Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Swine Flu Pandemic *Updated*

*Update* I guess I scooped the local news paper. Hope my son-in-law is reading this. Seems the craziness has already started. Today's headline (I posted last night) says "Flu-likecases shutMauldinHigh today" (complete with typo). See their article here.

Unless you've been ignoring news on radio, TV and the newspapers, you've heard a lot in the last few days about the Swine Flu Pandemic. Seems like everyone is up in arms and running around like chicken little. Just how serious is this disease?

Well, I don't want to make it sound small. There has been 1 death in the US and the parents of that child don't think it's small. But let's look at the facts.

There are approximately 307 million people in the US. With about 100 cases of the flu confirmed, that means there is one case for every 3 million people. This means about 3 people in all of New York City.

The disease is more prevalent in Mexico. The population there is about 111 million and there are about 1000 cases of the flu. 68 people have died. That means one death for every 1.6 million people (about 4 in a city the size of New York) and that one in 111 thousand are affected. I'm a big Clemson fan, if I went to three sold-out home games, there would be two infected people at the games.

When looking at it this way, one might wonder why is this being pushed so hard? Communist plot? Democratic plot? No, I think it's very simple. TV, radio and newspapers like to sell TV, radio and newspapers, so the folks in charge like to stir things up. Also, the people at WHO and related agencies won't have a job if there are no pandemics.

P.S. I'm working on a multi-part post on President Obama's performance. Be looking for it to come.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Aha Moment

We've all had one of those moments, times where something clicks and we suddenly understand something we've struggled with for a long time. Teacher's live for these moments and can see it in their student's eyes. Comic strips show it as a light bulb going off above your heard and from this article at WebMD, it may not be too far off (the article says these moments are "marked by a surge of electrical activity in the brain." - What will Al Gore say when he hears this, try to legislate aha's out of existence?)
But it seems that TV Queen Oprah may have had one too many "Aha" moments. She found out that Mutual of Omaha Bank (is MOB the correct acronym?) is the "official sponsor of the aha moment" according to their website here. Seems the MOB thinks an aha moment is that "moment of clarity... a defining moment when you gain real wisdom - wisdom you can use to change your life." A little wordy, but a good definition.
Oprah's lawyers sent the MOB a letter telling them to cease and desist using the phrase, for fear it might look like she supports the MOB. She claims the legal rights to those words. Of course the MOB claims that even if she trademarked the phrase, "she 'abandoned' those rights by failing to 'police their alleged mark' when other businesses used it in the past. (source here). Seems the MOB thinks the words are free game (but then how could they be the sponsor?)
Looks like all of this is headed to court. I hope the judge has an "aha moment" and throws it out AFTER splitting court costs between the two parties. And I hope they don't see my post and start coming after me. But if they do, I'll just claim that with the greenhouse effect, I'm afraid to use any additional electrical charges in my brain for fear of the environment. Hey, I wonder if that excuse will work for my boss?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Innovative Discipline

Ok, this lady in New York might have stepped over the line. Seems her two kids were fighting in the back seat, so she pulled over and put them out. One of them caught up with her and got back in, but the 10 year old was left stranded. A passerby picked up the young girl and took her to the police station.

When the mom contacted police to report the 10 year old missing, she was arrested for "endangering the welfare of a child." Maybe there was more to the story.

But it made me think, what innovative discipline techniques have I used? I know that I DID indeed pull the car over to give my kids a spanking (my daughter said more than once). I supposed in some books that would be child abuse.

One of my favorites (I stole from a caller to Dr. Laura) was taking the bedroom door off the hinges when one of my girls slammed the door (she was warned of the specific consequences before it happened). She changed in the bathroom and lived without a door for a week.

Another discipline was for locking the bedroom door. After explaining to my son for the 100th (hyperbole here) time that he wasn't supposed to do this, I quietly turned the door knob around so he could no longer lock me out. I was tempted on more than one occasion to lock him in, but never gave into the temptation. After a couple of weeks, he quietly put the doorknob back, but he didn't lock himself in any more (at least for a while).

