Archive for December, 2010

>People are like snowflakes

December 28, 2010

>In the current issue of the New Yorker is a column (The Talk of the Town) titled “All alike, ” about snowflakes.

In elementary school we learned that every snowflake is different. I caught snowflakes on cold microscope slides and tried to examine them with magnifying glasses and maybe a cold microscope, I don’t remember, but I do remember seeing for myself that every snowflake that fell from the skies above Vestavia Hills was different, based on the dozens that I saw.

I wonder if that was my first venture into statistical analysis, using “dozens” to draw conclusions about “millions,” but I digress.

The New Yorker article mentions a sign in the Starbucks at Forty-second and Sixth, that reads, “Friends are like snowflakes: Beautiful and different.”

I don’t know if that sign is a Starbucks standard, or unique to that store – in my one venture into a Starbucks during the Holiday Season this year, I was more focused on deciding between my perennial favorite that includes caramel; or my new BCFF (Best Coffee Fave Forever) that includes peppermint and foam.

And while we often watch the snow fall and exclaim about BIG snowflakes we must realize that those huge flakes are really collections of small snowflakes that have stuck to one another on their way to earth.

These big snowflakes falling in front of our entryway are actually plastic replicas from the Dollar Tree, and they are all alike. (Photo by Paul Davis)

Again I have strayed from my chosen theme for this post, but its so easy to stray when speaking, or writing, or pondering, about snow.

Adam Gopnik, the author of the article, did some research, and discovered that snowflakes are really snow crystals and that (gasp!) they are actually all alike at creation.

Gopnik quotes Australian science writer Karl Kruszelnicki, “As a snowflake falls, it tumbles through many different environments. So the snowflake that you see on the ground is deeply affected by the different temperatures, humidities, velocities, turbulences, etc, that it has experienced on the way.”

Gopnik also suggest Starbucks change their sign to read, “Friends are like snowflakes; more beautiful each time you cross their paths in common descent.”

I would expand that thought a bit. It’s not just friends that are more beautiful. Strangers, as well, in fact, all people are beautiful, as this photo of an overpass in Birmingham (by Jennifer West) attests. This is from Magic City (The graffiti was recently vandalized and soon after painted over).

Try to remember that as you board the bus, or crowd into an elevator, or fight the crowds at the mall, or battle for position on the interstate. We are all, beautiful.

Here’s a video of two snowflakes created with dominoes. And what happens to domino creations?

And here is Enya, “Amid the Falling Snow.” The star of the video is Luna, however, a Dutch cat experiencing her first snow.

>Doing the Methodist thing

December 27, 2010

>I have volunteered to make some cookies and some slaw for Discovery United Methodist Church for Wednesday night when they are assisting with feeding the homeless at Firehouse Shelter, and Bobby and I will serving that evening as well.

Almost 3000 people are estimated to be homeless in the Birmingham area. Firehouse Shelter can house more than 175 men. More than 90% of their clients leave their programs for permanent or transitional housing, or for needed medical treatment.

Firehouse Shelter is the only agency in the area that serves three hot meals every day to its homeless guests. (There will be hot food – more than just slaw and cookies – Wednesday night).

This is one of those things that the United Methodist Church does; a program to help those less fortunate, whatever the reason, without judgment.

Earlier this month Tea Party founder Judson Phillips posted this on his blog. You can read his entire hateful and misinformed post here.

When I was in Washington this past Friday, I walked by the United Methodist Building, next to the Russell Office Building. The sign in front of the United Methodist Building said, “Pass the DREAM Act.”

I have a DREAM. That is, no more United Methodist Church.

He goes on to label the UMC the “first church of Karl Marx.” He criticizes the Methodists for being anti-war, for promoting a healthy nation and for allowing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to be a “member in good standing”.

Never mind that Jesus was a socialist, who advocated for the poor, who was deemed the prince of peace, and who welcomed all.

As United Methodists we do our part to improve the world, to promote peace, and are concerned about those who are less fortunate, and then act on that concern.

Phillips’ blog post is just another Teabagger rant that we should read, in order to be informed, but then ignored.

Contact Discovery UMC or me if you want to lend a hand by cooking some food or serving on Wednesday.

>Christmas 2011

December 27, 2010

>With Christmas 2010 already a memory* I have my sights set on Christmas 2011.

An idea has sprung up in my mind for a different type of Christmas decor by a visit yesterday from my young niece, up visiting from Florida. She has a memory of a “ghostly experience” from the last time she was here. I can’t say anything more, but look forward to something different next December. (Now I just have to figure out a way to remember to do it!)

*Christmas 2010 is not really just a memory, it is still with us. Paper and ribbons still litter the floor. Candies and remnants of cakes are still on the table. Turkey and dressing is still in the refrigerator. And gift cards are still waiting to be redeemed.

