Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Prayer for our Nation

This year, 2008, I’ve gotten closer to the Lord. A lot closer, it turns out.

It probably started during my friend Jerry Fowler’s year-long battle with cancer, which he shared each week with readers of this newspaper. In the final stages of that battle, when the doctors knew the end was near, I used this column to offer a prayer for Jerry.

I had never really seen a prayer like that in a newspaper column, but it was something I felt strongly about, so I did it.

A few months later, as it turned out, I was saying much the same prayer for myself as I discovered a cancerous brain tumor and underwent surgery to remove it. A lot of other people, including countless people I didn’t really even know, helped me out with prayers of their own, for which I am deeply appreciative.

That was nearly three months ago, and the prayers seemed to have worked. Just a week or so ago, I went to Charleston for my first regular MRI to check for any recurrence, and the doctors at MUSC announced that I’m still 100% A-OK. (Of course, they’re only referring to my medical condition… not my personality, my looks, or my sense of humor!)

Through these two events, I have learned that, yes, it is ALWAYS okay to turn to the Lord in prayer, especially in a time of need or crisis. And that includes right here in my weekly newspaper column, if I so choose.

Which brings me to the coming election: I am deeply concerned for our nation, and -- just like being faced with cancer -- believe we might do well to pray about it.

I am truly concerned that our nation seems prepared to enter into an election – maybe the biggest in history, probably an election that will change our world forever, while the messages of 9/11 should still be weighing heavy upon us every minute of every day – without truly seeking the guidance of our Lord.

The next four years will see many changes in our world, and the leader we elect will help determine the world we will all live in for the rest of our lives, and the world we will leave to our children and grandchildren.

So, today, I am offering a prayer of guidance for the coming election, in hopes that, perhaps, we as Americans will look to a higher power to make these important decisions.

This is not a Republican prayer or a Democrat prayer. It is simply a short prayer to seek the Lord’s will before we cast our ballots.

Of course, you may well have your own words, which is even better, because, as I’ve mentioned here before, this is not really my strong suit.

But, one way or they other, I hope you’ll join me in praying about it before you vote… and maybe even encourage others to join you.

A Prayer for Our Nation
November 4th, 2008

As we go into this most important day of decision for Your world, grant us the understanding to know your will, and the courage to act upon it.

Place your spirit within our hearts to guide us in this decision, and in every decision for our nation, and for Your world.

Make each of us an instrument of Your will, and our nation a tribute to Your goodness, that we might be ever in your grace and protection to fulfill your Divine Purpose on this earth.

Make us ever mindful that with God, we cannot fail; without Him, we cannot succeed. Guide us to once again be a nation which proudly declares, "In God We Trust."

Bless these candidates with the faith and wisdom to ask that You might use them according to Your will and purpose, and to restore and protect our nation as Your light for the world. May our new President be graced with the power, wisdom, discernment and enlightenment that can come only from You.

And bless this election that it might strengthen our nation to prosper and endure in the service of Your Holy Name.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Electronic Internet

As much as I resist change, I have now come to terms with the fact that the new-fangled electronic Internet is a useful invention.

The Internet has changed history, and improved the lives of millions – maybe billions – of people around the globe. It has created a wealth of knowledge and information never before thought possible. It has fueled economies, transformed cultures, and fostered globalization to a degree not heretofore seen. It has caused international borders to change. The Internet has created advantages for humankind in the fields of healthcare, finance, commerce, government and education. In short, the Internet has altered the world we live in.

I personally like it for the jokes.

Almost every day, friends and acquaintances send me jokes via email. I don’t even have to go looking for them. I just open my email account, and there they are.

They’re usually good for a few giggles during my workday, unless I’m too busy, in which case I save them ‘til night or the weekend to read.

Most of the time, these “E-Jokes” – a word I just made up – are forwarded by a friend who received it from a friend who received it from a friend, etcetera, and on and on and on. I figure, the more people who have forwarded it, the funnier it must be.

I hardly ever forward E-Jokes. Instead, I save them in a “special place” so that, someday, I can share them with the readers of this column. Sooner or later, I figure, there will come a week when I have just enough time to WRITE a column, but not enough time to include anything CLEVER or WITTY… unless, of course, I have a stash of E-Jokes just waiting in the “special place” to be transformed into a newspaper column.

