Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I flew into Las Vegas last night on business. I have never been here before. The plane touched down about 9:30 p.m. and the flight attendant announced the the outside temp was 99 degrees Farenheit. I looked out the window. Ninety Nine degrees and no trees. I wasn't in New Hampshire any more.

I hopped the shuttle to the Luxor. I looked around a bit as I rode along.

Vegas is ridiculous.

Vegas could only exist in America.

In fact, I think that Vegas is a powerful and concentrated distillation of a certain strain of American culture. It is at once amazing and (to me) slightly repulsive. It is so completely over the top, so absolutely contrived, so artificial and stimulating and....I'm not sure what. It is a sleight of hand practiced on monumental scale. At a certain level, you have to appreciate the genius of it, but...damn.

And I really haven't seen that much of it. I've been working mostly, and trying not to spend much money. Not much to do here without spending money. That's part of the genius. That's why it could only exist in America.

So I am sitting outside Krispy Kreme inside the Excalibur shopping gallery, logged onto the Krispy Kreme wireless network, passing the time until my shuttle bus takes me to my red eye flight home.

I really love America. What a country!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Growing Up Fatherless

My father died when I was 5 years old. I have only a few memories of him, but a rather sharp picture of him in my mind and in my heart. For this I thank my mother, who spoke of him often to me, and told me stories that gave me a strong sense of his character. She was always careful to build him up, and I think that was not a hard task as I know that she love him deeply and admired him greatly. I'm aware of some of his defects, which I have come to understand more through deduction of what I know of his life, rather than through direct experience or testimony. Those flaws don't seem to matter much though. It is his strengths, his better side that I see and know and try to be at all times.

  • He worked hard, even though he failed often and saw hard times.
  • He was competent and skilled at his labor.
  • He loved me and my brothers and my mother and sacrificed much for our good.

I stumbled upon an article called 6 Lessons I Learned about Being a Man from Growing Up Fatherless. My case is not the same as this young man's (my father did not abandon us, nor was he an addict, or abuser of people ) but I appreciate what he has written here and would echo it. I learned many of the same lessons, but not in reaction to my father, rather in admiration for my father.

So here's to you Ernest Octave Denis. May I be half the man you were.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Just Five Smooth Stones

New Yorker recently published an article called "How David Beats Goliath." I have been thinking about it a lot since I first came across it thanks to 10-4 Good Buddy.

The basic thesis is simple. The only way that a smaller, slower, weaker team/person/nation/army can beat a larger, stronger opponent is to redefine the rules of the game. The smaller entity must refuse to play by the rules of the larger, and instead play only the game that maximizes whatever advantages they have, but downplays or minimizes their weaknesses. The article mostly uses a basketball analogy, but shows some applications to other spheres as well.

This is one reason this article so captivated me. It strikes me as one of those observations that holds so much truth on so many levels that it bears real study. Of course, the most obvious application is at a national level where we are having to learn quickly to adapt our goliath nature to use davidian tactics. One of the most remarkable things about today's U.S. Military is that they actually are beginning to learn how to use Davidian tactics, even though they are goliath. Can they learn them fast enough and apply them consistantly enough? Or are we doomed as goliath to always be at the mercy of little people with slingshots?

There is a tendency to be angry at the terrorist for not playing fair. I think we can be angry at them for attacking us. We can be angry at them for being wrong, and wrongheaded. We can be angry at them because they have sworn to be our enemies. But we can't blame them for adopting the tactics they use. There are no other tactics open to them. They simply cannot defeat us in open direct battle. They HAVE TO use guerilla tactics. They have to refuse to play by our rules. Recognizing that, then we need to refuse to play by theirs. Meaning we need to be better at their game than they are. I'm thinking mostly of the situation in Iraq here, possibly also Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not so much terrorist attacks here in the U.S.

Cheney and his gang, seem to think this means we should terrorize the terrorists. That is why we can't refuse to use torture techniques. I have read some persuasive arguments along these lines. Even so, I think that that may be falling into the trap of playing their game of their strengths. They are good at creating chaos, dividing allies, sowing fear. It is cheap, direct and hard to stop.

Unless...we play the game by our strengths. We have resources and expertise. Rather than attacking the terrorists, perhaps we should place more of our resources and energy into protecting -- and thereby winning the hearts of -- the people. Repair the grid. Provide clean water. Help with food, clothing, cooking fuel, heat. At the same time, use military force to stop bombs and attacks. Make the streets safe. Rather than attempt to instill terror in the hearts of the people, we should be protecting and providing for them to win over the hearts of the people.

As the articles suggests, this is a hard hard strategy. Like the full court press, it involves a great deal of physical commitment and dogged determination and real stamina. But it has the advantage of effectively undercutting the terrorist agenda. Far from being soft and squishy, it is actually a seriously hardnosed approach.

Beyond the national political and military implications, I also love this article for the personal implications. Davidism as a way of dealing with personal problems. Refuse to play the game given you. Instead, redefine the game to your own strengths. I'm working on this.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Birthday Parties for Whores

Lots of people have lots of trouble with Tony Campolo. I get that. People just love to get all bent out of shape over Campolo. Mostly they think he talks too much about loving people and bringing our social structure in line with the gospel's call to care for the poor and outcast. By the same token, he seems to not talk enough about consequences and responsiblity and all those concepts beloved of the moral bean counters. This shapes his politics and his analysis of our society. I get that, but I don't have a huge problem with it. It takes all kinds, and I love Tony because his ideas grow organically out of his love of Jesus and his Good News. The Good News just makes the bean counters' heads explode.

I will say that at a few key points in my life I have read things by him or heard things from him that have been very influential.

This video is exactly the kind of story that gives fits to the bean counters - the people who have a seizure whenever they hear the name of Tony Campolo.

My favorite line?

"Naw....I'd GO to a church like 'dat."


Over the past year, the term “tribe” has come to my attention from several different directions.

Assistant Village Idiot uses the term to describe a sort of sociological unified field theory (or perhaps only a general relativity theory) wherein tribal identity is so ingrained into human behavior and thinking that even we moderns find ourselves assuming tribal identities. Membership in modern social tribes is not so much a matter of name identification as it is the assumption of certain social/political/sub-cultural cues or signals. To see AVI’s analysis, go here.

A few months ago, Seth Godin, renowned marketing guru (on wonders if he has the word “guru” on his business card) spoke on the subject of tribes as relates to marketing. Successful marketers are people who actually leverage technology to create associations of people he calls Tribes. Whenever someone figures out how to tap into the sentiments of enough people who are thinking the same thing, but are unconnected, that person unleashes social power of some magnitude. That opportunity is greater than ever through the power of techno tools related to the internet. Tribe becomes a sort of sophisticated, fluid, self-inventing psychographic.

Along a completely different line, Tim Larkin of Target Focused Training (which deserves a post of it’s own) directed me recently to Scott Pressfield’s analysis of the War in Afghanistan. Unlike the other two, Scott is not redefining the term Tribe here, but is using it in the classic sense. He uses the classic concept of tribe and tribalism to help us re-frame the way we view the conflict in Afghanistan. It’s all about the tribes. His analysis contrasting the meaning of being a citizen of a nation, as opposed to a member of a tribe is outstanding. I hope that our commanding officer’s responsible for the conflict in Afghanistan can grasp this concept. Our leaders must recognize that asymmetrical warfare has already become the dominant model around the world and we are just playing catch up.

You can see all the video's in Pressfield's analysis of War in Afghanistan here.

It’s just fascinating to see how one word can be used to clothe such different types of ideas.