humans were to those of the 17th Century. What will 2525 be like? As far ahead of ours as ours is from 1621? Or more like 1621? Our descendants will know.

That's enough for now. Feel free to bring this up at any Mensa event or elsewhere. I try to be open to everyone.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Beer and Me

I had my first drink at a fraternity party at Rutgers when I was a freshman. It was beer. The upperclassmen played a game. The object of the game was to get freshman drunk. I was the first loser. I got really sick. Friends helped me back to the dormitory. The next morning I phoned my father. Dad normally had lunch at the Rutgers Alumni Faculty Club. He took me there for lunch that day. We had a serious talk about alcohol.

A few weeks later I was in New York City with friends. Back then 18 year olds could drink legally in New York. My friends ordered beer. Remembering both what my father told me and also remembering that my father enjoyed a scotch, I surprised everyone by ordering scotch. I liked the taste. I discovered I enjoyed moderate drinking.

Years later in California I discovered wine. I found out I liked drinking wine with dinner, again moderately.

I kept up my usually moderate consumption of wine and scotch whiskey for years. I did upgrade my taste in whiskey to The Glen Livet when it became available. I also tried and liked other brands. One old girl friend said Langavulin was an aphrodisiac. Guess what we drank when we were alone?

Beer, however, remained off limits to me. That first experience really affected me. I tend toward moderation in most things most of the time. I was that way even in my 20s. One friend of mine -- a part of the flower child scene -- said to me with real respect "You're with us -- but only part way."

Then in 1987 I went to England for the World Science Fiction Convention in Brighton. It was my first trip to England -- but far from my last. My cousins Harry and Anita met me at Gatwick. They are not only relatives of mine, but also friends. On the way up to Nottingham, Harry stopped at a pub. In the pub he asked me if I would like to try one of their beers. Friendly person that I am, I said yes. Harry ordered best bitter all around. I really liked the taste of that beer.

Some months later I threw a party at my home in New Jersey. One woman I was friends with brought a six pack of Sam Adams beer. I was amused by the "Brewer, Patriot" label. When she left, she left behind a couple bottles of Sam Adams. Some days later I tried a bottle. I liked it as well. It was so much better than Budweiser it wasn't funny. I added a beer now and again to my alcohol consumption. I even bought a six pack now and then.

In 1989 I returned to England, this time for a simple trip to see more of the land of my ancestors. I told Harry my beer story at one point. He was very amused.

In the 1990s I worked at Goddard Space Flight Center. I got involved with the running group there. Because once I won a trophy for my performance in a 10K -- time of 45:20 -- I bragged about it in a letter I sent out with my Christmas card. In May of 1993 my cousins invited all the family to a 50th wedding anniversary celebration of their parents wedding. At that party my cousin Don -- a real athlete in high school -- turned to me at one point and said that he could not run a 10K that fast and that he had run 4 marathons. He said with real conviction that I had at least one marathon in me.

In 1996 I did run -- OK, slowly -- the Marine Corps Marathon. I had one strong memory besides finishing that marathon. Around mile 17 I saw a physically attractive woman wearing a T shirt proclaiming her to be a member of the White House Hash House Harriers -- The Drinking Club With a Running Problem. The only reason I did not crack up laughing was because it was only mile 17.

In June of 1998 I ran the Race for the Cure 5K. I wasn't even out of breath. While I was waiting for my friends to catch up, I saw a couple of people wearing Hash T shirts. I walked over and introduced myself and asked about the group. Mother Chalker told me the hash was into exercise and fun. He handed me a paper with contact information on it.

The next Friday, according to the phone announcement, there would be a full Moon run. The announcement said the start would be at My Brother's Place -- a bar/restaurant in DC. The announcement also said to look for the degenerates.

I showed up that Friday. I thought to myself if these people are degenerates, most Americans belong in intensive care. I had a good time. I started making friends. Oh -- I was very amused by the consumption of beer at the closing circle. I became a hasher -- and now a more regular, but almost always moderate, beer drinker. Hashing has definitely improved my life.

For over a decade now I have been involved in St, Mark's Episcopal Church. While the church tends to be more liberal, anyone is welcome to come. St. Mark's also has a tradition called Pub Lunch after the 11:15 service on Sunday. It is a friendly time. We even brew our own beer. Rick Weber, our brewmaster, is even the Bishop's Brewmaster. One of our sayings is "Come for the wine. Stay for the beer."

It has now reached the point where I might be a connoisseur of beer. I like, for instance, a good IPA. Recently I discovered at a Rutgers event the microbrewery Starr Hill's Northern Lights IPA. The physicist/astronomer in me was obviously drawn to the name. The educated beer drinker that I have become has me really liking this IPA better than others. It is a bit scary to now have a favorite even in a specialty brew.

That's all for now. Soon I must leave for a New Jersey State Society event at the Capitol.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Independence Day!

Today, July 4th, is the 235th anniversary of the day the Continental Congress adopted our Declaration of Independence. There is much more here and here.

In one very interesting way I began being touched when I went to St. Alban's Episcopal Church on Sunday, June 26th. I went because I was invited. People at St. Alban's are involved in all kinds of things -- including the DC art scene. That Sunday they celebrated St. Alban's Day. The service concluded with a hymn sung to honor St. Alban. The music was the Battle Hymn of the Republic. I was especially moved by that. Oh -- that is the artist in me speaking.

I found out about an organ recital -- those words do not begin to convey the wonderful concert I heard about at Washington National Cathedral some days ago. Today I went. The concert began with Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" followed by the National Anthem. The concert concluded with Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever." After the concert I wandered through the gift shop and purchased "America the Beautiful" by the Choirs of Washington National Cathedral. I can now actually claim I own a CD of patriotic American music.

