November 14, 2012

The Sky is Falling Again

On November 9, 2012, it happened.  Skyfall, the 23d installment of the James Bond movie series fell upon us.  I haven't seen the movie yet, but I assume the Skyfall movie, like the 22 other Bond movies, is about an imminent threat to the free world, and only Bond can eradicate the threat and save us all.  Presumably he does, and he gets the girl, too. 

Skyfall, or more correctly "the sky is falling" has also been a predominant theme of the recent elections - - i.e. there is an imminent threat to the free world as we know it and that only "insert your candidate's name or political party affiliation here" can save us from the threat. Ho hum. Yes, I voted and I care about the future of our country.  Still, I am tired of hearing the refrains of political hacks and their misinformed adherents that "the sky is falling." Really?  It's an old and worn-out political clarion call theme that sort of grates on me like a cell phone ring that's too loud and shrill.  Come to think of it, the Bond movies follow an old and well-worn theme too. I think I'll wait for Skyfall to make it to the Comcast free movies list before I see the movie. 

Adele sings the Skyfall title track, appropriately titled "Skyfall," and the words of the chorus go like this:

     "Let the sky fall, when it crumbles
     We will stand tall
     And face it all together
     Let the sky fall, when it crumbles
     We will stand tall
     And face it all together
     At sky fall"

[Aside: I like Adele's music, and you can hear Adele's Skyfall theme song on YouTube.]

"The Sky Is Falling" is a familiar phrase to those of us familiar with the story of Chicken Little (aka Henny Penny, aka Chicken Licken). The Story of Chicken Little is an Americanized version of a 25 centuries old folk tale. The gist of the folk tale is that the characters are given and believe some bad information, and then, overcome with the mistaken belief that disaster is imminent and driven by paranoia and mass hysteria, they are swept up into saying and doing ridiculous things. As I listened to the media blitz leading up to the election, and the post-election media banter, I could clearly hear the refrain "the sky is falling." No need to read it between the lines of some of the nearly hysterical commentaries; It was right there in bold print: "The free world as we know it has ended."  Talk about paranoia, it's out there, man. Can't you hear the refrains of Adele singing: "Let the sky fall; when it crumbles we will stand tall and face it all together at sky fall."

Here is something I find ironic:  On November 9, 2012, four days after the election and the exact same day as Skyfall was released, Steven Spielberg released the movie Lincoln.  If you are any kind of familiar with American history, you will recall that before, during and after the American Civil War there were shrill and passioned clarion calls of warning, from both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, that freedom, and the free world as it was then known, were being destroyed.  Finger pointing and blaming and the sky is falling hyteria led to the most bloody, brutal struggle in American history.  Americans still feel the pain of the Civil War.  Lincoln, the movie, focuses only on the the furious power struggle over the fate of our nation during the last four months of Lincoln's life, before he was assassinated.  The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed, the American Civil War finally ended, and President Lincoln was killed.  What did we learn from all the blood, sweat and tears?
For futher irony, Steven Spielberg is also the producer of the new sci-fi television series, Falling Skies. The Falling Skies series is about an alien invasion of earth that destroys the world as we know it, leaving only a remnant of survivors to resist the invaders. While the prospect of aliens taking over our world is terrifying, there are more real and imminent threats to our well being -- stuff like Hurricane Sandy, the economic recession, love lost, broken hearts, and cancer. You can insert the name of your own most-local natural disaster, your own economic crises, your own stories of broken relationships, or your own most pressing health concern. You get my drift: We don't need aliens to invade us, nor election results not to our liking, to be at risk of having the world as we know it turned upside down.  It's happening all around us now, and the threats are common, insidious, costly, emotionally rending and potentially lethal.
Our elected political leaders have often let us down -- that's for sure.  They've taken us down roads, and are taking us down roads, which are not in our individual or our national best interest.  We know this now, and we've always known this.  This problem is as old as man, and much older than this relatively young country.  I think the whole tendency for that kind of self-destructive conduct started in the Garden of Eden.  But really now, are the problems of this nation problems that one political leader foisted on us?  Don't be ridiculous. The problems of our nation, and they are many, are systemic, and they are driven by the "me, me, me" voice in every one of us.

