Monday, May 30, 2011

Star Parker: Another of my Heroes

Star Parker has gone from drug user on welfare to successful independent columnist. She describes welfare not as compassion but as a "lie that poor people are poor because rich people are rich." She calls Uncle Sam "cruel to the poor" and calls welfare an "addiction." She accuses the War on Poverty as the root to the disintegration of the black family. Hear her story. Read her book "Uncle Sam's Plantation."

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Internet

It's obvious I enjoy the web! I Facebook, email, and blog.

Recently, I read a book called Overconnected: The promise and the threat of the Internet by William H. Davidow. I highly recommend it.

It's not just about the web. Instead, the premise is that the web is just the latest of "connecters" starting with railroads (newspapers, television, interstate highways, airlines). All have reduced the isolation of our daily interactions: social, financial and political.

Check it out.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Watchmaker

This is so beautiful.

Lessons from Extreme Couponing

Last night, I watched Extreme Couponing for the third or fourth time. You may have, too.

The premise of the show is that there are people (so far I've only seen women) who spend 20-40 hours a week clipping and collecting coupons. They develop elaborate filing systems which culminate in shopping trips where the the grocery in the hundreds of dollars. By the time the store deducts all their coupons for the products they've bought, their "purchases" are either free or negligible in cost. Last night, one example had a $1,200 total but the woman paid less than $50 and almost crashed the checkout computer.

These same women also have pantries the size of an average bedroom with shelves to the ceiling around the parameter of the room and in rows in the center. One of last night's ladies bragged of 60 boxes of cake mix...enough to bake birthday cakes for her six immediate family members for years...long past the expiration dates on the packages.

The first time I watched the show, I felt almost lazy that I, too, was not couponing to this degree. After all, frugality is a virtue but is it frugality to buy 40 bottles of hot sauce because the coupon is $1.00 off plus the store doubling that amount? The next couple of times, I felt a vague unease. Last night, I realized why and these are the lessons I took away from this experience.

FIRST, this is a form of hoarding. Maybe, at the level these ladies are collecting all these products, it is not yet to the level of illness but it definitely shares some characteristics. Their couponing has changed their lifestyle to accommodate the "rush" they admit to experiencing. Some reported feeling "uncomfortable" if they are unable to use a coupon they have collected in their file. Another described a warm secure feeling she got knowing she could provide for her family and friends from her "stash".

SECOND lesson: their buying patterns are dictated, directly or indirectly, by advertising. I noticed they use several different brands of toothpaste, cleaning products, etc. They have bought into the notion that everyone in the household needs a different brand of grooming products and every cleaning task requires a different cleaning product. We see the same influence when someone says, "Oh, you have to see this movie!" or "You can't miss this t.v. show!" or "I only wear X brand of shoes!" They have allowed someone whom they've never seen face to face dictate their choices.

THIRD: the food products they are buying are usually processed foods: mixes, carbonated drinks, etc. The food products are seldom milk, meat, or fresh fruits and vegetables. I have not seen one yet who showed you a filled freezer. I have yet, in fact, seen a single one stop in the produce department of the store or the butchered meat department. The next biggest group they are buying are cleaning products, one for each task. One lady admitted to buying a certain cleaning product she gives away because the coupon when doubled pays for something she really wants. And, I haven't even discussed the snacks and candies, what we in our family call "junk food."

FOURTH: the rush they feel is always about how they got "something for nothing". That's very different from reducing the price of a purchase you would have made from need by using a coupon or even waiting for double coupon day. Yes, they have spent many hours collecting and collating their coupons and planning their shopping and that's work. But, the end goal was how to get something for nothing. One lady was very proud of having bought so many sports drinks (400 for a family of six) that she had to call the store ahead to be sure they had them on hand. The store had double coupon day. The drinks were $1.49; her coupon was for a $1.00 so for every drink she bought, the store was "paying" her $.51.

LASTLY: I was reminded of a sermon preached by Jim Speed in the early 1980s. He was preaching on the topic of the first Commandment. "The Lord God is one God and thou shall have no other gods before Him." He defined worship of other gods as allowing anything or anyone else to have first priority in our lives. He told the story of the man who bought a very expensive piece of art to celebrate his success. Because the art work was worth tens of thousands of dollars, he then had to insure it. The insurance company required he install a house safe and an alarm system and rent a safe deposit box for when he was going out of town. Then, he found himself being very uncomfortable when people beyond the family members were in the house.

Finally, when he found himself being uncomfortable when the meter reader or the pool cleaner were on the grounds; he sold the art piece. It had become his god. Jim's point was that anything which requires a massive lifestyle change to sustain that article or activity, we are verging on idol worship. I'm not accusing these ladies of idol worship but their behaviors reminded me of a sermon I heard thirty years ago.

