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Maybe Obama Should have Picked Olbermann for VP

How nice that Barack Obama now has his own television network. Of course, it masquerades as a legitimate news organization: MSNBC. But just listen to the first two minutes of this clip of Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews’ reaction to Obama’s speech last night. They’re quite reverential — apparently, there’s nothing to criticize about the man. We’ll see what they say about McCain next week.


Back to Guns and Pools

The question, posed a couple of posts below, is which kills more children every year: guns or swimming pools?

The answer, as you said, is swimming pools — sort of counterintuitive, but you all figured it out. According to Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner in their book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, a child is 100 times more likely to die in a swimming pool accident than from a gun-related accident. According to their data, one child under 10 drowns each year for every 11,000 residential pools. In comparison, one child under 10 each year is killed by a gun for every one million guns.

Their point is that there’s a hidden side to many things that we don’t think about. If we don’t let our kids go to a friend’s house where we know his parents keep a gun, we feel pretty good about our parenting. But we don’t think so much about letting our kids go to a friend’s house with a swimming pool when in reality, they’re much more likely to come to harm because of the swimming pool than because of the gun.

It’s a fascinating book that explores questions such as why drug dealers live with their moms, how sumo wrestlers and schoolteachers cheat, how baby-naming patterns affect (or don’t affect) children and a controversial theory about how legalized abortion led to a drop in violent crime two decades later.

The authors have a blog on the subject of the hidden side of everything on the New York Times website. Levitt is an economist with a unique way of applying his science to the world and Levitt is a writer who puts the ideas on paper. Good stuff.

Olympic Wrap-Up

A few post-Olympic thoughts:

  • Sport I most enjoyed watching: Volleyball, both indoor and beach (indoor was mostly on late at night). Amazing stuff. The Owensboro Parks and Rec League better watch out this fall — I think I got better just by osmosis. (Side note: as good as those players are, I still saw serves go in the net or out-of-bounds.)
  • Sport I most wish I had gotten to see, but didn’t: Team Handball. Looks really cool.
  • Sport I got tired of: Track and Field.
  • How long does it take to rehearse the Opening and Closing Ceremonies? I suppose it looks pretty cool, but if the Chinese can pull something like that off, I can think of  few other things they should turn their attention towards.
  • Most dramatic story of the Games: the U.S. volleyball community rallying for a men’s gold medal and women’s silver medal after the men’s coach’s father-in-law was murdered and his mother-in-law severely injured by a random knife attack in Beijing (the coach’s wife is a former Olympic player). Talk about overwhelming emotions. The coach missed the first three matches to be with his family, then joined the team to lead them to the gold.
  • Guy who most made it look easy: Michael Phelps. Most of the time, looked like he was just strolling along, until you saw an underwater view — then it looked like they were flying.
  • Coolest single moment I saw: Swimmer Jason Lezak overhauling Alain Bernard (the trash-talking Frenchman) to win gold in the men’s 4 x 100m freestyle relay. It went from “There’s no way he can catch him!” to “I can’t believe he caught him!”
  • After four years (or longer) of work, the Games could be over in an instant for you. One slip, one mistake and you could be done. Or all the effort could pay off and you could win gold. But as cool as a gold medal is, it doesn’t last. We’d do well to put that sort of effort toward lasting things. The Olympics are over. Eternity is not.
  • It’s gotta be hard to keep your ego in check after winning a gold medal. Especially if you win eight of them. In all the interviews I saw of all the athletes, I didn’t hear much humility. Most of their comments went something like, “If you work hard, you can do it. It’s amazing what you can accomplish with a little imagination.” My personal pet peeves: “I amazed myself with what I did” and “I’m proud of myself.” Phil Dalhausser (beach volleyball) came the closest to humility when he said something about just getting lucky.
  • Enough already of the extreme close-up camera shots that last an uncomfortably long time.
  • Skill that’s farthest from my grasp: flipping and twisting to land on an impossibly narrow balance beam. (Although I suppose there’s a reason guys don’t do that.)

How Many Houses Do You Own?

So John McCain lost track of how many houses he owns and now Barack Obama is hitting him hard over the issue, painting him as out-of-touch and elitist, unable to relate to normal Americans.

Yes, it’s ridiculous that McCain didn’t know how many houses he owns. No, we can’t relate to that.

