Tuesday, August 30, 2005

"What's the price of gasoline today?" The SUV driver asked anxiously. After hearing the answer, the Prius driver said, "Oh, I hadn't noticed," and smiled. "I hardly ever have to fill up anymore."

Photo at left: the display in my Prius today showing 50.9 mpg! And we held that mpg for 508 miles!! Yee ha. By the time we filled the tank, the Katrina price hike had died and gas was once again $2.78. Although, if the price of gas were to remain higher, we'd pay for the car in gas savings faster. Geologically speaking.

Monday, August 29, 2005

for info go here

The question arises: What if the British and the Americans prayed to Our Lady of Prompt Succour, would she have had to choose sides? [see comment box from previous blog]

Leaving behind the obvious puzzle so as to allow Cubs and Cardinals fans to mull it over, I turn to the Anglican's faith and how it treats the Virgin Mary.

The Anglican Church and Vatican drafted a joint statement on Mary recently. "The publication of Mary; Grace and Hope in Christ is not only significant therefore because it marks a further stage in the ecumenical journey of Anglicans and Roman Catholics; it is significant because it is the first major agreed statement on Mary amongst all the ecumenical dialogues. Indeed, it is an invitation to all of the Churches to go back to their own traditions to re-discover some of the common ground that we can all share and celebrate, and own our essential unity as the Church of God through the gift of the Spirit."

To read the statement go here Ecumenism.net

They have agreed to the following points in publishing the statement:
"Anglicans and Roman Catholics can agree in much of the truth that these two dogmas are designed to affirm. We agree that there can be but one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ, and reject any interpretation of the role of Mary which obscures this affirmation. We agree in recognizing that Christian understanding of Mary is inseparably linked with the doctrines of Christ and the Church. We agree in recognizing the grace and unique vocation of Mary, Mother of God Incarnate (Theotokos), in observing her festivals, and in according her honor in the communion of saints. We agree that she was prepared by divine grace to be the mother of the Redeemer, by whom she herself was redeemed and received into glory. We further agree in recognizing in Mary a model of holiness, obedience and faith for all Christians. We accept that it is possible to regard her as a prophetic figure of the Church of God before as well as after the Incarnation."

One Anglican homily I read affirms the statement's value in particular because it goes a long way in speaking for all Protestant churches and their desire to further a united Body of Christ and the strength of that union in bringing Christ to the world. At one time, Catholics saw Luther and Calvin as very anti-Mary and thus a universe of discord grew. But the reformers, if one reads their writings and homilies, did not feel anti-Mary. They wrote broadly [no pun intended] about the maternal nature of Christ's church on earth to give birth to Christian belief, as Mary carried Jesus in her womb and gave birth. It was a favorite metaphor. The time of difference is passing and the time for understanding and peace has come.

New Orleans Saved

As the hurricane blows into New Orleans, many residents will pray for help from Our Lady of Prompt Succor [that's pronounced locally --prompt sucker], who once before came to the city's aid.

Notre Dame de Bon Secours; Our Lady of Quick Help

In 1727, French Ursuline nuns founded a monastery in New Orleans, Louisiana, and organized their area schools from it. In 1763 Louisiana became a Spanish possession, and Spanish sisters came to assist. In 1800 the territory reverted back to France, and the Spanish sisters fled in the face of France anti-Catholicsm. In 1803, short on teachers, Mother Saint Andre Madier requested reinforcements in the form of more sisters from France. The relative to whom she write, Mother Saint Michel, was running a Catholic boarding school for girls. Bishop Fournier, short-handed due to the repressions of the French Revolution, declined to send any sisters. Mother Saint Michel was given permission to appeal to the pope. The pope was a prisoner of Napoleon, and it seemed unlikely he would even receive her letter of petition. Mother Saint Michel prayed,
O most Holy Virgin Mary, if you obtain for me a prompt and favorable answer to this letter, I promise to have you honored at New Orleans under the title of Our Lady of Prompt Succor.
and sent her letter on 19 March 1809. Against all odds, she received a response on 29 April 1809. The pope granted her request, and Mother Saint Michel, commissioned a statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor holding the Infant Jesus. Bishop Fournier blessed the statue and Mother's work.

Mother Saint Michel and several postulants came to New Orleans on 31 December 1810. They brought the statue with them, and placed it in the monastery chapel. Since then, Our Lady of Prompt Succor has interceded for those who have sought her help.

A great fire threatened the Ursuline monastery in 1812. A lay sister brought the statue to the window and Mother Saint Michel prayed
Our Lady of Prompt Succor, we are lost if you do not come to our aid.
The wind changed direction, turned the fire away, and saved the monastery.

Our Lady interceded again at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Many faithful, including wives and daughters of American soldiers, gathered in the Ursuline chapel before the statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, and spent the night before the battle in prayer. They asked Our Lady for victory by Andrew Jackson’s forces over the British, which would save the city from being sacked. Jackson and 200 men from around the South won a remarkable victory over a superior British force in a battle that lasted twenty-five minutes, and saw few American casualties.

It is still customary for the devout of New Orleans to pray before the statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor whenever a hurricane threatens New Orleans.

Our Lady of Prompt Succor, ever Virgin Mother of Jesus Christ our Lord and God, you are most powerful against the enemy of our salvation. The divine promise of a Redeemer was announced right after the sin of our first parents; and you, through your Divine Son, crushed the serpent's head. Hasten, then, to our help and deliver us from the deceits of Satan.

Intercede for us with Jesus that we may always accept God's graces and be found faithful to Him in our particular states of life. As you once saved our beloved City (New Orleans) from ravaging flames, and our Country from an invading army, have pity on us and obtain for us protection from hurricanes and all other disasters.

(Silent pause for individual petitions.)

Assist us in the many trials which beset our path through life. Watch over the Church and the Pope as they uphold with total fidelity the purity of faith and morals against unremitting opposition. Be to us truly Our Lady of Prompt Succor now and especially at the hour of our death, that we may gain everlasting life through the merits of Jesus Christ Who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God world without end. Amen.

-prayer from the National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor
the above info is from catholic-forum.com

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Chalk drawings and now THIS--a trip to London is a must! If it weren't for the pesky tube bombings.

Monday, August 22, 2005

i know it when i see it.

That's what the United Nations says about terrorism, sounding a bit like the United States Supreme Court when it tries to define pornography. Why do we have so much trouble defining, describing in no uncertain terms things that are offensive and dangerous?

"But attempts to provide a definition have failed because of terrorists' strangely hybrid status in the law. They are neither ordinary criminals nor recognized state actors, so there is almost no international or domestic law dealing with them. This gives an out to countries that harbor terrorists and declare them "freedom fighters." It also lets the United States flout its own constitutional safeguards by holding suspects captive indefinitely at Guantánamo Bay. The overall situation is, in a word, anarchic." [from Legal Affairs]

Anarchy? Did someone mention anarchy? And what's more anarchist than pirates? Thus the convenient connection between piracy and terrorism:
"More than 2,000 years ago, Marcus Tullius Cicero defined pirates in Roman law as hostis humani generis, "enemies of the human race." From that day until now, pirates have held a unique status in the law as international criminals subject to universal jurisdiction—meaning that they may be captured wherever they are found, by any person who finds them. The ongoing war against pirates is the only known example of state vs. nonstate conflict until the advent of the war on terror, and its history is long and notable. More important, there are enormous potential benefits of applying this legal definition to contemporary terrorism.

