Thursday, May 19, 2011

Israel, Obama and the NY Times

I’m nowhere near smart enough (nor stupid enough) to have real ideas on what should/could/might be done in the Middle East with the intractable Israeli/Palestinian problem.

What I write below is more about how this is being reported and interpreted already.
But first read these two paragraphs from today’s NY Times:

“His (Obama’s) decision to put the United States formally on record as supporting the 1967 borders as the starting point for negotiations over a Palestinian state marks a subtle (italics mine) — but, for the contentious Israeli-Palestinian peace process, potentially important — moved the United States a step closer to a position long held by the Palestinians. (Try to deconstruct that sentence?)

The shift is significant because it means America now explicitly (italics mine again)backs the view that new Israeli settlement construction outside those borders would have to be reversed — or compensated for by exchanges of territory — in talks over the formation of a new Palestinian state.“

I’d like to pick on a couple of words, that to me are hugely important in how used and that they were used at all.

I started out to read Obama’s speech but at more than 8 pages, well I do have a paying day job that beckons.

In graf #1 – it reads: “… marks a subtle …” Subtle? Asking Israel to give up a huge amount of settled land that provides a well-known buffer of at least perceived relative safety from neighboring countries, is subtle? Like a brick I guess. One that could easily be thrown. Based on the dangerously little I know, this is far from a “subtle” shift. I’m not aware of any President or Congress since 1967 that has ever suggested Israel give up land seized in the 6 Day War of 1967 when Israeli was attacked (was that mentioned anywhere today?)

Can we question the wisdom (or lack of) in some of Israel’s actions related to the West Bank, Golan Heights and Gaza Strip? Of course. But to suggest that they give this up is far from subtle. My point here is not to debate what Israel should do but rather how they (NY Times) is already “spinning” this in a pro-Obama way.

Point or word #2 – “America now explicitly (italics mine) backs the view …” Which or what America? The White House? Congress? Voters? Jewish Americans? Just askin’.

I just read someone who said ‘America threw Israel under the bus.’ I tend to agree.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Rob Bell’s Heaven and Hell

Much has been written already about this controversial book.

Whatever your thoughts/ideas/arguments – the ones that follow are mine and they are based on my reading of the book – all of it.

From what I have read of reviews etc. the main criticism comes from the assumption/assertion that Mr. Bell is a universalist; i.e. that ALL will go to Heaven no matter what your particular religion, belief, creed etc.

I had never heard the term Universalist until I started reading about this book (most of which came before publication.)

So I can’t speak to that issue in a broad or even specific sense but I can speak a little to what I think he says in the book or maybe why he says it the way he does.

Semantics and definitions are important. And it is entirely possible that I missed a boat as big as the Titanic here but …

I think one needs to understand Bell’s definitions of Heaven and Hell first – before weighing in on his supposed premise – that all go to Heaven.

I’ll put this simply and this does leave room for plenty of disagreement with me and/or with him: I don’t think he thinks of Heaven as being just the great over there, place in the sky etc. And I don’t think he considers Hell to be just a place of fire somewhere below. I think he thinks both of these can be/are part of our lives here on this earth too.

You can agree with my interpretation or not. You can agree or not with his definitions. But I think this is at least one place to start rather than jumping onto his “Universalist” premise.

Having read the book cover-to-cover, I’m not sure I agree with the “U” label. Does he have some controversial ideas or positions? No doubt.

But does his book also offer some possible new insights? You bet.

Does he ask thought provoking questions? Definitely.

I won’t try to review the book but will close with one question that is at least worth thinking about (and I hope this is not an “Angels on the head of a pin” argument!):
Luke 23:34 – Jesus on the cross says: “Father forgive them, for they know now what they do.” (italics mine)

Who is “they”? The people who crucified Him? Those who accused Him and allowed/caused Him to be crucified? Those standing around watching it happen? Or does it go further than that? Are any of us, “they”?

Jerusalem

With Benjamin Netanyahu in the U.S. this week (I got to meet him a few years back and my daughter and I had our picture made with him) two suggestions: read Friedman’s column in today’s NY Times and read the lyrics by Steve Earle from 2002 also below.

