Monday, December 28, 2009

Ice Driving

In 1968, me and four others musicians left Manhattan, Kansas for a gig in Guyman, OK 350 miles away in the Oklahoma panhandle. Before long, rain had begun to pour. Soon it was freezing on the road and our windshield.

About thirty-miles outside of Dodge City, we were stopping every few minutes to scrape the ice off of the windshield since the defroster in my nearly new ’67 Ford Econoline Van would not keep up. There was about a half inch of solid ice on everything and it was coming down fast. After one stop, I pushed the accelerator down and heard a snap. The throttle linkage had broken. We somehow propped the throttle open a little and limped into Dodge at about 15 MPH, which was a comfortable speed considering the conditions.

The Ford dealer said he could have the part in a couple of days. We called to cancel the gig, but the promoter had already cancelled due to the ice storm. Wiser folks would have checked in into a hotel, but we fashioned a make-shift throttle linkage out of coat hanger and headed back to Manhattan, 230 miles away, driving the entire distance on ice, holding onto a piece of coat hanger hooked to the carburetor.

We arrived home almost 24 hours after we left, driving 20 hours on ice, half of that with a hand operated throttle, having accomplished absolutely nothing.

Twenty years later, my wife and I decided that we had had enough white knuckle driving and enrolled in ice-driving school in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. ( There we learned about four-wheel drive, all-wheel-drive, front wheel drive, rear-wheel drive and the advantages and disadvantages of each. We spent hours driving each type on ice learning how to maintain control and regain control once you lose it. Since we were avid skiers, this made our annual winter trips to the mountains much less nerve racking.

Now I actually look forward to getting out and playing in the snow. The beautiful days we are now having with blue skies and fresh white powder on everything makes me wonder why we didn’t plan a winter vacation this year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Golden Rule

Every business person I know understands that the key to success is treating your customers well. Jesus laid out the basic principle for business when he said to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We even call that the golden rule.

I know of only two industries where this is not normal business: banking and airlines. In both situations the federal government has had to step in with new rules and regulations to keep certain businesses from abusing their customers. I find it amazing that this is even necessary.

The airlines now face fines of up to $27,500 per passenger if they leave passengers stranded for more than three hours on the tarmac. I presume that this will get their attention. Of course they are squealing. Apparently it takes that threat to stop certain airlines from physically abusing their customers, because they did it more than 600 times last years in the US. The European Union already has similar laws about such things.

Most of us in business don’t have to be threatened by the government to treat our customers right, because we know they will go down the street to the next guy if we don’t. It would be nice if the big banks and big airlines would start seeing their customers as assets to be nurtured and not as captives to be gouged and abused.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why war?

On the day when President Obama went over to Oslo to pick up the Nobel Peace Prize, I was thinking about war and peace and violence in general. The skeptics are right to question whether the leader of a violent country like the US is qualified to receive the prize; especially when we are involved in two wars that we started. But the other side is that President Obama didn’t start the wars, and he appears to be trying to get us out of them, though not very whole heartedly. That may not be ideal qualifications for the Nobel Peace Prize, but not many others seem to be doing much better.

In a bigger concept, violence on any level is just the ultimate failure to communicate. Whether it is the punk on the street frustrated with not being able to get a job, to nations feeling like they have somehow been violated, violence is always rooted in poor communication.

The kid who feels like nobody cares about him or understands him will turn to violence to make his point. Groups of people opposed to everything from abortion to “infidels” sometimes turn to violence because they think that the world is not listening to their concerns. Responses and tit for tat quickly lead to gang wars and wars between nations. Jesus said, “If someone strikes you on the cheek, turn the other cheek.” Instead most people and nations believe that standing up for our “rights” is more important than stopping violence.

Perhaps we should rename the State Department the “Department of Peace” to remind them that that is their job. War is always the result of failed diplomacy. If the Department of Peace (State, or Foreign Ministry as most countries call it) received as much funding as the Department of Defense, the world would be a completely different place. And by the way, the War Department’s named was changed to Department of Defense to remind them they are defensive not an offensive group, but I’m not sure it has helped. I can’t even name all the wars that we have fought in just my life time.

