Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Free Advice to Democrats on Health Care

I know Senator Reid has been itchin to hear what I have to say. Fortunately, for him and the other Dems, this time I wave my consulting fee. First off, I don't get the Health Care legislation. I read lots of stuff from folks I respect and come away with very different takes on the effects (cost control, access, etc). My bias is to health care reform and increasing access, but this bill seems to spend lots of money without making the necessary "hard choices."

Nevertheless, I really don't get the Democrats marketing. They keep pushing the sob story, describing case upon case of people getting screwed by the system. This effort works if you are in favor of reform (or have gotten screwed before), because the stories of pain and suffering concur with your predispositions. However, if you are ambivalent about reform these stories seem a bit pushy, forcing you to buy something because you feel bad, not because it is in your best interest.

Instead of guilting folks into supporting reform, Democrats should tell the American people* that health care reform aligns with American values. They should say something like this (note Sen. Reid, don't write it at 6:30 AM):
America is a country of entrepreneurs, full of people who want to start a new business or begin a new career. America is great because it rewards risk and does not restrict individuals access to success. However, our current health care system is a stone around our necks, limiting our chances for a better life. Because our health care is tied to specific jobs Americans have to make unnecessary sacrifices if they want to start a new business. Or they have to take the job they don't want, only because it offers health insurance. With Health Care Reform Americans can be American and take risks for success.
 Fancy the language up, and *BOOM* a much better message. Your welcome.

*I love that the media refers to politicians speaking to the "American" people. This implies that at times the representative from Sheboygan is sometimes speaking to other people, like Canadians or perhaps Croatians. 

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Stuck in Minnesota

Well, the whole state of South Dakota is shut down. I-90 is closed from Sioux Falls to Rapid City. Our plans have gone awry and we are stuck in Minnesota. Now 'sota is a nice state, but we got a wedding to get to.

UPDATE: Made it to SoDak. And made it to the wedding. All is well.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Jeremiah or Bad things are going to happen or You're an idiot, listen to what I'm saying, which is actually what God is telling me to tell you

I'm not a biblical scholar or expert in the Ancient Near East, so feel free to ignore anything I'm about to write.

Jeremiah, the 6th C BC prophet, was a major downer. You can't beat around the bush. He would've been no fun to be around, always preaching woe and doom, with the unfortunately uncanny ability to be right. When we think of Jeremiah we fit him in that general category of "prophet," meaning he walks around in the wilderness, has crazy hair, probably smells a bit funny, eats bugs and such, and is really good at raising his eyebrows. This description of Jeremiah may be completely accurate, but Jeremiah as revealed in the book named after him is a bit more than a roving prophet.

Along with acting as a conventional prophet, Jeremiah was a political commentator and foreign policy expert. He noted the moral failings of his society (especially the behavior of the political/social elites) and also advocated an alliance with Babylon. In the 6th C BC, Judah had two competing powers to align with. One was the traditional power in the Levant (Egypt) and the other was the latest Mesopotamia power (Babylon). Egypt was geographically closer and traditionally held more sway in Palestine, however, Babylon had the momentum. Jeremiah saw the shifting power structure and advocated for a close relationship to Babylon, telling the King not to put his faith in Egypt. Alas, like most prophets, Jeremiah was ignored, and the Judean King went with Egypt and Egypt did not come to rescue Judah.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Snow a coming...

This Redhead is heading out over the great plains to Minnesota for Christmas. Unfortunately the snow and ice and wind are a coming and he might not be able to make it. TBD...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What English Sounds Like to Non-English Speakers

Making its way around the web: made up english.

Cold or Things I Remember

I moved from Washington DC to Rapid City, South Dakota four months ago. Though I spent 23 years in Minnesota, my year in London and four years in DC had softened me. I became weak. In my time of winter purgatory I forgot the feeling of cold, real cold. I forgot the way jeans freeze as you walk around in 0 degree temperature (-18 degrees celsius for our foreign readers). Or how the skin tightens and the cheeks actually become rosy. In five years of dealing with mushy snow, I was delighted to rediscover the squeaky sound of boots walking on deeply cold snow. And with joy I remembered the beauty of cold snow faintly falling, covering the trees and grass in a downy blanket. The cold reminds me that I'm alive.

