Friday, February 29, 2008

One More Thing...

And for those of you who, like A.L., actually look forward to seeing my work published, good news: I've blocked out a significant period of time this weekend, devoted to moving that pencil along...

Between you and me, I've written some already, but I can't seem to force myself to classify it as "publishable". Twist my arm a bit; maybe I'll ask you...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

All Family?

One thing that can be said of my critics: they're consistent.

Another thing: I like them too much to ignore them. And so, at times, they get under my skin (but then they already know that; I'm half convinced it's why they criticize).

At any rate, tonight, one of my eternal critics (and a closet MyndFood junkie) was talking about the wide variety of topics found here, and how readers must feel never knowing quite what to expect when they log on. She said that my readers must think I'm bipolar.

Perhaps you do.

I have to admit, it stung a bit, although I like to think that the variety of topics found here adds to the allure (variety is, after all, the spice of life; connoisseurs don't frequent restaurants because the food is plain and boring).

I thought about it for a moment, and made an offhand note that my readership isn't dwindling; in fact it seems to be slowly growing which means that you, my diners, must enjoy the mix. She gave it a moment's thought and said that it's probably because my entire readership is family.

I regularly check the hit counter, and it tells me where many of you are from. I'm certain that I have no relatives in Tehachapi, CA; or San Diego, CA; or Dixon, IL; or Houston, TX; or Lake Mary, FL; or Spruce Grove, Canada. But then maybe I'm wrong.

I'll admit, I don't think she meant it as a barb; it was a joke more than anything. But it still stung. You've likely noticed by now that when I'm feeling something, I go hunt down quotes that speak to that particular feeling. I found two that resonated with me:

We are injured and hurt emotionally, not so much by other people or what they say and don't say, but by our own attitude and our own response.
-Maxwell Maltz


Strength of character means the ability to overcome resentment against others, to hide hurt feelings, and to forgive quickly.
-Lawrence G. Lovasik


Both strong quotes that speak for themselves. But then I also realize that she was joking. It did concern me though. Are you all just my family (not that I don't value my family; I LOVE that you guys read MyndFood, but I'm looking to solidify myself as a legitimate writer, read voluntarily by those who don't feel a familial obligation to read)?

So, I've posted a poll. Let me know if you're related or not. In the meantime, I'm gonna go down to the grocery store, and pay $1.00 to each non-relative who agrees log on and vote...

(PS: Vote early, and vote often!)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Enchanting

New Mexico. The "Land of Enchantment" the sign at the airport says. As well as the land of bad landings, the shrillest wake-up calls in the world, and a road system that's so complex that the navigation lady can't get it figured out.

I'm traveling again. To New Mexico this time; Albuquerque that is. I haven't found it so enchanting thus far; in fact, it's proven relatively boring. It's a sprawling, confusing city, surrounded by brown gravel and scraggy scrub brush. But then I don't hail from the prettiest place on Earth, so I'm certainly not being critical. To be honest, it's actually attractive to me, in a primal, cowboy-hat-wearing, "I am Marlboro Man" way.

Which is not to say the trip has been completely pleasurable or uneventful (I don't write about the uneventful ones). It's had it's moments.

The landing in Albuquerque was probably an omen of sorts. It was less a landing than it was a failed crashing attempt. There was a powerful crosswind, so I guess you can't blame it entirely on the pilot, but it sure felt like the guy flying the plane was a beginner. He couldn't get the plane down in time, so halfway through the landing, he aborted, and powered up in an attempt to get back up in the air. In powering up, I think he took to steering with his knees. If there'd been an Air Patrol officer around, he'd have been pulled over for suspected drunken flying.

Shawna, along with 24 other passengers, and one pregnant flight attendant, got unbelievably sick in that last four minutes of the flight.


We offloaded (I forgot one of our bags and had to rush back and beg my way back on the plane to track it down). Shawna sat in a chair in the airport concourse and tried to recuperate while I found the rental car counter.


We got a Chrysler Sebring (it's gutless; the thing can barely make it up an inclined on-ramp). I paid extra for a navigation unit. I wish I hadn't. The woman in there is an annoying, evil prankster. We needed a few things (the FAA doesn't allow toiletries larger than 3.4 oz now, and we have only Costco sized shampoo and hairspray in our house), so Shawna sent me to find a Target last night. I asked that evil woman where the closest Target was, and it told me that it was a mere 5.4 miles away, and proceeded to give me directions.


Twenty minutes, about ten miles, and numerous "course corrections" on the part of my evil navigator, later, she finally said "Destination ahead on right." I breathed a sigh of relief. I drove slowly, looking for the Target off to the right.


Suddenly the evil woman belted out "When safe, turn around." What? I passed it.


I made an illegal U-turn, and went back to the closest light, and got back on the right side of the street. She said again, "Destination ahead on right." I drove even slower this time. She said, "Destination." I pulled into the parking lot...of a JoAnn's fabric store. I put the car in park, and looked around. Not a Target in sight.


I hit the steering wheel, then traversed the navigation system's menu's again, and asked again where the nearest Target was. The sadistic woman cackled-I swear-and told me that it was 7.1 miles away; in the direction I'd just come from.


I sat in the car and screamed out loud until my voice gave out.

I settled for a K-Mart that I came across by accident.

This morning took the cake, though. This hotel is a nice place, but they have the worst wake up calls. Five minutes before my alarm was set to go off, I was snatched from the deep, blissful sleep of the working masses who value every second of rest by piercing buzzing alarm, and a blinding flashing light on the wall.

