Sunday, December 20, 2009

What's Different About Facebook?

Raeanne Gardner Olivier June 21 at 9:34pm
Are you THE Kent Schnake that attended Harris in the 60s?
Kent Schnake June 22 at 9:27am
Yes I am. Are you the Raeanne who went on the hayride with me but wouldn't let me kiss you :-)
Raeanne Gardner Olivier June 22 at 11:41am
hehehe...Yes, I am, but I hope you won't hold that against me...Surely the statute of limitations has run out after 45 years..

I remember Raeanne very well. But when she wrote to me, that was the first communication we had had in about 44 years. I suppose there are other ways that our paths may have crossed. However, she still lives in Metairie, LA where I went to junior high. I am in Oregon thousands of miles away. We have no friends in common that we have stayed in touch with. And I am pretty sure that if we had walked right past each other on the street, we may have had a fleeting sense that we knew each other, but I doubt that it would have prompted us to speak.

What's different about Facebook? It enables me to maintain a bit of social contact with folks in Louisiana, Chicago, Seattle, Latvia, Tanzania, Norway and more. It is almost effortless. We don't have to write to each other, we can just check our news feed or take a look at each other's walls. We can share photos and even videos. Snail Mail, Telegraph, Telephone, Radio, TV, and E-mail don't work that way. There is a fundamental difference.

I am watching and wondering how it will impact the world.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

I Walk, I Talk, I Write

I walk about three miles most days. I do it because when I am done, I feel better. I do it because I know that it will help me maintain a reasonable weight and decent health, I don't do it to impress anyone else.

I probably utter a few thousand words every day. I guess I am a member of the chattering class. A large percentage of the words are uttered without much thought. Quite a few are reflexive responses like "thanks" or "excuse me". However, much of what I say is directed to other people. I put a lot more energy in working to make an impression on others with my words than I do with my walking. I almost wrote that that only makes sense. Not so. I can imagine actors, dancers, young people flirting, and others, whose walk might be just as important to them as their talk. And I mean walk, not as a metaphor, just locomotion.

I write a fair amount each day. A lot of it is like my speaking, pretty much just a reflexive response. I write e-mails that answer questions. I write short notes on Facebook as a way of staying in touch with another person or a group of people. I do think before I write, but mostly I'm just trying to be clear, not profound.

This blog has been different. It is not a record of my day to day life. It has no particular theme like sports, films, or music. It is all over the map. I've written about gold prices, life experiences, people I have known and people I have only read about or seen in the media.

Some of the posts may seem a bit philosophical, others humorous, and many probably seem pointless to anyone who happens to read them. My first few posts were written with my daughter in mind. I was sharing a little bit about what my life was like in the early years. There have been a few posts (out of hundreds) that describe more recent events in my life. However, early on I decided that for most posts I would write about anything I felt like writing about.

For a while my writing was like my walking. I wrote because it felt good when I was done. I also figured it would probably help keep me mentally fit, the way walking helps me stay physically fit, and it would enable me to write better over time.

After a while, some influences crept in that have all but crippled me. I began to realize that there were a small number of people who read a significant number of my posts. My readers, so to speak. I have tried hard not to cater to any particular audience, but over time I have begun to feel the pressure of those few pairs of eyes that read my posts. Another problem was that I learned that folks find my posts when doing web searches. They stumble upon what I have written. It may be related to that which prompted them to do the search, as when someone types in the film title "American Meth" and finds my review of it. Often the search that leads to my blog has been an image search. One common way folks come upon my blog is typing the simple question: how do I make a good choice.

Not only have folks found my blog, they sometimes have spent a bit of time reading it. My tracking software began to show me that I was getting hits from many countries. 79 different countries in the past year. There are only a couple of hundred countries in the world. I became somewhat obsessed with watching the hits come in day by day. Another thing that surprised me was that my blog is read in other languages. Apparently folks have used Google language tools to read my blog in a 39 different languages.

Now I find that I spend too much time thinking about who might be reading my blog and how they come upon it.

I need to take concrete action to bring myself back to writing because it feels good and it is good for me. A good place to start would be to eliminate my site tracking tools. I can't be influenced by data I don't have. I can't spend time obsessively reading the reports if they don't exist. So as of tonight, no more tracking software.

The only way I will be aware of readers is if they choose to comment. Since that seldom happens, I imagine I won't be very aware of readers.

I am going to leave the blog public. If someone is encouraged or entertained by what I have written, I am glad. It is freeing to know that the blog doesn't push itself on to anyone. The only people who will see it are those who deliberately decide to take a look. I have always intended that what I write could be read by anyone who chose to do so. I have private journals where I record thoughts that are only for my consumption.

I feel a bit giddy. I feel as if I am breaking free of fetters. I am stepping outside after an incarceration. Relative to writing, I will be returning to my first love: spinning tales, histories, and ponderings simply because I feel like doing so. I will treat comments just as I might respond to someone on the street who speaks to me. If they are obnoxious, I will ignore them. If they are friendly or asking a question, I will very likely respond to them.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

How We Think About Time

Photo credit: View with a grain of sand by lepiaf.geo (better off slipping into blur)

Time is the one commodity that is uniformly distributed among the billions of people on this planet. Every one of us receives 24 hours, 3600 seconds per hour, doled out once each day. The only folks who do not receive their daily allotment are those who are not yet born and those who have died.

