30 April 2008

mesmerized by the magnanimity

Magnanimity - loftiness of spirit enabling one to bear trouble calmly, to disdain meanness and pettiness, and to display a noble generosity

In a conference room somewhere in the lofty reaches of the above building in Corpus Christi this week, I was confronted with a view of the ocean that I had never really had. I, like most everyone, have stared out at the vastness of the sea and just been awestruck that something could be so big and powerful. But from hundreds of feet above the sea, it was different. It was still ridiculously large. Now, though, the ocean was calm. It was not only strong, but it was too strong to be bothered by the silly troubles we attempt to place upon it. It just rested there, supporting enormous vessels and tiny fishing boats with the same grace. Removed from the roar of the surf and the salty air that hangs on the shoreline, the ocean sat quietly fulfilling its role as it has for millions of years. It was beautiful and magnanimous.

obedience and coming home

Yesterday I wrote a little something about obedience. Milgram's study on the subject was eye-opening and almost disturbing. We (as humanity) are so eager to follow and to please...what if we choose the wrong people to follow?

Anyway, as I was thinking through obedience on Wednesday, I happened to run across a project while I was out of town on business. A group of blue-collar folks from the Texas coast raised over $10,000 to provide phone cards for the US troops stationed overseas. They raised money to provide hope and comfort to those far from home. Having spent such a large part of my adult life in Africa, away from people that I love, the effort really touched me. I remember waiting for a phone call or yearning to be able to make one to simply hear the voice of someone I loved.

The folks celebrated their achievement with a hamburger and hot dog luncheon, during which they played a video that went something like the video below. They quietly ate while a Vietnam veteran wept, overcome by the with the gift he will take back to his foundation.

I have a hard time with war. I have a hard time watching well-intentioned, courageous, and obedient men and women die. I ask "what for". I pray that they might be made whole after the trauma of their duty tears them apart so deeply. I pray that I might remember to appreciate them more - not because they give us freedom or wealth or security. I hope I learn to appreciate them as brave people, human beings whose lot in life dropped them into hell. I pray they come home. I pray their blood might in some way prevent more of this nonsense in the future.

Somehow, this video moved me very deeply. It makes me sad. And yet, I am hopeful. From darkness...let there be light.

29 April 2008

obedience and milgram

Obedience is a strange animal. We applaud it when it suits our desires and/or collective interests and we decry it when it flies in the face of what we claim to represent. We praise our troops for their dedication, service, and bravery. We demonize the troops they oppose as fanatics and heartless maniacs. The truth about both groups may lie somewhere in between.

Stay with me here…

Stanley Milgram was a Yale psychologist who ran an experiment to test obedience and morality. His experiment is among the most famous ever conducted on human psychology.

Basically, Milgram tested a person’s willingness to inflict pain on another simply as a product of submission to authority. The experimenter (E) orders the teacher (T), the subject of the experiment, to give what the subject believes are painful electric shocks to a learner (L), who is actually an actor and confederate. The subjects believed that for each wrong answer, the learner was receiving actual shocks, but in reality there were no shocks. Being separated from the subject, the confederate set up a tape recorder integrated with the electro-shock generator, which played pre-recorded sounds for each shock level.

The Experiment:

The role of the experimenter was played by a stern, impassive biology teacher dressed in a technician's coat, and the victim (learner) was played by an Irish-American accountant trained to act for the role. The participant and the learner (supposedly another volunteer, but in reality a confederate of the experimenter) were told by the experimenter that they would be participating in an experiment helping his study of memory and learning in different situations.[1]

Two slips of paper were then presented to the participant and to the actor. The participant was led to believe that one of the slips said "learner" and the other said "teacher," and that he and the actor had been given the slips randomly. In fact, both slips said "teacher," but the actor claimed to have the slip that read "learner," thus guaranteeing that the participant would always be the "teacher." At this point, the "teacher" and "learner" were separated into different rooms where they could communicate but not see each other. In one version of the experiment, the confederate was sure to mention to the participant that he had a heart condition.[1]

