40 Days of Life

Forty Days of Life is a peaceful, prayerful response the poverty of abortion.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-AfLO6Oevo]

The Coalition for Life is a community based Christian pro-life organization made up of over 90 churches and thousands of individuals who are working to end abortion in St. Louis, peacefully and prayerfully. 

The 40 Days for Life St. Louis Adopt-A-Day program is for Churches and/or Organizations that feel God is calling them to a day of prayer at our vigil location near Planned Parenthood on Forest Park Avenue.

Each of us can make a difference.

A Maniacal Focus for 2012

I’m almost finished reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Apple co-founder and genius Steve Jobs. Jobs’s life left insanely good lessons. Some lessons instruct us on how to do things. Others warn us of bad things to avoid.

One of the good things Steve Jobs taught us:  focus.  Maniacal focus on things that mattered, and a pathological aversion to distractions.

One example.  When Jobs returned to Apple after 10-year exile, he took stock of all the projects underway.  He found dozens of development and research efforts.  Most of them were, in his words, “shit.”

The product review revealed how unfocused Apple had become. The company was churning out multiple versions of each product because of bureaucratic momentum and to satisfy the whims of retailers. “It was insanity,” Schiller recalled. “Tons of products, most of them crap, done by deluded teams.”

--Isaacson, Walter (2011-10-24). Steve Jobs (p. 337). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Jobs killed 70 percent of those products.

Jobs was famously direct, blunt, rude. When people on an Apple product team heard Steve Jobs call their work “shit,” it stung. Not only that, the project cancellations put people’s jobs in jeopardy.

Finally, Jobs gave one of the insulted teams a great reason for his harsh assessment of their work.

“You are bright people,” he told one group. “You shouldn’t be wasting your time on such crappy products.”

--Isaacson, Walter (2011-10-24). Steve Jobs (p. 337). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

To help the people focus, he drew a simple diagram on a whiteboard.

JobsProductQuadrant_thumb-300x196

From dozens of projects, the new Apple would focus on only four, one for each quadrant in this simple drawing.

I know a lot of bright people who get lost in a sea of good ideas. We’re taught from birth to look for opportunities everywhere, to never tell others “no” when they ask us to pitch in and help.

But if you say “yes” to every good idea, you’ll never ship the great ones.

I don’t believe in New Years’ resolutions, but I do believe in using milestones as checkpoints. And the start of a new calendar year is as good checkpoint as any. So here’s my focus for 2012.

Spiritual: Say the Rosary every day.

Work: Create one insanely great new thing in 2012, all the way to market.

Civic: Through The After Party program, begin a new era of effective citizenship in St. Louis

Family:  Be present in the precious little time I spend at home

Four areas of life. One focus for each.

None of these is new. But reading the Jobs biography reminded me that it’s critically important to remain focused.  Yes, I’ve deviated from Jobs’s two-customer model. For good or ill, my life includes four customer types, each holding a warrantee that I must honor.

How Government Growth Creates Scrooges

Scrooge’s nephew left the office and let in two men in the process. They came to ask for a donation for London’s poor.

"At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a pen, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir."

"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.

"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

"And the Union workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"

"They are. Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."

"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.

"Both very busy, sir."

"Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course," said Scrooge. "I'm very glad to hear it."

"Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude," returned the gentleman, "a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?"

"Nothing!" Scrooge replied.

--Dickens, Charles (2004-08-11). A Christmas Carol (pp. 5-6). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.

Liberals, of course, consider Scrooge the quintessential Republican. Scrooge cared only for himself. He was a miser. His miserliness made him miserable, bent, and twisted. 

humbug-scrooge

Of course, this liberal view of Scrooge lacks consideration. It misses the fundamental flaw in 19th century English government meddling. 

Is Scrooge’s attitude so different from most American’s? Do we really take it upon ourselves to help those in need?  Are we, as individuals or groups, trying to build a better society?

Or do we say, “let the government take care of it?”

Government largesse only encourages misers like Scrooge to remain miserly. The debtors’ prisons and Union workhouses lent Scrooge an easy out.  “That’s what government’s for.”

The traditional American view of the good society differs wildly from Scrooges; the welfare state’s view does not.