Time can be neither stored nor borrowed. The 24 hours given to each us passes inexorably at the same rate for all of us.*

Time flows uniformly, yet we seldom speak of it that way.

I have no time.
I need to kill some time.
We will lose time.
We are out of time.
He worked overtime.
I need to find some time.
Please give me some time.
Your time is up.
I saved some time.
I spent too much time.

We must remember that we do not spend time. Rather we make choices about what we will do as time passes. We may try to fit too many, or too few, activities into a span of time. It is our choices that may vary. Time does not change.

We speak of time passing quickly, or slowly. However, it is our awareness of time passing that varies, not time itself. A common change in awareness occurs as we grow older. We say that each year is shorter. In other cases our perception of time's flow can change in an instant. Time flies when we are having fun, yet it nearly stops altogether when we are in great pain. A moment is all that is required to pass from one state to the other.

Now is a moment. All other time is past or future. The events in time past are unchangeable. Events in our future on this earth cannot be predicted dependably. Not by us.

What we do. What we are. What we hope to be. We impact with each choice we make during each moment we are given. Plans have no value for predicting the future. Their value is in helping us to choose now.

I thank God that my plans (and yours) are not the basis for our hope.

Jeremiah 29:11 (New International Version)

11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

God grants us the ability to make choices in the moment. He retains sovereignty over the outcome. If there seems to be a conflict between our ability to choose and his ability to plan, it is because God's relationship to time is not constrained as ours is.

2 Peter 3:8 (New International Version)

8But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.

It is only by God's grace that we can redeem the time we are given.

*There are concepts in relativistic physics that allow a clock to tick measurably slower (relative to ours) when it travels at high speeds (relative to us). The effect here on the face of the earth is so small that very few are ever aware of the minuscule variations.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

American Culture: Why Do We Pretend?

Photo credit: Does Anyone Ever Actually Read This by sweens308

As a culture, we pretend that any number of completely useless things are necessary:

1. That it matters if we check the little box on the long contract that we don't read and couldn't understand if we did.
2. That a sign saying "small parts; choking hazard" is required on every toy even though kids play with pebbles, pieces of wood, dirt, dust mice, and lost buttons all day long.
3. That a lawnmower needs a label that tells you not to put your hands or feet under it.
4. Saying "fine, great, etc." every time someone asks how we are doing, even if we are miserable.
5. Asking people how they are doing when we really don't want to know.
6. We bend the law, but others break it.
7. A kid with a joint should be punished about the same as a guy who burglarizes your house.
8. An executive who steals 10,000 peoples livelihoods should be treated far more leniently than a murderer who takes a life.
9. Signing a contract makes us safer from people who want to slack off or be deceitful.
10. We are doing our best, but so many others just aren't trying very hard.
11. That it matters how nice our watch is or isn't (insert shoes, clothes, house, car, etc. etc.)
10. We don't have time to do important stuff when we have time to watch Dancing with the Stars.
11. Faster is always better.
12. We aren't going to die any time soon.
13. Bigger is always better (Big Gulp, gross)!
14. People who get sick or weak must not have taken good care of themselves.
15. It's o.k. to break our most solemn vows, and then jump all over the kid who gives you a cheeseburger instead of a Big Mac.
16. We can tell a lot about people by the color of their skin.
17. Having lots of money makes us "safe".
18. Having lots of stuff makes us "happy".
19. Getting a newspaper every day is OK, but using paper napkins destroys the environment.
20. That a person's life is more valuable than any amount of money, when we let others starve for want of a few bucks.
21. Kids now are worse than kids were when we were kids.
22. Alcohol is a safe legal drug, but all those other drugs would be a disaster if they were legalized.
23. Nothing really bad is about to happen.
24. Nothing really good is about to happen.
25. Life will pretty much go along as it always has.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Blue Sky, Storm Sky, Gray Sky

photo credit: Who painted the Sky by bbjee

Two days ago the sky was clear. My spirit soared. All was vivid. Children ran and my heart was with them. Peace. All was well. Pain and sorrow took a break. Particles of light flooded the atmosphere. So many that the air couldn't hold them, and turned blue trying. When ink black night moved in, it had to wrestle day to the ground, choking it until day bled a rainbow sunset and expired.

I can welcome the storm blowing in today. A capricious wind wreaks havoc among the leaves. Clouds scud, fleeing and yet gathering. Rain drops are thrown against the windows. Danger hovers near. The probability of sudden change. Possibilities abound.

But then will come the gray clouds. Drifts of semidarkness, piling from horizon to horizon. They will twist slowly, strangling a dripping world, extinguishing the light despite the sun’s heroic efforts. Stillness, but no peace. No color.

