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Archive for the ‘Illusions’ Category

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I was “away from home” ever so briefly a week or so back. The colleagues I was due to meet and work with my first full morning abroad had yet to arrive, and given the beauty of the spring morning, I went out for a brief walk.

As I often do when traveling, I was looking with great interest at all that surrounded me, and I was snapping pictures. “Toto was not in Kansas anymore”, so to speak, and I wanted to remember what was all around me. It was then that I noticed the odd looks, if not stares, from those who quickly passed by on the street all around me.

Touristen” was likely their thought. “I must look silly” was mine. Seeing the above captured “headless” reflection, I could not help recall that book from generations gone by “The Ugly American”.

As I looked up some summary info on the book, the following synopsis reminded me that lessons to learn, and awareness to maintain, is the same today as 30 or more years ago….and I’m glad I have the picture to prove it.

This is a book that is certain to deepen students’ understanding of the complexity of international affairs. Its terse, episodic style and its many portraits of individuals engaged in the process of diplomacy give readers an important sense of the dimensions of the problems which receive such cursory treatment on the nightly news. The Ugly American is mandatory reading for the citizens of a participatory democracy, in terms of understanding the mistake of the past and in order to prevent their repetition in the future.
“(chs.d211.org)

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Scars are funny things. Do you see the one in this picture? I’ve been up and down this street a number of times in recent years, but it was not until I went last night into the center structure with the gray plaster facade and saw the courtyard behind it that things didn’t match up for me. I then stepped across the narrow street to try and gather a better perspective.

All of the neighboring buildings, save this one, are the same architecture: tiled tilt roofs, architectural detail on the windows, classic off white plaster, etc. And the building in the center? It screams 1960’s non-descript Eastern European, almost Soviet era styling. When you go inside, the structure is more modern and new, but is absent the classic styling details of 17th or 18th century Europe. The style is so different, the large oil on canvas portraits of the former Cardinals of Vienna stand stark and out of place on the cold white walls lining the long straight hallways.

So, what happened?

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Well, this is largely conjecture on my part, but I’ll work from what I know. This courtyard/compound houses the Archdiocese of Vienna, the home of the Catholic church establishment for the region. Behind the compound lies Stephansdom, the large Catholic cathedral for the city. Sometime around 1944, Allied bombs shattered the classic roofline of the Dom and set a subsequent fire to the structure. I can only assume that one of the bombs from that same raid took out this section of the neighboring compound.

While Stephansdom has been rebuilt and restored to a level indistinguishable from the original to most persons from the current era, the office building cannot make that claim. In an era of shortages, limited resources, and subsequent priorities, the lot occupied by the building likely sat vacant for many years, and then was rebuilt in the most pragmatic way possible during an era when “style points” didn’t matter. Hence, a scar remains on the landscape, and yet, most don’t even give it much thought or attention.

So, what’s the point? I would suggest people are the same way. Scar tissue, by it’s very nature, grows quickly and fills the void left by an earlier injury. And, with scar tissue, style points don’t matter. Much like our plain gray building, the strength and function of the scar is often stronger than what it replaced. Given time, those who see the scars may even forget they are there.

And yet, the scars remain. Had I been speaking with a native of an era gone by in Vienna last night, they likely would have had stories to tell. For those of us walking up and down the proverbial side streets of life with those we know, we should be mindful of the scars, and the experiences that they reflect. We should also respect the strength that comes with them.

Story is when a character wants something, and overcomes conflict to get it. I witnessed and pondered just such a story this time by, and I feel better attuned because of it.

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Yes, it is “Black Friday”, and I’ve been up since before 5:00, but only because a train rolled thru this town, horns blazing. Speaking of “Horns blazing”, a quick sayonara shout out to our friends at Texas A&M is in order, but I digress.

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The guest abode we occupy south of the border on Black Friday is indeed dark and quiet at this hour, so I find myself checking in on the world via iLight. A friend (thank you, Coach Steph) shared the above picture from a Wal Mart sometime on Thanksgiving night.