Many people experienced their first white Christmas. The National Weather Service said Birmingham did not have a white Christmas, but tell that to all the people who made snowmen and had snowball fights on Christmas day. In Bessemer, we had pretty snowfall on Christmas day, but it didn’t stick (or “lay” as they say in east Tennessee where I used to live).

But north of here there is no doubt they had a white Christmas. This picture was taken standing in the road between the house and garden on the farm in Morgan County, on Christmas morning.

“Frost on the pumpkin” is supposed to be heard in October or November when we have our first frost. These pumpkins are left over from Halloween.

Here in Bessemer we had more snow on the day after Christmas than we did on Christmas day.

My niece had never seen snow so this was a treat for her.

>A Christmas message

December 24, 2010

>This Bessemer Opinions column was first posted in 2009. It is worth repeating.

In Gardendale a business had written on their sign, “Not Xmas. Keep Christ in Christmas.”
Every year undereducated Christians rant about liberals trying to remove Christ from Christmas. Others defend the use of the word.

Even Martha Stewart got in on the act, as she attempted to educate her readers in an article titled “Traditional Xmas Breads” in the December issue of her magazine. In describing the recipe for Christopsomo, a Greek bread with strips of dough across the top that form a cross, or “X”, she writes, “The Greek letter X, or chi, is the first letter of the Greek word for Christ and was used as an early abbreviation. Hence the word Xmas.”

So, Xmas was not some term dreamed up by solstice worshiping heathens or bottom line worshiping retail moguls. It’s a valid, shortened word with the same meaning as Christmas.
Instead of arguing about words, we should all be thinking about the message of the season, “Peace on Earth. Good will to all.”

It’s really quite simple. Since Jesus was born on that cold morning, the world has had a path it could follow that would lead to peace.

But right now our country is involved in two wars and other skirmishes are occurring across the planet. Arguments can be made both for and against these conflicts.

And we are at war among ourselves as well. Racism, sexism, homophobia and class warfare keep us at odds with our family members and neighbors.

“Let there be peace on earth. And let it begin with me,” a popular Christian song begins.

We have a decorative piece sitting on a mantle, a faux stone with the words “Peace on Earth” inscribed. A metal turtle is crawling up the stone, as if to indicate that peace might be slow in coming, but will get here nevertheless.

As Christmas approaches, remember the lonely soldier in the deserts of Iraq or the cold mountains of Afghanistan. Think about the homeless person who because of unfortunate circumstances, poor judgment, or mental illness has little hope. And consider the young people in our community who may be surrounded by family but feel unloved and lost.

We can spread tidings of comfort and joy by reaching out to these people and in doing so we will bring peace on earth a little closer.

Peace on earth, and merry Xmas to all.

>Christmas eve eve

December 23, 2010

>As Christmas approaches a lot of good stuff appears on the internet.

Well, a lot of crappy stuff does too.

Some of you are on Facebook. Here’s a graphic where you might find yourself.

Here are a couple of videos that I wouldn’t have seen if not for the internet. The first one is “A Social Network Christmas,” produced by Igniter Media and portrays how the Christmas story might have played out on Facebook, had it been around back then. Very creative.

Many of us have suffered loss during the past few months. The holiday season is known for being difficult for people who have lost a loved one. My family is dealing with this right now.

Remember the news reports of gay teens taking their own lives after being bullied or harassed that were so prevalent earlier this year? Such deaths are still going on, but the media has tired of that story I guess. But each of those kids represents a family that was shocked to find that their love one was so distraught that they saw no way out. Those families are dealing with the memories and the guilt, and the absence of their loved one right now. Let’s not forget that Christmas can be a horrible time for some who previously thought it was the best day of the year.

LeAnn Rimes joined the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles last week, and honored those young people who are no longer with us with this song.

Be nice this Christmas. And be strong.


>Water sports

December 22, 2010

>First, let me correct something I wrote yesterday.

Regarding the new Dollar General distribution center, the property is on Lakeshore Drive but not at the previously cleared corner I described. The article in the Birmingham News led me to that conclusion. At any rate, it’s good for Bessemer. And we still wonder what the corner development will be.

Second, some weather predictions are mentioning the “S” word for Christmas Day. Birmingham has never had a White Christmas. Could be a once in a lifetime event. Or, it could a wet, dreary, “who wants to roller skate in this weather” kind of day.

Remember getting roller skates for Christmas? The kind with a key that has to be used to tighten the skates on your feet? I do. My kids got roller-blades.

One Christmas, after I was grown, and living on Cherokee Lake in east Tennessee, I got a trick ski for Christmas.

That’s not the trick ski, and the picture wasn’t taken on Christmas, but it’s me skiing on Cherokee Lake, one of the few pictures of that activity.