My final conclusion was that I am one of those persons for whom extreme couponing could easily become a serious personality problem if not a sin.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Another of My Heroes

Tonight I had a phone call from the daughter of a long time friend who is one of my heroes. My friend died six months ago so this was one of those sad/happy moments. Raquel and I shared memories of her mom and it was a good time together.

After we hung up, as I was telling David of our conversation, he and I began reminiscing about Mardi. After he went to bed (I being the nightowl), I began to think of all the things she taught me. These are just five.

First, she taught me acceptance. When things were going badly, she would smile broadly and say, "Well, it is what it is." No matter how frustrating the situation, "It is what it is" seemed to soften the blow. We each suffered quite a few blows that needed softening. One of the worst of those was when she called to tell me she had terminal cancer. "It is what it is" was not nearly enough to soften that blow. In usual Mardi fashion she admonished me, "Don't start throwing dirt on me til I quit breathing. We're all dying from the moment we're born. I intend to enjoy every breath I have left." And she did.

Secondly, she taught me perseverance. We worked together for a number of years. At one point, we had a manager who was exemplary in his talent for proclaiming the worst oxymorons as though they were divine truth. This unusual talent made for some very uncomfortable moments during staff meetings. That is, until Mardi adjusted my perspective.
As we walked out of one such meeting (I fuming with eyes rolling), Mardi waved her arms up and down like a bird trying to catch an updraft. "Like a flock of eagles, we shall rise above it."
From that moment on, all it took to calm us was for the other one to flap our hands ever so briefly. Then, the problem became keeping a straight face. Thanks to Mardi, I have risen far more miles than I have flown.

A third thing she taught me was the value of maintaining presence. She had a rare gift for entering a room (regardless of whether she had left just moments before, months or even years before) and resuming conversation as naturally as though she had never left. She moved away from Rome before I did but, for several years, returned each year for Christmas. The third year she did so, we promised never to buy a Christmas present for each other again. Why? That was the third year in a row that she in Miami and I in Rome had bought each other the identical present. Instead, ever after that, we bought ourselves a present from the other. Then, a day or so before Christmas, I would call her (or she me) and tell her (or she me) what she "had gotten me" for Christmas (or I her). It was our own private joke. We saved a lot of postage over the years!

Another thing she taught me was sharing. We shared griefs and joys and even the times of "still water". When we had a windfall, however small, we would share it with the other. I still remember an instance a few months after David and I moved to Atlanta. Finances were strained to say the least. Mardi had a windfall and she sent me a check with instructions that every penny must be spent on myself. It took a couple of weeks for me to decide what to buy for myself. One thing was a Hershey with almonds. Another: a bag of tropical trail mix. I think I also bought a skirt. But, the real prize was a clock I still have although I've had to replace the mechanism twice. It is in the shape of a teapot. That brown teapot shaped clock is in my group of things for Josh to have when I am gone. It reminds me of the kind of sharing that only love between friends can offer.

The fifth thing she taught me that I will share in this posting was how big a hole is left in one's life when a good friend dies. The heart remains enlarged by that friend but there is a friend-sized hole left in one's life.

It is what it is.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Terrorist Dies

As we listened and watched the news last night that Osama (I refuse to use the new politically correct spelling of Usama) bin Laden had died, we were stunned. As great a shock was the sight of people rejoicing at the death of another human being.

Even though OBL was a terrorist, he was still a human being. Although he was directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of people and, perhaps, indirectly responsible for tens of thousands of others; he was still a man. He was a man created in God's Image, granted free will by his Creator to choose how to fill the "God-sized hole" that is a part of us all. We are told in Scripture that God prefers that "no man perish" but that all would have fellowship eternally with God the Father, Jesus Christ His Only Son, and with The Holy Spirit...the Triune God.

OBL chose poorly. He surrendered his chance for eternal life (not my judgment but God's) by living for a cleverly counterfeited religion which used the names of genuine Biblical characters. He used his fortune to bring death to many and terror to even more.

In his last moments, it is possible that his heart changed and he asked for forgiveness. His actions do not indicate that. It saddens me that he died without Christ. It does not sadden me that he personally will no longer be able to take the lives of others or to influence others to do so.

A terrorist has died.

Our military performed its duty meticulously, honorably, and bravely, even offering to this terrorist one last opportunity to surrender and live. It is to their honor that the offer was made to one responsible for the deaths of comrades of theirs. The contrast is stark. Even more stark is their giving a proper burial at sea to a man whose followers, on more than one occasion, have violated the corpses of their victims. Again, the contrast is incredible.