The "teacher" was given a 45-volt electric shock from the electro-shock generator as a sample of the shock that the "learner" would supposedly receive during the experiment. The "teacher" was then given a list of word pairs which he was to teach the learner. The teacher began by reading the list of word pairs to the learner. The teacher would then read the first word of each pair and read four possible answers. The learner would press a button to indicate his response. If the answer was incorrect, the teacher would administer a shock to the learner, with the voltage increasing for each wrong answer. If correct, the teacher would read the next word pair.[1]

The subjects believed that for each wrong answer, the learner was receiving actual shocks. In reality, there were no shocks. After the confederate was separated from the subject, the confederate set up a tape recorder integrated with the electro-shock generator, which played pre-recorded sounds for each shock level. After a number of voltage level increases, the actor started to bang on the wall that separated him from the subject. After several times banging on the wall and complaining about his heart condition, all responses by the learner would cease.[1]

At this point, many people indicated their desire to stop the experiment and check on the learner. Some test subjects paused at 135 volts and began to question the purpose of the experiment. Most continued after being assured that they would not be held responsible. A few subjects began to laugh nervously or exhibit other signs of extreme stress once they heard the screams of pain coming from the learner.[1]

If at any time the subject indicated his desire to halt the experiment, he was given a succession of verbal prods by the experimenter, in this order:[1]

1. Please continue.

2. The experiment requires that you continue.

3. It is absolutely essential that you continue.

4. You have no other choice, you must go on.

If the subject still wished to stop after all four successive verbal prods, the experiment was halted. Otherwise, it was halted after the subject had given the maximum 450-volt shock three times in succession.

Despite the increasingly agonizing screams coming from the Learner, the Teacher almost always continued ahead with the shocking. It has been said that the cumulative shocks the average Teacher administered would have killed the Learner three times over.

We learn through Milgram that an individual is quite capable of doing terrible things under the influence of significant authority. Obedience, as the study was named, is never considered a bad thing in society…but should it be? Milgram left us clear implications (explanations?) related to the Holocaust and the more contemporary issues of corporate misdeeds (Enron and friends) and terrorism (and/or our War on Terrorism).

I’ll leave you with Milgram’s own summary of his work, from his 1974 article, "The Perils of Obedience":

The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous importance, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects' [participants'] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects' [participants'] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.

28 April 2008

what, me worry?

In thinking more about yesterday's post I had to question just what the difference was between advance mourning and outright worry. After all, who among us can add a day to his life with worry? So is advance mourning similarly wasteful?

In the end, I came to a tentative conclusion that worry involved anxiety and fear about the future. It almost seems to be a distrust of the destined events laid out before oneself. Advance mourning, however, seemed to possess an inherent trust and acceptance of what lies ahead. The very idea that one is mourning seems to imply a direct acceptance of the consummation of the aforementioned destiny.

Therefore, I declare advance mourning to be healthy and holistic, while worry remains a pastime reserved for the outer rings of Hell itself (or the Mid-South exurbs, whichever comes first).

Objections (and plauditory comments) pertaining to this little theory are welcome. In fact, I am OK with them, in advance. No worries...

27 April 2008

awaiting the train: mourning in advance

I sat and stared at the above photo for awhile.

The scene captures the funeral train for King Edward VII, the train that carried his casket to Windsor. I imagine the train approaching the station and the gathererd crowds swelling to gain a mere glimpse at the coffin of the King. I imagine that long before the train could be seen on horizon, the bystanders mourned quietly, in advance.

I have frequently found myself mourning in advance in recent days. When you think about it, a good portion of our sad emotions are really just caused by our hearts' anticipation of possible negative future circumstances.

I have mourned the loss of a loved one who is yet to exist and who may be in no danger of failing to exist after all. Yet, reality looms and there is potential for loss. So I grow quiet and I mourn in advance.

