Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Another Good Man Gone...

Our friend Reid Gauker passed away last month...

Reid and Betty Gauker were the parents of Chris, Matt, and Lisa.  Matt was the same age as me.  Chris was the much cooler, older brother (not surprisingly he is now an author and a professor of philosophy at the University of Cincinatti).  Lisa was the much younger kid sister.  Matt was in most if not all of my grade school classes at Washburn Elementary in Bloomington, Minnesota.  Matt, my brother Steve, and I were in the same Cub Scout Den run by Mrs. Zahn back in the 1960s.  Matt and I ran in different circles in Junior and Senior High School and encountered each other only randomly in the years afterwards.  Reid and I spoke from time to time; he seemed always to have a few minutes to catch up.  In the Spring of 1985 he helped me sell a few spare black powder rifles, a hobby I had lost interest in.  I was away in California from 1985 to 1999.  Long in poor health, Betty died in 1997.

When we returned to Minnesota I had occasion to visit Reid and became entranced by the custom muzzle loading long rifles he had built over the years.  My interest in black powder guns was reignited.  Reid invited me to a meeting of his black powder club.  He introduced me to another fella who took me to the range.  There I had a chance to shoot a French Tulle Fusil de Chasse muzzle loader reproduction.  Buoyed by Reid's encouragement, I decided to build one for myself.  When the work was finally finished I took the fusil to Reid to show it off.  He was pleased with the results.  Then he said, "Say, have you ever made a powder horn?"  I admitted I had not.  Reid proudly showed me some examples of his current hobby, making custom crafted powder horns.  He immediately selected several raw horns for me and suggested I give it a try.  He was concerned one horn was a little too gnarled and offered to swap it for another.  I said I wanted to try using it anyway.  Reid relented.  I returned to visit him a month or so later with a nice little horn, handsome in a pug-nosed sort of way.  Reid was pleased with my first effort.  "I wasn't sure there was a horn in there, but you found it."

Reid was diagnosed with cancer in 2009.  That Fall my mom said "Reid asked you to come visit."  Matt was living at home then.  Lisa and her family were staying with Reid too.  I called to set a time for a visit but Reid asked me to check in again after the holidays.  I regret I never did.  It was have been nice to see Matt again, but he died in September of 2010.  I sat with Reid for a while before Matt's memorial service.  He seemed tired, and frail, and sad.

In January of 2011 Mom told me Reid was in hospice.  I planned to go see him, but first I wanted to find a picture of Matt and me in our Cub Scout uniforms that I knew was somewhere in one of many photo albums.  I spent too much time looking for it.  Reid passed away in the company of family and friends on February 27, 2011.  He was 84 years old.  Reid's memorial was conducted several weeks later.  In the lobby of the funeral home was a display that included Reid's best rifle and several of his finest horns.  During the lovingly conducted celebration I learned many things about Reid, Betty, Chris, Matt, and Lisa that I had not known before.  I respected Reid as Matt's friendly dad when I was child and appreciated the friendship he offered me when I became an adult.  He was a fine man his whole life.

Kepler Mission Treasure Trove

The Kepler mission to detect Earth-sized and larger worlds in the habitable zone of other stars has yielded 1235 candidate planets so far...

image courtesy of http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/

Kepler is looking for planets that reside in the "Goldilocks zone," an orbit the correct distance from its star which should allow liquid water to exist on its surface.  The Kepler spacecraft has been in orbit since 2009.  I had no idea it had met with such success.  Click on the graphic representation of the data collected so far for an impressive display.  Still, the mission calls for each candidate planet to transit its star three times, so we get to wait a while longer...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Don't Pray? Don't Say!

Yes, Virginia, there are atheists in foxholes...but some of their commanders would rather not admit it.

Rock the Fort (Ft. Bragg) 2010, put on by the Billy Graham Evangelist Association, was hosted by Ft. Bragg despite complaints that such an event constituted endorsement of religion on the part of the federal government.  Even excluding a Golden Knights skydiving presentation at the event it looked like the post spent $50-100K on the event.  No problem, said Lieutenant General Frank G. Helmick, other groups were welcome to host an event of similar magnitude and enjoy a similar level of support from the DoD, the Army, and Fort Bragg.  Rock Beyond Belief was born.

Preparations were made.  Speakers - such as Richard Dawkins and Dan Barker - were lined up.  Musicians were booked.  Rock Beyond Belief was going to offer a free "day of fun and entertainment for the rest of us" on April 2, 2011.  Then Garrison Commander, Colonel Stephen J. Sicinski, seems to have changed his mind, unilaterally downsizing the event, imposing limitations not asked of Rock the Fort, effectively reneging on the  on the deal.

