The Diner: Thursday topics


As always, I’m open for suggestions. Especially on topics about which I know absolutely nothing and have to vamp and show my own ignorance.

Also a possible topic: most undersung, under appreciated little piece of technology we use today. I have some ideas.

I Might be Losing My Mind


When they buzzed me into the locked facility, I asked the staff person to help me identify the person I was to visit. The brightly lit room was mostly quiet except for the TV playing on the wall. I had only spent time with one other dementia patient as a hospice volunteer, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. As the staff person pointed her out, I walked over to the table where she sat with three other women, and smiled. In her direct way, she asked, “Who are you?” I explained I was a hospice volunteer and I was there to meet her and spend time with her once a week. I asked her if that was okay with her, and if I recollect correctly, she shrugged her shoulders.

Over the next several weeks, I spent time trying to find out more about her, her childhood (which dementia patients sometimes remember well) and the kinds of foods she liked. She had grown up in a New York Italian family, so it wasn’t hard to guess some of the meals they had.

Jeff discusses the evolution of the U.S. healthcare system since the late 19th Century with Dr. Lauren Hall of the Rochester Institute of Technology. At issue are the surprising, and disheartening, unintended consequences of changes in technology and policy that have yielded the high-cost, low-efficiency and in some ways even lower-effectiveness “system” Americans face today.

Host: Jeff Sikkenga

The Inevitable War


The world is being riven into two opposing camps. While some might see the distinction as between democracies and dictatorship, the reality is more complex. While the mechanisms can be skewed, Putin, Hamas, and even the somewhat meaningless Iranian president, did win elections. After all, even dictatorships wrap themselves in the cloth of democratic legitimacy. No, the dividing line between the warring parties is far simpler. It is a line between the Glory Seekers and the Pleasure Seekers.

The Glory Seekers are those countries and religious movements that are trying to recreate a glorious past (or fulfill the prophecy of a glorious future). China’s ever greater Greater China Dream is a part of recovering their proper place in the world. Russia claims ownership to Ukraine on the basis of shared roots, Ukrainians be damned. Persia lays claim to the Middle East and Turkey is making its historical moves from Libya to Syria – and beyond. For their part, Sunni Islamists pursue a futuristic vision of a truly global domination.

Alexei Navalny


I wanted to write something meaningful about Navalny. It was that the Gulag seems to still be alive and well in the USSR… I mean Russia. Bari Weiss wrote what I wanted to write so much better than I ever could, so I thought I would just link to it here.  I am especially moved by this passage:

In our world of cynicism and cowardice, it often doesn’t seem so simple. But Navalny’s life—a life lived in truth—and his death—a death for the sake of truth—gives the lie to the moral confusion all around us.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Prof. Albert Cheng of the University of Arkansas and Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Barry Anderson interview UK University of Warwick Prof. Benjamin Smith. Prof. Benjamin Smith, author of The Dope: The Real History of the Mexican Drug Trade provides insights into various aspects of the Mexican drug trade, including its historical context and the evolution of illicit drug products over time. He discusses key cartels and their methods, the impact of the drug trade on Mexico’s murder rates, the immense financial scale of the trade, its effect on Mexico and the U.S., and the challenges law enforcement face in combating it. Smith explores the relationship among Mexican cartels, other foreign countries, and the illicit drug market in the U.S. He closes with a reading from his book, The Dope: The Real History of the Mexican Drug Trade.

Life, Death, & Psychology


Group therapy in psychology.

In conversation with a psychology major at public university, I found out that students study numbers not narratives. Here’s what I mean. When I asked the student what their major focus of study in psychology was, she said, “We study data, polling, and how people feel.” I was a bit perplexed. I asked if they ever discussed the great questions of life that everyone asks, such as, “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “What is my purpose in life?” “What is the source of my knowledge?!” “What is the standard for ‘right’ and ‘wrong’?” She said she had not heard those questions in her psychology major. My eyes went wide in disbelief. These questions, along with others, are some of the most primary concerns for every human person. I asked one last question. “You said that in your classes your focus is on numbers, on data, on the assessment of quantitative analysis.” She shook her head up and down. “So, in psychology – the science of how humans think and behave – you don’t investigate qualitative, conversational research, or read the stories of human behavior, or consider the narratives of people’s lives, or ponder answers to basic concerns that everyone faces?” The look on the young student’s face said it all. She realized that what it meant to be human was being left out of her studies. She was considering scientific numbers without social narratives.

