Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Jury Summons!

Got a jury summons today for jury service at the US District Court (Southern District of Alabama). Things of note:

  1. "Parking fees will be paid at a flat rate of $10.00 per day" - and two of the three parking options they suggest are a $12/day parking rate
  2. "You can request to be permanently excused if": (among others)
    • a person providing in-home care and custody of a child or children under 10 years of age
    • a person who served as a grand or petit juror in a federal court within the past two years
    • a person essential to the care of aged or infirm persons
    • ... I think all of these scenarios should have "statute of limitations" on them, as a) kids age; b) time continues (i.e., before long it will not be "within the past two years" since service); c) aged persons will eventually no longer need care (sorry for the bluntness, but eventually they'll pass away), but, per this summons, you can request to be "permanently excused" from service. Maybe I should have another kid... :)
  3. Amusing questions on the juror questionnaire:
    • "List each child's a) age, b) occupation, or c) school" - doesn't ask for names, just, I guess, one of those three items? That was the whole question, no other directions for completing it, such as "age if under x years old, or occupation or school if over x" or whatever.
    • "Have you ever lived outside the Southeastern United States? If so, when & where?"
    • "Are there any bumper stickers on the car you or your spouse drive? If so, what do they say?"
    • "Have you ever served on a trial jury? Was it civil or criminal, and what was the outcome?"
Many of the other questions delved well into my personal life - I feel like I've been profiled racially, socially, politically, economically, educationally, and many other "ly"s through this process. Should I sue the US District Court for invading my personal bubble? 

Per Nolo.com
Next, the lawyers for each side question the potential jurors about their biases and backgrounds, as well as any pre-existing knowledge they might have about the case. The attorneys can also ask questions designed to uncover characteristics or experiences that might cause potential jurors to favor either the prosecution or the defense. But the lawyers aren’t allowed to ask overly personal questions, and they aren't allowed ask the jurors how they would decide the case in advance.
It seems to me that some of the questions provided on the questionnaire were pretty personal. It also seems, to me, that perhaps jury selection should be less "case weighted" - that is, instead of having the prosecuting and defending attorneys involved in juror selection, the judge (or perhaps a "jury selection panel") should simply qualify the available jurors and have the jurors randomly selected from the qualified panel. (I know, there's a long and storied history behind the juror selection process, and it's essentially designed to gridlock the jury in an even split, but jury trials are supposed to provide a fair and impartial look at the evidence, and only the evidence, whereas too often these days court cases are about appearances and biases as much as they are about the truth - at least, that's my perception.)

So, anyway, I might be on a US District Court jury sometime later this year. Doing my duty for the due process!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Votes and Balogna (sometimes they go together?)

Here's an interesting article I read (most) of recently regarding privacy and Snowden's "whistle blowing" actions. I don't necessarily agree (or disagree) with everything (or even anything) said in the article, but this in particular caught my mind:
"In every country in the world that holds meaningful elections, Google knows how you are going to vote. It's already shaping your political coverage for you, in your customised news feed, based upon what you want to read, and who you are, and what you like. Not only does it know how you're going to vote, it's helping to confirm you in your decision to vote that way – unless some other message has been purchased by a sponsor."
Rather interesting: that Google already "knows" how you will vote, and helps you confirm your voting tendencies (by suggesting articles to read). Another segment of the article discusses Facebook (and other social media sites) can track not only your interests, but what articles you're looking at, when you look at them, etc. (you know all those "like" and "share" buttons? Just a little script behind them to track your web journey into their database). I already find it a bit disconcerting that advertising follows things I've recently viewed on Amazon or Google, but never really thought about aggregation of my various browsing data (outside of Google's keeping my history available across all devices and computers I'm using, such as pulling up that article link via Chrome's history tab on a different computer than the one where I have it open upstairs).

It's a long article, but interesting to read (break it up if you need to; I did). I haven't read all the comments (only a few), but they are interesting as well, and show some definitely differing opinions.

So, on to balogna. Today I had a really good balogna sandwich for lunch (or maybe I was just hungry). I always liked balogna, but one time I had a really, really good balogna sandwich, made from real Bolognese. Most people assume that bologna (the sausage/lunch meat) is called that because of its origin in Bolgna, Italy, but few realize its original creation, which I'll document here.