Then a cheerful female voice came on over the intercom and said, "Good morning guests! This is the Manager on duty, and as you know, we are experiencing a fire alarm!" This she said as though she we're saying, "Mr. Jones in room 409 JUST found out that his daughter is having a baby!"

"Please don't panic," she continued. "We'll notify you if there's an emergency. Thank you!"

Isn't that the point of the fire alarm? To notify me that there's an emergency. Shawna hollered, "PJ! Let's go! Get up!"

"The lady said she'd tell us if it was an emergency."

"The FIRE ALARM is going off PJ! What if it's outside our room?"

"She'll call back and let us know. I've still got five minutes; I'm going back to sleep."

She called back. "Good morning guests! This is the Manager on duty again; I called a few moments ago?" I'm glad she reminded me. I'd almost forgotten! "I just wanted to let you know that there is no emergency! Thank you!"

Perhaps they were just testing their buzzers.

At any rate, to top it all off, I think the eggplant sandwich that I had for lunch might have had some bad Gouda cheese, because now I'm sick as a dog. It'll be great for tomorrow, when our beginner pilot attempts to bounce his way off the tarmac.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Friends

A number of months ago, when Shegazelle first started making us feel guilty for our financial excess, I buckled down and fired our lawn service, pledging here on MyndFood to, in an effort to save a few bucks, mow my own lawn. I scoured Craigslist, found a steal of a deal on a used but functional Honda mower, and I was set.

Shawna finally forced me to make good on my promise Saturday (after four months of un-mown lawns, un-weeded flower beds, and un-trimmed hedges). I tried a number of times to get out of it. I hinted around at taking her shopping, told her I didn't feel well, and even wandered aimlessly about the garage praying for the angry, dark clouds to break open and save me from sweat-stained t-shirt, grimy jeans, and green fingernails.

All to no avail.

When I could think of no other good reason not to mow, I stomped back to the garage and yanked and grunted the mower from the corner where it was buried under a Fisher-Price kitchen and three bags of "yard-sale stuff" (that's code for "don't open those bags; you might get hurt"). I pulled it out onto the grass, pushed the little switch to "choke" and started yanking the cord.


It burped and heaved, but it wouldn't catch. I, being the patient guy that I am, took it well. OK, that's a lie; I yanked harder, kicked at the mower a few times, and muttered loudly that the "piece of junk BETTER start...".


No luck.


"Did you check the gas?" Shawna asked.


I stopped and stared at her for a moment. She saw it in my eyes, I think, because she had the grace to turn and go inside before I bent down and unscrewed the gas cap. Sure enough: bone dry. I started to push the mower back toward the garage.


"What are you doing?" she called from the open kitchen window.


"Putting the mower away."


"Why?"


"We don't have a gas can, Shawna."


The front door opened, and she stalked out as only she can. It was that walk, the one that says, "Uh uh, buddy. You PROMISED that you'd mow that lawn, now you get down to the hardware store and BUY yourself a gas can!"


I stopped.


"Um...can you give me my keys and wallet so that I can run to the hardware store and buy a gas can," I mumbled. She obliged.


While in the store, I thought to ask the clerk if they had one of those handheld edgers. They did, but I opted not to buy it (highway robbery at $26.99). As I stood in line, an old guy, completely bald with an old green cap and a faded blue jacket on, who'd been standing just inside the store, staring blankly at a "Gorilla Glue" display for about ten minutes, suddenly turned to me.


"Use your weed-eater," he said to me. He pronounced it yahr.


"Um...excuse me?" I responded, looking around to see if, perhaps, he was talking to someone else.


"To edge the lawn," he said. "Use a weed-eater. Save y'self some money. It'll work fayn."


"I don't have a weed eater," I responded, "but that's a great idea. I'll keep it in mind." I turned quickly, paid for my gas can, and beat a hasty retreat to my car.


I unlocked the car, tossed in the gas can, and climbed behind the wheel. I reached out to pull the door shut, just as a hand grabbed it, holding it open. It was my friend, the elderly edging guru.


"Where do y'all live?" he asked.


"We'all live here in town," I said.


"Where? What's your address?"


I wasn't quite sure what to do, but I finally told him where I live.

"The reason ah'm askin' is 'cuz ahv got a 'lectric edger that's like new that I gotta sell. If ya want it, ah'll give it to ya fer ten bucks."

I thought for a moment. "Where do you live? I'll follow you, and buy it from you, OK?" I said. He agreed, hopped into his beat up Saturn, and tore off down the road.

He didn't tell me that he lived out in the middle of nowhere. Fifteen minutes (and ten or twelve miles later) we finally pulled up to a run down mobile home, off a beaten up dirt road. I parked, and jumped out. He hurried over to me, and started jawing about his dog (it's three months old, and not yet trained, so it jumps-"careful; he'll get your pants dirty!"); and about his shed ("do ya like it? Built it m'self!"); and his yard ("hard to edge, what with the asphalt drive"). All while pawing about in the shed, presumably looking for the almost-new electric edger.

I stood and listened, said uh-huh and wow when appropriate, and wished he'd hurry. I had a yard to mow, and it was cold, and I just wanted to be done and showered. After a few minutes he stopped. He stood up slowly, put his hands on his hips, and said, "Son of a..." (he looked sideways at me) "...pistol!".

"You can't find it?" I asked.

"I'll bet that Dan has it! I'm gonna go call'm. Wait here."

"Um...you know what? It's not that big of a deal. If you want I can-"

He was gone, off to the mobile home. He went inside, and came out with a cordless phone, grumbling the whole way. He misdialed, hung up, cursed, and dialed again. He waited for a few beats, grunted, and started berating an answering machine somewhere for "takin' my edger. I want it back; I got someone wantin' t'buy it!"