AT FIRST GLANCE, THE CORRELATION BETWEEN PIRACY AND TERRORISM seems a stretch. Yet much of the basis of this skepticism can be traced to romantic and inaccurate notions about piracy. An examination of the actual history of the crime reveals startling, even astonishing, parallels to contemporary international terrorism. Viewed in its proper historical context, piracy emerges as a clear and powerful precedent

War on piracy? Let that be Pres. Bush's next national cry! Arrrrrgh, mate!

I've often said, right out loud, that i cannot figure out the fascination with golf. I can sort of understand playing golf--it's outdoors, it's relatively low on the energy drain, time to converse in between as one walks or drives between tee offs---unlike BINGO in which conversations are frowned upon and the breaks are too short--- and maybe there are refreshing beverages on board the golf cart. But it seems to be on the boring side, just the same. Stand still, hit a ball that is standing still, at a hole which is standing still, albeit far away--but you can try again--and this is sport? At least in bowling, you step once or twice into the alley and swing a ball that could injure you. Watching golf is really in question. Here's one guy's opinion:

"As an action-packed sport, golf ranks down with baseball and bowling, except that baseball is faster-paced and bowlers are whirling dervishes compared with golfers. Some golfers do exhibit sudden movements when they win a tournament, but it's always a shock to see they can get both feet in the air at once.

Golf features no body contact, no car crashes and no cheerleaders, yet men keep watching. They make up more than 80 percent of the TV audience for golf. This might simply be because they like watching a game they play themselves; men make up nearly 80 percent of the golfers in America, too. But then why do so many guys play such a frustrating game?"

The writer concludes that it stems from prehistoric fascination of hunter men who had nothing better to do all day than to hurl things at targets. That's as good as any reason I've heard. Prehistoric mentality? Oxymoron?

oh, go ahead, comment if you must.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Chalk Drawings EXTRAORDINARE!!

Artist draws three-D objects on sidewalks. MUST SEE.
[via Greg Popp]

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The rest of the story: Older Dude surives Great Wall adventure
[and now he's even older]

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way I picked up a local leach who was trying to sell me a book and who knows what else – “poor Mongolian farmer with two daughters needs American friend to help her” or something along those lines is what she kept trying to say. I tried and tried and tried to get rid of her, but eventually I discovered the advantage to having her around is that she kept the other leaches away. I was HER target and nobody else better bother me! I kept telling her I didn’t need a guide – “ no guide” she says. And I didn’t want to buy anything – “you look at book on way down.”

I stopped by the dam since there was a walkway leading out to the spillway. I really just wanted to find a place to lay down, eat my chips and finish my coke in peace and solitude with a view of the Wall, but it didn’t look like that was going to happen. So I stood out there and ate for a while and kept looking at the folks coming down from the mountain. They looked okay, but it sure looked steep up there!

Eventually, I decided to start heading back up, knowing I would be accosted once more by my “friend.” I kept looking at how far just the path TO the wall was, and I wasn’t sure I could make it. It didn’t take long for me to get hot, sweaty and winded once again. I think once you get heatstroke, and make no mistake, I’m pretty sure I did, it doesn’t take long for you to get right back in that same predicament.

As much as I wanted to go up to the Wall here, I just didn’t think I could do it. So I stopped and talked to a few folks coming down and found someone that had come from Jingling where we started. She said they made it alright, although it was hot, and that my friends would probably be coming this way soon. It was now about 6 PM, when they should have originally arrived, but I figured they’d be a little later than normal due to more frequent stopping as a result of the heat. I looked back in the other direction and saw dark clouds beginning to obscure the sun and it looked like it was about getting ready to pour. That was the clincher and I headed back down without making it all the way to the wall (Jessica had told me that once, just before they got to the end of the walk at Simitae, where I was know, it started to rain and hail and it made for a very unpleasant ride home, all soaking wet, and I didn’t want to be in that situation).

I headed back, and before I could I looked at and then bought the stupid book the woman was selling. The clincher was that it had pictures of the Jingling portion of the wall AND it was written in several languages including Mandarin and French. But once I did this, another leach descended on me and I spent the entire walk back telling her NO as forcefully and as many times as possible, but I don’t think she was ever going to take no for an answer. I finally sat down on a rock ledge and tried to do centering prayer, and although this was less than ideal, when I got up they were gone!!!

I got back to the bottom, and bought another water, still looking for a nice place to sit and never really finding one. I went back to the car, since it looked like on the map that their MIGHT be another way down that would avoid the cable bridge, and I knew if I was with them I would most certainly have tried to find any way to avoid that bridge. But when I made my way back to the car, the driver was sound asleep in the back seat and no one else around. So I dropped off the book and decided to walk around the new youth hostel that was under construction. I learned all kinds of Chinese construction techniques. The painting on a pagoda-like structure was really beautiful. I also watched these two groups of four each, one male, one mixed, playing a card game. Kind of like spades, but different in many ways, including the use of multiple decks of cards. I was disappointed when I saw they were using good old regular playing cards and not some kind of exotic Chinese ones. In the hutongs I did see some old Chinese guys playing what could have been a type of checkers, but the pieces were like the size of a Gouda cheese. And at the first place we went to at the Wall, I saw some folks playing a Chinese dominoes-like game. But this was just a plain old card game.

There was like a restaurant area that they also seemed to be rehabilitating. It had a nice patio area with a really pretty, large stone tiled floor with a little waterfall and pond, but no chairs yet.

After a while, I made my way back down to the stream again, and there were two guys fishing. One guy looked about 16 (although he could have been in his 20s) and was wearing a Piston’s basketball jersey and pants, while the other guy was probably in his 30s. I watched the 16 year old for a minute and sure enough he pulled up a fish just like that, but then it came up past the bank and it was only 2 inches long! I laughed out load thinking it was a mistake, but he took off the minnow and threw it in a hole in the ground with about 8 others, and I realized this was what he was fishing for! He’d put a little dough on a tiny hook, about 2 feet below the longest, skinniest, greenest bobber like contraption I’d ever seen. He just had a long bamboo pole, and he’d drop it in the water upstream and let it float down. And nearly every time, the bobber would go down, and he’d try and set the hook by pulling it up, and about every other time the dough would be gone, and about every 10th time he’d catch a little fish. He’d just stay in one spot on the bank while his buddy walked every where trying to catch one and this guy was just steadily catching them. After each catch, he’d yell something out to his friend, I presume the number of how many fish that totaled up to, but who knows? He could have been saying, “look at this stupid white guy watching us catch these minnows – he probably thinks this is what we’re fishing for – hah, hah!” Of course it sounded like only a single word, but you can never tell in the Chinese language, a single word can mean a whole sentence. It’s all in the inflection you know.

So I laid on the bank of the river (all stones, laid in mortar, so hardly a normal river bank, and then two feet of very cultivated plantings, a small, 10-inch high bamboo “fence” and then the paved walkway), even though the sign clearly said “deep lake, do not stay on bank” and alternated between watching them fish and looking up at the Great Wall towering up the cliffs of Mordor! That’s it, that’s what it reminded me off. I can’t believe I didn’t think of it then! Oh man, that’s so stupid of me. Oh well, it was cool regardless of the analogy.