Probably the most questionable thing I did was for sticking the tongue out at the table. Having just seen a Star Wars movie with Obie Wan Kenobe and Jar-Jar Binks, I knew what to do. I challenged her to do it again. When she did, I moved with Jedi speed and grabbed her tongue before she could pull it back in her mouth. I don't recall the exact response, but I'm sure surprise was involved. And I recall she never stuck her tongue out at us again (at least not where I could grab it).

So what innovative discipline techniques have you seen or used?

Monday, April 20, 2009

My second and third TEA party and opposition

Last week I told you about my first TEA party. That was Monday, on Wednesday I went to one at lunch time in Simpsonville (the picture here were before the party started) and then I went to one Friday night that was much larger. And there was some opposition to the Friday night party.

The Simpsonville party was, by nature, small. I estimated around 100, the TV station there estimated about 200. Downtown Simpsonville isn't exactly a metropolis, so this was about what I expected. There was a single protester who had a sign saying "Obama's Will Help" (presumably, it meant his plan). The sign was quickly drawn on a cardboard box top. At the end of the meeting, signs were displayed with the number to call for the White House and for Congress. Everyone was encouraged to call one of the numbers and to let them know we were at a TEA party.
The Friday evening party was much larger. The police estimated 10,000, later estimates from the TV station with helicopter view estimated 6,000. The party was coordinated by the Upstate Young Republicans and there were several Republican speakers, but the crowd was far from died-in-the-wool Republican. When Congressman Gresham Barrett (who voted for TARP) was booed so loudly and longly, that his speech could not be heard.
There was also a counter-rally at the same time, behind the auditorium. I walked down there several times to get a feel for the rally. The meeting got off to a late start. Apparently, Leola Robinson-Simpson (see her webpage here) got tied up in the wrong meeting. My first thought was, if this lady, who is a Trustee for our local school board, was tied up in the wrong meeting, why is she leading our children? Scary.
The counter-rally actually was not so much anti-TEA (which would make it a coke party?), but a "Save Our Schools" (SOS) or anti-Sanford rally. For those outside SC, Mark Sanford is our Republican Governor. Because of term-limits, he's ineligible to run again in 2012 and appears to be positioning for a presidential run. He's spent the last 5 years as one of the new "young" right-wing conservative southern governors. He has, so far, turned down part of the stimulus money. There are many in the state who feel this is stealing from education. (SC has one of the worst education records of any of the 50 states.)
There were some "facts" given out at the SOS rally that I have questions about. To me, it sounded like the speakers were disappointed that the rally was so poorly attended. I did hear on the news that some of the participants moved to the TEA rally and a small ruckus broke out. Apparently, some TEA attenders asked them to leave (the news clip I saw showed SOS attenders yelling). But apparently, this was resolved without major incident.
My final thought for the day is that the TEA movement, while promoted by local radio and republican groups, is a big "grass roots" movement. The people attending are upset at government, but aren't quite sure why. The big test will be to see what happens from here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Beta release ...

A lot of times in computers, we see the words "Beta Release". I recently learned first hand what this means.. Wikipedia says that it is "A software release ... of an initial or upgraded version of a computer software product" (see here).

Sometimes a product can stay in the "Beta" release for a long time. I've been using Gmail from Google for around four years and it's still in Beta (see here for discussion of Gmail beta). Gmail works great and has many advantages over other web-based email products. I've even know several organizations that use Gmail as their primary email system.

But recently, I found that "Beta" can mean the product still has a few bugs left in it. I'm a big believer in Google Maps, and we wanted to walk across the Cooper River Bridge in Charleston. We found a starting address (764 E Bay St, Charleston, SC 29403) and an ending address (920 Houston Northcutt Blvd, Mt Pleasant, SC 29464) for our walk and used Google to map it out.

First shot, it showed 3.7 miles about 8 minutes driving time. Great makes good since. Then I see that you can ask for walking directions. Ok, makes sense to me, so I put that into Google. Imagine my surprise when it says that it is now 71.5 Miles about 23 hours 15 minutes. WOW. That's a lot further walking than I want to try. (Actually we walked it using the driving directions. Took a little more than 8 minutes but a lot less than 23 hours).