Friday, December 11, 2009

GAO Report of the Week

Your GAO report of the week is another winner with a fantastic title:
NASA: Commercial Partners Are Making Progress, but Face Aggressive Schedules to Demonstrate Critical SpaceStation Cargo Transport Capabilities
This report came out a while ago (June) yet despite its dry title and content, highlights a important point. Namely, that to push boundaries (technological/economical/scientific) we need to get commercial enterprise involved. In other words the activity needs to demonstrate such an opportunity for profit that many individuals and corporations are willing to risk fortunes for even larger fortunes. This was true in the settling of the New World and in the expansion of information technology and is absolutely true of the human settlement of space. Government can't just keep doing what its doing and chucking folks through the atmosphere. We need folks to try something new and explore new possibilities that may lead to dramatic breakthroughs.

Furthermore, as this report shows, "government" has a role this process of discovery. For space exploration NASA is wise to give a stream of money to reach a goal (service the space station) and then allow the companies go at it. Hopefully the companies will be successful and it will lead to more involvement of corporations willing to risk the big bucks for even bigger bucks.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cold and the Biblical Story

The temperature reads 54 degrees. The moisture has frozen to the inside of the windows. The thermometer between the window and the storm window read -2. goes for -11. It's "freeze your boogers as you walk to the car" cold. 

Which brings me something I've always wondered about: what would the Biblical story and its metaphorical language look like if it had taken place somewhere cold? In the Bible the only mention of anything really cold is the snows of Mt. Harmon. And almost all the references to snow are similes--"as white as snow," or "scattered like snow on a hill." I think we would have references to Christ or God as the everlasting fire that does not go out and keeps you forever warm. And instead of a cloud of locusts, we'd get a mean Alberta Clipper followed by extreme negative temperatures.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Silence and the Cold

I live in a cabin in the woods, seven or so miles outside of Rapid City, South Dakota. Two hundred feet from my door runs a creek, striving for the sea, rushing down rocks, following an immutable call. An inch of snow has fallen, and the trees and meadow are covered in a cold blanket. And with the snow and cold comes silence. The birds have gone south and those that remain are huddled in their holes. The deer, so alive a month ago, have moved on. The squirrels have buried their seeds and now rest in hollows. The wind is holding its breath and the trees are quiet. I hear no nature and I hear no human. My world is silent, except for the sounds I make in fear of the silence. In this place, this patch of earth, I am alone.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Strategy, War, and Afghanistan

This last week President Obama announced that he, as Commander-in-Chief, was sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan (on top of the 21,000 he sent in the late spring). Much has been said by better and more informed people, but let me give my two cents. First off, this decision is why I don't envy the President and his power. The President had no good choices. And all three choices (surge, keep the same level, bring them home) could go horribly wrong. Moreover, smart individuals who want what is best for America vehemently disagree over what to do in Afghanistan and the Global War on Terror. With that in mind I appreciate this statement from President Obama:
As President, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests. And I must weigh all of the challenges that our nation faces. I don't have the luxury of committing to just one. Indeed, I'm mindful of the words of President Eisenhower, who -- in discussing our national security -- said, "Each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs."
Decisions are never made in a vacuum, especially decisions made by our President. He must weigh the costs and benefits of any decision, understanding the consequences of action and inaction, within the framework of America's interests. If we want, we can "win the war" in Afghanistan, but that would require hundreds of thousands of troops and billions and billions of dollars. That, obviously, is not in our interest. Or, we could pull back from Afghanistan, Iraq, and the rest of the world (i.e., go European) and just hope for the best. But that also is not in our interest. Somedays, its tough being President of the USA.

This image is from some TV news station in Montana. Awesome.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

(more) Judas

Hatred controls the same glands as love: it even produces the same feelings. Had we not been taught how to interpret the story of the Passion, would we have been able to say by their actions alone whether it was jealous Judas or the cowardly Peter who loved Christ?  
                                                              —End of the Affair
How do we interpret the actions of Judas? Did he act out of love? Did he think he was bringing about the Kingdom of God? Or did he do it because he asked to do it (also known as the Dumbledore Judas Theory)?

The Problem with Bible... that we've heard the story before. If we've grown up in the church or even lived in a culturally Christian area, we've gotten a taste, of sorts, of what this whole bible/christian thing is about. Everything seems repeated and a little boring. Dot dot dot, Jesus was a cute baby, dot dot dot, did some nice things, dot dot dot, something about dying and then not dying, dot dot dot, boy those christians sure are annoying. Over 2000 years the story of Jesus Messiah becoming the Messiah for the whole world has become routine. Since we know the ending and have heard it all before, we don't really care how the story unfolds.