When it comes to certain topics—sex, drugs, profanity, modest dress—we often hear, “you can’t legislate morality.”  Why do we never hear that about charity?  Isn’t welfare simply government’s attempt to force a moral viewpoint on society?

And doesn’t it fail as surely as attempts to dictate skirt-lengths or song lyrics?

Good societies result from good people. All legislation is moral, but legislation can’t change men’s hearts.

The After Party is St. Louis Tea Party’s attempt to repair the fabric of society—a fabric left to rot as we turned to government for solutions to problems that can and should be handled by local communities, charitable organizations, and states.

That’s not to say that government, at every level, must withdraw from charitable programs. Rather, the Constitution provides no authority to Washington. And local programs tend to trump distant ones precisely because the benefactor and beneficiary live, work, and worship together.

While the Tea Party is not a charity, it does have the tools to make stronger, healthier human bonds.  These bonds give us all resources for handling tough times. 

More importantly, these bonds encourage us to look at each other as human beings. And we’re more likely to help fellow human beings than we are to give up another tax dollar to a bureaucracy that loses and wastes more money than returns to the needy.

By the way, the two gentlemen soliciting donations said something you’ll never hear from a Washington bureaucrat.  Did you catch it?

A Merry Christmas After All

We know how the story ends.

"What's to-day!" cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in Sunday clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.

"EH?" returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.

"What's to-day, my fine fellow?" said Scrooge.

"To-day!" replied the boy. "Why, CHRISTMAS DAY."

"It's Christmas Day!" said Scrooge to himself. "I haven't missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can.”

--Dickens, Charles (2004-08-11). A Christmas Carol (p. 68). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.

The Spirits can do anything they like.

Nativity

And we are the spirits. Our future is in our hands.

Christmas Day reminds us that we can be redeemed. All we’ve squandered and wasted, all of our sins of omission and commission, can be forgiven.

The consequences remain. 

But there’s good news, still. The cumulative pain of debt stops increasing when we stop borrowing.  That’s true whether we’re talking about borrowing money or borrowing good will.

And we know how the story ends.

In the midst of the street thereof, and on both sides of the river, was the tree of life, bearing twelve fruits, yielding its fruits every month: the leaves of the tree for the healing of the nations.

And there shall be no curse any more: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it. And his servants shall serve him. And they shall see his face: and his name shall be on their foreheads.

And night shall be no more. And they shall not need the light of the lamp, nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall enlighten then. And they shall reign for ever and ever.

. . . Behold, I come quickly: and my reward is with me, to render to every, man according to his works. 

I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

A Christmas Carol ended similarly:

[A]nd it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!

--Dickens, Charles (2004-08-11). A Christmas Carol (p. 73). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.

Merry Christmas. 

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

In the course of our lives, we sometimes lose our way. We wander off the good path. Or we fail to blaze the trail we should. GhostOfChristmasYTC

THE Phantom slowly, gravely, silently, approached. When it came near him, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.

It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. But for this it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded.

He felt that it was tall and stately when it came beside him, and that its mysterious presence filled him with a solemn dread. He knew no more, for the Spirit neither spoke nor moved.

"I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come?" said Scrooge.

The Spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its hand.

--Dickens, Charles (2004-08-11). A Christmas Carol (p. 53). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.

Nations are no different.

Dickens warned us about the dangers of putting money before God, about worshiping wealth rather than using wealth to do good.

Sometimes, the luxuries that surround us blind us to the real purpose of wealth. I’m not talking about charity, and certainly not about government redistribution. I am talking about the good society.

Liberty, the right to pursue happiness and acquire property, lead to wealth—a surplus of goods and currency.Our wealth literally buys our futures. 

If we invest in earthly things, things that gratify our temporal sensations, our investments will rot and blow away with the wind.

If we invest in higher things, our investments will be repaid. 

Scrooge invested in things of the earth. They made him miserable and despised. Just as his treasured decayed, so did his soul. And his body.

Simon Sinek, a man who’s dedicated his life to helping others find their purpose, learned the Scrooge lesson in Iraq. He shared his story in an amazing video.

