Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Does Being "Nice, Gentle & Kind" Still Count?

"He is the nicest, gentlest, kindest guy you will ever meet … to everything except the baseball, he still hits that really hard." -Michael Cuddyer on Jim Thome

Jim Thome (see articles by Tim Kurkjian and Jayson Stark) hit his 600th homerun last night. Only 7 guys have done it besides him and 3 of those (Bonds, Sosa, and Rodriguez) have all been linked to steroid usage. He is one of the greatest power hitters of all time, and certainly deserves to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Remarkably he has not received a lot of press, more than likely because of his temperament and the fact that Cleveland and now Minnesota are not exactly big markets. But what seems to be most incredible about the guy is how other professional baseball players view him.

How many people are genuinely known to be nice, kind and gentle? To be more blunt, how many men are known for those characteristics? Today's American culture desires strong men, powerful men, and men who have "it" - whatever it might be. Rarely do you hear people seeking a nice guy. In fact the nice guy is at an all time low in terms of desirability. And yet here you have a prominent major league slugger who is known for his gentleness in personality if not his ability to hit a ball 500 feet. Teammates, opponents, coaches, members of the media, clubhouse workers, and the casual fan all encounter a guy who is so genuine and caring they are left deeply impressed. It might not get him front page press, but in the end he is the type of guy you want to be around, you want to emulate and you hope your kids turn out like. Perhaps its time we start re-evaluating our priorities and tastes in America. We need more men like Jim Thome - who recognize that being nice, gentle and kind is a helluva lot better than being an asshole...even if you lose out on publicity.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Aaron Rodgers

"I think if you're depressed about the current state of athletes - their greed, their ego, their selfishness - spend some time around Aaron Rodgers. He's what's right about sports."

(P.S. I loved his "People who live in Wisconsin and Minnesota must have a mandatory high school class in Pleasantness" comment as well!)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Inspiration of Trenton

His 2,400 Americans, having been on their feet all night, wet, cold, their weapons soaked, went into the fight as if everything depended on them. Each man "seemed to vie with the other in pressing forward," Washington wrote.

"The troops behaved like men contending for everything that was dear and valuable," Knox wrote to Lucy.

John Hancock said that the victory at Trenton was all the more "extraordinary" given that it had been achieved by men "broken by fatigue and ill-fortune." [He continued with] "But troops properly inspired, and animated by a just confidence in their leader will often exceed expectation, or the limits of probability."
David McCullough, 1776, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005), 280, 282, 284.
The story of Washington & his troops crossing the Delaware River on Christmas 1776 has always been riveting to me. George Washington is a near mythical being in American history and the story has many legendary & fanciful elements to it. That a group of soldiers near death with nothing more than inspiration to live on could surprise and defeat a group of 1500 trained mercenaries is incredible. Though small in stature, the skirmish would be a catalyst for belief in the movement of independence. McCullough does an excellent job at creating the culture of fear & disappointment that dominated America in light of the power the British showed throughout most of 1776. One small victory (two if you count Princeton) would foster growth & trust in the American vision. What is critical for us today is to take historical events and not only remember their great significance to the shaping of today's world but how we can profit from their lessons as well. Here are a few things I am pondering in light of my recent reading of the battle.

The American soldiers were in a dreadful state. They were without hope & utterly destitute in their belongings and physical state. Yet despite their awful state - they pushed forward as if they could make a difference. They believed in rest on their shoulders to win and so stopped at nothing to make it happen. Do I believe this of myself? Do I push forward in my own role in the mission carved out for my life as if it depends completely upon me to make it work? If I do - then it doesn't matter how bad things get, I will push forward because I believe it is absolutely necessary for me to do so.

Next, the soldiers were fighting for the "dear and valuable" in their minds, lives, and world. The incredible lengths they went to were done without thought because it would have been insane not to. Quitting is not an option when you are fighting for what you believe in. I need to reorder my priorities to make sure I am constantly focused on the dear & valuable. It is when those goals are my focus that I will find the fight within me to put it all on the line. It is not possible to give it all when you don't believe in the end result. If I find myself not giving my all, I must question whether my intended goal is either not dear and valuable or whether I have lost my priorities.

Finally, the troops "exceeded expectation, or the limits of probability" because of inspiration. This has two parts to it in importance. The first deals with the ability to exceed expectation. It is easy to set limits on what can happen based upon the probability of such happenings. The problem is when we allow those limits to then set the bar upon which we will not seek to climb higher. In other words, once we have hit the target we stop pushing beyond. I must not allow myself to simply hit the finish line - I must desire to move beyond. Goals are great - but we need to believe we can continuously accomplish so much more than we believe. The second part deals with finding the inspiration to encourage. This either comes from the cause we are fighting for itself or the leaders we choose to follow. Mentors play such a huge role in life. The more inspiring the mentor, the more likely they will help us move beyond the finish line. Therefore it is absolutely important to pick & find causes and leaders that constantly get us to stretch ourselves beyond what we think we are capable of doing. When we have confidence in that which is biding us to push forward, we will not limit ourselves even when, like the American soldiers, we lack the "necessary tools & abilities" to do so.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Meet the Packers Mr. President

One of the perks of winning the Super Bowl is getting a tour of the White House & meeting with the President. What makes it even better is having the Bears fan President Obama having to congratulate the Packers. Looking forward to another football season. Go Pack Go!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What is the role of Congress?

