Thursday, June 17, 2010

Small People

British Petroleum Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, recently announced that BP cares about the "small people."  I cringed when I heard him say it - as much for him as for the "small people" on the Gulf Coast to whom he was referring.  I knew he would regret his choice of words.  The "small people" were offended, which is perfectly understandable.

Since I'm not as affected by the oil spill (yet) as those south of me, I'm able to give Mr. Svanberg the benefit of the doubt.  I'm not sure he meant to denigrate anybody.  Since he is Swedish, English is not his native language.  Maybe "small people" is a perfectly acceptable phrase in Sweden.  Maybe Mr. Svanberg doesn't understand that we Americans like everything to be big.  We're a big country.  We like big SUVs.  We like big football players.  We like super-size meals at fast food joints.

At the same time, we're very well aware that "small people" do exist.  In fact, most of us know that we are "small people" in the sense that we're not political leaders, multi-billionaires, powerful corporate executives, or universally recognized celebrities.  But we don't want to be called "small people."   It makes us feel - well, small.  

This leads me to a question - how can a powerful corporate executive like Mr. Svanberg, refer to "small people" without offending them?  After all, sometimes it really is necessary to make a distinction between big powerful people and "small people." 

Abraham Lincoln said, "God must love the common man, he made so many of them."  Did Abe say this with tongue in cheek?  I don't know, but I don't think I like being called "common" any more than I like being called "small."

The only other possible phrases that come to mind are "ordinary people" or "average people."  These are not as offensive as "small people," but they're not all that attractive either.  Maybe there's something in all of us that makes us want to be "exceptional people."

I'm interested in your opinion, Dear Reader.  If you're a "small person," what descriptive phrase do you prefer?  If you're Carl-Henric Svanberg - well, never mind.  I'm sure you have something more important to do.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Shroud Codex

I just finished Jerome Corsi's novel, The Shroud Codex, about the Shroud of Turin - that fascinating relic that has been the subject of controversy for years and will probably continue to be that for many years to come.  It's the author's first venture into the world of fiction after becoming a best selling author of non-fiction.  I'm half inclined to wish he had written a non-fiction book about the Shroud of Turin. As a novel, Corsi's book leaves something to be desired.  The dialogue seems contrived and unnatural.  But maybe that's just me. 

On the positive side - there's a wealth of scientific information in Corsi's novel about the Shroud of Turin. The characters in The Shroud Codex spend most of their time in meetings, discussing the Shroud.  If you join them, you'll learn a lot.  If you think the status of the Shroud was settled a decade or so ago when the carbon-14 tests indicated that it was from the medieval period and thus could not have been the burial shroud of Jesus Christ - think again.  It is now known that the carbon-14 tests were done on a portion of the Shroud that was repaired in the medieval period and not on a portion of the original Shroud.

No matter what your opinion of the Shroud is, you'll find a kindred spirit among the novel's characters. They include atheists who think the Shroud is a hoax, religious people who are convinced it's the burial cloth of Christ, and others who can't make up their minds.  The characters' quest to find the truth about the Shroud takes them from New York City, to Rome and Turin, Italy - and to CERN, the European laboratory of particle physics in Geneva, Switzerland.

My favorite character is Pope John-Paul Peter I - a ficticious pope who succeeds the present Pope Benedict XVI.   He maneuvers with finesse and good sense among characters of widely differing opinions.

If you have even a passing interest in the Shroud of Turin, you will enjoy The Shroud Codex.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Rocky's Journal

"Rocky's Journal" is dedicated to all animal lovers who like to indulge in attributing human traits to our furry and feathered friends.  Although it's fanciful, it's not fiction.  The events are real - just from Rocky's point of view.  My apologies to readers who think this sort of thing is silly.

I don't wish anything bad on Tesoro, the boss hoss around here, but I can't say I'm sorry to be able to enjoy some pasture time without him.  Yesterday when Jerry opened his stall door to let him out, the old boy could hardly walk.  That right front leg has given him trouble before.  So they kept him in and gave him some kind of medicine.  He's better today, but they're still keeping him in.  I hear the vet is coming tomorrow.

