Archive | July, 2012

What is Competition?

31 Jul

What is the central point of competition? Tom Chivers says it is to win. While I can at least accept the premise, that begs the question of whether winning must be defined as the game at hand or if it can be more global in its perspective.

For example, did anyone think it was a bad idea for the Cleveland Cavaliers to lose games to make it more likely that they got LeBron James? Or for the Spurs to do the same for Tim Duncan? Or for the Colts to get Andrew Luck? Or for the Mariners to get Ken Griffey, Jr? Or for the Penguins to get Sidney Crosby? Or for any team to lose games to yield a star that will help them win games?

Further, do we complain when a team is “rebuilding” and knowingly plays players who are not as good right now in the hopes that they’ll be good in the future? Is playing a rookie quarterback acceptable when a veteran could win you a few more games? Would starting a twenty year old shortstop, whose best days are ahead OK, if your backup is a thirty seven year old whose best days are behind him, if the older guy is better?

Is it OK to intentionally miss a free throw if you are down two and there is only one second left? Is it OK to take an intentional safety if your team is up three with four seconds to go at the beginning of the play? Is it acceptable to intentionally walk Barry Bonds with the bases loaded if you are down two runs? There are times when the overall picture of winning encourages or even mandates the participation in something that is ordinarily negative. We even have a phrase dedicated to the philosophy of “Winning the battle, but losing the war.”

This isn’t exclusive to sports. In war, people often pick their battles. In politics, candidates choose which districts to completely saturate and which districts to barely campaign. Even at conventions, states withhold their support of a Presidential candidate, so that a given state can push him over the top. I recall being a student, and being judicious of which subject to study more. A famous piece of advice in cards is to know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.

The reality is that there are competitions all the time where the team or person sacrifices something in order to achieve something greater, and we accept it with absolutely no questions. For the badminton people to get upset because someone logically looked at the bracket and wanted to avoid their countrymen, whether it was for perceived accomplishment assistance or just personal preference, there is a certain amount that must be accepted.

So, at what level do we insist upon people trying to win each small component of the overall competition. With the Olympic issue of badminton, the most damning part to me is that the ref warned them and they still obviously gave no effort. Beyond the ignoring of the warning, I’m not sure I see any problem with it. Yes, I want people to want to win everything they are supposedly trying to win, but sometimes there is a strategy to losing.

Some will say that the system is to blame. If it were a strait elimination they say, people would be forced to try. While it is true that people would be forced to try every match, it would also not guarantee as many matches, would be less likely to assure the best teams get second and third and give the fans fewer matches to watch. It is also true that a playoff is not a perfect solution. This particular situation would have been just as (if not more) benefited by doing a pure round robin where every team played every other team. Also, they could schedule all intra-country match-ups in the first round, so that they can only benefit their countrymen later by winning.

The funny part, however, is that the main offense is that they didn’t even appear to try. I guess if they were better at faking it, there would have been no penalty. I guess it is the next level of competition where people find reasons to lose, so those who run competitions just need to make rules against those things that they find objectionable, but we really need to look at what competition is.

Monopolies stink

29 Jul

The monopoly of utility companies has me fired up. This seems to happen to me about once a year. I get upset with one of my utility providers, usually because of something to which I am contributorily, in a very small way, at fault. But we have created a culture where I like to think I deserve better.

If I don’t like the service at a restaurant, I merely pick up and go to another restaurant. The same is true of banks which under-perform, which unfortunately, I have had to exercise that right recently. I also will move to a new spot if a landlord is not treating me fairly. I will find a new doctor if I don’t like the one I have. I’ll rent a car from another provider, if need be.

The free market system definitely has its advantages, one of which is the ability to not have to work with someone once we decide we do not want to do so. This is a pretty cool thing. I have nightmares of being forced to deal with someone after the natural course of our dealings has run, and I really can’t stand the thought.