"I don't got it. That Dan has it, I think," he told me.

"Not a problem," I said. "I'll give you my number and you can call if you find it, OK?"

I did; he promised to call if he found it.

He then began to tell me about his sister who, in the 1950's had a house built near me. "Her house is on Austin Way...no; wait...where's that?...that's in Fresno. Where do you live again?" I told him. "Oh, that's right. She lived on Manor!"

I began inching my way toward my car. He kept pace.

"Do you know that it was written in the deed to her house that she couldn't sell it to no colored folk?" he asked. "That's right! She didn't even know it 'til later, but it was right there! She couldn't hardly believe it."

It was sprinkling now. I tried to open my car door, but he had me backed up tight against it so that I couldn't pull it open.

"Wow," I said.

"Yeah. I told her that she could probably get $150,000 for that place..." he droned on. I was desperate. He had me pushed up against the side of my car, apparently unaware of the rain coming down, and his dog was busy muddying my pant legs and lapping at my hands.

"...that neighbor of hers; I told her she should just take that guy over there, and show him around the house, and that neighbor would come runnin' to buy the place!"

"Um...sir?" I interrupted. "I really have to get going. It's starting to rain, and I HAVE to mow my lawn today."

He stopped, midsentence, and stared at me. "Oh. OK. Well I'll call you when Dan calls me back, OK?"

"Sure! See ya!" I jumped into the car, and beat it.

He's called me four times since. I wonder-the Bible says that "a man that hath friends must shew himself friendly." I've always taken that to mean that if you want someone to be your friend, you have to be theirs first. But I don't think that's the case.

I think that God is calling us to be friends. Not just when it's self-serving, but to ALL in NEED of a friend. I'm guilty--the guiltiest, in fact, of being friendly to those whom I desire to befriend me, all the while ignoring those who DEPSERATELY need a friend.

Like the old man in the hardware store. He might not have ever had an edger. But one thing I'm convinced of: he needed a friend.

So I'll call him; maybe I'll go back out and chat with him. Not for my sake; for his. Because I think that's a part of what we're here for, to be, as Christians, the face of God when someone needs it. He said that He's a "friend who sticketh closer than a brother." If we're supposed to be God's representatives here on Earth, more than anything, shouldn't we embody that?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Multiple Personalities

I suspect that, by now, many of you are feeling like A.L. in their comment to my previous post. I think they're wondering if, maybe, I don't have various personalities that are exhibited only when writing for MyndFood.

One day I post a humorous sports video; on another, I post a introspective indictment, bitter at myself for snapping at Gentry; on another, I write about humorous things Lex and Gentry say; on one, I post videos of myself sticking quarters in my nose; and today, I post a book-length economic treatise, replete with a video of me badgering poor, innocent teenagers with convoluted economic principles.

I guess, in hindsight, I can't blame you for being confused A.L., particularly since this last post is a bit of a departure from my typical fare.

Allow me to elaborate. First, MyndFood is intended to be your cyber-restaurant of choice; my goal is to serve up tasty, well-prepared dishes on a daily basis, for your mental consumption. Some days I serve up steak and lobster; sometimes it's a hamburger and fries; on others its a carrot and a piece of celery; and on occassion, it's a smorgasboard of desserts-german chocolate cake, banana pudding, coconut creme pie, chocolate chip cookies, and triple-fudge ice cream.

My prior post, for many of you, was liver and onions (which, strangely enough, Mother LOVES). It might have seemed dry and lacking in flavor, but I PROMISE it's EXTREMELY nourishing. You should eat it.

But please, don't fear; the menu's not changing. The truth is that I posted the video and essay for an Economic Communicators Contest that I entered. They required that I submit a video of myself speaking about an economic concept, as well as a written submission. I could have simply emailed the files in, but in a shameless plug, I chose to use MyndFood as my media of choice.

Who knows; perhaps Walter Williams (renowned economist who fills in for Rush Limbaugh from time to time) or John Stossel (from ABC's 20/20)--both judges for the competition--will find MyndFood entertaining or enlightening, and will come back for more!

At any rate, hop over and take a look at the contest details. For those of you who have more time than money, take a few minutes out and watch the videos submitted by last year's winners; tell me if you think I'm in way over my head here!

Thanks for sticking with me folks!

One heaping order of rice pudding, coming right up!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Invisible Hands & Free Markets

video

How is value created? The answer is rooted deep in human nature. Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises wrote in his “Human Action: A Treatise on Economics” that there is, inherent, in mankind a drive toward happiness (loosely defined as “having succeeded in attaining his ends”). Given that drive toward the highest degree of happiness, mankind is constantly looking for an attainable alternative to their current condition. That is, they’re looking to trade their current reality for some reasonably attainable BETTER reality—one which will, ultimately, make them happier.

This principle really begins to uncover the answer to the question “how is value created”. At the most fundamental level, value is created through trade.

Some time back, I decided to sell my car. I don’t recall what I had it listed for, but I had a number of offers. One guy offered me $12,000; I turned him down. Why? Because the car was more valuable than $12,000 to me; conversely, the car was LESS valuable than my asking price to him. I ultimately did sell it though-for $14,000 I think. Why? What caused the transaction to take place?

