Today is Memorial Day in the United States, a day where we remember those who gave their lives in defense of our nation. The goal of this day, from its inception, is to remember and honor those who earned the freedom we continue to enjoy. I've written about it before, but it's been 12 years.
Thankfully, our current cultural zeitgeist recognizes and honors military service, possibly to a bit of excess, as a reaction to the anti-military sentiment prevalent throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Invariably, whenever I am out and about in a civilian establishment (grocery store, restaurant, etc.) and in uniform, I will be thanked for my service. I used to feel self-conscious about that, as I've spent very little time in a combat zone; however, I realized that every job is significant, and I'm still on call, so I began to simply reply “You're welcome; happy to do it.” In this spirit, many people make a special effort to say “thank you for your service” on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, as well as other military-related holidays, such as Armed Forces Day (which is actually the day set aside for that, the third Saturday of May), V-J Day, Pearl Harbor Day, and the like.
However - Memorial Day is set aside to remember those who gave their lives in defense of our nation, not just those who have worn or currently wear the uniform. Within the military, honor of these individuals is high; many of our military installations, and the roads within them, are named in honor of these brave warriors who gave their lives on the battlefield, or those who were killed in the line of duty at home. (It happens more frequently than many realize.) And, the last thing those of us who “fly a desk” want to do is, in any way, siphon off honor for those who gave their all for this land.
The past several years, though, have gotten more contentious around these holidays. People are correcting, and sometimes near-berating, those who dare to thank currently military members on Memorial Day. Possibly, some of these people's hearts are in the right place; I'm not critiquing motivation, just technique. I find this to be the worst possible way of honoring military sacrifice. I also see that the majority of people who do this have never once served a day in any branch of the armed forces. Y'all - stop it. If we're strong enough, courageous enough, and dedicated enough to defend our nation, you can trust us to defend the honor of our fallen comrades.
Into that mix, enter those who, in the spirit of togetherness and camaraderie, like to wish everyone a "Happy [insert holiday here]". If we thought “thank you for your service” set these defenders off, “Happy Memorial Day” sends them into orbit. However, if we stop to think about how those whom we honor on this day would want us to go about our day today, I don't think scolding people on the Internet would be an activity. An acquaintance on Facebook posted this in reply to someone who had been on the receiving end of such scolding, and it is more poignant and eloquent than I could express. (shared with permission, names changed)
Many years ago, I was at a Memorial Day cookout at a friend's beach house. There were probably 50 of us there, grilling ribs and burgers, eating oysters, drinking beer and wine coolers, and just enjoying being together. We'd played volleyball, gotten sunburned, gone swimming, and done all the things you would normally do at the beach with a big group of friends.
A girl I didn't know, wearing a t-shirt with a big, yellow ribbon on it, got there around sunset and said, “Hi! Happy Memorial Day!” She then turned to a group of about 10 guys who were obviously active duty and said, “Happy Memorial Day! Thank you for your service!” It clearly bothered another guy who was there, (who I later found out had no military affiliation whatsoever, himself OR family members), because he proceeded to loudly lecture her about how “Memorial Day is NOT a day to be HAPPY and it's NOT the day to thank the servicemen who are ALIVE; it's for the dead ones, and shouldn't be a big party…” Needless to say, when he was finished, you could've heard a pin drop.
Then one of the active duty guys, a young Marine officer, said, “Sir. You're wrong. It IS a day to be happy. It IS a day to thank those who are willing to go tomorrow or even today and lay their lives down for the rest of us. They might be one of ‘the dead ones’ when next year's Memorial Day rolls 'round. And, every serviceman I know who lost his life fighting for this country loved a good party, no matter how bad the situation outside the gate was. I leave on Thursday to go back to Kuwait for my second tour, and if I don't come home this time, do NOT make my life and my decision to risk it have been in vain by telling people that they can not have fun, be happy, and celebrate in my honor. I only want ONE funeral if I don't come back. I don't want a funeral every single year on Memorial Day. Instead, drink a beer and say, ‘Bob, this one is for you,’ then turn and thank a LIVING, young serviceman for picking up where I left off and being willing to die for you, simply because he loves his country. Then, be happy and celebrate the freedoms that you have. THAT, my friends, is what Memorial Day is SUPPOSED to be.”
Less than a year later, I went to his funeral and then to a memorial service so well-attended that it had to be held outside on the beach. And, every Memorial Day since, I raise my glass (whether it's a beer, a wine cooler, a Mt. Dew, or a lemonade) and say, “This one's for you, Bob.” And, then I thank a young member of our military for picking up where Pat left off, and I DO wish everyone a happy Memorial Day. Not because I don't have respect for those who gave their lives and not because I don't understand the meaning of Memorial Day, but exactly the opposite. Thank you to all who serve and selflessly risk everything for the rest of us!
