12/31/2012

Killing of the Turtles










Clemson University student Nathan Weaver had a project to develop.  His project consisted of trying to devise ways so turtles can cross the road safely.  I'm sure you have seen turtles going as fast as turtles can to cross the road.  It seems they are migrating to a water source or in search of food.  But, what Nathan did not expect was to discover a very dark side of humanity.  Nathan put plastic, orange colored turtles in the road to see how drivers would avoid hitting them.  What he discovered was shocking.  Nathan in inadvertently discovered a very dark side of homo sapiens.  Within an hour of putting the turtles on the busy road, Nathan watched as seven drivers intentionally drove over the turtles.  Several other drivers appeared to try to run over them and missed.  This was all within the hour.  While this was surprising to Nathan Weaver, it was not surprising to researchers and why certain turtle species are in decline.  "They aren't thinking, really. It is not something people think about. It just seems fun at the time.  It is the dark side of human nature." said Hal Herzog, a Western Carolina University psychology professor.  To prove his point even further, Professor Herzog asked a class of 110 students if they had ever intentionally run over a turtle in the road.  34 of the students raised their hands.  I wish I could say I find that shocking.  But, over my 61 years of living, I am no longer shocked my man's inhumanity. 

It's really a sad indictment on people.  Now, I realize it is almost impossible to keep from hitting turtles, squirrels or any other animal in the road sometimes.  My criticism is not about those people.  I do question the type of person who would intentionally run over a defenseless animal with a two-ton vehicle.  I can remember, many years ago, my mother was just learning how to drive. My siblings and I were all little.  I imagine I was about 7 years old at the time.  But, my mother and I were coming back from the local meat market.  As we got on this two-lane country road, a turtle happened to start walking from the grassy side to the road.  My mother attempted to swerve away, but couldn't because of an oncoming car in the opposite direction to us.  I still remember the crunch under the tires.  Mom was so unnerved she could barely drive home.  That was the very last time I remember my mother ever driving again.  In fact, I'm positive she never drove again.  But, that is totally different from the people who intentionally drive over turtles for some macabre sensation to prove how tough they are or because it is "fun" to them.  Hopefully, this article (linked above) will open some eyes of drivers who might want to be kinder to the little fellows just trying to cross the road. 
Read more here: http://www.heraldonline.com/2012/12/27/4507782/clemson-students-turtle-project.html#storylink=cpy

12/28/2012

After Christmas Blues










Aaaah, yes....those after Christmas blues.  Everything has died down now from the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, the preparation for Christmas Day and now the aftermath.  It seems sad to me on so many different levels.  At age 61, I wonder how many more Christmases I have left in me.  I think that I don't have to worry about gifts for another full year now.  The buying of gifts is a problem each year as prices continue to escalate in this "booming economic recovery" we have heard so much about.  But, right now, I'm a bit melancholy as I ponder on the passing of another Christmas.  As Christmases go, this was a pretty good one for me.  Really good in some respects.  I got what I wanted.  I gave gifts of what many people wanted.  I do have a bit of a knack at buying what people need.  I sit and think about what a certain person needs.  With that thought in mind, I go online and buy it.  Now, I just sit back and am thankful for having the ability to be financial-worry free for the most part.  I will pay off my Discovery Card (which I used to buy all my online gits) in about three months.  So, I do feel fortunate to be able to do that.  But, these after Christmas blues have got me down now.  I guess it's the magic of Christmas when people are usually so nice to each other.  Now, it will be business as usual, people moaning, groaning and complaining about whatever makes them mad.

The after Christmas blues was worse in school.  It took me a good two weeks to recover from Christmas.  I felt so depressed going back to school, after a two week vacation, and having to endure another cold winter. Winters aren't anything like they are up north here on the gulf coast.  But, so many overcast days make those after Christmas blues even worse.  Many people say they wish Christmas could be 365 days a year.  But, what would be the fun in that?  That would devalue Christmas more than it already is by commercialization right now.  No, I'll endure the after Christmas blues.  I know that by next October, I'll be looking forward to another blissful, blessed Christmas.

