Friday, October 31, 2008

Breaking News

On the Today show this morning, Lester Holt reported that women who gain more than 40 lbs. in pregnancy are likely to give birth to heavier babies.

No Sh$%. Really?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Fairy Tales

A few years ago, when there was more controversy surrounding the violence in children's programming on television, there was research done comparing the violence in nursery rhymes and fairy tales to the violence on television. Research showed that there was more violence in these 'tales of old' rather than children's television.

It made me wonder why these tragic tales are passed on from one generation to another, without context, and without explanation. Is the telling of tragedy important for young people to see the world properly, or do stories/habits perpetuate themselves across multiple generations while becoming divorced from their original meaning?

Just a few examples:

London Bridges falling down, falling down
Ring Around the Rosy, A pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes we all fall down.... talking about the Bubonic Plague
Humpty Dumpty Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the King's horses, And all the King's men Couldn't put Humpty together again!
Rock a Bye Baby Rock/Hush a bye baby on the tree top, When the wind blows the cradle will rock, When the bough breaks the cradle will fall, And down will come baby, cradle and all.
Jack and Jill Went Up the Hill Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown. And Jill came tumbling after.
Old Mother Hubbard Old Mother Hubbard Went to the cupboard To get her poor doggie a bone, When she got there The cupboard was bare So the poor little doggie had none.
There Was An Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe There was an old woman who lived in a shoe, She had so many children she didn't know what to do; She gave them some broth without any bread; She whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

Monday, October 27, 2008

May Be Sexist

When I was in Romania several years ago, I was in a van traveling from Galati to Bucharest. There were two women in the back seats with me and a man driving.

The women were arguing from the minute we left Galati. My friend, the driver, stopped the van after they'd been arguing close to two hours. He filled the tank and then went into the gas station. He came out with some chocolate and gave them to the women. They quietly ate the candy bars and seemed generally in a better mood.

Later, as we were discussing the ride he told me: "I don't know much about women, but I know that."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

My Dream Last Night

In my dream, I peed a bed, which my sister Sharon made up for me.

To which she said something to the effect: "I don't mean to get in your business, but I haven't smelled anything that bad since I went to Shoney's."


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Family Memories

Do you think people can tell what year a particular year a home was sold? Not when it was built, but the last time the house was sold?

I think there is a good chance I would have been able to guess that our house in Illinois was purchased in 1971. That it was redecorated to suit the new owners and to "update" it's look at a particular moment in time.

Take a virtual tour: The front door opens to a landing (it is a split level ranch), so to the left and a half floor up and half-floor down are the upstairs and downstairs (half underground).

The landing has wallpaper: black & white fleur-de-lis wallpaper. The railings up and downstairs are cast iron in a spiral shape. Upstairs holds green carpeting with mostly brown & gold furniture in our living room. Curtains are heavy linen, I think gold colored, and fall to the floor against a picture window.

The kitchen has medium colored wood-stained cabinets, linoleum, and the refrigerator is dark brown.

The downstairs (family room) has brick wallpaper on one side and wood paneling on the other, has gold carpeting and mostly brown and green furniture. Curtains are dark brown and fall all the way to the floor against a sliding glass door. The sliding glass door opens to the back yard, a few steps up a concrete staircase.

That is the 70's design style....the triumvirate of brown, green, and gold.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ms. Obstinate

Coming into Kindergarten, I was enthralled by The Letter People....the blow-up character letters that, for me, sat on the long and tall window shelf around the classroom.

Each of these characters had a story that was to help us identify the letter. Miss A'chou, etc.

I was thinking that my teacher always pronounced Miss Obstinate as Mizz Obstinate, as if she was obstinate in being single. It striked me as being sexist...maybe not at the time, but several years later.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What Makes Us Human?

I have been watching too much of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles so please forgive me if this question seems arcane.

What makes us human? I had always started with what I thought was a Scriptural reference point: that humanity is derived from God's breath in us....that we are born in the image of our Creator and the breath of life we received keeps us living.

But then I would look at humanity, and I would compare/contrast humans to animals. The animalistic traits of humanity did not have to define us. We were born with certain instincts, but could use reason to temper those instincts.
Humanity could be forward looking and could delay gratification for future benefits. Humans have a 'soul' and believe in an other-worldly connection, etc.

But then I started to compare/contrast humans to computers/robots...and where futurists believe computers/robots will be some day. And then being riveted by the quote from Sarah Connor: 'It is our flaws that make us human'.

I used to think that humans were 'better' than everything else...that we were the closest to God, in a sense, because we were made in God's image. But what if we were 'worse' than other things: in our intellect, in our ability to solve problems, even compared to the 'sinlessness' of a machine?