That week is now! So you’re in luck. Instead of me trying to dream up something clever or witty – which usually has about a 2% success rate – this week, I have some E-Jokes which are 100% guaranteed, because they were forwarded over and over and over!

So, without further delay, I am pleased to present, direct from the Electronic Internet:
You can say what you want about the South,
but you never hear of anyone retiring and moving North...
1) No matter how hard you try, you can't baptize cats.
2) When your mom is mad at your dad, don't let her brush your hair.
3) If your sister hits you, don't hit her back. They always catch the second person.
4) Never ask your 3-year old brother to hold a tomato.
5) You can't trust dogs to watch your food.
6) Don't sneeze when someone is cutting your hair.
7) Never hold a dust-buster and a cat at the same time.
8) You can't hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk.
9) Don't wear polka-dot underwear under white shorts.
10) The best place to be when you're sad is Grandpa's lap.
The young man from Tennessee came running into the store and said to his buddy, "Bubba, somebody just stole your pickup truck from the parking lot!"
Bubba replied, "Did you see who it was?
"The young man answered, "I couldn't tell, but I got the license number."
1 -- You believe in Santa Claus.
2 -- You don't believe in Santa Claus.
3 -- You are Santa Claus.
4 -- You look like Santa Claus.
Did you hear about the Tennessee man who passed away and left his entire estate in trust for his beloved widow?
She can't touch it til she's fourteen.

Where was the toothbrush invented?
Tennessee. If it was invented anywhere else it would have been called a teethbrush.

A new law recently passed in Tennessee:
When a couple gets divorced, they're still brother and sister.
At age 4 success is . . . not peeing in your pants.
At age 12 success is . . . having friends.
At age 17 success is . . having a driver's license.
At age 35 success is . . having money.
At age 50 success is . . . having money.
At age 70 success is . .. . having a drivers license.
At age 75 success is . . . having friends.
At age 80 success is . . . not peeing in your pants.

1) Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional.
2) Forget the health food. I need all the preservatives I can get.
3) When you fall down, you wonder what else you can do while you're down there.
4) You're getting old when you get the same sensation from a rocking chair that you once got from a roller coaster.
5) It's frustrating when you know all the answers but nobody bothers to ask you the questions.
6) Time may be a great healer, but it's a lousy beautician.
7) Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
While working at a pizza parlor I observed a man ordering a small pizza
to go. He appeared to be alone and the cook asked him if he would like
it cut into 4 pieces or 6. He thought about it for some time before
responding. “Just cut it into 4 pieces; I don't think I'm hungry enough
to eat 6.”

And he gets to vote!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Choosing our President – McCain and Obama

In just a few weeks, America will vote. This will be an historic election: a barrier will be broken in 2008. We will either elect an African-American or a female to one of the top-two offices, President and Vice-President.

So as promised, I am writing this week about politics, which I mostly do NOT write about in this column, because it’s sort of my job, and who wants to write about their job?!

When I DO write about politics, I always start with a disclaimer: I am a sometimes-Republican. Today, however, I am trying to wear a non-partisan hat. I’m not endorsing either candidate, but I’m trying to present my own unbiased analysis of both.

Back in January, before the South Carolina Presidential Primaries, I wrote about the process of choosing our next President when there were still more than a dozen candidates – six or eight for each party. I took an unusual approach: I didn’t endorse any candidate, but tried to give good, solid reasons to vote for each -- reasons that each might make a good President. (Frankly, I wanted to try a positive approach in contrast to the negativity which the news media usually injects into political campaigns.)

Here are my comments about John McCain and Barack Obama from eight months ago, long before we knew either once would secure their party’s nomination:

John McCain: I believe John McCain is a good and decent man, proven in the service of his country as a POW during the Vietnam War. He has solid and successful experience in government, and has shown himself to be a consensus builder. He’s battle-tested, and we probably know everything there is to know about him, so we’re unlikely to run into any surprises. McCain would be a solid President during a time of war, and one who truly understands the sacrifices faced by our military families.

Barack Obama: Barack Obama appears to be a very nice guy who is smart, capable and likeable. At a time that most Americans appear to be ready for a major change in their government, Obama represents that attitude - not only because he speaks of change, but also because his election as the first African-American president would embody the most significant change in many, many decades. Obama is perhaps uniquely qualified to be the individual who pioneers this final frontier toward unifying a nation divided by race since its inception.