Becoming a Military Dog Handler – Mid-’80s Edition Part 2


(Disclaimer: The training, etc., I discuss in this post was the norm in the mid-1980s, nearly 40 years ago. I would be surprised if a lot of this didn’t change. So if anyone wants to say, “They don’t do it that way now,” yeah, I know. I’m not talking about now though.)

(Part 1 can be found here:

“They Won’t Get Away With This!”


The Citizen Free Press headline screams “Alina Habba [Trump’s Attorney]— They won’t get away with this.” The link is to an appearance by Habba on the Fox News Hannity show. I didn’t bother to watch, I assume it is “blah blah blah appeal blah blah blah constitutional rights blah blah blah this will not stand…” Don’t get me wrong, I am very much against what lawfare is doing to President Trump and our citizens generally. It’s just the question growing in my mind about whether or not “they” will, in actuality, get away with it.

When I was a teenager there was this kid who went around bullying younger kids at our smallish church school. When I saw him doing so in front of me I told him to stop. He then shoved the kid one more time for good measure and turned to me saying, “What are you going to do about it?” I punched him in the face. 

The Tabernacle & Modern Monuments


In the aftermath of Oct 7th, Israelis have not only been going to war, we have been building monuments. Sometimes these monuments are just an empty plastic chair in the lobby of an office building. Sometimes, they are complete Kibbutzim – not yet rebuilt – where people can see and immortalize what occurred on that day.

Of course, the sharing of experiences through stories, videos and other mediums has also been common – but there is something fundamentally distinct about a physical monument. It requires an investment and acquires a sort of permanence that other media lack.

Nixon: Shafted. Can You Dig It?


It was March 31, 1973, two months after Richard Nixon’s second inauguration, after the biggest reelection victory in history. The American Film Institute’s very first Lifetime Achievement Award live broadcast, honoring greatest of all time American director, John Ford, took place at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, the very place where Nixon famously said “Gentlemen, you won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore”. That was only ten years before. Now, what a difference. Nixon, at the dais, was basking in glory. The guests of honor were former POWs in full dress uniform, filling the best tables, applauding as John Ford gave a speech about the power of movies, the responsibilities of Hollywood, and the honor of having had the co-workers that he’d had over a half century. Then the president presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

At the climax of his speech, John Ford said that when he heard the POWs were coming home, “I said a prayer, a simple prayer, not an original one but one that is one spoken in millions of American homes today. God bless Richard Nixon.” And what amounts to the supreme ruling council of Hollywood rose to its feet in a standing ovation, acknowledging the seemingly final triumph of their longtime cultural opponent. Can you imagine? It really happened

Joe Selvaggi talks with Marc Joffe, a state policy analyst at the Cato Institute, about his research on Medicaid’s cost and size. They explore how Massachusetts can control spending growth while protecting other priorities.


A First Discovery from Philippians in the Greek


undefinedI go through some parts of the New Testament in Greek. John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and James so far. I wasn’t going to do Paul next, but Philippians seemed like it would be nice.  So Philippians it is.  1:10 is interesting. Here’s the Greek-English side-by-side. It threw me for a loop at first.  I have the ESV translation in my head: “So that you may approve what is excellent and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.”  But the Greek vocabulary doesn’t seem like that at all. For “approve” we have δοκιμάζω/dokimazo, and for “what is excellent” we have διαφέρω/diaphero in a participle form, something like “things being excellent.”

But dokimazo means “put to the test, prove, examine” or “distinguish by testing, approve after testing.”  And diaphero literally means what carries through–“to carry through, carry about, to differ, make a difference, surpass.”

Weird–“so that you may test the things that carry through”???  Definitely not as clear as the simple English “approve things that are excellent.”

Would You Boycott NYC?


New York City, USA – September 10, 2012: A Tractor-Trailer 18-Wheeler truck is seen as it makes a sharp turn from W.42nd Street onto 8th Avenue while pedestrians wait for it to pass as it heads northbound in West Midtown Manhattan. (JayLazarin/

Longtime readers of my meanderings may remember that I spent some 14 years roaming across the country in an 18 wheeler following my retirement from the military. The idea was to see the country for awhile and experience as much as I could of the place I helped defend. I travelled through 47 of the lower 48 states and developed a working list of places I did and did not wish to re-visit in the future. 

Truth and Lies about Gaza War Crimes


Okay, I get it: Joe Biden is upset because there is a war in Gaza, the Israelis are spearheading it (although Hamas instigated it), and the Palestinians are the victims of it (even though some people believe the Palestinians support Hamas). Plus, it’s an election year. Although Biden keeps wringing his hands and making threats in response to how the Israelis are conducting the war, he’s behaving as if Hamas had nothing to do with the war going on. Especially when it comes to accusations of war crimes, the spotlight is focused on Israel. Does Joe Biden even know what a war crime is? You can’t accuse an army of war crimes that do not exist. I thought it would be worthwhile to define war crimes and explain how they are overwhelmingly committed by Hamas, not by Israel.