One Christmas break during college a group of us took a trip to Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia, where we backpacked and camped for several days. Here’s a picture (in keeping with the water theme) of one of my friends and me on the ferry going to the island. I’m the woolly one.

And here I am, once again in Georgia, rafting down the Chattooga River, a trip we took more than once during my college days. Remember the movie, Deliverance? That’s me in the front of this raft. All of the people in this raft, other than our guide, are veterinarians. This picture wasn’t taken at Christmastime.

Here’s Brad Paisley. This video, Water, has some scenes of water skiing that bring back some memories of some crazy stunts we tried. Fortunately, no photographic record exists of those antics.

>Bessemer’s future lights up

December 21, 2010

>An indication of the good things to come in Bessemer is the announcement by Dollar General that they are building a distribution center in Bessemer, just a bit from our house.

We’ve been noticing some site work at the property on Lakeshore Drive at Highway 150. Years ago the site was cleared, something awful was found there during that work, and the property sat unused until a few weeks ago, when some access work began to be done.

Correction: the new facility is not at the site that has been prepared. I misunderstood the newspaper article, which stated “at Alabama 150 and Lakeshore.” Turns out, the Dollar General site is a little further down Lakeshore. Anyway, it’s good news for our part of Bessemer. And, inquiring minds are still curious about the previously prepared site.

The facility will bring about 550 warehouse jobs and 100 dedicated trucker jobs to Bessemer.

This development would not have taken place without the new council and mayor working together to land it. Other sites were in the running, but quick and heavy action beginning on day one of the new administration sealed the deal. Council president Jesse Matthews praised the council and mayor’s actions, saying it took the “newly elected officials to bring this center to the city.”

City attorney Shan Paden said that he had heard positive comments from county and state officials about how the council and mayor had worked together on the project. This is in contrast to the way things worked under the previous administration.

Thank you Mayor Gulley and the Bessemer City Council for working since day one to make this a better place to live. There’s a lot of work still to be done, but we are moving in the right direction and this gives us hope for the future.

Also, the Bessemer School System has fixed some problems, and won’t be losing $1.7 million in state funding as previously feared. Still, you need to return phone calls and emails!!!

Enjoy Shawn Mullins – Light You Up.

>DADT fright

December 20, 2010

>President Obama’s stock has gone up, as his “promise” to get Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repealed on his watch is taking place.

Whenever progress by an oppressed group takes place, those who oppose such actions ramp up their rhetoric, and that is certainly happening now.

American Family Association radio host Bryan Fisher said that other countries that allowed gays to serve openly in their armies only did so because they knew they could depend on the might and the strength and the power of our military. He said they could depend on us to intervene and “wherever necessary to pull their fannies out of the fire and squash the forces of tyranny wherever they raised their ugly heads around the world.”

Now, he says, “Those days are now gone. We will no longer be able to bail out these other emasculated armies because ours will now be feminized and neutered beyond repair, and there is no one left to bail us out. We have been permanently weakened as a military and as a nation by these misguided and treasonous Republican senators, and the world is now a more dangerous place for us all.”

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council was just as bad. “Today is a tragic day for our armed forces. The American military exists for only one purpose – to fight and win wars. Yet it has now been hijacked and turned into a tool for imposing on the country a radical social agenda. This may advance the cause of reshaping social attitudes regarding human sexuality, but it will only do harm to the military’s ability to fulfill its mission”

The Alliance Defense Fund has released a statement, ” “The Senate’s cave-in to pressure from activists to impose homosexual behavior on our military will place our troops’ religious liberties in unprecedented jeopardy. Indeed, the first official casualty of this hurried vote may well be the religious freedom of chaplains and Service members.”

This is all just hype with a purpose of raising money from those easily frightened.

“Impose homosexual behavior on our military?” Who in their right mind thinks this repeal imposes any sexual behavior on anyone? What it imposes is a sense of fairness, and justice. And it takes away the requirement that someone who swears to integrity must lie in order to serve.

My idea of a (male) Marine is a tough, well disciplined guy, for whom thoughts of sex are far from the front of their mind. I have a friend, gay, who is a former Marine, who is 6 foot 5 inches tall and weighs 230 pounds. He is solid muscle, and tough as a rock. He served in Iraq. He was a leader among the men he served with (and they knew he was gay). I would put my money on this man against any straight Marine you can find.

I have another friend, straight, who is a former marine. Oddly enough, he and my other friend share the same first name. He is tough also, not quite as big, but just as tough and disciplined. He also served in Iraq. He told me it makes not an ounce of difference who is next to him in combat, as long as he could shoot straight. He is sure he served with people who are gay, and it doesn’t bother him. Every Marine, by definition, should feel this way. If not, maybe he doesn’t have any business being a Marine.