For my English cousins, I will now repeat a story I read a number of years ago. An Englishwoman claimed that the English had never lost a war. An American challenged her on that, noting the outcome of the American Revolution. She simply replied "English colonists fighting for English rights against a German king!" I'm still learning history. It's a relatively new interest for me. David Howarth concluded his book "1066: The Year of the Conquest" with this paragraph:

Yet those children, or their children, won a victory in the end. They never became Norman; they remained most stubbornly English, absorbed the invaders and made of the mixture a new kind of Englishness.

The history of 1066 is very depressing. What William the Bastard and his men did to England is unspeakable. Still, though, those words ring true for me, the American who is descended from fine English people on both sides of my family.

Soon I will leave for a concert in Greenbelt. I had planned to spend this evening in DC photographing the fireworks display. The weather currently is less than good. There might be thunderstorms. For obvious reasons I do not want to risk my fancy camera in such weather. I just paid $255 to get it fixed. I don't want to damage the camera. The last repair, I am told, was normal. Modern technology does have its drawbacks.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Some Thoughts About the Bishop Election

All, I this is the text of an e-mail I sent to Maureen, David and Rick --our representatives in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington convention some days ago. For those of you who read this blog and are not Episcopalians, please try to understand the primary audience for this missive -- and the others on this topic.

Here's the e-mail:

I have been thinking about the upcoming bishop election. We do have five excellent candidates. I will discuss some of my thoughts about each in alphabetical order by last name.

Ronald Abrams has an interesting history. He's a native New Yorker who has spent much of his career in the South -- including one stint where he had significant dealings with the military. I was impressed with the fact that, while he sees value in the new technologies for communications, he thinks that personal contact is more important. You might be surprised, but I agree with him on that. You would not believe what I have read on the Internet -- and from people who don't come off as nuts as soon as you meet them. We are still learning how to communicate decently over electronic devices. Remember in 1811 the fastest way to get a message from New York City to Philadelphia was via men on horseback and an overnight stop in Trenton, N.J. People had more time to think back then. Our communications technologies may have evolved -- but we humans have not. Abrams came off as friendly and quite interested in strengthening our church with some good ideas on how to make this happen. Reaching out to the young especially with things like Theology Pubs has real merit. Getting our youth to think about their futures and our church is also a good idea.

Mariann Budde has had significant experience in Minnesota with turning around parishes that had fallen on hard times. I was very interested when she mentioned that the Episcopal Church does not have any sort of "brand" to the general public. We can change that. She seems aware of the problems with Washington National Cathedral -- possibly the church that is most identified with the Episcopal Church. We need a strong, healthy cathedral Given her interests, knowledge and overall energy, I think she would do well in bringing the cathedral back to health.

Let me interject a note about our lack of public attention at this point. I will cite one recent example here in Maryland. Former Governor William Donald Shaefer died in April. The man was not only respected as a great governor and before that mayor of Baltimore, but the man was positively loved. "He Cared." is on the front cover of the program of the celebration of his life. I am rather well informed about Maryland politics. Besides the Democratic Party, I am on the Episcopal Public Policy Network. When did I learn Shaefer was an Episcopalian? When I read his obituary. That is appalling.

Samuel Candler is a real Southerner -- but a very open minded one. He's led large churches that are doing well in this world. He seems able to communicate well with a wide variety of people. We need people such as him. I was quite impressed that he responded to my request for a joke with one that was funny. Later on we had a chance encounter during which he spoke appreciatively about my request. He recognized what I was getting at by making such an unusual request. In general he seems quite prepared to handle the real challenges of being Bishop of Washington, leading Episcopalians, interacting with politicians and the general public.

Jane Gould is originally from this area. I wonder if, for some reason, she is seeking to return. Boston is a fine area, but she might miss things about DC. I will note, though, that this area and diocese is sufficiently attractive in so many ways I won't hold the fact that she would be returning to the diocese of her youth against her. In some ways that makes her a strong candidate. I was very impressed that she manages to be both the priest that leads a quite multicultural parish and be Episcopal Chaplain at MIT, Tending to the spiritual needs of engineers and scientists who are willing to participate in a religion is quite a challenge.

John Harmon is a priest in our diocese. He. along with Jane Gould, probably understands our diocese best at present. He's also described himself as a product of Episcopalian education. He knows his way around DC politics -- both local and national. While he describes himself as a life long Episcopalian, his accent gave me the idea that he was born outside of the U.S. and spent some time living there. I could be wrong, of course. He is sharp and aware of both the challenges and opportunities we have with our church.

I think St. Mark's will be able to work well with any of these candidates. This is my first time actually paying attention to the internal politics of the Episcopal Church, at least regarding election of a bishop. I may even be able to rank the candidates in my eyes before the election. Yes, in one sense I am a good Episcopalian in that I have been a cradle Episcopalian born to cradle Episcopalians. Now I am starting to pay attention about the way things currently work in our diocese. I think I have much to learn. I also suspect I have much to offer.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mensa and the Larger World

This started life as a column for the local Mensa newsletter. I happen to be Member at Large for Metro Washington Mensa. Our group covers Washington, DC, the inner suburbs of Maryland and Virginia, but part of the group extends out to West Virginia. Believe it or not, you can reach West Virginia in a few hours of driving. OK, maybe not at rush hour. This column might have some interest for people even in other parts of the world.

Here's the column -- unedited.

During my time as Member at Large – and even before –I've participated a bit in discussions about Mensa, especially our Metro Washington section, and the larger world. Some of us have noticed that we don't seem to have as many Saturday evening parties as we once did. Other activities have scaled back. People we used to see often and know well we now see rarely or not at all.