Doom will bide its time.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Will Gold Reach $2000 Per Ounce?

photo credit: Contando Dinheiro by Jeff Belmonte

The bad new is that it already did. Gold last peaked at about $850/oz in 1980. Adjusted for inflation, that equals well over $2000 in 2008 dollars (much more according to some measures). Anyone who bought gold in 1980 and has faithfully kept it somewhere safe, has lost at least 50% of their investment if they sell now.

Some may say that is unfair. I have picked an absolute peak from historical data. Why not pick something like the 1983 low of $300/oz? OK, let's do that. Adjusted for inflation according to the Consumer Price Index (which may be conservative), that means we invested $690 2008 dollars.
So with gold at 1000 dollars per oz this year, we made $310. Break out the champagne. Oh, wait a minute, if in 1985 we had bought $300 dollars worth of 8% treasury bonds, we would now have about $1900 in 2008 dollars. We would have made about 4 times as much with the bonds.

Of course, were these calculations widely published, folks could find any number of ways to nitpick them. Math was never my strongest subject. But they would be missing the point. If I get to look back and choose my starting point, I can make most investments (gold, stocks, bonds, real estate) look wonderful. However, when I invest today, I don't know where things will be in 25 years. I am kidding myself if I think I do. And to those who say they wouldn't wait 25 years to cash in, I ask when will you cash in. When will gold (or whatever) reach that wonderful peak price in the next couple of decades? No one knows that either. So one must guess when it is a good time to sell.

I haven't even talked about what happens if you need to draw some income during the term of your investment. Things get much more complicated.

Can't we look at long term trends and extrapolate? Yes, but it will be small comfort when the year to year fluctuations are large. It will always be a wild ride.

Here is one estimate of how gold has performed over the past 400 years:

My precision calibrated eyeball estimates a long term trend of zero interest. Of course, that may be a lot better than this estimate of gold over 600 years (sorry my eyeball can't extrapolate from this):

My apologies to the author of this chart, I can't seem to find my original source so that I can give credit. I will try again soon.

What am I saying? Is there no way that we can judge what is the best investment right now for any given person ? Exactly, there is no way. I comfort myself with all sorts of conventional wisdom, but I can't see that any of it can be trusted.

However, I have found one reference that seems to be holding up very well over the centuries:

1Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; " 6You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.

James 5:1-6 (New International Version)

How we use what we have is infinitely more important than how we will get more.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why Do Kids Take Drugs?

photo credit: Your Face on Drugs by azrainman

There will never be a simple answer to this question. Very likely there are many factors and some play a bigger role than others.

However, I strongly believe that scare tactics don't work to reduce drug use. I talked about that a bit in my post reviewing the documentary American Meth.

Today I saw a piece of research that found that scare campaigns may actually increase drug usage. Of course, since the research supported my point of view, I was quick to give it credence.
However, based on my own experiences, I think I have some idea of why scare campaigns could actually backfire.

If a young person is looking for excitement, they certainly don't find it by following advice from authority figures about how to be safe.

At 18 I had heard all sorts of lurid tales of what drug use could do to a person. The first time someone offered me a chance to try marijuana, I had a strong sense that it might be dangerous.
Danger did not deter me. I think it drew me in. I wanted to do something scary.

Smoking marijuana was scary in 1968 for several reasons. I had been warned that using it could lead to more dangerous drugs. Also, marijuana was illegal in Pennsylvania. I knew that some kids actually wound up in jail for simple possession. Consider, this was an era when a young man sporting long hair was considered to be a dangerous rebel by the mainstream. A number of folks were convinced that sex, drugs, and rock and roll heralded the end of civilization. I hadn't had sex yet, but I sure wanted to. I loved rock and roll. I was already two thirds of the way toward being a major social menace. I was almost compelled to explore that last third.

The high I got those first few times was mildly amusing. When I did not immediate become unhinged and start looking for heroin, I decided that all the warnings I had heard were nonsense. I was actually a bit disappointed that the drug seemed so tame.

I did wind up progressing to more addictive drugs in the decade following that early experimentation. I don't think it was the power of marijuana that led me on to new experiments. On the contrary, I wanted to up the ante. To see what it would be like to do something truly dangerous. I tried LSD and found that it was anything but tame. I snorted cocaine and felt like superman. Ditto for methamphetamine. I tried various opiates. Needles scared me too much (mostly because they hurt when you stick them in). So I decided needles really were for losers. That was pretty much the only boundary line I knew: if it hurts too much, don't do it.

I knew there were other, more socially approved ways of achieving a thrill. However, it would be a long time before I had a chance for international travel, rock climbing, or diving off high cliffs. The drugs were immediately available. It was actually easier for me to buy marijuana rather than beer.

By the time I was a sophomore, I had befriended any number of drug users and even drug dealers. The boundary between the two is vague. One quick way to get money for more drugs is to sell part of what you have for more than you paid. I liked the idea that I was part of an underground. A dealer fearing possible arrest asked me to store some hashish and hundreds of hits of acid for him. I did so. I thought it very clever that no one would ever suspect Kent, the clean cut engineering student, would have a small fortune in drugs in his desk drawer.

