Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Glen Campbell diagnosed with Alzheimer's

I was saddened to find out that one of the musicians I grew up with has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.  Glen Campbell was a well on our TV weekly in the late 60's and early 70's in my parents home, and had a string of hit songs and albums.  And he proved himself a horribly awful actor in the otherwise great movie, True Grit.  But his beginnings were more as a session guitarist in the Los Angeles area, recording with such luminaries as Elvis Presley, The Beach Boys, Johnny Cash and Leon Russell.  He had a bit of a brush with the law a few years ago, but many suspect if was related to early onset Alzheimer's. 

Well, Glen has recorded his final album and it is a gem, and is going on a farewell tour, that includes his adult children.  His short term memory isn't good but he is still a great singer and guitar player, as these videos from his new album demonstrate.

Glen and is wife recently talked about his ordeal, and it is obvious to this casual observer that he has all the classic symptoms of the disease.  He remembers everything that happened 40 years ago, but can't remember where he is going on his upcoming farewell tour.

So here is to you Mr. Campbell.  Godspeed on your final journey, and make your last tour your best!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Who was your worst teacher?

I had a phone call last night from a guy I've known since kindergarten.  He's on a reunion committee and wanted some updates from me.  We went through elementary and high school together, and got to talking about students we both knew and more so about our teachers, many who have now been dead for 30 years.  The topic came up on who was the worst one we ever had.  No it wasn't a biology teacher in 10th grade that was a total incompetent, or the gay pedophile gym coach who came on to the boys in high school.  We knew how to deal with them.  It was Miss X. (I'm not saying the real name because I know her relatives quite well. Miss X was an older middle age spinster when I had her in my first year in public school, kindergarten.

This is a woman who never had children of her own, and had a deep disdain, and no tolerance for little children who did not fall in immediately upon order behave on command.  Not a particularly good fit for a woman who was, year after year, put in charge of 35 five year old kids for an entire school year.  Her classes were often right out of a Dickens novel.  Children were routinely spanked, slapped and locked in the cloak roam for minor offenses, such as spilling milk, not finishing a puzzle on time, giggling, and chatting with classmates at inappropriate times.  If you came to school without boots or rubbers over your shoes on rainy or snowy days, Miss X locked us in the closet and made us stand in ice water as punishment.   Parents complained about her constantly to the principle, and school board, but it was to no avail.  She had tenure, and the stock answer was, "That's the way it has always been done."

Today this woman would be locked up for child abuse, but 1961 was a different era.  By contrast, Mrs. M., my 1st grade teacher, was a lovely woman who truly loved children and made learning a fun experience.  All the kids who suffered the tortures of Miss X's house of horrors, began to breath a sigh of relief.  Unfortunately I had to meet and greet Miss X. every Sunday morning until I moved away from home for college, as she was a local fixture and deacon in our church.  (What were they thinking?)

If Young Frankenstein had been made back when I was a kid, I'm sure the would be compared to Frau Blucher.  Instead she got off easy and only got equated to the Wicked Witch of the West, a title much deserved.

So who was your worst teacher?  Lets fill up the comments area with your stories.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Funny weekend story

Ok, maybe this is a little drunk blogging, but here's a funny, if not revealing story about travel in the third world.  As anyone who reads my blog knows, I've got a lot of connections to the Philippines, and visit it frequently.  Although when in a large city or resort area, I choose to stay in nice place with most of the amenities I'd expect from a decent place in the US.  I'm no elitist, a nice place to me is a Comfort Inn.

But I have to tell this story about when a friend and I stopped at a small town in central Luzon for the night a while back.  We had a great meal at a local restaurant, for almost nothing, and service better than at the Ritz (as if I've ever been to one). It was getting late and either we were going to move on or find a room.

Well, we did find an Inn that looked nice and clean, and the owner was a very nice elderly lady who told us we had a room with private bath and hot water was normally available.  Well it turns out that the "private bath" really meant that we had a private entrance to the communal bathroom for the entire guest house.All the other guests had to enter from the hallway. 

