Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Dream

The other night, I dreamed it was January 7th, the first day of the winter quarter of classes. I was on campus, and had no idea where my next class was... or where my books were... but it was 5 minutes before 2:00 and I knew the class (which ever one it was) started at 2:00 (pretty darn specific dream, eh?). I didn't have enough notebooks, and couldn't find my locker, etc, etc. Ever have that dream?

Pardon the pun, but it was a textbook version of the school anxiety dream. That's pretty funny, because I'm enjoying school so much, and looking forward to the new quarter so much, so I wouldn't have guessed there'd be much anxiety. I think the dream might have been triggered by the fact that my textbooks showed up in the mail, and while I'm looking forward to classes, I haven't yet memorized my schedule - it's written down at home.

At least I was wearing pants in this one.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Weird Leonard

Between finals, Christmas preparations and getting ready for a 2-week trip to NY, I haven't done much blogging (a pattern I expect to continue until early January).

However, I meant to pass along a link to Quaid, Mounce & Ward Inc's latest article, which was recently posted in the online version of Defense AT&L's Jan/Feb 08 issue.

The original title was "The Mythical Adventures of Weird Leonards Throughout History," but the editor changed it to "History's Weird Leonards." (Weird Leonard being the dude who decided to "mount a Jet-Assisted Take Off (JATO) rocket engine onto a 1975 AMC Pacer and take it for a test drive on a dusty desert road."). I liked the original title better, so I mention it here.

Anyway, the article is a mix of modern urban myth, actual historical vignettes and our trademark rogue mischief & mayhem. We talk about paleoanthropology, Malcom Gladwell's book Blink, the movie Titanic and Alice in Wonderland, among other things. I think you'll get a kick out of it.

One of my favorite lines is: "the determination to disparage and reject intuition [in decision making] is both an unjustified rationalization and a demonstrably weak argument trap put forward by fearful, risk-avoidant bureaucrats who are usually interested in academically studying yesterday’s technology today in order to fix an obsolete problem many tomorrows from now." I love it when we don't pull any punches.

I also really liked this line: "All too often in this modern scientific age of ours, engineers and forecasters are willing to settle for being wrong as long as they are precisely and scientifically wrong, preferably to several decimal places."

But the best parts are the stories from Octave Chanute's amazing book "Progress In Flying Machines," which is a chronicle of 400 years of failed aviation experiments. It's the book the Smithsonian recommended to the Wright Brothers when they were beginning their experiments.

There's also a great illustration by the inimitable Jim Elmore. Check it out when you get a chance.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Simplicity, Complexity and Taxes

Surf on over to the Distributist Review website, for a remarkably cogent and insightful discussion of complexity and simplicity as it relates to taxes.

If you thought the various"Fair Tax" proposals are simpler, or perhaps considered abolishing the IRS, check this article out first...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Where's Rudolph?

Walking through the paint section at Home Depot, I came across their little stack of custom-mixed paints which were (I assume) mixed incorrectly. I love the creativity, imagination and care someone put into making the sign:

If only all our interactions with large organizations revealed this much humanity.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

I wonder if they sell blenders?

I drive past this shop on the way to work every day, and the sign just cracks me up. Maybe I'll do all my Christmas shopping there this year... heh.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pullman Is Right

I hope you can all stomach one more post about Phillip Pullman and his His Dark Materials books. This'll be the last one... probably.

Unlike many (most?) of Pullman's critics, I've actually read his books, a course of action I strongly encourage to anyone who seeks to say anything at all (good or bad) about them. And after giving it some deep, serious thought, I've come to the following conclusion: Phillip Pullman was right.

Well... he's right about some things, and these things he's right about are pretty doggone important. To wit, let me go way out on a limb and say I agree with Pullman that despotic, dogmatic tyranny is wrong. In fact, it's evil. And when it's done in the name of God, it's doubly evil.

See, the bad guys in the His Dark Materials trilogy are truly bad (controlling, destructive, hurtful, etc), even if their garb is ecclesiastical. Their downfall can only be applauded by people who believe in love, grace and freedom (particularly the "truth shall set you free" type of freedom).

So, Christians should have no fear of these books or this upcoming movie. Despite Pullman's efforts or intentions, his books aren't about killing God. Don't let him or anyone else tell you otherwise. They are about opposing an unloving, ungracious, merciless organization which seeks only to control and destroy. According to his critics, Mr. Pullman thinks that's what the Gospel is about. He supposedly thinks that's what Christians are really like (but I'm not going to take his critics' word for it). Nonetheless, Christians should probably go out of our way to prove him wrong... and should probably also acknowledge we may have contributed to making him think that way (if indeed he does).

But here's the ironic twist. Despite his distaste for C.S. Lewis, Pullman actually ends up illustrating one of the principles in CSL's The Last Battle. In that book, a character (Emeth) ends up in Aslan's heaven, despite having served the evil vulture-god Tash. Aslan explains to him that the good he did was actually in Aslan's service, (I don't recall the exact line). Lewis is drawing a parallel to Jesus's parable about the sheep and the goats, I believe (where the sheep did not even realize they were serving Christ). So, while Pullman may have set out to write a story about killing God, he ended up writing a book which affirms the importance of grace, love and self-sacrifice, in opposition to control and destruction.