12/24/2012

A Christmas Prayer for Our Soldiers










My grandfather fought in WWI during the latter stages of the war.  "The war to end all wars" as it was commonly referred to, was a precursor to WWII.   Grandpa said he told his sargent major that this war would be fought again with the Germans because of the terms of surrender imposed upon them.  I don't know if Grandpa actually every said that.  But, if he did, he was right about it just as he was right about so many other things in life.  Grandpa was among a handful of U.S. troops who could actually read and write during WWI.  Grandpa was in the U.S. Marine Corp.  As a young 18 year old corporal, he was sent to fight.  His first fighting took place in the famed Battle of Belleau Wood.  Grandpa said it should have been plural since there were many "battles" of Belleau Wood.  But, on June 1st, 1918, as a member of the 5th Marines Regiment, he was going to be sent into battle to help stop a German advancement past French lines.  Prior to this battle, men were gathered together for prayer by an Army Chaplin.  Grandpa, who loved to write just like his grandson does today, jotted down this prayer.  Even though this prayer was in June, my Grandpa always referred to it as the "Christmas Prayer for Soldiers."   He never explained why.  Here now is that prayer from 95 years ago from the Army Chaplin.

"Heavenly Father, we come before you today before this great fight against an entrenched enemy.  I pray that you will shield these sons of freedom today from arrows of fire and brimstone.  Protect them, Lord, touch them in the heat of battle, heal their wounds, give them courage to carry the fight.  And, if it be Lord God that you must bring some of your children home today, I pray that you make their burden light, their pain slight and their journey quick.  Please, Lord, wherever there is terror this day, that you give these men the courage to persevere, to do your work.  Today Lord, give comfort to those who are breathing their last, who hurt and feel faint, and love those who cannot lift their weapon in anger.  Love them, nurture them in your Heavenly Mansion.  As you say in your word, Psalms 91, He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
 his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. 

Give these brave lads that same courage and conviction that your Word is true and near to their hearts.  May it give them peace as they go forth this day into battle.  On Your word, we find our foundation.  In Jesus name we pray, Amen."

You may be asking, how did he write down all this verbatim.  Grandpa had a quick wit and even quicker mind.  He could meet someone one day and remember everything he knew about him 10 years later.  He was like that until the last couple of years of his life.  He died at age 96 in 1996.  He still had a full head of hair and all his teeth when he died.  He never explained why he called this the Christmas Prayer other than the fact he always read it on Christmas Day.  Perhaps it was meant for those "doughboys" who died so many years ago.  Merry Christmas to everyone!




  
 

12/21/2012

Christmas Memories










I'm sure everyone has a favorite Christmas memory.  I have so many, it would take far more than one blog post to write about them.  But, there are some that stand out over the others.  I'm sure everyone has those type of Christmas memories.  I know one friend of mine told me that he and his two sisters were facing a Christmas without anything.  Nothing. Mike (my friend) said they were all between the ages of 7 and 11 years of age.  My friend was 9 years of age.  Mike's father left them all two years prior.  His mother was working 3 jobs during the week to help support them.  Come Christmas Eve, there was no Christmas tree, no gifts, no nothing.  In fact, they were going to a neighbor's house for Christmas dinner since his mother could not afford the traditional ham, turkey, dressing and so forth.  Mike said he remembered his youngest sister asking his mother if Santa knew they had been good boys and girls during the year.  His mother was too choked up to respond.  They went to the neighbor's house for dinner at about noon on Christmas.  All of them were very sad as you can imagine.  As Mike and his sisters walked into the living room of their neighbor, there were bicycles, dolls, BB guns, girls play-sets with the names of Mike and his sisters.  The neighbor had taken money from her savings to help fund their Christmas.  Mike said he never forgot that neighbor and always visited her on Christmas until the day she passed away back in 1997.

My favorite Christmas is similar in many respects.  My mother had separated from my father.  It was me, a brother and my sister.  We weren't quite as bad off as Mike was in the story above.  But, each day was a struggle to put food on the table.  Mama had already warned us not to expect much from Santa.  We were children.  None of us could believe that Santa would not bring us gifts on Christmas.  During those years, we went to school all the way up to December 23rd. Mama told us to come straight home that we were going to grandma's place for dinner.  Mama simply had given out of money to buy food.  Things were grim.  As I made my way home, I noticed my father's red and white Oldsmobile 88 Cutless in the driveway!  At least, my father would be here for Christmas.  As I came in past the door, there were wrapped gifts, a Christmas tree, cookies, candy, and more Christmas food than I had ever seen in my life.  Just as good was getting a hug from my father.  It's the Christmas that I think of today as I see more and more families destitute during these days of the "Obama Economic Recovery."  If you are able, please consider giving to the Salvation Army to help families during this Christmas.  There are so many little faces that will be sad on Christmas morning if you don't. 