One of the common "sky is falling" themes I have heard and read a lot recently is about how the Democratic party is a party of "gifts" and how the Democrats have been giving away the so-called store in the form of entitlements to woo voters, and how the country is falling apart as a result.  It almost certainly is true that America, or anyway the American economy, is suffering greatly because of our entitlement program spending.  In 1960 entitlement spending comprised less than one third of total federal government spending, but by 2010 entitlement spending constituted about two thirds of total federal government spending.  It is nearly universally agreed that we cannot sustain the current course and growth of our entitlement programs much longer without facing serious economic consequences.  But what may surprise you is that entitlement programs and entitlement spending have historically grown more during Republican administrations, and that the so-called "safety net" entitlement programs, i.e. the welfare programs, currently comprise only about a third of the total entitlement spending of the government.  The vast majority of entitlement spending in America is from Social Security and MediCare. The statistics I am quoting are gleaned from a very interesting Wall Street Journal article by Nicholas Eberstadt titled: "Are Entitlements Corrupting Us? Yes, American Character Is At Stake."  I found the article fascinating, and I strongly encourage you to read it.

My friend, Brent Auernheimer, pointed me (and others) to this article in a blog post or facebook post.  The gist of the article is that there are a lot of Americans from every walk of life and every economic strata (i.e. it's not just the poor people) on the entitlement take from the federal government.  As a nation, we no longer have that gritty "I don't want no handouts" self-reliance of early Americans.  We, and really I mean all of we, want the federal government to take care of us; we want what's due us, and the hell with how we pay for it.  We're all on the dole somehow, and we like it.  If you read this Wall Street Journal article, you may come to think that the sky really is falling, but not for the reasons most vociferously cited leading up to and following the recent election.  The problem is that there are a whole lot of corrupt people on the take in this country and low and behold, it's all of us!

Forget Adele. Now I can hear Gomer Pyle saying: "Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!" So do I think the sky is really falling?  No.  Not yet.  Even Nicholas Eberstadt, who wrote the entitlements piece for the Wall Street Journal, concedes that there is enough wealth in America to continue our absurd entitlement spending for a while yet. 

Contrast all of this "sky is falling" bad news to the message of our pastor, Jeff Leis of Yosemite Church, on Sunday.  Speaking on the subject of "good news," Pastor Jeff noted that we all tend to define it differently.  After the election, he noted, some woke up happy and some woke up sad.  This is the way it always is, whether you are talking about elections, sporting events, the grade curve, the weather, or nearly any other subject.  The outcome is good news for some and not good news for others.  One universal bit of good news is that, even though we have screwed things up terribly, and even though we have piled up debts impossible to repay, God has made provision to cancel the record of our debts and to reconcile the whole world to himself.  So it isn't James Bond, after all, nor Lincoln, nor Chicken Little, nor all the modern-day chicken littles, who will save the world, but God.  And according to the good news book, God offers his debt-cancellation grace to people on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, and irrespective of political party affiliation.  In light of that good news, it should be kind of hard to continue to hate your neighbor, irrespective of how he voted.

October 25, 2012

A Walk With The Woods

"As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives. "

Henry David Thoreau

October is a good time to visit Pennsylvania.  Cheri and I went out to visit her son, Gary Wood and his one-year-wife, Jessica Wood.  Among other things we did in the week we were out there, we took a few walks in the woods with the Woods.  As H. David Thoreau taught, the woods can teach us much about life and living.  This walk is at Beaver Creek State Park, which is actually just over the western border of Pennsylvania in Ohio.

"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. "

John Muir

We drove up to Cleveland, Ohio, to visit the zoo there.  Pittsburgh also has a zoo, but Gary and Jessica think the zoo in Cleveland is nicer.  Cheri wore her leopard rain coat for the occasion.  There is always a chance of rain in Pennsylvania and Ohio in October.  Sure enough, we got a few sprinkles at the zoo.

This is the view behind the house Gary and Jessica recently bought in Ohiosville, Pennsylvania.  The red tool shed is behind their house.  It's all very nice and peaceful and beautiful.  Life is good with the Woods.