Memorial Day is a day to honor those who have given their lives for our nation. As they come into our memory (literally the origin of the first word of the holiday), we should honor them. This should inspire a few emotions (none of which are sour-faced scolding):
Gratitude - Above all, honoring their sacrifice should inspire gratitude. By virtue of the timing of our birth, no one reading this had the opportunity to risk their life in any of the armed conflicts in which our nation has fought, up to and including “The Great War” (AKA World War I). We should be grateful to those who fought, and died, in those conflicts.
Motivation - The gratitude of the memory should motivate us. For some, that motivation is reflected in a similar method of service, in direct defense of our nation. For some, that motivation is reflected in the desire to thank those who are continuing to put themselves in harm's way for the rest of us. Forgive the bluntness, but it's really hard to thank a dead guy; it's much easier to thank those who are currently on his team. For all of us, though, that motivation should work itself out in living in a way that would make those who made that sacrifice proud. That doesn't equate to a political party, nor a demand for military discounts, but working for a nation where the (peaceful) battle of ideas can play out, as government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” evolves.
Celebration - No one who risks their life in defense of the nation actually wants to lose it, and we should not “pop the cork” every time we hear about a servicemember losing their life. At the same time, though, our government has set aside a national holiday to honor these people, and 99+% of them would want us to enjoy that. They and their families know, much more acutely than the rest of us, that time is precious. Spend it with family, go have fun somewhere, take advantage of it! Remember who made it possible, for sure, but enjoy.
So, all that being said - Happy Memorial Day to you.
Saturday, April 12, 2014
Daniel J. Summers
A friend posted this picture earlier today, and combined with another headline I read, really got me thinking. A good portion of this started out as a comment under that picture, but then I thought “Why should Facebook get these thoughts for free?”
One of the arguments against large corporations is that they are unjust; and, as much as those of us who recognize them as the energy driving the gears of our economy, they have proved by their actions that they need checks and balances to prevent that very thing. The key, of course, is to strike the right balance where growth is not hindered, but abuse is prevented.
Now, consider the pharmaceutical industry. The desire to produce medicines to help people live fuller lives is a good thing, but this picture (and the society it accurately represents) proves that they are no more immune to self-serving actions as the oft-termed “evil” corporations that produce food, consumable goods, technology, etc.
How about higher education? I don't think anyone reading this ever heard, going through high school, “You know, when you finish here, you should go ahead and get a job, and be productive.” No, we all heard “Graduation is just the beginning; you need a 4-year degree before you're really ready! Because it's so important, we'll outright give you some money, and lend you the rest; don't worry, this will be easy to pay off once you're out there making six figures!” Yet, who is benefiting from our current under-30 sea of student loan debt? Colleges and banks, that's who. Meanwhile, students are finding no job market for their degrees. Were they sold a useless product?
The point is that, in each of these cases, the original thought was a good one. This product will make people's lives better. This pill will take away pain. This knowledge will give you a leg up in the world. Then, bit by bit, that germ of an idea grows, until you end up with something large and successful, which leads to an increasingly self-serving outlook. It's the old “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” thing in real life.
The key to this is character in those who gain this notoriety. However, we cannot control others. In our fallen state, the one thing we can control is our reaction. Do we really need that product? Have these degrees really lead to higher incomes? Do these drugs' claims make sense? “Buyer beware” is always good advice. If more people took it, maybe the market for the speculative advertising that has launched these areas into such heights would dry up, and they would have to start being more honest about what they can really provide.
One final note - government is no more immune to this than education, medicine, or corporations.
Sounds harsh, but what else am I to make of this picture?
First off, the dumb part. Why would a computer hacker, hacking computers across a network, need to obscure his face? (In CNN's defense, they're not the only ones to use dumb pictures to caption hacking.) Companies like CNN have smart technology people writing for them, as well as freelancers and others. Why does this type of image persist? Look at Kevin Mitnick, Dan Kaminsky, Meredith L. Patterson, or Shawn Fanning (creator of Napster, but branded by non-tech people as a hacker, or worse). Do any of those look like “hackers” to you? This metaphor makes people more likely to not believe it when they actually see a hacker.
And second - a hoodie? Are you serious, CNN? Weren't you lecturing us a scant two weeks ago on how people in hoodies were perfectly fine? They were as pure as the wind-driven snow, representing everything that is right with the country, and people who thought otherwise were terrible racists? How do we know this guy isn't just updating Facebook on a public computer before he makes his way home from the convenience store? But, no - you definitely have him portrayed as the bad guy in this image. You are convicted by your own words; shame on you, CNN. I'll be waiting for your apology (but I won't be holding my breath).