Perhaps the Nobel committee was doing a little wishful thinking, or maybe they realized that with the Nobel Prize for Peace sitting on his desk, that President Obama might see the opportunity he has to actually advance world peace in this decade. But peace doesn’t start with the Department of Defense; it starts with the State Department. Peace ends with the Department of Defense.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Fourth Quarter

In watching a sporting event on television over a recent holiday weekend, there is one thing that is obvious to me: you have to play all four quarters. It is nice to get a good lead in the first half, but you still have to play the whole game. More often than not, the last two minutes are important and in the case of a recent game featuring two rivals that came down to a score with less than two seconds on the clock, the last two seconds were very important.

I am now in my sixties. Any way you look at it, I am in the fourth quarter of my life, certainly the fourth quarter of my productive years. Anything beyond eighty years is probably overtime. At sixty-one I am definitely starting the fourth quarter. Running out the clock or going to a knee, as sometimes happens in American football, at this point just doesn’t seem very sportsman like, even if I had a good lead going.

I know many people my age who are eyeing the clock figuring that they can coast to the finish line, that is, if they haven’t already given up or headed for the showers. The funny thing is I feel as good as I ever have, I’m not tired, I’m more creative, and I know a lot more. It may be time to revise the game plan, make better choices, or play like the game is one the line, but just run out the clock? I don’t think so.

The Apostle Paul uses the analogy of life being like running a race. The point being that you run all the way to the end. In I Corinthians 9:24 he said “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.”

We seem to have gotten the idea that at some point we can take it out of gear, coast, and still win the race. This is a relative new idea dating from the 19th and 20th century. Germany was the first country to introduce the idea of retirement in 1880. Now many, if not most people, in industrialized countries consider retirement a basic right. Whether or not a person keeps working in their career or not after a certain age should be a personal decision. We should, however, continue to serve the Lord and serve others in various capacities as long as we are able.

In Philippians 3:14 Paul says, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Paul knew that at that point the race was not over, he was pressing on until the game was over.

As for me, I intend to play hard until the final gun, whistle, Gabriel’s trumpet, or whatever it is that stops the game. After all we owe it to the coach, our team, and ourselves. That is why we were put here, to play the game until the end.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Social Media

The whole phenomenon of social networking web sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn is very interesting. To me, these phenomenon indicate a real need, or possibly a pent-up demand, to be connected, or to be part of something larger than ourselves.

I remember when I was in Junior Hi and High School how important it was to feel connected to the “right” people. I will admit that remembering back that far taxes my brain, but the best as I can recall, being seen with the people we considered important, or the people that we wanted to be identified with, was a big deal. Being shunned could be a devastating blow to the ego. Some of the people in my circle used the word “status.” We were always gaining or losing status based on what we said and did and we would readily point it out to each other. It sounds cruel, but in retrospect it may have been good training.

As an adult in business, these connections became quantified. Knowing the right people and more importantly, making sure they knew you, could be the difference between success and failure in finding a job, building a business, or following a career.

As time has gone on, I have come to realize more and more the importance with building quality relationships with all sorts of people. Many people make the mistake of limiting their relationships to only those people who can help them. The Bible says in the book of James, “If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, ‘Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!’ and either ignore the street person or say, ‘Better sit here in the back row,’ haven't you segregated God's children and proved that you are judges who can't be trusted?” (James 2 from The Message)

Yes, everybody is important and all relationships are important. I think this is the underlying understanding that drives sites like Facebook. The problem comes when we begin to confuse “friends” with Friends. It is remarkably easy to click on the “add friend” button and remarkably hard to develop and maintain true friendships.

The secret to long lasting relationships lies in our tongue and in our actions; what we do and what we say have long lasting effects. Colossians 4:6 in The Message says, “Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, nor cut them out.” It sounds like Paul could have led a few sales training seminars.

LinkedIn and Facebook may be good at keeping track of who we know or finding long lost acquaintances, but the danger is in thinking that a posting on a wall is communication; a tweet, is conversation; or a that a “connection” can make us connected. Face to face people are still where it’s at and reaching out to someone can’t be done by texting or sending a card.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My thoughts on health care reform.

Everybody else seems to be weighing in with their views on the health care situation, so I might was well also.

My personal health care plan is simple – don’t get sick. That has worked just fine so far. I workout, watch what I eat, and don’t do much hazardous activity. For 61 years and counting that has kept me out of hospitals and kept my health care costs to near zero. I have never filed a claim for health care and I pay for any doctor’s visits, which are few and far between, out of my pocket.