July 23, 2012

Tahoe Makeover Part II

When people talk about having a home to go home to, and when they talk about being secure and safe and warm, they often use the expression "having a roof over your head."  When you don't have a roof over your head, or when the roof over your head is starting to fail, you tend to become anxious.  We really couldn't leave Cheri's 83 year old dad with roof-over-your head" anxieties, now could we?

And the answer is no.  So I got Pedro to go up to Lake Tahoe with me to help with the painting and to help supervise a roof job.  We went over to the 7-Eleven in Kings Beach and found four day laborors  - Antonio, Juan, Jesus and Ricardo - who wanted something to do, and then we all got up on the roof and got down to it.

With six men on the roof and a 20 yard bin in the driveway the tear-off was done in a day, and with two compressors and two nail guns it took us a day and a half to put the new roof on.  Miguel came over from Madera on Saturday and spent a half day inspecting our work and putting the final "professional roofer" touches on the job.

25 squares of roofing materials weighs a lot.  You do not want to have to carry those materials up to the roof of a two-story house.  The materials were delivered to the roof by a boom truck with a conveyor belt running up the middle of the boom.  There were six of us taking materials off the conveyor and two men loading the conveyor off the truck, and they had the conveyor turned down to the slowest speed.  As a result, the six of us on the roof were just standing in line waiting for a bundle of shingles or a roll of tar paper.  So Pedro asked if they could make the conveyor go any faster.  Just for fun, the delivery guys turned it up to full speed, and we looked like the Keystone Cops running to grab a bundle before it fell off the conveyor and run it up to the peak of the roof and run back to get another one.  After a few choice words and some laughter all around, they turned it down to a more modest speed.

You talk about anxieties, though.  We started the job on Wednesday morning.  Wednesday was a beautiful, cloudless Lake Tahoe summer day.  The temperature was about 68 F, and by Wednesday evening we had the roof almost completely torn off.  I woke up at 4 a.m. on Thursday, and the sky was cloudy!  Dang!!  It wasn't supposed to rain on Thursday according to, but there it was, all cloudy and feeling like rain.  The materials were supposed to be delivered onto the roof at 8 a.m. on Thursday morning, and wouldn't you know it they were an hour late?  They finally did arrive, though, and we hustled to get the edging metal, ice and water shield, and tar paper to cover most of the roof by the time it started to sprinkle lightly.  We worked through the brief sprinkle scare, and then the sun came out and all was good again.  Whew!

There are some kinds of shingles you just don't ever want to get ... like the kind that turn your skin into a red, hot, itchy rash.  But the kind of shingles that give you "roof-over-your-head" comfort, well, you want to get a new set of those about once every 30 years or so.  However, working on the drip-edge of a two-story roof can be a scary and dangerous place to be.  So if you are in your eighties when you need a new set of shingles, get someone else at least 30 years younger to do it. Come to think of it, pretty much no matter how old you are, you should get someone else to do it.

Tahoe Makeover Part I

This Tahoe City, California, house was built by Cheri's father, Don, in the early 1980's.  He and his wife, Gracie, moved into the house in 1983 when he retired from his air conditioning and heating business in San Jose, California.  It's a nice house in a great location.  But thirty years of winters in Lake Tahoe can put a strain on a house.  Come to think of it, the u.v. at 6,500 foot elevation above sea level is probably more damaging than the snow and water.  So we decided to give the house a little makeover.

A good pressure wash with a mildew killing formula, followed by application of 30 gallons of siding stain, 6 gallons of enamel trim paint, and one gallon of spar varnish, somewhere around a thousand trips up and down the big extension ladder, and wall-ahhh ....

... and, oh yeah, don't forget about the crisp new American flag.

Well, maybe I can't draw, but I can paint.

June 19, 2012

Cactus Spectaculous

Our neighbors, Jeffrey and Rita, have one of the most unusual cactus blooms going on right now that I have ever seen.   For the past several weeks these cactus (cacuses? cacti?) were covered with bunches of white cotton-ball clusters. Two days ago these bulbous blooms began to emerge.  Then, yesterday when I got home the bulbs looked ready to bloom, and this morning, WOW!  The accross-the-street neighbor, Kathleen, says it will be a short-lived but spectacular show.