One would assume that he felt the car was worth $14,000, and that I did also, but that would be inaccurate. The truth is, he felt the car was worth MORE than the $14,000 he gave for it; on the other hand, I felt it was worth LESS than $14,000. If this weren’t the case, the trade wouldn’t have happened. Because rational beings only make an exchange when what they are getting is, to them, MORE VALUABLE than what they are giving. He received MORE value from the car than he was receiving from the $14,000 he had in his pocket; I received more value from the $14,000 than I was receiving from the car (you’d agree, by the way, if you’d owned that car).

So then, by virtue of an exchange between rational human beings, additional value was created. Further, the assets in play within that economy (namely the $14,000 and the car) were, through the trade, put to their highest and best use. So value was created not only for the individuals involved in the transaction, but also for the overall economy.

This is the “invisible hand” that Adam Smith, the eighteenth century Scottish philosopher and economist, wrote of. He said, in an oft-quoted passage from his noted work, “The Wealth of Nations”:

By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.

He postulates that by pursuing our own individual best interests, in a free-market, we will naturally, through trade, arrive at an exchange that will maximize the value attained by all participants. By maximizing our own personal happiness, we, without trying, maximize the overall good to society. That's the invisible hand that brings us to the overall maximum value within an economy, WITHOUT excessive regulatory intervention by a government.

Imagine, then, that in my example, there’d been some regulation that said that used cars of that make and model, for that year, could only be sold for $12,000. Suddenly, the situation changes. Assuming I wish to sell the car, I’m forced to sell it for LESS than I think it’s worth, and the guy that buys it walks away singing. I’m ROBBED of value, and the buyer gets an “obscene” deal on the car.

The idea of a regulation limiting the transfer price a used car is, of course, absurd (or maybe it’s not)—needless to say, it’s not reality. But governments do regularly intervene, and regulate trade (through various means, including tariffs, taxes, monopoly laws, minimum wage and price caps). What is the net affect of an “independent” authority involving itself in trade within an economy?

Consider this: imagine that, in my car sale example, the gentleman who wished to have my vehicle had cash at his disposal, as well as, say, a 9mm Glock pistol (loaded). Further, assume that there was no government authority that imposed a threat of punishment on those who used force, or the threat of force, to take other’s property against their free will. Assuming, again, that individuals are always looking to achieve the highest level of personal happiness (or, to have as much “stuff” in this example), what is the buyer likely to do? He’s as likely to use the gun and take the car for free as he is to pay me the $14,000 that I really require in order to willingly let it go. So in the absence of ANY regulation, we run the risk of allowing “weaker” parties in a transaction to be robbed of any and all value, potentially resulting in a net loss of value to the economy as a whole.

So there exists a need for, at the minimum, a set of societal norms—rules of engagement that provide general boundaries for our actions. Governmental regulation is generally effective at establishing and enforcing these boundaries.

Imagine though that you own a small business. You have a need for a single laborer to perform menial tasks, all manual labor. You place a "Help Wanted" ad in the front window, and in walks a 16 year-old young man.

"I'm looking for work," he says, "and I saw your sign. I'd like the job."

"Certainly," you say. "It's yours if we can make a deal happen. How much would you like to make?"

"Umm...I don't know; how about $5.00 per hour?"

"Perfect! That's exactly what I can afford," you say. "When can you start?"

"Tomorrow," the teen says, as he reaches out to shake your hand.

You shake his hand. As you turn to walk back to your desk, your gaze travels past the State Minimum Wage poster posted on the office bulletin board. Minimum Wage, it says, is now $8.00.

You stop short, and gaze at the poster. The teen is clueless.

"I'm sorry," you say, as you turn back to him, pained expression on his face. "I can't hire you; I can only afford $5.00/hour, and you'll work for that, but the state won't allow you to work for less than $8.00"

He walks away downcast; you scale back business. Neither of you win. You were both WILLING to make the trade, but due to regulatory restrictions, you weren't allowed, and so the net value created was LESS than it would have been were the trade allowed to happen, and not regulated away.

The greater the level of freedom in the marketplace (the lack of regulation), the greater the potential net value created across the marketplace. But there's one additional factor that contributes to overall net value. Choices. A vital element that exists in a true free market is the presence of choices, or options. A seller has multiple potential buyers; a buyer has multiple potential sellers to choose from, and even multiple potential alternative products.

Happiness is truly maximized when one feels as though they've made an equitable trade after evaluating all the options in the market. This is an earmark of a free market, and enable the "invisible hand" to operate most effectively.

The most prosperous economies are those that operate pursuant to the principles of a free-market, and encourage the pursuit of personal prosperity. This environment is most conducive to allowing the "invisible hand" to unwittingly build that individual and collective value across the economy. This is the environment that we must strive to cultivate, both in our national economy, and in our individual business economies. In doing so, we create value.

It is our purpose, to create value. The alternative is to diminish value. The application of human effort and energy enables the creation of value. Diminishing value, then, is tantamount to wasting--or taking--human life.

A prosperous Free Market: it is our purpose; it's our obligation.

Famous?

My heart's racing.

I might be a new world record holder, as certified by Guinness. I've spent the past few hours preparing and applying for a new world record. It's all complete and sent off to the kind folks there in England; now I have to wait.

What does it feel like to be certified a world record holder? To be the greatest--in the WORLD--at some feat? That, folks, might be me!

I'll join the ranks of the few, the proud-the World Record holders. Folks like John Evans, who holds the world record for Heaviest Car Balanced on the Head; and Zafar Gill, who holds the record for the Heaviest Weight Lifted with an Ear; and even Ken Edwards, who holds the record for Most Cockroaches Eaten.

I tremble at the thought of finally breaking through that glass ceiling, and taking my rightful place amid this prestigious group.

If my application is accepted, I will be the world record holder for (drumroll please)...the Most Quarters in the Nose at One Time.