But here’s why it’s not a big deal: anyone who runs for President of the United States is elitist. To be able to seriously consider the office of leader of the free world requires massive amounts of money, influence and power that regular Americans just don’t have.

None of the candidates are in touch with what it means to struggle to fill their cars up with gas and pay all the bills today. They may have come from difficult backgrounds (John Edwards was fond of reminding us ad naseum that he was from a poor mill town. Unfortunately, he was fond of some other things too.), but if they did, they left those difficult days behind long ago. They’re not hurting now.

So whether it’s McCain or Obama, Hillary or Romney, John Kerry (the Dems didn’t seem to have any problem with his fortune) or George Bush, Al Gore or George Bush, they’re all elitists.

And as my friend Madison pointed out, “if a Republican economic strategy leads you to have so many houses you can’t keep count, then it is a REALLY good strategy.”

Customer Service?

If I’m ever in charge of a large company with a bajillion customer service representatives, here are a couple of principles that my employees will follow:

  • Only transfer a customer to another department when absolutely necessary. We will train you so that everyone will be able to answer almost all questions that come up. If you can’t handle more than one topic on a call, get a new job.
  • If you absolutely must transfer someone, do it right the first time. And there will be a maximum of one transfer per call. You transfer someone more than once, you’re looking for a new job.
  • Also, on the rare occasion that you do transfer someone, you should first explain to the new customer service representative who the customer is, what their problem is, what they need and why you’re transferring them. You don’t want the customer to repeat himself twelve times.
  • Learn to speak English that can be understood. I don’t care if you’re in India, the Philippines or Timbuktu. You’re working for a company whose main customers speak English. If you can’t speak intelligible English, get a different job.

If more companies would follow these principles, then perhaps their customers wouldn’t want to beat their heads against the wall after they get off the phone with said companies.


Which kills more children in the United States every year: guns or swimming pools?

We Still Live in America, right?

According to a new Rasmussen poll:

Nearly half of Americans (47%) believe the government should require all radio and television stations to offer equal amounts of conservative and liberal political commentary.


This is referring to what Democrats like to call the Fairness Doctrine. Because conservative talk radio dominates the marketplace, they think government should step in and require stations to provide equal air time to liberal shows.

Did I miss something? We still live in America, where the Constitution still applies, right? There’s this one little part in the Bill of Rights (I like to call it the First Amendment) that says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


I’m no legal scholar, but it seems as if a law requiring a balanced viewpoint would violate freedom of speech.

Liberals whine about the fact that no liberal talk radio shows do very well. They blame biased station managers, etc. But here’s the thing. Liberals have tried talk radio. Air America comes to mind. They filed for bankruptcy a couple of years ago. Apparently, no one cared. If there were a market for it, if the right personalities were doing it, it would have worked. But it didn’t. Rush, on the other hand, continues to rake in the cash — $400 million worth. Yeah, he’s a conservative, but he’s mainly an entertainer. A very good one.

We don’t need a Fairness Doctrine. We have something called a free market that works just fine.

Surely Someone We Know Can Set One of These Records

From today’s Writer’s Almanac:

It’s the birthday of Norris McWhirter, born in London (1925), who gave us the Guinness Book of World Records, in which we learn that the longest amount of time that someone has balanced on one foot is 76 hours and 40 minutes (at a stadium in Sri Lanka, May 22-25, 1997), and that the world’s longest leg hair measured 5 inches (belonging to Wesley Pemberton of Tyler, Texas, on August 10, 2007).

Other feats recorded in this book include the farthest distance someone has walked while continuously balancing a milk bottle on the head— 80.96 miles, by Ashrita Furman of New York, which he did around a track field in Queens in April of 1998, over the course of 23 hours 35 minutes. Ashrita Furman (born Keith Furman) has broken more Guinness world records than any other person in the world, including “most underwater rope jumps in one hour” (738 ) and “most hop-scotch games in 24 hours” (434) and also “fastest pogo stick ascent of Canada’s CN Tower” (57 minutes 51 seconds) (www.guinnessworldrecords.com). Furman meditates daily, is strictly vegan, and studies with a spiritual guru in order to reach new levels of self-transcendence, which help in his record-breaking trials.