I recently read an Esquire magazine article where the author attempts to live a rational life for 30 days and points to its difficulty. He also says that popular literature is full right now on the fragile human mind. He points to several best-selling books that are popularizing this theory...that the human mind is beset with problems. There are over a hundred human cognitive biases listed in Wikipedia alone....ways that humans don't perceive/process situations well, don't make rational decisions, ways in which we are 'fooled' over and over, etc. Computers are expected to outperform humans in the near future in terms of calculations made per second and are already better than humans in many fields. Many futurists believe that in the next 50 years, a human will be unable to distinguish whether they are having a conversation with a robot or a human. That robots (or AI), will pass the Turing Test.

Humans can still be different than computers because of emotions. But many futurists believe that computers will become self-aware. Futurists believe this on many levels but mainly because the intelligence of AI is adaptive...which means it is learning by itself. It is learning upon learning, adapting to new situations/inputs. Is it possible that computers will develop emotions after they become self-aware? Are emotions necessary or even part of what humanity is about?

That led me down the road towards asking the difference between a sin and a mistake. Most people that I know get more angry about incompetence than they do about sin. I also think that humans generally make more mistakes than they sin....unless you count general self-interest as sin...and then almost every decision for every person is sinful....because humanity generally doesn't prefer the 'other' over him/herself. That is why 25,000 people will die today because of starvation, even though as a species we know how to prevent those 25,000 people from dying.

But if programmed right, a computer will be will be neither incompetent nor will it sin (at least in terms of oppressing the other). However, what if our ability to choose the 'other' over ourselves makes us different from a computer? Because a computer can be programmed not to 'hurt' but it might be difficult to program when to sacrifice itself for someone/something else? Or maybe even that can be sacrificing a queen so that the chess game can be won?

Where will humans distinguish themselves from AI in the future? Is it our flaws that make us human? Is it that one act in history....being breathed into?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Build Me Up Buttercup

I want to challenge the reader, when this song is being played in public places (restaurants, video stores, etc.) to look around the room and count how many people are singing along.

I was in Blockbuster and five people were singing this song quietly when I walked around.

It is one of my favorites and it is infectious!!!

"why do you build me up, build me up, buttercup, baby just to let me down?"

Sunday, October 5, 2008

When We Became An Adopting, then Biracial Family

When mom and dad started taking in children, we bore insults from mostly insensitive and not necessarily cruel people. When we became a biracial family, the insults increased.

Some of the hurts we endured:

-A dying grandparent wanted to take photos with just the 'biological' children.

-We would vacation every year in Georgia, but when we welcomed the first non-white child in the family, we were told we were no longer welcome to worship at the local Baptist church we had attended. Unfortunately, many of our distant family members were behind this 'dis'invitation. We were also 'disinvited' for a family breakfast that had become ritual.

-We were told by a black family who we were good friends with, that a white family SHOULD NOT take a black child because we could not care for that child properly...we would be unable to introduce the child to the hurts that s/he might face, be unable to translate culture, etc. We went ahead anyway. We knew the situation at the time: that tens of thousands of non-white children were not being cared for well...they were in group homes, institutions, in foster care. We knew that either situation wasn't ideal. The ideal situation would be that a non-white child would be adopted by a loving non-white family. But we still believe(d) that adopting a non-white child in a predominantly white family is better than being in a system like foster care. So we had to absorb the criticism and the hurts. And use it as fuel to be a better family for the children. Soon, we had several biracial children and this could help them not feel so alone.

-Our neighbors' Uncle Fred and Aunt Sophie. They were a Polish immigrant brother and sister living in the same house. I remember them in their 70's and 80's after they were both retired. Uncle Fred was as cruel as Aunt Sophie was kind. They would give us five pennies wrapped up in tape for a Halloween present. That was the extent of his kindness. Otherwise, his epithets ranged from "you damn kids" when we would lose a baseball in his yard to "did you take in n%$(#$"? One time, my dad made me go over to his house to shovel his driveway after a hard snow. Instead of thanking me, he came out of his house and yelled at me. "What did we hope to get out of this...what were we going to want later?" He called the police and social services several times over the years although nothing ever came of those calls. He was in my opinion, just an all-around jerk.

I love the idea of adoption. I love the theology of it. I love the practical love in it. I love my brothers and sisters. I love being welcomed by them into this new family and welcoming them. It is a reciprocal love.

I Would Never Hurt An Animal

Is a flying bat an animal? That might be a caveat.

A long time ago, in a different state, a flying bat came towards me in a room. Everyone was screaming.

I hit the bat clear back to the other side of the room with my tennis racket. I didn't kill it but I made it retarded. We let it go in the front lawn.