I have mourned the loss of a loved one who wasn't lost for long and who may have never been anywhere but in the hands of the Almighty. Yet, I sat in fear that his physical absence might have been a foreshadowing of something much deeper and so I mourned the loss of my friend as I knew him.

I have mourned the loss of a loved one who has been lost for so long now and yet has never really been gone. I find myself awaiting news that may never come.

I don't think it is particularly exclusive to me, this mourning. I think we all have this emotional defense mechanism, this spiritual awareness of the potential for devastation that we somehow think will be lessened if we just anticipate it. And yet all of our on personal histories have proven that idea to be false - the explosive pain brought with reality can never trimmed with a little advance planning.

No matter, we will still wait at the end of the line for the funeral train to arrive, bringing with it the grief and burdens we seem so anxious to bear.

25 April 2008

41 hours stuck on an elevator - ya, like from now until monday

Ever been stuck on an elevator for 41 hours? No?

Well, some dude in New York was and the New Yorker has this condensed closed circuit video on their website. Don't act like you aren't curious. Let me just say that he spent much too little time checking out the ceiling and much too little time chilling on the floor. I would have either been busting through the roof or curled up in the fetal position for 40 hours.

This second video is just because I thought it would have been funny if this song had been on repeat in the elevator while the dude was stuck. :)

eisenhower on weapons and the least of these

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed...This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under a cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."

-Dwight D. Eisenhower, US President

24 April 2008

twinkie deconstructed

I am currently reading a book called "Twinkie Deconstructed". It is a pop-science look into all of the million or so ingredients that make up the Twinkie. It is pretty much crazy, especially considering that I just got through the part where the author explains how what amounts to rust came to be a main ingredient.

I think the main idea is that we should know what it is we're eating. I can't think of a more enjoyable way to learn than by deconstructing Twinkies.

ABCNews did a great story on the book:

23 April 2008

whelmed over

What would the light be without the darkness? And how would the melody delight if not for the dissonance? Where would we be without adversity, without trial, without the conflict that gives meaning to the triumph?

So, what would the light be without the darkness?

22 April 2008

to be more - joe buford

I heard something last week on NPR that left me with a deep desire to be more - more loving, more understanding, more aware. I fought back tears on my way to work as I listened to Joe Buford's story.

To see with simpler eyes, to compassionately admire the frailty of humanity... Joe Buford's Story

21 April 2008

the monkey and the zookeeper

The New York Times ran an eye-opening article this Sunday about the way that the government has been spinning the news, deploying their military loyalists as objective "experts" (who all happen to be balding white men) on television news programs.

Now, I don't quite know why this kind of thing ever surprises us. It is strange to me that we ever trust the source when it is anything other than the Source.

But, here we are, monkeys in the cage. And we are getting all of our information from the zookeeper.

One day we will wake up from this (un)reality.

18 April 2008

warhol on coca-cola and america

"What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca Cola, too. A coke is a coke and no amount of money can get you a better coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the cokes are the same and all the cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it."

- Andy Warhol, artist

So, ya, Andy Warhol was a little peculiar. Umm, okay, a lot peculiar. But this perspective is an interesting one, this idea that maybe we have a lot of things that separate the rich and the poor, but there are certain things that, due to American mass-consumerism, are the exact same for both.

And it's funny how a product can connect you with the wealth you don't have. Stef and I would drink Coke in Africa all of the time, relishing every sip and constantly marveling at how the elixir was the same in Johannesburg as in Pittsburgh. We used 2-ply toilet paper made by the fine folks at Unilever just like we would in the US. We found comfort (right or wrong) in the things that were familiar. And, in context of this quote, we did find some equality in those things as well. I don't completely understand how, but I can tell you that it's true.

