Monday, April 30, 2018

John F Nelson III, 1947-2018, My Oldest Best Friend

One thing about living on this planet as a human, that it takes a while to realize, is that it isn't forever.  I met John sometime over 60 years ago, I think.  When you've known someone for that long, it's hard to remember the details of your meeting.  I believe either Dave Buskness or John Ranney introduced me to John when we were 8 or 9 years old.  And I believe it was at Seventh Avenue Baptist Church here in Council Bluffs.  But I can't swear to it.

Anyway.  When most people are 8 or 9, they have little or no concept of death, especially personal death.  John and Dave and John Ranney who was a year younger than us, and Wink Longnecker, who was a year older, hung out together through high school.  It was in high school that John and I grew close.  We became like brothers… so close that we even fought like brothers sometimes.  

Wink graduated first and wound up flying helicopters in Vietnam.  When John and I graduated, I went on to college and John joined the Navy.  After college, I joined the Air Force and eventually found myself also in Vietnam.  It may have been around that time that we first began believing in death. 

John and I lost track of each other then for about a decade.  We both survived our military stints -- so did Wink -- so the thought of death visiting us personally faded from our consciousness.

When we reconnected, John and I were still drinking and smoking.  We did a lot of those over the next few years.  We were both living in Iowa back then.  We both married.  In John's case a couple of times.  :-)

I never met John's first wife, Ruth (until today) but I loaned John $125.00 to buy her a ring.  There were a couple more wives, Wanda and Julie, and finally Penny.  John was passionate about all his wives, but Penny was the only one who stuck with him through thick and think.  What love!

John got sober 33 years ago.  He was sober when he met Penny.  That may have something to do with their longevity.  I quit smoking 12 years ago, so I was a non-smoker when I met Sally.  And that definitely played a role in our getting together.  

John met Penny through my first wife, Vicki.  Penny and Vicki were friends in school and had stayed in touch.  Penny married John on December 31, 1989, and that marriage lasted.  He finally got it right.

My marriage to Vicki ended less than 2 years after their marriage began, and John stayed with me.  I was single for the next 19 years, but John always assured me that "she's out there."  John describes Penny as his best friend.  And, true to John's prediction, I finally met Sally 8 years ago.  That's when I finally got it right.  Sally has become my best friend.

John and I lived in different parts of the country for the last 30 years or so, but a couple of decades ago, we started hooking up around Presidents Day.  Which often was about half-way between our birthdays: John's in late January and mine in late February.  It was mostly just John and me.  We did this to celebrate the anniversary of our 50th birthdays.  When we got together, I would drink and John would smoke.  We knew each other well enough that it didn't jeopardize his sobriety or my smokefreeness.

We have rendezvoused in Vegas, Reno, Albuquerque, New Orleans, and various other places.  In 2000 we went to Belize.  John brought Penny and his son Roy.  I was single then, so I got to room with Roy.  Then in 07 we went to Australia, with Penny and my then girlfriend Judy.  She had taught school Down Under about the same time I was stationed in Vietnam in 1972.  She showed us around her old stomping grounds.  That's where this shirt I'm wearing came from.  It was the 10th anniversary of our 50th birthdays.

We had planned on getting together for our 20th, but John ran into a problem with his arteries, and we had to postpone.  Then, eventually, we had to cancel.

I did get to see him for our 21st anniversary, at his home in Colorado.  We went to Gunther Toody's.  That's the last time I saw him alive.  But I got to talk with him, laugh with him, touch him.  We'll resume our get togethers someday.

I now firmly believe in death.  But only as a gateway to a new life.

Rest in peace, John, my oldest best friend.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Roots Hold Me Close, Wings Set Me Free

At my church during the Sunday services we have a time of silence.  During these few minutes congregants are encouraged to pray, meditate, reflect, or simply blank the mind.  It begins with the ritual ringing of the bell, and ends with singing "Spirit Of Life".

There are a few key words in that song that are deeply meaningful to me: "Roots hold me close, wings set me free!"  Think about that for a minute.  On the surface, this seems to be a dissonance.  How can one be held close and set free at the same time?

I have roots in the midwest: "family values", morality, work ethic.  And my wings have set my heart, my mind, and my soul free.  The incongruity of these two is resolved only by awakenings.  The theme for last Sunday's service was "Gradual Awakening".  The week before it was "Sudden Awakening".

I've had flashes of insight, epiphanies, numinous experiences.  For example, in 2002 I suddenly realized that anger is caused by fear.  This came after an incident of road rage on the freeway commuting to work.  It was several minutes before my kidneys could remove all the adrenaline that had flooded into my bloodstream.  But fortunately there was no physical damage that resulted to either of us angry drivers, and I had time to reflect on the incident later at my desk at work. 