But if we are going to blame groups for war crimes, we should have clear definitions for doing so:

This week Ann talks with Brandon Tatum, former Tuscon (AZ) police officer and now Salem Radio host. They talk white people, black people, racism, policing and how Christianity changes everything.

What’s Wrong With “This Day in History?”


This Day in History is a feature of the History Channel website, one which purports to help us discover what has happened on any particular day in history over the past couple of millennia.

The page for February 18 indicates a few interesting throwbacks: In 1885, Mark Twain published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  The first Academy Awards were announced in 1929.  Dale Earnhardt, Sr. was killed in a crash in 2001. In 2011, the “Green River serial killer” pled guilty to his 49th murder.

And, according to This Day in History, in 2010, WikiLeaks publishe[d] the first documents leaked by Chelsea Manning.

QotD 2/19/24: The Coolest President


When Ron DeSantis was asked who was the greatest President of the United States, he said Calvin Coolidge.  If Don Trump had shown up at a debate, he probably would have wanted to answer, “Donald Trump”.  And Trump did do some great things as President. (He also gave a whole lot of power to Anthony Fauci along with a medal, so there’s that.)

But I like DeSantis’ answer. Along with being a good President, he was also a good man. There’s something to be said for that. And he knew what it took to accomplish great things. Here’s what Coolidge said it took to make significant achievements:

Muhzik America


How to tell this story? Walter Kirn and Matt Taibbi in their America This Week podcast, review the news of the week and also a bit of literature. (The start of each podcast is available on YouTube, but a subscription is required to hear entire episodes.) This week the “bit of literature” was a short story, How a Muzhik Fed Two Officials, by Mikhail Saltykov Shchedrin. It truly is short, so I’ll wait for you to read it and come back.

You Get What You Pay For, Including Joe Biden


In their later years, I grew to love my parents dearly, and appreciated the upbringing they provided for me. But as I grew older, I would have tense discussions with them regarding the home improvements they invested in. Having grown up during the depression, they were always frugal to a fault regarding the people they hired; they were barely interested in the recommendations that the contractors could provide, and were determined to get the best deal. Inevitably, the work was often shabby and poorly constructed, and then my parents would rant about the quality of the work. I would sometimes lecture them, trying to avoid saying, “I told you so,” but over the years, they couldn’t or wouldn’t change their choices.

Until they did. Eventually my mother registered the common sense I was sharing, and they started to be more demanding about the work they had done. And as they were rewarded with good work, they were delighted to tell me all about their experience. I, of course, congratulated them on their wise decisions, and from that point on, they began to enjoy the work they contracted.

America’s Best President


Americans reflect on the office of the presidency and its finest occupants this time of year with the Presidents Day holiday nestled between Lincoln’s birthday on February 12th and Washington’s birthday on February 22nd. Certainly those two contend for the top positions – both men of good character and essential to the nation in their own ways. Feel free to explain your choice for “Best President” in the comments.

Although others will disagree, I’d like to put in a good word for James K. Polk, both for the westward expansion of the United States he achieved (but I would say that, being the “Western Chauvinist”) and having the decency to serve one term and work himself to death so that America didn’t have to suffer his post-presidency. Think how much better things might have gone if others had done the same. Ahem.

More EV Woes


Electric vehicles completely replacing gasoline cars would burden our power grid to the breaking point, not to mention the added pollution to generate all that electricity.  This is a huge problem we’re aware of.  However, there’s another problem with EVs that I hadn’t thought about before (no big surprise, since I’ve given up thinking for Lent):

1000 Years Into The Past


Michael and Melanie Anderle are truckers, team driving with their twelve-year-old daughter Shane along. At a truck stop they are asked to carry a sensor package measuring time distortions. They accept, to find themselves 1000 years in the past shortly after taking it.

An Angel Called Peterbilt, by Eric Flint, Gorg Huff, and Paula Goodlett, begins a new strand in Flint’s Assiti Shards series opened by his novel “1632.” Six Americans from today’s Midwest find themselves in Central Illinois 1000 years or so before their day started.

They are in the era of the Mound Builders. The Anderles find Alyssa Jefferson, her two children, and the corpse of George Dawes with them. (He was killed by the time transition.) The Anderles and Jeffersons decide to stick together.