The Bolognese breed appeared in Italy around the 1200s. It's a toy dog, playful, easygoing, and loyal. Over the next couple hundred years, the dog became a favorite throughout Italy, and every family had at least one, usually several, and breeders were to be found all throughout the country (although the highest population remained in Bologna). In fact, there was an overpopulation of the little dogs, and soon they were running through the streets as strays, nearly wiping out the cat and small rodent population throughout central Europe.

Then the famines started. First in the early 1500s in Venice. People became desperate, and soon the family pet became the family brunch, made into a sausage so as not to recognize the familiarity of, say, Fido's leg. It wasn't very good at first, but the people in Bologna, familiar with the breed, found ways to best flavor the sausage, and the "Bologna sausage" actually became a delicacy in the region. With the overabundance of the Bolognese in the streets, alleyways, and all around, the famine came to an end. In respect to the service the dogs provided, the Bologna sausage was kept on the menu, but reserved a special place as a delicacy, and when served in restaurants, always had its own page on the menu, usually with an "in memoriam" dedication. Source of the meat was never disclosed, and the assumption spread that pork was the base ingredient.

When the famine of 1680 hit Sardinia, an estimated 80,000 people perished before the widespread news of the famine hit the mainland and the Bolognese population was high enough to support the loads of Bologna sausage necessary to end the hard times. A huge advantage to the Bologna sausage was that the meat didn't have to be preserved for shipment - it could be carried live to the island on ships, and owing to its small size, the ships could transport lots of the critters (even small ships), and the sausage could be created on the island. Many don't realize, but this was also the beginning of the "lunch cart" business (although it was more of a handout than a business at the start), as the ships would arrive at the island with the live Bolognese, which would be made into Bologna sausage at kitchens near the docks, and the sausages would be loaded into carts and carried to the interior of the island and handed out. This was also the first instance of the "lunch meat" variety of Bologna sausage: in order to quickly hand out the sausages to the mobbing people, the sausages were cut into slices and thrown, frisbee style, the the crowds. This allowed the sausages to be "handed" to both those swarming the cart as well as those further away and unable to reach the cart (due to the crowds). They weren't used on bread as sandwiches at this time (famine, remember? no bread!), but were served up like "mini-steaks."

The famine in Naples in 1764 was short lived; quickly responding to the situation, the Bolognese (citizens) put the Bolognese (dogs) to work right away, marching themselves down to Naples and right into waiting kitchens, where they were made into, according to most accounts, the best Bologna sausage the region has ever known. However, after learning of the source, the citizens of Naples publicly thanked the Bolognese (the people, not the dogs) in a press release that, unfortunately, caught the collective eye of French and Spanish citizens, who objected to the use of "that kind of meat" in a sausage for human consumption. This was to be the end of the original Bologna sausage. To avoid public outcry, Bolognese were no longer used in the production of Bologna sausage, and instead alternatives (usually pork with lard, although other ingredients are used from time to time as well) are used for its production.

However, every once in a while, you can find a shop that will give you an "original Bologna sausage" - and that, my friends, is a real treat that you should never overlook.

* note: this is satire; Bologna sausage is, of course, not made from little Bolognese doggies. Or is it?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Who (Really) Crucified Jesus?

As a prelude to Good Friday, and inspired by scripture in last Sunday's class, I ask (and will offer an answer to), "Who crucified Jesus?"

Was it the Pilate and the Romans? No, they were merely instruments of the crucifixion, in much the same manner as the wood of the cross or the nails that attached Him to it.

Was it Caiaphas (the high priest), the Sanhedrin, and the Jews? No, they completely missed the boat; they were expecting a Messiah, but not the Messiah in the form that Jesus came to fulfill.

Was it you and I? "Everyone"? That's a good, solid, Christian answer, isn't it? No, we are the purpose for the crucifixion, the reason for it, but not the perpetrators.

So, who was it? Who crucified Jesus, the Christ?

Let's look at scripture. In Isaiah 53:10, it says, "the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief." * It was God Himself who crucified Jesus. And, not only that, it pleased the Lord to do so. Pleased. Take that in for a moment... it pleased the Lord to crucify Jesus, to place the burden of your sin on a man, the Son of God, who was blameless, who had no price to pay. And yet, God was happy to do that, for you. (And for me. For everyone.)