That's right folks. I can fit quite a few. 18 is the current number, to be exact.

What? You don't believe me?

OK. Here's proof. Watch these videos:

Putting Them In:



Taking Them Out:




Do you believe me now? It's amazing, if I do say so myself.

I'm asking for your support though. Assuming they accept my application, I'll have to have a formal "record breaking" event. I've got a tentative plan, the details of which will follow (assuming the application is approved), but It's going to cost a few bucks. So, I've put a link over there on the right where you can donate to the cause (via Paypal). I challenge each one of you: if you'd like to see me as a new World Record Holder, pitch in your own 18 quarters (that's only $4.50) toward the cause! It'll help greatly!

In the meantime, enjoy the videos! And stay tuned; I'll keep you apprised of progress!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Punk'd

I love a great practical joke, but I don't know that I've ever seen one to top this.

On Saturday, Kyle Kendrick, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher was called into the Phillies' General Managers office, and was told that he'd been traded to a Japanese team-the Yomiuri Giants-for a Japanese pitcher, Kobayashi Iwamura. The entire team management was in on the prank, as were a slough of newsmen, who were onsite for the fake news conference.

The incredible thing is that Kendrick signed the trade paperwork without even attempting to contact his agent.

It's a great prank, and fun to watch.

Enjoy!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Quote of the Week

"Men kick friendship around like a football, but it doesn't seem to crack. Women treat it like glass and it goes to pieces."

-Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Saturday, February 16, 2008

No Gum

Read about it here.

Eternal Pupil

The Internet's still down at home, so I ran over to Mother and Dad's house this afternoon to look something up on the net, and to login to my bank account and verify that some check had cleared.

And I realized immediately that I'd made a horrible mistake. In my checkbook. Again. I do it far too often; I'm just not diligent enough.

Frustrated and angry with myself, I logged out, closed down the computer, and loaded Lex and Gentry back into the car to go home for lunch.

As I pulled away from the curb and started to drive away, Gentry, who gets a little anxious about certain things, started crying because he couldn't get his seatbelt buckled. He flips out if the car starts moving before he's buckled. That's probably a good thing.

So I slammed on the brakes, turned in my seat, and yelled at him to "hurry and buckle the seatbelt". I'll admit; my frustration at myself over my checkbook mistake overflowed.

He started bawling, and got so flustered he couldn't get his fingers to work well enough to get the belt latched. He dropped the buckle. I let out one of those exasperated half-sigh, half-grunt things through my clenched teeth, leaned back and roughly buckled the belt for him.

Then we drove to McDonalds.

As we sat in the drivethrough-me in the drivers' seat, brooding at my mistreatment of Gentry, Gentry doing that quiet hiccup-sniff thing he does when he's trying so hard to stop crying, and Lex whispering quietly to Gentry "it's alright Bubs", I realized that I'd been out of line. Far out of line.

I turned around in the car and said, "Bubs, Daddy's really sorry for yelling at you back there. I was wrong; I shouldn't have done that.".

"It's allwight," he sniffled quietly.

"No, it's not. It's nowhere near alright. I'm really sorry, ok?"

"It's OK," he said.

"Are you mad at me?"

He looked up at me with a questioning look on his face. "No, I'm not mad," he said.

"Why not," I asked.

"Because youw always nice to me. Youw hawdly evew mean, so it's ok."

"I love you, Bubs," I said.

He stretched up to hug me. And I realized that he was telling the truth. I WAS forgiven--even before I'd apologized. Because he loves me. And that's what love does; it gets hurt, but it keeps on. True love isn't contigent...on ANYTHING. Its there; always. Without qualification.

How is it that my five year old son and six year old daughter have got this figured out, but I still don't have it quite right?

They're so much wiser than I. I should listen to them more often, I think.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Down

I'm frustrated. No; more than frustrated, I'm angry.

You'll notice that I've not posted in a few days. Not by choice. In fact, I sat and screamed mindlessly at my computer for about ninety minutes last night, to no avail. The Internet simply would not work. Neither would it work today. Or this evening. In fact, it was unavailable until just moments ago.

You see, we live in a small community. Our telephone service is through a local provider that also provides high speed Internet service to most of the cities' population. They have chronic ups and downs. But most are of the "fewer than 2 hours" variety.

This one took the cake.

Two full days. In my opinion, it's excessive. I'm half-tempted to call them up and threaten to change my Net service. In fact, maybe I'll do that! Maybe I'll find a new provider.

Well, not much to find. There's only one other high speed provider locally. So, it's basically a choice. But, I know for a fact that the OTHER provider has been up for the past few days (as well as all of the prior days that OUR provider has been running), which means we'd have been two days better off had I been with the OTHER provider initially.

Perhaps I will...perhaps I will...

At any rate, this is turning into a rant. That wasn't intended, I assure you. This was merely meant to be a note to let you know that I've not forgotten you, nor have I quit writing. I'm still here, and I still love doing this. I just couldn't!

Thanks to those of you that stuck around!

Don't go away, OK?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Surprise Results

It's interesting. My poll (up in the top right hand corner) ended today. I've read your impassioned comments about Megan Meier and, more specifically, about Lori Drew. It's obvious that many of you have intense feelings about the whole matter, who's to blame, and what should be done with them.

The thing that surprises me though, is that, as I read through your many comments, it seemed that most of you felt that while Lori Drew is a despicable person-her actions were deplorable and reprehensible--her actions didn't warrant any legal punishment, because she, technically, didn't break the law. For the most part, you recognized that as dastardly as her deeds were, she didn't really commit murder.

