Trash Bags Make Me Thankful

I have several jobs on Thanksgiving Day. I'm not much of a cook (okay, I'll admit it, I don't cook at all), so my wife assigns me non-cooking related tasks: set the table, carve the turkey, refill water glasses, help with dishes, those kinds of things. I just completed my last Thanksgiving Day job, which is taking out the trash. This is not a pleasant job. When you pull the turkey out of the oven, it's one of the most appealing sights of the year. When you pick up a garbage bag filled with the turkey carcass and other assorted turkey bones, it's one of life's more disgusting sights. Except for today.

As I tied the top of the bag, using a technique taught to me by a friend more than 20 years ago, I immediately thought of that friend and smiled. We've lost contact over the years, but during that time we've had this interesting connection. Whenever I tie a trash bag (and that happens several times a week), I think of my friend. I should probably use this as an occasion to make a phone call, and maybe I will. Meanwhile, my trash tying experience has brought something to mind.

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Monkey Day

Even for a Monday, it's a little crazy. Monday should be called Monkey day, because trying to get a handle on Monday stuff is like trying to organize a group of Monkeys. If you don't do it right, by the end of the day you're going to have Monkey waste (decorum prevents me from using a more graphic term) all over you.

On this Monday, we have the release of Kindle, the new eBook reader from Amazon. There are articles and reviews all over the place, and already Amazon has more than 150 customer reviews posted on its site, many from people who don't even have the device. This is the kind of wide-ranging response Amazon should expect. Delivering content electronically is a hot issue, both for the content generators (the writers) as well as for the content managers (the publishers). As for the end users (the readers), embracing a device like this is going to come in fits and spurts. Some will love Kindle, some will hate it, but most won't care. Until there is a "killer device" along the lines of the iPod, there won't be anything near universal acclaim. And from the early reviews, Kindle is not a killer device. But it's a start in the right direction.

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Too Much Starbucks? Nah!

In the interest of full disclosure, I have a confession to make. I love Starbucks coffee. I've tried other so-called "mellower" brands (Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Jones, Peets, Postum), and they're fine as coffees go, but they can't stand up to a good strong cup of Starbucks. Literally. Starbucks coffee is so hearty and dark--many refer to it as "Charbucks"--I am convinced that the liquid could stand by itself without a cup. But I digress.

Starbucks has recently taken some hits on Wall Street, mainly because for the first time in its history, there may be a sign that coffee consumption--at least at Starbucks--is leveling off. I'm not surprised. Already there are 12 million Starbucks locations, and that's just in Southern California. I've been approached about opening a outlet in my living room, which I would gladly do were it not for my lack of parking.

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"The World is headin' for hell"

Literary icon Norman Mailer died last week, setting off a slew of retrospectives by literary pundits and cultural observers. Ironically, although he rejected organized religion (to his credit, he also rejected atheism), Mailer's last book was On God: An Uncommon Conversation. Here he pretty much sets up his own religious system and, in effect, reinvents God into his own image.

Supposedly one of Mailer's last quotes was something to the effect that "evil has triumphed over good." That's not exactly right, but it's close. Essentially he was reflecting the mood that seems to be overtaking a growing number of mainstream artists. In this day and age when atheism is enjoying new popularity, people are more skeptical about humanity's chances to make a bad world better.

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Money Money Money

The hits just keep on coming, folks. Frieda posted a news story from the Tulsa World reporting that Richard Roberts, son of sawdust trail evangelist Oral Roberts and the president of the university founded by and named for his father, has been given a vote of "no confidence" by the university's faculty. No reason was given, except to say the vote was not connected in any way to a series of lawsuits that have been filed against ORU by former faculty members. No, this seems more connected to some alleged misuse of university funds by Richard Roberts and his wife. Evidently the allegations had enough substance to warrant Mr. Roberts taking a leave of absence from his position.

Is the faculty at ORU unhappy with the way Mr. Roberts has been using university funds? Hard to say, but the allegations probably didn't help. It seems that in this new era of economic instability, people are getting increasingly intolerant of leaders who use organizational funds to enhance their lifestyle. Whether it's a CEO making $50 million a year, or a baseball player asking for a contract worth $300, or a ministry leader driving luxury cars on the ministry's dime, people are tired of other people living excessively.

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Will People Watch the Web?