And, therein lies your value. Teenagers looking for value in social outlets - how many friends they have, how many twitter followers, how popular they are - that's the wrong place to find your value. Adults looking for value in power, or in status, or in success, or in material belongings - that's the wrong place to find your value. People looking for their value in their "soul mate" or in the love of a partner, or in their children - that's the wrong place. Where is your value? It's in the fact that it pleased God to crucify (execute) His perfect, blameless Son to take your punishment for the sin that you have willfully committed. There's your value.

(By the way, in case you're wondering, yes, you have sinned, and no, there's nothing you can do about it; one of these days I'm going to write a post asking, "Will a good man go to heaven?" The answer is "it depends" - because it's not about how "good" you can be. If you want to know more, check out gospel.com, or head over to listen to the sermons by Joel Faircloth - the series on Romans, quite a large number of sermons, but all good and worth listening to from the very beginning through to the latest one, and especially this one - even my 17-year-old was talking about how great a sermon and worship service that was.)

* Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Transportation Blues - and other dollars and sense (intentional!)

Title stolen (in part) from this article, which says that our highway fund is basically broke. That is, broke as far as "out of money" (I know it's already broken in other ways, such as our lack of education and common courtesy in highway driving, which will likely become the basis of the second installment of the courtesy series, whenever it comes about). And, yet, the government can provide $1.5 billion in federal aid to Pakistan (which I discussed here, regarding how my tax money goes to provide free higher education to Pakistani students, while I'm left footing the bill for my own children's higher education).

Now, granted, the US only gives about 1% of its total budget to foreign aid (check out the info available at the Finance Degree Center). But how much is that 1%? Nearly $38 billion. Yes, billion, as in 9 zeros after the "big" numbers. But look closer at the data: the transportation system that's "running dry"? That's 3% of the budget. Seems like we could cut the foreign aid and shore up some "local/national" aid. Oh, and we're spending 6% on "net interest" - or $221 billion (per this US government resource data, which is another interesting resource). Seems like maybe paying of our national credit lines might be a good idea after all... there's a giant chunk of money that could finance roads for a while. And I'm not quite sure what "income security" refers to, but the US government spends 15% of its budget on that.

By the way, if you check out page 185 of this US budget summary, there's something interesting to note: while the budget includes some $50 million (this year, with $237 million in coming years) to "Establish Veterans Job Corps," it plans to cut $30 million this year, $69 million next year, and increasing each year in reductions of cost-of-living adjustments to those veterans. That is, the folk who have given up basically everything to defend the freedom we cherish, we'll be reducing their cost-of-living adjustments on their retirements. We already pay the military way too little (been there, done that), and now we want to reduce the yearly pay adjustment (it probably doesn't match inflation already).

But back to the original article. Proposed solutions to the problem include tax increases ("closing loopholes"), and it mentioned that we already had a gas tax hike back in the 90s to help bolster the highway trust fund. It just seems like there could be better financial decisions made by "the board of directors of the largest economic entity in the world" as regards our national budget and spending. (That quote is from Jim Moran, the congressman who thinks the congressional salary, a "measly" $174k/year, is insufficient.)

As for my household, we're working on getting our house ready to put on the market. So we can get a less expensive one. So we can pay our new "affordable" health insurance premiums and not go bankrupt. (Side note: the new insurance, besides being more expensive up front and leaving less in our bank account, also cost more when we go to the doctor, so another side effect of the ACA is that we will elect not to go to the doctor in situations under the new insurance that we might have under the old, because it will cost more and we have less to pay it with.) Oh, and speaking of ACA:

Just sayin', it's out there. That's a Google Play Music link; it's coming soon to iTunes and Amazon Music as well. Note: the "band name" of "Stab the Finger" - that's going to change (after submitting to the stores, I found there's a guy in Italy who does music under "Stab Finger" - so I won't use a name so close to his; the next submission, Robot Chickens from Mars, will be using a new name... stay tuned!). Feel free to buy that multiple times to help ensure my children are insured. Oh, and college. Etc.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Renounce your citizenship, get a place in college...

If you are a high school student in Florida (or have a child who is), and you're a legal resident of the US/state, you might just have your in-state tuition spot handed to an illegal immigrant in the near future. This article talks about a bill (well, two, actually: one in the Florida house and one in the Florida senate) that, per this analysis, will cost the state about $21 million (the first year) and displace about 5,000 legal resident students from higher education institutions in order to provide "College Tuition Subsidy for Illegal Aliens."