It is quite possible that by now you wondered, "WHAT WAS HE THINKING!". The answer is simple. I wasn't thinking. I wanted thrills and this was a quick and easy way to get some.

Remember those scare tactics? They are essentially an incentive for many young folks to try drugs.

Eventually I learned that drug use really did have serious negative effects. It took more than a decade for me to arrive at that conclusion. Meanwhile, I wasted a lot of time. I probably injured myself, and I was passing lots of money on to some very unsavory people.

I wish I had known that there really are a lot of positive ways to get thrills. I'm not talking about rock climbing or motorcycles. I came to love the thrill of accomplishment. I loved the thrill of marrying and starting a family.

Eventually I realized that the biggest thrill of all is knowing God and inviting Him to make me more like Jesus. The irony is that at 18 I would have thought that would be one of the most boring and completely foolish things I could do.

Well, I got part of that right. I am a fool for Christ.

Monday, October 05, 2009

How Much Do We Care

Photo Credit: Food crisis in the Horn of Africa by IFRC

I read an article recently that claimed an expenditure of $60 billion dollars on basic health care and education would be enough to effect an enormous change in child mortality rates and eliminate extreme poverty and hunger.

If that is true, it would amount to about .1% of the World Gross National Product. If the estimate is 10 times too small, it would really take 1%. It would seem that the cost of eliminating the worst of the world's poverty is not an economic issue. If we could all give up 1% of our luxuries, or if we could all be 1 % more productive in our work, there should be plenty for everyone.

I don't think most of us can even measure our personal wealth accurately to plus or minus 1%. And certainly not to plus or minus .1%. Fluctuations in real estate prices, stock prices, or even the value of goods are enough to hide a per cent. The recent hiccup in the U.S. economy wiped out about $8 trillion dollars of personal wealth (or at least, of our wealth "on paper").

Out of all the things I care about, do I care about starving people and sick children with at least 1% of my capacity for caring? I'd like to think so. In fact, I'd like to think that most folks can easily muster 1% of their caring towards such issues.

Things look easier on the macro scale. It has been said that the devil is in the details, and that certainly seems appropriate here. I can think of an example close to home that indicates that more than money is required. A lot more. I volunteer at an outlet for free kids clothes. We have a selection of free adult clothes nearby. We are across the hall from the Food Bank and Gleaners. They provide lots of free food. Those are good things, but I have no illusion that free food and clothes means that all kids in our town will be warm and well fed. There are lots of other problems besides the material resources: substance abuse, depression, dysfunctional families, and the list goes on and on.

Sin is the big obstacle. It seems that worldwide, men in particular are snared by alcohol, gambling, and prostitution, just to name a few. Fighting wastes lots of energy at both the personal and the national level. Substantial changes in those sorts of behavior could have a huge impact.

Of course, we try to engineer changes in behavior with laws, taxes, and social and cultural strictures. It is rather disheartening to see just how ineffective things like laws against drug use have been. Ditto for taxes on cigarettes and disgrace for public figures discovered to be involved with prostitution.

I will continue to give some of my resources toward eradicating some of the worlds nastiest problems. I will vote for laws and support positions that may have some effect in changing behavior. However, I think these are the least of my contribution.

I am convinced that by far the biggest impact I can have is by seeking to be more like Christ. And let it be clear that I don't believe I have the will or the strength to change myself much. More and more I see how dependent I am on God for those changes. This is spiritual warfare at ground level. It is personal and immediate. I don't have to wait for anyone else to do anything.

I simply have to seek God and obey him.

If I don't do what I can, why would I expect others to do something?

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Why are doomsday scenarios so compelling? Each of us will end this life, sooner or later. It seems that most of us avoid dwelling overmuch upon our personal end. Yet even the remote prospect of dying en masse inflames our imaginations and sparks energetic conversations. That strikes me as a perverse delusion. The video below is rather dark, avoid watching it unless you are prepared to face some of your deepest fears. (It is only really feasible to watch it in full screen mode, so hit the little rectangular icon on the control bar at the bottom of the video)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Why Are We So Busy?

Photo Credit: Who's the Boss by Alex E. Proimos

I seldom meet anyone who says they have too much time on their hands. When I do, they are usually disabled by injury, disease, or age related deterioration. They are physically or mentally unable to "stay busy".

Busy people almost always seem to believe that their busy schedules have been forced upon them. "Things are crazy right now" they may say. They talk about bosses, spouses, or kids who have loaded them with obligations. "I have too much on my plate" .

I find it strange that such busy people find time to watch a lot of television. They cruise the Internet. They have time to stand in a hallway or a street corner and talk at length about their busy schedule. These same people play games or watch games. They buy new music to listen too and books to read. They frequent craft stores or hobby shops seeking new projects. These same busy people go to movies, go window shopping, and camp, fish, or boat.

Yes, people work and take care of chores. The work allows them to own the TVs, pursue the hobbies, or buy the music. The money they earn enables them to buy houses and cars which require maintenance or inspire embellishments as varied as patios, wallpaper, or chrome plated wheels.