The one exception (well, there may be more, but they are all I can think of) to this concept in this country is utility companies. When I end up having a run-in with the water company or the power company, I can complain all I want, but at the end of the day, there isn’t anything I can do.

Almost four years ago, I had an issue with the local gas company. It seems that I paid 13 cents short on a bill (actually their accounting department just doesn’t understand fractions). So that the when the next bill came out, we were in “late” status, meaning we had to pay them about ten days earlier to avoid being shut off. Knowing I had paid the bill, I did not treat it special.

They ended up shutting off my gas, meaning no hot water for showers (or drinking, if that is your cup of tea). The payment had already been mailed to their offices in Tampa, and they received it later that same day they had shut me off. Yet, they made us wait almost four days before my showers became warm again.

Earlier this week, we had an investment property that we sold, and when I called to shut off the power, they decided to shut off the power in my house instead. Now, it may make sense to some people to turn off the power to a house that has a wife and three kids living there, but to me that seems nonsensical. Nevertheless, when I called them, they made me pay them forty dollars to turn it back on. According to them, I did not clearly communicate that it was the investment where I wanted the power turned off.

Now, you may notice that in both of these cases, (some would say) part of the issue was on me. But in both cases, a reasonable person would say that the part I played was exceedingly minor. This is the issue with utilities. I cannot change. So, no matter how irritated they make me, I just cannot amend my service. With most companies, even though I play a small part in that misunderstanding, I capitalize on the fact that their bigger issue was at play.

In fairness, on the other side of the equation, I have often lost money in a business deal when someone didn’t communicate what they wanted well, and I made a decision based on that. That is how it works, unless of course you have no competition and I have to pay $40 because your person answering the phone is a moron.

Chick-Fil-A

27 Jul

Now I think I will be accused of watching the news, as I once again want to address something in the news. It seems that the head cow of Chick-Fil-A has stated that he does not believe homosexuality to be an acceptable choice for Christians to make. This has many within the GLTB community (along with their supporters) stating that Christians are missing the point by being condemning rather than forgiving and judging when Christ says not to do so.

The first question that comes to mind for me is, “Is there any truth to the liberal claims?” First, the issue of whether we should be condemning or forgiving is an illegitimate point. As my friend Michael Phillips says, “Without Condemnation, there is no need for grace.” The assertion that we need to forgive necessarily supposes that there is a sin in place. This is why the argument itself is terribly silly. If people need to forgiven, then they must be in the wrong.

I guess that is why the juxtaposition of not judging must likewise be asserted. The people would like us to, if we actually get past the point to realize it is an actual sin, not assert sin because it seems to be judging. Maybe this is just the fact that I went to law school, but I believe pointing out that someone else pronounces you guilty is more akin to reporting than judging.

Furthermore, I don’t believe Matthew 7:1 means that we aren’t supposed to judge anyway. The chapter divisions are certainly there for a reason, but they should not be to eliminate the context. The end of Matthew 6 is about how we are not God. It speaks of how we cannot add even a small amount to our height or our beauty. It speaks of how the Gentiles seek after food, drink, or clothing on their own, while we should know that our Father in heaven can take care of these things better.

We are to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Do not worry about tomorrow, for “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Judge not, that ye be not judged.” The context is that we leave these things to God, and we will be judged by the scale with which we are judging. We should not worry about someone else’s small problems when we ourselves have bigger issues. Take care of what we can first, then we can see clearly to help these others. Ask and it shall be given.

Now, to me that sounds like more of a command to be more introspective and then, be careful to not create our own judging standards, knowing that hypocrisy is a potential worry. In this regard, I find it funny that most who attempt to assert this verse are blatantly saying that they want to create their own system for judging. They want people to bend to their definition of what is correct or incorrect, what should or should not be accepted. Nevertheless, if they say we are supposed to look to Jesus as our guide, I think we should look at that.