It never did rain, although I did feel a drop or two and heard some thunder. My “guide” had earlier told me that 25 people had been killed by lightening right there on that portion of the wall just a day or two ago. At least that’s what I thought she said. As it turns out, there was an article in Monday’s paper that said one person was killed and another injured at the spot we were at when they were struck by lightening. The person killed was 25 years old, so maybe that’s where the 25 came from? The paper said that they think it was their cell phone that caused the lightening strike. There was a sign there that said something like “No use of EC (electronic communication?) during thunder bolt” so I guess that’s what they meant.

That reminds me of the other signs. I wish that I’d of had a camera or a notebook (I can’t believe I didn’t have my notebook – you certainly would have) to remember them all. One said something like “Always maintain beauty and healthy environment” – I guess it meant don’t litter? And another said something like “If you remove plants it will negatively affect your life since all are one” – do not pick the flowers? There were hundreds of them like this everywhere.

So eventually I found my way back to the car again and the driver kept babbling something to me in Chinese (the only real communication we ever had was when I figured out he was 37 and I told him I was 51, at least that’s what I think we said to each other. Anyway, he tried to explain something to me, all pointing and gibberish, and then he gets out his phone and dials the number and hands it to me. I figure he’s calling Jessica, and wondering where they are, but why he insists on me talking I don’t know. The next thing I know someone’s babbling in Chinese on the phone, and I could only say “Jessica?” Thank God it was! As it turns out they had already crossed the cable bridge and were heading down the walkway. So I started up to meet them. By this time it was after 7 and everything was closing down, so I bought two waters from the last vendor, and headed back up the hill. I ran into them a little ways down from as far as I made it before. They were all cheery and happy and not nearly dead as I was expecting. They said that it was cool, but it pretty much looked the same in general. There was a place where the wall was in disrepair and there was only a narrow step with just crumbling steps and no sides, another spot I’m glad I missed! And I said surely it wasn’t as steep as what you could see from there, but they said, no, it was that steep in at least one portion, and walking down it was harder than going up. Once again, this reinforced that I had made the right decision!

Jessica and Melissa were desperate for a bathroom, so I showed them where it was as we walked back to the car, but they’d already locked up. I thought they were going to cry! Or at least go into the woods, but they just held out.

So we headed back, just as night fell and the rains came. Oh, before we left, Patrick changed into another shirt he’d brought along, and he literally rang out at least a gallon of water from the shirt that he’d been wearing! It didn’t even look wet when he had it on, but it obviously was. In fact, it was so humid all week, that my clothes would feel damp when I’d put them on in the mornings at the hotel, and I’d wake up all sweaty and clammy. It was really ugly.

As hard as it was for me to believe, the ride home was worse than the ride up, since darkness and rain made it even more of a challenge. Trucks would just be stopped in the middle of the road, broken down, and you’d come flying up to them and nearly hit them. And people were all over the edges of the road, sitting and walking and it was amazing I didn’t see anyone get hit.

Jessica finally asked the driver to stop so she could go to the bathroom – as near as I could tell he just laughed when she asked him to find one. So it was an hour and a half later when he stopped at the same grocery store we stopped at on the way up. They all took off running and I couldn’t get my door open, so Patrick eventually opened it from the outside. We stood around and he had a cigarette with the driver while we watched folks dancing on the corner sidewalk/plaza. Eventually, Patrick asked if I saw where they went to the bathroom and I didn’t know. We went in the grocery store but couldn’t find the restroom, so we went next door to a small restaurant. Neither of us knew what they babbled at us as we came in, but he found the john and we went in. It was truly disgusting – one of the worst smelling, squat style toilets I’d every used and it was not that old of building. When we got done, we just walked back into the restaurant, they all babbled at us, probably saying “do you want a table?” and “you can’t use the toilet without eating” but we just made our way out and back to the car. The others were all there and had once again loaded up with snacks. The driver took off while the back door was open and Bob and Melissa were trying to get in – that was almost a disaster. Apparently while they were in the store, they’d all decided to get a foot massage when they got back to Beijing. They asked if Patrick and I wanted to join them, but I figured it would be nearly 10 and I was already beat from getting up at 4 AM so I declined. But Patrick had already been to this place with Jessica and they said it was unbelievable. There’s like 100 stalls, all on this single floor in a nice building. They have food, and drinks (which sounded pretty good) and they start with about 10 minutes of back and neck rub, then 80 minutes of foot massage (the normal time is only 60 minutes).

The rest of the trip was about the same, as everyone in back tried to doze off but then we’d slam on the brakes, or swerve, or honk madly, making it somewhat difficult. Being in the front seat, I had too good of view to ever want to close my eyes! It was good to see all the lights of the little cities and even Beijing, since I don’t think I’d been out at night at all. Many places are quite garishly lit up. And they’ll have the usual rainbow crossing the road, or a bunch of yellow and orange and blue lights in some kind of weird, artistic hanging lamp kind of sculpture like things all over.

So that’s it for Sunday. I got back to the hotel and had my usual Tsintao and Pringles for dinner and called it a night.

Right now, I’m just flying over Juneau. We were delayed in taking off from Beijing. Just five minutes before we were scheduled to leave, I saw the first raindrops, and then a big storm hit, and we couldn’t take off. It was a real fiasco; we backed away from the gate after about an hour and sat on the tarmac. Then we’d waited so long, we had to go back to the gate for more fuel – it seems that our polar route was no longer available and so we’d have to go farther south, which is longer, and so we needed more fuel and other stuff. Then we had to wait again to take off. When all was said and done, we were more than four hours late! Which will probably mean I’ll miss my connection in Chicago and most likely have to spend the night there now, although there’s a slim chance their might be a late flight to St. Louis. We’ll have to see. Bummer!

Monday, August 15, 2005

Meister-travelogue: Bill nearly dies at the Great Wall.

Before I get started on Sunday, there are a few things I forgot to tell you about Saturday. When I was taking the rickshaw tour of the hutongs I saw what appeared to be a grandmother, holding her granddaughter along the side of the street – no diaper or bottoms of any kind on the poor kid who at most was a year old. I figure the grandmother was trying to – well let’s see, you really can’t call it toilet train – and sewer train is too grass. Let’s just say I think she was trying to housebreak the kid! Seems to me I read somewhere that Chinese kids are toilet trained very young and I suspect that’s what she was doing.

Oh, and I’m always surprised by the English translation on signs. Even at places like the Forbidden City and the Drum Tower there were odd translations. When we were walking by the bars in the “nice area” (the “oldest” street, although I wonder if that’s what he was really saying) there was a sign on a bar that said “be a good mathematician – all drinks two for one!” That might be my favorite! But there were lots more at the Wall!

While I was in the shower Sunday morning, the phone rang. A pretty unusual occurrence so I thought I’d better answer it. It was Xiaojie and she called to say she was sick and would not be going to the Wall today but I could still go. Well, I figured it wouldn’t be any worse than in a bus where I knew no one, so what the heck I figured I’d still go.