This is yet another example of the ongoing religious struggle in the military.  A conservative evangelical Christianity seems to be the preferred - if not government endorsed - faith in the service academies, in the Pentagon, in garrison, and in the field.  This despite the fact that personnel who describe their religious convictions as "Atheist" or "No Religious Preference" comprise 21% of all service members.  Evangelicals claim 35% and Catholics 22% of our military population.

There are organizations supporting the separation of church and state, some especially as it affects what ought to be a secular institution.  The Secular Coalition of America lobbies on behalf of the secular perspective as applied to government issues.  The Freedom From Religion Foundation is active in the Rock Beyond Belief and other issues.  The Military Religious Freedom Foundation wants an even-handed approach to personal religious choice for our soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen.  And the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers are letting folks know that not only don't you need to be an evangelical to be in the armed forces of the United States, you don't need to profess any religious preference at all.

Meanwhile, on the civilian front, the BGEA seems to have purged most references to their Rock the Fort (Ft. Bragg) 2010 and Rock the Fort (Ft. Leonard Wood) 2009, though a few tidbits remain.

The fight to defend the religious freedom of the brave men and women who have sworn their lives and sacred honor to defend the Constitution of the United States of America continues...

CORRECTION: Details on Rock the Fort can still be found on the Billy Graham Festivals website.  Once active links to Rock the Fort at the BGEA are dead and the search function there returns no hits for Rock the Fort (Ft. Bragg) 2010.  This correction was sent to me by the FRFF.

Also, in the interest of avoiding an echo chamber here at the Breakfast, you can read dissenting views on this issue at God and Country blog.

UPDATE: According to the Fayobserver the official story from Ft. Bragg is that the $54,000 came from "an account known as the Chaplain Tithes and Offering Fund.  It's tithe money given by churchgoers on post, not taxpayer money."  Sicinski said, "We didn't give any money to Rock the Fort. No appropriated dollars and no federal nonappropriated dollars went toward supporting that event. Now, we provided security, we provided the location. And that is exactly what we are willing to do for Rock Beyond Belief."  Interesting twist...let's see where it leads.

There's a heated exchange in the comments section below the Fayobserver article.

REUPDATE: The documentation package - complete with "post-requisites" - has been resubmitted to the authorities at Fort Bragg.  Your move, Uncle Sam...

Humankind Orbits Mercury For The First Time

Our robot MESSENGER space craft entered the orbit of the innermost planet Mercury last evening...

After a seven year voyage, using gravity assists gained during one flyby of Earth, two flybys of Venus, and three flybys of Mercury, the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER) science platform will soon begin a year long mission of data collection and transmission.  It is our first spacecraft ever placed into orbit around Mercury.  Nicely done, NASA.

The Anti-Vax Bodycount Continues

Four children under the age of five have been hospitalized with measles here in Minneapolis in the last two weeks...

The pseudoscientific fraud of Jenny McCarthy, Andrew Wakefield, and others continues to afflict those who cannot protect themselves from their parents' misguided fear.  Measles is highly contagiousMeasles is a serious illnessMeasles can killMeasles is preventable.

Remember, herd immunity protects those who cannot safely be vaccinated.  It may involve a personal choice, but vaccination is a civic responsibility.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Best of the Do It Yourself Scholar

Explore the best in free web learning...indeed!

It's been a while since I visited Dara's excellent blog.  She has expanded her recommendations, lists many more courses, and rates some programs.  Some of the links guide the DIY learners to sources of information on current topics such as the rise of self determination in the Arab world.  Dara has also added a variety of posts on the how to of DIY learning.  This nifty resource is just getting better and better.  Check it out.

Demand Change Project 2011

Demand Change is a 2-day International Anti-Human Trafficking Event in St. Paul, MN, being held May 13-14, 2011.

Brought to the Twin Cities by Breaking Free and MATTOO - Men Against The Trafficking Of Others.

Based in St. Paul, MN, Breaking Free provides housing, advocacy, education and hope to sex-trafficked/prostituted women and girls.

MATTOO exists to educate and involve men, raise international public awareness, and employ the power of innovative business to advance sustainable and transformational human trafficking policy and cultural changes.

The solution is simple: With no buyer, there is no seller, and with no seller, there is no victim.

Leaves of Grass

Sorry, mostly not the Walt Whitman variety...