To finish the thought, I think Warhol would, if alive today, be seeing end of the relevance of his little quote. Everywhere you turn, more and more products are establishing a luxury line, a selection that allows the rich to feel better about themselves and allows everyone else to covet those things just out of their reach. Perhaps the next thing to fade into oblivion is the time when the rich and poor drank the same Coke.

A Warhol original...

17 April 2008

our deepest fear

I virtually tripped over this today while looking for something completely unrelated. I wept uncontrollably...

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

-marianne williamson

stumbling into love...or lists of books that are proof my nerdiness

While looking for an image for yesterday's post about Flatland, I ran into a website that I want to share.

Obviously, I am always saying we all need to read more. Knowledge is a gift to be gained and given away. And books are still our most reliable (and portable) sources of knowledge.

Anyway, The University of Texas at Austin has something called a "Freshman Reading Round-Up", which is nothing more than a clever way to introduce students to books found to be important or worthwhile by distinguished faculty members.

The 2005 list is the page I stumbled upon. I subsequently found the 2006 version.

Take a stumble yourself: UT-Austin 2005 Reading Round-Up

Books I have read from the 2005 list include:

- Flatland by E.A. Abbot
- On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt
- The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence by Ray Kurzweil
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

The 2006 List

Books I have read from the 2006 list (other than repeats from 05'):

- Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner
- The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

In going through these lists, and realizing how much I had enjoyed those I had already read from the lists, I realized that this little resource might be a real reading treasure. Go through and find your own treasure. Ask me about the above titles if you really want to know. Enjoy if you will.

16 April 2008

what you got in the briefcase? -crackers.

As you may know, I started a corporate job recently. A lot of people have asked what I do down there all day...

T.C.B. You know, taking care of business...

15 April 2008

flatland - weird but worth it

"What is the origin of light? ...The solution has been repeatedly attempted, with no other result than to crowd our lunatic asylums with would-be solvers."

I just finished reading Flatland by Edwin A Abbott. It was recommended to me and I will now recommend it to you. I don't think I even want to (or could) explain what it is about. Buy it ($4 new) and take a chance.

14 April 2008

"jesus didn't fix my life, he wrecked it"....or "civilization began with fratricide"...or the jesus for president book review

I recently finished reading the book "Jesus for President" by Shane Claiborne.

I struggled with how to present it. It didn't feel right to just talk about it like the other books I have read and recapped here. So, I'll let the Huffington Post do it for me... :)

Jesus for President Book Review - Part 1

Jesus for President Book Review - Part 2

13 April 2008

my grey wool suit, my memory of willy loman, and the hopes i will carry in my jacket pocket

I start a new job Monday. I will work for a Fortune 500 company, one that is in the oil industry. I'll otherwise leave the company anonymous in case they give me interesting blogging opportunities.

It is strange, though, to go from an African church staff of 6 to a American corporation staff of 6 million (exaggeration, I think). Still, it is an important and exciting new challenge. What a great test of faith and purpose!

What is the job of a policeman? Serve and protect?

What is the job of a fireman? Put out fires?

What is the job of a young corporate cubicle-dweller? Create shareholder value?

What is the job of a Christ-following policeman? To love God with all heart, soul, mind, body, and strength...

What is the job of a Christ-following fireman? To love God with all heart, soul, mind, body, and strength...

What is the job of a Christ-following young corporate cubicle-dweller? To love God with all heart, soul, mind, body, and strength...

I start a new job Monday. I am going to accept the challenge. I pray I can be love and hope and kindness and generosity to people who simply expect diligence. I hope I can fill out both of my job descriptions.

11 April 2008


The following is a blog post by Carrie Brownstein that I heard on NPR. I had to share...

Link to Blog at NPR.org


Kanye West has inexplicably launched his own travel website; it's like Orbitz or Travelocity except that it's Kanye. Ostensibly, the point is that West is selling more than hotels and plane tickets; he is selling a lifestyle, namely, his.