Some of these things can be considered normal. Some bright young people join Mensa in hopes of finding a similarly bright mate. Even some older people become active in Mensa for similar reasons. Just because you are, for example, over 70, does not mean you have completely lost interest in romance, for example (using a gentle term). The actor Tony Randall had, by all reports, a long happy marriage with his first wife. She was not able to have children. She died. What did Tony do? He eventually remarried to a woman 50 years younger than him. He became a father for the first time at 75 – yes, 75. In any event, some of the people who join Mensa for such reasons will become less active with the larger group after having achieved their goal. There are other social reasons for joining Mensa that, once the need has been met, may lead to less activity in the larger group.

There are other things at work as well. Some times an organization is born and grows to be large and active, but then people drift away for other activities. People may join a ski club in their 20s or 30s, but move on to other kinds of groups (e.g., a sailing club) in their 40s and 50s. A teenager may join a model rocket club but move on to a professional society by the time they are 30. People in Mensa could drift off to a local astronomy club, an arts organization, a fraternal organization such as the Elks, and so forth. When things like this happen, the leadership of the organization in decline – as well as the active membership – may want to learn why such things are happening and, if they truly value the organization, work on changes that will make the organization healthy again.

Today, however, there are factors at work that are affecting too many independent groups. It doesn't seem to matter whether the group is a civic organization such as Rotary, a social organization such as Mensa, or even various religions. Membership and activity are declining in too many places.

Let's look at the lives of our members.

I have in my role as Member at Large attended both Gen X and Gen Y events. Gen Y people have sometimes raised the point that they are very busy – too busy. Demands of work or school or both are very high. Too many young people don't even have enough time for a good night's sleep. The organizations for which they work want not just 40 hours/week, but 60, 70, 80 – and sometimes even more. That kind of schedule crowds out other kinds of things. Recently in a Rutgers alumni magazine I read how young graduate students would put in the long hours in the library and laboratory working to advance science – and also some time at a second job to bring in some needed money. This isn't healthy for those young people or the larger world. It isn't even healthy for the school that demands such sacrifices. People get tired from too much work. They make mistakes . They fail to notice important things. There are many reasons why people used to work only 40 hours/week.

Some of our older members face different kinds of challenges. Large numbers of people in their 50s are losing their jobs. Some have put the number as high as 40%. – and that was before the economy got so bad. People in their 50s used to have some sort of financial freedom. They'd saved their entire lives. Their children were grown and out on their own. Between loss of work and helping children with bills from their schooling, a good bit of that financial freedom has been lost. When someone goes from traveling to the Annual Gathering, favorite Regional Gatherings – or trips to Europe – to worrying about finding odd jobs to put food on the table, don't expect nearly as much social activity during remaining free time – even if it very low cost. This doesn't even consider what such a life does to free time.

What can we do about this kind of thing? Some of you know I am active in a variety of groups. Last month I wrote about St. Mark's. Some of you have seen my art on display in various galleries and other exhibit spaces (think Artomatic). I've occasionally brought up professional groups with a technical focus. Then there is political activity. I know I am not the only MWM member active in politics. Mensans are brighter than most people. Most of us are better educated as well. We can speak up in public forums better than most people – at least quite of few of us can.

We can also learn more about this social problem. One place to start is Take Back Your Time, an organization with a website at http://timeday.org/.

That's enough for now. I am quite willing to discuss this and related things at any of our events.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Bit About Myself and the Ways I Think and Act

Every so often I will post something here that is more about myself than some topic in the larger world. This is one of those posts. I do this to help people understand my perspective on the world on which we live.

Two years ago I wrote a posting titled An Interesting Side Comment by Michael Griffin, The point of that post was to get people -- especially engineers and scientists -- to think about the way they worked and conducted their lives and the impact such things had on their work. It can be hard to convince some people that they will accomplish more and produce better results if they go home and get some rest. Some people want to believe that the person who spends 80 hours/week at work is far more committed and is accomplishing far more than the person who works only 40 hours/week. Yes, for a short stretch, you can put in a great number of hours -- but over the long haul you cannot.

That posting got a few comments on the blog. What is interesting are some of the criticisms I received in person. People told me the piece was more about myself than anything else. I did use myself as an example of an outlier and compared myself to people who were even more outliers than I was to help illustrate the phenomenon. If you read the piece, though, you will note that I cite books that I have read as well as other people describing the situation in various ways. I don't think the piece is about myself. The people who challenged my piece all had some professional commitment to aerospace in general and NASA in particular. Currently I am on the outs with these people. They even sent me a letter banning me from their meetings. I did go to one of their luncheons -- and was given a warm welcome by some of the people there. I wasn't chased away. Perhaps my status has not been communicated to all -- even all in leadership positions.

In some ways I am an advocate of change in society. One change I would particularly like to see is more time for rest. More rest makes learning new things easier. Get a teenager up at 4 AM for ice hockey practice and that teenager will have much greater difficulty learning something like calculus or, even worse, quantum physics. Let's not even consider dating.

People who are under attack of some kind are most interested in getting some peace. One way some people choose is simply to surrender to the people attacking them. That isn't all that healthy, though. What is more likely to happen is said people will become even more entrenched in the ways they think and act. That's why I normally try to establish friendly, respectful relationships with said people. Sometimes that approach works. I'm also willing to change my views sometimes. I don't claim to be some sort of godlike figure who is always right. I've made too many mistakes in my own life.

One way I try to communicate my ideas is by bringing up something surprising in a hopefully friendly way. Telling a conservative Roman Catholic that they share one belief with the most liberal of Episcopalians can get their attention. Telling these people that they, like the most liberal of Episcopalians, approve of men and women getting married and having children, surprises them. Who on earth would disapprove of such a thing? Informing them that work life balance for too many young people in tech fields essentially makes marriage and family nearly impossible gets their attention.