***I wish to express my heartfelt sympathy to the families of the victims at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT.  This will be the worst possible Christmas for those families as they must try to carry on this Christmas without 20 little angels and 6 brave adults.  God Bless them and aid them during this time.

12/17/2012

Legend of Starvation Peak





"A Haunting" is a paranormal series that now comes on the "Destination Channel."  The Destination Channel is a sister channel of the more popular "The Discovery Channel."  This series was on hiatus from November 2007 to the early part of 2012.  It reenacts the stories of people who say they have encountered supernatural spirits and possessions.  It has always been one of my favorite shows on television.  I was amazed it was taken off of TDC back in 2007.  Now, I'm not going to say I believe everything they bring out on ghosts, evil spirits, possessions of people and the like.  But, it is very entertaining. To me, the narrator makes this series.  His voice is spooky and he doesn't interfere with the story itself as many narrators are prone to do.  The last episode I watched had to do with the Legend of Starvation Peak.  The name of the episode is called "Death's Door."   This blog entry is not about the series or that episode.  It is about Starvation Peak.

The Legend of Starvation Peak centers around Spanish settlers, who were pursued by hostile Native Americans, who took refuge and starved atop El Cerrito de Bernal, a small butte rising 7,031 feet, about 12  miles southwest of Las Vegas. As a result, since anyone can remember, the small mesa has been called Starvation Peak.  Now, no one has ever been able to find any evidence for this so-called legend of mass slaughter.   The first report of this legend came in 1884 in the Detroit Free Press.  This allegedly occurred in Spanish colonial times.  Settlers were pursued by Navajo Indians, and took refuge at the summit of the small peak. According to the newspaper story, after a long stalemate, the starving settlers descended the peak and all 36 were massacred.  Those remaining at the summit starved to death rather than be tortured to death by the Native Americans. Again, no evidence of this story has ever been found to collaborate this ever happening. 

I found the story interesting simply because I had never heard of it.  It reminds me of what the movie "Brave Heart" came out.  I had never heard of William Wallace until that time.  If you get the chance, you will find the episode of A Haunting fascinating since it deals with Starvation Peak quite a bit.  Starvation Peak has no other significance I could find.  But, the legend itself makes Starvation Peak a fascinating story.

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12/14/2012

Safety Tips for Christmas Shopping






This is the time of year that should be one of fun, celebration and good times.  However, it is also a good time for those who wish to make off with "easy pickings." In this case, easy pickings are those Christmas shoppers who don't use common sense when shopping.  Criminals are at their utmost highest alert during these times.  Unlocked cars are like an invitation to come on in and take what you want.  However, this is also the time when deadly accidents can occur.  Drug addicts don't particularly care if you get scared, maimed, injured or, in some cases, killed as a direct result of their robbing you. Not long ago, during Christmas, a woman in my area parked far away in one of the local shopping malls.  It was late in the afternoon.  A man in a mask came up to her and demanded everything she had, Christmas gifts, her purse, car keys, credit cards and everything.  She told the thief he could have everything.  But, she was not getting in the car as he commanded.  He shot her in front of security cameras, several eye witnesses, including small children.  She died three days later.  It took two years, but the murderer was caught.  I'm going to include some safety tips that may help you not suffer the same fate as this unfortunate woman.

1.  Be aware of your surroundings at all times.  There are people parked in other cars who most likely are watching you.  Parking far from the department store is not advised for women who are alone.  If you can't park up close, wait another day or go to another store where you can park closer.  Best advice is to take someone with you while you shop.  Most times, there are security details around the malls.  Ask one of the security officers to accompany you to your car.

2.  Do NOT leave valuables in your car.  It should be common sense to never leave cell phones, wallets, jewelry in the car.  But, during Christmas season common sense is frequently thrown to the wind.  In fact, if you leave such valuables in your car, a thief may just wait for you to come back instead of breaking into the car and take what you have in your shopping bags as well.

