Does Size Really Matter?

While this question is sometimes asked in regard to male nether-region proportions, I am referring to something different. When I see football field-sized American flags during the National Anthem or huge flags flying at car dealerships, I sometimes wonder if bigger is better. Granted, I am all for patriotism and love of country, but I think some of these symbols might be a bit excessive as there is often a fine line between good taste and gaudy. I mean, is the NFL really that patriotic? Maybe they just want more fans and viewers  just like car dealerships just want to sell more cars. I think sometimes the symbol of the American flag can be used for ulterior motives.

Along these same lines, I stopped by the local Golden Corral for a Veteran’s Day meal this past week. I have been to some of these meals in the past, and I often experience mixed feelings. On the one hand, I am grateful for those who have sacrificed to preserve the freedoms currently available in this country. On the other hand, I’m not sure how I feel about a Disabled Veterans Organization member holding the door at the entrance urging vets to refile and maximize their VA disability claims.

My initial thoughts during these types of dining experiences are usually somewhat condescending for some reason. After hearing stories of benefits fraud and those trying to milk the military for as much as possible, I guess I am somewhat jaded to the whole military hero idealism. However, after talking to some of these veterans for a little while, I think my preconceived notions slowly changed to a sincere appreciation for their military service. To hear them reminisce fondly about their service days, recall war stories, and instantly bond over certain shared experiences is truly unique and educational.

I recently read America by Dinesh D’souza. It is enlightening to hear the other side of the story regarding events in American history. When politicians seem to be apologizing for America’s place in the world, it is important to remember this country helped defeat dangerous European powers during the world wars, stopped the spread of Communism in Korea and Vietnam, won the Cold War, and has been involved in the Middle East for some time. The U.S. has stood for democracy, justice, and free markets for a long while, but it seems like many in the mainstream media would prefer a weak, spineless America who plays well with others as its utmost priority. This book basically examines the progressive movement in America over the last few decades, and major arguments for and against different political issues are discussed. D’souza discusses topics such as slavery reparations, Native American rights, anti-colonialism, and leaders of the progressive movement. He also reveals the relationship that both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton had with Saul Alinsky, the infamous Rules for Radicals author.

In summary, I guess I am a little more skeptical now and no longer blindly assume all flag-waving is purely patriotic. Sadly, it seems like the actions of a few have ruined this ideal, but it really shouldn’t detract from all the great accomplishments and sacrifices of other service members.

 

 

 

 

 

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Prison Strong, Oprah Rich

I first heart the term “prison strong, Oprah rich” in reference to a military service member deploying to a hostile location. Basically, the free time allows one to lift weights frequently and the bonus money is pretty good.

I’m not exactly sure what inspired me to read Going Up the River, but it probably had something to do with my coworker’s stories about her time working in the prison system as a psychologist. Apparently she was helping a high ranking member of the Disciples through some tough times, and he returned the favor by ensuring everyone in the facility respected her.

Basically, Going Up the River details the recent growth of the prison industry as small rural town’s increasingly rely on this sector for employment. It is surprising how prisons transformed from self-sustaining operations in the earlier part of the twentieth centry into money-making enterprises. In fact, I recently read about Arkansas prisoners working on farms in the past to provide some of their food. These days, prisoners are almost celebrated with reality television shows documenting their every move, and I have to believe this was not always the case. Don’t other countries subject prisoners to hard labor for relatively minor infractions? North Korea, Iran, and China immediately come to mind.

Anyway, the basic premise of the book is that the military-industrial complex created many government jobs during the Cold War, and fear of the Soviets propelled this employment sector. However, once the Cold War ended, a new enemy needed to be created, and crime was a convenient choice. So basically, more and more citizens were transformed into prisoners creating the need for new prisons. Of course, cunning businessmen are never too far from a financial opportunity and private prisons were created. No longer were punishment and reform the top priorities of the correctional system; instead, money and jobs became a large factor.