June 11, 2012

What Happens In Vegas

Until Saturday I used to think that the main business of Las Vegas is gambling.  On Saturday, June 9, 2012,at about 4:30 in the afternoon, I learned the truth; The main business of Las Vegas is weddings.  You know, "goin' to the chapel and I'm .... gonna get married, yes I'm ..... goin' to the Chapel ... of ... Love."  Of course, getting married is a form of gambling so perhaps I was right all along.

There may not be a lot of active churches in Las Vegas, but there are dozenss of chapels.  Chapel of Love, Chapel of the Flowers, Little White Wedding Chapel, the list is seemingly endless.  I believe there might be more wedding chapels than casinos because every major casino has a wedding chapel, and then there are a bunch of independent wedding chapels.

My daughter, Valerie, and her new husband, Matt, picked the Chapel of the Flowers.  In the hour we were there, from about 4:15 to about 5:15, I counted 8 wedding groups.  I counted 7 limosines owned by Chapel of the Flowers, 11 photographers, three "preachers" (the guy who performed the ceremony for Valerie and Matt really was a Christian pastor) and numerous other support staff.  Doing a little rough calculation, I figured the Chapel of the Flowers probably did 80 weddings on June 9, 2012, at an average cost of $300-$400, and not counting extra services like photo's, limo's etc.  I figure they must gross at least $50,000 a day on a busy day.  Multiply those numbers by a hundred chapels, and you are talking something like 1000 weddings and five million dollars of love money in one day!  Love is a big business!

The wedding was all very nice, really.  Nice talk by the preacher about a house just being a house until it has people in it who love each other, and then it is a home.  About the meaning of love, and the power of forgiveness.  Traditional but modernized vows of loving and respecting each other for as long as you live.  Candles, with a unity candle.  Rings.  I cried a little, of course.  Valerie was radiant and beautiful.  Matt was handsome and dashing in his tux.  They were as goofy and genuine as ever, and picked bears to top their wedding cupcakes. 

Jessica knitted a bow tie for Yoda the dog.  Matt and Yoda, the only two men in formal attire, shared a tender, funny moment.

And now, for my daughters, Cheri and I have two sons-in-law cut from similar cloth.  Matt and Luke are fine, healthy, intelligent young men, both from well adjusted close-knit, loving families.  Fun-loving and  fun.  Hard working with good moral fiber.  What more could a father hope for?

There is a lot of strength and love backing these young married couples. 

There are a lot of people happy for them, pulling for them, supporting them, cheering them on.

Speaking of cheering them on, wouldn't you know that the NBA Western Conference Finals, game 7 would be on this afternoon?  There are some important things in life that simply can't be put aside.

After a brief interruption of the wedding festivities for the coronation of King Lebron ...

... it was back to business.  The Love business.  With the coronation of the King and Queen, Matthew and Valerie Croskey!  We salute you, and wish you great love and happiness

May 21, 2012

Closer To Heaven

There are a few things you can do in this life to get closer to heaven.  My short list includes (1) spend more time in the mountains; (2) love a lot, and as much as possible stay on good terms with the people you love; (3) forgive, and seek forgiveness; and (4) build tree houses and hang out in them.

When I married Cheri last April (yes, it's already been more than a year!) I got three additional "kids" and two grandsons as part of the deal.  The grandsons, Nate and Jake, live somewhere in Indiana in a house with a large lot, the permimiter of which is wooded with undergrowth and trees.  Trees.  Grandsons.  As if in a black and white dream the vision came to me -- treehouse!

And then, with a few posts and sticks, the clearing of a little brush, the vision itself became clearer.  Others caught the vision and became excited.  Yes, by George!  A treehouse!

We came, and we saw.  We put the hammer down.  We drilled, and leveled, and fastened.  And slowly, measure by measure, the dream took shape.



It was a family effort, working together, sharing a vision, sharing a dream, getting closer to each other and closer to heaven all the while.

X marks the spot for a break.

The picture above shows Nate and Jake up in the "crow's nest" of their new tree house, a little closer to heaven.  The picture below shows my daughter, Jessica, about age 3, up in a tree house we built together about 22 years ago out of old packing crates and scrap wood.  A scrappier and more modest effort, perhaps, but overall the same idea and the same result.  Spending quality time and working together to get a little closer to heaven.