Yet, the results of the poll show that you, as a group feel otherwise. Fully 50% of you responded that Lori Drew deserved to die for her actions. A death sentence. In essence, you feel that she's responsible for Megan's death.

Startling, to say the least.

But then what of Megan's mother? Many of you felt that she bore some large part of the responsibility here. One commenter felt as though Mrs. Meier was responsible (at least in part) because she wasn't doing an adequate job policing her daughter. I disagree. We can argue the semantics all we want (that is, it is "policing" or "situational awareness"; either are fine for my purposes), but the reality of the matter is, the reader was advocating punishing Megan's mother for "not catching" Megan.

Again, to my point, Mrs. Meier was not intended to be a law enforcement offier. She was divinely intended to be the force that instills the values and principles of their household into her children. Those principles should have been enough to keep Megan from derailing. They apparently were not sufficient. Assuming that's not the case, though, no amount of law enforcement is going to keep a teenager from egaging in activity that Mom and Dad don't approve of.

But then, that's not really the point either. The truth is, there're plenty of folks who are "at fault"--who at least made some minor contribution to Megan's death. Not to hear you tell it though; why? Because she deserves to die, according to you; her role was significant enough that she needs to win the death penalty.

What of the rest? What about mom and the other friends?

Perhaps it's their punishment that they have to live with themselves, to know that they were, in part, responsible for this poor girl taking her life.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

"I Died for you"-Jesus

I was on the road home one day this week from a convention a few hours away. I usually pay very little attention to the road, and virtually ignore anything off to the side of the road. So it could have been no more than a strange coincidence that I happened to glance up and to the side in time to see a billboard go flying by that said: "I died for you. -Jesus".

My first thought was positive; nice of Him to remind us every once in a while. But it made me think about some billboards that were popular a few years ago. There was one that said, "You think it's hot down there? -God", and one that said something like, "That 'love thy neighbor' thing...I meant that. -God", and "Let's meet at My house Sunday before the game. -God", and "What part of 'thou shalt not' didn't you understand? -God".

All cheeky and memorable; I recall chuckling every time I saw one. Dad loved them.

But then I saw this one, and as I drove on I thought about it a bit, and I think that maybe they're not quite as funny as I thought they were.

First, what kind of God uses billboards to commuicate with His children? The only time that I recall Him ever using anything remotely similar was when he wrote, with his finger, on the wall in the Babylonian king's court. Biblically, He's always used more impactful methods of communicating. Like talking donkeys and burning bushes; and dreams and visions, and visitations by angels.

Imagine Him placing a massive billboard right outside the door of that big pyramid, that said: "Let My people go! -God". Or, Saul, on the road to Damascus, stopping to grab a drink of water, and seeing a sign that said: "Saul; why are you persecuting Me? (and by the way, your new name's Paul). -God". They just don't have the same impact, do they? In fact, for all the humor you might find in them, they're devoid of any real meaning. They're no more than a talking point.

But then, perhaps that's just they're not really "God" talking; it's we humans putting words into God's mouth. That's what it must be, because it just doesn't seem quite right that God would say something like, "You think it's hot down there?". Or to constantly remind us of the fact that he died for us? It just doesn't seem to be the way he works.

He's not that way. He's a loving father, one who'd gladly give His life to save ours, but not one to continously remind us of that fact, as if it's something to lord over us humans. What He did, He did out of love. And that billboard just seems to cheapen that a bit.

No; He's always been the kind to pull His children close when they feel aimless or like a failure, and to speak softly to them in love; NOT to throw up signs alluding to the depths of His love (and silently riduculing all those who have NOT placed their life in hands).

I only hope those signs aren't all you're depending on for consistent communication with God.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

I'll Take A Mulligan

Today's been one of "those days". It hasn't been bad-although there've been bad parts; and it hasn't been good-although, there've been some good parts too. But it's one of the days that leaves me, at it's end, asking myself what I'm doing.

Sometimes, I look back at a day or a week, and wonder if I'll ever learn. Today had a few of those experiences--the ones that, if you'd learned your lesson the last time, or two times ago, or five times ago, you'd be smiling about, as opposed to crying.

I, apparently, am thick-skulled. I just can't seem to get it right. And I find myself, on what seems like the fourth or fifth hole, playing my sixth or seventh mulligan--saying, "Hey, self: I've messed up again. Gimme another ball." At some point, you hesitate to stick your hand in the bag for fear that it'll be suddenly empty.

I stop, and look back over the course I've traversed thus far, and see my shots gone awry strewn all about the course, and I realize that, above all else, I'm simply an embarrassement when it comes to the game of life.

And I'm tempted to despair. No, that's not true; I promptly dive-bomb, emotionally, into the deepest pits of despair. At times, it feels like a permanent fixture in my life.

I think that's probably the single greatest struggle that I face when it comes to a relationship with God; how in the world could a God really love someone as messed up as I?

Because, I'll be honest with you--perhaps this says something about me as a Christian--but, for the most part, I don't really "feel" loved by God. I'm certain that He does love me, but often, the disconnect between my heart and my mind is so severe, I can't force myself to trust it fully.

Especially on these days, when I start counting the stray balls and the mulligans.

I took a few moments tonight to gaze back down the course of my life, and began examining, from this great distance, some of those embarrassing shots that landed me in the sand-traps of life. Some of them were near enough that I could see. Others were distant-far enough back that they were no more than a speck on a field of green. Others were so far behind me, they weren't even visible any more.

