Category Archives: Essays

Thank you Ketchikan

Between our RVsThink Ketchikan, and your mind should overflow with images of eagles, mink, bears, humpback whales, fishing, and eating seafood, all set amongst glorious mountain and ocean vistas. (See the Clover Pass album for a small sampling.) To that, I’ve now added a note of awe for the cheerful, generous, helpful nature of Ketchikanites (Ketchikaners? Ketchikanians? Others wonder too.) in response to these three incidents.

The gum where my tooth was extracted in March was feeling a bit tender. Read on

I digress…

Walking in TofinoI’m rambling philosophically today, having read a Q&A from Bishop John Spong that seems to succinctly capture much of what I’ve come to think about God. Bishop Spong’s mantra is “to live fully, love wastefully, and be all that one can be” as a response to his experience of God as “the Source of life”, “the Source of love”, and “the Ground of all Being”. Around this core, I wrap my sense of God as that within which we exist each minute—the people and earth and universe around us. I hope you find his conclusions as interesting as I do. Read on

Wealth Inequality in America

Please take a look at the short video Wealth Inequality in America that politizane posted on YouTube. It illustrates the disparity I wrote about last fall in a post titled Income, wealth, and hope. Although I have not verified the actual numbers represented in this video myself, all of them seem to be consistent with what I found in my research.

The video superbly portrays the magnitude of wealth concentration in our country today. In my opinion it could have been even stronger by highlighting the fact that this is more skewed in the United States of America than anyplace else in the world. I would also like to see an even more dramatic treatment of the trends in income and wealth concentration over the past half century.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if journalists like Stephen Ohlemacher of the Associated Press brought this type of balancing view into articles such as Tax bills for rich families close to 30-year high that we saw in several newspapers yesterday?

Vote smart and easy

Project Vote Smart is a nonprofit, non-partisan educational organization dedicated to providing unbiased information to voters. With founders from across the spectrum (e.g. Presidents Carter & Ford, Senators McGovern & Goldwater, etc.), zero funding from special interests and lobbyists, and 5000 volunteers doing their work, they “battle to protect all of us from the selfish interests that strip us of the most crucial component in our struggle to self-govern – access to abundant, accurate, and relevant information.”

VoteEasy is their simple and effective tool to help us draw some initial conclusions from the data. Respond to a series of questions with your position on each of the major issues and VoteEasy shows you which candidate best aligns with your views. You can even assign each issue an importance level, and, having entered your choices just once, you can see your matches for President, Senator and US Representative. I highly recommend VoteEasy – despite the annoying airplane sound it plays in the background!

Income, wealth, and hope

Although we may feel that the wealthy seem to own an abnormally large share of the nation’s resources, actually viewing current data on income concentration can have a profound impact. For me, it has both strengthened a commitment  to my ongoing personal work in the community, and driven me to advocate for stronger policy-level adjustments as well.

Take a close look at the long-term trends in income distribution. As shown in this chart, the top 1% of earners in the United States garnered about 20% of the nation’s income in 2010.

Income Distribution Chart

This chart was generated using data downloaded on 11-Oct-2012 from the The World Top Incomes Database using the following parameters: Countries: Canada, Germany, United States; Years: 1920-2010; Variable: “Top 1% Income Share-including Capital Gains”

This reflects a dramatic, two-decade increase, to levels unseen since the Great Depression. While I am no fan of “Robinhood” policies that attempt to transfer wealth from the “haves” to the “have-nots”, I am troubled to see data which seem to indicate that the accumulated policies of the last generation may have accomplished exactly the opposite. Read on

Healthcare without price is bad medicine

With my left thumb joint failing as I approach 60 years of age, I find myself rather frustrated in an attempt to be a judicious buyer of health care. I wonder if the term “free market” even applies to the provision of medicine in our country today. And I ponder what policies can help us out of this mess.

The diagnosis is basal joint arthritis; the therapy is joint replacement surgery. Two well-regarded surgeons, a fairly young doctor who I thought would champion the latest advances, and a seasoned veteran who I hoped would tend toward a more conservative course, are in alignment: although splints and injections might ease symptoms, long-term relief will come only with surgical repair.

For some of us, a good deal can also be therapeutic, and competitive shopping is deeply rooted in my genes, so I began asking for prices. Read on

Gracious close

With the benefit of hindsight – and a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek – I’ve drafted an alternate close that Barak Obama might have delivered in order to wrench a resounding victory from his otherwise lackluster performance in the first debate on October 3. You might think of this is as the “closing summation that wasn’t”.

<looking to the moderator…> Jim, thank you for moderating tonight’s illuminating debate.

<glancing toward the other candidate…> Mr. Romney, I want to thank you to you, too. With all the new ground you covered tonight, this has been more like a fruitful discussion than a debate. In just ninety minutes, Read on

Are these healthcare costs rational?

Many of you have heard me “rant” about the unsustainable cost of healthcare in the United States, where Wikipedia reports total heath expenditures to be between 15% and 17% of GDP–about half again as much as other developed countries. So it’s probably no surprise that I recommend the article, The Cancer “Breakthroughs” That Cost Too Much and Do Too Little, which ran in the September 3 issue of Newsweek Magazine under the title How Much Would You Pay for Three More Months of Life?

Notably, two new prostate cancer drugs that cost $93,000 and $120,000, respectively, only helped patients live three and a half to four months longer. And a new pancreatic cancer drug that costs around $15,000 increased the median survival rate by only 15 days.