Ok, we had a laugh about that and hit the sack in a decent, clean room with lumpy beds, but, for $7 a night how could I complain.  Motel 6 wasn't that cheap at this time.  The next morning I wanted a hot shower, and turned on the faucet, and what came out was cold spring water from the mountains of Sagod in Northern Luzon.  And though this is tropical, the mountain province it not so much, and the water comes out at 50 degrees.  I asked the owner of the Inn if she could turn on the water heater, but was informed that it was currently was "under repair".  Since we were going to be there for a few days, I asked if it would be fixed later that day.  She very sheepishly apologized for lack of hot water and offered buckets of warm water she could heat on the stove, telling us that the water heater has been "under repair" for 3 years.  I had a good laugh back in the room, but the nice lady was just trying to save face, and I embarrassed her by asking that question.  This is a poor country and a water heater might cost here several weeks income from the inn and restaurant.  I gratefully accepted a couple buckets of heated water, stayed 2 more days, and left a tip that would pay a weeks stay at the place.

Yes this was not 5 star accommodations, but we met a lady who ran a decent, clean (I mean really clean) inn, helped us with sightseeing and gave me a big hug upon departures.

Travel in the third world may not always be easy, but it can be very rewarding in its own way.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Just how badly do we treat alien workers here?

About a month ago I posted about a young friend of mine who recently moved to Singapore from the Philippines,  with the hopes of getting a better job and being able to send some money home to his family there.  He is not an "undocumented worker" or illegal alien.  Ron jumped through all the hoops to get legal status, and was enthusiastic about seems like a good opportunity.  In the USA, any legal worker either a Green Card holder or just someone on a H1-B visa has pretty much similar protection under the law that we American citizens have.  Sadly, Ron is finding out first hand, that in the Republic of Singapore, guest workers have very little or no rights what so ever. 

His employer, though very please with his work, has at times withheld pay, due to "payroll irregularities", demands many hours of unpaid overtime, and even going to the home of the owner to mow the grass.  In a country that fines you heavily for importing chewing gum amongst other things, they offer little to no protection for guest workers.  The contract with the employer is only enforced when it is in the favor of the Singapore citizen.  Withholding of pay is not a crime against guest workers, and the guest worker can not leave the country until the contract is fulfilled on his/her part.

If any undocumented laborer illegal alien, let alone a legal migrant in the US were treated like this, the employer would be hauled off to jail and fined heavily.

I'm posting this as a caution to anyone who wants to work abroad.  Understand the law where you are going before entering into a contract.  In many places, rule of law does not apply to anyone who is not a citizen and in some countries not the right religion.

Remember Normandy Liberation? ....

I hope so, but how many know about the defense of Corregidor, the subsequent Bataan Death March, that resulted in thousands of deaths on the way to march to a horrible concentration camp in Tarlac?  I'm not sure how many of my readers even know what country I'm referring to.  Well, it is the Philippines.  We have a long history there dating from the Spanish American War, but that is for another blog.

We have a lot of ceremonies honoring our Normandy invasion dead and survivors.  How many do we have for those who fought in the Pacific?  We had the last hold outs at Corregidor.  How many school kids know about it?  It's indeed a moving sight.  It's not even taught in schools anymore.  How about the battle of the Philippines in 1944 where tens of thousands died liberating that island nation from Japanese imperialism?  Nope, it is not taught.  I had relatives who fought there and died in Leyte. One is buried in the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial.  It's is awesome sight to see, the memorial is breathtaking, and I have always left with tears in my eye.  Sadly this is neglected by Americans.  Our forefathers fought to liberate Asia to keep us free, and they deserve the same honor.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Unions and Politics: A Personal Introspective