But as an unrepentant English Lit major, I think that the story matters. How Jesus (and for that matter all of Israel) gets to the resurrection affects what the resurrection means. And then how Peter, Paul, et al share the story shapes the meaning of the story. To understand the Bible and to shake it out of its routine I need to live in the story. I need to feel the free and terror of the Marys at the tomb. I need to accept (and not sanitize) Paul's anger that other disciples believe you need to get circumcised to become a follower of the way.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
So ends the book of Mark. Jesus, crucified and dead, is not in the tomb. A strange man dressed in white tells Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome that he is raised and is gone. In an awful turn of events Jesus words have come true. The impossible is possible. And in that reality the response is terror. For at that moment Jesus followers can only experience the narrative. They cannot cross reference their experience with Old Testament verses or check out Matthew to remember exactly what Jesus said about his death a year ago. No. In the story, Jesus is dead. And now he is raised. And terror seizes.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Judas Iscariot. The Zealot. The Treasurer. The Great Betrayer. Judas, destined in Dante’s world to be forever frozen and eaten by Lucifer. A cursed name.

I like Judas. His life and motivation fascinate me. What made him do it? What turned him from true believer to betrayer? Did he, perhaps, believe that his betrayal would lead Jesus to reveal his true identity, which Judas thought would lead to a renewed Kingdom? Maybe Judas understood the nature of Jesus. Maybe Judas saw the divinity and understood that He was the true Messiah, only Judas was blind to what that meant. Judas did not understand the power to forgive sins. Thus, Judas tried to force Jesus's hand. And when it failed (or so he thought) Judas killed himself. I wonder what would've happened if he had only waited until the resurrection?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sports and Suffering

I am, I must admit, a Minnesota Timberwolves fan. It won't bother me if you don't know that the T-Wolves play professional basketball in the NBA, because year after year they have scrapped the bottom of the barrel. Every season begins not with the chance at championship glory, but only the hope that we can improve and make playoffs. Even in our glory days with Kevin Garnett, I just wanted the team to make it out of the first round of the playoffs.

Our suffering is supreme. We've had idiotic GMs who've traded away prospects for men with old news and signed journeymen players to exorbitant contracts. We can't even cheat. In an not uncommon practice we talked to (and agreed with) Joe Smith about signing with us even though no talks were suppose to be had. Though illegal, it is a common practice, unfortunately we were the stupid team to put it in writing, which cost 4 1st round picks and crippled the franchise. And to top it all off, you probably don't even know what Joe Smith is? ARRRRGGGHHHH!!! I get frustrated just writing this post.

Anyway (deep breath) the T-Wolves stink once again. 2 wins, 15 losses. Yet, once again I'll read the box score every day, just hoping for a ray of light. Go Timberwolves.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Air Travel

Our trip to Vietnam, to build houses with the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project in partnership with Habitat for Humanity International, involved a fair amount of air travel through a total of 6 airports and three airlines. A few observations:
  • Incheon International Airport outside of Seoul, South Korea is a fantastic airport. The shops are magnificent (especially if you have money), the Traditional Korean Experience Center is very Korean, the food better than expected, and the in-airport hotel quite comfortable (and great for minimizing jetlag). 
  • LAX (Los Angles Airport) is crap. Really, really, crappy. 
  • Asiana Airlines (the 2nd Korean Airline) is wonderful. The flight attendants are kind and attentive. The food is fairly delicious. And most importantly the legroom is spacious. 
  • Denver ain’t that bad with a fantastic Crocs kiosk (where I was chastised for assuming that Crocs had gone bankrupt: “what a horrible rumor”). 
  • SFO (San Francisco Airport) is snobby. Through nice, there are absolutely no McDonalds or any other fast food joints, just overpriced coffee stores and fish places. Absolutely fits the stereotype. 
  • Hanoi International Airport is getting better. Once a dump, its now less dumpy. Better than LAX, which is a true dump.

Back in the U. S. A.

Well, the mission was a success. Cobra, though not dead, has been dealt a serious blow. Storm Shadow felt my fists of fury. And a few houses were built in Vietnam.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Away for some days...

Sorry about the light blogging over the last week or so, but I've been preparing for a secret mission that you can only guess at...

Monday, November 9, 2009


Statistics are a strange and wonderful thing. Much maligned and often misused, statistics provide a powerful insights into the world we live in. I still remember my first lesson in stats class. We all rolled dice for about 2 minutes and then reported our findings. Individually our dice numbers were all over the map, but we combined our totals (i.e., increased our sample size) lo and behold out came a normal distribution curve. Wowzers.