And it is a good thing because I have been self-employed my whole life. That means that I have never had an employer to pick-up the tab for my health insurance. To me being self-employed is worth the risk of not having employer paid insurance. For most people it is not. In fact, lack of health care is the biggest deterrent for not starting a new business and it is the biggest expense for existing businesses.

The United States is the only country in the world where health care is tied to a person’s employer. This situation makes it extremely hard to leave a job with good benefits. Existing conditions force many people to be slaves to a job they don’t like and stifles new businesses.

When I have traveled to other countries, I have been amazed at the number of small shops and businesses there are compared to the US. I eventually realized that running a small business is much less stressful when the entrepreneur doesn’t have to worry about health care or paying health benefits. Health care is the principle reason that locally owned businesses have trouble competing with national chains.

The US is number 37 in quality of health care according to the World Health Organization, yet we pay about 40% more than anybody else. (See YouTube) This is partly because we have unhealthy lifestyles, but also due to a host of other issues. We think that more health care is better health care, therefore we tend to have more tests and procedures than are necessary. Doctors frequently order more and more expensive tests to cover themselves in case of lawsuits which are regular, often frivolous, and always expensive.

When insurance companies try to limit procedures to cut costs, they are seen as the bad guys. In truth, in an ideal, or even slightly better situation, there would be no need for insurance companies at all. After all, they are one of the biggest players in the health care system and they add nothing at all to the system except control the flow of money.

A huge amount of health care dollars go to paper work. This is due to the myriad of insurance companies, health care organizations, and government agencies. A lot of the paper work is due to the pay-for-services system where every little thing is charged to somebody. If doctors were salaried instead of being paid for each item and procedure, billions of dollars would be saved.

Americans are afraid of their government and thus the term “socialized medicine” strikes fear. The truth is socialized medicine works better in at least 36 other countries, and virtually every industrialized country, than our convoluted system of independent doctors, lawyers, hospitals, pharmacy companies, and insurance companies.

I expect that most people are willing to pay a percent of their income for health care. It should make little difference if that money is in the form of taxes, insurance, or income that they don’t get because their employer is forking it over to the insurance company instead of their employees.

I am not optimistic. We have too many people making too much money, and too many organizations with vested interest in keeping things the way they are, for there to be any kind of real reform in the near future.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Taxes and Happiness

A few days ago I wrote about how angry Americans are. This sparked a discussion with a fellow writer about why this is and what surveys have been taken. I haven’t come across any surveys about anger, but there has been a lot written about the happiest nations. The USA is never mentioned in the top ten, though Canada comes in at number eight.

The happiest people are generally found in Denmark, followed with Switzerland, Austria, and the Scandinavian countries. As I was reading about the world’s happiest countries I came across another interesting statistic. The world’s highest taxes are generally in the same countries as the happiest people.

Denmark is the happiest and has the highest taxes. Sweden, Austria, Finland, and Luxemburg are all in the top ten happiest countries and are in the top ten highest tax list. This has to be more than a coincidence.

The United States is well below average in taxes paid, but is also well below normal on the happiest scale and may be one of the angriest nations in the world. Obviously, low taxes don’t make you happy and in fact, the evidence points to the opposite.

I am quite sure that people aren’t happy just because their taxes are high. Happiness come from things like good education, outstanding health care, good transportation, efficient government, and so forth. These things all cost money which come from taxes.

The next time you hear that someone is unhappy because their taxes are high, or that they don’t want to pay more taxes, think about the countries that provide good services to their people. Think about the Danes who are among the highest educated in the world and never have to worry about student loans because higher education is free. Or about the many countries that have high-quality free health care for everybody. The amount Americans pay to go to college and the huge chunk of many people’s paychecks that go to health insurance (and many people, myself included, don’t even have that option,) and it is easy to see that paying a little more in taxes and whole lot less other places, could be a pretty good deal.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Wealth of Friends

If a measure of wealth is how many friends you have, and I believe it is, we are among the world’s richest people.

Saturday night we had a few friends over for a party. No special occasion, just a gathering of friends. Ninety people came. We live in a modest apartment in the ‘burbs, so the place was packed. We had no idea who or how many people would come, but we knew that we had a variety of friends and that the mix would be eclectic.