We had small experiments with pets growing up. A dog here, two rabbits there, a chameleon.

We had two rabbits: a brown rabbit named Frisky and a white rabbit named Snowball. Frisky died when we were on vacation in Georgia. Someone was looking after it...but possibly not enough.

It only a few weeks after Frisky died that Snowball "died of a lonely heart". It committed suicide by pounding its face over and over into the side of its cage. A mixture of red blood and white fur covering its face. How can a pet commit suicide? Doesn't it know that the owner will have guilty feelings forever?

Poor Snowball.

Friday, October 3, 2008

My Latin Blood is Boiling

After hearing that our delayed, now canceled flight out of India would not resume until the following day with no provision for food/housing, the passengers GOT MAD.

They were arguing with the Indian Airlines staff, when an Italian reporter came up to me. He said rhetorically "You look so calm right now", "How is that?" MY LATIN BLOOD IS BOILING!!!

Mandy Mowers Quote

Brent: Was M.Night's movie "The Happening" scary?
Mandy: It was scary how bad the acting was.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

12 Year Anniversary with WMF

Jara was kind enough to send an inner-office e-mail about my anniversary with WMF. How I came to WMF is a bit of a miracle in and of itself.

Here are some memories from my time:

1996- brought Papa John's pizza to a board meeting meal. This would kick off the trifecta of Subway, Chinese food, and Papa John's for board meeting meals for six years. Which we became so tired of, that we resolved never to eat this again at any board meeting ever again.

1997- My first overseas trip. Spent time in Chennai and Kolkata. And loved the 40 hour train ride between them (36 hours normally plus cabin fire adding 4 hours). Broke my heart to see such suffering in the world. I remember NOT giving water to a child because it was hot and I was worried about my water lasting through the day. I pray for forgiveness for that moment.

1998- I traveled to Nepal; rode a motorcycle with Stuart Erny, ate momos with Gautam, and saw a fairly undeveloped Gotatar (a lot of rice patties as far as the eye can see).

1999a- I traveled to Romania; played soccer with mine workers and children living on the street. Was assigned position of goalie until I let a goal pass. Then I was pointed to by a 3 foot kid who gestured to get out and to let him be goalie.

1999b- Our first staff retreat in Atlanta. We had something like 60 people. We went to the Coke Museum, MLK Center, and ate on-sale oysters for .25 per oyster....cleaned the place out!!!

2000- We started getting interested in encouraging staff members to invest in 403(b) retirement vehicles through salary deferrals. We saw how much the market had been growing the previous few years. I think the stock market today is lower than it was when we started investing. :-)

2001- Our exploratory trip to Sierra Leone. We see bombed out cars and buildings, pass road check-points that have military personnel and machine guns, and thankfully new staff make a presence there. Ministry continues in Sierra Leone amidst the war-torn population. Later I will get to meet Noah, an inspiration in WMF.

2002- The WMF USA office moves by caravan from Kentucky to Nebraska carrying all 4 staff members' possessions AND all office possessions in one UHaul medium size truck.

2003- WMF leaders travel to El Salvador for a Field Forum meeting. Jared Landreth smiles the whole trip because we are staying at a coffee plantation; we tour their coffee fields and their roasting plant. We also visit the home and grave of slain Catholic priest and leader Oscar Romero.

2004-WMF sees a lot of staff leave the field and refocuses its efforts on caring for staff and making it sustainable in the midst of difficult environments.

2005-I travel to Argentina and Brazil and spend great time with our staff there. In Argentina, I am able to attend an Argentinian BBQ or Asado. There may be a video of me dancing after that dinner. I don't where it is.

2006-Partnership Platform is introduced in a more formal way in Sri Lanka. PP is one of the most exciting initiatives in missions (I think) in that it is creating opportunity for true partnership between the West and the majority world. Each WMF organization is a sister organization to the other. I have a hope that each field ends up looking like a picture of heaven. There might be Romanians, Canadians, Kenyans in a place like Peru and there might be Peruvians, Bolivians, and New Zealanders serving in Nepal.

2007- The Great Flood. Our office is inundated with water from a tenant upstairs who left the (I forget)...toilet or the bathtub running. We spend several months recovering, because of construction, paint, insurance funds, etc.

2008- I travel to Bolivia and Peru. A lot of my favorite people in the world are in WMF. Many of them are living in Bolivia and Peru. Just when I think I get to be away from the pomp and splendor of the 4th of July festivities in the States, we meet some missionaries from the US in Peru and celebrate with fireworks at their house AND sing the national anthem. There are small US flags everywhere by the food and I think some people have US flag decals on their faces.