For some reason this graphic from the New York Times made me think of that first class. The graph has been much blogged about today as it details the US national employment rate, breaking it down by race, sex, age, and education. It points to a simple fact, often overlooked, that statistics are the compilation of much data. For example, in the graph the national unemployment rate is 8.9 percent (as of Sept). Not good, but not utterly horrible. However, if you happen to be a white man, age 15-24, with a high school degree your rate of unemployment is 15.5%, compared to an unemployment rate of 9.8% for a white woman with the same characteristics. Stats, then, often hide as much as they show.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bear News

I’ve always had an interest in, and affinity to, bears. They are wonderful creatures, sort-of dumb, but always happy with a full stomach. I like it that they are fairly harmless if you don't mess with them, but if you do bother them...well, you ain't that smart. With that in mind I found this bit of news rather interesting:

A bear killed two militants after discovering them in its den in Indian-administered Kashmir, police say.
Two other militants escaped, one of them badly wounded, after the attack in Kulgam district, south of Srinagar.

 That reminds me of one of my favorite Bible passages from  2 Kings 2:23-25:
He went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, ‘Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!’ When he turned round and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and then returned to Samaria.
Bears and the Bible are awesome and crazy.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The West

With Rapid arguably marking the beginning of the West, I wonder what are the defining characteristics of the West? All geographic distinctions are inherently nebulous, full of caveats and counter-examples. This is particularly true of the West because it encompasses so much territory with much divergent history. For example, does Arizona and New Mexico belong to the West or how about Alaska? Seattle is firmly ensconced in Washington state but sure seems different than Spokane.

Nevertheless, certain features of the West do exist. Here is my partial list: physicality, emptiness, ranching and mining, and attitude.

What defines the West?

Rapid and the West

Rapid City, South Dakota, my current place of residence, is an interesting town. Attached to a state that is firmly Midwest, Rapid City belongs to the West. On the right bank of the bisecting Missouri you find healthy farms harvesting corn and soybeans, with towns spaced every 10 miles or so apart, and a city that has more in common with Des Moines than Cheyenne. Flatness and the accompanying wind defines the right bank. Rapid, and its left bank neighbors ranch rolling hills and dried out high plains. Towns are less plentiful. The Black Hills and the scraggly badlands act as warning beacons to would-be travelers--visible signs of a difficult and dangerous land.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Snow has come...

again. And again the world is changed, united in monochrome beauty. It reminds me of my pastor in Minneapolis and the verse from Isaiah 1:18:
"Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD.  "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow."
The meaning is plain and as I gaze at the snow I ought to be reminded that my sins shall be forgotten. However, I actually think of my pastor who despised this simile. To him snow has to be shoveled and moved and disposed of so that you can go about your business. Snow is cold and annoying and a big pain in the butt.

My pastor lives in Minnesota.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Jeremiah 35:19

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Jonadab son of Rechab shall not lack a descendant to stand before me for all time.
I wonder if any of Jonadab's descendants are aware of this story and their heritage? Do they wonder why they keep having kids? (What!?! Again?) Do they feel part of a bigger story? Do they think about God? Does God ever think, "Boy, what a mistake, those Jonadab people are just a pain in the butt. Only if their line would dwindle...sheesh..."

The Bible's strange.


"Somewhere is better than anywhere." Flannery O'Conner

Monday, October 26, 2009

Map of the Day

As some may know, I'm a bit of map man. Do I read my atlas with my morning cereal? Yes. Will I flip open a road atlas for some easy causal reading? You betcha! With that said, I'm introducing your map of the day.

From some European researches, via Fast Company, comes this nifty map that details how far you are from a city of at least 50,000 people. Needless to say, the farther a person is from "civilization" the darker an area--the closer, the brighter. As reported by the New Scientist:
Plotted onto a map, the results throw up surprises. First, less than 10% of the world's land is more than 48 hours of ground-based travel from the nearest city. What's more, many areas considered remote and inaccessible are not as far from civilization as you might think. In the Amazon, for example, extensive river networks and an increasing number of roads mean that only 20% of the land is more than two days from a city--around the same proportion as Canada's Quebec province.
Mind melting.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


I sit on a cliff face. It is late October and though brown leaves remain, snow has already come and gone. Two hundred feet below the creek flow small and thin, yet still noisy. In a surprise I find cacti in 35 degree weather, tucked between the cliff rocks. Though misplaced in my, they are at home, content to absorb a weak sun and resist a breezy wind. Like sheep in a storm, the cacti huddle together. My lack of knowledge once again brings a smile to my face. For what I do not know, I cannot expect, and thus will not presume. And when what I see confounds, I smile, recognizing my incompleteness.