And therein lies some of the irony: Thanksgiving Day, and people are sitting inside shopping carts in Waly World getting ready to likely charge a bunch of stuff they really can’t afford.

We watched a lot of football yesterday, and accordingly a lot of TV commercials promoting BF deals and “savings”. One of my favorite lines is “more saving, more doing; that’s the power...”. It doesn’t get much more ironic than that.

There have been several social media comments about this topic in the past 24 hours, but more from people who are expressing why they are thankful. I wish to do the same, so here goes:

I’m thankful for family and good times.

I’m thankful for the wonders of the web that allowed us to Skype with a loved one on the far side of the planet(“AG”), and to share thoughts and memories throughout the day with Little Frau (aka Aussie Girl Mommy) as she recup’ed to our north.

I’m thankful for our Faith.

I’m thankful for football, a two interception limit by Tony Chokomo, and a kicker who can see straight with the clock running out.

I’m thankful for turkey, and cornbread dressing.

I’m thankful for the game of “Balderdash”, and a Thanksgiving family tradition of laughing till we cry. The china cabinet references were living large, for those of you who understand what that means.

I’m thankful for the green tinted picture of Ulysses S. Grant that Santa brought to us all a bit early, and for the great “pre-Black Friday” online only deal on these duck boots at Academy.com.

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Fraught with irony, indeed.

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When you look in the mirror, what do you see? I wonder what he saw? Did he look below the surface? Did he ever think he might be wrong? More on that in a moment.

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Touring a museum has only given me goose bumps twice. Once was in Europe in 2008, while viewing relics of history from an event that changed the world. The other time was today when I accompanied my kids to the 45th Infantry Division museum here in OKC.

I’ve always wanted to visit this museum, thinking it to be a nice collection of old tanks and airplanes. Little did I know how much more was there to be seen. As I was looking in a mirror hanging in the Germany exhibit room, a museum docent approached and said the chilling words: “That is the mirror that Hitler groomed himself in on the day that he killed himself in the Berlin bunker”.

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What did I see in the mirror today? A guy wearing an OCA t-shirt, an EMHS hat, and an OC jacket. Each piece reflected something about me, but were largely just a uniform of externals. What is going on inside the man? What is he about? What does he say? What does he do? If history remembers him, will it be for good or for bad?

How about the mirror’s previous owner? What did he see? What did he think, delusional though he may have been? While it was chilling to look at myself in his mirror, a mirror simply reflects what is currently before it.

What about the lessons of history? I love studying and examining history, and I love the veterans that remain with us and were recently honored during their day a week or so ago. As I have visited other lands and met the generations of citizens who call their home something other than the USA, I wonder what they are thinking. What do they see in us today? What do they think? If we look in the same mirror, do we see entirely different views? Who is right, and who is wrong? Absent an obvious moral issue, do people really see that clearly?

The following pairings of pictures reflect images of the time, the mid 20th Century war to end all wars. The second of each pair is an image from today in the museum in middle America, a reflection as we see it in the mirror of history. The first of each pair of images is from the museum in Europe, albeit not from Germany itself.

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When you look in the mirror, what do you see? I wonder what others see? Do we look below the surface? Did we ever think we might be wrong?

Touring a museum has only given me goose bumps twice, and today was one of those days.

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“God is subtle, but He is not malicious. I cannot believe that God plays dice with the world.” – Albert Einstein.

I’ve long thought that to be true, but now wonder if He is not often times speaking to us more directly. Take a random walk with me, and see if you agree.

Many of us recall the “Rocky” movie franchise. He started his saga in the slums of Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. The movie details him out running past a group of likely unemployed young men standing on a street corner singing “Take it Back”. Four movies later, some good, some less than good, and Rocky is back in the same neighborhood, a rags to riches to rags scenario, but he is still “Rocky Balboa” at the core, albeit changed by time, experience, and the impact of money.

I have experienced in the past 24 hours what I’ll dub “the day of diatribes”, polite though they may have been. This may or may not be considered just one more of the same by the time you finish this reading.