Several examples throughout the book are used to illustrate these points. Rural towns across the South and Midwest are sustaining jobs through this system as citizens are drawn to the stability of prison system jobs. It does make you wonder what has fueled the growth of criminal activity. I happen to think eliminating the Bible and prayer from public schools was probably a starting point. Granted, poverty and poor family functioning probably also play a role, but the decline of the influence of the church is definitely important.

Citizen Zombie

I guess the occasion of casting my absentee election ballot has inspired a political post. I’m not sure when my interest in politics first started, but I was raised in a conservative, evangelical household and suppose I have continued many of these beliefs for myself. I have always held a relatively optimistic view of America and her place in the world. I think the U.S. does have a truly unique history; however, it seems like lately this bright future is growing dimmer.

At one point, I think American ingenuity, grit, independence, and hard work were the character traits held in high esteem, but it seems like these have lately given way to comfort, conformity, and dependence on the government. In the past, I believe farms, factories, small business, and entrepreneurs were the engines driving the American economy. Now, consumer spending, government jobs, and government handouts seem to be the order of the day. Don’t get me wrong, I am definitely in favor of helping someone get back on their feet after losing their job, etc…, however, I do not believe long-term dependence on the government is healthy.

I’m not exactly sure what possessed me to pickup my old copy of 1984 recently, but I can’t help but realize some similarities between the book and American society today. The concept of the government being a cradle to grave caretaker is one similarity. Between Medicaid, WIC, welfare, food stamps, Medicare, and Social Security, the government allows an awful lot of assistance throughout one’s lifetime. Also, I think the concept of independence has been minimized as the government steadily creeps into more and more aspects of it’s citizens lives with healthcare, taxes, EPA, TSA, etc… While government is a necessary evil, I think the size and scope of federal government regulation has ballooned significantly.

I’m not sure why I have been recalling my high school reading list books recently, but Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand also appear to be relevant to this topic. I believe she emigrated from the Communist Soviet Union and her writing is a reflection of the Communist system of government she experienced. As I recall, she upholds the values of independence and ingenuity in the face of overwhelming bureaucracy. I vaguely recall reading about her specific philosophy… I think it was objectivism or something similar. Anyway, another example of someone warning others about the dangers of communism and its principles.

For these reasons, I am hesitant to embrace politicians when they promote further government growth. I’m not sure the government should be dictating how businesses pay their employees or that everyone is required to have health insurance for that matter. What’s the old saying, the government should deliver the mail, defend the country from foreign enemies, and that’s about it.

New Orleans

After taking a little break, I think I am ready to write some more blog posts. When writing and blogging becomes a chore instead of an enjoyable activity, I think a break is probably necessary.

After discovering I required twenty live continuing medical education credits to renew my medical license, I scramble to find a CME course in New Orleans, Louisiana. I was hesitant to make the drive with the recent flooding in the state, but luckily, New Orleans was not affected. One of my co-workers actually warned me that the city is below sea level, so that did nothing to assuage my fears.

Anyway, I was definitely in for a surprise on my first trip to the Big Easy. Just as luck would have it, I arrived on the same night as an Alice Cooper concert. With valet parking costing forty-six dollars, I chose the slightly cheaper parking garage option. This decision was not without consequences as my hotel was on Bourbon Street. I soon realized that walking down Bourbon Street carrying two suitcases marked me as a naïve tourist, and I was approached by multiple opportunists looking to make a quick buck. I quickly reverted to behaviors of avoiding eye contact, walking briskly, and avoiding anyone suspicious. Fortunately, after navigating my way through the crowds, I managed to find my hotel.

I do wish I would have taken some pictures during my stay, but I always felt like someone was watching me and might like to have my camera/phone for themselves. The mere fact that I escaped New Orleans without bodily harm or venereal disease is probably a small miracle. In fact, after discussing the city’s history of flooding cemeteries and yellow fever epidemic, one tour guide went so far as to caution the tour group not sit on the curb.