3.  If you are attacked by an armed criminal, do not fight back.  There is no gift on this earth worth your life.  Give up everything you have to the robber.  If, as in the case of the unfortunate woman above, you are told to get into the car, you have to make a decision.  If you do as you are told, chances are you will never see the light of day again.  Personally speaking,  I would do as the woman above did.  If I am going to be shot, they are going to do it in front of dozens of security cameras and eye witnesses.

4.  Fake Charities prey on shoppers during Christmas.  They usually come to you as someone from the Red Cross, Salvation Army.  But, they can come as some unknown charity that appears to be for a good cause.  Most cities issue a license for legal charities to wear as some sort of badge on their shirt or blouse.  Always ask to see their badge if they do not have one. 

5.  Always keep aware of small children.  It is during this time that children sometimes get separated from their parents in the crush of crowds.  If possible, it is advisable to leave children at home with someone.  If that is not possible, teach your children to go to a store clerk, security officer or police officer for help.  Children can also be snatched away by sexual predators during this season.  Please hold their hands or, if small enough, make them ride in the shopping cart. 

6.  Don't talk to strangers.  Yes, this is something we teach our children at an early age.  But, it is something adults should put to practice during Christmas season also.  You could be distracted by a stranger as their partner in crime relieves you of your Christmas purchases.  Limit your interaction with people you don't know in the mall or any department store. 

Christmas is a joyous occasion.  But, you must be aware it is also a time of the year that criminals use to their advantage.  We are all focused on Christmas and shopping for gifts.  Criminals know this and will act accordingly.  Using some of these common sense ideas will go a long way in helping you to not become another statistic during the Christmas season.

12/10/2012

Christmas and the Salvation Army






The Salvation Army is reporting record numbers of families that are in need during this Christmas holiday season.  Families must register in order to get toys, seasonal foods (turkeys, hams, etc).  But, there are many offices of the Salvation Army that are reporting there aren't enough toys, food and money to go around this Christmas season.  Salvation Army officers are requesting donations from those who are able.  Unfortunately, there does not seem to be enough contributions to offset the demand.  What is making matters even worse this year, you have places that are anti-Salvation Army.  The University of California at Berkley (that bastion of PCness and Socialism) students want to pass a resolution that would ban the SA because they discriminate against gays and lesbians.  The horror!  Regardless, I don't expect to see that resolution take place, even at a place of religious intolerence such as UCAL Berkley.

In my area, there are also reports of the Salvation Army being unable to meet the needs of the community.  Like at Berkley,  they are running into unexpected obstacles this year.  It seems the constant bell ringing is getting on the nerves of local merchants and local residents.  Complaints have been made to Wal-Mart, Sears and other major retailers.  However, at last check, I see the volunteers for the Salvation Army are still there about 6AM every morning (at Wal-Mart) clanging those bells for donations.  Personally, I can't pass by those tillers holding money.  I have to donate something, even if it's loose change, when I pass by.  The Salvation Army is facing unprecdented hardships with the number of families needing help.  If you are able, please donate to this worthy cause this Christmas season.  If you wish to donate online, click HERE.    If you wish to donate furniture or pickup, click HERE.

12/07/2012

Tips for Online Christmas Shopping







I've been shopping online, for Christmas, for at least ten years.  I told someone about that five years ago.  He told me he would never, ever do that for security reasons.  When I told him his security for making an online purchase is about 100 times safer than at a local brick and mortar department store, he was singularly unimpressed.  Now, that same guy tells me he wouldn't shop any other way unless he needs something immediately.  To me, it beats the crowds at the mall, the shoving matches with other shoppers.  I just think it's old-fashioned (and coming from an old guy, that's saying something).  But, like with any transactions involving money, you have to be careful.  Be aware of a few things and you'll be ok.  Let's look at a few tips for a safe and productive online Christmas shopping experience.

1.  As mentioned above, security is usually higher online than checking out at Wal-Mart, Sears or any other walk-in store.  All your information is encrypted.  One thing to make sure of when you do make a purchase; make sure in the URL there is an httpS://.  I emphasized the "S" because that lets you know you are making an encrypted transaction.

2.  When you start to do online Christmas shopping, shop early.  Best time is on Cyber Monday (Monday after Black Friday) for the best deals and to get free shipping.  Shopping early will help you avoid disappointment for getting gifts too late. 