The crybabies are concerned about troops in combat, but here is the deal. Since there are already gay men in the military, how does this policy change make any difference? A gay Marine is not going to suddenly declare, “I’m gay,” in the foxhole and make advances on his fellow fighters.

And they worry about the showers. Well listen, and listen closely. Straight men have showered with gay men at the gym, in the NFL locker room, at work places, in high school, in coal mines, in the MLB locker room, in the barracks, at the YMCA, in the doctor’s lounge, at the pool, at the auto plant, in middle school, in the NBA locker room, and at the Country Club, and while the gay men might take a look at the straight men, in all honesty, the straight men are looking too. And I know this because straight men compare themselves to others. That’s just a fact. So if a straight man, military or not, is being looked at by an unknown gay guy, what difference does it make if it is a known gay guy? Grow up.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, my idea of a military man is someone who is disciplined enough, and mature enough, and secure enough, to not be bothered by this. And those who are, maybe they should step back and examine their own sexuality and insecurities, and they might be surprised with what they discover.

And for someone like me, a citizen who depends on the military for my freedom, I am just thankful that we have men, and women, who are willing to step up to the task of serving this way, and I don’t mind of they are straight. Or gay.

>Bessemer schools deficient

December 17, 2010

>I had a little confidence in the Bessemer School System even though they don’t return phone calls and they don’t respond to emails and they don’t reply to written letters and they avoid people who enter their hallowed domain. Oh, and they ignore state laws about anti-bullying policies.

But all confidence has now left as they have ignored the State Department of Education’s directive for bringing the system’s vocational school up to standards.

Now the state is threatening to cut $1.7 million of the system’s state funding for ignoring them.

I guess I could have told state schools Superintendent Joe Morton to expect to be ignored. I’m not ready to name names, but there is certain individuals in that brick building that have ignored every thing I have sent to them, and this article has reminded me of that.

Because of their ineptness the system has closed their hospitality and tourism program, and their automotive technology program. Students in these programs would have been prepared to enter the workforce, or to continue their education in those fields.

Now the business management and administration program; the family studies and community services program; and the cosmetology program are in danger, each program having specific deficiencies that the system has chosen to ignore, thus putting more Bessemer students at risk of not being prepared when they graduate from high school.

Photo credit Michelle Williams Birmingham News

The Bessemer School board is blaming Superintendent Michael Foster (who has not once responded to my attempts to communicate with him over the last several months) for all of this. Certainly he is to be held accountable, but the board has been watching all this happen too.

The board has reprimanded Foster. I say let the citizens of Bessemer reprimand the Board both for allowing this to happen, but also for ignoring the bullying that goes on at Bessemer City High School and at Davis Middle School.

Too bad we didn’t know about all of this before our city elections, maybe we could have had some changes there too.

>Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Haiku

December 17, 2010

>I admit it. I follow the Washington stories a little too closely. Often if I am working at home I have the TV on in the next room and can hear MSNBC so when a critical vote is taking place or a particularly interesting comment coming from a legislator I can run in there and watch. I’m a political wonk, or at least I would be if I were younger (by definition a wonk is a young person).

If I must deliver myself from the world of politics and social progress, I change the channel to Adult Alternative music and have in the background music by such artists as Dave Barnes (Little Lies):

or T J Moss Band (It’s Over):

Anyway,last year I made it a point to be in front of the TV on Christmas Eve to watch the Senate vote on Health Care Reform.

Tomorrow the Senate is supposed to vote on the Dream Act and on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal.

Supposedly Reid has 61 votes for DADT repeal, but not for the Dream Act.

The votes are being scheduled for Saturday because a Democrat Senator’s prostate gland has got to go next week. He’s having pre-surgery testing done today, but will be on the Senate floor on Saturday, and out next week.

Only mean spirited Republicans would think that denying legal status to someone who has laid their life on the line for our freedom is cool.

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act would give conditional legal status to qualifying undocumented youths who attend at least two years of college or join the military, provided they arrived here under age 16 and meet several other strict criteria.

But recall, most Republican Senators also think it is cool to have those fighting for you to lie about themselves if they are gay or lesbian. I wrote a poem.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Haiku

We serve with honor
Life on line and we could die
For this we must lie

Anyway, there is so much going on tomorrow that I can’t sit around waiting for the Senate to act. Santa’s got some shopping to do.

But I will have my Android with me, so I will be able to follow what is going on and at least give a shout out on Facebook if something good happens.

And on Sunday, don’t forget “Hollywood Holidays: Songs from the Silver Screen,” a collection of seasonal songs from the cinema by the Magic City Choral Society, at 6:00, at the Alys Stephens Center. It’s Free!!!