So I ate a big breakfast at the hotel. It’s about $25 for the breakfast buffet and usually all I have is a bowl of cereal and a small waffle and fruit. Sometimes I have a ham and cheese omelet instead of the cereal. But today I pigged out since I wasn’t sure what I’d eat the rest of the day and it was a good thing I did.

I met Jessica Gow in the lobby. She didn’t have too much trouble spotting me since there weren’t an overabundance of westerners in the lobby of an office building at 11 on a Sunday – although most of the construction and other activities go on 24/7 it looks like office workers have the weekends off, more or less. Anyway, Jessica is maybe 25, and she’s so thin that it makes her look taller than she is. Jessica grew up in San Francisco and then went to work in Dallas after she joined Mercer. She’s on a year-long assignment in Beijing and moved here four months ago. She lives with her brother who also works in Beijing. It seems like most Chinese speak in a higher octave when speaking in Chinese and their voice becomes much deeper in English. But not Jessica – I think she gets even squeakier and quieter in English.

She tried to get a van but could only rent a car (and driver, Zhao ming han – well, actually his business card says he’s a “dirver” and if that means a crazy insane driver who says “safety is number one” and then proceeds to cut people off left and right, the it’s correct) for the day. He just had a small, Toyota-like station wagon with bucket seats.

In addition to me and Jessica, a couple was going, Melissa and ___ from Mercer (I’ll call him Bob since I can’t remember his name). Bob is an auditor for Mercer and is here doing an audit. He works in their London office, and his wife joined him late last week. He looks Chinese but I never could exactly figure it out. He and his wife were both raised in Australia, and they spoke some Cantonese but not Mandarin, although the characters are the same in both languages they pronounce them differently. They might have been Korean – I don’t know. But they were extremely nice. He as slightly smaller build than me and she was very short. I’d guess they were maybe 30.

And then Patrick, another Mercer person who just started his one-year assignment a couple of weeks ago. He’s from Germany and must be at least 6’6” or more so he literally stands out. He’s about 28 to 30, and his English was pretty good, but he struggled with a few words.

Originally, at my urging due to his size, Patrick sat in the front. Melissa next to one window in the back, then Bob, then Jessica and me. Jessica pretty much had to sit up and not lean back since there wasn’t enough room for all four backs against the seat at the same time. I kind of hung onto the handle above the door and kept my butt off the seat that way. I was beginning to wish I had paid extra and rented my own car and driver! Especially when I found out that it was at least a 2 ½ or maybe 3 hour drive!!!

Traffic was terrible and that’s when I first began to realize we were taking our lives in our hands. This guy was a maniac driver, he’d cut people off so close that I swear one time the hood of our car was under the back overhang of a truck. And lane markings, when the exist, are merely guidelines. There’d clearly be three lanes marked and at least five cars wide would be driving down the street weaving in and out and honking incessantly. I discovered that there does appear to be some rationale to their honking, like whenever you’re going to do something particularly stupid, you seem to honk first as some kind of warning. And heaven forbid if someone cut us off!!! First we’d lay on the horn, and then he’d do everything in his power to get back around the guy. If he felt like he got cut off too close, like the offending car had broken some unwritten rule of the road as to just how close you can cut some off, then he’d get up alongside him and just edge sideways as we passed the guy, kind of forcing him out of his lane, and then cut back in front of him.

We headed out of town and everyone was all talkative – there were usually two conversations going on at a time. But after about an hour and a half we were just beginning to get out in the country, in some “town” with gaudy hotels and neon-lit KTVs bars all up and down the strip (Karaoke Television). They had a big roundabout and in the middle of it was about a half scale model of the great wall, with four towers, and a way to walk along it. I was beginning to think maybe we should just stop and have our picture taken here! As we wound our way through town, first we got gas and then we pulled into a food store.

Everybody was getting snacks and sandwiches to take with them on the hike. Melissa and Bob had a huge cart full of food. I looked and looked and couldn’t find anything that looked like something I’d want to eat! I finally bought a can of Pringles-equivalents, some trail mix (more or less, I think) and some kind of nut. And the driver thought he’d do us all a favor and buy us some popsicle like things, since it was so bloody hot and muggy. So while we’re getting our food, he’s in the long line to get popsicles. I’d already decided that I wasn’t going to risk eating any ice cream or anything too cold – didn’t want any problems while hiking. So when he started passing them out, I tried to politely say no, but he didn’t understand English so he eventually made me take it. So we’re all there with our popsicles and everyone is like – what flavor is this? Jessica and Melissa turned theirs back in for something more akin to ice cream. The popsicle he had given me, I couldn’t figure out what flavor it was – it had something like peas on the paper wrapping. But surely it couldn’t be peas – anyway I wasn’t going to find out. So after they all ate their’s, Bob took mine and opened it up. It wasn’t peas – it was green beans!!!!!! Man, even he didn’t like it. He took about three bits and threw it away.

So then we got back in the car and I got the front seat (although Jessica had called shotgun earlier, I was the only one who knew what she meant) and Patrick got in the back. I had to pull the seat all the way up and then I realized that maybe there was something more than just co-worker relationship between him and Jessica. Or at least they were willing to be more chummy than when I was sitting in the back! Duh!

I didn’t mind the front since my back was starting to act up a little due to the weird way I was sitting in the back, except that there wasn’t much room for my legs in front, it gave me too good of view of the driving maniacs, and the A/C blew right on me, which was both a plus and a minus. As we were leaving the store, it started to thunder and drizzle and I thought the day might be ruined – but since I figured we’d soon be in some remote hospital as a result of a car accident, I didn’t care too much.

The road started getting narrower. We had already dropped from three lanes plus a bike lane (which is really just another driving lane when you wanted to pass someone on the right, but apparently you can’t stay in that lane too long for fear of getting a ticket. Oh, and at every stop light, people line up like it’s the start of the Indy 500 or something. And if the guy ahead of you doesn’t start off fast enough, you just start shifting lanes and passing them any which way you can. It’s bizarre! The newer stop lights have an electronic counter that counts down how many seconds of red (and green) remain which makes the start just that much more interesting. And people just start making left turns in front of you even though they have a red. Weird!

And road construction was nearly everywhere. Not that there’d be any warning. You’d just suddenly come across a trench across the road, the inverse of a speed bump, or they’d have shaved off the top couple of inches of pavement willy nilly in small and large pieces all across the road, and people would be swerving and braking. It’s hard to imagine, but I think that the road construction actually made them drive even crazier!

I thought that I had seen crazy driving in other places, but I have to admit, this takes the cake.

Eventually we made our way up into the hills. Looked like primarily metamorphic rocks with some volcanics. It was so foggy and rainy that you couldn’t see the hills very well, but it began to clear up. And we were definitely down to single lanes in each direction (more or less) and no more bike lanes. Of course the traffic hadn’t really reduced that much, so it just meant everyone from walkers, to bikers, to motopeds, cars and trucks ranging in size from three wheelers to flat beds carrying two rows of truck chassis side-by-side (so effectively two trucks wide) now had to squeeze down to a single lane and shoulder, with overflow into the oncoming lane. People just kind of take over parts of the oncoming lane and then when a car or truck comes at you, it’s lights flashing and horn honking, and you just kind of ease your way back over to your lane and the poor guy you were next two gets to choose between the getting squeezed off the road or hitting his brakes.