An Indian man holds the record for most reader letters published in a single national paper in one year – he had 118 letters in the Dainik Jagran newspaper in 2001. The longest backward motorcycle ride record is 93.21 miles, recorded in Binzhou City, China, in October of 2006. Earlier in 2006, a man in New York City created a balloon dog sculpture in 6.5 seconds—also a Guinness world record.

So who’s up for setting a world record?

Yep, The Olympics Are Cool

See, now that’s why we watch the Olympics. The men’s 400m freestyle swimming relay. Eight teams, but really just the Americans against the French. Michael Phelps’ goal of eight gold medals on the line. President Bush in attendance. The French star said they were going to “smash” the Americans. Oh yeah? That was the wrong thing to say. Got us all fired up. Still, it looked like they had us. Almost a body length lead on the last leg. They were going to beat us. They were too far ahead, no way he was going to catch up. But then he did. It’s a cliche, but the anchor swam the race of his life. Out-touched him by 0.08 of a second. The other swimmers go nuts. Americans all across the country jump around their living rooms (and, apparently, update Facebook to say how cool it was). Sweet. Take that, France.

Soup Kitchen

He sits in his metal folding chair at his corner of the long table, waiting patiently but with an almost palpable air of expectation. I can tell he’s been here before. In fact, he’s here every week, and he shows up well before 6:00 p.m., when they start serving the food. It’s a place to come – not home, but then again, home probably isn’t much.


His name is Roy and this is one of four soup kitchen meals for the week. Two churches in town offer meals on Thursday night – he’s trying to get one to switch to Friday. Less than a $1,000 a month to live on doesn’t get you very far, he says. These meals help him stretch his dollars out. He speaks carefully, precisely – he knows what he wants to say. All the prices going up – groceries, gas, food – are because of oil, he says. It all goes back to oil.


He’s 73, with thick, bushy eyebrows that were once black and are now mixed with gray and white. Thinning gray hair, slim build, deep-set dark eyes that look at me and seem to say, “I know you think you’re better than better than me, young man. You’re dressed nicer than me and you’re here to give us food. But I’ve lived a long time and I don’t want your condescension. I’ll take your food, but you better not suggest you’re any better than I am.”


He doesn’t say that, of course. But I feel like that, like I’m looking at him as if I’ve got it all together and because I’m so great, I’m generously offering to help him. Why would he be here if he doesn’t need help? Why would I be here if I couldn’t help? That’s the whole point. To help. But I feel helpless, like I don’t know what I’m doing.


He has two children – one 51 and one 19. He’s been married and divorced twice, once to the smartest person he’s ever known, a woman who could instantly recall any passage out of any book she had read. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and says he once wrote a thousand pages of poetry. He wrote other pieces as well, leading to a publishing company inquiring after his services. They wouldn’t give him an advance, so he didn’t write for them.


He speaks German. He worked for the railroad (and in my wife’s hometown, no less). He played football and basketball and baseball and now he has switched to pool and chess with buddies at the senior center and the AmVets. Football and chess are very similar, he says.


I tell him he should write again, that I would read it for him. He says he can’t, that he hasn’t done it in years and there’s not much left in his head. I tell him I bet there is. He says that in his life, he’s been beaten with crowbars, hammers and baseball bats, and that takes a toll. He doesn’t say why he was beaten or who beat him.


He eats politely, but with some urgency, with a quiet need – he has to get the food down while he can, while it’s there.


He knows the others here, the retired pastor who just moved back to town (and who is eating straight margarine with a plastic knife), the tall, good-humored man who brought in a few ears of corn to share with his friends, the five Mexican kids who laugh and joke and give high fives and play like they don’t have a care in the world but they must because their grandmother is raising them, the nicely dressed ones, the bedraggled ones, the woman who asks me to pray because her 14-year old daughter just ran away again and she doesn’t know where she is, the older woman who came early and wants the spaghetti sauce jars to take home and asks for one to be filled with coffee. I load the box of jars in her car, which is filthy, filled with stale bread and doughnuts and crumbs and flies and trash.


They sit in this church basement, eat their salad and spaghetti and garlic bread and brownie on paper plates, drink their lemonade and water and coffee, and they’re grateful. They’re momentarily full, able to relax. What will tomorrow be like?


Roy picks up his blue baseball hat, says he enjoyed my presence and hopes I’ll be there next week. He swings quickly out, heading to play chess.


We can give them food. We can come back and build relationships and try to share the Gospel. We can fill their stomachs. But God must fill their hearts.