The first diatribe was by a Facebook friend protesting the use of the American flag as a form of forced advertising by a local realtor who placed them in every yard as far as the eye can see.

The second diatribe hit a little closer to home. It was written by a youth minister in Texas about the problem of increasing costs in higher education, specifically private faith based education, and the amount of debt it takes for many to get an undergraduate degree. The university for which I work’s mission statement is “Transforming Lives for faith, scholarship, and service.” Trust me when I say we do not intend for that to be “debt service”, and are listening and seeking solutions to the broad based problem of the higher education industry making our experience affordable and relevant. Pardon my digression from the topic at hand.

The third diatribe dealt with the problem of sensationalism and desensitizing in our mass media, all to get attention and “viewership”. It is a well written piece about things that are good and true, and you can read it at http://www.reddirtchronicles.com/2011/06/rdc-editorial-whatever-is-good-true-beautiful/

The fourth piece, more a reflection than a diatribe, was a personal look at living a purposeful life, and not a life of “Shadow Purposes” as we are so prone to do in this rich society. It can be read at http://www.reddirtchronicles.com/2011/06/chasing-my-shadow-purpose/

The final referenced piece in the “24 hours of diatribes” was my own, preceding this one, mind you. I read an article this morning about the NBA lockout and some of the quotes in a war of mega millionaires fighting mega millionaires over who gets the bigger share of the billions being offered by the masses at the alter of modern day entertainment. I love the NBA, but this article made me mad, and I suspect it will do the same for many fans as what promises to be a protracted labor negotiation fight plays out.

To paraphrase author Donald Miller, I think we all have forgotten that we are just trees in a story about a forest. The forest may be on fire all around us, but we are too focused on the near surroundings and our own concerns to notice.

The global economy appears to be badly broken. We have “stored up treasures on earth, where moth and rust corrupt, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matt. 6:19) and need to be prepared for a different day and age, even within the lifespan of some current generations. The economic storm is raging as we speak in benefit rich European society, and the tsunami is racing toward us across the Atlantic even now. Societies are in debt up to their eyeballs; we are soft; we are spoiled. And fundamental societal things are changing. We are aging. The balance of trade and who makes and who buys is evolving. Health care is a concern. The U.S. Government won’t be able to pay for it all or fix all that ailes us. All the while, I fear we are standing on the beach arguing over who gets the bigger share of sandbags while we should be moving to higher ground to stay safely out of the coming wake.

Our societies often have found themselves in these moments in history, and it seems they are often ultimately resolved by fighting a war. The U.S. War for Independence; the French Revolution; the U.S. Civil War; WWI; WWII; the Middle East conflicts. Its about a groundswell of the masses when they can’t get what they want and need, and when the establishment is out of touch. We may be entering another “let them eat cake” moment, I fear. Get the picture?

I think the establishment may be catching on. One of the more telling advertisements running on TV today is “More Saving: More Doing; That’s the power of the Home Depot”. We need to realize that David Stanley (OKC auto dealer) does not really lead the way. The Mathes Brothers may have “our style at our price”, but they will never know us by name.

As I began to pour these random reflections down and try to tie them together cohesively, I looked through the “categories and tags” section of my blog site, and a huge percentage of those previously used seemed strikingly relevent. Take a look at all those listed at the end of this and see if you agree.

After an early morning of pondering these thoughts, I got into the car to come to the office and was immediately presented with “Awakening” by Switchfoot playing on my car radio. God is subtle, indeed, and He was speaking right to me.