I've got a good bit on my mind this morning. I held back from posting anything negative about our nation yesterday (apart from a call to repentance - but that was me as a Christian, not as American; I would feel that way about whatever nation I called home). “Happy Birthday America - you suck!” just seemed inappropriate.
However, our nation does have many, many flaws. I'm not ready to discard her, by any means; but I see, at nearly every turn, her people and her government making the wrong decisions, and continuing her slide towards mediocrity and insecurity, under the guise of improving both. In nearly every issue, the underlying cause appears to me to be the same - an inability to dispassionately, rationally evaluate a situation, policy, etc. on its merits alone. This is displayed on both sides of the political divide, where talking points and comebacks are slung back and forth, and seems to be what passes for civil discourse. It isn't!
This originated as a Facebook post, but I thought it was more appropriate for the blog; heaven knows it's had some cobwebs for a while, and hits its tenth anniversary next month. Were I to blog each of these issues individually, though, I'd end up with thousands of words that no one would read, save to search it for keywords so they could post their comebacks in the comments (see above). Does it matter that I can't succinctly express what's on my mind? The problems I see aren't succinct problems with succinct solutions. An exclusively inward focus seems wrong; I should be trying to leave a better nation and world for my children, right?
But, as I look back at those nearly 10-year-old posts, the issues are the same. “Gay Bishops - A Big Deal?” Well, I (regrettably) have been vindicated in my view that this gave license for people to just ignore parts of the Bible with which they disagree; at this point, were a hair's breadth away from forcing people to behave in ways they feel are contrary to the Bible, because others disagree with parts of It. “The Ten Commandments - A Monumental Controversy” was about a man's personal decorations in his office, yet the intervening ten years have seen a continuing push to eliminate every vestige of our Christian heritage from the public square. “Abortion - A Bad Idea Whose Time Has Passed” has seen some progress as of late, but the Todd Akin/Wendy Davis dichotomy prove my point about civil discourse; neither side is immune. However, since that post, there is one political party that has decided they should be for it at any time, for any reason, at no cost. I'm no legal expert, but I don't think that was quite the point of Roe v. Wade, or even Griswold v. Connecticut. How does one rationally argue against such an irrational, yet quite passionately-held, position?
America is not beyond hope. We must change course, though, or we will find ourselves swimming in self-induced mediocrity, while we are crowing over how advanced we are. To get God's blessing, we must turn to Him; to elevate civil discourse, we must teach reasoning. (Morgan Freeberg had a great (and succinct!) summary of this where he dissects Dennis Prager's statement that he'd prefer clarity over agreement.)
p.s. The ambiguity in the title of this post is intentional; whichever meaning is appropriate will be up to us going forward.
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Daniel J. Summers
Welcome to “2012 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous.” If you're reading this as they're posted, it's backwards; but, if you're reading back through the blog archives, they're in order.
2012 has been quite a year. We survived 3 ends of the world, by my count. That's pretty ridiculous, true, but our very existence here means that they must be, so we won't waste any more words on that. What did make the cut?
The “War on Women”
That this tops the list should not surprise my regular readers; several of my posts this year (including this one and that one when it first broke) dealt with it. Now, the “war on women” is not to be confused with the “war on a woman”; that I addressed in 2008 (first item). No, in yet another display of Democrat projection, this one was an accusation against Republicans.
It started with a strange question in the Republican primary, shot to the forefront with Sandra Fluke and Rush Limbaugh, and continued throughout the campaign. The Obama campaign created a horribly insipid animation called "The Life of Julia," where their heroine (um, victim?) displays her dependence upon government at every stage of her life. It was presented as if it was a good thing; the government as boyfriend, husband, business partner, and health insurance provider. To me, the suggestion that women need, or would want, something like that is truly offensive and sexist.
Granted, the Republicans didn't help themselves against these charges. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, both running for the US Senate, answered questions about abortion by emphasizing their “no rape exception” views - clumsily. Akin should have removed himself, but did not, and squandered a gift-on-a-platter opportunity to remove a senator who has not been that helpful to her home state. Mourdock was a Tea Party Republican who defeated a long-term incumbent in the primary, yet went down to defeat in a state that Romney took 54/44.
Really, the war on women was nothing more than the “they want kids to starve” meme from the late 80's and 90's, where ridiculous charges were made against Republicans, and those charges went unanswered. This year, as well, the response was tepid. What Republican wants to take away health care? The charge is ridiculous, and should be addressed as such. Otherwise, they'll continue to make these outlandish statements "They're gonna put y'all back in chains!", said our vice-president. They took “binders full of women” out of the context of people-to-hire and somehow turned it into a negative. “You didn't build that” - oh wait, that's just poor sentence structure. Please! There is no poor sentence structure in a pre-written campaign speech!
