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September 2008

Henrietta Lands a MegaMarket

When City! Newspaper wrote about Wegmans Food Markets a while back, they ventured: “We suspect many Rochestarians would like to live in Wegmans.” They were right. Visit a store and you almost think you‘re at an outdoor market. People in chef hats stop you and ask if you want to try this or that delicacy they've just rustled up. You should always say yes....who would think food could taste so good? So yes, I can’t think of anything cooler than a loft apartment overlooking produce and opening onto imported foods. And now a new store opens in Henrietta this week. A megamarket. Any apartments to lease?  Alas, not yet.

There should be most everything else, though. A second floor restaurant and internet café, of course, overlooking the market area. I love when they do that. I‘ll sit up there sipping coffee, pecking away at what eventually becomes a post. Not most of my posts, of course, or even many, but I‘ve written a few at other Wegmans. Maybe there will be a tea bar, like at the Pittsford store. Or a seafood bar and grill, also like at Pittsford. You can dine right there between grocery aisles amidst folks fetching bakery goods, meats or seafood products. How cool is that?

The new Henrietta store takes up 30 acres and looks like a castle, crowned with a 77 foot clocktower. Half of the acreage is green space. There's a pond, spacious lawns, 250 trees, 1,600 shrubs, 2,600 annual plants and two acres of wildflowers. They like flowers at Wegmans. There's always tons of them. From store front along Calkins Road, ornamental streetlights, trees and sidewalks stretch 1,700 feet west to the town’s Senior Center.

In many ways, Wegmans has become the public face of Rochester, which was once a Kodak town. Is there not something vaguely disquieting about a food retailer (now the area’s number two employer) taking the spot once held by manufacturing? But this is new New York. Did Governor Patterson really say the state now exists on a “social services-based economy?” Kodak is a shadow of its former days. Partly it’s moved afar, and partly it’s withered as it‘s mainstay film product has become obsolete. In recent years, they’ve even taken to blowing up their vacant buildings rather than pay taxes on them.

But if Kodak and New York are in hot water, that’s no reflection on Wegmans, is it?  Wegmans fields thousands of requests from people asking them to open supermarkets in their communities. But they expand only slowly and deliberately. Founded in 1916, it wasn‘t until the 1990‘s that they ventured out of state; a new store in Virginia and one in Maryland currently represent their most southern point. At present there are about 80 stores. In 2006, Consumer Reports magazine ranked them the top supermarket chain. Fortune Magazine has put them on their ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ list for eleven years running; in 2005 they were # 1; last year they were #3. “The best chain in the country, maybe in the world,” is how analyst Neil Stern described it to the Wall Street Journal back in 1994.

As a little kid, I’d go shopping with my mom back when Wegmans offered green stamps, back when no one left shopping carts in the lot but walked them back to the store.

When the WalMarts rolled into town, Wegmans didn’t just roll over and die, but held its own. The company revamped its own pricing structure and sent everyone in greater Rochester a videotape explaining the changes. Mail carriers cursed CEO Danny Wegman for days, but not as much as they would have cursed a….say Home Depot or Sears. Wegmans is local. It gives back significantly to the local economy, runs a large college scholarship fund, and enjoys tremendous good will.  "People tell us they like shopping at Wegmans because our employees are happy, and that makes them happy," says CEO Danny. "We have always believed that in order to be a great place to shop, we must first be a great place to work." The Wegmans stores are decidedly upscale, yet without gouging the ordinary shopper. One can stick with the basics and not do too much worse than the huge cost-cutter stores, all-the-while enjoying far better service and happier people.

When Bob Wegman died in 2006, the community paid their respects for days. Civic leaders, food service execs, employees, and plenty of just regular folk crowded in for his funeral. Rival food chain Tops took out a full page memorial ad in the Democrat and Chronicle:

The Tops family regrets the passing of our colleague Robert Wegman. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and fellow associates.

The papers heaped praise upon him for days. He had community spirit, enthusiasm for employees, industry innovation and so forth. And of course, sense of humor. The story was told of an obnoxious industry consultant, a character who rubbed everyone the wrong way. One day he complained to Mr. Wegman “Why do people instantly dislike me?”

“Well,” Bob replied, “it saves time.”

Rochester and Kodak were once synonymous. Growing up, it seemed every other kid’s dad worked for the film giant. (Mine didn’t, though my grandfather had) “The company treats its people so well that the unions can’t get in”…..I heard that refrain constantly. But it‘s been decades since I heard it last. Struggling to thrive (or even survive) in the digital age, Kodak steadily shed the considerable paternalism it once had. At one time it might have ranked high on that Fortune list. But now it is Wegmans' day in the sun.


Tom Irregardless and Me        No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

The Trouble With Critical Thinking

Those atheists are trying to tell me that bringing a child up in ones faith is like child abuse. Sheesh!

The kids believe what their parents believe, they grouse. They don’t have a fair chance to become …..well….atheists! like us!