Yep, that's what it says: the bill(s), if passed, will attempt to "aid" illegal immigrants, but does so without regard to the impact to citizens and legal residents, without attempting to expand capacity, leading to their displacement. The benefit? Proponents of the bill(s) say that it will "lead to economic and fiscal benefits in the long-term" - that is, that it's an investment with a payoff two or three decades down the road. Those benefits may or may not pan out, and some have reason to doubt the claims (see the analysis for details).

Is it just me, or is this wrong? Similar to my qualms about US (government-sponsored) tuition for Pakistani students (paid for, in part, by my tax money, while my own children don't even get enough loans from the government to cover their college education, and which saddles them with debt, while my own money - which could be used for their education - is being sent overseas to pay for education of Pakistani students), this seems backward from a national perspective, that we're providing all sorts of aid and benefits for non-Americans, while leaving Americans (who are paying for those benefits) out in the cold.

Wrong. Just wrong. Is it time to reboot America?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Courtesy Part I: Concert Etiquette

First, let me point out: this "concert etiquette" is referring to choral-type concerts, or school band concerts, or similar things, not pop or rock concerts. Etiquette for those is, well, quite different from what I'm presenting here.

This will be the first in a multi-part series about Courtesy, which seems to be increasingly lacking in modern people. I don't yet know when the next installment(s) will be posted, and likely they won't be consecutive (i.e., there will likely be intervening other posts). Anyway, here we go.

My two youngest boys were in the Alabama Vocal Association's All-State Choral Festival this past weekend. Yay, boys! (One super-highlight of their going to All-State: it's at Samford University in Birmingham, where Milo's Hamburgers is; of all the things I miss most from Birmingham, it's Milo's - they had one in Foley for a while, but it shut down shortly after we moved down here. If you haven't been to Milo's, and you live near one, you should check it out - burger & fries combo with their famous sweet tea.)

The concert was great! Well, the choirs were great. The rudeness and inconsiderate behavior of people - which is increasingly worse every year (we've been to the AVA All-State concert pretty much every year for nearly a decade now, thanks to incredibly talented children) - that is not so great. In case anyone is reading this who attended and was one of the offenders, I didn't come over halfway across the state to listen to you talking, your bag of chips rattling, or to see and hear you clomping around during the songs. Absurdly ridiculous behavior.

So, some concert etiquette tips for these kinds of concerts (this applies to band concerts, choir concerts, school plays, and similar types of activities, such as operas, musicals, plays, etc.):