The main problem with all of that, though, is that it worked. Which brings me to my next item…
Barack Obama Reelected
When Obama was elected in 2008, that fact made the “bad” list for that year. Looking back at that post, in view of the past 4 years, I see that I was being way too generous. He presided over 4 of the toughest years in recent memory, making things worse with every decision (or indecision). His party hasn't passed a budget in over 3 years now, and one of his was so unrealistic that it was defeated 96-0 in the Senate. We lost our top credit rating, and that cannot be blamed on George W. Bush; S&P downgraded us because of our lack of a plan of paying back our debt, not the size of it. This administration has brought us economic time bombs in the form of Obamacare mandates and repeated “debt ceiling”/“fiscal cliff” showdowns, one of which is staring us down even as I write this.
But, all of the above is not the ridiculous part; it just proves that I was right to put his election on the bad list 4 years ago. No, the ridiculous part is that the American people, seeing all of the above, put him back in office for another four years. My countrymen are playing the part of fools, falling for the ridiculous claims about their opponents, while failing to see that their own are the ones leading us down the slide to mediocrity. They're behaving like little kids; what little kid wants to vote for the guy who says “Hey - we've got to pay for all this free candy we've been eating”? No, they vote for the guy who promises even more free candy, while demonizing those who generate enough wealth for our government to skim the top of it to provide the free candy. They cheer when the rich get poorer, not noticing that this does not make them richer, it only diminishes the overall wealth of our nation.
The National Park Service has signs in several forests warning against feeding bears, because they will become dependent on that food, lose their hunting skills, and become aggressive. Yet, the very people who suggest that this applies to human beings as well are branded as hate-filled and greedy. America needs to wake up, and do the hard work of dealing with the withdrawal symptoms of this free ride coming to an end, or the country itself will find itself in decline. Sadly, I don't see this generation as one willing to sacrifice its own comfort to secure the comfort of future generations.
Reactions to Mass Murder
Again, I get to fault my fellow citizens. Sadly, our nation endured two mass murders this year; one at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, and the other at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. On my first visit to Facebook after learning about the Sandy Hook shooting, I was greeted with lots of “Don't Take Our Guns!” images. Really, guys - that's the way you show compassion for 25 families who lost their kids a scant few weeks before Christmas? And, the other side is just as bad. “Why are these guns on the street?” is not the question (although “because, Constitution” is the easy answer). Confiscating every gun in the Union would not bring an ounce more comfort to those families who lost their children and adults that day.
The proper response to something like this is sorrow and compassion, then anger, then punishment (if applicable), then speculation on prevention measures (within the parameters of our founding law). Jumping to #4 dehumanizes the response. I fault the gun-grabbers with having the non-Constitutional lead in this; but, while I did fault people above for not responding to ridiculous charges, there is a time for those sorts of debates. While the dead bodies are still warm is not that time.
Year-In-Reviews in Early December
On a lighter note, when did December become not-part-of-the-year? How can you review a year with nearly an entire month remaining in that year? Unless you're covering NASCAR or the college football regular season, the first week of December is way too early to be publishing retrospectives (and, for the latter, you'd better wait until the conference championships to write it up). Look at the newsworthy events this year - Sandy Hook, the deaths of several notable people, and George H. W. Bush's hospitalization, just to name a few. Don't review a year until it's over.
There you have it. I'm sure I'll have no problem filling out another one of these in 2013.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Daniel J. Summers
This is the last (or first, depending on how you're reading it) part of the series “2011 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous.”
Evil's Class of 2011
2011 was a good year for tyrants to breathe their last. Osama bin Laden, head of al-Qaeda and mastermind of the September 11, 2001 terrors attacks, was killed in a daring raid on May 2nd. Muammar Gaddafi, the long-time leader of Lybia, was captured and killed October 20th. Then, a week before Christmas, Kim Jong-Il, the North Korean dictator, breathed his last. These three men did very little to soothe pain and suffering in this world, choosing rather to inflict it in an attempt to maintain their power and control. As of today, none of these three men control anything - in my book, that's a very good thing. (Even better would be a change in direction, though that's looking doubtful at this point, except possibly in Libya.)
Contrary to popular opinion, you can make value judgments about these nations (or, in al-Qaeda's case, their organization). Man has a God-given yearning to be free, both physically and spiritually. God also made it plain in His Word that choosing Him is a personal decision - it must be made in one's heart, not forced by government at the point of a gun. Regimes can try to control behavior, but they cannot change hearts. These leaders used violence and oppression to try to conquer the hearts of their citizens, rationalized in many cases via religion; the God of the Bible wants us to surrender our hearts to Him voluntarily. These leaders worked against Him, and they are gone.