What do you get when you combine Edward Norton playing twin brothers, one a world renowned classics professor, the other a rather sophisticated cultivator of cannabis?  Before you answer, there's also Susan Sarandon as their mom and former stoner who has cloistered herself in a retirement home; Richard Dreyfus as a Jewish mobster in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Keri Russell as a poet and award winning catfish noodler; and character actor Josh Pais (you'll recognize him when you see him) as a displaced Manhattan orthodontist.  Starring, written, and directed by Tim Blake Nelson (who is perhaps most memorable for his role in Brother Where Art Thou?) Leaves of Grass has a few too many sudden and shockingly realistic homicides to be a true comedy.  Still, there are many clever riffs on the myriad challenges in the life of a professional academic, the ethical conflict between pot growing purists and those trading in home-cooked pharmaceuticals, the number of synagogues in Tulsa, an infatuated student who expresses her unwanted affections in Latin, and the differences between Nazi and Hindu swastikas.  Quirky, weird, hilarious in spots, shocking in others, a stretch for several of its actors, and showing real affection towards its characters, I was pleasantly surprised by Leaves of Grass.

Monday, March 14, 2011

I'm Not For Sale: Slavery Past and Present

The 16th Annual Building Bridges Conference was held Saturday, March 12, 2011, at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota.

The event opened in Christ Chapel with a piece by I Am We Are, a social justice performance group organized by students at Gustavus.

The first of the day's many speakers was Dr. Joy DeGruy, who gave the keynote on her concept of “Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome."

Joy Friedman, Women's Program Manager at Breaking Free, gave a harrowing account of her life as a victim of human trafficking and her role today helping women and girls escape prostitution. 

Alison Kileen spoke on "Interfaith Communities Combating Human Trafficking" on behalf of Minnesota's Joint Religious Legislative Coalition (JRLC).  

Suzanne Koepplinger, Executive Director of Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center discussed her organization's research report titled "Shattered Hearts: Commercial sexual exploitation of American Indian women and girls."

I regret I was not able to stay for the entire talk given by Connor Grennan, founder and president of Next Generation Nepal.  The story of his experiences restoring trafficked Nepalese children to their families has been captured in his book Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal. 

Likewise, I was unable to hear the talks by James Brewer Stewart or Jennifer Kimball of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, or participate in "the action piece" - a highlight of every Building Bridges Conference. 

Our daughter, Cassandra, worked on the conference again this year (her last at Gustavus).  What a fine program!  We are so proud of her work on issues of importance.

That's Right, Don't Anger Your Bodyguards

Frankly, I wasn't paying much attention to the gubernatorial politics and the legislative process in Wisconsin, until last week...

During the legal (and illegal) wrangling at the Wisconsin legislature last week Republican legislators made much of the fact that they had to be escorted from the capitol by police.  Perhaps these lawmakers took comfort knowing the police protecting them were exempt from the provisions of their bill which strips other public employees of their rights to bargain collectively.  Such a move is as cynical as it is transparent.  Some off duty cops didn't fall for it and openly expressed support for the protesters.  

If Governor Walker is really doing whatever it takes by whatever means necessary to balance the Wisconsin budget he'll back to strip the cops, firefighters, and state patrol of their rights as well.  If it really is just union busting tactics in support of an arch conservative economic agenda then he might come back anyway, if he thinks he can get away with it.

I'm so very happy we live in the United States where citizens and civil servants, unlike those in some countries, can depend on a tradition of law enforcement professionalism and excellence...so are Republican officials in Madison, Wisconsin, I bet.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

An Interesting Firearms Blog

Published since 2006 by someone in the Twin Cities metro...

The blogger at Average Joe's Handgun Reviews does not share his name but he has been running a neat little blog since 2006.  He has an organized and consistent approach to evaluating new and old handguns.  His photography runs from very good to studio grade.  It sounds like he spends as much time and money in Twin Cities gun shops as I used.  We agree on some things and disagree about others.  Like me, he finds the Kahr pistols to small to use effectively at speed and doesn't care for the grip angle on the Glock.  Unlike me, he no longer thinks a J-frame revolver is good choice for concealed carry by the average citizen.  He provides an interesting resource I encourage you to check out if you're looking for opinions on particular handguns or concealed carry topics in general.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Couple of My Favorite 1980's Horror Films...

...resurfaced on NetFlix recently.