Copyright: Heidi Birkley

Thursday, October 22, 2009

We landed on the moon 40 years ago...

...and soon we are going to retire a 30 year old shuttle with nothing to replace it. NASA and the American space program is living on the fumes of old glory. Alas, the grand old Augustine commission* has just issued a report that rings the death bell for the Constellation Program, the shuttle replacement. Folks, the U.S. Government's space glory days are over. We do lots of great robot work, but have dropped the ball with human spaceflight. Sending people to space is expensive and right now America doesn't want to fott the bill.

*Not the actual name. Since this is a government bureaucracy its actually called, "The Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee."

Note: This is a drawing. Never be seduced by NASA's pretty drawings. Just cause it's a realistic picture doesn't mean it actually exists.
Note, Note: This also applies to Department of Defense procurement.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Incurably Eternal

“By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat unit you return to the ground from which you were made. For you made from dust, and to dust you will return.” Genesis 3:19

In a manner of speaking I work in the construction business and for a variety of reasons I’ve been ruminating upon this verse. As we construct houses, putting forth extraordinary efforts, I’m reminded that these houses will decay, rot, and fall down. The homeowners will move on, this city will grow and fail, and I will die. Even in the next twenty years, effort will be necessary to keep a house in good working order, for the laws of thermodynamics are always on the move. The work of our hands turns to dust. And with enough perspective it seems that all is for naught. We are truly part of nature, becoming the dust of the earth.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Religion and Politics: Part II

Religion and politics, as we know, don’t mix in polite company. A discussion will quickly become heated as we hear what we want to hear, rather than actually engaging the debate. One of the *many* problems is a simple definition of terms. What are we actually talking about when we say religion and politics? Religion, as expressed as Christianity, seems rather straightforward—the teachings of the Bible through Jesus as experienced by the church and ultimately individual believers—though the expression explodes into a cacophony of voices. Politics may be cause more problems with a clear discussion, because we often confuse politics with policy.

Let me sum up. Like any factor—race, gender, geographic location, etc—my Christian faith may influence my politics. But when I’m talking politics, am I talking my political orientation (liberal/conservative, Republican/Democrat) or am I talking about specific policy (abortion, tax policy, farm subsidies)? The role that my, or anybody’s faith, may play, depends upon what we are talking about—political orientation or policy.

That then leads to two questions: 
     1. Is there a Christian political orientation?
     2. For a specific policy, is there a Christian position?

Within the American liberal democracy framework I would argue no (with caveats) to the first question and maybe to the second question.

The obvious answer to a Christian political orientation is that there ain’t one. A good, faithful Christian may be a liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, libertarian or Green. And in each of those cases a faithful Christian has Christian reasons for that orientation. Nevertheless, our religion (if it means anything) ought to impact how we see and experience the world. In this our religion is like other factors—geography (north/south, urban/rural), sex, occupation, martial status, income—that affects political orientation. This does not degrade the importance of religion; rather it recognizes that great truth that all politics is local. To me religion in this context provides a framework for understanding both the goal of politics and its importance.

In a Christian sense our faith in Jesus ought to direct our political orientation to humility, grace, mercy, justice, and love.* We ought to understand that our politics begins with the simple statement to love our neighbor as ourselves, and love God with all body, mind, and soul. My religion guides me in how to approach politics (which, if anything, is the ordering of human relationships), but does not prescribe how I ought to pursue justice in a political context.

Additionally, my Christian faith ought to put politics in context. Simply put, politics is not salvation. And though politicians trade in hope, it is not the hope. And even for those who care little for religion you don’t change society through politicians and new laws, but through influencing/affecting/moving the American people. Politics is important and fun to follow, but it is not a leading indicator…

(We’ll tackle religion and policy in a later post.)

*I am emphatically not implying that only Christians or other religious believers approach their politics in this manner.

Religion and Politics: Part I

On a both personal and general level I’ve been thinking about Religion (specifically Christianity) and Politics over the last few weeks. What role should religion play in politics? How does Christianity influence my public policy views? What’s best for Christianity (or any other religion) vis a vis politics?

This is a touchy subject with a roomful of caveats. For one it is hard to pin the nebulous word “influence.” What does influence actually mean? For second it really matters what type of political system we are addressing. For example, religion’s proper role in a liberal democracy like America will and should look a lot different than religion’s role under an apartheid regime like South Africa or an oligarchy dictatorship like Communist Eastern Europe. Christianity’s role in a political system of oppression is much clearer—a voice calling out in the wilderness. The trouble comes in a liberal democracy where the issues aren’t nearly straightforward as justice and life and death (I know, many people see issues in America as life and death). Other posts to follow will address religion in a liberal democracy, specifically Christianity’s role in the American political process. Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Oh, what a waste...