The truth that dawned on me and has stuck tight for more than a decade now, was that my sudden, hot anger had actually arisen from fear.  But what the heck was I afraid of?  That I might be late to work?  That somebody would make better time on the freeway than I.  That I might not be the best, most skillful, most efficient driver who ever took to the freeways of Northern California?  I realized that to address and treat my anger, I had to address and treat my fear.

That was a sudden awakening.  But a lot of the time sudden awakenings, conversion experiences, "getting religion" don't last.  Hence another of my favorite sayings, "Nothing good happens fast."  That's where gradual awakenings come in.

My roots, that is being grounded in the beliefs and values of my upbringing, hold me close.  And sudden realizations stick only when they conform to the basic structure of my being.  Yet wings: thinking outside the box, learning new things about the world, science, technology, or finding new experiences with people from other backgrounds, other cultures, other religions -- set me free to explore the Universe, both within and outside my own mind.

This is why I can claim that I am still adhering to the guiding principles I was taught growing up in a conservative Baptist church, while I embrace the wide, intellectually stimulating world of Unitarian Universalism.  I am, indeed, a follower of Christ.  And I'm no longer a fundamentalist.  I still believe that Jehovah is real, but that "Jehovah" is only a name I've given "him".  He could be The Almighty, She could be The Goddess, It could be the Universe.  It doesn't matter.  What matters is there is a Spirit that loves, that is benevolent, that is forgiving…. that is unafraid and therefore, never angry.  He, She, It is not vindictive, not jealous, never impatient.  In other words, something I want to be.

This, of course, requires me to reject the inerrancy of the Bible.  Narrower, more timid minds, those without the assurance that God loves them unconditionally and will never abandon them regardless of their "heresies", find this concept akin to "building a house upon the sand".  But in fact, it is the opposite.  The sands of Biblical interpretation, exegesis, and historical research shift with time and culture.  But "building a house upon a rock" requires something deeper than a superficial trust in a human-produced document with internal contradictions and clear fabrications, viz, inconsistencies among the Gospels, and the Old Testament reference to unicorns.

The faith that was planted, has grown, and is maturing in me sustains me through every delay, detour, and dead-end I encounter on my path.  I fear neither disappointment, disaster, nor death when I'm at my best.  I'm not always at my best, but even then I don't despair. 

"Like it says in the Bible, 'It came to pass…'  See, it didn't come to stay; it came to pass."

My roots will always and forever hold me close, while my wings set me free!!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Talking vs. Yelling

What a treasure of letters to the editor in the Thursday, March 22 issue of the Press Democrat!  Discussions of foreign policy, abortion, housing and climate change, plus assessments of the competence of the PD staff and of the president.  I know what side I'm on in each case, and I feel the urge to yell about the abysmal stupidity of those who disagree with me.

But the bottom line is, no one agrees completely with anyone else.  We are, deny it or not, a very diverse population, and current trends in violence, climate, a growing housing shortage, and religious crusades will destroy us if we don't cooperate.

Talk about what you believe. Allow others to believe otherwise and talk about their beliefs. Defend your beliefs without attacking others’ beliefs. Listen when others defend their beliefs. This works best when both parties adhere to these guidelines. When it doesn't work at all, don't argue; merely say, "Well, you believe that."

But then hopefully find some common or nearly common ground, shake hands and work together, each in their own fervently altruistic way, to help all of us build a better world… and maybe even thrive.


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Kids and Schools and Climate Change

"Climate change is a children's issue!"  This has become a rallying cry throughout the country.Children who are 3 years old now, as my granddaughter is, will only be 85 in 2100.

According to a recent article in National Geographic (, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we can expect the oceans to rise between 11 and 38 inches by 2100.  More dire estimates place sea level rise at 23 feet!  Children who are 3 years old now, as my granddaughter is, will only be 85 in 2100.

The fact that climate change primarily affects young people gained national awareness when a group of youthful plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in US District Court of Oregon in 2015.  On November 10, 2016, a motion to dismiss filed by the fossil fuel industry was denied.  In June and July of 2017, the case moved forward and a trial date of February 5, 2018, was set by US Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin.  Oral arguments were held before a 3-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on December 11.  The Trump administration argued that the case be dismissed and employed such drastic tactics to silence the voices of youth and keep science out of the courtroom that the trial will not begin on February 5th! 
But it is going to be very hard to silence the voices of our youth and keep science out of the courtroom.  Check out:

In early January, 2018, a group of evangelical Christian youths calling themselves Young Evangelicals for Climate Action posted the following on their website (  "EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt recently announced a plan to roll back the Clean Power Plan – our nation’s most comprehensive plan to date for tackling carbon emissions from power plants – with few concrete details for a plan that will replace it. Meanwhile, climate change continues to fuel more severe and destructive extreme weather events that threaten God’s creation, our loved ones, and our neighbors down the street and across the globe. This is absolutely unacceptable." (Emphasis is theirs not mine!)