When it comes to the government, I think the President often gets more blame & more credit than he (some day she) ever deserves. The real questions for me center on the role of Congress. A lot of our issues with the ineffectiveness of Washington center on the Senate & House. With that in mind, its critical we understand a particular passage of the Constitution. Over the course of the next few weeks I will be examining a few parts of Article 1, Section 8 dealing with the powers of Congress. For now, here's a look at what exactly Congress is "expected" to do...
  • The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imports and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
  • To borrow money on the credit of the United States;
  • To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
  • To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;
  • To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;
  • To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;
  • To establish Post Offices and Post Roads;
  • To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
  • To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;
  • To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations;
  • To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
  • To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
  • To provide and maintain a Navy;
  • To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
  • To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
  • To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
  • To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings; And
  • To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Military-Industrial Complex

"A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction...

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together." -Dwight D. Eisenhower, January 17, 1961-

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Dr. No

Ron Paul is growing on me.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Scott Adams on the Budget

Here are the thoughts of Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) on the new budget plan. Pure genius.

Congress allegedly agreed on a budget plan last night. The great thing about this plan is that both sides can blame the other when the economy continues its long march into the crapper. Conservatives will say we didn't cut the budget enough. Liberals will say the decrease in government spending will choke off growth and make things worse. Who's right?

Democrats like to point to the Clinton era as proof that the economy can flourish even as taxes are increased. But how would things have fared in the Clinton years without the Dotcom bubble? Beats me. You don't know either.

Economies usually find their direction from large, unpredictable events, such as wars and other disasters, moving from communism to capitalism, huge demographic shifts, and irrationality that leads to economic bubbles. For any given ten-year period, luck is the biggest driver of a nation's economy. But what single factor is most predictive of, say, a nation's fifty-year economic direction? I think it's the L-to-E ratio (lawyers-to-engineers).

My hypothesis is that the best indicator of long term economic health is the number of engineers a country produces relative to the number of lawyers. A country that is cranking out more engineers than lawyers will trend up. A country that is moving toward a lawyer-heavy economy will grind to a stop.

This idea is nothing more than a wordy way of saying, "To a man who only has a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Engineers build stuff and lawyers sue people. If we assume both professions like to stay busy all the time, you need more engineers than lawyers to create net growth. And I think you'd agree that the countries with the best engineers also win wars and survive disasters the best.

I tried and failed to Google some statistics to back up my hypothesis. Anecdotally, the idea seems about right. I can't think of a country with a strong economy that isn't also known for its engineering prowess.

Some of you will argue that education in general is the biggest predictor of success. But I think you'd agree that if everyone started majoring in English, we'd all starve to death with impeccable grammar.

My take on the budget compromise is that any budget that doesn't kill us right away will be good enough. Our economic fate is primarily in the hands of engineers. And when our collective cynicism reverts back to its baseline, maybe we'll be lucky
enough to have another economic bubble. I hope so. I enjoy those while they last.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Bill of Rights

I bumped into a guy last week while working my landscaping job. He was putting in new flooring at a cabin and we got into a conversation. I discovered quickly that he was a product of guys like Rush Limbaugh who make a living tell people what to be afraid of and who to blame for that fear. He was convinced the United States was on the verge of collapse and would soon be controlled under the regime of a guy like Hitler. Although I was not impressed with his theories, he did bring a valuable point in terms of the Constitution. He asked whether or not I could name all 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights. I did not answer him but truth be told I was not sure of all ten. The more I thought about it that day the more disappointed I was in myself. After all, the Constitution was only ratified by the original states because of the limitations on the National Government specified by the Bill of Rights. In other words, these ten precious amendments were required before people would even consider allowing the national government to form and replace the Articles of Confederation. If we do not know what they are, how are we suppose to know when/if the federal government violates them? So without further ado...