Sure enough we had musicians, artists, antique dealers, sales people, financial planners, doctors, and everything in between. Some came on motorcycles and some in mini-vans. It was a great time!

We realized how truly blessed we are to have a community of friends that care about us and are willing to stand around our cramped apartment and enjoy each other’s company.

I believe that life does not consist of what we own, but rather who we are and the relationships we have with others. Sometimes we need to just get everybody in the same room to confirm those relationships and remind ourselves of what is important.

Friday, August 21, 2009


The Kansas City Star today carried a front page story about anger. ( The story was primarily about health care reform, but the article suggested that Americans are just angry in general. In fact, we have always been angry about something. America was born out of anger toward the British Crown.

This came home to me again when I was in Europe recently, and I was reminded that not every place in the world is as angry as the US. I noticed it most when we were in England, but it is also apparent in the Scandinavian countries as well as other places. There is a peacefulness among people that doesn’t exist here. For reasons that I don’t understand, Americans are just always angry at something.

This shows up in our high crime rate, our high levels of incarceration, in entertainment, and even in the high cost of health care. We have more attorneys than anywhere else in the world because we are much more likely to want to sue somebody.

As we were riding the subway late one night in London, I realized that I would not get on public transportation after midnight in any US city. In London everybody was friendly and having a good time after a pleasant night on the town. The lack of fear and anger was startling compared to any similar situation in just about any US city.

Some people argue that Jesus showed anger when He turned over the money changers tables in the temple, but a close reading will show that that was a planned protest and not an angry outburst. And even that was the closest thing to anger or violence that Jesus showed. (Matthew 21:12)

I think it comes down to contentment. Our constitution guarantees life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Pursuing happiness as an ideal almost guarantees that we will never be happy. Lack of contentment, never being happy with our circumstances, breeds anger and resentment. Anger and resentment show up in all sorts of ways from the highest murder rate in the industrialized world to perpetually low ratings for our politicians.

I don’t see any solution short of divine intervention, but being aware of the problem and committing to personally make our little bit of the world a little less angry will certainly go a long way.

Monday, August 17, 2009

"Getting to know you, getting to know all about you"

A friend of mine named Bob was telling me about a situation involving another friend, Ray. Bob told Ray that he would like to get to know him better, develop a relationship, and ultimately become better friends.

A few days later, Bob received an autographed copy of Ray’s autobiography in the mail with a note suggesting that this should tell him whatever he wanted to know. If he had any questions, feel free to call.

Needless to say, Bob felt cold and rejected. He didn’t want facts, he wanted a relationship.

I have written a short autobiographical book and have written extensively on other subjects, and I sort of assume that my friends have read at least some of what I have written; but I wouldn’t confuse that with friendship or a meaningful relationship.

Relationships are built on shared experiences and time together, not just information and facts.
I think there is a parallel here with the Bible. God has written an autobiography. Like most autobiographies, it contains history, some teaching, poetry, and solid insight into what the author is all about. Reading about God and all He has done, should not be confused with a relationship with Him; nor should we worship His book more than Him.

My mother has written her memoirs and I love the book, but I love her a lot more than I love the book. Having read the book, I feel I know her better and understand some of the things she has been through a whole lot better than if she hadn’t written it, and if I hadn’t read it. But the book does not define our relationship.

It is the same with God. I would have very hard time understanding who He is if I did not read and study the Bible. But a relationship is different. I must spend quality time with Him and share my life with Him in a significant way while living it in such a way as to please Him and bring glory to Him in the end.

A number of years ago a friend told me that he was having a hard time finding a church he liked. He pointed out that some groups loved the Bible, but didn’t know God; and that others loved God but didn’t know the Bible. Since then I have sensed a lot of validity to that observation. It seems odd that there is such an either/or situation.

It is a puzzle that some of the most Godly people I know don’t seem to know all that much about scripture and that some of the most knowledgeable people on the Bible, display very little love or compassion for others.

I have tried to keep a balance, learning about God through the studying the Bible, but at the same time, not becoming so hung up on study that I miss God and His purposes in the process.

Friday, August 14, 2009


A while back I was talking with a web designer who assured me that everyone uses Mozilla Firefox as their primary browser and that I should optimize my site for that browser. According to him, Internet Explorer was blasé and I could pretty much ignore it.