Just before the the appearance of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, the Ghost of Christmas Present introduced Scrooge to two wretched little children, dirty and pale, who clung to the spirit’s legs.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

"Spirit! are they yours?" Scrooge could say no more.

"They are Man's," said the Spirit, looking down upon them. "And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!" cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. "Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!"

"Have they no refuge or resource?" cried Scrooge.

"Are there no prisons?" said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. "Are there no workhouses?"

The bell struck twelve.

--Dickens, Charles (2004-08-11). A Christmas Carol (pp. 50-52). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.

Do we dread or celebrate our glimpses of America’s future?  Is our Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come bright or dark?

Midnight approaches, America. 

Christmas on Sunday

When I was a kid, I loved Christmas on Sundays. What I hated were the years before and after the Sunday Christmas.  Our_Mother_of_Perpetual_Help[1]

My problem was I didn’t want to go to Mass two days in a row.

To give some background, I grew up in a Catholic home.  Very Catholic.  My dad went to Epiphany. My mom’s Catholic, and her dad converted very late in life.  Two of my dad’s cousins were Monsignors. Our most treasured piece of art was a Mother of Perpetual Help painting by my aunt Mame.  Before every meal we said, in unison:

Bless us, oh Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Every meal.

Despite all this great Catholic upbringing, daily Mass—even two days out of seven—seemed like punishment.

In this, I believe, I was the perfect American male.

True or not, our cultural image of the Wild West involves lawless, wild men tamed by Bible-beating women. Not that American men are bad by nature, but left to our own devices, we’ll build a saloon and a house for women who go well with whiskey before we build a church and recruit a preacher.

But when the women folk show up, preacher in tow, we heel.  And we heal.

In our wildness, we wound ourselves and others.  Perhaps not physically, but wounds we open.

Years later, we appreciate the civilizing effect of church.

At 48, I no longer dread Mass.  I look forward to Midnight Mass this year, and I’ll try to talk the family into making the trek to St. Francis de Sales for its heavenly Midnight Mass.

Though I’m no better a person now than I was when two Masses in one week tortured me, I’ve come to understand that God’s inconveniences are not obstacles but express ways: the pain perfects us.

This year, Christmas is on a Sunday.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.

The extraordinary heart of a charity founder

Have you ever thought, “I need to do more for others?” I have. And I’ve made feeble attempts to satisfy that urge. Feeble.

Still, when I’ve done something “good” for others with no expectation of return, I kind of thump my chest and smile at myself in the mirror like I’m some kind of big shot.

Then my wife introduced me to Valerie Hays, and I realized how much more a person can do.

In 2007, Valerie and her husband, John, decided to start a charity. Their aim was to adopt a single orphanage in Kenya to help people suffering from hunger, illness, and cold. Here’s why:

When you hold an orphan child in your arms, and tell them that you care about them and that you will do what you can to help them live a long and healthy life.....well you can't break that promise.

In America, the number one health problem of those living in poverty is obesity.  In Kenya, the poor deal with AIDS, starvation, and death from illnesses that we consider mild inconveniences.

Valerie and John pour their vast wealth into . . . oh, wait.  She’s a school counselor, and he’s a cop.  As if they don’t already do enough service to the world, they began this mission without massive treasure. Valerie told me

[I am] far from a millionaire- but so incredibly blessed. My God owns the hills and the cattle on them. He has always provided. I always pay for my own trips, I never use Mercy’s Hope funds for trips. To me there is not another place I would rather spend my vacation money than [Kenya].

How do they fund their mission?  Every way imaginable. Val-Performing-Village-Books

On Sunday, I had the honor of attending Valerie’s birthday party fundraiser. It was an 80s roller party to raise money. 

(You can donate to Mercy’s Hope here.)

Val also runs the Village Bookstore and Coffee in Warrenton, Missouri. Proceeds from the store help fund her mission, which includes her annual summer pilgrimage to work in the orphanage.  (This year, she wants my wife to go with her.)

That’s not all.

Valerie’s an accomplished singer and songwriter. On many Saturday nights, you can catch her show at Village Bookstore.  Her covers and her original music are worth the trip from St. Louis, as is the coffee and conversation. 