While the Cain Train's derailment made the “bad” list, one positive to come out of his campaign was his 9-9-9 plan. This plan scraps all existing tax code, and replaces it with a 9% income tax, a 9% national sales tax, and a 9% corporate income tax. This plan is the first time a poll-leading presidential candidate has proposed such a massive overhaul of the tax system, and the only plan apart from the FairTax (which Mr. Cain also supports) that eliminates the ridiculous spaghetti of our tax code - spaghetti with a compliance price tag in the millions. While there was the expected knee-jerk reaction from the usual sources ("What? You mean POOR PEOPLE would have to pay 9% on THEIR INCOME, TOO?!?!"), Cain's analysis showed that this would bring in about the same amount of revenue. Combine that with the vast simplification of the tax code, thus eliminating much of the compliance and enforcement expense, and you've got something that just might work.
I realize Cain's analysis is that of someone running for office, but it does mesh with the analysis done by those that espouse the FairTax. 9-9-9 provides the most level of playing grounds - if you make $10,000, you'd owe $900; if you make $100,000, you'd owe $9,000; if you make $10,000,000, you'd owe $900,000. Corporations, although merely voluntary associations of individuals, are taxed at this rate as well. The national sales tax, balanced with reduced compliance cost to the businesses that would be collecting it, is nearly break-even. This would encourage growth without punishing success.
I can't remember where I read it, but it's almost like some people are obsessed with making sure everyone has their “fair share” of the pie. Others see the pie and ask “Hey, why don't we just get a few more of those?” 9-9-9 clearly falls into the latter camp. Basing economic policy on “It's not fair that he has more than me” is poor; there's a reason we teach children not to look at life that way. Instead, we should compare our poor to the poor of other nations, and realize that even the “poor” in this country are better off than the average citizen in many other nations.
I hope that, the next time an alternative tax is pitched, we can have a rational discussion about it. In fact, the FairTax is proposed nearly every year - if you read about it and like it, just let your Congress-critter know.
A Full Trip Through the Bible
Inspired by my Christmas gift from my family in 2010, I searched the web for reading plans and found this one, which looked very interesting. I started a Facebook group and asked if any of my friends would like to join me on this journey, and 22 others joined me; I even made a few new friends along the way. Each day I would post the reading for that particular day, and we could use the group to share, discuss, or encourage one another. There were times I got behind (it happens), and when I posted an encouragement to the group, others were there with me. We weren't judging each other, we were simply encouraging one another - as Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.”
The pace was quick, and although I enjoyed it and was blessed by it, I believe 2012 will see me taking it a bit slower. I did flag several verses as I was reading through, and those are the places I'll start digging in and digesting what's there.
So, there you have it. As in previous years, while I had to cut off the lists for the bad and the ridiculous, those all happened externally. I could have filled the list for this post with solely personal things. This tells me that I serve a God Who blesses me, no matter what sort of bad or ridiculous stuff goes on around me. I believe more good is on its way in 2012, and some of it might not even be just for me. :)
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Daniel J. Summers
This is the first in a series doing the education that the colleges which the Occupy Wall Street gang (#OWS hereafter, taken from the shortened version of their #OccupyWallStreet Twitter hash tag) failed to impart. I have two in the queue behind this one, but there may be more.
For those living under a rock, a group has been camped out in New York, protesting Wall Street. There was a list of demand published, but many protesters were quick to point out that there was no official list. However, there have been recurring themes. Corporations are greedy. The rich get richer while the poor get poorer. Debt is bad. People aren't hiring them even though they have a college degree. A job is a right.
Dear #OWS, your parents and your colleges have failed you. Before we dig into details of why your demands are unworkable, there are a few big-picture things we need to discuss.
Welcome to the Real World
This is where your parents have failed you. You are the generation who grew up “safer” than ever, protected from terrible things like concrete under your playground equipment, lack of head protection when you rode your bike, having to suffer the indignation of losing your soccer match because they didn't keep score, etc. You are the result of a social experiment gone horribly, horribly wrong, where a bunch of too-smart people decided that the way children were reared for generations had to change. They were going to do it better. They were going to do it more safely. They remembered how bad they felt as children, when they were picked last for sports, or struck out and helped their team lose a game; or how they were made fun of during the awkward stages as they grew from children to adults; or how they never fit in with the “in” clique at school. So, they tried to eliminate all these things. No scorekeeping, and everyone gets a trophy. “Don't say that word!” “Bullying is wrong!”