  1. Don't talk. Period. No one came to hear you talk. Whatever it is you're saying can WAIT (until between songs, between sets/choirs, etc.). It really doesn't have to be said right now, while the choir is singing. And, yes, I can hear you, even if you're trying to whisper. We're in an auditorium, designed to carry sound. So, keep your mouth shut. So what if your kids in the first choir and we're now halfway through the last choir? Someone else's kid is in that choir, and that person was considerate and respectful and didn't talk through your kid's choir's performance, so show the same courtesy for others. (At one point I even turned and tried to do the "shh" sign to some people who were chatting against the back wall - we were in the last row on the lower level - but they totally ignored me; I was videoing at the time, so didn't want to make a lot more noise that would get picked up on the camera as well.)
  2. Don't rustle . Whether it's a foil bag of chips, your concert program, keys, your purse, or whatever else, PLEASE be respectful and don't rustle it. It can WAIT. Like the guy sitting in our row who was eating chips from a foil bag during the boys' songs - it doesn't matter how carefully you try to maneuver your hand in there, it's going to make noise. It's a foil bag - that's what it does. Oh, and the chips, when you crunch them, that's noisy, too. Eat your snack between songs or between sets, but not while the kids are singing (or playing a band tune or whatever). It's rude. Note: this applies to opening bottles of whatever as well, especially carbonated whatever - that little hiss, it's distracting (especially during softer choral pieces). At least wait until between songs, and then take a swig of your Pepsi.*
  3. Don't get up and leave. There's one situation where this is acceptable: if you have a small child who need to go to the restroom, sometimes it's imperative to get that kid to the restroom. (OK, two scenarios: puking - please do leave if you, or your child, are about to puke.) In that situation, please exit quickly and quietly. But if you're, say, mid 30s (or mid 40s or mid 20s, several of the ages that I saw doing this), don't get up and leave in the middle of a song. At the very least, wait until between songs; better, wait till between choirs, when there's a lot of activity anyway (choirs leaving, choirs entering, etc.). It's really rude to be walking around during the choir's singing (rude and distracting), especially if you're clomping around in weird high shoes (like the one early 20s girl who left from the middle of a middle-section row, doing "excuse me" the whole way while traipsing past people still seated, then clomped out the back). And, if you do have to leave, be sure to do so quietly - don't be banging the doors around, and be sure to let them close quietly behind you instead of slamming shut.
  4. Don't enter. If you've had to leave for some reason (or you're late getting there), don't open the door and come into the auditorium and either try to find a seat or go back to your seat. Wait until the set is over (at the very least, wait until the song is over, although it's much more respectful if you wait until the set is over and the choir is changing - you'll have more time to get to your seat, won't bother people as much getting to your seat, etc.). That early 20s girl who got up mid-song, clomped out, and was very noisy the whole time, yeah, she came back in the middle of the next song, clomping in, "excuse me" as she was climbing past people to get back to her seat in the middle of the row, with the bottle of water and bag of chips she got from the snack bar, and then proceeded to eat her chips. Yep: she got up and left in the middle of a song to go to the snack bar, and then returned in the middle of the next song and ate the snack. And I lost count of the number of people - even elderly people who you'd think would have better concert manners - who would leave in the middle of a song and then return in the middle of the next song (instead of waiting till between choirs or, at the very least, between songs). Seriously, people, it's rude enough to leave during a song, but that aside, returning during a song is a total, complete, utter, willful lack of respect to those who are on the stage (and those who are trying to listen to those who are on the stage). Even if you felt you had to get up and leave for whatever reason, STAY OUT until the set is over.
  5. If you have a child who is distracting, please remove the child from the area. I get that a sneeze is involuntary, as is a cough. But if the child is chronically coughing over the entire performance, perhaps you should take that child outside the auditorium and get him some water or something, so that people can hear the concert instead of the coughing. I'm not trying to be mean here - I've had a child who was a distraction before, and I removed that child from the area. It's nothing personal against the child, and like I said, I understand that a cough or a sneeze is involuntary, but if chronic, it becomes more than a momentary distraction and should be addressed.
These are just a few of the etiquette rules that were blatantly ignored during the AVA All-State concert this past weekend. From what I could tell, the choirs did a great job. I just wish I could have heard more of them, and less of the audience. And, if you're interested, here's one of the boys' choir's pieces:

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Tale of Health Care

First, let me share with you this email that the President of the United States sent directly to my inbox (well, to mine and probably millions of others he spams nowadays) - click for larger view:

From the email:

  • "Doesn't include the 100 million folks who now have better health care -- who are receiving additional benefits, like mammograms and contraceptive care, at no extra cost." 
... yeah, that doesn't seem to apply to my family, who have LOWER coverage at nearly TWICE the upfront cost (monthly premiums), while having to maintain two separate health care plans with two separate insurers (one for the kids and me and one for my wife, and they're not even the same type of plan - the kids and I are on a high deductible plan while my wife is on a copayment style plan), with higher out-of-pocket costs and higher deductibles across the board. (And I know quite a few others in the same predicament.) In fact, we strongly considered NOT carrying insurance this year because of the increased cost (of the, you know, "affordable" health care plan). And our dental is now preventive only in order to try to keep the out of pocket costs reasonable (reasonable, haha, that's funny, except it's not).

  • "While our long-broken health care system may not be completely fixed, it's without question a lot better. That's something to be proud of -- and there's no good reason to go back."
... I can think of a good reason to go back. Well, over 600 of them, namely the $600+ that my former plan would have cost had I kept it. Well, not it exactly, something slightly resembling it, with higher copays, higher deductibles, and just generally higher cost and lower coverage. All for a "mere" extra small house payment per month. Even with having our plans all split up, we're out nearly $400 extra per month, just in premiums, with additional out-of-pocket costs whenever we make use of the "benefits" of our coverage.

  • "Something that's good for our economy and our country."