Jerusalem

I woke up this mornin' and none of the news was good
And death machines were rumblin' 'cross the ground where Jesus stood
And the man on my TV told me that it had always been that way
And there was nothin' anyone could do or say

And I almost listened to him
Yeah, I almost lost my mind
Then I regained my senses again
And looked into my heart to find

That I believe that one fine day all the children of Abraham
Will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem

Well maybe I'm only dreamin' and maybe I'm just a fool
But I don't remember learnin' how to hate in Sunday school
But somewhere along the way I strayed and I never looked back again
But I still find some comfort now and then

Then the storm comes rumblin' in
And I can't lay me down
And the drums are drummin' again
And I can't stand the sound

But I believe there'll come a day when the lion and the lamb
Will lie down in peace together in Jerusalem

And there'll be no barricades then
There'll be no wire or walls
And we can wash all this blood from our hands
And all this hatred from our souls

And I believe that on that day all the children of Abraham
Will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem.

Steve Earle 2002

Monday, May 16, 2011

Graduation speech

This is going to be a LONG post. But at least two people have asked to read the speech I gave at my daughter's graduation last Friday night and this is the easiest way to make that possible. I had so much more to say but tried to keep this at a reasonable "what the butt can tolerate level." And still had one senior in the front row who laughed the whole time (hopefully not at me!) Take it for what it's worth. I give myself a B+ on the writing end of it but maybe a C- on delivery.

I probably shouldn't be but have been thinking about actually giving the speech and I remember so little of it. I couldn't remember if I said everything or not. I was actually reminded of the first (and one of only a few) times I carried a football in a game. 6th grade - the QB handed off to me and the next thing I know I'm 10 or so yards down the field getting tackled and have no idea how I got there. Some people might call that being in "the zone" or the "flow". Maybe for my speech I was in the "Ozone!"

But any way - here it comes - lots of text.

The more things change – the more they stay the same

This is not about me, tonight is about you but since most of you don’t know me … I was raised by a single father, Texan by birth but thinking about trying to say Missourah so more people will think I’m a native, have lived in Everton for 5 years, married more than 34 years, 5 kids – one of whom is here tonight with this year’s senior class – and as of last Tuesday I became a grandpa – a different daughter in case you are wondering!

In 1971, that’s 40 years ago, I was working at an ice cream shop and finishing high school.

What was the world, my world like way back then?

Not a whole lot different than yours. It was VERY different from yours.

If you are short any history credits, check with Mr. Mozier and maybe you can get some make-up credit for being here tonight.

And before I go on – in case any one checks facts or wonders which parts are mine or somebody else’s – I needed to go back to the internet to brush up on my history.

A couple of names deserve credit for inspiration and some specific quotes – Seth Godin, Bob Leftsetz – check them both out on the web.

Back to 1971 - Our country was at war.

Gas prices were rising.

We were all afraid.

The more things change – the more they stay the same.

Our country was at war – a hot one and a cold one. We are involved in at least two or maybe even three wars right now.

Gas prices were rising – to a whopping 36 cents a gallon. To put things in perspective, that 36 cents would be about $2.94 in today’s dollars.

What were we afraid of in 1971? Communism. It’s why we were fighting in a small country called Vietnam – actually 2 countries, north and south. We moved in after the French moved out after they fought there for awhile. Hmmm.

The more things change –

Today one fear is terrorism. Maybe a little less with the demise of bin Laden. That’s why we went to Afghanistan in the first place. Let’s see: the Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979. They stayed around for a decade or so and then left. The Taliban moved in and then …

I hope some of this is starting to sound familiar.

This spring has been one of bad weather. The earthquake and Tsunami in Japan were much, much worse than just bad weather. In Feb. 1971 more than 50 tornadoes swept across Mississippi killing 75 people. In April that year a tsunami taller than 250 feet went ashore in Japan. Later in 1971 more than 10,000 people were killed in a cyclone in India.

– the more they stay the same

The Space Shuttle Endeavor is supposed to take off again on Monday. In 1971, we put men on the moon again.

Wiki Leaks has been in recent news. I’m sure even more secret government documents will be released. Heard of the Pentagon Papers? In 1971 the NY Times got and printed classified documents about the Vietnam War.

The more things change –

To end 1971 on a happier note – some good things did happen – Walt Disney World opened in Orlando.

And one more story in case you think all this history doesn’t matter. In July 1971 the 26th Amendment to the Constitution was adopted. Anybody know what it was?
It allowed the 12 Everton grads of 1971 who were 18 years old, to vote.

Hopefully you see that - the more things change, the more they stay the same and how this matters.

Let’s look at some changes.