On its own, the news of Kanye's online travel agency is benign, novel in its quirkiness, maybe even admirable as seen as part of a long line of West's creative and unique endeavors; but within the broader context of artists or people-turned-brands, West's new venture is not so much troubling as it is tiring. Maybe it's that it comes at a time when Madonna is once again ubiquitous, gracing the cover of half a dozen magazines. And Madonna is always extolling something--oxygen facials, peeing in the shower (kills fungus!), Pilates, adoption, Kaballah, children's literature, Britain. Madonna is so branded that it's hard to distinguish between her and, say, Proctor & Gamble; she's just some other company that shape shifts with the times, transforming her outward appearance and message to attract new buyers, all the while selling us on a new way to exist in the world. And the concept of artist as a brand is also overwhelming within the context of an election year--one in which we as consumers (I mean, voters) are already inundated with sales pitches of how we can best make America (that brand we live in) safer, cleaner, and stronger.

When bands become brands, the dynamic creates a very cynical way of viewing music; the inherent value shifts from an aesthetic or sonic one to a monetary one. If I am choosing between a U2 iPod or a regular one, a White Stripes camera or the non-White Stripes camera, my role as a fan has been commodified as well. Basically, I feel like a tool.

I'm not fooling myself--bands and fans and the music industry as a whole are a business, and a struggling one at that. And there has always been a bottom line. But when everything is branded it gives me the feeling like I'm doing all of my shopping at the mall; there is the illusion of choices, but mostly they are being made for me. And by being at the mall in the first place, I've already forfeited most of my options.

Much of music has always been about buying into an idea, a movement, a sphere of influence, an aesthetic, and a voice. As music fans, we're sometimes willing to let the collective voice of the audience speak for us, or for the music to represent a bit of who we are. But I'd be less willing to do that for a brand. Imagine putting brand stickers on your car, following brands around the country, asking for a brand's autograph, or trying to sleep with members of the brand. Frankly, it wouldn't be as fun. So, before Bright Eyes puts their name on a hybrid car or Feist comes out with a line of handbags, they should remember that their fans would likely be embarrassed to utter the words, "I'm with the brand."

10 April 2008

george costanza on doing the opposite

"It became very clear to me sitting out there today, that every decision I've ever made, in my entire life, has been wrong. My life is the opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have, in every aspect of life, be it something to wear, something to eat ... It's all been wrong."

- George Costanza

This will forever be one of the funniest moments in television history. George proclaims how wrong he has been and commits to living "the opposite" from that point on. For awhile, he has incredible success.

Is there a thread running through this scene that rings true in our lives? Have you ever realized that you've pretty much been doing the wrong thing for a long time? More importantly, have you ever had that moment where you knew you had to change?

Some people say repentance is a choice, a swift decision that turns one's back to whatever was previously lying in front of them - walking east instead of west...

Others say it is a process, like the way that is takes time to settle in to a new house upon moving - boxes are often unpacked over months...

Maybe, if we trust George Costanza, it's just doing the opposite...

09 April 2008

idols and africa

If you would have told me a couple of years ago that I would be encouraging people to watch American Idol, I would have laughed at you. Not that there is anything wrong with the show itself... I just wouldn't have been using my time and energy to promote it.

Well, starting tonight (Wednesday) at 6:30pm (Central time), American Idol will be doing their "Idol Gives Back" show. And you should watch.

The Idol people did a tremendous job last year of chronicling the issues of Africans and I think that anyone who wants an accurate picture of what life looks like over there should consider tuning in. And, if after tuning in you are moved, consider donating to the cause. The charities they support are active and very efficient. We witnessed them on the ground working alongside us. And we know that your money might be very well spent there.

So, watch American Idol for just one night. Last year, they raised something over $70 million dollars. Maybe you could help them - and help Africa - do better.

08 April 2008

"I don't say this because he's black..."