I guess now I understand what Beta really means...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

This life is for the birds

Some days I have to blog about items that might be considered less serious. Today, it's about the birds frequenting our bird feeder. We have a lot of finches as can be seen at the right. Note the finch that seems to be hung in mid-air. No, I didn't hang him there, he's in mid-flight. There seem to be two kinds of finches, the yellow and some that are plain gray. I've been told the males are more colorful (they're showing off), if that's true they are sorely lacking for females. Or maybe they are going out to seek for food and then they take it back home.
This second picture just shows the number of finches we have.

We also have some birds that are too lazy to pick their own food out of the feeders. They just pick up whatever falls on the ground. I'm not sure what kind of birds these are, I call them doves. If you know what this really is, let me know.

Hard to see in this picture, but there's a robin beside my electrical box. He's too shy to come around the finches, but I've seen these guys around a lot. I'm glad I can recognize a robin when I see one.

When the crows come around, they scare away the finches. Here's one peeking out from behind the feeder. They are the bullies of the bird world.

While they may be bullies, they are actually very beautiful. Their head and neck is a deep, royal blue.

Comments on birds and the types here appreciated. Know any bird lovers? My favorite bird is chicken....

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My first tea party - Updated

Last night my daughter was surprised that I was going to a tea party. She probably thought the same as my son, who believed I was at a tea party with my niece (who has probably outgrown those parties). Surprisingly, when I searched on the Internet for details I found out they still have those kinds of tea parties in Laurens County, a southern genteel county about 30 miles from my home.

Instead, this tea party was reminiscent of the Boston Tea Party held in 1773. If you're a Mary Poppins fan, you know the initial event made the tea undrinkable, even for Americans. But more than that, it signaled a rebellion, a rebellion against a government that didn't listen to the people it governed. The current day tea parties, over 2000 scheduled to have occurred by the end of this week, also signal a rebellion -- a rebellion against government spending and a change in the philosophy of this country.

During the meeting that lasted slightly over an hour, I tried to keep myself from becoming engrossed in the speeches and to report the details. My goal was to learn what was really going on and to listen carefully to what was said. A good bit of the meeting was simply political presentations: one man running for congress, another for Lt. Governor, a state senator and a US Congressman. Much of it toed the right wing of the Republican Party line - anti-abortion, defense of marriage and anti-Obama.

But there were also some good points that were brought out that require more research - a call for thinner waste lines on government (pardon the pun), more transparency in government, accusations of overstepped constitutional bounds (discussion on six provisions in the Constitution given to government).

One of the most impressive speakers was Bill Connor, candidate for Lt Governor. Connor spent some time in Afghanistan serving our country in our efforts there. For that alone he garnered my respect. He also gained my attention when he spoke of the difference in English view of taxes and American views (fodder for another post). While I didn't agree with everything he said, I want to follow this man and see what his candidacy will look like.

Another speaker, Bobby Smith, Chairman of the Laurens County Republican Party pointed out that effort started with the individual, that we must not allow the government to be the source of our provisions. In a poor county like Laurens, this is a difficult step for a lot of people. Smith admitted this in his speech, but encouraged everyone to make the step. With the way the government rules over those it helps (see here), we should all heed those words.

The final speaker was Dr. Tony Beam, pastor and local talk radio host. Beam's speech outlined what I believe is the focal point for the tea party - it's not about taxes, it's about tyranny. His notes will be posted on the 'net later this week, once I find them I'll post a link.

To summarize, the tea party was a success. I counted close to 150 people and probably missed some (a local report said 200 - I don't doubt it). I hope to attend another party later in the week, maybe even two. My goal is to understand what is really going on and what all the talk is about. I'll report more of the ideas later.

* Update - Tony Beam's speech can be found here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

VITA/TCE Update - End of Job

Back in February, I proudly announced that I was VITA/TCE certified. This program (certified by the IRS) allows volunteers to help low income and/or elderly prepare their taxes. Locally, it's administered and coordinated by the United Way.