Sadly one visible thing has changed – In July 1971 – The South Tower of the World Trade Center was topped out at 1,362 feet, making it the second tallest building in the world. We all know what happened there on 9/11 30 years later.

Contrary to popular rumor, Al Gore did not invent the Internet. It was in its early stages in 1971. One guy sent the very first email in 1971. Heard of floppy discs? In 1971 they were 8 inches around - about the size of a vinyl record. Do I need to explain vinyl records?

Those 8-inch floppies could store about 80 Kilobytes of information. An mp3 on your iPod or iPhone is maybe 4 or 5 megabytes. Those floppies couldn’t hold even one song today. And the first microprocessor was marketed in 1971- mainly in calculators. These little things now make computers, smart phones, your microwave – just about everything we use today, possible.

The biggest change has been in this area of communications. In 1971, we listened to radio, watched one of maybe 3 channels on TV or waited until we got home from school to read the newspaper. Yep, a few places still had afternoon newspapers.

Today of course we surf the web, we facebook, we tweat - some of you may be texting your BFF - even while I’m talking right now. You have tons of communications freedom.
Apart from it being a lot of fun and a great way to waste time, what does all this freedom mean for you and your future? The one you start tomorrow?

When I was in high school you could get away with a lot; hide a lot. Now – not so much. Anything you post on Facebook – EVER – might show up in a job interview someday so think about those pictures you posted from that recent party.

I heard a new phrase this week – data exhaust – it’s the trail of information you leave behind on the Internet. Your character is what you are like when no one is looking. Your reputation is based on what others say or know about you from when they are looking. The Internet has a very long memory. So be careful.

Where are you going from here?

As a college graduate with 2 degrees – You’d think I’d be an evangelist for college. Yes I am. No, I am not. Some of you may not be right for college. Some of you may not want to go.

I could tell you that if you don’t go to college it will cost you tens of thousands or more in lost income for your working life. I could also tell you that if you DO go to college, you might still be paying off your student loans 20 years from now. Both of these might come true. Neither of them has to come true. Think about your decision carefully.

Decisions that you make now will impact your lives forever.

Decisions that you make today might not even matter tomorrow.

The important thing is to know the difference.

This wouldn’t qualify as a graduation speech if I didn’t give you some grandfatherly advice so I’ll cautiously move into that territory.

Be kind – the people you treat today might be interviewing you for a job tomorrow.

Read. Never stop learning. Class may be over but the world is one big classroom – only this class starts every day when you get up and lasts until you go to bed at night. Decide what you want to be learning each day.

And don’t assume you know what you need to know – you haven’t learned it all even though you might think so.

Choose who & what you are going to listen to – if you don’t choose, somebody else is already doing it for you.

A decision to not make a decision is a decision. Not picking what you want to learn means somebody else is doing the picking – your friends – the media which now means facebook and twitter too.

What are our fears in 2011 – terrorism? Global warming? A failing economy?

But what can we do about any of these? Cower in fear or get on with our lives? These make up many of those same things I’ve been mentioning.

We learn to succeed by how we handle failure. I think it was Yoda who said “there is no try, only do.” Sometimes you do and it doesn’t.

Be intentional. Don’t just let stuff happen to you. You can’t control it, but you can control your reaction.

Hope and opportunity are in front of you – not behind you. Someone this week talked about taking our past and projecting it into our future. Don’t do that. You can’t undo one thing in your past but you have absolute and complete control over your future. Except of course for the things you have no control over. That same stuff.

I’ve driven Annie nuts with this one but consider the 10,000 hours principle. It takes doing something about 10,000 hours in order to be really good at it. I heard it put another way once – it takes 2 years to be a technician – another 8 years to be a craftsman. My father spent almost 40 years fixing wrecked cars. And when the man he worked for most of his life shutdown the business, my dad was recruited by body shops all over Dallas. He was a craftsman and everybody knew it.

Let’s put it another way, Justin Bieber may be famous but I’m not sure he’s been out of diapers for 10,000 hours.

Strive to be a craftsman. Practice and then practice some more.

All of you graduating tonight have been in class more than 15,000 hours already. So you are really, REALLY good at what? Going to school of course. And before I forget – you should be commended for sticking it out – for not quitting.

I saw a statistic this week. Out of all the people unemployed right now – and not to depress you but that’s close to 1 in every 10 folks – more than a 3rd of them did not finish high school. You are already way ahead!

Some of you are very popular. That may be working out fine for you so far. But out there – the place you go tomorrow? Don’t count on it.