Experiencing the French Quarter inspired me to read a little more about the city. While there, I purchased a walking tour guide to New Orleans. This book gave some good insight into the architecture and history of the city. I was soon spotting the wrought iron balcony fixtures and historical buildings that make the French Quarter so unique.

Another book I read soon after this trip was Five Days at Memorial. Basically, this book details the events that happened at a flooded New Orleans hospital during Hurricane Katrina. With limited evacuation options, doctors are forced to make tough decisions regarding patients who are clinging to life in a hospital without electricity. The story mainly revolves around one physician who administers large amounts of morphine and essentially helps end these patients lives when it looks as if they will not be rescued. The subsequent investigation details the sequence of events during that chaotic period when helicopter evaluations were scarce and patients were struggling.

Overall, my first trip to New Orleans was definitely memorable. The Cajun food, history, and music were all great.

 

 

 

 

Memphis Zoo

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So this past weekend I decided to accept an invitation to go to the Memphis Zoo. I was a little hesitant as I had heard the I-40 bridge across the Mississippi River had been block by BlackLivesMatter protesters, but apparently this demonstration had been resolved.

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Upon a recommendation from a friend, our first stop was Central barbecue. The decision to eat here was a good one as their pork barbecue, ribs, sides, and cheesecake were all very good. It is normally a good sign when a restaurant requires a parking attendant to direct traffic.

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I think I recall some distant historical trivia about Memphis being one of the ancient Egyptian cities, and this fact probably contributed to the African theme of the zoo. Granted, I do not think I have gone to a zoo or similar venue since my trip to the Baltimore Aquarium in middle school, so I guess I was due for some animal education. I was surprised the ticket price was fairly cheap at $15… I guess I am accustomed to $50 amusement park tickets.

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There were quite a few different areas in the park divided into regional classes. These included China, Africa, the Tetons, cats, primates, etc…It was definitely enjoyable walking around the park; however, I am not sure how I feel ethically about zoos as these animals didn’t really seem to be happy there. Granted, during one of the sea lion shows the narrator discussed how most of these animals were rescued from bad situations, so that is a positive story. In a small way, these animals in there cages reminded me of my work cubicle. Lack stimulation and freedom, these animals seemed bored and lazy; I guess I can relate. After four hours walking around the park, we called it a day.

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My friend and I did make a stop at the Bass Pro Shop Pyramid before the trip home. I am not the biggest outdoorsman, so I wasn’t really interested in buying a boat, hunting clothes, or anything else they were selling, but they did have some neat educational exhibits about duck hunting. A trip up the elevator to the top of the pyramid did lead to some nice views of the Mississippi River and industrial Memphis. IMG_0056IMG_0059IMG_0061IMG_0071IMG_0064IMG_0075IMG_0078IMG_0079IMG_0087IMG_0090

Recent Reads

Foxcatcher

It seems like a lot of my recent posts have involved books. I’m not sure what this fact reveals about the current state of my social life, but hey, it’s summer, right? One of my recent finds was Foxcatcher, which details the wrestling careers of two brothers. I remember seeing the movie trailer a while ago, but I never saw the movie. I think the book was displayed at my local library at the time because of these brothers’ Olympic achievements coinciding with the ongoing Olympic trials.

The first part of the book is okay. The first chapters mainly detail the Schultz brother’s wrestling careers through school, college, and then the Olympics. They both had quite a bit of success at all levels, but were eventually forced to seek sponsorship and financial support from outside sources. John DuPont then enters the story. An heir to the DuPont chemical company, this man has great wealth and is able to start his own wrestling team called Foxcatcher, named after part of his Pennsylvania estate. Mark joins this team for a period of time and enjoys some success; however, Dave Schultz becomes a victim of John DuPont’s eccentric and dangerous behavior when he is shot and killed. Definitely not the happy ending one would wish, but the book does give a glimpse into the world of wrestling and elite-level athletics.