I applaud Newsweek for helping spur a necessary national dialogue about health and life. Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical and scientific officer of the American Cancer Society, is quoted as saying, “we need to talk about rational use of care.”

In addition to the financial considerations, we all know of people whose quality of live has been marginal-at-best during the extended lifetime their treatments afforded.

So, I encourage us all: please read and discuss this type of information. We all want the wonders of medical science to maximize our lifetimes and our quality of life, and we should continue to fund research and development that can do so. However, we must also ask ourselves, “When is it enough?” Recognizing that at some point the end does come for each one of us, learning how and when to accept the inevitable with grace will ultimately lead to more rational decisions, and far more peaceful transitions out of the life we know.

Essential separation

Jon Carroll, a San Francisco Chronicle columnist, expresses so well — if a bit cynically — some of my fears about mixing religion and government. Please read his March 1, 2012 column My little missive to Rick Santorum. Hopefully it will help all of us  to raise our voices in favor of tolerance, and to demand a government and society based on understanding each other as individual human beings.


Reverend Fife, Pastor Emeritus, Southside Presbyterian Church

Pastor John Fife

Reverend John Fife is Pastor Emeritus of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona, having retired in 2005 after leading a dynamic, activist community for 35 years. On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 2012, he preached a wonderfully stirring tapestry of memories and challenges that I have transcribed here with his permission. May we all read it, and feel stronger individual resolve to do our part to make the world a better place for every single one of God’s people.

Read on

Is there something wrong with this picture?

Consider Articles “A” and “B” that both ran on the Columbus Dispatch front page on November 29. Article “A” ushers in the new “era” of Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer. Article “B” contains phrases like “crisis could endanger the global economy”, “a key risk to the world economy”, “situation is more than difficult, even dangerous”, “could cause more financial damage to the shaky U.S. economy”, and “could damage a U.S. economy saddled with slow growth and 9% unemployment”. Whereas article “A” covers 48% of page A1 plus 64% of page A4, article “B” gets only 6% on A1 and 19% on A4. The coverage given to Meyer is over 4 times (56% of these prominent pages) that given to the European financial crisis (13%).

We all know that life will not really be substantially different because of a new football coach. Conversely, another global recession could saddle us with several more years of the kind of anemic economic growth and high unemployment that has so many families struggling today. One wonders if our citizens would better comprehend the gravity of the decisions made by our own elected officials if we reversed the coverage ratio. A case can be made that a better understanding of Europe’s tribulations might spur public demand for better performance from our own Congress instead of the political bickering that has paralyzed their ability to deal with a similar debt crisis here.

Our newspaper may claim that they are simply catering to the desires of readers and feeding their appetites for Buckeye news. But are they really adhering to the basic Utilitarian ethics principle of “the Greatest Good for the greatest number of people” that justifies so many of their other daily decisions about things like which pictures to print or demands for open access to public records? I, for one, would prefer to see a much greater emphasis on the critical issues that can truly affect our daily lives in a very real and substantial manner.

Choose your natural gas plan wisely

To counter the monopoly pricing power naturally held by utility companies, Ohio’s deregulation allows consumers to freely choose a natural gas supplier. The local gas company still gets paid for delivery service to your home, but you can shop among many qualified suppliers for the best gas price. Although the optional program requires wading through a bit of arcane complexity, it can be worthwhile, possibly saving hundreds of dollars a year—especially if you know this little trick to help determine which type of plan to choose. Read on

Michele Sibiloni on Photojournalism

On October 14, 2011, The New York Times front page highlighted a Michele Sibiloni image captioned Economic Woes in a Ugandan Market. Included was a reference to a Josh Kron story by on page A5 titled Discontent Simmers in a Market as Uganda’s Economy Staggers that was accompanied by another of Michele’s pictures. The associated web slide show, Economic Malaise in Uganda, includes both of these photographs along with seven additional related ones. This strong package impels one to ask, “How did he capture all of these stunning images?” Fortunately, Michele graciously responded by my inquiry with many details that provide both illumination and inspiration.

Michele gives Josh credit for initiating this story about the effect of Uganda’s economic malaise on the shopkeepers in downtown Kampala’s Kiseka market. He goes on to say that it is something every journalist—whether working in “photo-video-text or whatever”—must know, just because they live there and talk to people all the time. So, while we might wonder about the development of these stunning images, he compares them to the everyday job of a journalist in the USA covering any running economic issue such as Occupy Wall Street.

Read on

Overwhelming 9/11 Anniversary

While I mean no disrespect to all whose lives were profoundly impacted by the September 11 terrorist attack, I feel numbed by, and even somewhat resentful of, the deluge of media coverage of the 10-year anniversary of this historic tragedy.

For instance, NPR’s All Things Considered ran 11 related segments totaling over 67 minutes on the six days before the official day of 9/11 commemoration. Conversely, although the War on Terror has already taken the lives of 8,351 US soldiers and contractors (Costs of War) – nearly 3 times as many as the direct victims of the attacks – program archives show only 4 remembrance segments (10½ minutes) in the 6 days leading up to Memorial Day.

Similarly, Read on

Learning Their System

Learning new tricks is always fun… and the Habitat for Humanity – Bay Waveland affiliate has some good ones to teach. Because they “blitz” build so frequently with large groups of visiting volunteers, a smooth system is essential. For instance, do you see the compass rose in the picture? Read on