Valerie’s commitment to the orphans seems to have grown stronger over the year I’ve known her:

Many people make promises to people in poverty, but few stick with it for long term. I made a promise to God, the children and myself that I would give those children a voice. Not to mention I got a tattoo on my wrist of Africa with the word Hope- so I am in for life.

Some people who work with people in need become depressed, lose hope, or get jaded.  Asked if the work gets depressing, Valerie said:

What is more depressing is that people who have, don't help the sick and oppressed. We have the ability in the US alone to wipe out world hunger-including within our own country. I am not judging- I am saying this to myself as well. If every person would just give 10% to the charity of there choice-WOW what could happen.

I don’t want this to be a political piece, but I can’t help noticing that her solution is personal, not governmental.

And what could be more personal than spending vacations working with the poor who make our poor look like kings?

I would be lying if I did not say that I am pretty raw when I get home from a trip. The poverty and oppression is unbearable, but the spirit of the people is so encouraging. They love God, and care for  each other even in their great poverty.

But what about problems here at home?

So often people will say, why Kenya- there are poor here? Amen, there are, and I do whatever I can here as well. But God put within me an absolute love for the people of Kenya and Africa. For some people it is Africa, some Asia, some want to help people in urban America, some take the cause of fighting cancer--whatever your seed is in your heart, do it!

Want to help? Here’s what Valerie told me:

One of the best ways to get involved is to sponsor a child through our Friends of Mercy program.

We have about 30 kids that need sponsors. It is $25 a month and 90% of that goes straight to the kids and their needs. By sponsoring a child, you are actually sponsoring all the children at Hosanna House.

That money goes to fund the daily running of the home, including; food, clothing, medical, school fees, paying staff etc.

You are also encouraged to write your child and pray for them. You can also help with financially supporting current projects.

We always have a project going to improve the living situation for the children. Currently we are raising funds for their Christmas Party. But I did just hear from the director today, and they are desperately in need of school fees.

We have about $500 to send, but they need about $3000 for school uniforms alone.

On the homefront, we are really wanted to upgrade our webpage. I have always been the one to do the webpage, to keep expenses to a minimum, but there is so much more we want to do with the page that I don't know how to do.

I have a feeling that Mercy’s Hope will get some help from my generous readers. I hope so. 

Visit Mercy’s Hope homepage.

Help Val and Mercy’s Hope with a donation. Every penny counts.

Like Village Bookstore on Facebook.

Peering Into the Future from the Past

Check this out:

As far as the market drop and the comeback of the market, I'd just like to pass along the following information. I stand in the Ten-Year Treasury-Note pit in the Chicago Board of Trade. The name of the room I trade in is the Financial Room. We trade the commodities that represent most of our national debt. When the gov., sells debt, the buyers of that debt have to hedge somewhere. They hedge with us.

This room is the center of the universe as far as our national debt is concerned and it will become increasingly more visible as the crisis approaches. (If you’ve ever seen CNBC during the day, they cut to the CBOT floor with a reporter named, Rick Santelli. Behind Rick, you can see a trading floor; that’s the Financial Floor of the CBOT.)

That’s from James Goulding’s blog from August 2003. (The blog has been reduced to a static web page. Scroll down to see this entry in its entirety.)

I love reading people’s predictions years later. Most prognosticators miss by a mile. A few land in the ball park.  A handful scare the begeezes out of me.

Do you find it peculiar that Mr. Goulding mentioned the significance of national debt and introduced Rick Santelli so long before the two converged to inspire the Tea Party? I do.

James Goulding is a big fan of two other prognosticators who freak me out: William Strauss and Neil Howe who wrote The Fourth Turning among other works. 

Here’s a quote from that book:

A spark will ignite a new mood. Today, the same spark would flame briefly but then extinguish, its last flicker merely confirming and deepening the Unraveling-era mind-set. This time, though, it will catalyze a Crisis. In retrospect, the spark might seem as ominous as a financial crash, as ordinary as a national election, or as trivial as a Tea Party [bold mine].

The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy - What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny

fourth-turning0001Of course, Howe and Strauss did not predict the emergence of the Tea Party movement when they wrote in 1997. Did they? 

It’s eerie, nonetheless. Why that term? Why in that syntax?