It is hard for me to believe, but I am sure that it is true: we want to be busy. We make choices that will ensure that we are busy. Although we say that we long for "down time", when we get that time, we are anxious until we find something to fill it. A trip. A puzzle book. A phone call.

I am speaking of American culture, which I know well. I have seen evidence of the same in parts of Europe and Asia. There may be cultures that have tranquillity and rest at their core, but I have not experienced them.

We choose to be busy, even as we complain about our busyness. We consistently err on the side of scheduling too many activities rather than too few.


At most, I can speak for myself. I am aware of a fear that my life has little significance. I harbor the suspicion that many others are making better use of their time. When I load up my schedule, it is a futile attempt to assuage anxiety about who I am and what I have accomplished.

Alternatives are available. I seek to spend more time listening to others. I also hope to quiet myself enough to hear the still, small voice of God. As I focus on others and trust God, the anxiety lessens.

We have come to revere folks who can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. And those folks are non existent. It would be the equivalent of reaching down and pulling both my feet off the ground. Try as hard as I might, I will never move even a fraction of an inch higher.

However, I perceive that it could keep me very busy.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Contentment in a Sin Cursed World

Photo credit: Selfie by exfordy

A child dies of hunger every few seconds and I am content.

The sentence shocks because contentment is misunderstood to be complacency. Complacency means being unmoved when evil is revealed. Sadly, it is far too easy for me to be complacent. I pray to God for compassion. I want to overcome evil. I do not seek to be complacent.

I am content when I am satisfied with what I have. I am complacent when I am satisfied with what others have.

I want every person on the planet to have wholesome food and water. I pray that they will have comfortable clothing and shelter. I long for peace and joy in every life.

I know I am content when I am thankful for the many good things in my life. I know I am complacent when I make no effort to help others enjoy good things.

Stealing from the rich and giving to the poor is a flawed notion. It depends too much on the thief's ability to discern how material wealth would be best distributed. Even a democratic approach to taking from the wealthy requires that the majority have a clear vision of who deserves what they have and who does not. It is all too easy for each of us to decide that what we have is "about right" and that if others have much more, they are rich. Furthermore, this sort of redistribution is focused on material goods. Those goods are necessary but never sufficient.

Giving is far more powerful than taking. I can give material goods. I can also give affection and encouragement. I can show patience and forgiveness. In short, I can love. Love conquers all.

I must not live my life insisting that others love more. Rather, I must realize that I do not love as I could. I can always give more. I can be more patient. I can forgive more readily.

God is love. I must seek to know God better so that I can love more and be content with less.

I have much to learn and much to do. May God grant me wisdom and strength.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Culture and Fashion; Good and Evil

Sumo in Hawaii by hellochris

A four hundred pound man in an industrial strength thong bows with his back to you. At a park with your kids, you might think about calling the cops. But at a Sumo match, it's simply a memorable moment in a grand spectacle which includes the little guy in a bathrobe and pointy hat. It's a glimpse of Japanese culture and centuries old fashions. It's as if you made a little hole in time and space and peeked through it. Hopefully you will not be offended. Instead, pat your self on the back for embracing diversity.
cellphone gladiator by newlow
Now walk out of that match and chuckle a bit as you see a gladiator in full regalia pausing for a cell phone chat and smoke break.

Nice. Another colorful outfit and glimpse of another culture. But when you walk around the corner. A still warm corpse in a pool of blood indicates that the gladitorial reinactment included a fight to the death. Authentic, but unacceptable. This time you will call the cops.

But wait, are you simply narrow minded? Isn't this just another look through a tear in the space-time continuum? You have read about gladiators. You have seen movies depicting their fights to the death. This time it is simply a lot more real.

I doubt you would dither. You'd call 911. Some aspects of another culture are o.k. You can put up with being mooned by a fat guy. But you wouldn't countenance homicide or even man-slaughter.
Is it colorful or is it criminal? It's a decision that we must make from time to time. Shorts and a tube top are colorful in California. They are criminal in Saudi Arabia. Add a veil to a Victorian woman's garb and she could walk unmolested in Riyadh. How can we know if there has been an evil change in culture or a benign fashion shift. Does it really depend on who you ask?

Alfred Stevens: In Memoriam photo by

The outfit below would bring a swarm of police in Riyadh. :

Mini Jupe by Carolco

Culture and fashion cannot dictate what is good and what is evil. Good and evil have to do with the state of your heart and not the particulars of your garb. Only God can see the true state of your heart and compare it to his own.

May God have mercy on us all when we presume to know the heart after only seeing the outfit. Time and relationship may reveal a bit more of a person's heart.