I'm originally from the coal mining region of northeast Pennsylvania, and this was one place that needed a good union around the turn of the 20th century as much as Poland needed Solidarity in the 1980s.  The UMW was very successful in initiating safety rules in the mines, workers rights, and the right to strike after a long struggle and a lot of violence.  These were all things desperately needed at the time.  Working conditions in the mines were deplorable, the mining companies owned the company stores that the workers shopped at, and owned the row houses they live in.  It was a form of serfdom.  Immigrants flocked to the area to work the mines from very diverse places like Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Russia, Italy and the many ethnic regions of the Hapsburg Empire.  The numerous churches in the Scranton/Wilkes Barre/Hazleton Pennsylvania region, some more like grand cathedrals all built by immigrants who worked in menial low paying jobs, in their copious free time demonstrated their faith in God.  Although these immigrants worked together in the mines, steel mills, and dress factories during the day, they usually stuck with their own outside that environment.  They spoke their own language and worshiped in their own churches. They voted for politicians who supported their very narrow viewpoint, and ethnicity.  Neither political party did a whole lot to help alleviate the awful work conditions, and depended on their particular ethnic minorities to get elected.  Someone from Italy would never vote for one of those filthy Scots, and the Scots wouldn't vote for someone Welsh, let alone a Jew, and....well you get the picture.  Politics was ethnic, not so much party oriented.  Catholics, were almost exclusively Democrats, as were their politicians, and Protestants were Republicans and their clergy regularly preached politics from the pulpit.  The average miner or steel worker knew nothing of politics other than their local council member, mayor, or police chief.  They voted along ethnic lines.  The union was the uniting force, and was necessary at the time to liberate the people working the mines and mills from serfdom.  Neither the politicians of either party or the churches did much to stand up for the little guy.

That was then, this is now.  Unions were and are still a part of American life, industry, and especially government.  While once unions were organizations who fought against, sometimes literally, against thugs to stand up for decent living and working conditions for their members; now they stand up for very little more than bigger government and endless entitlements.  Most unions are just fundraising organizations for the Democratic Party, lining their union leadership pockets with money, and grabbing political power nationally.  Most private industry is now nonunion, due to competitive markets for skilled employees, and except in some large legacy companies in states that allow closed shops, union workers are few....Except in government.  The biggest segment of union employees are now working for the taxpayer.

Oddly, people who I once grew up with who were so pro-union and and still vote along ethnic lines, have gotten very little for their political investment.  Ok, Joe Mcdade (The John Murtha of the Republican party) brought a brand new Taj Mahal terminal to the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Airport with government pork, and it employed a few hundred people working union jobs over a few years, but these guys are now swilling beer at at 2 pm in the local saloon.  And McDade though a nominal Republican, voted like a Democrat, And Gringrich stripped him of his position on the appropriations committee in 1995.  But the big government guys have been screwing the people from my hometown for 60 years.

There have been revolts against government employee unions, most notably in Wisconsin, and the recent recall votes are heartening, but nothing like this is likely to happen in northeastern Pennsylvania, where all you is to have the last name Casey (Democrat) or Scranton (Republican) and you will get elected.  Sad but true from an area that my 82 year old dad was just saying that this area was in a depression in 1938 is in one in 2011, and will be in 2111.

When I visited my hometown earlier this month, I talked to a lot of old friends, and most are yellow dog Democrats, and I asked them why they support the people who they do, and the answer was astounding.  Educated people told me, because we have always been Democrats (or in a few cases Republicans) since their great grandfather immigrated to the USA.  I inquired as to why they never looked at what the candidates actually stood for with a critical eye, and was greeted with blank looks and answers like, "Why are you asking, Keith?  This is how we vote".  There was no serious discussion of policy or issues amongst any of them. 

Much like I can no longer go back to the church of my youth, I can't go back to a place that is rust belt poor area where I grew up.  People there just keep voting what their unions, local politicians, and in many cases churches tell them.