Where they went wrong is that by their attempts to eliminate bad things, they did not teach you how to deal with these bad things. I'm all for the elimination of bullying, but you can't wish that and make it go away; you should be trained on how to deal with it. In real life, there are winners and losers; there is no “no scorekeeping” option. Everyone does not get a trophy. There are attempts, and there are failures. You have tragically had your opportunities to learn how to deal with this as a child snatched from you. Now, you're behaving as children would normally behave; you're just a lot bigger. You're adults, so you think that your demands aren't childish. Sadly, I'm here to inform you that they are. Railing against the real world is futile; you are not going to change it, at least not much. You would be much better served applying yourself and learning how things work.
A College Degree Is a Tool, Not a Guarantee
Here is one area where your college has failed you. No matter what the admissions adviser told you, a college degree is not a guarantee of a good job. Even in good economic times, a college degree is likely to get you in the door, at an entry-level position. (You understand where the term “entry-level” comes from right? The level you start, when you enter a company?) The people that have been there for 10 years beg to differ with your assertion that you should start out at the level to which they have worked themselves up. And, if your degree ends with “Studies,” you're probably 1/4 as employable as someone with a degree oriented toward something a business would actually need.
The Corporations You Decry Have Made Your Protest Possible
You have utilized the services of several public and private companies. Let's take a look at the evil that's made this protest possible, shall we?
Twitter - Still a private company, Twitter was valued at $10B earlier this year.
Google (GOOG) - You know, the owners of YouTube, the developers of the Android mobile operating system, and the target of your “Google It!” chants? They are a publicly-traded company valued at $57.85B (plus assets, minus liabilities)
Did you drive, or take public transportation, to get to the site of your occupation? Those evil oil companies made that possible.
Now, what you're not going to read in future installments are claims that the “real world” is perfect. There is room for change, and there are people running companies who have no business running them. However, if you want to maintain the lifestyle in America to which you've become accustomed, or improve it, you really don't want to be throwing the baby out with the bath water.
I'm sorry your parents and colleges have failed you. If you stay tuned to this spot, I'll help educate you on why the things you're so worked up about, contrary to what your “I wish communism worked because it's just such a good idea” professors taught you, are actually good for you.
Monday, December 27, 2010
Daniel J. Summers
On the suggestion of a friend, I subscribed to the Daily Audio Bible (DAB) podcast. In this podcast, Brian Hardin reads the Bible through each year - 2010 is the fifth year. It's been a blessing to me to listen to God's Word, as well as enjoy some of his comments as well. (I'll have to own up to skipping a good bit of the commentary, especially when I was trying to catch up a few days.) It was great to be able to listen while I did other things; however, this was a mixed blessing. I found that I would sometimes get distracted with the “other” thing that I was doing, and would mentally check out of the podcast. During one of these distracted times, I felt the Lord telling me that it was time to take the next step.
For this reason, beginning 2 Jan 10, I'll be beginning a 52-week Bible reading plan, reading it the old-fashioned way, off words printed on paper. My main Christmas gift this year was an ESV Study Bible, and this will help put that to good use. One of the aspects of DAB that I liked was the community; I knew that, although I might be the only one listening to my computer, there were thousands others that were listening to Brian. Although my participation in that community could be described, at best, as a lurker, it encouraged me to have it there. To help encourage others, I've created a group on Facebook called Read the Bible in 2011. This group will function as a community where we'll encourage each other along this journey. I'd like to invite you, my reader, to join me in this journey. The group is closed, but if you request access, just send me a separate message so I'll know who you are.
While the goal is to read through the Bible in a year, we don't want to go so quickly that we don't have time to stop and listen to what God is trying to tell us in the passage of the day. So, the stated goal of reading through the Bible in 2011 is not really the goal; it is merely the means to the greater goal of allowing God to speak to us. I'm looking forward to it - won't you join me?
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Daniel J. Summers
As most of you know, this past two weeks have been quite an experience. We were supposed to leave for a trip home, visiting Dollywood, seeing family and friends, and in short, having an actual vacation. That's not how it went down…
Wednesday evening, having gotten our vehicle completely loaded, we sat down to eat. Michelle had cream of chicken soup, and when she was through, she said that she felt a little off. About a half hour later, she was having abdominal pain so severe that it was making her black out if she tried to get up out of bed. She called a specialist who was familiar with her history, and he said that it sounded like she needed to go to the ER with a suspected a gall bladder problem. She also had a hernia that she's had since our third son Jameson was born; she had been consulting with this specialist to have it fixed January/February of next year. At the ER, they ruled out a blockage in this hernia and gall bladder problems, and it looked like we may have been sent home. Michelle asked the ER doctor to talk with her specialist, and once he did, she was admitted. The next morning, this specialist evaluated her, and said that the hernia had become incarcerated; it wasn't blocked, but blood flow had been cut off to it, and the intestines were starting to die. This hernia repair became a 4-hour, 15-minute emergency surgery, followed by a day in ICU, two days in a step-down unit, and four days in the standard post-surgical inpatient unit.