My wife was flipping through the tv channels and settled upon ABC Family for moment. On the tube was an episode of Full House. Within a minute I remembered the ending of this episode. Yet, ask me to give a few lines of poetry and my mind is blank. Alas.

Rapid City and Weather

When I told folks in DC that I was moving to Rapid City, they told me how cold it was going to be. I'd then explain to them, that no, Rapid City is in a little Banana Belt and that the weather varies considerably. So it may be cold for a few days, but then the sun would shine and the snow would melt. The folks didn't believe me. To them, I say, Hah!

Highs over the last three weeks:
Saturday, September 26: 83 degrees Fahrenheit
Saturday, October 3: 50 degrees
Saturday, October 10: 20 degrees (and snow)
Saturday, October 17: 71 degrees


Thursday, October 15, 2009


The World Cup qualifying just finished up (mostly) and the USA won the North American/Caribbean region. Over at Pandas whb has an excellent round up.  The only thing I have to add is that Portugal could make a run. The country chokes in big tourneys, but they got a talented group of players and it will be interesting to see what run, if any, they make.

Also, for those football starved fans, check out:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

GAO Report of the Week

As absolutely everybody who is anybody knows, GAO or Government Accountability Office--the investigative and auditing arm of Congress--publishes reports nearly every day of the year. In true bureaucratic fashion the reports are dry, sanitized, and full lots of nifty information (as long as you are into that sort of thing). So, I'm beginning an on again, off again tradition of highlighting an interesting GAO report.

Today's Report: Biofuels: Potential Effects and Challenges of Required Increases in Production and Use

In 186 pages the report addresses the challenges meeting the Renewable Fuel Standard set by Congress, especially when it comes to non-corn ethanol. As some may know, a little bugaboo of mine is the inanity of ethanol subsidies. As noted in the report (according to experts) the ethanol subsidies raise crop prices (and thus food prices on nearly everything, since nearly everything has corn, but that is for a different post) while doing little to actually offset the power of foreign oil countries. Furthermore, the environmental problems caused by ethanol through changing land use and (little mentioned) the massive amounts of water needed to turn corn/cellulose to ethanol is rarely discussed. Alas, in the name of the farmer, job creation, and all that is good and right in the world politicians have decided that subsidizing ethanol is worth the billions of taxpayer's dollars.

Take it away GAO:
The RFS allows the use of up to 15 billion gallons per year of conventional biofuel by 2015 and requires at least 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels—with at least 16 billion gallons of this amount coming from cellulosic feedstocks—in 2022. Yet, at present, the distribution infrastructure and vehicle types necessary to transport and use increased ethanol production do not exist. In addition, the United States will reach the blend wall limit as early as 2011 solely with existing ethanol production from corn starch, which could greatly restrict the growth of the cellulosic biofuels industry. Thermochemical processing technologies such as pyrolysis, have the potential to produce advanced biofuels that can be used in the nation’s existing fuel distribution and vehicle infrastructure and therefore avoid future blend wall issues. However, DOE and USDA have not focused substantial R&D resources on developing these technologies. Furthermore, EISA and the 2008 Farm Bill define renewable biomass differently regarding feedstocks and land eligibility, creating difficulties for agencies to formulate rules, implement program activities, and effectively execute the interagency National Biofuels Action Plan. This may also create uncertainty for biofuels producers and could potentially reduce the nation’s ability to increase advanced biofuels feedstock production and realize their benefits.

Bringing it Baby!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Space: The Final Frontier

In the 21st Century it is easy to dismiss space travel as a 20th Century phenomenon. We get blase about the launching of the space shuttle or just another space probe. In the space community this attitude causes lots of hand-wringing. Like a 3 year old kid swimming, they want lots of attention, "Look at ME. I'm launching a rocket!" Personally, I don't think it is much of a problem. Folks have a blase attitude because we are able to launch rockets all the time. Sure its cool and it costs lots of money, but it is routine. And it is that "routine" nature of space flights that is so amazing to me.

HT:; larger version

Monday, October 12, 2009

The United States Navy

Happy Birthday!