Eight months later, I stand by my comments about both candidates. I believe they’re both good people who mean well.

Both candidates also espouse notions of change and reform, and both appear to be agents of change. For better or worse, change would seem to be coming in the next four years.

There are, however, differences between the two. Their philosophies of government and positions on key issues are different, reflective of the American population as a whole. And perhaps this is the year that the American population will make some major decisions about the direction our nation will move for the future. Perhaps, our majority will decide, that after 232 years, some of the ideas on which the nation was founded are obsolete. Perhaps the majority will redefine America.

So I would like to offer four thought-provoking issues, to help guide the decision-making processes of anyone who may be undecided about his or her choice of our next President. These, as I see it, are the major issues which we currently face as a nation:

1. The Economy. The recently exposed financial crisis, along with last week’s government bailout, has many Americans concerned for their futures. While both candidates voted for the bailout, their approaches to long-term solutions differ. McCain is more likely to offer the type of tax cuts seen during the Reagan years as a means of stimulating the economy, and is not likely to constrain the freedom of businesses to prosper. Obama is more likely to offer continuing governmental solutions and tighter regulation of the corporations currently blamed for the crisis. He is more likely to quickly offer needed assistance to those families suffering from the crisis.

Neither of these approaches is right or wrong. Some Americans prefer one approach, and some prefer the other. Traditionally, our nation has embraced free enterprise… but tradition is the past. The future may, indeed, hold something else for us.

2. The War on Terror. Homeland defense continues to be a concern for all Americans. John McCain’s military background suggests he will be a capable Commander-in-Chief, and his support of the surge in Iraq is now hailed as the right approach. Barack Obama’s election might signal to the rest of the world that America is changing, perhaps lessening the hatred they seem to have for our nation and our ideals. Perhaps Obama’s strength would be in diplomacy, turning former enemies into future allies.

3. Energy. Gas prices anger millions of Americans every day. If he were on the ballot, I’m pretty sure T. Boone Pickens would be elected. He’s not, but he has alerted most Americans of the need to stop shipping oil profits overseas to nations which are not necessarily friendly to us. Both McCain and Obama have shifted their positions toward expanding America’s energy sources, with McCain now favoring off-shore drilling, and Obama having recently joined him. It is my guess that Obama would be somewhat more deferential to the environmental lobby, therefore slower to fully explore all new energy options. Again, the degree of deference given to environmental protection when we are facing an energy crisis is a matter on which many, many Americans simply disagree.

4. Globalization. To me, this emerging issue is the most important one facing us as we choose the next leader of the free world. It is clear that the world is changing. We now have a global economy, and live in an age of instant global information. The next four years will see the world moving increasingly toward globalization, which will impact virtually every other issue facing our nation. The person we elect as our next President will help determine how America fits into a new global society… indeed, whether we try to exist inside walls, or lay down a welcome mat for all. Both McCain and Obama have wide ranges of experiences on the world-wide stage. We would do well to examine those experiences, and to look within ourselves to determine the course we want for our nation.

I cannot predict the outcome, but I am predicting an all-time record-breaking voter turn-out for the November 4th Presidential Election: more people going to the polls to vote than ever before. I’m just trying to do my small part to make sure they know what they’re doing when they get there.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me! (sort of)

WOW! I almost let this momentous occasion slip by me!

Today, October 7th, 2008, it turns out, is an important anniversary date for me: It's my 20,000th day!

You know... of being alive! Since I was borned!

Don't believe me? Okay. You do the math. I was born Dec. 22, 1953... which was pre-zactly 20,000 days ago!!!

How do I know this?

If you're thinking to yourself, "Wow! Rod really has too much time on his hands!"... well, no, that's not it at all. Somebody sent me a website a which back that calculates the number of days, minutes, or seconds -- as well as weeks or months -- from any day in history to any other day. I discovered that I had been alive for 19,900-plus days, so I looked ahead to see when I would cross the 20,000 mark. October 7th was the lucky day.

And I don't feel a day over 15,000!!!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Where Did the Test Pattern Go?