You know, I could be boss if I wanted to be.  I'm younger and stronger than Tesoro.  But, to tell you the truth, I don't want the job.  Too much stress.  I'm the sensitive, poetic type.  OK, I know there were a couple of bucking incidents.  The people around here remind me of them too often as far as I'm concerned.  I was real young then, and I wish they would just forget it.

It's usually the same-old-same-old around here so yesterday was kind of interesting.  That fellow from One Bridle Ranch came over and the next thing Fay and I knew, they had Tesoro standing over the drain in the barn aisle, running cold water from the hose pipe up and down his sore leg.  Fay and I went over to see what was going on.  Judy always thinks the best of us.  She thought we were concerned about old Tesoro.  I guess we were a little bit, but mostly we were trying to figure out how long the boss would be out of commission - in other words - how long we can have some peace in the pasture.  It's nice to not be run off of your favorite little patch of grass because Tesoro's decides he wants to graze there.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

21st Century Financial Astuteness

Time marches on, and things change.  What passes for financial astuteness has certainly changed.  This change was impressed upon me recently while I was watching a talk show on one of the news channels.  The guest was a lawyer who advises people who are in financial difficulty.  He had the following advice for some of his clients whose home values have fallen to near or below what they owe.  I'm paraphrasing -

Stop paying your house payment and await foreclosure.  In most cases, it takes from one to two years for the bank to get around to foreclosing.  This means you will be able to live in your house at no cost to you for at least several months.   Manage wisely the money that you would have been using to pay your house payment by applying it instead to paying off automobiles, credit card debt, and whatever other debts you have.  When the bank finally forecloses, you can walk away in better shape than you were in before.  So many people are doing this, you'll recover from your bad credit rating in two or three years because lenders are going to have to give up on the idea of loaning only to people with good credit.

I was speechless when I heard this on TV, and I'm still not sure what to say about it.  It's not that I think it's necessarily bad advice.  Let's say your house really is worth less than you owe on it.  Maybe you've been laid off from a good job and are having to try to make ends meet on a lesser-paying job.  Under these circumstances,  this really may be good advice.  It may be the best you can do. 

I think what stunned me was the spirit in which this advice was given.  It was not presented as a list of desperate measures to take when you're backed into a corner and can't do anything else.  It was presented as the financially astute thing to do - the slick, clever thing to do.

What happened to the advice that parents and grandparents of baby boomers used to give?  It was based on traditional ideas of thrift and went something like this -

Be modest in your spending.  When you buy a house or a car, buy less than you can afford.  After all, someday you may fall on hard times and have to live on less than you're getting right now.  Even if you have to go in debt to own a home or a car, avoid debt for lesser items.  Save some money so you can pay cash for smaller things.  At least have the discipline to pay for one thing before you go in debt for something else.  Get the refrigerator paid off before you buy new livingroom furniture.  Always put a little money every month into a rainy day fund to take care of emergencies when they crop up. 

I can't say that my husband and I always followed the advice the elders gave, but we're a lot better off for aiming at what they advised than we would have been aiming at 21st century financial astuteness.

I know.  I know.  You can say that times are different, the economy is different - you have to go with the flow.  But I think the day will come when the elders' advice will be vindicated.  They were probably the last generation who learned penmanship by copying the wise sayings about morals and money management that appeared in their penmanship books - called "copybooks."  Sooner or later we will find Rudyard Kipling's poem, "The Gods of the Copybook Headings," to be prophetic - 

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew,
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four -
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Well, old chums . . .

. . .  it appears that dark days are upon Louisiana. Where is Batman when you really need him? 

As a result of the Deep Water Horizon explosion, men are dead in the water, God rest their souls.  The seafood industry has been dealt a deathly blow. The tourism industry is in serious distress. Oil laden wildlife is dying a slow death in the marshes. As if all this isn't enough, far-off Washington, D. C. has decided to give us another knock-out punch by shutting down our oil drilling industry - pretending that they're trying to protect us from another disaster.

Where were their protective instincts when members of the agency that is supposed to prevent these disasters were spending eight hours a day looking at porn on their government computers? Where were their protective instincts when they were partying with the people they were supposed to be regulating?

Instead of putting another nail in Louisiana's coffin by shutting down oil drilling, why doesn't the federal government just do its job? Why doesn't it live up to its oversight responsibilities?   That would go a long way toward preventing future disasters. 