Is race an issue in the current presidential election? I would like to think that, no, we are way beyond that in this day and age...But the other day, reading the New York Times in a local coffee house, I ran across this story (below). In Latrobe, Pennsylvania, home of Rolling Rock Beer and Mr. Rogers, it seems that race may be coming to a boil - just under the surface...

In Ex-Steel City, Voters Deny Race Plays a Role - NYT

LATROBE, Pa. — Ask whom she might vote for in the coming presidential primary election and Nash McCabe, 52, seems almost relieved to be able to unpack the dossier she has been collecting in her head.

It is not about whom she likes, but more a bill of particulars about why she cannot vote for Senator Barack Obama of Illinois.

“How can I vote for a president who won’t wear a flag pin?” Mrs. McCabe, a recently unemployed clerk typist, said in a booth at the Valley Dairy luncheonette in this quiet, small city in western Pennsylvania.

Mr. Obama has said patriotism is about ideas, not flag pins.

“I watch him on TV,” Mrs. McCabe said. “I keep looking for that lapel pin.”

Asked the same question this week at a sports bar, Bob Stano, an engineer and a hunter, cradled his chin for a long minute.

“I really do like Barack Obama,” Mr. Stano said, mentioning Mr. Obama before anyone else. “Except for his politics, he seems like a good thing for the country.”

“But the Second Amendment is too important to me,” Mr. Stano said. “I just won’t vote for him.”

Americans have a long tradition of voting against candidates rather than for them. But in the first presidential campaign with an African-American as a serious contender, there may be a new gyration in the way voters think, the need to explain the vote against the candidate who is black.

“I don’t say this because he’s black, but the guy just seems arrogant to me, the way he expects things to go his way,” said Harry Brobst, a truck driver who had never registered to vote until this year.

Mr. Brobst said he would vote in the primary “not so much for,” but against.

People are not shy about dismissing out of hand Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York for her supposed untrustworthiness or Senator John McCain of Arizona for what is described as his “100 years” approach to the Iraq war.

But when dismissing Mr. Obama, voters in this former steel center, whatever their racial feelings, seem almost compelled to list their reasons, if only to pre-empt the unspoken race question.

Because he voted “present” too often as an Illinois state senator. Because he speaks very well, but has not talked about reviving the coal industry. Because he would not command the respect of the military. Because there is something unsettling about his perfect calm, they say.

“Everyone seems to think of him as the answer to all the problems facing the country, but I just don’t think Obama is the answer,” Janine Koutsky said when asked for her reading of the contenders in the grandstand at Legion Keener Park, watching her son play on the high school baseball team.

Latrobe was selected last week for its blue-collar “cred” as the backdrop for the announcement by Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania of his endorsement of Mr. Obama. But it is hard to tell what any group of voters here truly thinks.

Polls show Mr. Obama gaining on Mrs. Clinton among likely Democratic voters in the state, including whites.

At a public forum on March 28 in neighboring Greensburg, where he began a weeklong bus tour, Mr. Obama packed the Hempfield Area High School gym.

As everywhere, including on a radio dial that is wall to wall throughout the Pennsylvania interior with conservative talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, race and gender questions are almost never directly addressed when voters are asked about their preferences.

Deb Friedline, an insurance agent here, said Mrs. Clinton was too likely to make decisions based on emotion, but when asked if that was because the senator is a woman, Ms. Friedline said, “No, I honestly don’t think of her as a woman.”

Gail Delsordo, who said she would vote for Mr. McCain, added: “I don’t see Obama as a ‘color,’ but I do think he needs to get away from mimicking Dr. Martin Luther King. I’m not degrading Dr. King. I liked what he stood for, and it’s a shame what happened to him. But Obama needs to be his own person.”

In a place like Latrobe, which the census says is 99 percent white, the race issue is almost an unexplored country that people visit like tourists with a phrase book. Driving past abandoned steel mills and a brewery and through a neatly swept downtown where tulips have sprouted along the 19th-century railroad line that spawned the city, diversity is mainly in the exterior paint of the residential bungalows.