A glance never suffices.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

You Couldn't Make This Stuff Up

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus Leucocephalus)by Savannah Grandfather

So a couple of dozen of us are sitting in a circle under the big blue sky, singing worship songs. As I look across at Barbara, a bald eagle swoops down to roost on a tree directly behind her. Some crows assault the eagle. Barbara runs along the riverside until she can spot the eagle flying away. A few minutes after she sits back down, a sparrow lands on a chair in our circle. Then it flits over and lands on Barbara's head. She flaps her arms wildly. Too bad says Juliana, our Brazilian friend, I pray everyday for a bird to land on my head and crap on it. It's very good luck in Brazil. Still, even just having a bird land on you is very good fortune. All this plus our brother, a doctor, tells us how he worked as a barker at a carnival when he was 10 (before he graduated to be snake man in the freak show). His dad died when he was four and he was eager to make some money. Later we all laughed as a four pound beef roast burst into flame on Rick's BBQ grill. He handles it just fine. I smell like wood smoke and haven't showered for a couple of days. But I am enjoying eating rice cooked by our pregnant Filipino friend while I wait for a slightly charred piece of Kielbasa and some potato chips. Then we all rolled up our tents and drove away.

I'm not making this up. You couldn't make this stuff up.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Does Your Job Feel Tedious?

Watch this. You will probably feel fortunate.

Friday, July 24, 2009


I have set a goal of doing at least one post each week. This week the energy went into a guest post on Christine Quigley's blog: Quigley's Cabinet. It is about the word Amen.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Listening, Encouraging, Grieving, Rejoicing

I was about thirty five years old when I first managed a large group. There were more than two hundred production workers. A couple dozen supervisors. Four section managers. I had managed small groups of engineers and technicians before that, but it was a whole new world with all those people and the layers of management.

I was able to lead and to make some difficult decisions. Yet I became more and more aware that I had nowhere near all the answers for the questions that people asked me. I was often uncomfortable when folks came to me and asked for my help. At times I found I was rendered speechless. All I could do was listen. I could offer no easy fix nor even a promise of an eventual solution.

I was astonished to learn that most people were very grateful just to have me listen to them. It was a revelation. As an engineer I had always felt that unless I offered a fix or at least some sage advice, I had failed. Not so. Actually, some of the people who appreciated my listening the most were the ones whom I couldn't offer anything more than my sympathy.

Almost a quarter century has passed. I have come to understand that many people value a listening ear far more than they value my idea for how to make things better. Often, the best thing I can offer is a simple affirmation that the situation being described is a difficult one. "I am sorry to hear that." "You must be hurting" "That would be hard for anyone". There are even times when simply nodding my head and holding someone's gaze as they pour out their tale, seems to be valued the most.

It has taken many years to learn to listen patiently. I am still far to quick to jump in with suggestions, plans of action, and the like. But I am learning.

When I listen well, I can often tell that I have encouraged the one speaking. They say so. Or their countenance lightens at least a little. There are other times when I really don't know what the other person is thinking. I know more and more that it is best for me to have faith that a listening ear offers encouragement, regardless of what I am seeing right then.

I also find that as I listen better, others are more likely to open their hearts and share very deep pain that they are bearing. Consequently, I have become aware that virtually everyone is struggling with some dilemma, some hurt, or some fear. There are times when I am overwhelmed by the knowledge that so many are struggling so much.

Now I believe I must learn to grieve with others. And even as I grieve, I can rejoice. I can rejoice that I have been given the opportunity to listen. I can rejoice in knowing that God cares deeply for the person who is hurting.

Decades pass. Bit by bit, I learn a little more about listening. I gain some confidence that I am encouraging. I accept the fact that I will grieve. I know a little more about rejoicing.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Bigger, Stronger, Faster: a movie review

Photo by jcoterhals

My first take on Bigger, Stronger, Faster was that it might be an interesting documentary about athletes and the use of steroids. I am convinced that writer/director Christopher Bell would have crafted a fine documentary even if he had simply examined the athlete subculture. Instead, he broadened his inquiry and crafted a superb revelation of our fascination with appearance and performance.

Bell is a stocky young man who enjoys lifting weights. He can bench press more than 500 pounds. He has known for years that he could probably lift an additional hundred pounds if he added anabolic steroids as a part of his training regime, but he doesn't. Bell's two brothers do use steroids, and the benefits seem clear to them.

Bell conducted research, performed interviews, and reviewed media depictions. He is incredibly diligent. His hard work lends a depth to this film that any documentary should aspire too. In addition, Bell investigates with a cool detachment, yet he also has the dogged persistence that is most often seen in zealots. Bell chased the facts and sought the truth. Many myths about anabolic steroids are blown away. He also exposes the strange incongruities and the hypocrisy in our attitude to drugs of many kinds.

As the investigation plays out, the viewer begins to realize that steroids are a bit player in the drama that unfolds when hundreds of millions of people decide that they need to be not just better, but best. Looking good is just not enough. We want stunning physiques. We don't want to compete well and do "our best", we want to be "the best".

We struggle to find simple indicators for success in life: riches, strength, beauty. We know that it is unlikely that we will attain the pinnacle, but oh how we long to rise above the herd.

A quiet, anonymous life blessed with simple pleasures and genuine love should be enough. However, our discontents and secret longings reveal that too often we discount what we have.
And we don't just want more. We want more than others have. We crave reassurance that we are better than others.