The United States Navy is one of the great American institutions. It has done more for world commerce and globalization than even Thomas Friedman. It won us the Pacific Theatre in WWII and ensured that Confederacy didn't get foreign support from the Brits or French. When the Tsunami of 2004 hit Indonesia the USN was there. America's dominance is directly a result of the Navy's ability to project power anywhere in the world.


I need to remember to smell, because I live in a place with subtle changes of smell. In the Black Hills it is easy to look and point and see. I saw a deer out my window or past my car. There, there, a big horn sheep on the side of the road. Look! a bird whirling through the canyon. Ah…see the sun on the cliff face. It is great to see in the hills, but we sometimes forget to smell. Often we only smell in that transition between the car—with its air-conditioned, dried out smell, mixing with the scent of chemicals leeching from the seats and a pair of shoes left in the back seat—and the outdoors. And then it hits us—a deep breath—and then we go inside, to that other place of manufactured smell. But I need to stop and smell, because the smells change as the sun rises and the dew disappears. The smells move with the seasons, with new growth smelling quite different than a coming Fall day. The bottom of the canyon, with its deciduous trees smells warm and fresh when compared to the ponderosa pine trees clinging to a cliff face. And then that transition smell between the protective hills and the opening plains that changes with the shifts in the wind. Take a deep breath and smell that dried out grass or the cow a mile upwind. Smell the dirt. I have many senses. I need to make sure I use them.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Dead or Reason #97 I Became an English Lit Major

From James Joyce: "The Dead"
         An appropriate word for this snowy day in the Black Hills.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

My Brother

My brother had his birthday yesterday. My brother was cool. Not cool in a he-was-popular-which-means-he-was-cool. Rather, he was cool, as-in-he-was-the-first-person-in-his-high-school-to-wear-tevas-even-though-idiots-called-them-Jesus-shoes. He wore Vuarnet sunglasses. In short, he was his own man—a rare thing in high school. I looked up to my brother, much more than he probably realizes. I tried to make sure my hair wave matched his and thought, if my big brother thinks it's okay, than it probably is okay. So on this day I want to wish him a happy, belated birthday.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Church and Language

In the church we use metaphors and similes and analogies to approach the indescribable. In that practice we are following a long tradition that began in the Pentateuch, used by Jesus, and maintained by the church. A problem with this approach is that the church gets stuck using language that has little meaning. So people are then in a position where they need to give context to the metaphor before the metaphor makes sense: “you need to remember this was a herder culture…to have a king meant…” And in doing that the metaphor loses its power. Like a joke that needs to be explained, explaining a metaphor takes it out of its moment of Ah-hah! We understand, but its ability to reveal truth is lessened.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fact of the Day

"In 1816, it cost as much to move goods 32 miles over land as to ship across the Atlantic." (From economix and various books I've read.)

One really can't imagine a world where this is true because we take high speed transportation as a fact of life. In that 1816 world, 106 Atlantic miles equals 1 land mile.


My mother has an English painter friend whose advice in walking the streets of the great cities is, "Look up." You look up to see the architectural details of the buildings you glide by. It's a good idea, because in London or Paris the McDonald's you ignore may be just the first floor of an 19th Century mansion.

The same can be said for the Black Hills. While walking through the woods or up the mountain it is easy to stay focused just on the next step. You may pause and see the trees and look at nature. But it behooves you to look up. For one of the beauties of the Black Hills are the clouds. The clouds in the Black Hills create stunning pictures. It may be the interplay between the hills and the mountains, but everyday the clouds put on a gorgeous display.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Nature and Man

I went to the creek and on it rushed, oblivious to my existence. The water flowed with determination: I must move, I must fall over this rock, I must wait in this pool until I can go go go. The rock across this creek leaned over, full of strata and thus memory. It has felt the creek for thousands of years as the water has come and gone and worn down the stone, imperceptibly to human eye (though not to human imagination). Thirty feet away birds are awaking with the dawn and squawk: good morning, or stay away from my morning breakfast, or maybe just a good, Hey You! Three female mallard birds land in creek. Their brown and gray forms blend into the rock as they scoot through the water. I sit in this small bend of a small creek apart and a part of nature.

I am apart because I am man, and I can create these distinctions called nature and name the birds and the rock and put myself in a proper place in relation to the to the tadpoles swimming and the pine trees and the deer drinking. My naming and categorizing abstracts the action before me. The movement of the water is part of gravity and the “water cycle.” The rock face, in its stubbornness, may be read by educated eyes to deduce the story of erosion and movement. I sit on a picnic table, created by others (but by humans!) and it doesn’t belong to this scene. Nor should the grass it rests upon be this short, so unnaturally mowed.