Perhaps there's hope for Mr. Pullman after all...

Iran's assessment of the US

I agree with Dan Pink - Thomas Friedman's latest article in the NY Times is pretty fantastic. It's an excerpt of the Iranian National Intelligence Estimate of America. Don't miss it.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A Leader Is...

As I was driving my 4-year-old in to school the other day, she used the word leader. I don't recall exactly what we were originally talking about (probably Mr. Rogers), but I asked her what a leader is. Her answer?

"A leader is someone with good friendship."

I almost had to pull the car over before my brain exploded. I think it's just about the best definition of leadership I've ever heard, and it came from a 4 year old. Let's expand on it a bit.

Good friendship includes loving and caring for people as well as "tough love," honesty and integrity. It also means being well connected, in terms of networking and in terms of being aware of (and sensitive to) what's going on. It means following through, asking the next question (and the one after that). It means really wanting to know how your friends are doing.

It also means having people around you who care about how you're doing, who can give you honest feedback and who let you know when you're heading in a bad direction. Good friendship doesn't mean fraternization or cronyism (that'd be 'bad friendship'), and it doesn't necessarily mean you're friends with everyone. But I'm pretty sure good friendship is a key to good leadership.

Would you want to follow someone who does not have "good friendship?" I wouldn't. And in the end, I think that's the acid test for the quality of a leader - a person is a good leader if you would want to follow him or her. Ricardo Semler comes to mind. I've got zero interest in Semler's manufacturing industry, but I'd love to work for him. Same for Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin empire.

It's probably not enough to simply have good friendship. Skills, knowledge and some sort of competence is pretty important too. So are followers. But as definitions of leadership go, she sure came up with a great starting point.

Friday, December 7, 2007

I had a bad day...

Yesterday was a bad day.

Nothing earth shattering or hugely dramatic. Mostly just a series of inconveniences and medium-sized time sinks which popped up in a day that was already tightly scheduled. Stuff like driving my daughter to school (on a beautiful sunny day, with clear streets) only to find they'd closed for the day - apparently because it had snowed the day before? I don't know. So I had to drive the 20 minutes back to the house, then the 20 minutes back to work... so I was around 45 minutes late.

I won't bore you with the other bummers, but as I was driving home an hour later than usual, the thought hit me "I've had a bad day," and I had to laugh. A bad day? It wasn't all that bad - nobody died, nothing burned down, or anything like that. And if what happened yesterday constitutes a bad day, I'm actually pretty well off. And it's so rare for me to have anything even close to a bad day, that it's a bit absurd to complain about a mild one from time to time.

When I got home, Kim had cooked a fantastic dinner, the kids ran and gave me a huge hug, etc, etc. Basically family bliss. In the end, my bad day wasn't so bad after all.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

HP and Loyalty

One last comment on Harry Potter...

One of the primary themes in Harry Potter is family loyalty. In fact, the books are full of examples, both good and bad, of what it means to be loyal to one's family.

The Malfoys and other "pure bloods" are trying to be loyal to their family - but their loyalty is neither admirable nor right. Sirius Black, whose family also emphasized pure blood, demonstrates a better kind of loyalty - loyalty to the right, also known as integrity. He is fiercely loyal to Harry, his godson, and many other grownups who knew Harry's dad decide to help Harry out of loyalty to him and their old friendship, which is undiminished by James Potter's death.

The Weasleys' family loyalty is basically the inverse of the Malfoys' - they are rightly loyal to each other... and even to the brother (Percy?) who becomes a bit of a snob.

As I've said before, loyalty is an overrated and misunderstood virtue. To explain, here's an excerpt from an article I wrote on the topic:

When I say loyalty is an overrated virtue, that's only because loyalty is worse than worthless when it is divorced from deeper virtues like integrity and discernment. Loyalty is all fine and good if it is freely given to the right person (for example, a spouse or a diety), but demands for unquestioning, unequivocal, mindless loyalty are inappropriate and can lead to serious ethical breakdowns. Actually, just about any demand for loyalty is rather problematic. That's because loyalty is only good if it is freely and deliberately given, in a manner that does not violate one’s integrity.

Here's the thing - loyalty says a lot more about the recipient than the giver, which is probably why bosses and people in authority like to talk about it so much. From the stand point of the person who exhibits loyalty, we've got to ask some rather pointed questions.

So let's take a Nazi as a "boundary condition" example. A Nazi soldier could certainly exhibit an admirable degree of physical strength, courage or ingenuity (and many did). That is, we can wistfully say "Wow, I wish I was as clever as him" or "He sure is tough." But the loyalty exhibited by Nazi soldiers was wholly despicable, because it was given to a murderous madman.