Face down with the L.A. curbside endings
In ones and zeros
Downtown was the perfect place to hide

The first star that I saw last night
Was a headlight of a man-made sky
But man-made never made our dreams collide, collide

Here we are now with the falling sky and the rain
We’re awakening
Here we are now with the desperate youth and pain
We’re awakening

Maybe it’s called ambition
You’ve been talking in your sleep about a dream
We’re awakening

Last week saw me living for nothing but deadlines
With my dead beat sky
But this town doesn’t look the same tonight

These dreams started singing to me out of nowhere
And all my life I don’t know
That I’ve ever felt so alive, alive

Here we are now with the falling sky and the rain
We’re awakening
Here we are now with the desperate youth and pain
We’re awakening

Maybe it’s called ambition
You’ve been talking in your sleep about a dream
We’re awakening

I wanna wake up kicking and screaming
I wanna wake up kicking and screaming
I wanna know that my heart’s still beating
It’s beating, I’m bleeding

I wanna wake up kicking and screaming
I wanna live like I know what I’m leaving
I wanna know that my heart’s still beating
It’s beating, it’s beating, it’s beating, I’m bleeding

Here we are now with the falling sky and the rain
We’re awakening
Here we are now with the desperate youth and pain
We’re awakening

Maybe it’s called ambition
But you’ve been talk, talking in your sleep about a dream
We’re awakening
Dream, we’re awakening

So, where do we go from here, in this digital community, and in each of our own “cities of brotherly love”? Maybe we are a little like that prizefighter who has gone one or two rounds too far, and needs to reset. What is our task? More saving, more doing? Maybe. Less spending, more doing? Likely. More sharing, more caring? Absolutely. Heightened attention spans are in order. We’re awakening. The bar is raised. A groundswell is happening all around us, and a tsunami may (or may not) be headed are way. Let’s move to higher ground and be ready.

Take me back.

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Circa 2007: “All is well; buy our stuff”.

Circa 2008: “Dumb question: that won’t happen”. (new BearS chairman speaking to yours truly, 2 months before their doom).

It’s Friday the 13th. The CNBC prognosticators are talking about the Fed, inflation, the SEC, and “the reason it’s different”. And, of course, Goldman is always in the background: the circa 2011 version of Bear, I would contend.

I’m beginning to think the whole lot of them is corrupt with self interest.

Cynicism expressed, I’m cheering for my retirement account. Go baby, go….

:/

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A friend and colleague was coming home from the airport with me recently and was perusing content on his iPhone. He said “how did we ever get anything done before email?”. We had just gotten off a cross country “red eye”, so I will give him credit for a potential momentary lapse in discernment.

I thought for a moment about what he said, and the 2011 me agreed wholeheartedly, but the base model me took exception. Allow me to explain.

You see, I began my career circa 1988. They issued me a large leather bag and a gigantic “10 key” calculator, complete with a paper tape. They also showed me the supply cabinet, with it’s wealth of multicolumn spreadsheet form paper and other goodies made from wood pulp, but no computer. And we got a lot of work done. Boy, did we ever.

18 months or so later, we were all issued start of the art laptop computers, first generation MacBooks, no less. The processors were slow, the software was cumbersome, but we were expected to use them and become “paperless”. Instead, hours worked increased, pounds lugged to the client site doubled, we printed everything, and productivity trudged along for the ride.

Fast forward 23 years later, and we still have not gone paperless just yet, but I’ll admit it’s getting better. But, has productivity really improved, or do we just work more? After all, as my friend made his statement, we were riding home in a car after a 32+ hour day, and he was reading email while our greater conscious selves were napping.

A digital native, I am not. But i consider myself a wise gray haired immigrant who knows his way around the digital continent. Email. Cell-phones. Websites. Texting. Cloud computing. We are more accessible than ever.

While writing this, I took a Saturday morning phone call from a colleague in another department a few moments ago, and he was looking for the cell phone number of a colleague in mine. And he apologized for the “interruption”. Does that word even apply, anymore?

Points of contact are up, no doubt. More things have our attention. But does more get done, or do more things go on our to do list as “undone”?

Don’t get me wrong; I love the new digital world order. I would not go back, I don’t think. I have fully embraced my new nationality. But, it might be nice to visit the fatherland. I guess that is what books are for.

So, I guess my point here is that we can get work done, maybe even more without our “devices” to keep up with and upgrade/follow/maintain.

I’m going to log off now and go out to mow the yard. My friend has already done the same with his.

If you need to reach me, I’ll have my cell phone, just looking for the next interconnected unproductive opportunity to visit. 🙂

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