I will say I am under attack in some ways. I have been all my life a member of the American middle class. In recent decades people such as myself have been put under some very severe attacks. 40% -- perhaps more -- of people in their 50s are being fired out of their jobs. Most lose practically everything they have saved up in their lives. I'm not quite as bad off as that, but that is probably because of a more frugal than most lifestyle. Still, though, I can see ways that this strain has shaped me. One way involves religion. I and my family has been Episcopalian or Anglican for centuries. This is an important part of my being. 20 years ago I was friendly to just about anyone, regardless of religious belief. Now I have to watch myself that I do not react negatively to the views of somebody else just based upon religious differences. That;s just one example.

Enough for now. I don't want to bore people too much.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Walkabout for Episcopal Diocese of Washington Bishop Candidates -- Collington

On Wednesday, May 25th, I attended a walkabout at Collington. The focus of this walkabout was specifically on concerns for seniors and retirees.

The afternoon session began with the question about how the candidates would minister to diversity.

John Harmon spoke first. He expressed the thought that diversity should be more than mere tolerance. There is a need to communicate well. People must live together, not just visit.

Mariann Budde spoke next. She first became really aware of how different people could be when her second son was born. They were -- and are -- very different from one another. She noted that living in tension makes us sicker. We need to embrace our different communities and live into the fullness of our uniqueness.

Jane Gould spoke next. She feels called to be bishop because of diversity. She recognizes she serves a very diverse church. Young people meet elders in her very diverse parish. In her parish there is a need for communications across generations and racial differences. They also have partnerships with other, different congregations.

Ronald Abrams spoke next. He has done congregational work in a black church. He personally loves diversity in all its ways. It must be nurtured. He would create a bishop's lunch to bring together groups of clergy and a wardens' dinner to bring together groups of lay leadership.

Samuel Candler addressed us next. He mentioned that he grew up in a small church where diversity was the rule. The more diverse the church, the more you learn about God. He quoted Mother Teresa when she was asked by a young person what they could do, Mother Terese replied "Smile at the people you live with."

The audience now asked questions. The first was about gays being elected to high positions.

Samuel Candler said he supported same sex unions but also supported the world wide community -- which has members who do not.

Jane Gould spoke next. She signed the vote for Gene Robinson. She noted she served in a diverse community with varying views on this issue. She noted that one church leader in Africa had six wives but was still welcomed into the church. We must struggle with this issue every day.

John Harmon answered next. No one's gift should be denied. We need to connect with those who have different views.

Ronald Abrams spoke next. He was personally mentored ans supported by all kinds of clergy. Our broad and wide commitment to Christ is what brings us together. What we have together is greater than what we have apart.
One questioner asked about the breakdown of respect for divergent points of views.

John Harmon has met with most congregations in this diocese. He noted we must act on the views of the majority, but respect those who differ.

Samuel Candler commented that the antidote to bad behavior is to model right behavior.

Ronald Abrams cited examples of people working together.

Jane Gould observed that we must take moral positions in the larger community while respecting differences. She observed that government and political leaders have lost the sensibility that we have more in common than in difference.


Marian Budde said that is one reason why she wants the church to grow. We can help set the tone.

Financial matters were also the subject of one question. Budde said it was necessary to rebuild some congregations. Gould said that people give to what is most transformative in their lives. Candler said much the same thing. Harmon said people give to enterprises that reach the larger generation. Abrams said people must give out to the community and that is is important to bring out all parts of the community. Budde said it is important to listen to our elders because they have learned much. Harmon noted that it is important to listen to all groups. Candler said this his church had started a retirement home for seniors on low fixed incomes. He added that elders have wisdom. Gould noted that we need to help our elders. Addressing structural problems in our society is important.

I almost certainly missed some things. I will observe, again, that the candidates responded in similar ways to the variety of communities that they met. That, I will add, is quite expected and good. A candidate for bishop should be open and honest with all.

Once again, I did put some photos up on Flickr. You can find them as Bishop Walkabout, Collington.

I hope these notes and photos help people.

There is a good chance I will write my thoughts on this blog in the next few days -- perhaps a week or so. I will comment that all five candidates seem to be personally good people with sharp, open minds. I do expect that those who oppose women in priesthood would be happy to have the two women candidates as members, even lay leaders. I can't be sure of that, though.

Walkabout for Episcopal Diocese of Washington Bishop Candidates -- Washington Episcopal School

I also attended the walkabout on Tuesday evening, May 24th, for the bishop candidates. this one was held at the Washington Episcopal School. This school seems quite interesting. It runs from kindergarten through 8th grade. Some parents started this school because they thought that the existing offerings -- especially public -- left much to be desired. I did have a pleasant, albeit brief, chat with one man who was on the school's faculty.

Once again, the meeting began with the five candidates being asked one question. The question was "What experiences have you had that equip you to be Bishop of Washington?"

John Harmon was the first to answer. He made some key points:

  • He is completely the product of Episcopalian education.
  • He has good leadership skills.
  • He has a great love of people and God.
  • He has helped address the HIV problem as a leader of over 100 clergy with concerns.
  • He has done significant fund raising.


Samuel Candler was the second respondent. Among his points were:

  • He is a product of small towns.
  • He has led two major churches in the past 17 years.
  • He is attuned to both the conservative and liberal versions of Christianity.
  • He has met challenges by taking risks.
  • He praised his family. He learned much from listening to his mother.
  • He commented that we can be a great church for the entire Anglican communion.