And everyone’s passing around the food they bought. There were prawn chips (shaped kind of like French fries but crispy like potato chips but made from shrimp – not too bad actually. And dried squid (way too chewy – I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to swallow it), and all kinds of spicy things that I passed on but which you would have loved. And weird little plastic thimbles full of some jello-like substance – I was afraid to ask what kind of jello.

Finally, after another hour and a half, we began to see the wall on the hilltops on the other side of the river. It was pretty cool, although also pretty run down – the stones had fallen out in most places and it looked more like ruins than a wall, but the towers were more or less identifiable. So we pulled onto a side road, through some kind of replica of the wall (Bob thought it was actually the real Wall) and made our way up a couple miles to a parking area. As we bought the tickets, I purchased a hat for RMB20. Then we went through the gate and the hats were RMB10 so I knew it was going to be a long day of haggling. There were people EVERYWHERE trying to be our guide or sell us something or another. Fortunately, Jessica could tell them “no” in Chinese and they left us more or less alone. There were old, run down hotel rooms and restaurants (that’s being kind) and lots of people selling water and coke since it was unbearably hot.

You could see the Wall now, up at the top of the hills – about as high and steep as the hills around Pikeville.

We had an option of taking a cable car up to the wall, but Jessica wanted to use the restroom, and by the time we found it we were halfway to the wall so just went ahead and kept on walking. The restroom was a classic outdoor squat-type affair – stunk to high heaven. The girls came out nearly crying and fortunately Jessica had wet-ones for them to clean up with. It would be a long time before they’d use a john again!

We kept walking up and up and up the paved road. Then steps, and we climbed and climbed. Eventually we actually got to the Wall, and I’m already dying! We relaxed for a few minutes and took in the view. It was pretty spectacular, although it was so hazy you couldn’t see as far as you’d like. But you could see the wall stretching to about five towers in three different directions. You’re right on the spine of the ridge. Kind of made me wonder why you even needed to build a wall, since it didn’t seem very likely to me that most armies would be able to make it up the steep terrain to begin with.

As long as you stood right in the wall openings, the breeze was very cool. But take one step to the side or back and there was no breeze whatsoever. Then we started climbing along the wall top. There were several hundred steps, most just about two inches high, making it awkward to take one or two steps at a time. The top of the Wall was about ten to 15 feet wide. And then it got steeper, the steps got about 10 inches high, and we just kept going. Got to the next tower and turned right. I was beginning to have second thoughts about this whole thing. I had tried to ask Jessica in the car about the hike but she wasn’t very informative, even though this was her fifth trip to the Wall since she’d been there. I did find out, however, that it was a four-hour hike, one-way, and that the driver was going to pick us up at the end.

So I’m beginning to think I made a critical error. It was just TOO HOT and MUGGY and I was already dying after only two towers down and 36 to go. We made our way to the next tower, and there was an area where you had to walk along a very narrow walkway along the outside of the wall or take a bunch of steps down and back up. By now you can see the route we’re going to take, and you can see the wall stretching forever, although when I count the tower’s there’s only 12 or so, so I know that what I’m seeing is just the beginning of the hike. As we all rest and catch our breath, I begin to explore other possible options. I didn’t like admitting I couldn’t do this, but my arms were beginning to tingle again and I saw no end in site. We talked about my going back, but Jessica said the driver had already taken off to pick us up. I was willing to take my chances and see if I could hire another driver to take me back. Or they said they’d come back for me after they were done, but I knew this would add at least 30 minutes each way, or over an hour total to the time to get back, and that didn’t sound too good. We had started at around 2 and it was now about 3. They’d hope to get done by 6 or 6:30. Eventually Jessica called the driver on his cell phone with the only cell phone of the three of theirs that had a signal. He was heading back to get me, but not pleased about it. They gave me one of their cell phones to take with me, although it didn’t have any signal it would be better than nothing. Patrick and Melissa were giving serious thoughts to going back with me but eventually they both decided to stick it out. They left and I was on my own, hot and feeling kind of lost. I saw what looked like a vendor’s booth a little way further along so I went and bought water and tried to cool off. I poured it on my head and arms and drank some but it was too cold.

I took my time going back. Stopping frequently and trying to stay cool, but it was getting worse, not better. I sat in the breeze at the top of the first tower for a long time before heading back down into the stifling, dead air. As we were walking up, there were a bunch of taxis and motorbike-like pickup trucks offering to ferry us up the hill. I was praying that one would come along so I could ride down, but no one showed up. I began the rosary, figuring that the sorrowful mysteries would keep me going. I would walk a hundred yards, sit and pour water on me and take a small drink and rest, then do the same thing again. I don’t know how long it took me to make it down, but eventually I was only about a hundred yards from the entrance when a motorbike-pickup arrived. He wanted RMB20 to take me down the last 100 yards. I just sat there and said “no”. Eventually he worked his way down to RMB5 and I said okay. I had thought that Jessica told me that the driver wanted me to come all the way out to where he turned off the side road, so I figured if we got to the main parking area and he wasn’t there, I’d try and explain to him where I wanted him to drive me to, since it was several miles – given the fact that the driver, no driver for that matter in the area, spoke English, I thought this would be tricky, but there was a big sign that had a map, and I figured I could always point to where I wanted to go on it and try to negotiate a rate.

Fortunately for me, the driver was at the parking area. I hopped off and didn’t have anything smaller than a RMB10 to pay the guy. I figured he’d keep it, but instead he went over and got a coke to give me.

I found out later that the driver said he was there for over an hour and kept asking everyone if they saw an American! I had tried to tell Jessica that I was going to take my time, first to enjoy the wall and second because of the heat, but I don’t think that message got to the driver so he had been expecting me for a long time.

We got in his car, and the A/C was like I had died and gone to heaven. I was afraid that it might not be good for me to get so cold so fast, but I didn’t really care!!! As we drove away, I realized that in addition to the tingling, I couldn’t hardly see. Everything was foggy around the edges and only in the very middle of my sight was anything clear. It took me a while to figure out if this was me or just hazy weather, but eventually, as it got hazier and darker I was pretty sure it was me suffering from the heat. And the driver didn’t speak English so I was beginning to wonder what he was going to do when I passed out!

But the A/C did the trick, and the rest of the water, and by the time we got to the site where he was going to pick up the rest of the crew, I was feeling pretty perky again. We parked in some shade, but the air was still too dead for me, so I told him I was going for a walk. I don’t think he ever figured out what I was going to do and he wasn’t too keen about letting me out of his site, but off I went.

I eventually figured out how to buy a ticket for this site (another RMB30) and started making my way to the wall. It was a really dramatic view from here – you could see it going nearly straight up from a reservoir, up and up and up, probably a couple of thousand feet of what looked to be nearly straight up. But that was the opposite direction from where they should be coming. I made my way about halfway up the path to the wall, and looked at the map and looked at the reservoir. Sure enough, the way that they were coming would require them to walk across a narrow, cable bridge several hundred feet above the reservoir! Man, if Jessica had told me that from the get-go, I never would have even thought about hiking to here. I could just imagine my surprise, if I had kept hiking – I’m sure I would have been nearly dead by the time I had gotten here, only to see this narrow, swinging bridge keeping me from getting the last quarter mile to the car. I would not have been able to head back and wouldn’t have wanted to go on. Man was I glad I did what I did!