Sure, children usually adopt the religious views of their parents. They also adopt every other view. It is in the nature of child-rearing. Children of American homes believe in the supremacy of American life. Children of Chinese homes believe in Chinese life. Children of pacifist parents become pacifist. Children of hawks become hawks. Children of parents who value education likewise value it. Children of parents who don't also don't.

Children of Ford or Chevy fanatics also favor those brands. Even Jakob Dylan is following the old man's footsteps in music, for crying out loud! As young adults some may reassess their values, but as small children they usually are a reflection of their parents.

This is a fact of human family life. And as those atheists don't object to it in any context other than religion, we may take their comments primarily as a statement of dislike (if not loathing) for our faith. Moreover, if you do not train your children, it is not true that they grow up free and unencumbered and subsequently select their values from the great cornucopia of ideas. No. All it means is that someone else will train them, and it is unlikely that the someone else will have the child's welfare at heart to the degree of the natural parents. With religious yearnings nearly universal throughout human experience, it really is a fantastic idea to suggest that failure to break that pattern amounts to child abuse!

Ahh, but I’m not saying one should teach atheism, a certain fellow says, who leans in that direction. (leans pretty hard, I think) No, but what one must do is teach critical thinking, he maintains, confident (am I reading this into his words?) that such thinking will inevitably lead to atheism, as it did with him!

“These tools are very simple,” he says, “critical thinking and scientific evaluation of facts” Ha! Look, these terms sound good, I admit, but they’re usually just buzzwords for seeing the world the way they want you to see it. What “facts” are we to consider? Only theirs.

For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses are heavily influenced by the fantastic improbably of life arising through evolution, but that's not one of the facts we're invited to consider. Mutations, the driver of evolutionary change, are extraordinarily rare. Gene replication seems accurate almost to perfection. "Typically, mistakes are made at a rate of only 1 in every ten billion bases incorporated," states the textbook Microbiology. (Tortora, Funke, Case, 2004, pg 217) So such errors are not only extraordinarily unusual, but also only a similar infinitesimally tiny proportion of such errors are beneficial....that is, useful for evolution. And any winning mutation has to be beneficial enough to confer upon its recipient a significant trump in the "struggle for survival."

Get someone to work out the probabilities of that! It absolutely astounds me that people can nonetheless swallow it. Not only swallow it, but declare that failure to swallow it makes one a superstitious ignoramus.

These “probability” arguments, however (and there are many of them) are entirely inadmissible to science! Not because they are not weighty, but because science has no way to weigh them. They don’t adapt themselves to the scientific method, with its insistence on repeatable experiments. So, sit down with one of these “critical, scientific thinkers,” and you find you’re playing their board game, the rules of which are that you can’t move your pieces!

Thomas Huxley tried to illustrate how accidental mutations might nonetheless produce a masterpiece over time with his typing monkeys analogy: "If you give an infinite number of monkeys and infinite number of typewriters, one of them will eventually come up with the complete works of Shakespeare." Sounds logical, doesn’t it... I guess? Perhaps a good way to convey scientific facts to the dunces? Yet, when they tried that experiment, the monkeys didn’t write a word of Shakespeare. In fact, they didn’t write any word at all, not even a one-letter word. What they did do was pee and defecate on the computer!

The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that these "critical thinking" guys are the anti-religious counterpart of the Trinitarians. Yes, the Trinitarians….who take literally words and phrases which in any other context would be instantly recognized as metaphor, illustrative or comparative device…to reach the absurd conclusion that two beings that talk to one another, that are in respectively different places at the same time, that have overlapping, but different powers, authorities, and knowledge are in reality the same being (or different forms of the same being)!

The more farfetched your conclusion, the more absolutely compelling your evidence must be. Otherwise the one who accepts it is merely gullible. If there is some scriptural evidence for trinity, surely it is not sufficient to justify that fantastic doctrine which defies common sense and makes God impossible to understand.

It’s the same with evolution. Sure, there is some evidence to support it. But considering the fantastically improbable bill of goods they’re trying to sell us, it has to be a lot more compelling than it is.

That may not be critical thinking, or scientific thinking, but it sure makes sense.

*************************  The bookstore


Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

Finding God at the Plantation Gardens

When you're done gawking at Ithaca weidos, (see post)should that be your inclination,  then you must scoot over to the Cornell Plantations and take in the gardens. There really is something for everyone in Ithaca.

Stroll around and you‘ll think you‘re in one of those trademark new system paradise pictures straight from the Watchtower magazine. You half expect to see incompatible animals…..a moose, a lion, and so forth, with a young child somewhere cuddling one of them. Readers of Witness publications know exactly such pictures. They are paradise pictures, envisioning the earth as it will benefit by Kingdom rule, when those original Eden boundaries have been pushed globally, and the planet becomes what God meant it to be.

It’s not just the park-like setting of Cornell Plantations (under the umbrella of Cornell University). It’s the carefully tended variety, with every mix of color, form, and texture. Specialty gardens of every plant you can think of. Diverse and beautiful terrain with wetlands, gorges, glens, meadows, bogs, old-growth forests. And waterfalls. No Watchtower paradise picture is complete without a waterfall.