“When I worked in the steel mill, there were always a few guys who were black,” Robert Bradish said. “But you wouldn’t even know they were black, we got along so well.”

Mr. Bradish said he would vote for Mr. Obama.

Latrobe is probably best known as the birthplace of Rolling Rock beer. The label was sold to Anheuser-Busch, and brewing was moved in 2006 to Newark.

A new company came in that employs fewer people, mostly at lower wages.

“I’m making $5 an hour less than I did before,” said Rick Musick, who parked his truck outside the brewery just before the 5 p.m. shift.

Like almost everyone interviewed in Latrobe, Mr. Musick said he was worried about the economy, health care and the price of gasoline.

He said he did not “know what to make of Obama.” Mr. Musick said he had liked the senator but then decided that he did not “for a bunch of reasons.”

“It’s not about race,” he added. “It’s about a feeling I have.”

Mr. Musick checked his watch, beep-locked his truck and walked across a mostly empty employee parking lot.

baby kyle

Gotta admit to being pretty excited about this little guy...

07 April 2008

seeing the stones that pave the way

Are people generally good?

How many studies and stories and sermons have asked such a question? Too many, I would suppose. I decided the other day that I no longer care about the answer. Good or bad, we are all the same.

I sat and read the Kindle in a local coffee shop for several hours and I began to notice that an incredible cross-section of society was stopping by for a cup of community. Workers in overalls, businesswomen in high heels, retirees with nowhere to be anymore, and students with nowhere to be yet…

I watched the way that they interacted with the baristas. I watched their nervous eyes, perhaps aware that they were being studied, perhaps just trying to be accepted in the stringent pantheon of coffeehouse cool. Some of the folks were known by the staff. Some desperately wanted to be.

One thing that seemed evident to me is that we are all the same. We are all seeking recognition and fulfillment, whether in lattes or lifestyles. We are all capable of compassion and kindness, of hate and vulgarity.

Maybe that idea makes me a soft-hearted fool. I’m okay with that. But what if we dropped the walls that we have built? What if we saw each other as we see ourselves, as flawed yet hopeful vessels? What if we looked into the eyes of the people we run across and searched for common ground and shared history?

I think if we could just see the brokenness around us and grow the hope in others, the world might just be a different place.

I imagine that kindness, humility, and hope are the stones that pave the way to that better, shared future.

05 April 2008

adverts that might just make you smile

You get two posts today...they are both YouTube based, but you could be finished with both in less than 5 minutes. Smile a little - then imagine.

you know what he did?

spinach or spanish?


imagining something different

I don't exactly know how much sense this is going to make to most of you. It is, nonetheless, interesting to me.

South Africa, like all places, has an understood divide between the races. Scenes of one color of people in poverty (and another color in opulence) are accepted simply because they are ubiquitous. As our friend Michael would say, "That's the way it is." He's right, whether he should be or not.

Still, this South African advertisement seeks to reverse the roles, if only to break the patterned way we see things for a day. South Africans will get it. For you Americans, imagine the next time you roll by a construction site...or the next time you pass a crowded bus stop in your nice car...imagine for a moment that the colors were different.

The video is only 2 minutes. I think it's worth the time.

04 April 2008

loss aversion and the final four

Ever heard of the phrase “loss aversion”? The Wikipedia describes it thusly:
"In prospect theory, loss aversion refers to the tendency for people strongly to prefer avoiding losses than acquiring gains. Some studies suggest that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains. Loss aversion was first convincingly demonstrated by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman."

MIT professor and author Dan Ariely, in his book “Predictably Irrational” described an experiment he and a colleague carried out on a group of college students. He was attempting to demonstrate our irrational ideas of valuation for the things we possess and, in a smaller sense, the way that an aversion to loss affects that value.

At this time of year, particularly for those of us in San Antonio, this is a relevant experiment.