Closer to home, on December 4, 2017, the Sebastopol Unified School District unanimously passed a resolution that states unequivocally that "climate change is a children's issue".  This started a chain reaction among school boards, city councils and county boards of supervisors.

On January 21, 2018, at the CCL NorCal Conference, Schools for Climate Action presented a slide show that spelled out steps to be taken by school stakeholders, elected leaders, and institutions.  They gave as examples the Climate Change Resolution by the Sebastopol Unified School District, the Carbon Fee and Dividend Endorsement by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, and the interest taken by the West Sonoma County School Board.  (See:

On January 25, the Ross Valley School District in Marin Co also passed a climate action resolution unanimously.  Then on Monday, January 29 it was announced that a climate change resolution is on the agenda of the Santa Rosa City Council.

The wave of awareness and the need to take action to address these issues continues.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

At Least Climate Change Doesn't Cause Earthquakes... Right?

Climate change doesn't cause hurricanes, but it can increase the frequency and ferocity of them.  Climate change doesn't cause droughts, but it can increase the severity and persistence of them.  Climate change doesn't cause earthquakes, either.
Or does it?
A geophysicist, Chris Milliner of NASA's JPL at CalTech, noted that when 53 inches of rain fell on Huston during hurricane Harvey, the town sank by 2 cm. Those 53" represented 33 trillion gallons of water.  Water weighs 8.34 lbs per gallon.  Do the math.  That's 137 billion, 610 million tons.  No wonder Houston sank.[1]
Okay, and then when the water receded, Houston rose back up again.  That's a good thing, right?  Well, it depends on how fault-ridden the bedrock under Houston is.  Turns out Houston is not a seismically active region, so there were no significant earthquakes detected.
A book by Bill McGuire titled Waking the Giant discusses the effects of climate change on the Earth's crust. [2] At the end of the last ice age, 20,000 years ago, kilometers thick sheets of ice covered much of North America and Europe, sea levels were 425 feet lower, and the average global temperature was 11°F cooler.  Then the rapid melting of ice caps and filling of ocean basins shifted the distribution of enormous weight on the crust of the Earth.  This caused earthquakes, volcanoes, underwater landslides, and tsunamis.  But not all of the glaciers melted and the global temperature stabilized.  Until humans discovered coal and the Industrial Age began.  We are now on track, with human-caused rapid global warming, to see these things resume.
California is a different story than Houston.  According to Warren Cornwall of Reuters, shifting water weight can trigger small earthquakes in California.[3]  During the driest time of year, late summer and early fall, the weight of water in California is minimal.  Then come the rains.  Reservoirs begin to fill.  Ground water is replenished.  And the weight of water on California's network of criss-crossing geologic faults increases.  This causes a pattern of increased frequency of earthquakes during certain times of year.
As the climate changes, oceans warm, storms pick up more water and become much more violent, and unprecedented volumes of water weigh down on California's faults.  Earthquakes are going to be the result.
As if that isn't a dire enough prediction, we may even see some new volcanoes![4]

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

On Health Insurance

There are a lot of things wrong with Obamacare, but Republicans and Democrats disagree on what exactly to do to fix it.  In my opinion, poor people should have the Gold plans.  Rich people can get by just fine with the Bronze plans.

Outrageous you say?  Hmm, let's take a look.  Buying insurance is taking a gamble on the future and hoping you lose.  Because to not lose, you have to suffer a loss, pay your deductible and, take the insurance payment and start over.

Take earthquake insurance for example.  These policies are priced based on replacement cost and how big a deductible you have.  We have earthquake insurance (we live in California!) and our deductible is $30,000.  Someone else who lives in Beverly Hills would have a lot higher replacement cost than we do, and would therefore have a much higher deductible.  If our house is destroyed in an earthquake, we can rebuild our house for $30 large.  We could handle that.  If a really wealthy person's house is destroyed, they might have a $200,000 deductible, but they could prob'ly handle that.

Someone who lives in Los Banos might have a house that wouldn't cost as much to rebuild, so maybe their deductible would only be $20K.  But wait.  There is still the matter of the premium which might, for this person, only be a few hundred a year, but there might not be room in their budge for that.  Plus, they absolutely couldn't afford the $20 large deductible.  So if an earthquake takes their home, they're out on the street.

Now consider health insurance.  In the examples above, let's say the Beverly Hills homeowner, the Los Banos homeowner, and I are all the same age and in the same good state of health.  Beverly Hills can afford a Gold Plan with almost no co-pay and a $1000 deductible.  I can afford a Silver, with a larger co-pay and $5000 for a deductible.  And the Los Banos resident has to settle for a Bronze, which has much lower premiums, but high co-pays and maybe a $10,000 deductible.   