I stayed up late a few nights ago… well past my bedtime. It was a weekend night, and I knew I could sleep late. So I was puttering around, doing a little work, checking the fridge every 30 minutes in search of something else to snack on, and watching a little TV. Mostly channel surfing.

Shortly after 2:00 am, I noticed that I was still watching TV, and a question occurred to me: Whatever happened to the National Anthem and that always preceded the Test Pattern when stations signed off for the night?

It didn’t take me long to realize what happened to the song about Jose Canusi and the Full Color Electronic Test Pattern: Stations don’t sign off any more!!! They stay on all night long!

It bummed me out a little. In my younger days, I took great satisfaction in being up for “the end of our broadcast day!” It meant I had outlasted most of the rest of the world. Also, it was a good feeling to get a dose of patriotism before heading off to bed. Seeing the jets flying in formation gave me the feeling that the nation was secure for the night. (And, if that didn’t do it, hearing the John Wayne narration over “America” in the background definitely sent you off to bed feeling secure.)

But things change. The Star Spangled Banner and the Test Pattern have faded into the past, I realized, which set me to wondering what other little tidbits of life have simply faded away.

“Fill’er up” is a phrase that comes to mind. That’s what we used to say when we pulled in to a “filling station” or “service station”, which are what we called the places we went to get gasoline.

There are three reasons we don’t hear “fill’er up” any more: (1) Most folks can’t afford to fill up their car with gas; (2) If you can afford it, there probably isn’t enough gas available; and (3) There isn’t anybody to say “fill’er up” to! We’ve been pumping our own gas for 20 or 30 years now!

Interestingly, we still use the term “crank the car”, although we haven’t actually used “cranks” for six or eight decades!

We also use the term “dial the phone”, but I haven’t seen a phone with a dial in long time.

All sort of dials seem to pretty much be a thing of the past. Once upon a time, a dial controlled your phone, your radio and your TV. But dials seem to have been replaced by buttons and all sorts of “digital” paraphernalia.

We once heard an excited “Don’t touch that dial!” before most every commercial break on TV. Now it would be “Don’t push that remote button!”…. if they even tried, which they don’t, because they know we’re all going to be channel surfing during the break, just because we can!

Here’s something I haven’t seen in a long time: using your arm to make a turn signal, instead of the blinker. The last time I saw it was 20 years ago when I had to roll down my window to turn because my blinker was on the blink.

And another thing: When I was a kid, we were taught to “roll’ the toothpaste tube when it was near empty to get all the toothpaste out. I think the tubes are made out of a different material now, because you can’t roll them up like we used to.

Antennas up on the roof are over, and I’m sure nobody misses them. Still, they dominated our skyline for half a century, and it’s another piece of Americana that you’ll have to go to India to see.

Nobody misses party lines, either. Or the old-style, operator-assisted long-distance phone calls: station-to-station, person-to-person, or collect. (Long distance was a forbidden word in the 1960’s Shealy household. It was WAY expensive… strictly for emergencies… because what if you accidentally talked too long?!!!)

I do, however, miss the “nicknames” which were assigned to telephone exchanges. I grew up in the “Elgin” exchange, which was Lexington -- Elgin 9-9553, to be exact -- but could also make calls to the “Alpine” exchange, which was Columbia, without it being – “ohhh, no-o-o-o – the dreaded LONG DISTANCE!!!!

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a Polaroid “instant” camera. I guess they’ve been replaced by digital cameras. But they ruled for about half a century. Instant photos. The wonder of it… almost like magic!

Don’t even get me started on record players. Or records, for that matter: LPs and 45 RPMs. You remember… Vinyl! (If you asked a kid today if he has any 45’s, he might say “yes”… but he would be referring to pistols.)

We all know that records gave way to eight-tracks, which bit the dust when cassette tapes came along, which fell by the wayside when CDs showed up… which is about when I lost track.

It’s a shame today’s youngsters will never know the utter joy of playing a 45 on the wrong speed. Play it slow, on 33, and the singing was low, slow, and almost monster-like. Play it on 78, and every singer became one of the chipmunks. What a hoot!!!

Yes, the times they are a changing… and a lot of “stuff” changing along with it.

I could go on and on if I had time… but I need to wrap up now. (I want to try churn some ice cream to drop by the dime store before I go to the drive-in movies tonight.)

I’ll be back next week. Don’t touch that dial!