[Bill's Monday morning email tells me...] Just made it through customs and untold lines at the Beijing airport. I think the worst is over, and now I'm in the business class lounge with two hours to kill. Only food in here is noodle soup things that you pour hot water into. But I'm still sweating like a pig and don't think that hot soup is what I'm looking for!

And the 12 hours in a plane, three hour layover in Chicago, and the flight home.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

More from our man in Beijing, China.

Bill decides to take in the sites on Saturday. His description is a bit long, but worth reading if you've never been to China and find this sort of thing interesting:

Well, it’s about 4 on Sat afternoon, and I’ve returned to the hotel for protein and a rest. Actually, I’ve been out and about for the last 7 hours and was afraid I was going to experience heatstroke. Literally, my arms were tingling and it was spreading to my back and neck. That’s when I decided to grab a cab back to the hotel. For you see, while it’s only in the 80s temperature. It must be nearly 100% humidity. I do get a morning paper in English – well it’s about 10 pages or so and has mainly “interesting” news from remote regions of China, but that’s a whole nother story – anyway the paper this morning warned that people were collapsing from the extreme humidity, and I saw plenty of them.

I woke up this morning at nearly 6 AM – a record, and pretty remarkable since I was in bed before 8 PM – I guess two beers is all I needed to get a good night’s sleep. I watched a stupid movie on HBO, and left around 9 AM. I have to admit a bit of apprehension on venturing out on my own. Stopped at an ATM and withdrew money with my US Bank card – have no idea how much RMB1,000 is – actually there’s 8 RMB to the dollar, so this was about 125 dollars. Anyway, I was thinking about stopping for breakfast, but that dinner last night of Tsingtao and Pringles was still giving me enough energy to start walking towards Tiananmen Square. Passed a KFC, Pizza Hut, McDonalds and a slew of Chinese restaurants (a sign for a Justine’s Restaurant touted “Feel Fine Dining”). I went in what I think was a department store – but Harrah’s it was not. It was chock full of little booths, and as near as I could tell each booth was someone else’s stuff – all kinds of jackets, shirts, jeans, etc. in no particular order. English speaking sales people being very pushy and trying to get me to buy their wares. But it was typical Western-style clothes. Nothing special.

A few blocks later I went in what was much more like a typical mall. There was a McDonald’s and it was right at 10 AM – they were changing all the signs from breakfast to lunch menu, so I walked around the mall a bit (the Volkswagen dealership in the middle of the mall I thought was an interesting touch), then headed back to Mickey-D’s. I had only walked for an hour or so, and I was already ready to sit in some AC at McDs. There was some weird kind of pita-like bread stuffed sandwich, and spicy hot wings, I went with the standard double cheeseburger, Diet Coke (actually Coke Light) and fries. The English speaking manager jumped to wait on me and not have me wait in line, so I ordered the No. 9. The fries were classic McD’s, but the burger was just a touch odd. Not bad, just a little different, and I can’t put my finger on how. I sat and observed the people for a while. Their was a large older teenage girl sitting by herself and reading. As near as I could tell, some guy tried to pick her up, but to no avail. Then a young girl sat at the table next to me. Her boyfriend brought her an ice cream cone while he waited for their order. He was on cloud 9 and obviously trying to impress this chick. Watching them was a real treat and made me realize the universality of humanity for some strange reason.

After I ate, I finished walking through the mall. Looked at disposable cameras but decided against it. Also looked at digital cameras at the Sony store, but they were still $300 for the cheapest (I think) so I passed.

Eventually made my way to Tiannaman Square and the swelling mass of Chinese humanity was overwhelming. At the south end of the square is Mao’s mausoleum, but I elected not to go pay my respects. His quite large picture, however, was hanging over the entrance to the Forbidden City on the north side, where I was. Big government buildings of some kind were on the east and west side, with about a thousand Chinese flags everywhere.

I decided to try and make my way to the Forbidden City, and just got with the mass of folks heading that way. Went over a small bridge over a moat-like stream and went through the gate in the pagoda-like building – the first of MANY.

In the first courtyard, I tried to figure out where to buy a ticket. Only saw venders selling who knows what, so made my way through the next pagoda-like building into yet another courtyard. In there, English-speaking “guides” tried to get me to hire them, but eventually I found where you bought tickets. There were people EVERYWHERE! Then I saw the audio-tour booth – I had read last week on an internet site that the English version, narrated by Roger Moore, was worth it. It was a much shorter line, with only one or two ahead of me, so I went there first instead of getting behind the 100s in the ticket line. Fortunately, I could not only get the audio-guide but also my ticket. I thought this was a great move, and so I got in line to get through the gate in the next pagoda-like building, gave my ticket to the guy and showed him my audio ticket – he really didn’t care and just pushed me along. When I got into the next courtyard, I saw a guy who looked Western and he had on his audio thing, so I asked him where he got it. Yep, there was another booth in the previous courtyard so I had to head back out. I kept asking folks if I could get back in with my ticket, but nobody seemed to care. While standing in line for the audio, I was listening to the folks ahead of me, and they were discussing how they were NOT going to give them their passport as a deposit for the audio gear. That didn’t sound like a good idea to me either. Then a guy, who looked like anyone else visiting (as opposed to most “officials” who always were some type of uniform) comes up to me and another guy and asks for our tickets. We give them to him, and he asks for our passports. We balk. Then he says you can leave RMB100. That sounds better but WHO is this guy and will I really get my audio gear, much less my money back. Then he says we can leave our hotel room key. That sounds best, but I have this vision of him emptying my room while I’m touring. He thinks I’m with the other guy, and I almost got by not giving him anything, but the other guy finally clears him up and I have to give him my room key. Then me and the other guy are concerned that he’ll be able to keep us separate and he won’t get my key and vice versa at the end of the tour. I’m more interested in trying to find out how I’ll get it back since I want to exit on the north side, which must be a mile away and not wind my way back through the site (another tip from the internet). He keeps reassuring us, but I figure I’ll be spending an hour later in the day explaining to the folks at the China World Hotel how I need another key, but we get the audio set and I head back in. I decide to wait in the long line that’s going to the same guy who let me in earlier. While it took awhile, eventually I get up and he looks at my ticket (which he already ripped half off) and waves me through.

Roger [Moore] and I made our way alternating from one courtyard to palace to courtyard, with him explaining all the details. But it was a mass of humanity and almost impossible to get up and look at some of the details. I thought one of the most interesting things was that the 3 or 4 “external” palaces where the emperor’s met dignitaries (as opposed to the internal ones where they actually lived) were elevated on these three levels of limestone placing them up about 50 feet or so. And all around the three tiers are 11,000 limestone gargoyle like drains for rainwater. Roger says it’s a beautiful sight to watch the water pour out of each as it makes it way down during a rainfall. Almost makes me wish it would rain.