Jesus was quick to criticize those who turned His father’s house into a house of merchandise. He called the scribes and pharisees, hypocrites! He also compared them to whited sepulchers, beautiful outward, but full of dead men’s bones and uncleanness. And these were people who thought they were doing right, as they followed the law to such a degree that they would tithe liquid and ground gifts they received.

I think the larger point that is made is that we do not (and cannot) know someone’s eternal destiny. What we can do is look at the facts before us, and when we see someone who has no consideration for the things of God, we can show them where they fall short, but it should be a means to point them to God and His provision for our sinful ways. If that is not the point of the action, then it is nothing but idle banter.

This is potentially where the reaction-ists may have a point. Whether you agree with what Dan Cathy said or not, the question could easily be, is he acting in love and an attempt to point people to Christ or is he attempting to hand out judgment beyond what the Scriptures suggest. Several verses later (Matthew 7:16), Jesus says that we will know them by their fruit.

And, if we look at the “fruit” of Chick-Fil-A which has hiring and serving practices that have never discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation. They have taken a stand to be closed on Sunday, but never mandated that anyone go to church. Chick-Fil-A, until this recent comment, had been largely above reproach. Chick-Fil-A and Mr. Cathy have never made a homosexual uncomfortable before this, and this is merely a statement of belief. I think clearly, this is an area where he is not attempting to goad people, but rather, point them to truth.

In fact, I would assert that Chick-Fil-A is much like the artists of yore. Centuries ago, the great artists went about doing their art and the response to the art, led people to discover that they were doing it as a service to God. Today, in many arenas people will complain about Christian art not being on par with that of the secular world. But I rarely, if ever, hear that people dislike the quality of Chick-Fil-A. It wasn’t until years after I had my first sandwich that I realized it was a restaurant of Christian character. And, I think we would do well if others emulated that concept.

The First Time

25 Jul

In Economics we study the Law of Diminishing Returns. A textbook once told me that it is defined as “in all productive processes, adding more of one factor of production, while holding all others constant, will at some point yield lower per-unit returns.” Basically, this means that the first time you have or get something, you like it the most and as time goes by, you like it less.

This law works for things like food (how many of us enjoy steak #6 as much as steak #1), buying a home (there aren’t a lot of programs for third time home buyers), weddings (no one seems to attend someone’s fourth wedding), impressions (how much do we really rely on 15th impressions), paychecks (I’ve never seen anyone save their 254th paycheck), or mistakes (I still remember the stupid things I did in my youth, but now they happen so frequently…).

A quick search means there are at least ten popular songs that have “The First Time” in the title and they romanticize at least seven different things. I think it is safe to say that when we speak of the first time we do anything, we romanticize that event. For example, my kids are still excited about their first hotel room. My son talks about his first year in school and my daughter is excited about it. I have a friend who recently got his first job. Someone the other day was asking me about my first kiss.

There is a natural excitement that comes along with doing anything for the first time. The question always is, “Am I going to let the fear of what might happen override my potential excitement of doing something for the first time?” And, as I have lamented before, we often let the fear of change keep us from new experiences for the first time. Fortunately, I have a wife and kids who pushed me to try all kinds of things for the first time on a recent trip. I can tout all the wonderful things I’ve done once.

What I hope, however, is that I do not allow the fact that trying new things won’t be as exciting in the future as it was the first time from actually trying. Regardless, however, there is a magic to doing something you’ve never done before. So, I encourage you all to pack up your loved ones and do new and grand things for The First Time and appreciate the wonder, awe, and amazement that comes with doing something for The First Time!

Hotel vs. Motel

23 Jul

The first half of our trip was a success and torture. As the end of the wedding marked our touching the wall in a “there-and-back” race, we left in a hurry. Actually, we have a weird challenge to stay in every state and New York had been crossed off our list. So, as we decided to head back a slightly different way than we came, we took off.