Sometimes things evolve with time, sometime they stay stuck in an earlier era. In the area I grew up in, it is the later, They pine for the glories of the mines, railroads, and steel mills.  Sometimes you can't go home again.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

When government owns the means of production's Ed Morrissey posts a daily "Obamateurism of the Day" that picks up on the daily gaffes, misstatements, and maddening things that President Obama says and does on a daily basis.  Today Ed hit upon Obama's latest attempt to influence the free market.  You see, Pres. Obama thinks that General Motors makes too many SUVs and trucks and not enough compact cars.  Of course the government always knows how to run a business far better than the free market concept of meeting demand with supply.  Government just demands more crappy cars like the Chevy Volt, and people will swarm to buy one, right?  Well no, the Volt is a dismal failure.

After reading Ed's blog today, I got to thinking about just how good the auto industry was in a truly dynamic socialist economy, that being the former German Democratic Republic (aka East Germany) and it's leading edge technology triumph the Trabant 601.  I found this fascinating 2 part promotional video (part 1, part 2) on YouTube produced by the GDR government in 1965 showing the production of the "Car of the Century".  While capitalists in West Germany were wasting their time building Volkswagon, BMW, Audi and Mercedes Benz automobiles, the high minded socialist economists were busy producing a vehicle with a 2 stroke engine, plastic body, ran on 83 octane gasoline and had a maximum speed of 100 km/hour (62 miles/hour) that was so popular there was a 15-20 year wait just to be the proud owner of  one of these triumphs of a socialist planned economy.  The imperialists in the west could only dream of owning one of these truly magnificent vehicles.

For a little compare and contrast, lets have a look at a similar era Mercedes Benz.  The superiority of the socialist car is glaringly obvious.

Ok, that's enough snark for now.  The Trabant was a truly awful car, broke down frequently, and was very good at turning low octane gasoline into noise and smoke.  I had the opportunity to take a test drive in one about 10 years ago at an antique car show.  The one I drove was impeccably maintained, and the steering wheel still pulled to the left, the top speed was 40 miles per hour, and struggled to get up a small hill. When you open the hood to work on the engine (something required at least weekly), it took a rubber mallet and crow bar to get it closed again, because the body parts were just so poorly fit.

For anyone going to Berlin, there is a Trabant museum there that is very interesting, and has a lot of good demonstrations on just what went in to making this hand manufactured car.  This was no assembly line vehicle, which may explain the long wait list just to buy one.

So there you have it folks,  this little exercise is a perfect demonstration what you get when the government .controls the means of production, as well as what is available on the market.

Update: Here's a look at the Trabant factory as filmed by a West German film crew.  This film really shows just how ugly the factory was, and what an awful car it produced.  And this demonstrates their quality control.

Monday, August 8, 2011

What have they done with my church?

This past week I visited my elderly parents in their small town, in northeastern Pennsylvania.  This is the town where my older brother and I grew up.  It's a tough old coal mining area where God fearing people worked hard, had sincere beliefs and were not only ethnically diverse, but were ethnically segregated in many cases on Sunday.  Around the turn of the 20th century, there was a huge immigration to the USA from diverse places as Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Italy and Eastern Europe from what was then Austria-Hungary.  They all built their own churches in their own traditions.  They may have worked together, mostly in the anthracite mines of the area, but on Sunday, they worshiped at their own churches.  The few ethnic groups that even remotely mixed on Sunday tended to be of the Protestant denominations, one of them being the affiliation of my youth, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A (PCUSA). 

The church I grew up in tended to be WASP-ish, but my mother and her family are German Presbyterians.  My paternal grandmother was a Scot and was more Presbyterian than John Knox (she was also about as tolerant with those who weren't).  The Irish Catholics were her sworn enemy, and barely tolerated my German mother.  My paternal grandfather was what we could call a Heinz 57, but for the most part was Scots-Irish, and not particularly religious.  He was a general building contractor in the early-mid part of the 20th century and much to my grandmother's chagrin often associated, hired, and was friends with the dreaded Methodists, Baptists, and dare I say, CATHOLICS!. (The horrors!). 