The buildings of the Forbidden City were originally built by the Ming Dynasty in the early 1400s. I was expecting much older. They’ve all been burned down and rebuilt several times but always exactly like before.

The far end of the tour were the private gardens. These were pretty nice. Lot’s of cypress trees and weirdly eroded limestone piles. At one place was a human-built mountain of these rocks with a small pagoda-like building at the top. During some festival, each year in the fall I think, the Emperor and Empress would ascend the mountain and spend the night of two…somethings. Anyway, it was cool.

At the north side I found where to turn in my audio set and sure enough got my room key back. I walked over a huge mote and then the traffic hits you pretty hard, although the relief from the mass of humanity was good. There was another pagoda building atop a small hill across the street, so I made my way over there. I couldn’t decide if I should go in, and then I started getting hit up by a bicycle rickshaw guy. Against my better judgment, I decide to go with the guy to the Temple of Drums and Bells. I negotiated him down to RMB15 each way (only to discover later he meant RMB50!). Anyway, instead of heading straight there, we head down the side streets and take a tour of the hutongs. My map tells me that this is interconnecting, winding old laneways and buildings that are fast being replaced by modern housing. Although the map and hotel room mags say this is a good tour, I have to admit quite a bit of apprehension as I head down these NARROW streets. I keep thinking he’s going to go into a deadend and that will be the end of me! But as long as I keep seeing kids and others walking around I feel okay, but everyone once in a while, gulp! Then we’ll pass a police station and I’ll think, this is okay. He explains how to tell the rank of the officials that built or lived in each building by the different doorways (number of steps and number of “things” sticking out over the top of the doorway, as well as the type of statue on each side of the door). Some of the lanes are barely narrow enough for the bike to make it through, and in others we occasionally run into cars. There were nice restaurants interspersed with pretty disgusting hovels, with what passes for a stove near the door, and it was just too weird to describe. When we finally had to pass over a big street, I saw the only other white folks, but they were lost and only spoke some European language and not English.

I saw where Mao lived in 1919 and other “things”. I noticed that there was only public restrooms, about one on every block or so. Eventually I figured out these were the only restrooms for the folks on the block – weird. And occasionally smelly. Hundreds of stores all around. I really liked the one full of live chickens in cages!

Eventually we got to the Drum Tower. It was pretty cool looking. I had to pay RMB20 to get in, and then we went up 70 of the largest stone steps up this narrow stairway. I wasn’t sure I would make it to the top, and I sure wasn’t looking forward to coming down. But the whole area at the top was full of the coolest, biggest, horizontal drums, including what they say was the largest in the world. There was a water-powered timepiece at the top, and they would beat out the time for the emperor, who’s palaces were about a mile or so south. I looked at tall the drums and waited for the 2 PM show, which was UNBELIEVAB LE! Two persons beating drums on each side of a main drummer. NICE!

Then we made our way down – it wasn’t too bad. Went outside and walked down a narrow street – I think my “guide” said it was the oldest street in Beijing. But it was pretty nice, lots of bars and restaurants and stores. We winded around and went past a lake where you can rent a boat. Very interesting. Then back to the rickshaw and back towards the Forbidden City. That’s where I got into an argument about the final price. I didn’t like it, but actually I didn’t mind paying what I did – a combination of US $ and RMB that I think was about $50. Too much but all in all worth it, but I did not like the way this guy behaved – and I thought he was such a nice guy too.

I originally was going to go through a park, but that’s when my arms started tingling. I tried a couple of times to get a cab, but I didn’t know if I’d have enough RMB so I was apprehensive. Finally, as the tingling spread, I decided to take a chance and figured I could always get more RMB at the hotel if I didn’t have enough. But in actuality, it was only RMB25 (or a little over $3) to get back. Of course, that made me realize how much I got ripped off by the rickshaw guy, but in reality for all the sweating he had to do peddling me around, he deserved it. I just wish he’d been more forthright upfront – and after I thought I had it all negotiated too!

Friday, August 12, 2005

Life Guard On Duty

Gas prices UP

Petroleum prices rise and gasoline costs are $2.55 a gal. in St. Louis, up from $235 this morning. Not that it bothers me. Me and my Prius are getting 50 miles a gallon. While the SUV drivers spend their cash at the pump, I prefer to spend mine on other things.

I do not feel I've sacrificed anything to drive for less. The tank holds about ten gallons, which means the fill up is a little over $20 after 490 miles. The display screen for trip information shows the driver exactly how many mpg the Prius is getting at every moment. When I step on the gas, I can see the bar graph drop and I know my gas mileage is going down. Then, I coast down hill or on a steady plane and the graph rises to 99.0 mpg averaging out around 48 mpg by the end of the day. Sweet.

If you come up behind a Prius, forget tailgating to intimidate the drive to increase speed. Won't happen. The Prius driver is involved in a game of skill to keep the bar graph maxed out at the top. SUV drivers closing in the rear bumper are considered an annoying minor hazard, easily ignored for the non-risk they pose, as in any video game. The goal is achieving the highest average for mpg and earning car icons along way. Each icon stands for 50wh of power stored in the battery. My best is two sets of three cars--stackin' up-- in just a 30 min. drive.

Middle Eastern oil, who needs it? This planet's resources are sacred. Not to mention limited. If we have to bow to the Japanese for new technology that allows us to thumb our nose at the Saud family, so be it. American car makers are figuring it out and more cars and buses will be fuel conscious every day. No one wants to burns their money on the open road. No one except a few with more testosterone than brain.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Bill's in China and enjoying the other side of the globe. Here are some exceprts from his travels:
For the most part, they’ve been pretty good. First, we always seem to order way too much food. Every meal starts out with some nuts and another snack. Usually, its cashews, which are pretty easy to grab with chop sticks. But today was the real test – peanuts. Pretty challenging I must say, but I rose to the occasion and never dropped a one, which is more than I can say about Jeff or Martin, a new guy who got back to work today after moving this week.

Anyway, in addition to the peanuts today, there were also some kind of little fried things – looked like little pork rinds, but boy was I surprised when I ate ONE, and only ONE. Don’t know WHAT it was and don’t want to know!

Then the real meal starts. Kind of like tapas, they just keep bringing on separate plates of food, at least five or six different ones, but these are always BIG plates.

The rice always comes last, except for today since Martin asked for it early. Today’s was plain white rice, but it’s usually some kind of fried rice.

...[lunch one day]
Everyone is dressed so nice in their distinctive uniforms showing their rank, ranging from women in sharp business suits (your dining consultant who takes your orders – they even have business cards they give you, and remote cell phone ear and mouthpieces for communicating with the kitchen, etc.), to the yellow-dressed waitresses that fill you glass and deliver food. A gal in whatever the Chinese equivalent to a yellow kimono who guides you to your table – and I mean guide, there’s two of them that walked us up this grand staircase. At every landing they sweep their hands elegantly to warn you of the next step up or down. As we were leaving, two of us practically carried us down each step – they just kept following us all the way to the outside steps – I thought they were going to keep walking down the street to China Coal’s office with us, pointing out every little step and hazard in our way. And at the main exit, there were lined up five red-clad kimono gals in a line on each side, who bowed gracefully as we walked between them, and sang some little Chinese ditty about, I suppose, “glad you came, please hurry back.” It was pretty bizarre. Not to mention the food, which I’ll save for later.