Yes, loyalty can be a very, very good thing… but only if you exercise considerable discernment about the person or entity to whom you give it. When loyalty and integrity conflict, as they sometimes do, integrity must prevail.

The late Col John Boyd used to advise junior officers "If your boss asks for loyalty, give him integrity. If he asks for integrity, give him loyalty." That's a darn good rule of thumb, because it indicates loyalty to truth, justice and the American way, rather than loyalty to some guy.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Monkey Memory

Saw a story on the news tonight, about a memory test where chimps beat humans. Very interesting piece, love seeing monkeys doing cool things (sorry, sis!). But that's not what this post is about.

The anchor said to go to to see more videos. But when I went there, it was all about their primetime shows. So I clicked on the news tab. But nowhere on that page was there a link to the monkey videos. So I typed "chimpanzees" into the search engine, and up came a list of recent chimp-related news stories.

I picked one, and there's a little video box, up on the right side. But it only shows video about a dinosaur. Sure, dino's are cool, but I'm looking for chimps. As I scrolled down, I finally found the link to the video... or so I thought. It actually took me to a video of Julia Roberts and a paparazzi or something stupid. Finally, I found the right page, the right story and the right link.

But boy, they didn't make it easy, did they? (and I'm not exactly a n00b when it comes to this interweb thing).

They're Here! They're Here!

My big Christmas order of "The Boomer Sisters In The City" showed up today - I love getting a big box with 25+ copies of my book in it. Most are Christmas presents, but some are for a little bookstore in Plattsburgh NY.

Yay! I'm so excited!

The Mohammed Teddy Bear & Sudan

There were some things I wanted to say about the recent situation in the Sudan, where a British teacher allowed some 7 year old kids to name a teddy bear Mohammed, triggering riots, her arrest, and public calls for her execution... but Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post pretty much said it for me, in an article I just came across.

A few brief excerpts:

the West still finds it difficult to produce anything resembling a common, united, reasonable reaction to these periodic spasms of fanatical outrage, no matter what truly absurd forms they take.

the Great Sudanese Teddy Bear Controversy, like its Dutch, Danish and papal precedents, was not actually a religious or cultural affair: It was purely political. Nobody -- not the other teachers, the parents or the children -- was offended by Mohammed the teddy bear (who received his name in September) until the matter was taken up by a totalitarian government, handed over to what appears to have been a carefully orchestrated mob, and briefly turned into yet another tool of domestic terror and international defiance.

So it wasn't really about religious people being offended. It was about politics and control. The tepid reaction by many in the West isn't helping matters. Not that we should have taken to the streets, chanting and demanding the execution of Sudanese leaders, but surely there's a way to rationally express the statement "This is unacceptable." And Ms. Applebaum makes one more key point, when she addresses the impact the situation must have had on the kids in that school. What lessons did they learn?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Subversive Children's Lit

I love kid's books - mostly because they're not just for kids (and I speak as both a reader and a writer).

I was going through some old posts and found one from Oct 06, in which I declared Subversive Children's Literature Week and offered some suggested reading. If I had to pick one from that list, I'd go with The War Between The Pitiful Teachers and Splendid Kids, by Stanley Kiesel. Holy cow it's a great book, and more than any other it is responsible for inspiring my own Boomer Sisters series.

What's so subversive about these books? And what's so great about subversive literature? I'm glad you asked. These books are all designed to make people think. They encourage questioning of the status quo. They are great stories, well told, of people who dare to be themselves and who help other people on the journey. They are full of love, self-sacrifice, creativity and imagination. They do wonderful things to people who read them.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Lit from the Papa

So I've been writing about children's literature lately, and just came across a very well-done introduction to Pope Benedict's latest encyclical (Spe Salvi), on The Distributist Review blog. It's titled The Postmodernist Pope, but I hope you won't be scared off by either the name of the blog or the title of the posting. I figured it sort of fits in with my recent theme, because the Papa (Pope) is writing to his children...

John Medaille (the guy who does the DR blog) starts by explaining that postmodernism recognizes relationships as the key to humanity. Indeed! In contrast, Modernism tends towards individualism and independence. Postmodernism tends to recognize the importance of interdependence and community. That's one of the things I really like about it.

However, one of the problems with secular postmodernism is that it tends to "secretly accept back that which it purports to reject," according to Medaille. But he goes on to say that "Christian thinkers can, and have, appropriated elements of the postmodernism into their thought because they have a more secure and older notion of truth, one that is not vulnerable to either the modernist or postmodernist attack."

That reminds me of the "deeper magic" C.S. Lewis writes about in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. As a postmodern kind of guy myself, I was pretty sure this was the case, but I hadn't managed to put it into words quite that way.

But back to the Pope. In the new encyclical, "the Pope rejects the notion of the “‘salvation of the soul’ as a flight from responsibility for the whole, and …[a] project as a selfish search for salvation which rejects the idea of serving others.” Or, as my pastor in NY used to say, "It's not about us." That's something I can definitely get behind.