Pride has been called the greatest of sins, even "the father of all sins". Pride powers our obsession with being bigger, stronger, and faster. See the movie. It will give you a clearer view of what is worth pursuing and what is not.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Why Write?

photo credit: Graffiti near Borough Market by dan taylor

Google is working to scan every book on earth. There are more than 30 million titles available for scanning. If one person in a million publishes a book, we get about 7000 more titles. Add in magazine articles, e-mails, blogs, plays, movie scripts, advertising copy, annual reports, meeting minutes, and a whole lot more. A vast amount of writing has happened and will happen.

Why write?

It appears that body language and vocalisations preceded writing. There are thousands of languages that have no written version. What did writing bring to the game for the languages that have it?

It is pretty easy for me to imagine situations where a record was desirable: A last will and testament. A contract. A warning.

Prior to the twentieth century, humans could not record sounds. Even more recent is the ability to record sights. Before audio and video recordings, writing was the only option for recording our thoughts, our intent, our desires.

Writing also allowed us to communicate across distances before the advent of telegraphs, telephones, radios, and many newer options.

However, as I write this humans have had the ability to record and transmit both sounds and sights for decades. I see evidence that we might drop writing; current alternatives include voice mail, podcasts and video blogs. What purpose does a written record serve when every vocal nuance and change of expression can be recorded for all time and transmitted billions of miles?

The ability to very rapidly search text is a recent innovation. We can only do relatively primitive searches of audio and video, but once we upgrade our ability to search those records, we may find little reason to convert speech to text. We will need means for filing, editing, and summarizing our audiovisual records, but it is not hard to imagine that we can develop those.

Writing may be nearing the end of its useful life, despite having served us well for thousands of years.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Major Media and Google Searches

Photo Credit: Media Influence by psdfan

Sometimes I get hints that some bigger media phenomenon is causing a lot of people to do searches on a particular term They show up in clumps as hits to my blog.

Today, I have had eight hits in a row where someone had searched the term "Men Without Chests" and found my blog post which includes that title (an essay by C.S. Lewis). Here are the locations:

United States Fayetteville, Arkansas

United States Madison, Wisconsin

United States

United States

United States Jacksonville, Florida

United States Lisle, Illinois

United States Rochester, Minnesota

I can only speculate as to what may have triggered such an anomaly. Perhaps an AP article, or a TV program televised nation wide, provoked a number of people to search the Internet for more information on that article. I won't do the math here, but I am certain that it is extremely unlikely to be a chance grouping of searches.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Real Time Revolution in Iran

All those camera/video phones and social networks are providing incredible near live coverage of the events in Iran. Here is an example I just watched posted Sat. June 20 about 1pm PDT. Warning, lots of blood.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Local Is The New Imported

French wine. Swiss watches. German beer.

When I was a kid, imported was good. Italian leather. Dutch cheese. Russian vodka.

Now, for many people, imported is bad. Carbon footprint. Economic imperialism. Lost jobs. Now local is good. Farmer's markets, micro brews, nearby wineries.

Although there may be a shred of truth in each assertion, both are oversimplifications with little merit. By all means, let us pursue that which is good. Good glorifies God. Evil, or badness, is a corruption of that which is good. Let us focus on rooting out the corruption, wherever it resides, near or far.

The source of corruption we know best is our selves. Let us ask God to make our selves better.

Monday, June 15, 2009

You Need Somebody to Love

God has blessed me with lots of people to love. I am asking him to help me love the unlovely, and he is working with me on that. I am very thankful that he has also given me lovely people to love. Here are two of my favorites. My wife, Barbara, and my grandson, Daniel.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Plamela Joy

Plammy is my second daughter. She was born a few months ago and is getting married this week.

I have such rich memories, and yet it all seems to have passed so quickly. As I scan photos for a slide show, I am overwhelmed. I guess that is how it is supposed to be. I know it has been great loving her and watching her grow up. I know that she loves me. I plan to stay in touch with her and continue following the fascinating story that is Pamela.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Men Without Chests and Eyebrow Shavers

image attribution: el juicio by drusbi

Penn Hills School District officials have recommended expulsion for a 15 year old girl because a random search turned up an eyebrow shaver in her handbag.  The same officials have expelled an exemplary college bound senior who was found to have a 1" utility knife on his key chain. Criminal charges are also being pressed.

Are these school administrators insane?  No, they are cowardly.  But don't be too quick to condemn them.  Our society has carefully cultivated cowardice, especially in anyone who must manage or administrate.

We we want brave, vigilant leaders who will watch carefully for threats and eliminate them whenever that is possible.

However, threats vary greatly in severity.  Most folks would agree that the loaded pistol, which slipped through Penn Hills school security  a few days before the eyebrow shaver incident, is the sort of threat which should be eliminated. Outraged parents besieged the administrators and school board at Penn Hills for more effective risk management.  So random searches were instituted.  

Even the searches may have been an overreaction.  But the real damage starts when the people empowered to search are incapable of making a judgment on what constitutes a genuine threat. When a threat is found, those same people must also make a judgment on the appropriate response, including disciplinary action if needed.