Although this situation was scary at times, there is a whole lot more about which we can be thankful. For the balance of this post, I'd like to take some time to, as the old hymn says, “count my blessings.”
First, look at all the good things dealing with the timing of this. Praise the Lord we were here in Albuquerque, and not somewhere on I-40. It is highly unlikely that the diagnosis would have been made, and surgery performed, were we not where Michelle's history was already known. Even if they had, the week-long hospital stay in some unknown town would have been difficult; as it was, we were able to use our home, and rely on our network of friends here for support (more about them next). Michelle's specialist, who made the correct diagnosis, is only in Albuquerque once a month, but he was here that night; we found out later that he actually stayed over an extra day to do this surgery. Also, a surgeon whom he trained as a resident (and called his “star pupil”) is the director of surgery at Lovelace hospital here in town; he and she both were able to work together on the surgery. And, while we knew this surgery was coming, the fact that it had to be done as emergency surgery means that it's automatically covered; no paperwork hassles and waiting for referrals! I had already lined up time off from work, so I wasn't expected to be there.
Second, I'm exceedingly grateful to my friends here in Albuquerque. I won't name them all publicly because I haven't asked their permission, but there were many families that came together to help take care of our children (even offering for them to spend the night, which never did materialize). There were also many other families that made meals for us, bringing us so much food that we were able to get at least 2 meals out of each one. Phone calls, visits, and e-mails of support also helped Michelle and me during this time. Finally, prayer - I know that the one thing that has made the difference in this situation was the intercessory prayer on Michelle's behalf, and prayers for me as I was working through everything else. During the entire time, I was never worried; I had a peace that the doctors were going to figure it out, and we were going to be OK. While I try not to let on too much, that mindset is pretty rare for me when facing medical situations - my mind wants to go off and worry about these worst-case scenarios, rather than trust God in the scenario in which He's placed me. As I put prayer requests out via Twitter (more on that below), we often saw near-immediate change in situations. Both Michelle and I are very grateful for those of you who lifted us up in prayer.
Third, special thanks go to our families. From the time they heard about what was going on, the planning was continuous. Everyone worked together, and the children were able to still get to go visit them. Thanks to our families, they were even able to spend a few days at our vacation condo in Pigeon Forge and meet up with friends with whom we were going to be vacationing. Having the children safely with grandparents, I was free to focus on Michelle, and helping her during her stay in the hospital. It's also helped her to be able to focus on her recovery now that she's at home. The children will be coming home soon (in time for Christmas), and we're really looking forward to seeing them.
Fourth, Twitter was great. Sure, it may seem strange to offer thanks for a social networking site, but Twitter really helped me during this time. Facebook would have seemed to be the solution for keeping people informed, but Michelle has friends, and I have friends, and some of those cross, but some don't. Since you have to be friends to see updates, I would have had to have double-posted. (I don't even know if the Facebook client on our phones lets you easily manage dual accounts; and while I've boasted about Seesmic Web's ability to dual-post to Twitter and Facebook at the same time, Seesmic for BlackBerry doesn't support Facebook.) Twitter, being public by default, was what I needed. I didn't need to give the same update by phone 14 times, and I didn't need to fiddle with changing settings. “Pull up the box, type my 140 characters or less, and press send” was much easier for providing up-to-date information to people who wanted to know it. There was a little resistance from some folks, but once I reassured them that my profile page was a simple web page with no account needed, they got it. I'm now grateful for the micro-blogging platform I scorned for so long.
Finally, I want to praise the Lord for this outcome. Although it wasn't our timing, God knew when this hernia needed to be repaired. It's been hanging around (pardon the pun) for nearly six years - the fact that it's in the past, even now, I don't think has truly sunk in yet. The doctors who needed to be here were here. We avoided the disaster of being sent home from the ER with the problem unresolved. While, obviously, Michelle isn't completely healed from surgery this extensive in two weeks, her healing progress has been in line with what the doctors have expected; this isn't an exercise in “speed-healing.” Looking back, we can see how everything worked together to ensure this bad situation had a good outcome. Thank you, Lord.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Daniel J. Summers
Here a while back, I had tried to get to Inbox Zero, and succeeded for a while. However, things happen, and with multiple inboxes, Inbox Zero was a memory. While I've been at the hospital with Michelle, while she rests, I've used tools provided as part of Gmail to integrate my personal and two business e-mail accounts, as well as my Gmail account, which I started using a few months ago as my primary e-mail address.