I am often reminded by my Mac friends that everyone important uses Macs and to stop fussing with Windows.

I did a little research, which is quite easy to do, and determined that 8% of people accessing my sites use Firefox. Over 90% use some form of Internet Explorer. Also, about 7% of the total are Mac users.

With over 90% of the people using Windows and Internet Explorer, this reminds me to always take other people’s opinions with a grain of salt. It also reminds me to be careful about the opinions I express when the facts are easily verified.

Since then I have downloaded Firefox and have found that it has a few advantages. Internet Explorer also has some advantages and I find myself switching back and forth depending upon the situation. They are both just tools and there is no universal tool. The more tools you have in your tool box and the more you know when to use them the better.

Three points to remember: don’t believe everything you hear, use all the tools that are available, and don’t get stuck with only one approach.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Road Trip

Main Street - Eldorado, TX
This weekend we dusted off my wife’s Cadillac and made a road-trip to deep in the heart of Texas. My wife has a long lost cousin who lives just under the “X” in west Texas. We drove to Wichita Falls, Texas Friday and then on down to Eldorado on Saturday. We returned home to Kansas City on Sunday, so it was a quick trip.

It was good to get some “windshield time,” to talk and listen to music. The Cadillac purred along and turned in 27 mpg at Oklahoma’s 75 mph speed limit.

We are, however, slow learners when it comes to Holiday Inn food. Of all the times we have walked out of a restaurant because we couldn’t get waited on, or our food never came, 100% of the time it has been at a Holiday Inn. This was another time. We lost an hour waiting for breakfast before we gave up, walked out, and stopped at a 7-11 for muffins. We considered stopping on the way back to see if our food was ready, but we passed.

We had a good visit with Louise’s cousin, learning that they had spent the past 30 travelling almost continually. We couldn’t think of anyplace we had been that they hadn’t been twice, and they have been a whole bunch of places we hadn’t. He moved to Texas as a petroleum engineer, and there are still a few oil wells around.

Eldorado is the only town in the county and there isn’t much there. There are a few cows, but mainly goats. The land is so barren that cactus and mesquite is the main scenery.

Since we take turns driving, 1600 miles in two and half days is no big deal. In fact, this trip reminded us of how much we like to just get out on the road and see what we can see.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

God's Faithfulness

For several years I have felt that I was being obedient and faithful to God but He was not returning the favor. I prayed and tried to do what God was calling me to do, but the fruit of my labors just weren’t what I was expecting. Everything was too hard with minimal results.

When I expressed my frustrations to my wife she suggested that we sit down and write out some of the ways God has been faithful over the past ten years or so. Specifically she suggested that I list everything that has happened that was apparently God working in my life, things that I had no obvious control over.

As the list grew to about ten things, I saw the obvious pattern. Nine out of ten cases involved people and relationships. The vast majority of instances where I saw God working in my life involved Him bringing people to me that I didn’t expect. He brought new friends in unusual ways, He brought people that would solve problems, and He brought people who would encourage and teach me at just the right time.

My frustration with God, in every instance involved material items; things that I knew were only temporary in nature. His work involved permanent things like people, relationships, and truth.

I knew that God’s priorities were people and that material things are only secondary at best. God will provide all our needs, but I was still expecting to be rewarded with luxuries and the result was frustration.

The long list of wonderful people in my life makes me embarrassed that I ever doubted God’s love and faithfulness to me.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Customer Service - Part 2

I was thinking more about our conflict with the telephone installer yesterday. I believe that it comes down to a culture clash - corporate vs entrepreneur point of view.

His attitude was that he didn't cause the problem, AT&T didn't cause the problem, therefore it was not a problem. Fixing the problem may or may not have been in his job description.

My attitude was - our phone dosen't work - we need to fix it. I don't care who we blame, but there is no other choice, no plan B, we need a working telephone.

It became a battle of the wills and since the phone now works, guess who won. But in all fairness, if you work for a big corporation where there is always someone else to pass the buck to, solving someone elses problem on a Saturday morning is not going to be high on your priority list.

My background as a business owner is that there is no one to pass the blame to, so problems are solved no matter what it takes or whose fault it is. Period.