We can’t really predict the future, but we can arm ourselves with a lot of information about the possible courses history might take and the dangers and trade-offs we face.

Strauss and Howe believe that we live though a 20-year period of Crisis every 80 to 100 years.  The last such period ended in 1945 with the end of WWII. It had begun in 1929 with the stock market crash.  The next one was between about 2005 and 2013.

And here we are.

Back to Goulding:

The point is this; the market (the DOW) is behaving [in August 2003] like the market of the 20s. However, I noticed something recently. When I advance the chart of the twenties in time, by 14 months, the similarities of this latest rally we are having (August 2003) are startling. 9/11 may have escalated the pace of the impending Spark. (The Spark wasn’t expected until 2009) It may have advanced to 2007.

Or 2008.

In this crisis, I try to make myself useful.  I am guided by these words, again from The Fourth Turning:

“Now once more the belt is tight and we summon the proper expression of horror as we look back at our wasted youth,” F. Scott Fitzgerald said after the crash that hit his peers at the cusp of what should have been their highest-earning years. “A generation with no second acts,” he called his Lost peers—but they proved him wrong. They ended their frenzy and settled down, thus helping to unjangle the American mood. Where their Missionary predecessors had entered midlife believing in vast crusades, the post-Crash Lost skipped the moralisms and returned directly to the basics of life. “What is moral is what you feel good after,” declared Ernest Hemingway, “what is immoral is what you feel bad after.” “Everything depends on the use to which it is put,” explained Reinhold Niebuhr on behalf of a generation that did useful things regardless of faith—a role the Missionaries chose not to play.

Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (2009-01-16). The Fourth Turning (Kindle Locations 5978-5984). Three Rivers Press. Kindle Edition.

The modern day Lost we call Gen X, the Missionary, Boomers.  Next up were the GI whose modern version we call Millennial.

I hope I’ve learned well the lessons of history. We have a tough row to hoe. We can whine and complain, or we can shoulder the work.

Given a choice, I’d prefer more income, better markets, and a quiet life. But the cycles of history have decided otherwise.

What do you think?

Guess Who’s Still Right 75 Years Later?

Dale Carnegie, of course. Published in 1936, Carnagie’s book, How to Make Friends and Influence People, remains one of the most important works in interpersonal human relations ever written.

I wish I’d been humble enough to read this book when I was younger.  Might have saved myself a lot of trouble, reputation, and embarrassment.

Here’s an excerpt:

Twelve Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking
  1. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
  2. Show respect for the other person's opinions. Never say "You're Wrong."
  3. If you're wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
  4. Begin in a friendly way.
  5. Start with questions to which the other person will answer yes.
  6. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
  7. Let the other person feel the idea is his or hers.
  8. Try honestly to see things from the other person's point of view.
  9. Be sympathetic with the other person's ideas and desires.
  10. Appeal to the nobler motives.
  11. Dramatize your ideas.
  12. Throw down a challenge.

Let me apologize to you if I’ve violated one of these simple rules. 

Um, What’s Going On?

Look, folks, let’s remember who’s on whose side. Dana Loesch is a champion of liberty, the conservative grassroots, and everything else we stand for. And she’s a great friend to me, to the Tea Party, and, in a sense, to all of us. She’s elevated this movement locally and nationally like no one else.  You wouldn’t be reading this post if not for her.

I am so sorry that my piece from last night raised tempers. I tried to be wry and sarcastic, not angry.  I guess I failed. Please forgive me.

I am very sorry to Dana Loesch. I don’t know why some on our side are questioning her commitments to limited government, low taxes, fiscal responsibility, and national defense. I won’t elevate the accusations by repeating them, but I will say this: if it’s true of Dana, it’s true of me.

And learn from my mistakes. I hurt a friend last night by not thinking before posting. Avoid that pain. It helps no one.

Let Me Apologize

In my response to Dan Riehl’s hit piece on Ed Martin, I wrote one more line than I should have. I wrote about an establishment takeover of Big Government. Mike Flynn, the editor of Big Government, has quietly (and not so quietly) led the fight for liberty and good government for decades.  His Big Government site has been a backbone in the resurgence of our first principles.