The writers' strike could end up being a lot more damaging to the writers than the television studios. The problem is that the "studios" aren't one-trick ponies any more. In the old days (such as 1988 when the last writers' strike occurred) television studios made TV shows and that was about it. Now they are diversified into all kinds of entertainment. For example, Fox owns MySpace, various magazines and newspapers (think Wall Street Journal), as well as Fox TV. NBC is part of General Electric. CBS is a subsidiary of Viacom, which owns all kinds of media, including DreamWorks and and several video game products.

Two veteran TV producers and writers, Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, have already abandoned television and are focusing their creative efforts on the Internet. Their first series, called "quarterlife," is currently "airing" on MySpace and its own website, quarterlife.com. For web content, It's big budget (exact numbers aren't available), so the production values are up there. The question is whether people are going to watch the series with any regularity. If statistics are any indication, people will watch, especially younger adults. According to Advertising Age magazine, only 23% of younger adults "strongly agree" that they prefer to watch TV over online video. Nearly 30% of people 12-64 (which is pretty much everyone with a pulse and a computer) say that their computer is seriously cutting in to their TV time.

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Oh Baby!

I can't help it. I'm a new grandfather, and I just have to show you a picture of Jackson, my new grandson. He's less than 24 hours old in this photo, but already I can see signs of great intelligence and superior athletic ability. I know it's a little risky to be talking about grandchildren in the context of a site like this. For one thing, who wants to hear somebody brag about their grandkids. It can get nauseating. For another, telling you that I have grandkids (Jackson is actually my third) makes it virtually impossible for me to seem like a hip guy. So, I admit it. I'm old enough for grandchildren. But then again, so is my wife, and in my opinion, she's still got it going on. So at the risk of being unhip, I am letting you know. Being a grandpa is pretty nice.

Is This What It's All About?

Perhaps you've read about the investigation being conducted by the Senate Finance Committee into the alleged financial irregularities of some high-profile Christian ministries. If not, check out the two articles posted by some Conversant users (see User Submitted News). Hopefully you won't get as sick to your stomach as I am. Or perhaps you are so jaded that this kind of stuff doesn't surprise you.

Anyone who's followed the so-called prosperity gospel teachers knows that these ministry leaders have taken full advantage of two gigantic "loopholes" that allow them to collect and keep vast amounts of money. The first loophole is found in Scripture, and it's a doozy. The typical gospel huckster takes a few verses completely out of context and basically twists them to conclude that God wants every one of His followers to be filthy, stinking rich. But not until they give money to the particular ministry that's sharing this valuable information with them. So millions of dollars roll in, which leads us to the second loophole.

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Christianity Has an Image Problem

I just picked up a copy of "unChristian," a somewhat startling book by Dave Kinnaman. Dave is the president of The Barna Group, a research organization that specializes in providing resources "that facilitate spiritual transformation in people's lives." The information in his new book came out of a research project that revealed "the increasingly negative reputation of Christians, especially among young Americans." The results aren't good. According to Kinnaman, most people looking at Christianity from the outside think it no longer represents "what Jesus had in mind." For many people, the Christian faith "looks weary and threadbare."

While I don't think Christians should make it a goal to win popularity contests, we should be concerned if people perceive that we no longer represent the substance of our name. It's one thing for people to criticize Christianity for being out of touch with culture. That's not always a bad things. But when they conclude that we no longer follow Christ--whether that's true or not--that's a really bad thing.

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Where Has All the Water Gone?

Now that the fires in California are all but extinguished, there's a new weather topic to talk about: drought. We've actually been living with drought in the West for a couple of years now, but our situation is manageable when compared with the South. In Georgia, the lack of rain is so severe that the state is expected to run out of water by January. I didn't know a state could run out of water.

Of course, if I knew my history better, I would know that running out of water is not only possible, but actually happened in the fabled Dust Bowl in the 1930s. A prolonged drought in the Southern Plains forced 2.5 million people to abandon their homes and livelihood and seek greener pastures in the West. It was the largest migration in U.S. history and one of the reasons my home town of Fresno in the Central Valley of California has so many families with roots in places like Oklahoma and Texas (it also explains their Southwestern accents).

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Stan's entire life has been wrapped in content: selling, writing and publishing books and resources that help ordinary people capture a glimpse of extraordinary things.