In the meantime, old chums, we have to trust the only super hero who can help us now - God Almighty.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


It's a hot, humid summer morning.  I've just come in from the barn.  Sam and Sally Swallow have almost completed their nest, high up on a barn rafter.  I can't tell a male swallow from a female, which is unfortunate because I can't ever be sure of who's doing what.  I suspect that it's Sam who looks on quietly while Sally adds some building material to the nest.  And it's probably Sally who chatters and hops back and forth on a nearby wire while Sam is working on the nest.  She's telling him just how to do it.  I had a conversation with Sam this morning.  I told him that I think they're building a fine nest.  He chattered back in pleasant tones.  I'm sure he was thanking me for the compliment.

Yesterday was June 1st.  I rooted around in the back of the bathroom cabinet and pulled out the big bottle of Coppertone suntan lotion.  Am I going to the beach?  Definitely not.  But just the smell of Coppertone takes me back to my childhood in a little fishing village in northern Florida.  It's amazing how powerful scent is.  I can close my eyes, smell this lotion, and be transported to the beach.  OK - maybe I have an overactive imagination.  At any rate, Coppertone is my summer lotion - and summer is here.  This means kicking off another one of my summer traditions - reading a sea-going novel.  I'm in the middle of an old favorite - Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.

Over the years, I've accumulated a collection of Dover clipart on CD-Rom.  I've used it to decorate stationery, notecards, and my computer journal.  And I've finally figured out how to make use of it here on Bywater Wisdom.  I like vintage advertising art like the scene above.  And no - I am not old enough to have dressed like this at the beach.

The latest news on the oil spill is that the saw they're using to cut a pipe is stuck in the pipe!  Good grief!  If this wasn't a colossal tragedy for people and wildlife, it would be a comedy of errors.  I'm not against drilling for oil, but I think it's insane to drill so deep on the ocean floor that humans can't go down there to fix things.  Apparently the robots don't know what they're doing.  If only humans could go down there, Boudreaux and Thibodeaux could probably plug the hole.  In case you don't know, Boudreaux and Thibodeaux are the main characters in a lot of Cajun jokes - the male equilavents of Lucy and Ethel.

I recently purchased the Divine Office, a Catholic app, for my iPhone.  I'm a sort of generic Christian-at-large person so I'm open to whatever is uplifting, no matter the denomination.  Many years ago I developed a love for the Book of Common Prayer (Episcopal) and got into the comforting habit of Morning and Night prayers.  I haven't been so faithful about Noon and Vespers.  The busy-ness of the day intrudes.  For that very reason, the Divine Office app is a blessing.  I always have my iPhone with me.  I can leave the audio off and read prayers and scripture, or I can turn the audio on and listen.  Sometimes I turn the audio on long enough to listen to the hymn and read the rest in silence.  The hymns are sung by choirs, and many of the hymns are old Protestant favorites.  It's nice to see the various denominations borrowing from each other.  It gives me hope for Christian unity - someday.

Kudos to Martha Stewart for a gadget of hers that I recently discovered - the Scoring Board.  It's designed to score paper to fold to make envelopes, and no doubt I'll use it for that.  But it has solved a personal problem for me.  Three years ago I had to train myself to write with my left hand because of arthritis in my right thumb which tends to tremble when trying to grasp something small - like a pen.  Fortunately it doesn't hinder any of the other thousand tasks that I still do with my right hand.  Although I didn't need lined paper when I was writing with my right hand, my left hand is more comfortable with lines.  Of course, you can buy lined writing paper, but there's so much beautiful stationery that is not lined - and I want to use beautiful stationery!  Drawing pencil lines is time consuming.  Even if they are faint, they detract from the beauty of the stationery.  Here's where Martha's gadget comes in.  I can score lines on the stationery.  If I place the stationery on the board - face down - the lines look slightly raised and embossed.  If the stationery is face up, the lines are indented.  Either way looks fine, but I prefer the embossed look.  I can score a full-size sheet of stationery in less than a minute.  I don't know if Martha dreamed this up during her "confinement" or if it's an invention of someone on her staff, but it's a nifty thing.  Thanks, Martha!