In this case there were several possible solutions. Completely rewiring the apartment with new phone jacks was one solution, but when we narrowed the problem to an open circuit in a ten foot area and he would still not wire around the problem, I knew I was going to have to force him to find the problem. Total time 90 minutes, and he said it was the most difficult problem he ever had. I wish all my problems could be solved in ninety minutes.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Customer Service

My mother now has a telephone in her bedroom. This may not sound like a major accomplishment, but it was. You see she had just moved, and having spent two hours on the phone, and having to wait a week, she was in no mood for the installer to tell her that she would not be able to have a phone because there was a problem with the wiring in the building.

I called and made an appointment for the installer to return, confident that we could solve the problem. I would like to know what he was thinking, and whether he really feared for his life when my wife, my mother, and I surrounded him and assured him that he was not leaving until we had a working telephone.

I remembered a story about my former employer who had just bought a new furnace. A few weeks later, on the coldest day of the year, it quit. A repairman came out, took a look, and said he would be back the next day. My boss, pulled a Colt 45 from a drawer, and laid it on the table and said, “If I’m freezing, you are too.” The furnace was repaired within the hour.

I didn’t have to stoop to that, but it did cross my mind. After a few more threats and with my help, the problem was solved with the phones working within about an hour and a half.

This situation was complicated by the fact that my mother worked for SW Bell for 40 years retiring about 20 years ago. She knows that people would have got called on the carpet and probably fired for things that are now standard operating procedures. Things like putting a customer on hold for thirty-minutes or an installer telling a customer that a wiring issue was an insurmountable problem, would have resulted in dismissal forty years ago. Times have changed.

Having suffered through 10 years of dealing with Sprint, I was ready for anything, but long time AT&T people are still getting used to lousy service.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

William Henry Fox Talbot

I’ve been reading the biography of William Henry Fox Talbot. Talbot was one of the inventors of photography and the prime proponent of the negative/positive process. He was an Englishman who lived between 1800 and 1870. During that time he had many accomplishments. Besides being a wealthy land owner and Member of Parliament, he invented the halftone process and published the first book illustrated with photographs. He was also a noted mathematician.

The biographer noted, almost in passing, at how much some people of that era were able to accomplish, especially considering that they lacked many things considered essential to modern society.

It seems that part of the answer is that modern society has reduced our ability to focus our attention on any one thing for very long. Over the years our attention span has been reduced. Personally, I have noticed in the past few years, I become restless after even a few minutes of concentration. I am always checking my email, getting up for a cup of coffee, or discovering a mindless task that needs to be done. Being able to sit down and work on a single task for hours at a time has become very difficult.

Talbot didn’t have email to check every few minutes or a telephone to interrupt his thoughts. He didn’t spend his evenings watching television. He didn’t have to maintain his Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn accounts. I am pretty certain that he didn’t follow anybody’s “tweets.” Times were slower, which meant he could spend hours, or days, working on complicated problems without distraction.

Today being able to multi-task is considered an asset. Multi-tasking really means not giving 100% attention to anything. Most of us are trying to do too many things and running in too many directions to give much attention to any one thing.

A few years ago I decided to define myself as a photographer, musician, and writer. What that really means is that I am not a gardener, golfer, or woodworker. By limiting my activities, I believe I have the ability to achieve more in a few specific areas.

Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work at with all your heart, as working for the Lord not men.” To me, heartily or “with all your heart” means to give it all you’ve got. Don’t be distracted.

I understand that the Japanese have a word “muda” which generally means unproductive or simply, a waste of time. Of course, sometimes we don’t know when we are wasting time. Is spending an afternoon on the golf course a waste of time? What if it was with an important client? What if you were a golf pro and a few more hours of practice would mean more money in your pocket?

Playing music might be a waste of time for some people, but since God gave me a passion for music, not practicing would be disobedient, and probably seen by God as squandering a gift. Figuring out who were are, how God made us, and what our purpose in life is, goes a long way in helping see the best use of our time.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


For the second time in three months, while setting in my usual parking place in front of my apartment, my car was vandalized - at a cost of $2,000 each time.

I can understand why someone on drugs might hold up a convenience store to get money for a hit. Or why a desperate person might try to rob a bank. I can even understand how someone might resort to violence in a fit of anger, but to intentionally damage someone else’s property as entertainment takes a particularly sick mind.