By the time I was a young child, the church I grew up in became far more inclusive of "foreigners", and those who were not traditionally Presbyterians.  We had a number of Slovak families, a pastor who came from Italy and converted from Roman Catholicism as a young seminarian, and served at our church until he retired 50 years later.  One thing remained constant however.  Presbyterian doctrine went all the way back to the founders such as John Calvin and John Knox.  The General Assembly, the governing board of the church, was steadfast in reiterating this for hundreds of years.  Although there were many modernizations, the beliefs and doctrine were steadfast.  There was a distinct difference with other Protestant sects such as Methodists and Baptists, although at least in my town, the Protestant churches got along very amicably, and in the summer, even had union services, allowing the ministers of these churches to have a few weeks vacation.  This also exposed young people to the noticeable differences between the faiths.  They had far more in common than the elders would admit, I can remember. 

The Catholics and Orthodox churches didn't have much to do with the Protestants or each other, and we all accepted that.  By the time I was born in the late 1950's, the majority of citizens in my area were Catholic.  Prior to Vatican II, the local churches regularly vilified "heretics and Jews".  The Protestant churches did not.  This made a big impact on my young mind, and I decided by the time I was 10 years ago that I was good with my faith, and as soon as I was eligible, eagerly went to communicants class at the same church I went to Sunday School since the time I was a toddler.  I was comfortable in my church, enjoyed the service and the sermons by our highly intellectual pastor (he actually spoke way over the head of many of his congregation at times, me included).  Some things did not chance.  The Presbyterian Church was faithful to its base beliefs and its doctrine. 

Things started to change in the 1980's.  The church became political, in ways that had nothing to do with scripture.  The General Assembly embraced Liberalism, albeit initially in very small ways.  The pastor who I grew up with retired, and was replaced with a brash young idealistic woman the same age as me.  She had big designs on "Hope and Change" within the church.  My small town church, that had very strong traditional conservative values, suddenly had this young "progressive", speaking of "social justice", "liberation", and expressing, loudly, solidarity with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.  She was quickly put in her place by the elders of the church, my father being one of them, and she began keeping her political views to herself.

However, sadly her views were shared with the ruling body, the General Assembly of the PCUSA, and it started to show in the church services.  Still, in my sleepy town, not a whole lot changed.....initially.   Some things began to show up in the General Assembly's annual report that I found very disturbing.  They were making a very pro-Palestinian policy, and selectively divesting from Israel, which has only accelerated in recent years.  They actively support far leftist ideology, while shunning traditional conservative ideals.  I really didn't pay too much attention until I moved to the Memphis, Tennessee area over 15 years ago.  The church I attended seemed very odd to me, and the sermons were very similar to those I heard 10 years prior in my hometown church, before the smackdown.  I became very disgruntled, and started to look for a church that was more to my liking; something that maintained traditional Presbyterian beliefs. 

It didn't take long.  Apparently, at least in the South, there were a number of other Presbyterian congregations that became fed up with the liberal ruling body, and decided to form the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)
The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is an evangelical Protestant Christian denomination, the second largest Presbyterian church body in the United States after the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The PCA professes a strong commitment to evangelism, missionary work, and Christian education. The church declares its goal to be "faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission."
I'm quite comfortable being part of this organization, and find comfort in belonging to a congregation that still follows traditionalist beliefs rather than liberal revisionism. 

That brings me to the question I asked in the title of this piece. 

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, I visited my childhood home this past week, and accompanied my parents to the church I grew up in.  I hardly knew it.  They have replaced the King James Bible with some politically correct, non-gender, asexual, and revisionist religious text that is an insult to God's holy word.  Gone from the service is the Apostles Creed, replaced with a very touchy-feely "affirmation of faith" that affirms nothing, and acknowledges neither Hell nor the resurrection of Christ.  Gone is the singing of the Gloria Patri.  Scripture readings sound more like childhood Sunday School stories rather than the word of God.  I walked away from the service bewildered, and depressed.  I asked my 82 year old father, how he felt about the changes in his church.  Needless to say, he is not at all happy, but at his age, feels there is little he can do to change anything anymore. 

I don't think I can return to the church of my childhood.  The building might still be there, but the soul is gone.