The Rosie Project

Another of my recent book readings was the result of my attendance at a local book club. Now I have never been a member of a book club, but since I read quite a bit, I figured it was a natural fit. By a majority vote of 2-1, it was decided The Rosie Project would be the next book to read and discussed. I was unfamiliar with this book or its sequel, but it involves a geeky genetics professor and associated characters. It begins with this professor designing a questionnaire in an attempt to find a suitable spouse. Eventually he is introduced to Rosie who answers nearly every question incorrectly according to Dr. Tillman’s preferences, but she piques his interest because she does not know the identity of her real father. Because of this information, the Rosie Project begins. Don and Rosie must collect DNA from most of the male members of her mother’s medical school class in order to narrow the field.

This project creates the need for a medical school class reunion, a trip to New York City, and other eventful happenings. The nerdy insight of Don is one of the highlights, as he regularly commits social errors as only a braniac can. Fortunately, this book does have a happy ending with events falling into place for the Rosie Project.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web

So I stumbled upon The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo movie a few weeks ago and thought it was pretty interesting. I’m not sure if it was the storyline or European backdrops, but this combination was intriguing. Anyway, The Girl in the Spider’s Web is a continuation of this series with main characters Mikael Blomquist and Lisbeth Selena. Blomquist is a well-known journalist whose magazine has been acquired by a large media corporation, and Selena is a prodigy computer hacker with a complicated history. Their paths are intertwined when technology secrets are stolen and swapped via hackers.

Blomquist is considering a change of employment as his magazine, Millenium, is undergoing changes, and the new owners are looking to make changes as well. However, a huge story develops when Frans Balder is murdered. Balder invented technology which was secretly stolen and sold for a lot of money. It’s discovered that large organizations are involved with this murder plot to include the NSA and Sophie, an international technology group. The sole witness to the murder is August Balder, Frans’ son. August is autistic with limited social interaction, but he is a savant who can draw really well and has an amazing mathematical ability. His drawing skills make him a target for those that murdered Frans as they do not want their identity known.

Selena has very good computer hacking skills and is able to look at the secret NSA intranet. She discovers quite a bit of information; however, she is unable to crack one particular code. Her paths cross with August Balder who is able to perform advanced mathematical calculation and actually provided the answer to allow Selena to crack the NSA code. Between an NSA employee’s confession and this secret information, Mikael Blomquist is able to write the story of the century revealing the motivation and people behind the murder of Balder.

I thought this book was good, but I have trouble remembering more than a few characters. I probably lost some of the storyline, but I think I hit the main points. The math and computer science topics are interesting as some of them relate to the reach of the NSA and their activities.

Bohnhoffer- Then and Now

I have been reading the book Bohnhoffer recently, and some comparisons can be made between his time and today. Dietrich Bohnhoffer was a theologian who lived in Germany during the Third Reich. He was part of a resistance movement designed to counter the policies of the Nazi government. His involvement eventually led to imprisonment and execution. Fortunately, his life is well-chronicled in this book, so future generations can learn his story.

By no means should the U.S. government be compared to Nazi Germany, but the church and Christians need to be the salt and light when sinful policies are implemented. Unfortunately, the influence of the church has slowly lessened over the past fifty years. It began with outlawing prayer, the Bible, and Creation in schools, and with children no longer learning right and wrong, the sexual revolution of the seventies was born. The Separation of Church and State is commonly cited as constitutional proof for these types of laws, but this clause was originally intended to prevent the state from interfering with the church.

Unfortunately, when Biblical concepts are not taught at an early age, people do not know the truth or simply choose to ignore it. An influential book for me has been The Battle for the Mind written by Tim LaHaye (yes, the same author of the Left Behind series.) Basically, this book outlines the forces which compete for the thought and beliefs of young people. For example, someone who is constantly exposed to liberal theology, politics, causes, etc… will have a significantly different viewpoint than someone whose influences are different. The book continues by identifying certain realms where this battle occurs such as churches, the media, universities, schools, government, etc… My eyes were really opened to the importance of diligently filtering information after reading this book.