Personally, I would recommend drug treatment programs for druggies, or job training for people who think stealing is the only way to get money, but vandalism reeks of an illness in the culture that is far deeper. It is not related to poverty, greed, or substance abuse like so much crime is. There is nothing to be gained by the perpetrator except the knowledge that they have caused harm to someone else or someone else’s property.

A psychologist might look for a diagnosis of mental illness which is somehow the opposite of compassion. Learning to feel somebody else’s pain is a learned experience and somewhere along the line, this can get corrupted to the opposite where a person might get pleasure from someone else’s pain. Sociologists might look to society and see a person crying out for attention, and doing so in a very juvenile way of striking out at random. As a Christian, I see it as a sign that Satan is still in control of this planet and that my home is in heaven, and that I will be required to deal with evil as long as I am still on Earth.

However you view it, it means we’ve got a problem. I have to admit that my first reaction was to electrify my car with high voltage so if anybody touched it with a metal object, they would be knocked on their keester. This is doable and could probably be made to only react to a metal object on bare metal, not a casual brush by. A car alarm might be a more practically choice, but I hate those things going off accidentally and a blaring horn doesn’t quite have the satisfaction of knowing a vandal tazered himself while attacking my car. My insurance company may have better suggestions.

Obviously none of these are good solutions when the root problem is a sick society that encourages violence through media and video games and does little to teach respect for property. Moreover, how can we continually teach young people that they descended from apes and then expect them to behave like humans? Did I mention that this world is not my home?

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Red Cadillac

When I was seventeen and preparing to leave for college, I needed a different car. It was 1966 and a local car dealer had a couple of good choices. There were two solid low mileage cars in my price range. One was a gray 1958 Oldsmobile Super 88. The other was a red ’57 Cadillac Coupe deVille. My father strongly suggested that I buy the Olds. Since it was mainly his money, I did.

The Oldsmobile got me through a year or two of college, and it would be another 25 years before I would get my first Cadillac. There is hardly a month goes by that I don’t remember the way I felt when I saw that red Coupe deVille sitting on that used car lot. I wonder if my life would have been different if had showed up at college in a red Cadillac instead of a gray Oldsmobile. I am sure that it would have been much different – how I am not sure.

With 1957 Cadillacs selling in the $50K range and red Coupe deVilles being among the most desirable, that is one of several pieces of bad advice my dad gave me. It was right up there with “always clean up your plate.”

Of course, if I had bought the Cadillac then, it would have been long gone and I would be regretting having sold it, like so many other cool things I used to have.

An interviewer once told a famous race car driver/collector, “If you still owned all the cars you’ve had, you’d be very rich.” The response was, “No, if I’d been rich, I would have kept all the cars I’ve owned.”

The reality is that it takes a lot of time and money to maintain an old car, just like it does all of our personal property. And in the end it will be rust. You don’t see many ’57 Cadillac any more, or ’67, ’77, ‘87’s for that matter. They were made to be driven, used-up, and replaced, which is exactly what happened.

Putting our trust in temporary material items is the very definition of our materialistic society. Peace and contentment comes only from placing our trust in the God that created us, not in the things that we created ourselves.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bethany Medical Center

My first commercial customer, when I first started in the photography business in 1973, was Bethany Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas. I started out processing High Contrast Copy Film for making slides from X-Rays, but soon began photographing employees, doctors, banquets, and even surgery. Bethany was very advanced in those days, having developed CPR and the world’s first coronary care unit. The term “Code Blue” came from Bethany.

While working with Bethany I had the privilege of photographing some very early open heart surgery. When Bethany Medical Center got one of the first CT Scanners in the Mid-west I was there to photograph its installation.

This week I was in the area and drove by 51 North 12th. There is no sign that there was ever a hospital there. I distinctively remember the beautiful buildings and photographing the construction photos of the multi-level parking garage where there is now just dirt and grass.

Bethany was the victim of an idiotic health care system, one of the worst among industrialized nations, where they were unable to survive because they had too many uninsured patients. In other words, by providing essential high-quality care in an underserved area, they went bankrupt. What a waste of resources, talent, and money.

Oddly the junkie houses that surrounded the hospital thirty years ago are still there and appear to be unchanged. Driving through the neighborhood I felt a sense of despair remembering the hope and excitement that surrounded this hospital not that many years ago.

The nine acre lot sold for $50,000 not long ago to a non-profit that hopes to build a senior living center, but so far, it remains an empty lot.