... well, it's good for someone's economy, namely the health insurance companies. And the government from the additional tax burden for those who don't comply. Not so sure it's good for my family's economy, as we're paying more and receiving less for something we aren't really seeing any major benefits from (like I said, our benefits are lower, and they're costing us more). Not so sure it's good for our local economy, as now we have less to spend on things like clothes, food, etc. Maybe it's good for our realtor's economy as we're getting our house ready to sell in order to buy a less expensive one to be able to afford this new insurance. (Anyone looking to move to Spanish Fort? I have a house that's less than four years old that will be on the market very soon.)

Oh, and consider this: the new, "affordable" health care is actually preventing health coverage for my family. How? Well, consider that every time I (or anyone in my family) go to the doctor now, it's going to cost more. And we're already dealing with less cash in our bank account due to higher premiums. Add it all up and we will, in fact, not seek medical care in instances where, last year, we might have. And the preventive only dental coverage has me thinking that maybe I won't get the fillings and crown that my dentist wants to put in my mouth (the build up and crown, by itself, is over $1k). Stomach pains? Eh, deal with it, it will go away, either that or it'll get worse to the point that you have to call 911 and take advantage of the great ambulance coverage in your new health care plan. Cold? Flu? Over-the-counter-only, baby. Broken arm? Well, we have some sticks out in the woods in the adjacent lot and an old ace bandage around here somewhere; it'll grow back eventually, I mean, they didn't have X-rays and casts to set those things back when they were still nailing people they don't like to crosses. (Well, I think they didn't, although I didn't actually live back then.) You cut your finger off? That's OK, God gave you 9 spares.

But let's look at some numbers from a different perspective. Per this article, which links this one regarding a RAND study, of those who signed up, only 1/3 of the signups were previously uninsured. And, based on other surveys, only about half of the previously uninsured have actually paid for the plans they selected on the exchanges. In other words, the majority of those who've signed up are previously insured people, and less than a million previously uninsured Americans have selected and actually gone through with paying for new insurance plans.

And if you happen to live in Alabama (like I do)? Terrible all around... per this Gallup study, 24% of Alabamians said in 2013 that they couldn't afford healthcare or medicine needed by their families (weird: I don't recall responding to that survey... I guess the results are extrapolated from a smaller survey set). And yet, BCBSAL, the one insurer in the gov't exchange for Alabama, cancelled their previous individual plans in order to offer the new plans. Which, for our family, were a nice $600+ per month more expensive than the previous plans, with lower coverage.

Thanks, ACA. Not to mention the stress around trying to 1) find a health care plan; 2) navigate the health care exchange (which STILL doesn't work for me); 3) get a house ready to sell; 4) move (if/once the house sells); 5) figure out whether to pay for college for the kids, mortgage, health or auto insurance, car payments, food, or utilities for maintaining the household... fun times!

I leave you with this:

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Sunday School Lesson: Taking Advantage of Opportunities

A few weeks ago I was tasked with preparing and delivering the Sunday School lesson for our Men's class (the regular teacher was on vacation, and his fill-in got called into work, so I was the substitute fill-in teacher for the day). This was the week of the "great ice storm of the SouthEast" (which pretty much destroyed Birmingham and Atlanta, due to the realization of the weather that was supposed to have reached further south, but left us some icy precipitation, and icy streets, in the deep south as well). What did I do? I based the SS lesson off the kids' activities during the snowstorm, and here's (more or less) how it went:

“Opportunity” - what is that? It’s what we make of it. We had ice falling from the sky, and we live on a hill, and the boys had a couple of old skateboard decks without trucks & wheels on it, and a box. So, what did they do? They took a situation that was unlikely (ice in south Alabama), the tools they had on hand, and they made the most of it - in this case, “sledding,” south Alabama style! And enjoyable time, and something they don’t get to do very often.

Why does it matter? It doesn’t, really. Shortly after that first video, they were doing this:

Ecclesiastes 3:1 - “There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:”

Seems like a good fit. But there’s more:

Ecclesiastes 3:11-14 - “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.”

Later that evening the boys were out playing on the driveway again, and our neighbor diagonal across the street came out and asked them what they were doing. “Sliding on the ice on our skateboards,” they replied. The neighbor went back inside… and came out a short while later all bundled up, with her kids, and boogie boards, and they, too, started sliding down a nearby hill (at 1:30 or so in the “boys, ice, hill” video). Our boys went and played with them while they were out (Ninfa and I stayed inside, where the warm was!).