1st: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

2nd: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

3rd: No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

4th: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

5th: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

6th: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

7th: In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

8th: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

9th: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

10th: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Objects of Confidence

But Nathanael Greene was no ordinary man. He had a quick, inquiring mind and uncommon resolve. He was extremely hardworking, forthright, good-natured, and a born leader. His commitment to the Glorious Cause of America, as it was called, was total. And if his youth was obvious, the Glorious Cause was to a large degree a young man's cause. The commander in chief of the army, George Washington, was himself only forty-three. John Hancock, the President of the Continental Congress, was thirty-nine, John Adams, forty, Thomas Jefferson, thirty-two, younger even than the young Rhode Island general. In such times many were being cast in roles seemingly beyond their experiences or capacities, and Washington had quickly judged Nathanael Greene to be "an object of confidence."
David McCullough, 1776, (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2005), 21.
It has been my experience in life that more often than not things that are deemed a "young man's cause" are often derided as foolish, naive, and not based upon sound judgment. With age comes experience & a better ability to make decisions the rationale goes. As a result, young people must "wait their turn" before getting heard, approached or in some cases considered. How many ideas of youth get flushed down the toilet as a result of this harsh treatment? Now to be fair, many ideas or causes of today's youth are roiled with rashness, stupidity and are clearly not well thought out. Despite this, though, we must remember how many times history has shown the idealistic nature of young minds and their impact on the shape of the world today.

The key then becomes learning how to become, like General Nathanael Greene, "objects of confidence" for the world around us. I struggled with this concept when working at the church, and became embittered by the lack of trust or dependency upon my ideas. My experience & capacity were deemed to be small and I was never really trusted to do or lead beyond the small realm of seemingly indestructible ministry. Looking back I can see where blame might be needed for those leaders with small vision above me, however, even more I can see my own failure to become that object of confidence. If I believed in myself as not being just an 'ordinary man' - I needed to make sure those around me (and especially above me) saw the same thing. My skills, character, and attributes needed to be honed, developed and then allowed to shine. Certainly this would not (and even today will not) guarantee success. Older people have a sense of entitlement that they have paid their dues, have their experiences and trust their 'sounder' judgment. So it is my duty to not get acrimonious but instead show an example in all I do and say that develops confidence.

The world is a broken place. Many systems are breaking down and confidence is waning in every sector. What is needed is for the capable to step forward and show their ability. It is then, despite the potential obstacles of longevity in experience or proven capacity that trust will be developed or at the very least initially bestowed. And when that happens, much like Nathanel Greene, we will become objects of confidence.

Friday, August 5, 2011


I happen to think that Dilbert is one of the funniest comics of all time. Much like an episode of Seinfeld, it feels as if Scott Adams is able to illustrate scenarios straight from life. He has a blog on his website that is pretty darn good as well. If you feel as if you just need a laugh from your typical life - check out the site & blog. Well worth your time.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Germany Invades Belgium

On August 4th, 1914, Germany invaded Belgium. Although not the technical start to WWI, this action would help plunge Europe into the Great War. Eventually all of the world's major powers would be involved and over 9 million people would be killed. Europe would never be the same again. The world would never be either. And even in the aftermath with the Treaty of Versailles & the rise of the League of Nations; we could not find peace and had to fight yet again.

"Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events." -Sir Winston Churchill-

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Forest

But Victor Frankl whispered in my ear all the same. He said to me I was a tree in a story about a forest, and that it was arrogant of me to believe any differently. And he told me the story of the forest is better than the story of the tree.

Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2009), 198.
I finished reading Miller's book this morning. I had bought it when I went to hear him speak at my church down in Arizona, but had never taken the time to actually read it. [Side-note: Its ironic how many books I have purchased but never gotten around to reading.] It was a quick read and pretty enjoyable. I have always thought Miller has the ability to tell a solid story, so a book about life in stories makes sense for him. My personal favorite from his remains Searching for God Knows What. Not sure why really, I just really loved it at the time I read it.

In regards to this book, I think the part that stuck out to me the most was his idea of the story of humanity being compared to that of a forest. A forest is made up of many trees - each being unique in and of themselves but still being part of the overall forest of trees. The story is about the forest. It has to be about the forest. No matter how tall, wide, green, or strong a particular tree might be - the forest as a whole is still more important. This speaks so strongly to my tendency to get caught up in my own world & life. I fall easily to the false belief that the forest (humanity) is not as critical to God or myself as the individual tree (myself). Its selfish & highly egotistical and often causes me hurt & frustration as I lament over God "letting me down" when things don't go my way. How much easier would life be if I didn't get so focused on my own journey and realized the larger story God was trying to communicate through everyone else? Its as if God is whispering the classic "don't miss the forest for the tree(s)" in that He desperately wants me to see the larger picture. My journey and the details of my life are very important to Him (what is man that thou art mindful of him) and yet the larger story is of far more importance. My story as an individual tree should be focused on contributing all that I have to offer to overall story of the forest. Its in doing that, that I will find joy & contentment in life.

Miller's book is certainly not a "life-changer" type work. However, I think it communicates some great ideas on story & life. If for only one illustration, the book was highly worth the read for me.