Jane Gould spoke next. She made the points that:

  • She grew up in the DC area and attended college in California.
  • People have described her as a smart jock.
  • She is fed by diversity.
  • She brings people together in communities and encourages their gifts.


Mariann Budde was the fourth speaker. Points she made included:

  • There are many ways of being Christian. The Episcopal Church is particularly good at that.
  • She came of age as a young volunteer helping the poor.
  • She has led her current parish for 18 years, leading them to serve others.
  • Words are not enough. There must be actions as well.
  • She loves the Episcopal Church.


Ronald Abrams was the final speaker. He made some strong points:

  • He is a product of the Episcopal Church.
  • He grew up in a multicultural environment in New York.
  • When he was 15 his 20 year old brother died of Hodgkin's. The community helped in so many ways that it led him to commit his life to the church.
  • He has served in a variety of communities ranging from the Hamptons to Fayetteville to a military community.


We then moved to breakout rooms to question the candidates individually. One difference this evening from St. Mary's was that the groups were larger and more equally divided.

The first candidate in my room was Samuel Candler. He made a number of points in answer to various questions. Among them were:

  • We must have the support of the community in reaching out to the larger church.
  • One the topic of same sex unions he favors them greatly. He added, though, that you did not have to agree with him to be a part of the community.
  • Listening to people is important.
  • A bishop should learn one distinctive thing about each parish.
  • The number of parishes is dropping. We need to reverse that trend.
  • In response to a question about resolving conflict, he mentioned that in 2003 he gave a speech at our general convention favoring same sex unions. When he got home, he engaged his parish with an open, engaging conversation. His parish has 6000 members.
  • Regarding college ministries he said that the diocese should not duplicate college ministries of parishes but support said ministries.
  • I asked him to tell a good joke. I found his response funny. I suspect, though, that the people running the session did not completely appreciate what I did because, when I held my hand up to do the same for other candidates, I was politely ignored.


The next candidate we interviewed was Mariann Budde. Among her points were:

  • She endorses the report made about Washington National Cathedral.
  • Her parish was failing when she arrived. Her predecessor and lay leaders began its revival. She continued that work. It is important to not define yourself by what you don't have, but by what you do. Her current parish has become a "big sister" to parishes currently struggling.
  • It is important for the bishop to learn the strengths of various parishes.
  • When asked about personal strengths, she mentioned her high energy, a great love of the complexity of humans and a lack of fear of other faiths.
  • She sees a sea change happening in the episcopate. The church is at a critical juncture. Parishes need attention. this is a collective era of renewal.
  • Raising the profile of the church is important. Most people had no idea about what the Episcopal Church stood for or did. Her diocese began to address this problem by putting up billboards.


Ronald Abrams was the next speaker. He mentioned several important things, including:

  • New technologies are important and can help, but one on one approach is best.
  • He has seen breakdowns in communications.
  • You can't get communion through TV.
  • He supports same sex unions.
  • It is important to be collegial in working with staff. Trust must be built. It can't be done through micromanagement. His door is always open.
  • When someone in his current congregation has a loss, the church community steps forward together to help.


John Harmon was the next candidate to appear. He spoke to similar concerns. He noted that, while he supported same sex unions, it was necessary to work with all, whether they agreed or not.

Jane Gould was the last to speak. She did mention briefly that some deacons had unhealthy work life balances.

You will note that I did not do much note taking for the last two candidates. It was not because of a lack of interest or unwillingness to report. It was, in good part, because the questions the candidates were asked were very similar to the questions asked at St. Mary's with similar responses. In short,I got tired of note taking.

I did do some photographs of this event. You can find them on Flickr as Bishop Walkabout, Washington Episcopal School.

I hope people find this report and the photographs helpful.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Walkabout for Episcopal Diocese of Washington Bishop Candidates -- St. Mary's

For any readers of this blog who are not familiar with my commitment to the Episcopal Church, let me begin with a few comments. I am what is called a "cradle Episcopalian." My family has been Episcopalian or Anglican for centuries. Culturally the church has influenced me all my life and has helped make me a better person. It also provides a place where I can turn for all kinds of interactions, advice, etc. I truly appreciate the fact that we limit authority in democratic ways -- especially in the United States. That is very important to me because for the past few decades we've seen an assault on democratic freedoms in the United States that troubles me greatly. In the Episcopal Church we do have some rather intense controversies at present -- but even antagonists seem to get along better in the church than antagonists do in the larger world.

I attended the walkabout session for the new Episcopal Diocese of Washington at St. Mary's on Monday evening. All five candidates were there along with enough people to fill St. Mary's nave. I arrived around 6:30 PM, in time to catch the end of the reception in another room. The session began with the five candidates addressing one question. The question was "How might you seek to improve the life of the diocese?"

Marianne Budde was the first to respond. She expressed the thoughts that:

  • The World and God need us to be as strong as possible.
  • Health and vitality of churches is important so that other things can be done.
  • Clergy and lay wellness is important. Some have left leadership positions because of health.
  • Vision is important. The episcopate must nurture it.
  • We must share and expand joy.


Samuel Candler was the next to speak. He also spoke about health. Among his thoughts were:

  • We should pay attention to healthy congregations.
  • We should use healthy churches as models we can learn from.
  • Communication is important.
  • Healthy dioceses need healthy parishes, leaders and communities.
  • One thing he has seen help is weekly Bible study.


The next speaker was Ronald Abrams. His first main point was that we have sometimes lost people because of issues with various relationships. He favors clergy luncheons, among other things, to build relationships.