Much more importantly to me, Mike Flynn is a friend of mine.  Sometimes my temper and emotions blind me to the real, human face at the other end of my words.  I didn’t mean to insult Mike.  I am sorry, brother. 

I am sorry, too, if I gave anyone a false view of Ed’s opponent. There is no RINO in the race for Missouri’s Second.  From the Republican primary will emerge a great candidate who will go onto to serve the district, the state, and the nation honorably and well.

On August 8, 2012, the primary over, we will take to the streets and the internet to elect a conservative member of Congress to replace Todd Akin. I don’t want to feel like a hypocrite then. I’m sure none of us does.

Who’s Lucky?

There’s a “special” school in St. Louis County. Its seniors graduated on last Friday. BenGraduating

How sad it must be for those kids. They’re not graduating from the district’s “normal” schools with their peers. For various reasons, they’ve been relegated to a school for misfits.

Seeing the building makes the bad feelings worse.  It’s a former grade school, crammed inconveniently behind a bank and a Taco Bell. Its Eisenhower era architecture stands out  amidst its Mortgage Boom surroundings like a dandelion on golf course. And the high school kids—some in their early 20s—appear freakishly large in the building.

The clown car impression intensifies inside the gymnasium. Its small, undersized basketball court barely holds the families of sixty or so graduates.

The scene was such a contrast for me.

I graduated with almost 600 other kids. Of them, I knew only a small percentage, really. At my high school graduation in the cavernous Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis – which I and all locals will forever call “The New Cathedral” – we sat in alphabetical order for the first time ever.  I had never met the two girls sandwiching me.  (One of them I would have remembered, trust me.)

I was lucky.  I graduated on time with my peers. I was never set back. I got by with a lot—a lot of misbehavior that earned expulsion for other kids. Like I said, I was lucky.

Or was I?

The ceremony at Fern Ridge High School moved me. Me and everyone around me.

Mr. Chris Oliver, an English teacher moving onto a new career after this year, served as the key note speaker. He talked about the wretched state of factory education in America, of course. He talked about the graduating seniors, too.

And he cried.  He paused to compose himself three, four, five times.

I cried, too.  It’s been a while since I’ve had a job that moved me. Chris’s job surely does.

Or did.

Chris said, “Fern Ridge should be a model for all schools in America.” I think he might be right.

At Fern Ridge, Chris was freed from the strictures of a “safe” curriculum handed down like divine instructions on granite tablets. Instead, this school expected him to use his skills and his heart to reach the students—students who have already rejected the factory model of education.

Chris was free, as he said, to “say something crazy” in his classroom.

That means Chris’s students were free to learn and to think. Fernies, as they’re called, do not memorize and regurgitate. 

After his talk, Chris kicked off a Fern Ridge tradition. Teachers stood, one by one, and read an original Tanka to a student.

More tears, but lots of laughs.

(You can’t read Tankas to every student in a class of 600.)

The administrators and teachers on the dais beamed throughout the ceremony. Why shouldn’t they? I said that this was no factory high school. The kids were no factory products. They were, as one of the Tankas described a girl in the class, round pegs in a square world.

America’s education system couldn’t hold these kids.  Most were too intelligent and passionate to make it in regular schools where conformity, anonymity, and banality earn non-descript praise from a faceless bureaucrat.

Education in America—regular, factory education—banished creativity, expression, and brilliance long ago.  Like all socialist schemes, public education “covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd [source].”

Students with the courage to cut through that network of rules and stand above the crowd are sentenced to places like Fern Ridge,  or to Missouri’s Options program, where they can earn a diploma without corrupting the numb kids in the regular schools.

When my son accepted his diploma from the principal, I was proud, of course. I was even more humbled and a embarrassed. Not because my son graduated from an alternative school for kids who refused to conform, but because I didn’t.

Way to go, Ben.

Closing the Wealth Gap

cooperationFace it: you don’t have that many friends. Not that you can rely on, anyway. On the bright side, you don’t really need friends, do you?  You’re a rock star in your own small way. Who made the varsity swim team?  You did.  Who made honor rolls and deans’ lists? You did.  Who landed your job and got the bonus? You did.

With friends like yourself, who needs friends?