...Jeff [American working with Bill who lives in China] said he was in St. Louis once – took his wife [who is Chinese] for a weekend visit with some friend from college or something. After the weekend, Jeff asked his wife what she thought of St. Louis (she’d been to both coasts a lot but never the Midwest). She said she found Midwesterners somewhat different than folks on the coasts. When Jeff asked her what she meant, she said – well they don’t use eating utensils. Jeff thought back on what they ate, and had some kind of bar-be-que at his friends, went to a bar and got sandwiches and to a Cardinal’s game for hot dogs – sure enough all “hand food” and never used a fork and knife all weekend. Jeff assured her that we know how to use eating utensils, just didn’t eat the right kind of food that required it. Speaking of utensils, I’m doing pretty good with chop sticks, but am looking forward to using a knife and fork again!

Guess we won't be eating at Hunan Royal when he gets home. I'll bet we have a lot of
BBQ or pasta.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Speaking of Beginnings

Ongoing discussions between those who believe in evolution and those who hold intelligent disign as the corner stone of life are all over the news. Sorting it out isn't easy, probably because most of us see big picture answers: God created the world vs. it just happened. Should children learn in a public school science classroom about intelligent design or just about evolution or neither or one or the other? Science has nothing to say about intelligent design. Can't be proven. Can't write an equation for it. Is it science? Is it speculation? Is it faith?

To clarify the position: "Consider these words from George Gaylord Simpson, widely recognized as one of the principal architects of the neo-Darwinian synthesis: “The process [of evolution] is wholly natural in its operation. This natural process achieves the aspect of purpose without the intervention of a purposer; and it has produced a vast plan without the concurrent action of a planner. It may be that the initiation of the process and the physical laws under which it functions had a purpose and that this mechanistic way of achieving a plan is the instrument of a Planner - of this still deeper problem the scientist, as scientist, cannot speak.”

Exactly. Science is, just as John Paul II said, silent on the issue of ultimate purpose, an issue that lies outside the realm of scientific inquiry. This means that biological evolution, correctly understood, does not make the claim of purposelessness. It does not address what Simpson called the “deeper problem,” leaving that problem, quite properly, to the realm of faith." ----by Kenneth Miller

I can't see not telling children about a biological process that is provable--how life evolves. It does. When did it begin? We don't know. We can't even agree when life begins now. At conception? At implantation? At birth? How are we gonna teach its beginnings of so long ago. Basically, people are going to believe, really sink their teeth in believe, what makes them feel comfortable. If they aren't comfortable with it, they look for and/or are fairly easily converted to something that does make them comfortable. We like to be comfortable. Except saints, they don't mind a little discomfort. Draw your own conclusion.

Do certain scientists not believe in God and dismiss intelligent design? Sure they do. And really smart ones, too. Like Sagan. But he has by now found out the real truth. THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE--billions and billions of stars away. The knowledge of our time makes it difficult to believe in things unseen. Yet, we all seem ready to believe in quantum physics and the magic therein. Afterall, we have seen the dark side of the moon. The knowledge of science makes it very difficult to believe in heaven. Heaven is out there, too. But we can't seem to find it. Or maybe it isn't OUT THERE. Maybe it's closer than we think. It makes us uncomfortable that we don't know anymore what it looks like [--see Dante's illustration]. Makes us take life more seriously, hang on to it with both hands, and very uncomfortable with life after death. Hard to believe in things that make us uncomfortable.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Earliest Blogs?

According to W. Caleb McDaniel of Common-place, the eighteenth century writer, Henry Clarke Wright, was [one of] the earliest bloggers if public journaling can be considered a forerunner of the blog tradition. McDaniel offers this analysis:
[Wright's] reflections on writing are eerily evocative of what it is like to blog. Wright shared several traits with the prototypical bloggerÂ?his eccentric range of interests, his resolution "to write down what I see and hear and feel daily," his use of journals to "let off" rants of "indignation," his utopian conviction that writing might change the world, and (not least) his practice of spending the "greater part of the day writing in his room."

Still available in some form , Wright's "blogs" can be enjoyed today. The McDaniel article also offers a brief overview of the Big Bang of Blogging.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Selling Your House?
Let St. Joseph help

The benefits (or not) of an underground realtor--
forget sending $9.95 for the St. Joseph Kit

I bought a statue (before the "kit" was invented; maybe two inches tall, 79 cents--cheap and beige) of St. Joseph before selling our house in Illinois. I asked for his help on that sale and the next four houses we sold as we moved around the country. I never buried the statue, but I prayed, and I put him on the windowsill of every house. After many years of moving him from one windowsill to another, I was surprised when one of my friends picked him up and said, "St. Francis probably enjoys the view of your garden out the window." ST FRANCIS~~? Oh, he's holding a bird--I thought it was Jesus all this time. But ALL five houses sold in five different states within two weeks (or so) of hitting the market. I think prayer and the mediation of saints do work on our behalf--it matters not what statue we use to remind us to pray.

All over the news late this week, Japanese memorials for Hiroshima reminded the world of one country's--one man's--enormous decision to attack an enemy with nuclear power. What would inspire such a decision? I wondered. In America, we have told the story one way. In Japan, they see it differently; their history texts for children tell another story. What is the reason behind Truman's monumental attack?

In the Standard Weekly, Richard Frank tackles the study of this crucial period of time in the 20th century. Evidence drawn from intercepted and heretofore secret radio messages indicates that Japan was not about to surrender. The deaths of the Japanese in the aftermath of the bomb are more than regrettable. But the deaths of millions at the hand of the Japanese imperial government and the great possibility that they did not regret their actions and would continue to execute further brutal invasions leads to one conclusion. Truman had no choice. Frank explains:

"This brings us to another aspect of history that now very belatedly has entered the controversy. Several American historians led by Robert Newman have insisted vigorously that any assessment of the end of the Pacific war must include the horrifying consequences of each continued day of the war for the Asian populations trapped within Japanese conquests. Newman calculates that between a quarter million and 400,000 Asians, overwhelmingly noncombatants, were dying each month the war continued. Newman et al. challenge whether an assessment of Truman's decision can highlight only the deaths of noncombatant civilians in the aggressor nation while ignoring much larger death tolls among noncombatant civilians in the victim nations.

There are a good many more points that now extend our understanding beyond the debates of 1995. But it is clear that all three of the critics' central premises are wrong. The Japanese did not see their situation as catastrophically hopeless. They were not seeking to surrender, but pursuing a negotiated end to the war that preserved the old order in Japan, not just a figurehead emperor. Finally, thanks to radio intelligence, American leaders, far from knowing that peace was at hand, understood--as one analytical piece in the "Magic" Far East Summary stated in July 1945, after a review of both the military and diplomatic intercepts--that "until the Japanese leaders realize that an invasion can not be repelled, there is little likelihood that they will accept any peace terms satisfactory to the Allies." This cannot be improved upon as a succinct and accurate summary of the military and diplomatic realities of the summer of 1945." [emphasis mine]

We will have to live with Truman's decision forever. What seems clear is that his decision would have saved the lives of many more Asians. Or at least that's the conclusion of one historian.

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