John Harmon was the next to speak. He currently serves in this diocese. One important point he made was that we need to work out in the community to make the community healthier. He also notes that Washington has all that is needed for healthy communities

The final speaker was Jane Gould. She is currently a chaplain at MIT. I will try to not let that influence my views too much. In that role she has brought together Episcopalian faculty, staff and students to help them work and live together better. She has also reached out to members of other faiths as well.

After these necessarily brief introductory speeches, we broke up into several groups. I was lucky enough to be assigned to a breakout room with a small number of people. In our room it was easy to ask questions of the candidates. Some members of our group made a point of asking one identical question of each of the candidates. I, as you might expect, varied my question from one candidate to another.

The first candidate in my room was Jane Gould. Among the points I managed to note were:

  • It is necessary to see what relationships are life giving.
  • When queried about politics, she observed:

    • She respected politicians.
    • She understood how politics worked.
    • She has stories about real people to help others understand politics.

  • Magic is necessary to construct strong communities. People need to sacrifice at times.
  • It is necessary for dioceses to have multiple income streams.
  • For work with youth at risk, secular funding is available.
  • She briefly mentioned the Technology Forum. She noted that:

    • The people there engaged in talk about people.
    • The tech crowd that she knew was more thoughtful and had a deeper faith commitment.

  • The Walker School was important.



The second candidate to come to our room was Samuel Candler. Among his points were:

  • He has worked with politicians in South Carolina and Georgia where he now is.
  • Views in the Episcopal Church are more comprehensive than any one position.
  • Our identity as a church must go beyond any one position.
  • We need to keep young people involved. Open weekly sessions would help this.
  • We need to give. People give to places where they have had a transformative experience.
  • The church should speak up for the working class.
  • Priests need to build on community.
  • Bishops need to understand parishes and priests.


The third candidate was Mariann Budde. Among her points were:

  • She is involved in politics.
  • Lay leaders should be built up.
  • Minnesota has money problems. It is necessary to meet that challenge.
  • The church needs to reach out to young people on their own terms.
  • People should be proud of their churches.


The fourth candidate was Ron Abrams. Among his points were:

  • The primary responsibility of the bishop is to be pastor to the clergy and laity.
  • He sees the need to strengthen parishes.
  • A "Theology Pub" is one way he reached out to people.
  • We need to engage the youth in ministry.
  • We need to get people to coniser a vocation in church.


The fifth and final candidate was John Harmon of our diocese. Among his points were:

  • Clergy must called to the position.
  • There are no incompetent clergy -- just mismatched clergy and churches.
  • It is important to know what people bring to their churches.
  • Among other things, he is chaplain to the National Science Foundation
  • He will invite political leaders to support the mission of the church.
  • He has worked with the City Council on education.
  • Congregations should be mission minded.
  • Churches need to be actively involved in their communities.
  • Democratic style leadership is important.
  • Social media is important, but we must be faithful.
    It is more important to be faithful than right.


That pretty much concludes what I heard Monday evening. I may follow up with some reactions of my own in a later post. I am writing these blog items to let people know what was discussed at the walkabout meetings. Generally, I will say I am glad these people are involved in the Episcopal Church. I hope even those who disagree with some of their positions as well as the fact that two of them are women will still see the candidates more positively than not. I will note that, when I was growing up in New Jersey, women were welcomed into church leadership, just not as clergy.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

An Interesting Weekend

This weekend has been quite interesting.

Friday evening was taken up by the Philosophical Society of Washington Joseph Henry lecture. The speaker, one Debra Elmegreen of Vassar College and President of the American Astronomical Society, discussed the astronomical decadal survey. It was a most interesting evening.

Saturday's big event was the Metro Washington Mensa's Leadership Development Workshop. I was surprised to discover from Loren Kropat that Roberts' Rules of Order dated to only the end of the 19th Century, when an engineer by the name of Roberts who made a career of the Army (winding up with Brigadier General rank) wrote the rules to help people run meetings. The original book has expanded more than 10 fold in the past century plus.

Sunday was taken up with three events. The day began with Banner Sunday at St. Mark's. I will put in a link to photos later. Lunch time at St. Mark's was given to a terrific celebration of Jan Hoffman's 90th birthday. She does not seem anywhere near 90. We are all happy to have her as a member. I will put in a link to the photos when they are organized as well.

The last event of the day was the Metro Washington Mensa monthly New Members Open House. Donna Campbell hosted a wonderful event that brought together several friends. At one point I offered myself up for adoption to Donna. Hey, I am an orphan.

More later when I am not so busy.

Monday looks like the start of an interesting political week.

Friday, May 20, 2011

DC Art Science Evening Rendezvous, May 19, 2011

Thursday evening I attended the fourth DC Art Science Evening Rendezvous (DASER) at the Keck Center of the National Academies. I've attended three of the events so far. It's now not only on my calendar for the third Thursday of the month, I have also put the event on the Metro Washington Mensa calendar as a recurring event. I also plan on publicizing this event in other fora where people know me.

When I arrived shortly before 6 PM I was given a name badge, a program and a survey to fill out. Since there were few people around, I took some time to view the exhibition of pieces that connect art and science on display in the halls around the meeting room. The show is quite intriguing. I recommend that people in the DC area make the attempt to see this exhibit. While the Keck Center is normally open only during regular business hours, it is possible to see the show while attending DASER.

The session began with people from the audience who are doing something that brings together science and art in some way. One couple mentioned an interest in astronomy in art. I introduced myself to them at the networking event after the more formal part of the meeting. Mangala Sharma of the Space Telescope Science Institute and Thomas Statler OF NSF are both astronomers and are married to each other. I did mention my Flickr site with the art I think they will find interesting. They were friendly and also know Zoltan Levy whom I met through the Bowie-Crofton Camera Club.