And then it struck me: despite the fact that I look back over the game, and I can't recall a single excellent stroke, but can see, in plain sight, the evidence of dozens of horrible shots, I stand here, on this fourth or fifth hole, having made some headway.

And I stood, speechless, for a moment. How is it that I've not made a single decent shot, yet I've progressed nicely down the course?

"It was me," I heard.

I looked around.

"I've been making the shots for you; you refused to acknowledge it, and kept trying to play the game alone, and I let you play. But I played alongside you. It's because of me you're still here.

"And so, what right do you have to think poorly of yourself? You win the game," He continued. "I'm insulted that you can't get over yourself long enough to let go of the lack of self-worth, and realize that, if I weren't playing the game with you, you'd not have budged from your starting point. Why don't you forget you for a while, and just be a tool that I can use to accomplish what I want to accomplish THROUGH you?"

I'm sorry again, God.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Rev. PJ

I've gone and done it. I became an ordained minister tonight.

I was half-joking when I posted last night; I really had no intention of going and applying. But I thought about it quite a bit today, and realized that there's no reason not to.

So I did. I went over to the website tonight and registered to become an ordained minister. And they approved me. That's no great achievement though; their qualifications for ordination? You have to have filled in all the blanks on the application. That's it.

I did. So, within 72 hours, I'll receive my email confirmation of ordination, and be eligible to begin performing marriage ceremonies, and other "ministerial" duties. I'm excited.

I registered my name in their free "Directory"; folks who go on their website looking for a minister to, say, perform a wedding, will find my name if they happen to live in this area.

It feels weird.

I'm looking around on the Net now, for minister directories to put my name in. I did this; I may as well act on it, and try to drum up some folks needing marrying.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

I Now Pronounce You...

I'm inspired.

Over the past few weeks I've watched Shegazelle's blog as she tells of her (and Hegazelle's) various forays into earning extra money to apply to their efforts toward achieving financial peace. She's sold her bedroom furniture; Hegazelle has changed air filters and sold boxes of drywall screws from their garage; she's eaten leftovers for lunch for weeks straight; he's scoured Craigslist for odd jobs.

And it's paying off for them. They're paying that car off in record time, and their other bills, according to their monthly updates, are being paid down pretty quickly.

So, Shawna and I decided we needed to do something similar. We've looked around; we found a few things to sell, but nothing substantive. So we've been searching for some opportunities.

Mother grabbed me tonight, and gave me the perfect answer.

"Hey, you need to write to Shegazelle that you found a new way to earn extra money," she told me.

"Uh, what is it?" I asked.

"Well, a coworker's relative is doing it; they're making good money every weekend."

"Doing what?"

"Weddings," she said. "He got ordained as a minister!"

"Um, I don't really have any desire to become a minister, Mother. Plus, the whole process of getting a ministers license? Uh uh."

"But he got the ordination for free off of the Internet. And he makes $650 for a Saturday wedding!"

"Oh. You can do that?"

So: my proposal (rather, it's Mother's proposal): I'm going to go get my minister's license, for free, at the Univeral Life Church, and then begin performing marriage ceremonies. You can't beat $650 for a weekends work.

How's THAT, Shegazelle, for gazelle intensity?

Check it out; you can become a minister too! We can go do weddings together.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Can I Help You?

We were sitting in a Chinese food restaurant this evening eating, and Shawna's phone rang.

I realize that the economy is poor; I pay attention to the news. But I didn't realize it was this bad.

It was 911 calling.

"Do you need emergency services, Ma'am?" they asked.

"Um...no," she replied, with a befuddled look.

"Oh. Well, do you need an emergency transport--and ambulance?"

"Uh, no I don't," she said, a little concerned.

"OK. There's nothing we can do for you then?" the woman asked.

"No. We're all fine."

"OK. Thank you anyways," the woman said, as she hung up.

Since when did 911 start cold-calling potential customers? I wonder if the head 911-guy got up this morning, called a staff meeting, and threatened rolling heads if "we don't pick up the pace of business around here."

It just seems a little bizarre to me. And, isn't that one service that is BETTER underutilized? It seems kind of...strange?--no, worse than strange--creepy, to push for more use of emergency services and equipment.

I wonder if they have frequent buyer discount cards?

(I'm not making this up folks; it's true!)

Attempted...Tormenting?

I can't get past this Lori Drew story. I jumped on the Net tonight, and did a few quick searches, and it appears as though I'm not the only one.

The search popped up a whole variety of hits. Bloggers and newssites alike are working the story to death. Partially, I'm sure, because it has legs; it's a dramatic story, and it keeps readers engaged. But it's more than that, I think. Look at the enlightened comments on my prior posts about Megan Meier's suicide, and then about Lori Drew's impending indictment. People care.

A scroll through the search results begins to paint a pretty clear picture of the overall public sentiment surrounding the story.

"Lori Drew has never apologied for what she did to Megan or the Meier's family..." says one blog. "...will continiue (sic) to follow this story of the evil Lori Drew and the sad case of Megan Meier..." said another. "Megan Meier was an innocent 13 year-old, is complete scum," and "Lori Drew bullied Megan Meier to death," round out the overwhelming sentiment of the group. One blogger even went so far as to post the home address, full names, and telephone numbers, of the Drew family in a particularly angry post.

There were few dissenters. One blogger lashed out at the media, and said that "although Lori Drew has not yet been charged in the case of Megan Meier, the media has never required formal charges to be filed before running a story." Perhaps they're right. I, fortunately though, am not part of the "media" and, thus, don't operate under those same constraints. My job here is to wrap the "news" or other relevent thoughts and concepts up in a nicely packaged, logical analysis. I'm SUPPOSED to add my flavor; it's why you come here.