In a good year, none of us use up our deductible because we don't have to see the doctor that much.  Beverly Hills's co-pay is very low -- no problem.  Mine is medium -- I can handle it.  Los Banos's is pretty high.  Los Banos hesitates before going to see his doctor because it's gonna mean skipping a meal or paying only the minimum on the credit card (and incurring more finance charge).  But he finds a way to deal with it, especially if it's his kid that needs the doctor.

But suppose the three of us have a bad year and need surgery.  We go into the hospital and we have our surgery.  The cost is $100,000 for each of us.  Beverly Hills doesn't have a high-end body with luxury organs, his premiums are not based on a higher replacement cost for his organs.  I need the same surgery and my cost is the same as his.  Los Banos also needs the same surgery and incurs the same charges. 

Beverly Hills pays his $1000 deductible and gets on with his life.  I pay my $5000 deductible and get on with my life.  Los Banos can't pay his $10,000 deductible and he and his family are bankrupt in one fell swoop.

The Bronze plans for poorer people should be the $1000 deductible plans with the little or no co-pays and cost the same as they do now.  The Gold plans should have the $10K deductibles and the high co-pays, and cost the same as they do now.  That's how you fix Obamacare.
This was inspired by the Summer 2017 Issue of UU World Magazine

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Nevertheless, We Persisted

The 45th president praises and reaches out to authoritarian dictators Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Recip Tayyid Erdogan, and Rodrigo Duterte.  And then shares highly classified information with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Authoritarianism and treason.

The Kushers profit in China off the Trump name and presidency, and meet with Russian bank officials secretly.  45 himself hangs onto his businesses.  Conflict of interest.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt fires scientists from the scientific review board and replaces them with fossil fuel industry representatives.  Then all the climate change documents disappear from the EPA website.  Climate denial.

Attorney General Jeff (What Me Worry?) Sessions, in spite of recusing himself, suggests 45 fire James Comey who is investigating the Trump-Russia connection.  Then advises law enforcement to charge drug offenders with the most serious charge available in order to trigger the harshest maximum sentences.  Racism and cronyism.

Health Secretary Tom Price praises the House (mis-named) American Health Care Act saying it will increase patients' access to health care, when the CBO and the AMA assert the opposite.  Healthcare only for the rich and the well.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke supports the Keystone Pipeline, opposes carbon emission regulation, "reviews" our National Monuments.  Exploitation of public lands.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appears with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, laughs with him about Jim Comey's firing, and walks off without answering reporters' questions.  Profits before people.

Education Secretary Bestsy DeVos wants taxpayers to pay for private schools even if they discriminate.  Anti-public education and more racism.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott signs a law threatening sheriffs with jail if they do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities, when every major police chief in the state opposed the bill.  Anti-immigrant nationalism.

House of Representatives candidate Greg Gianforte violently attacks a reporter and gets a hundred thousand dollars in donations when news of it breaks.  Hatred for and mistrust of the Press.

Above and around all this, more and more of the White House gang is being implicated with Russian spies and money launderers, the latest being 45's son-in-law Jared Kushner, the highest-ranking, most influential presidential family member ever in history!  Nepotism.

Despair rules.  Hopelessness reigns.  Futility wins.  The energy to keep fighting fades.  He is not my president.  This is not even my country anymore.  It doesn't matter what is right and just and fair.  The only things that happen are those that the people in power want to happen.  And they got in power by cheating, lying, misleading, and deceiving... with the help of a nefarious foreign dictator named Putin.  Will of the people -- will of the majority -- be damned.

You can curse me for this nihilistic soliloquy, but this is where I seem to be right now. 

Or...  Maybe I just need to rest a bit, catch my breath, take five, go to coffee.  Inhale.  Exhale.  Sip of coffee.  (Sip of scotch?)  Close the eyes a moment.  Breathe!

Okay, I feel a little better now.  I remember Dr Martin Luther King Jr, and Representative John Lewis, and labor activists Cesar Chavez and Joe Hill.  No one will remember my name, but they'll remember Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye and Carl Sagan.  King and Lewis and Chavez and Hill and Tyson and Nye and Sagan weren't and aren't alone.  There were many, many thousands behind them.  Maybe I can be one of those nameless thousands that persisted!

Okay, I'm ready to go hit it again.  Write letters and op eds.  Call my Congressones.  Knock on doors.  Phone bank.  Table.  All those good, empowering, difference-making verbs.  The odds may be against us.  We may be out-numbered.  We may be out-gunned....

Nevertheless, we persisted!