We would be to Pennsylvania in just a couple of hours, so we were geared up to stay in that state. Unfortunately, we learned that if there is ever a July 21 on a Saturday, the state of Pennsylvania comes together to make sure every hotel owner is well compensated for the event. We literally called 13 hotels in the state that were all sold out. They were all Hampton Inns, because I am a hotel snob (which may become ironic later). At any rate, we ended up driving past 2 AM, when we found a handicap room in Frederick, Maryland (We made Jacob limp on the way in).

The one good thing is we made it through a myriad of roads that normally are congested enough and are not interstates, so that driving the maximum speed is usually impossible. We made pretty good time. However, the late arrival made waking up early something we just didn’t do. This turned out to be terrible, because although we made it through DC without an issue, we ended up delayed by three different wrecks through Virginia, and the good time was thrown out the window.

What was supposed to be a short drive and early arrival at the hotel ended up a few hours later than we had hoped. Nevertheless, when we arrived, we were surprised to find that the Hampton Inn was a motel. (A motel being an accommodation where the rooms open up to the parking lot, whereas the hotel has rooms that open up to the hallway in the middle). Perhaps it should not matter to me, but when I make a reservation at a Hampton, I expect for it to be a hotel, especially when the prices are comparable.

Certainly the room was nice, and there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with motels, but I just don’t like them as much. I know some people who prefer them. Even when I slum it (by staying in any hotel other than Hampton Inn), I prefer the hotel concept. Not sure it is nicer, just a preference. Nevertheless, it colors my judgment. We had pizza, free muffins, extra late swim time, a great breakfast, and all I can think about is that the window is next to the door instead of on the opposite side. Not sure it should bother me, but I can’t really talk about anything else.

Is this a sickness, a disease, or just good old-fashioned wisdom? I prefer me my hotels and when I don’t get it, I want to complain. Obviously it isn’t the fault of the employees, and frankly, they were the kindest hotel employees we met. They kept the pool open late for us and allowed us to get drinks from behind the counter. Basically, my whole frame of mind is driven by the hotel-motel issue and I can’t really explain why.

The Family Vacation

21 Jul

The Family Vacation is a unique event. It’s quite different than the vacation with friends where there is solidarity of purpose and a general feeling that the same things needs to happen in order for the trip itself to be successful. Similarly, it isn’t completely like a war, where you have at least two dissenting factions, whose purposes are antithetical. Could be close to that, though.

As an adult, I’ve now viewed the family vacation from Both Sides Now (Joni Mitchell song stuck in my head now). I realize that the perspectives are more similar than different and yet, they are worlds apart.

As a child, the family vacation was about being bossed around and doing what you are told. You were doing things that your parents told you that you would like, but the events all seem like things you would never choose to do. When there finally is something that you like, you are rushed through it and you want to just sit and relax on that thing. You feel like your parents are calling the shots and you just can’t wait to get home where you can relax and recover from the vacation.

As a parent, the family vacation is about being told by your children that the things you’ve chosen are no fun. Despite the fact that they may not like or appreciate the things you are choosing to do now, you know that they will remember them fondly later. You feel like your children are dragging their feet through certain events, fighting over things that just don’t matter, and just making your life miserable. You just can’t wait to get home to relax and recover from the vacation.

The similarities are easy to see, and many might be led to make the decision that you should never take a family vacation. I feel that would be short sighted and wrong. From both sides, you can see the love that a family has. From both sides, you can appreciate the little things and the memories that are made. From both sides, the sacrifice of the other is eventually seen.

This particular trip, my family took, because of the wedding of my good friend, David Poston (oh yeah, Emily Ludlow Poston was involved also). It was a stupid-long drive (about 20 hours one way) and there aren’t a lot of things that we want to do “on the way.” Kelly, however, did an excellent job of mapping out 2-3 fun things to do each day, and we have been pleased with the results.