Yet, of course, I am a part of nature because I am man. I am a species in genus. I am in relation to these birds that sing and the water that flows, always finding a way down. Nature includes man, and it includes me. Sure, I can alter the landscape and block a creek and create a small lake. But so could an industrious beaver. My decisions, though more altering than other species, may affect nature, but they do not change the fact that I have a relationship to the earth and its inhabitants. This interaction of all species creates change in nature, for the very definition of nature is change in the context of relationship between the land and fire and water and air. The pine bark beetle destroys millions of trees as it fulfills its purpose, and that is nature. It is only in our arrogance to we think that we control nature. That what we alter we can bring back to some perfect state.

It is a quest for Eden, for the perfect place where all beings where in harmony and man was not present. But remember Tennyson, harmony exists only in “nature, red in tooth and claw.”

Monday, October 5, 2009

Vikings Win!

Painfully. You can never turn off the tv, cause you never know when the vikings are going to let the game go.

BTW: For all those historical persnickety types, yes, I know, the Vikings helmets didn't have horns. And no, they weren't just stealing gold. And yes, they did settle many of the areas they so called sacked (Northern France, Iceland, parts of Ireland, England, and Russia, and of course, that island in the Med, Sicily).

The Cabin

I woke up early this morning to post a nice little something on this nice little blog. However, the sleet from the night before turned into snow and the power was off. And with the power gone, so is the internet (along with the coffee). I live in a cabin. In the woods. It ain't DC anymore.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Private Life

Two weeks ago my wife came home from the library with a bbc show: The Private Life of a Masterpiece. The show dissects the author, the piece, the reaction, and how the work became a masterpiece. It's a fascinating look at art. Of particular interest is how these paintings became famous because most of the paintings were painted for a private audience. It makes me wonder what masterpieces we claim today will fade into the background. Anyway, go netflix it.
The Night Watch by Rembrandt 

Friday, October 2, 2009

It's complicated

That's my politics. That's what my years at grad school and working for the federal government taught me. cop out? Probably.

A Comic Story: Cul de Sac

A new comic has weaseled its way into my heart. As some may know, I've been a newspaper comic guy ever since I was a wee little tike. My pops and I maintained a beneficial symbiotic relationship when it came to the paper. In the morning I reached for the comics, while he started his paper reading with either the sports section or the front page.*

*If he happened to choose the front page it was always a race to the sports page, which, unfortunately, at times distracted from the pleasure of reading the comics page.

And over those many years of newspaper reading (I think it started in 2nd grade) one comic was always my favorite. And ever since Calvin and Hobbes sledded into the sunset, the comics haven't held the same place. I still read the comics, I still liked the comics, but nothing quite worked for me like Calvin and Hobbes.

Fortunately, during my time in DC I came across a local comic called Cul de Sac.

And [click on image for full comic]
It's top-notch. Read it.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


October seems to me to be a self-satisfied month. October knows what season it belongs to. It stands with dignity, not relying on any foofy holidays to give it meaning. No last gasps occur in October, or even worst, new beginnings. So, welcome October. May we enjoy your presence.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I awake with the sun awaking. The sky is not black, but it is not blue, it is that in-between place, that half-way place that always occurs between two states. We often ignore that halfway place between what was and is. We see the black and the white, the peace and the war, the democrats and the republicans. But there is always an in-between. Nature is good at in-betweens, reminding me that I do not need to be one or the other. For a few minutes, it is neither night nor day, and I can gather my thoughts from the night and consider the day—what will be, what I fear, what I hope.

What do I fear? I fear the existential and the immediate. I fear forgetfulness and wastefulness: that I will be forgotten because I have wasted my talents and my purpose. But I also fear the immediate. I fear the pain in shoulder that will not go away, always aching for these last few weeks. It is a fear based on incomplete knowledge. I know enough about disease and cancer and debilitation to be afraid of the possibilities, but I do not know enough to know the limitations: what it is not. Many fears work this way, listing all things that could be since we do not know what it is not. Our lack of knowledge leads us (let’s be honest, me) to fear the worst: debilitating destruction.

What do I hope? That is the more difficult question. It’s always easier to list the fears than the hope, because hope leads to the possibility of disappointment.

The Beginning...

Welcome to this open journal, which will follow my adventures and thoughts as a Washingtonian sojourning in the Black Hills. As more is written this journal will change and, perhaps, become more focused. But for now it will follow what I follow: politics, religion, naval strategy, policy, and nature.