If you make 20 times as much as the next guy in line at Target, who cares?  It was his choice to follow a career path that ends at $42,500 a year.

And you’re almost right.  You’re right until you stop to think how much help you’ve had along the way.

What did your dad and mom do for a living?  Didn’t mom go back to work to afford private coaching? Didn’t dad give up better jobs so he’d never have to miss your swim meets?  Your college roommate hounded you to get better grades when you decided to coast. And didn’t your neighbor has his brother-in-law shop your resume around at the company where you’re now a stud?

Human beings are social animals. We don’t just enjoy other people; we need them for survival of the species.  You can’t breed alone.  You can’t thrive alone no matter what you’ve been told. People who understand their need for cooperation and community are not lacking in self-esteem; they’re lacking in hubris.  There’s a difference.

In The Fourth Turning, historians William Strauss and Neill Howe explain:

Where we once thought ourselves collectively strong, we now regard ourselves as individually entitled.

Yet even while we exalt our own personal growth, we realize that millions of self-actualized persons don’t add up to an actualized society.

Our income disparity in America grew, not as a result of unchecked capitalism, but of unchecked government.

From 1970 (actually, long before 1970, but data on income disparity go back only to 1968) onward, the federal government has, through entitlements and services, built walls of separation between American people.  As the Great Society increased dependency on government, it destroyed the fabric of community.

The government, not business, subdivided the United States from a single nation composed of 50 states, into a 300 million nations composed of one lonely human being.

Where CEOs once understood the importance of their employees, they now see only dehumanized “human resources.” Listen in on a conversation in any company today, and you’ll hear the term again and again:  “Do we have enough resources?”  They don’t mean land, capital, and materials; they mean people.

Entitlements are blinders.  They protect the haves from their moral duty to the have-nots.  They protect the have-nots from personal connection to and reliance upon the haves.  And they protect us all from the human responsibility to look out for each other, to take care of ourselves, to graciously accept the kindness of a stranger.

In other words, government dehumanizes.The poor no longer hope for a rich person to lift them up; they demand that government to hand something out. We see each other as obstacles or burdens, not fellow humans trying to get through the best we can.

In 1970, the average CEO made $212,230 while the average worker made $6,540, or 30.6 percent (source: Portfolio.com).

Today, that gap has grown from 30.6 percent to 265 percent in 2009.  And that 2009 number is low because of the economy—CEO compensation includes stock options and other market-sensitive rewards.  Now the CEO makes $8.5 million compared to the worker’s $32,000.

Socialists exploit this gap. The left sees income disparity as an argument against capitalism.  And too many Republicans ignore the problem, claiming one’s legal income is no one else’s business.

On this, the socialists and the Republicans are both wrong. Socialists are wrong about the cause and the solution; Republicans are wrong about the need for change.

If you take away the government’s unconstitutional entitlement programs, you take away the emotional insulation that separates us from each other.  The CEO and the unemployed both become more reliant upon each other.  Emotional, human bonds replace faceless bureaucracy.  CEOs make less because making 265 times as much as his employees is a business risk he will no longer take.

When I talk about entitlements, I’m talking about all the entitlements—those that allow General Electric to earn $13 billion profit and pay no taxes, and those that allow GM to live beyond its means forever.

It took both corporate and individual welfare to rot the fabric of society. It will take a tea party to weave it back together.

Grab your sewing kit. It’s time to get to work.

Dana Bouncing Back

donut-cushion-for-coccyxDana Loesch has been plagued with a perstistent cold. Yesterday, her stairs leapt up and kicked her in the . . .

Turns out to be a fractured coccyx (aka, tailbone).

We feel terrible that Dana had this tale to share with the world, but we congratulate ourselves for limiting the number of cheap jokes.

Certainly, we pray for minimal pain and minimal recovery time.

The Difference Between Cooperation and Consensus

What many people don't get is that cooperation is not the same as consensus.  

reagan_thatcher

Cooperation means someone takes the lead on an issue. If it makes sense, and if the leader is perceived to have good character and judgment, others follow.  Otherwise, the project is stillborn.  It's the way the market picks leaders.  Not through org charts, but through action and response.

One person may be the leader on one issue and a cooperator on many others.  Most people play both roles frequently.