JD Talasek, Director of Cultural Programs, began by showing X rays and art. It was interesting seeing how this technology -- little more than a century old -- has impacted art and vice versa.

The first panel speaker, Harry Abramson of Direct Dimensions, described his company's main business of developing computer models of various technologies. NASA is one big customer. Interaction with artists has definitely affected the company. The different ways that artists approach reality provides a stimulating contrast to engineering views. He spoke at some length about Leonardo's Horse. That sculpture was, apparently, done by the Renaissance great Leonardo da Vinci and copied later by others. Direct Dimension's computer models showed both the similarities (great) and differences among the various sculptures.

The next speaker, Zeev Rosensweig, a chemistry professor, began his comments by noting that the creativity of artists and scientists is similar in many ways. Both groups approach complex systems in interesting ways. The groups, though, will use different words and phrases for the same phenomena.

The next speaker, Michael Chorost, is a science writer. After he became deaf, had hearing restored via a computer implant. He thinks that this is the future of humanity. He has written a book titled "World Wide Mind: The Coming Integration of Humanity, Machines, and the Internet." The book advances the thesis that the Internet will reshape how humanity not only communicates but also works and lives together. He has noted, though, that people are less able to be intimate with one another currently. We are also less able to work with each other.

The final presenter, one Randall Parker, joined with the deaf since birth actor Robin Shannon in a joint effort showing how the two men could communicate and interact with each other. This presentation made me wish I had brought my camera. This presentation was, to me, very visual.

One questioner, Sheila Macdonald, is a lobbyist the Population Strategies Group, who's read Kurzweil's "the Coming Singularity" with some interest. She has seen things get worse in the past 40 years on Capitol Hill. People today are increasingly divided and hostile to one another. Moderation has been abandoned.

All in all it was an interesting evening. I am looking forward to future DASERs. I hope I can interest other people that I know in attending same.

The TV Show Sherlock Holmes

Yesterday when I was reading the obituary section of the Washington Post, I made an interesting discovery. I am a bit of a fan of the British show Sherlock Holmes. Here in the DC area one may watch said show on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) station WETA on Thursday evenings at 8 PM. Yesterday the Post reported on the death of Edward Hardwicke, son of Cedric Hardwicke and Helena Pickard. He played Dr. Watson on the show for a number of years. I did not realize the show dated to the 1980s and 1990s. Jeremy Brett, who played Holmes, died in 1995.

This shows that, while I know a good bit about England, I have some interesting blind spots, even about things that attract my attention quite favorably.

You can see the Post obituary on the web.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

England and Me

I've done a good bit of thinking lately about the British Isles -- home to my ancestors on both sides of my family. One of the reasons why I am doing this is a silly Facebook test I took a few months ago. It claimed I would be living in the UK in 5 years time.

Another, more serious, reason is a blog I discovered soon after the Tucson killings involving Gabrielle Giffords back in January. After sending an e-mail to my English cousins Harry and Anita Lawton, I simply Googled "Tucson killings England." I was looking to see how people in England reported on this tragedy and what reactions they had. One blog I did discover this way was Arden Forester's. He describes himself as conservative with a slight libertarian touch. One of the things that really stood out about his blog is his criticism of "covert corporatism." He is quite critical of the corporate elites that take too large salaries for their work and harm the larger community by doing things like Cadbury did -- closing down a profitable factory in England in order to shift production to a factory where they could get higher profits. I've seen the same thing done too often in too many places. The end result of this kind of behavior is weaker communities and, surprisingly, business problems down the road that weaken the businesses that do such things. For example, when a business such as GE fires thousands of engineers in the 1980s, young people in college will turn away from engineering careers in very large numbers, as they did for many years and now seem to be doing again. Who wants to do a large amount of difficult work for no reward? Then there is the Harvard Business School which sent its best graduates to one firm which it wrote up glowingly in its publications. What was the firm? Enron.

I don't know how well Arden Forester and I would get along in we lived a few blocks apart in the same town and ran into each other at a local pub, but my perception of people in England is that even people who disagree strongly about some things still are friendly in others. That's something that has changed for the worse in the U.S., alas, in recent decades. My Eisenhower Republican parents said of Democrats that they were fine people with whom they had some disagreements. Their friends who were Democrats said the same sort of thing about their Republican friends.

There are other reasons why I am increasingly interested in England. I was surprised to find out a few months ago that there is more equality in the UK these days than in the U.S. Our elites have been very busy concentrating more and more wealth and power in their hands. There are less quantifiable things. Via PBS I have been able to see over the decades a good bit of British TV. It's how I discovered Doctor Who back in the 1970s. These days I manage to see things like Sherlock Holmes -- even a newer version -- and Hercule Poirot. I find those shows much more interesting that American crime dramas. One of the shows that started turning me against American crime shows was Kojak back in the 1970s. Kojak was little better than a criminal with a badge. Even some people in the real New York City Police Department said that. Now, of course, I can catch many British shows via BBC America on cable.

I have enjoyed my trips to England over the years. I get to meet friendly relatives. They even once took me to see an English football match. When a radio reporter started talking to one of my cousins, he said to him that he should talk to me. I managed to give a friendly American's reaction to an important match.

I've been to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. A group is trying to get something similar started here in DC. I still remember catching "Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens" back in 1995. There were some very serious shows as well.

I've also been more than a bit involved in the Hash House Harriers. I discovered this group because a T shirt I saw while running the Marine Corps Marathon back in 1996 amused me. Imagine seeing a T shirt saying "White House Hash House Harriers -- The Drinking Club with a Running Problem" while you and the other runner are at mile 17. It was only after I joined in 1998 that I found out about its British roots and sometimes British sense of humor. (Or should I write "humour?")