You see, Ariely focused on Duke University students who were camping out for a chance to obtain men’s basketball Final Four tickets. The students slept in tents on a campus lawn for days in order to obtain a number that would then be eligible to be “pulled” in a lottery, which would award a ticket to the number-holder. That means that the students were waiting for a chance at tickets, not tickets themselves.

Ariely was attempting to illustrate how humans irrationally value their own possessions. His theory was that we overvalue what we possess and undervalue what we seek to possess. For instance, the buyer and seller of a car are often on very predictable sides of the price war.

Ariely obtained a list of the students who had entered the lottery and a list of those who had won tickets. He then called each of the students and established a “ceiling price” for the buyers, the greatest amount they would pay for a ticket to see Duke in the Final Four. Remember, these were students who had waited and sacrificed and desperately sought tickets. He also established a “floor price” for the sellers, the least amount they would sell their ticket for. He promised each student that they would get a return call if he could match their request with another student. He never called one student back.

As it turned out, each student with a ticket wanted, on average, $2400 for the ticket. They cited the “once-in-a-lifetime-experience” among other things. The average potential buyer offered $175 for a ticket, citing the number of other needs that could be met by that amount of money and a reluctance to overspend on something that they could witness on television.

So, what happened? All of the students originally wanted tickets. They queued for the same amount of time and were randomly selected. Yet, once they were divided into ticket-owners and ticketless masses, they seemed to become very different in their attitudes towards the value of a Final Four ticket. One group became averse to loss, seeking to preserve an exclusive right (the ticket) and a potentially great experience. The other group regained sanity (my opinion) and realized the concrete value of a ticket versus the expected emotional/status gain. In other words, the aversion to loss of the sellers kept prices too high for potential buyers to become real purchasers.

In the market for a Final Four ticket this weekend? Odds are that, if you are a buyer, you’re expecting to pay too little. If you are a seller, you are asking way too much. Enjoy the weekend.

03 April 2008


It has been a couple of years since Bono brought the idea of "coexist" into our lives. He stumbled across the concept and then used it in an entire concert tour, creating much more friction than I am sure he ever thought possible.

As you can see, the symbols creating "coexist" include an Islamic crescent moon, a Jewish Star of David, and a Christian cross. Bono has since been labeled a "false prophet", "charlatan", "universalist", and much worse (not to be printed here).

Contextually, as the Irish son of a Catholic father and Protestant mother, Bono seems to have an angle here. War in the name of any God cannot be justifiable...can it?

In U2's concerts (video below - 3:22 mark), Bono would point to his headband and exclaim, "Jesus, Jew, Mohammad, it's true - all sons of Abraham." This is where folks, especially evangelicals, begin losing their patience.

So, the idea of "coexist" is out there... And there have been some pretty healthy discussions in spaces like these about this topic. I was wondering what you think. Does equating Jesus with Mohammad make Jesus less beautiful? Is coexistence something we should be after in the first place? Where, in the scheme of things, does justice come in?

"Father Abraham, look what you've done..."

What do you think? Comments...

02 April 2008

bono on the church and the free market

(Note: This is another is an ongoing series...Each week, the “description” line under the blog headline changes. It is usually a line from a song, a quote, or maybe just nonsense from The Office. But, each week, we memorialize the line that is leaving while installing the new one.)

"Distance does not decide who is your brother and who is not. The church is going to have to become the conscience of the free market if it's to have any meaning in this world - and stop being its apologist."

- Bono

I felt like this quote deserved some more thought. I won't sully it with mine here.


01 April 2008

recapturing community

The other night, Stef and I were able to recapture a little of what we left behind so many months ago. We sat down, talked, and ate with some friends. We broke amazing cornbread together, sampled some salmon nachos, and genuinely laughed all night. It had been awhile since we were all together - really together. And reunited with a significant portion of our lives, of our community, everything felt right.