3.  Use credit cards instead of debit cards.  If there is a misunderstanding on the purchase, you are protected by Visa and Master Card.  There is no guarantee with a debit card.  Also, if somehow someone does get your credit card information, you are liable for the first $50.  With a debit card, you will be hard pressed to get all your money back.  In fact, you are not protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act with a debit card. 

4.  Shop at familiar name stores such as Wal-Mart, Sears, Amazon, eBay, etc.  There are a lot of scam artists this time of year that prey on the unwitting online Christmas shopper.  Absolutely do not, under any circumstances, accept any offers from a spam email advertisement.  You are 90% sure to lose your money.

5.  When you make a purchase, the online store usually sends an email giving your invoice number and other pertinent information.  However, just to be on the safe side, print out the information also for your records.  You might lose an email and will have nothing to prove you made the purchase.  Print out your transaction.

Online shopping, especially during Christmas, can be an enjoyable experience.  Just use common sense and these simple tips to avoid any disappointment or bad experiences.

12/03/2012

The New Retirement









For what has been decades of standard retirement plans, for our parents and grandparents, are not the norm any longer.  Use to be that you went to work for a factory, an insurance company, or what have you, you paid into a retirement plan with that company.  After about 30 years of working, you would be able to enjoy your twilight years in a relatively good retirement plan.  That started changing with the 401K.  It became apparent that company retirement plans were not going to be enough as various companies started backing off of their retirement plans they had for employees.  So, they needed something to compensate.  In steps the 401K.  I had something similar to the 401K while I worked for the federal government.  I got other benefits as well.  Then comes the 2008 world financial crisis.  Everything started changing, from home loans, to unemployment to consumer confidence.  What was true five years ago, is not true today.  If you expect the "good old days" to come back with a job for 30 years with the same company, the same retirement and the same line of benefits, those days are probably gone forever.  Despite what some may be telling you, there are not "millions of jobs created or saved" anywhere in the USA.  That is a damn lie and one that at least 51% of the population fell for hook, line and sinker. 

Why I am discussing what I call the "new retirement" is because of two individuals I know personally and from I have learned from personal research.  One man is 28 years old.  The woman is 49 years old.  The man (I'll call him Dan) was laid off from his aluminum welding job back in June of 2009.  He worked for a very large company that fabricates various platforms for ships, planes and semi-tractor trailers.  He was making upwards of about $65K a year including all the overtime he could handle.  But, that all stopped back in June 2009.  He has found sporadic work in his profession since that time.  But, he has yet to find a permanent job anywhere.  He told me he is going to change professions.  He is now a management trainee at a regional fast food restaurant.  He works 12-14 hours a day sometimes on a straight salary.  He has gone from making $65K a year to 24K a year.  Dan went straight to work out of a vocational school to be an aluminum welder.  Now, all that training may be for naught. The fastfood company has told him they cannot afford a retirement plan for permanent employees at this time.  Dan is worried about his future and with good reason.

The 48 year old woman (we'll call her Donna) was working as an office manager at a large insurance company.  She has a degree in management and Donna absolutely loved her job.  She worked at this job for 19 years until her and the entire accounts payable office were laid off indefinitely in December 2009 (two weeks before Christmas).  Donna and all the people that worked for her were replaced by temps from a temporary worker company.  She did not work at this company long enough to get vetted into the retirement plan.  That company went bankrupt in March of 2011.  So, Donna's 19 years and whatever retirement she was working toward is now gone.  Donna takes a few jobs as a bookkeeper.  But, it is not near enough for her to support two teenage kids, including one in college.  She worries what the future holds for her as she approaches her retirement years.  Donna cannot find any kind of permanent job, especially one with retirement.  A permanent job with retirement benefits is virtually gone today.

The new retirement is....well, it's what you personally save back from your pay each week.  You can't count on companies to offer you a retirement plan as in days of yesteryear.  That is not going to come back, I fear.  The new retirement consists of people working part-time or moving from company to company in "permanent jobs."  Basically, the new retirement of the 21st century is what you, as an individual, do with your paycheck.  That social security check is not going to support you in most cases.  As more and more of the baby boomers retire from the era of the old retirement days (company retirement, company supported 401K plans, etc.), a new reality is setting in for the Millennials that have replaced the baby boomer generation in the work force.  That reality is this isn't their daddy's (mommy's) work era they envisioned for themselves. The daunting reality is that they may well have to work past the retirement years of Mom and Dad in the new retirement of today.

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