Since I've only been doing this on Friday & Saturday, this was my last week. After 23 sessions of about 4 hours each, I have prepared taxes for around 100 people. I also did state taxes for these people and in one case, NC state taxes. I would like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the process and hope that I can do it again next year.

In all of these tax forms, I found exactly one person that might have been actively trying to skirt the law and exactly one person who actively avoided filing taxes (he "missed" at least two previous years and I think only filed this year at the urging of his girl friend). Two bad apples out of 100 isn't a bad record.

Some of the "customers" I worked with were young (20's or less) and some really wanted to understand the process. For these people I worked a little harder to explain the forms and make some suggestions. Some were older and were happy to have me talk to them as I punched buttons on the computer. Most went out of their way to be nice. One even hugged me. A couple were veterans and I thanked them for their service.

The funniest moment was when the Site Coordinator came in and announced "Sorry I'm late, I just got out of prison." Lots of heads turned as they wondered whether he would do their taxes. (He had been involved that morning with Prison Fellowship Ministries - Neil, you should use this line.)

Hardest moment was when a 3 year old flipped a fire alarm and I had to continue preparing taxes for others who had been waiting 2-3 hours with the siren blasting.

All in all, this was a good experience for me and I'm looking forward to more community service like this.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Back from vacation

As I last posted, I was headed out to vacation. A week in beautiful Charleston, SC can be very relaxing. We drove down on Saturday and found the temperatures were unseasonably cold. No matter, we still were able to do almost everything including a couple of walks on the beach (albeit in blue jeans and jackets).

We went with another couple and their 3-year old daughter. I had forgotten how much fun a child that age can be. Especially when she's not your problem when things don't go according to plan. You can simply walk away and think "I'm glad she's not MY problem." Fortunately, that didn't happen often.

On Wednesday, Greg & I walked the Cooper River Bridge. The weekend before, 35,000+ people had run the bridge (see here). We walked the opposite direction (from downtown to Mt. Pleasant) and fortunately had the wind at our back. Total walk was about 4 miles.

Oh, the picture above? We saw this on our last day in a parking garage. Apparently, the car had been there a long time, definitely longer than the 72 hour limit the garage had posted. The words just struck me as funny. If you can't read it, it asks "any dead bodies inda car"? Now if CSI shows up to investigate, it stops being funny.

Great vacation, glad I'm back. (not really on that last part, but it sounds good).

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Busy few weeks

Some of my readers know what's been going on in my life the last few weeks, but I decided to fill the world in on it. About two weeks ago, my son had orthognathic surgery. Basically, that's surgery to change the bone structure of the jaw (see here for Wikipedia article). The surgery happened during his spring break.

We've been anticipating this for several years, you have to wait until the patient (my son in this case) is past most of the growth spurts. I've been working directly with insurance companies for at least 5 years to review the estimated costs and coverage. Needless to say, this has been an experience.

The surgery went well and lasted about 3 hours. We spent the night in the hospital and came home the following day. Of course having major jaw surgery, chewing was not an option, so he mainly had juices, soup, and lots of pudding for several days. There was lots of swelling, but this went down in about a week. At the end of the week he went back to school.

This week on Monday, I got a call from the oral surgeon. He asked that I come in, that day, to review the x-rays. It doesn't take a lot of prognostication to figure out that this isn't a good request. So, I went in that afternoon and looked at x-rays. The doctor said he wasn't happy with the "fixation" (the way the bones lined up) that he was getting. He wanted to go back in and fix this.

So Wednesday, we went back into the hospital to fix the fixation. This was a quicker procedure, about 45 minutes. By 11am, we were back home. Today, he's back at school. Still in some pain, still some swelling, but doing better. We'll have new x-rays next Monday, hopefully the fixation is ok.

Next week, I'm going on vacation. I'll probably take my laptop, but I don't think I'm going to blog. I need a week off.

For those of the praying type, please pray for my family. It's been a rough couple of weeks. Pray for healing and insight.