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And, of course, if you want to begin a controversial discussion, abortion is always a reliable place to start. I work in the medical field, so I have a little experience with this topic. I worked with an attending physician who did not prescribe birth control because of his Catholic faith. Granted, there are many forms of birth control with some preventing conception and others terminating the process further down the line, but his prescribing habits were affected by the Catholic concept of sanctity of life. Similarly, the Hobby Lobby and Catholic nun group’s lawsuit against mandated health insurance for birth control is a similar situation. Their religious beliefs regarding sanctity of life prevent them from consciously allowing …

I attended college where the founder was an important figure in the Moral Majority. Granted, I do not remember the eighties, but the basic idea behind the movement was the church needs to have a voice in the realm of politics, current events, etc… When there is no resistance to unbiblical laws, anything goes. This situation is similar to Dietrich Bonhoffer, who realized the Nazi government was committing very serious crimes, and something needed to be done.

In summary, I think it can be dangerous when the influence of the church is lessened. Granted, not every governmental decision will be perfect, but Christians should be actively involved in the realms of politics, economics, business, etc…

 

 

Check-Mate

I never imagined I would be single this long. In fact, I went to a college where a popular saying was “a ring by spring;” however, I am still no further along the road of mutual forever togetherness eleven years later. I would like to think I am a relatively interesting, relatively moral, and relatively attractive person, but maybe I am missing some key ingredient in this whole process. To my surprise, I discovered a book the other day which discussed some aspects of the dating process.

The title of the book is called Mate, and the basic premise is women look for certain traits in men to see if they are “mate” material. Supposedly the authors have studied this topic for years and claim these findings are scientifically proven. Ordinarily I would have never considered reading this book, but I guess I was intrigued by the concept. Granted, I was somewhat skeptical because I have always believed in a sort of God-ordained marriage process where a man and woman are somehow meant to be together. However, it does make sense that there are certain traits which make men more attractive/suitable as a life partner. So, onward I read!

I knew I was in trouble when the authors started discussing cleanliness. Supposedly women evaluate a man’s habitat for suitability for raising children, and a dirty environment is a major setback in the pursuit of healthy offspring. Whether a vehicle or living area, the degree of cleanliness seems to be directly proportional to a man’s fatherhood potential. (I guess I should clean that dried blood in my refrigerator and ensure my fruit fly problem does not worsen.) This point seemed rather harmless; just tidy up a little more to put your best foot forward.

Up next was the social aspect and much of this discussion revolved around a man belonging to a strong “tribe.” Supposedly in a Darwinian world of survival of the fittest, a woman wants to know her man will still be standing when times get tough. Three hundred years ago, this concept probably meant a man who could hunt, fish, farm, build structures, etc… Now, it probably means a man who can provide a steady source of income and relative physical security. Unfortunately, I’m afraid my tribe consists of distant co-workers, casual Crossfit acquaintances, and seventy year old fellow church members. If there were ever to be an event of apocalyptic proportions, I highly doubt my tribe would be the last standing.

One of the next topics discussed a man’s sense of style. Fortunately I am required to wear a uniform in my current occupation, so my lack of wardrobe acumen is somewhat disguised. However, I think my true colors might show when my default clothing options include JNCO jeans and a fedora.

Another part of the book discussed the ability to create things as an attractive quality. I don’t remember all the details, but supposedly a man who can build bookshelves or a kitchen table is viewed as creative and a problem-solver from a woman’s point of view. Unfortunately, about the only things I am creating these days are rudimentary meals designed to provide myself a minimal level of nutritional sustenance. I’m afraid the craftsman gene is not that strong in my bloodline.

Some of the other topics included picking the correct dating market, determining one’s dating goals, developing a sense of confidence, etc… While I’m not exactly sure where I stand on the spectrum of 100% God-ordained marriage to “the one” vs. man’s complete free will in the process, it never hurts to optimize one’s probabilities, right?

 

 

 

 

Tennis Revisited

So I played in a tennis tournament recently. I’m not exactly sure what possessed me to signup for the event, but I think watching a local junior tennis tournament a few weeks ago as well as the French Open both contributed to the decision.