So allow me to.

I posted a poll up in the top right-hand corner, asking whether Lori Drew should face charges for her part in this whole saga. A few of you have voted; those who haven't, please do. The vast majority of you feel much like the Internet population that I quoted above: she deserves to be harshly punished.

The more I think about it, the less I agree. Let me ask you a question: remember a few months ago, I posted about my years in elementary school? I talked about how decidedly "uncool" I was. And I told about my utter lack of friends (except for when it came to group projects).

I wrote, in that post, about a few of the popular guys in school, and how they christened me, to my utter horror, "Picker" after seeing me pick my nose at school one day.

I cried when they first called me that--laid my head down on my desk as though I were tired and needed to rest my eyes, and cried softly. I was so ashamed.

Let me ask you then: should those pitiful guys be punished for calling me "Picker"? I can tell you, at the time, it was traumatizing. There were days when I didn't want to go to school. Yet, it's foolhardy to think we might prosecute those two for calling me "Picker."

What if, on the other hand, I'd done as Megan did and, in a fit of suicidal depression over my HORRIFIC nickname, hung myself? You'd probably be more inclined to punish those two guys, wouldn't you?

That's the rub, you see? Had I opted to go that route, would my two witty friends be responsible for my death? I think not.

Consider this analogy: assume an individual took a pistol to work, walked into the office, and shot a coworker, killing her. The shooter would be arrested, indicted and likely convicted of murder, correct? Now, assume that, as the shooter walked in, he aimed at the coworker, and began to squeeze the trigger, and just as the hammer fell, the coworker bent to tie her shoe, and the bullet sailed harmlessly over her head, as two other coworkers attacked the shooter, pinned him to the ground, and waited for the authorities. The shooter would be charged--perhaps not with murder, but with attempted murder.

Perhaps we should track down my schooldays tormentors, and try them for "attempted..." what would it be called? Not really murder.

You see my quandry? Ms. Drew did a terrible thing, no doubt about it. But it was only really made terrible because of Megan Meier's response. It would have been no more than a mean prank had Megan not comitted suicide; just as those who nicknamed me "Picker" were nothing more than mean-spirited classmates.

I can't, in good conscience, say we need to charge this woman with anything. Obviously, you disagree. I wan't to understand. Please comment on this one.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Megan Meier's Killer?

I wrote in a post a few weeks back about a teenaged girl named Megan Meier who committed suicide in October of 2006 after falling in love with a boy on MySpace who ultimately rejected her via a MySpace post. The story told how it was later revealed that the boy she was in love with was not actually a boy after all; it was the angry mother of one of Megan's spurned classmates, who lived right down the street.

The story is an interesting one; I pointed out in my prior post that it's a perfect example of the real danger associated with MySpace; users are lulled into a virtual world. Once there, MySpacers tend to glean their entire self-worth from that virtual world, even, at times, to the exclusion of REAL relationships with REAL people.

That, again, dear readers, is the real problem with MySpace.

But that's not the point of this post. Faithful (I hope) reader April sent me a link a few days ago to this video she tracked down on a web. It's a news bit that hints that Lori Drew (the mother who posed as the teenaged boy) might be facing criminal charges for her part in the whole saga.

Missouri officials (the parties all lived in Missouri) had previously opted not to charge Ms. Drew, in that, while they found her actions deplorable, they could find no law that she'd broken. But recently, a US attorney in Los Angeles CA indicated that he would be taking the case before the grand jury in Los Angeles, requesting an indictment.

The US attorney's office in Los Angeles has jurisdiction, strangely enough, because MySpace is based out of Beverly Hills.

I agree--Ms. Drew's actions were horrible; she's a low form of humanity. But where did she break a law? Perhaps we can classify this as some sort of twisted cyber-terrorism, and toss her into Guantanamo? Or maybe a charge of involuntary manslaughter (that's a stretch; she didn't kill the girl)? I can't see it.

According to the US attorney's office, if they can find nothing else to charge her with, they'll charge her with fraud, in that she impersonated an individual she was not (and she set up a phony profile via MySpace). It's a stretch, but I guess it's an argument you can make. But then, where do you draw the line? What about the 16 year-olds that say they're 18 on their profile? Or the married women who say they're single? Or the male's who say they're females, looking for "close friends"? You see? It's a broad, grey line, and if the only time we're big enough to say it's been crossed is when someone dies, then is there really any point?

And, if you think about it, at the end of the day, if we start prosecuting people for falsely representing themselves on these sites, all we're really doing is pointing our finger at MySpace; "why can't they regulate their users, and ensure they only put the truth on their site?"

Frankly, it's not MySpace's job to regulate whom you communicate with; it's YOUR job.

But then, that's neither here nor there either. I'm just torn about this whole fiasco. Does Lori Drew deserve jail time? My heart and stomach want to scream "YES!" so lound, nothing else can be heard. But my mind says that, as deplorable as this was, the girl still committed suicide, and nobody else can really take responsibility.

Your thoughts? And hop over and vote on my poll.

Soul Food

Came across this neat site over at joelmaxwell.com today. It's a site where they stream the Bible, day to day, portioned out so that you can read it all in a year. They send it in an RSS feed, so that it can literally be piped to your computer as soon as you turn it on each day.

It's a neat service, especially if you find yourself always running out of time in the day before you get to your Bible reading (like me). I spend enough time on the computer that, if first thing on, up popped my daily Bible reading, I'd be far more inclined to read it.

I don't dole it out as often as I should, but this is REALLY GOOD soul-food. Eat up!