From Seth - "Popular is not a measure of impact, or genius, or art. Popular rarely equals guts, hard work or a willingness to lead (and be willing to be wrong along the way).

The search for popular is highly overrated."

We want to be picked. Who can forget the humiliation of being picked last for the kickball game OR not being picked at all! Been there, done that!

Seth again - "It's a cultural instinct to wait to get picked. Once you reject that impulse and realize no one is going to “pick” you -- that Prince Charming really has chosen another girl -- then you can get to work.

Once you understand that there are problems just waiting to be solved, once you realize that you have all the tools and all the permission you need, then opportunities abound.”

If you are not going to college – the days of one job-one career are gone.
A Dept of Labor study shows that the median time in a job for people my age is 10 years. I’m 58 and since college I’ve had 4 jobs. That works out to be about 9 years per job for me. For those 25 to 34 though, the average tenure drops to just over 3 years. You will have and quit lots and lots of jobs.

If you ARE going to college - Learn how to read and write – learn how to study.

I was smart (at least I thought I was) – graduated with honors in a class of 200+. I got to college – clueless – didn’t know how to study, or REALLY read and certainly not write. My GPA the first two years was pretty bad – and this from a boy who almost made straight A’s. At the time this never seemed to matter. But years later when I started thinking about grad school – the low GPA really mattered. So decisions you make today won’t matter. I can cut that class. Decisions you make today can matter for a long, long time. Wish I hadn’t cut that class.

The future of America, is based upon an idea. This came from Mr. Leftsetz.

Coupons have been around since before I was around. But in the last year or so I bet you’ve heard of Groupon. What is it? Simply a way to put people together to buy things at a reduced price. What did it take to put this together? A guy, an idea and a million dollars.

OK that million part may be out of your range but Andrew Mason, was in college and working designing websites when he started Groupon. Last year it was reported that Google offered to buy Groupon for more than $5 billion. That’s a B. He turned them down.

My point here is Mason was just a kid in college. He saw something. He had an idea. He happened to know an entrepreneur with some money. And the rest …

Almost all of you have a cell phone, or a smart phone. You have more computing power at your fingertips than anyone imagined back in 1971. You can set up a website for less than $10 per year! You can go into business for yourself in your dorm or bedroom and with just an idea, do things I couldn’t even dream of 40 years ago.

My dad’s tools were hammers and wrenches. Mine were cameras and videotape. Yours can fit in the palm of your hand.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. You have a chance to make the changes. Be the change you want to see.

Focus on the areas where YOU can make changes – your self – your family – your neighborhood – your own future.

If you have an idea – start writing a blog about it. Someone might read it. Maybe they’ll be the entrepreneur with all that money you need to jumpstart your idea.

Phil Vassar wrote a song – sung by Tim McGraw- My Next 30 Years.

I’d like to read the lyrics as I close. I’ve changed a word or two.

Congratulations again! Thank you for letting me be a part of your special evening.

For those copyrighted lyrics - look them up. I read them out loud.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Transition

This is certainly a week of transition for my family.

Tuesday my oldest had her first daughter, my first grandchild.

On Friday, daughter #3 graduates from high school. More on that in a future post.

So both of them enter new worlds. Scary new worlds. No turning back.

Daughter #1 will experience the biggest changes. She and her husband are no longer just a couple. They are parents with all the scary responsibility that goes with that. She will become a working mom - trying to do all the juggling that working mothers do everyday. She and her husband have to adjust to one more person who has to factor into every decision they make. A tiny fragile little person.

But as she has proven (and I've learned) during the last 28 years - not too fragile. Plenty of ups and downs and she's weathered them all. I hope we've prepared her for this next stage of life. But even if we haven't, she can handle it because I've seen her rise to the challenges before. She's very strong and very smart!

Becoming a grandfather is pretty easy. Go to bed one night and wake up the next morning with a grandbaby! Nothing to it. But it's still a transition. Now when I think of things, I can't help but include the newest little one. The only hard part for me is she/they live 1,600 miles away so I can't just pop over for a quick visit. But I'm already planning and thinking about making the trip SOON!

Daughter #3's transition is simple and easy except that it's not. Heading out into the unsheltered world of work and college (or not). I think I've tried to prepare her for this - although I don't think she's liked the "preparation" very much. Let's just say that in her case my "mentoring" skills have likely left more to be desired. Again she's also strong (-willed) and very smart.

We'll see what happens next in all our collective and individual lives.