And you might, just might, in such a setting of tranquil beauty, come to wonder at contemporary wisdom which holds that it all sprang up on its own, through accident upon accident upon accident…each against million to one odds, and culled through natural selection. Orangutan armies banging forever at those typewriters.If there’s any chance we may see through such educated nonsense, it will happen while strolling the Cornell Plantations.

Okay, okay, you don’t even have to hold to the Witness view that God created each “according to its kind”….an unspecific word….allowing for “animal husbandry” variations within each kind, but always the boundaries between kinds intact. For purposes of this post only, you can, if you insist, take the milquetoast view that evolution is the tool God built into the first organism. (I mean, if you’re going to acknowledge that God did it, then why not acknowledge he did it the way he said he did?) Still, the milquetoast view does put God as the designer, and that will do for this post.

To think life all sprang into being on its own, however, with no intelligence behind it, no design…..well, maybe in such soothingly beautiful natural surroundings, you just won’t think it. You might easily think it at the mall, or the office, or while watching TV, but at the plantation gardens maybe you won’t think it. Instead, you may be struck by the seemingly obvious logic of Hebrews 3:4

Of course, every house is constructed by someone, but he that constructed all things is God.       Heb 3:4

I batted around with Moristotleonce the notion that atheism, so common today, must have been extremely rare in olden times. My noble sparring partner didn’t agree, of course, and threw a boatload of ancient Greek atheists at me, but upon inspection, only two appeared to be genuine atheists, and one of those two was such a sicko that he was subsequently withdrawn from consideration, or should have been. All the rest were more likely agnostics, and agnostics, then as now, are a dime a dozen.

For the thinking reflected in Heb 3:4 above is so self-evident that it must have taken much time to construct the mental gymnastics so as to get around it. Not merely to disagree with it, but to come to think of it as a foolish and naïve sentiment unfit for the modern sophisticated mind. Disbelief in God or gods is not really possible until you get around the seemingly self-evident notion that things showing evidence of design must have a designer. Of course, I’m aware that modern thinkers have learned to do it handily, but it is a relatively recent accomplishment. At the vanguard of scientific thought 300 years ago was Isaac Newton. He was not able to do it. Newton wrote more about religion than math and science combined. Far from seeing any contradiction between those fields, he pursued his scientific discoveries with the aim of explaining how God operates….discovering exactly how he designed this or that. To greater or lesser extent, scientists of that era had, if not a personal god like Newton, at least a "creator" or "first cause" mentality.

As another example, when Kepler worked out the laws governing planetary motions (they move in ellipses, not circles) and published his discoveries, he suddenly let loose with a paean to God, smack dab in the middle of his treatise. If you didn't know better, you'd think it was one of the Bible psalms. Would any scientist be caught dead doing such a thing today?

"The wisdom of the Lord is infinite; so also are His glory and His power. Ye heavens, sing His praises! Sun, moon, and planets glorify Him in your ineffable language! Celestial harmonies, all ye who comprehend His marvelous works, praise Him. And thou, my soul, praise thy Creator! It is by Him and in Him that all exists. that which we know best is comprised in Him, as well as in our vain science. To Him be praise, honor, and glory throughout eternity."

Does Kepler's praise not agree with Rev 4:11, and enable all to see where his heart and head were?
"You are worthy, Jehovah, even our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power, because you created all things, and because of your will they existed and were created."      Rev 4:11

The wise ones of the past might go so far as agnosticism, but no further, since they were not able to reconcile “design in nature” with “no designer.” Fed up with the hypocrisy of religion, many throughout the years worked toward the goal of explaining life in a manner that diminished God's role. Darwin was by no means the first person ever to propose evolution. His contribution was to suggest a plausible mechanism (natural selection) by which evolution could take place. Finally, a rationally explainable way to pull the rug out from under those abusive, self-righteous sellers of religion, who had for so long self-assumed first place in humanity’s hierarchy!

Yet even Darwin didn't pretend to solve the "first cause" issue. His book is "Origin of the Species," not "Origin of Life." That is, he deals with life’s organization, not its appearing in the first place, and did I not already grant permission to hold his evolution view (this post only) and still qualify for a “God designer” badge? It’s been thinkers subsequent to Darwin that have finally accomplished the atheistic nirvana of shutting God completely out of the picture.

I'm grateful that the religious outlooks of Newton, Galileo, Kepler and so forth are well documented. Were they not, I've no doubt today’s atheists would endeavor to count them all as blood brothers. They'd like us to believe that all scientists through the years have leaned atheistic, and it isn't so. Until relatively recently, outright atheism (in contrast with agnosticism) seems to have been an aberration.

Go down there to the Plantation Gardens, stroll the grounds, and it will all become clear.

****************************  The bookstore


Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

Super Pioneer

Oh, very well!

What can one say? Most of Jehovah's Witnesses will love it. As for everyone else.....well, I just don't know.

Clever kid.


Tom Irregardless and Me           No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'