What’s so special about that? Well, our neighbor is a lady who lost her husband a little over three years ago, and has three young children. She doesn’t get out much, mostly staying inside, and she doesn’t attend church. The boys, in this little episode of “playing,” opened a channel of communication with our neighbor, a lady who mostly keeps to herself (with the exception of the lady next door to her). She’s pleasant on the few time I or my wife have actually been able to converse with her, but pleasant doesn’t save you.

(Aside: that’s another topic: “will a good man go to heaven?” The answer, “It depends” - the question is exactly the same as “will a man go to heaven?” because “good” doesn’t save you, and it’s not “good” that gets you into heaven.)

So, this “opportunity” - for fun - turned into another potential tool in the arsenal of spreading the gospel. Did the boys actually witness to our neighbor or her family the other night? No. But that circumstance, event, whatever may lead to another opportunity, such as inviting the kids to an AWANA event or another children’s event like VBS. I did not take advantage of the opportunity to engage our neighbor in communication that night. Whether that is a lost opportunity or whether exactly the correct sequence of events played out, I don’t know.

But things like this, even little things that you may not even consider an a “heavenly opportunity,” when they come along, we should take advantage of them. Who knows the next time the kids will have an opportunity to go “sledding” (even if it’s sliding down an ice-covered hill/driveway on skateboards without wheels), especially while they’re still young and “invincible.”

Paul, in his letter to the church at Colossae, said this: (Colossians 4:2-6) “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

That seems appropriate, and is good advice - “make the most of every opportunity.” In the context, he’s talking about making the most of opportunities in the way we act toward outsiders, to the non-believers. But you never know when the opportunities you take will provide the opportunity to share the gospel, or even just encouragement and joy, with someone who is in need of the gospel. And that, sharing the encouragement and joy, can open doors for sharing the gospel that otherwise you’d have missed.

Even Jesus did that; Luke 19:1-10 tells the story of Jesus passing through Jericho, when he saw Zaccheus. Jesus was just “passing through” - but took the time out of his journey to stop and visit with Zack, and through that visit, brought the gospel - and its salvation - to the formerly lost and sinful man. Or consider in John 4, where Jesus is passing through Samaria, and he’s tired, so he stopped to rest at the well. That stopping to rest was an appointment to minister to the Samaritan woman. He summed it up in Matthew 25:40, where he says, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Some need food, some need shelter, some need clothing... some need fun. All need the gospel.

So… take advantage of the opportunities that come your way. (Sometimes, you never know what true opportunities may come from even the "little things"!)

Monday, January 13, 2014

The problem with GT6

First, let me say that I absolutely love this game. The friend ghosts, driving dynamics and physics, the graphics- all excellent. Car selection is pretty good. Car upgrades could be better, but that's OK. And the fact that it provides transmissions according to the factory setup, such as the CVT when you're racing a Prius (I know, right? Racing a Prius?!) instead of artificially giving it a manual transmission that it isn't able to be equipped with from the factory, another point in the realism realm.

So, what's not to love? The racing setup. Given that (so far, as I'm not all that far into the game) the races are a rolling start, with no qualifying runs and it starts you at the back of the pack, the races essentially become a game of chase down (through traffic) the guy they gave a ten second head start. With the relatively short races, two or three laps each in the first part (like I said, I'm not that far into the game, only up to the third tier of races), that equates to having to run four seconds faster per lap, through traffic, than the leader, who gets to run ahead without traffic.

Fun for a while, but the game becomes a game of fixing up your chosen car to the point that it's way better than the competition. You can't run races with equal competitors since you'd be unable to catch them, and you'd always lose. That's the problem with GT6, and something it's lost along the way with the GT franchise (I've owned them all, from the original Gran Turismo on the original Playstation to the latest, but only on a PS3, as I don't own a PS4; I also was an early adopter of the Test Drive series, playing it on a PC AT clone with a CGA monitor- while that was a fantastic game for its time, driving simulations have come a long way since then!). You can't have a challenge due to a driver and cat who matches you; the challenge is to be so much better that you can win a three lap race when the other guy gets a ten second head start.

All that said, I still love the game. In fact, it's paused as I write this blog post on my phone, and I'm going to get back to it now.

And just in case you haven't seen it yet, check out my ACA song video, which I had a ton of fun doing with my boys.