Good judgment is a virtue.  Good judgment brings justice.

Unfortunately, the idea of passing judgment on a person's actions has become confused with passing judgment on that person's worth or eternal destination.
How many times have you heard these phrases recently "Who am I to judge", "Who are they to judge?" and "We are in no position to judge".  This is relentlessly drilled into our collective consciousness.  Consequently, one of our great fears is that we will be caught passing judgment. It is a powerful fear because we know it may bring censure when we so desperately crave affirmation.   If we allow the fear of disapproval to goad us into committing an injustice, we are cowards.  Injustice is assured when we attempt to establish rules so particular and so inflexible that we are freed from the responsibility of utilizing judgment.  

Men Without Chests, by C.S. Lewis is a profound essay, worthy of a careful reading.  Echoes of Lewis' closing paragraph came to mind when I read of the "eyebrow shaver incident":

And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more 'drive', or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or 'creativity'. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

I would add that we abhor judgment, yet demand justice.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Oregonians Take Note: A Proud Moment in Our History

Many thanks to Christine Quigley for calling attention to this video of the famous exploding whale incident.  

What Would Google Do?  A book review.

In the preface for "What Would Google Do?"   Jeff Jarvis writes, "This book is about more than Google and its own rules and about more than technology and business.  It's about seeing the world as Google sees it, finding your own new worldview, and seeing differently.  In that sense, this book isn't about Google.  It's a book about you.  It is about your world, how it is changing for you, and what you can gain from that."

For those who seek to better understand how the Internet has wrought great changes in their lives, Jarvis' work is very helpful.   Those who crave a facts and figures detailed history of how Google became "the fastest growing company in the world", should look elsewhere . 

The book is divided into two parts.  The first part explores the rules by which Google operates. For example, "Focus on the user and all else will follow" is a direct quote of Google's corporate philosophy. Chapter one is entitled "Give the customer control and we will use it".  Jarvis intentionally delves deeper in his exploration of Google's operating principles.  So he does much more than simply quote Google's ten rules and explain them.  Chapters explore relationship with customers, the impact of live links on information exchanges, changes in business models, the influence on society, and more.  

The second part of the book, entitled "If Google Ruled the World", explores how various industries and institutions may be impacted by those rules.  Media, Advertising, Retail, Utilities, Manufacturing, Service, Money, Public Welfare, and Public Institutions each merit a chapter.
The Google rules are already causing considerable disruption in media and advertising.  Jarvis gives examples of current events  ( newspaper failures, etc.)  but also looks ahead to how various forms of media must adapt to survive the new regime.  In other arenas, manufacturing or utilities, Jarvis has to report less and forecast more.  

Jarvis weaves together narratives of his personal experience as a customer, a blogger, and a journalist with more traditional feature writing describing events where he had little or no personal involvement.  Jarvis skillfully spins stories.  I found them captivating.  One such story is 
"Dell Hell " .  Jarvis is able to remain humble while telling a story of how the Internet allowed him, a disgruntled customer, to wield great influence.  Jarvis feels free to express his opinion strongly, as when he writes " It is insane to treat Google as the enemy.  Even Yahoo doesn't .."  That makes for entertaining reading, but at times Jarvis comes across as cocksure about highly complex matters.  He redeems himself from time to time with admissions such as "I am a hypocrite.  If I had followed my own wouldn't be reading this book right now, at least not as a book."

Jarvis shares many, many examples of new businesses, new social sites, related books, etc.  Just those references would be enough to justify the book's price for many readers.  I have considerable experience roaming the WWW,  nonetheless, Jarvis was able to surprise me with lots of new links that I will enjoy exploring.

There were a couple of spots where Jarvis struck me as naive, even ignorant.  That may have been inevitable in a light hearted tome with a vast scope.  When he writes "Free is a business model" he is parroting a bit of nonsense that I frequently encounter about the web. Few things are truly free, and certainly not a web constructed of millions of servers connected to billions of user computers through thousands of miles of expensive fiber optic cables.  Many web based business have foundered when confronted with the sad truth that access to the Internet costs money.  More access costs more money.   The fact that an individual's access to the Internet cost less than $50 per month may be misleading.  Access to broadcast television is virtually free, but we pay for that by allowing our eyeballs to be bombarded with commercial messages.  My blog account on blogger had no cost for start up, but I have no doubt that a price will be extracted in some manner over time.  Advertising, archiving fees, and the like will creep in. 
Sorry Jeff, free is NEVER a business model.

Jarvis makes his living manipulating words. I suppose that makes it easy for him to believe that we may all be able to dispense with concrete objects.  So he writes phrases like "Atoms are a drag" or "Nobody wants to be in the business of making stuff anymore".  He taps the words out on a plastic keyboard resting atop a collection of material objects (microprocessors, disk drives, memory chips, light emitting diodes, batteries) that are marvels of achievement in the material world.  Never, ever, take cleverly arranged atoms for granted!

"What Would Google Do" is an entertaining and informative read, loaded with material that a reader can use to do further exploration of the world 2.0.  I highly recommend it.