We went swimming in a hotel pool, saw Niagara Falls, stuck our hands in Canada, visited with friends, went out to eat, watched movies in the car, took adventurous little trips, marveled at Tudor’s Biscuit World, and saved hotel room keys from each state. Now, if only the second half of our trip (the return leg) can be as much concurrent fun and torture, we should be in for a wonderful time and memory.

Who Built This?

19 Jul

Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin which he built with his own hands. I first heard this statement when I was in law school from my real property professor. For those who know the life and times of Abraham Lincoln, there may be a wide array of things that make this statement problematic. For me, however, it sounds like a statement of celebrating the times of yore, while just being completely impossible.

Clearly whoever said this was either absent of logic, attempting to make a point through the use of an obvious auxesis, or just made a simple conjunction of sentences by eliminating too many words and neglected to proofread after awaking. At any rate, a simple Google search tells me that this is perhaps the most quoted student research paper error of the last fifteen years.

It is impossible to synthesize the thoughts of the 3.2 million pages that came up on my Google search, but I believe it is fair to say that at least some of those are looking to make a point. The clear point I observe is that no one accomplishes anything on his own. There is no individual who can accomplish anything without some contribution by others.

Simply put, no person survives beyond the age of a month or two without a protector (usually a parent). Virtually no one is able to accomplish something deemed good without the input of an educator, teacher, or mentor. Largely because I subscribe to the Heidelberg Catechism definition of good, I believe that real good can only be attained by and through a saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Terminology aside, useful things, even if pushed by one man are not the results of that one man alone, but rather the result of many people pouring into that man’s life. This is why, as parents, we often swell with pride when our children accomplish something others notice—we see the work that we put in with them to help precipitate that behavior. We know our role was not merely one of watching, though as our children get older and come about wisdom from their own study, our connection to their accomplishment seems less to us, and we move from a pride to a grizzled respect.

Nevertheless, the point remains the same. Even if we accomplish great things when most of our influential mentors accomplish either negative things or very little, it was learning from them, both in the literal process and the rote disciplines that assisted us. This point is perhaps morphed into a phrase that became quite common when Hillary Clinton was First Lady and she wrote a book entitled, It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us.

While I dare not summarize 352 pages of work in a single sentence, I would assert that most people’s reaction to the title has less to do with the content of the pages therewith than with the political persuasion they happen to possess. Some of the most isolationist parents who happen to be politically liberal have raved about the book in my presence, while the most covenant community minded conservatives will rip apart the book. Not having the read the book, I am comfortable saying that children (and adults) who have the most different voices to learn from are often benefitted, while those who have the fewest number of inputs are often stunted.

These aren’t new ideas. Chris Young sings a country song which touts this philosophy, and seldom is country music on the cutting edge of philosophical breakthroughs. “What brings me to the point where I am discussing something so mundane and acceptable,” you might ask. Well, earlier this week, President Obama made a speech where in the context of making this argument he swam deeper to say, “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Now, we live in a sound bite era, and whoever wrote Obama’s speech certainly should have realized that this statement I am putting in the middle is a potential rallying cry by small business owners. I’m certainly not here to defend Obama’s point, as I think it is relatively obvious that Lincoln can’t be born into a log cabin he built with his own hands and we cannot achieve something without someone teaching us the basic skills. Therefore, I think to take away credit from the person who built the business on his own after taking these inputs, especially when you are asking those same people to give up something (greater taxation), is just plain bad strategy. Further, I think it is kind of shady to say that all of those inputs are the results of government.

Nevertheless, I wonder what it is within us that just flatly gets upset when someone wants to take away credit. Are we really that conceited that we get offended when someone wants to take away the credit? I am a small business owner. I enjoy many aspects of that position, and if those privileges start to go away, I’m sure that I will be immensely frustrated by that change.

Notwithstanding that feeling, I feel like myself (and several others like me) are too quick to want to toot our own horn. We are too quick to take pride in the things we have done, when I know that in my life, there are so many people who assisted me to get where I am that if I were put elsewhere, I would surely not be where I am. “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!”