Michael Mann's The Keep (1983) is still stylish as hell.  The cast included a Scott Glenn, J├╝rgen Prochnow, Robert Prosky, Ian McKellen, and Gabriel Byrne (playing one very nasty Nazi).  Some of the special effects shots were not that good at the time and have not aged well at all.  The visual effects man, Wally Veevers, died during the production, taking some of his better ideas for the movie with him to the grave.  Others of Veevers' tricks are still pretty awesome.  The film is set in a gloomy gray pass in the Carpathian mountains where Wehrmacht soldiers - who in 1941 still anticipated a quick victory against the Soviets - encounter a force more evil than themselves.  Many Nazis die, which is always a good thing.

Nomads (1986) was written and directed by John McTiernan (who helmed the classic Predator the very next year year).  It has big hair, 80's music, and a pretty nasty French accent delivered by Pierce Brosnan, and draws on ancient Inupiaq folklore being played out in modern Los Angeles.  The idea was not perfectly developed, but it leaves us with nagging questions.  What if some of the cast off, marginal people we struggle to ignore every day were visible only to us?  What if we were not supposed to see them?  Does anyone do creepy and alluring like Mary Woronov did back in the day?  Why did McTiernan think a remake of Rollerball was necessary?

Monday, March 7, 2011


Just monsters...

Imagine a world in which northern Mexico and the the America southwest have become infested with dangerous alien life accidentally released from a space probe returning from Jupiter's moon Europa six years earlier.  There is now a quarantined area in which Mexican and American forces are fighting a losing battle to contain the unwelcome creatures.  Unable to arrange passage home an aspiring photographer and the daughter of his employer choose to brave the "Infected Zone."

Filmed in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Texas, this clever low budget film ($500,000) was captured on digital camera by Gareth Edwards and then edited on his PC using off the shelf software.  Apart from the two leads, Samantha Wynden and Andrew Kaulder, the production depended on the talents of local non actors filmed ad lib in real life settings.  The movie evokes the verisimilitude of District Nine and Cloverfield and pays homage to scenes from Apocalypse Now and War of the Worlds

The acting is unaffected and genuine.  The effects are understated and effective.  The creatures are rarely on screen but they can be heard calling to one another in the night.  The result is eerie, realistic, and emotionally engaging.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Dark And Layered With Meaning

As if we need an excuse to watch a movie starring the daring Eva Green...

The 2008 movie Franklyn is set in a futuristic dystopian theocracy where secrets have become lies.  Or is it?  Directed by Gerald McMorrow, this science fiction flavored psychological thriller is stylish and visually rich, recalling V for Vendetta, Dark City, and Blade Runner, among others.  For some reason I am always surprised Ryan Phillipe can act, but he does well here.  The delightful Eva Green carries the emotional heart of the story, much of which is set in modern day London.  Actor Bernard Hill, most memorable as Theoden in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, does a nice turn as a grieving father seeking a long lost son.  The film weaves themes of estrangement, art, suicide, remorse, loss, madness, religion, and acts of redemption in moments of clarity.  It's not a perfect film, but it's a fine way to make use of your NetFlix watch instantly subscription some dark and quiet winter evening.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

On the Importance of Herd Immunity

The decision to not vaccinate our children and ourselves is more than a personal choice...

The excellent Dr. Ginger Campbell, MD, released another fine Books and Ideas podcast on 28 February 2011.  Episode #40 features an interview with Dr. Paul Offitt, MD, most recently the author of Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All.

The takeaways from this interview, Offitt's book, and the war with the anti-vaccination lobby are simple...

"Children are actually at a greater risk if they are fully vaccinated and live in a relatively unvaccinated community (that would include going to a school that’s relatively unvaccinated) than if they’re unvaccinated and live in a highly-vaccinated community."

"Herd immunity is important for three reasons: 1) It stops the spread of disease. 2) It protects those who can’t be immunized. And, 3) It protects those who don’t respond to vaccines."

As always you can sign up for Dr. Campbell's engaging podcasts on iTunes or at her website.  More about Dr. Offitt, his work on this important issue, and his many books can be found here.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

With Apologies to the Duke

True Grit (2010) is superior to the 1969 original in every way...except maybe that Dennis Hopper wasn't in this one.

The 13 year old Hailee Steinfeld is better than the 20 year old Kim Darby in the role of the 14 year old Mattie.  Matt Damon is better than Glenn Campbell (did I even have to say that?).  And, whether you care to admit it or deny it, Jeff Bridges is better than John Wayne (though neither version was either actors' best movie)  It's so good I may even read its inspiration, the 1968 novel of the same name by Charles PortisTrue Grit deserved better than it got at the 83rd Academy Awards but the Oscar's relationship to excellence is variable and fickle.