Being a life long Episcopalian might also have something to do with my inclinations as well. While our church is currently going through a period of some conflict, we are still managing to do alright. We are also starting to address our challenges and will become stronger and better for it. I see some very interesting possibilities for healthy growth in Diocese of Washington, DC. People in my church are also starting to pay attention to some of the demands on people in general that are quite unreasonable. Working 100 hours/week is not dedication. It is a formula for burnout.

That's enough for now. I most likely will return to this topic in the future.

Friday, April 29, 2011

He Cared -- A Celebration of the Life of William Donald Shaefer

On Wednesday I attended a service celebrating the life of Governor William Donald Shaefer at Old Saint Paul's in Baltimore. I was deeply moved by this great funeral for a great, good man. He wanted to be remembered by "He cared." He cared deeply for the citizens of Baltimore, of Maryland and, by being active Episcopalian, all the people of the world.

The music was deeply affecting. The Maryland Boy Choir led off with the great "Miserei Mei." From then, through such things as "The Star Spangled Banner", "Amazing Grace" (we all sang along with that one) through the final "Battle Hymn of the Republic" by the Morgan State Singers I was moved to the deepest emotions.

Before the service began I found myself discussing our respective denominations with a Roman Catholic named Rosemary. She mentioned how alike our services were. I agreed -- and then went on to describe some of our differences. I informed her that the Protestant Episcopal Church was organized as a representative, constitutional democracy. I then described our Presiding Biship Katherine Jefferts-Schori. Rosemary commented that she's really smart and that I am not bothered by women priests. I agreed, quite friendlily, noting that I knew some wonderful women priests.

The inclusion of "Amazing Grave" touched me. I heard the song first when Judy Collins sung it. It seemed much more my generation that my parents. Mom and Dad liked my music -- and let me know that. After the funeral I read the credits for "Amazing Grace." It is 19th century. Great music lasts -- and moves good people of many generations.

A number of political leaders were present -- both Democratic and Republican. People from all walks of life respect Governor Shaefer and his accomplishments for both Baltimore and Maryland. I first experienced Baltimore at the 1983 World Science Fiction Convention. I was very impressed -- especially by the Inner Harbor, right next to the convention center. Later on I moved to Maryland in 1990 to work at Goddard Space Flight Center. Before I moved a friend told me to register Democratic. I, being a moderately liberal Republican at the time, expressed surprise. I knew I would almost certainly vote for some Democrats, just as I had in New Jersey and my Eisenhower Republican parents did before me. Then I got to Maryland. Governor Shaefer was running for reelection that year. I investigated both parties and their candidates. Just comparing Governor Shaefer with his Republican opponents led me to register Democratic. The difference was that dramatic -- and that much in favor of the Democratic Party.

Four spoke at the funeral at some length. They were political figures Mrs. Lainy Lebow-Sachs, Senator Barbara Mikulski and former Congressman Kweisi Mfume. Both Mikulski and Mfume noted that they had conflicts with Governor Shaefer at some point in their careers. Both spoke of what they had learned, their great respect for Governor Shaefer and how they had become fast friends and allies of Governor Shaefer. The homily was delivered by a Methodist Reverend Luther Starnes, who worked with Governor Shaefer in Maryland government. He spoke highly of his character and his work for the people of Maryland.

One thing surprised me, though. I had not known that Governor Shaefer was an Episcopalian until I read his obituary the previous week. I knew that Governor O'Malley, Senator Mikulski and several others are Roman Catholic. I knew that Senator Cardin was Jewish. But I did not know about Governor Shaefer and I sharing the same religious faith. Do we Episcopalians keep our religious views too hidden? I think we have much to be proud of. All of us, whether we consider ourselves liberal or conservative in our views, are remarkably open to others -- at least as far as I know. We try to help our fellow humans -- whatever their backgrounds. These are just a few thoughts, brought on not only by this week's service but by other things as well. More later -- when I can discuss such things with friends at St. Mark's and elsewhere.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Evolution of My Libertarian Side

After the Tucson tragedy, I Googled "Tucson Killings England." I did this in good part wanting to see what people over in England -- besides my cousins -- were saying about Tucson.

I discovered one interesting blog titled A View from Middle England by someone using the pen name Arden Forester. He subtitles his blog "Conservative with a slight libertarian touch. Optimistic supporter of the Coalition Government. Free Enterprise NOT Covert Corporatism."

Our views are clearly different in some ways. He also writes about English political matters about which, while I am better informed than most Americans, I will not claim to be some sort of expert. If I moved there, I probably would become some sort of expert, but I am not one now.

Forester does criticize some people who might be viewed by Americans as conservative. He has criticized the Westboro Baptist Church as fanatics. A fair number of American conservatives say similar things. He's also criticized Sarah Palin thoughtfully. That's something I haven't seen too many American conservatives doing.

Prehaps most importantly, though, is his criticism of corporations and greedy CEOs. He has, I think, recognized one very important fact. Government can be a threat to liberty. Unfortunately, too many corporations are as well. Too many of them abuse ordinary staff. When a company demands so much that people cannot do ordinary human things -- like get married and have children -- that company is demanding too much. When a company shuts down a profitable factory simply because they make a few dollars (or pounds) more elsewhere for a few quarters, that is being shortsighted and harmful to the people who work there.

Quite a few libertarians in the United States always criticize things like people forming unions or turning to government for help. It hasn't registered with them the harm that some corporate management does and that people will turn to the government for help. Criticizing such people for violating libertarian theory isn't helpful. I think libertarians need to start working on reforms in business and in school -- especially business school -- to address real problems caused by corporate management. Arden Forester and I seem to have similar views on this topic.