Before we dig in, let's talk about Inbox Zero. It's basically Getting Things Done applied to e-mail. In GTD, you collect everything that's on your mind (which an e-mail inbox does by default). Once you have all these loose ends collected, you “process” them - you either deal with it (if 2 minutes or less will do it), defer it (which can involve prioritizing), or delegate it. E-mail “processing” is different from what we usually do when we sit down to an inbox with 400 message, 285 unread, looking for subject lines with things to which we can respond in the short time we have. Processing's goal is an empty inbox; to look at every thing and make some decision with it. This brings clarity, because a good bit of the noise will be quieted. Then, when you have time to “do” e-mail, you start with your highest priority, and work your way down. (Of course, there's a little more to it - I just summarized an entire book in a few sentences.)
Here's a screenshot, to prove that I got there. :) It also illustrates how Gmail can help you get there and stay there - labels, conversations, filters, and search.
The first is labels. Within Gmail, messages can have one or more labels; in fact, “Inbox” is a label as well. This allows messages to be identified with the topics addressed, as well as a priority. “1 | Pending”, “2 | Follow-Up”, and “Scouting” are labels in the image above. There is an experimental feature (that seems to work well) that shows or hides the labels in that list based on whether there are any unread conversations in that label. Labels are displayed in alphabetical order, so starting the priority labels with a number sends them to the top of the list. With an e-mail folder (or a file folder), you can't file something in more than one place at a time. However, with labels, you can have a single message labeled with several labels; in fact, one of the messages in “1 | Pending” is also the unread message in “Scouting”. Using read/unread as a status is a help, too; of course I've read the e-mail, but by marking it as new after I had applied the labels to it, it increments the number beside the label in the list (and makes the label show). I can then “archive” it (remove it from the inbox), and I have a reminder of what I need to do.
The second is conversations. Gmail groups all e-mail communications into conversations, and sent and received messages are stored together. This means that you don't have to go plowing through your “Sent” folder to find the message; assuming you labeled it, the entire back-and-forth e-mail exchange is right there in that label's list of messages. It works great for mailing lists, personal e-mails, etc. The only thing I haven't found it working well for is Facebook e-mail notifications; it groups them by subject line, so all the “this-person commented on your status” messages get grouped, and they're not in the order that they are on Facebook. However, that hasn't really bothered me too much.
The third is filters. This is where Gmail would earn its price, if it weren't free. Filters are run against messages as they are received. The most common options I've used in filters is “Skip the Inbox” and “Apply this label” - using those two options, you can make a filter that automatically delivers e-mails to your labels, without you even having to take action to process them! All my daily/weekly e-mails and newsletters are now delivered to “3 | To Review” - the only time I see them is when I say “OK, now I have time to check up on news” and click on the label. I've also created filters for all the ads I've started getting for the sites where I bought that one thing some time ago, and now I get all their ads; I decided against completely deleting them (in case I'm looking to buy something and want to see these e-mail specials), but it's easy to click a label, click “select all”, then click “Delete”. Additionally, if I find myself dealing with the same type of e-mail more than once, I take the do-it-in-two-minutes-or-less route and create a filter for that message; instead of working to get one e-mail done, it's work that will enable future e-mails to be done more quickly.
The fourth is search. How many times have you wanted to “Google” within your e-mail? In Gmail, messages can have any number of labels (or none at all), can be read or unread, starred, etc. In fact, archived with no label is the equivalent of out-of-sight, out-of-mind. However, with their search (you can see the box near the top of the screen shot), you can search all of your messages, including archived message, very quickly. You can also use it to search for e-mails from or to a specific contact. Knowing that search is there can help relieve you of the stress of making sure you apply lots of labels; you can find what you need, when you need it. Want to keep an e-mail? Archive it. You'll never see it until it comes up in a search result and you think “Man, I'm glad I saved that!” Also, searches return conversations, so you have your results in their context.
As a side note, you can also see that, even with one of my accounts that collects zipped database archives every day, I'm only using 4% of my allotted space (near the bottom of the screen shot). This is all my processed e-mail from the past three years, complete with messages I've kept for historical reasons.
The one thing I have yet to do is connect my BlackBerry with this account (Gmail supports IMAP), but that's only because I can't remember my login from a year ago. :) And, because of the Facebook issue I mentioned earlier, I have Facebook e-mails still going in the inbox; once I do connect this account, it will let the BB Facebook app use its integration with the BB inbox. However, these messages are labeled automatically so that I can search that label, then delete my search results.
So, there it is - from chaos with 4 different inboxes to a unified, automatically-filtered organization system in less than two days. The filter and label system are a system I can trust to tell me what the next thing is that I need to do. I even found a feature request for one of my websites while I was processing the imported e-mail, and got it implemented in about 10 minutes. Now I'm ready to GTD!