Consensus, on the other hand, is the absence of leadership. 

Why Empire?

5026548507_c06c91b515 “Why would a nation become imperial?,” Steven asked me. “I mean, why would you want to take that on?”

The conversation had been on Japan leading up to World War II.  The question was important.  Why would a nation conquer dissimilar nations?  Why accept that burden and risk? 

My answer, which I’ve grown more fond of as time’s passed, was something like this:  Imperial people view everything as a fixed pie. 

More importantly, if you view the world as fixed, you’re right.

If an acre of land produces enough food for a family of four, what do Mom and Dad do when baby number three is on the way?

If they live in an imperial, fixed-pie world, they have to get more land—or get rid of one of the kids.  But if they believe in innovation, ingenuity, and initiation, a whole new world of opportunity arises.  They can find ways to produce more from their single acre.  They can sell products or services to farmers with a surplus of food. They can form an exchange with several farmers, merchants, and artisans. 

Whatever path they choose, the little farmers don’t have to take up arms and annex a quarter of their neighbor’s one acre.

What made America (even when it was still Terra Nova) unique was our diehard belief that we can grow the pie bigger. We realize that doing so means hard work, painful mental focus, trial and error, and risk.  That’s why we do it. The pilgrims set sail for the New World to seek something greater, not to avoid something.  They believed in growing the pie, and their behavior after arriving proves it.

When we see examples of fixed-pie thinking, such as the union vandals destroying Madison, Wisconsin, we see how dangerous and destructive that archaic thinking can be.  The fixed-pie mentality makes every moment of life a fight to the finish for survival.

But our view makes life an endless opportunity to grow, secure, bond, and create. 

I like the American view better, don’t you?

Friday Happy Hour for March 11, 2011

Every senior generation decries the banal idiocy of its junior generations. Remember how critical Boomers were of Generation X? 

Turns out Gen X was one of the most productive generations in a long while.  Then Gen Y just went off and fought two wars for us.

Historian Neil Howe points us to today’s Happy Hour:  a Millennial elected to Michigan’s state assembly last November. 

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1&isUI=1

As Howe points out:

Many positive Millennial (born 1982-200?) traits (positive attitude, results-orientation, teamworking, close to family and community) are all reflected here

Cheers

3 Steps to Happiness and Success

Some of the biggest potholes on the road to happiness come from bad advice from self-help “experts.” 

But here are three scientifically proven steps to being happier.  And since happiness causes success in other areas, not the other way around, these could be the most important tasks you perform.

 

Give Thanks

People who write down three things they’re grateful for and the reason those things happened show a 50 percent drop in medical claims over six months compared to a control group who journaled about nothing in particular (Emmons & McCullough). 

So get a notebook and write down three things you’re thankful for one day a week. If you’re a digital type, then go to www.thankfulfor.com.  There you can post (private or public) gratitudes.  They even have an iPhone app to make giving thanks all the easier.

 

Record Your Acts of Kindness

On another day of the week, write down two things you did for others out of kindness.  Studies show that reflecting on your own good deeds will lower blood pressure and put you in a better mood.  Plus, you’ll start to look for opportunities to do little acts of kindness, even as simple as smiling at a stranger.

 

Walk

A casual stroll of just 10 or 15 minutes can set you in a much better mood.  Do this three days a week. 

There.  Three free, simple acts to make you happier, healthier, and more successful. 

Why Stop at Red Light Cameras

I’ve written about this before.

The problem with traffic signals is that they make all of the problems they’re designed to solve worse. By “all the problems” I mean:

  • Pollution
  • Congestion
  • Deaths
  • Accidents
  • Speed of Transit
  • Risk to pedestrians (except those with certain disabilities)

 

Banning red light cameras is a great first step, but the ultimate goal should be elimination of traffic lights altogether. 

Watch both episodes. Decide for yourself.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBcz-Y8lqOg&hl=en]

Turning the lights off worked.

  • Less pollution
  • Fewer accidents (cars and pedestrians)
  • Less congestion
  • Shorter commutes
  • Safer roads
  • Happier people
  • Up to 20 percent better fuel economy

Join Free to Choose. Let’s bring the movement to America and to St. Louis.