I have actually played tennis for most of my life. Since my mom played college tennis, it was not unusual to play a few times per week during my childhood. I took some lessons during my middle school years and then played some tournaments and team tennis later. I was never too serious about the game; it was always more of a recreational pursuit with friends and family instead of serious training and dedication. Since graduating high school, I mainly play with family during breaks and holidays; nothing too serious, just some fresh air and exercise.

To my surprise, there a quite a few tournaments in the local area. After renewing my USTA membership and registering for the local tournament, I had to select the NTRP draw I would enter. I was not too familiar with this ranking system used for recreational players, but after reading descriptions online, I imagined myself as somewhere between a 3.5 and 4.0 level. I decided on the 3.5 level as I was new to the whole tournament scene and was not sure what to expect.

As for the tournament itself, my first match was primetime Friday evening. Sure enough, I was placed on the court closest to the central patio location with multiple spectators in the area. I must have been pretty nervous because I started hitting really hard; in fact, I think my serves were probably faster than ever. However, with this increased pace came lots of unforced errors. But you know what they say; go down swinging. After a rocky start, I managed to start playing better and finished with a respectable score line, even if it was a loss.

Not to be discouraged, I returned the next day for a ninety degree match. I definitely played better this match as I had analyzed my previous play and realized some adjustments were required. I then played two more times before on the final day of the tournament.

By no means am I going to be joining the ATP tour anytime in the near future, but it was definitely refreshing to once again play some good tennis. I think I could probably play in the 4.0 level and be competitive.

It is unfortunate that tennis is not as popular as it once was; the local tennis courts around  my place of residence have been transformed into a “bark park.” But in all honesty, they will probably be used more in this capacity. It seems like many other courts are crumbling, cracking, and neglected. It is not hard to see why as there are few top male U.S. tennis players, and if it wasn’t for Serena Williams, the U.S. professional tennis scene would be in dire straights altogether. But nonetheless, as long as there is junior tennis and weekend warriors, I think the game will march onward.

 

Bargain-hunter or Pseudovulture?

I’m not exactly sure how estate sales became a staple of my weekend routine. Rummaging through another person’s belongings in search of potential items to purchase may seem akin to vulture-like activity to some, but I generally do not feel guilty during this process. In most cases, a company is hired to sell household items at a discount when someone has died or moved into a nursing home.

At these sales, it seems like I normally purchase items from two categories, books and cookware. I’m not exactly sure why I buy so many books, but the cause probably stems from watching Jeopardy frequently and my introverted personality. History and foreign countries seem to be my favorite topics, and I have certainly become a bona fide armchair traveler for these reasons.

My accumulation of cooking products started innocently enough when I found a large multi-quart chili/soup pot at a sale. This pot was definitely an upgrade from my smaller ones as it is able to hold a larger volume of  contents and makes cooking homemade soups more realistic. Some of my next buys included a lettuce spinner and a large, wooden cutting board. I never really thought a lettuce spinner was a critical part of making a salad, but I think it does help eliminate that sogginess factor.

Up next was a Crock-Pot. I’m not exactly sure how I’ve managed to make it this far in life without relying heavily on this device. I am all about maximizing results while minimizing work, and this machine definitely fits the bill. Letting a piece of meat and some vegetables cook unattended for ten hours is definitely a winning proposition.

I then managed to progress to a KitchenAid stand mixer. Having never previously baked homemade bread products, this purchase was a slight gamble, but I do come from a long line of home bakers. My initial excitement of the $50 purchase was dampened a little when light brown fluid started leaking from the mixer attachment holder, but this problem was, thankfully, short-lived. I’m still not exactly sure what the liquid was, but I’m hoping it was harmless. Zucchini bread, banana bread, and pizza crust have been some of my better creations to this point.

I’m not sure what my next find will be, but I will definitely be keeping my eyes open. Maybe one of those crème-brulle torches… now that would be cool!