Sunday, July 29, 2007

Thank you, Coach

This year one of Waco's greatest coaches retires. Next year one of Waco's greatest will be missed. But not by us. Yesterday we, who were a ragamuffin and ragaknot collection of former runners of this coach, celebrated in a small and large way the great career of Bill Farmer, Midway High School track and cross country coach. And what a great experience it was for me, and for all of us.

Bill Farmer coached cross country beginning in 1981 and has coached the sport, in some form or fashion, for the past 27 years. Now the head track and cross country coach for the girls teams, coach will retire after one more year having brought his team to the state championship meet 11 times in 28 years. Though his team never won the title he did have teams finish 2nd, 3rd (twice), and 4th, and had seven men finish top ten at the state meet. Though remarkable, we thought this was the least of what he did. Certainly he would agree.

This morning, as I was being exhorted by Paul to open my heart wide I could not help but reflect on this man. His steady demeanor was marked by an unflinching care and deep love for his runners. A runner's promise on the track had little bearing upon how coach treated us. His slowest runner and fastest harrier were to him teammates worthy of equal attention. Likewise, his most difficult and most disciplined athletes were to him both kids in need of equal love. He displayed a gentle and balanced spirit, save the time he exploded at a runner's parents and dates as the runner sobbed on the course at the district meet. His affections toward us neither waned nor needed any ignition.

This man we loved back because he taught us much ourselves and life and yesterday I was honored to be among the 47 former kids of his who were able to celebrate his career. In that crowd were significant accomplishments including state champions (individual cross country and track), All-Americans, bank Vice Presidents, partners in law firms, etc., but none of these meant anything to us. None of the men present flaunted their accomplishments and none of the less accomplished runners looked with awe at the men grown out of the pictures hanging by the locker room door beside each of the school records. (Previously, every one of us had stared with awe at the scrawny likes of Todd Copeland and Paul Stoneham.) We had a single bond and a single purpose. Yesterday we were united together as 47 men honoring our coach just as much as any of us were united in purpose any of the crisp mornings of the district meet*.

Many events, good and bad, I have forgotten already in life. Some are remembered after a friend calls and tells the story he can't believe you forgot. Some are remembered looking among old photographs and the various lore of past days. And some are not forgotten. Coach has not been forgotten--not by us, his harriers. Not by us, his kids. He said what he needed, which was sometimes nothing at all, but we always understood what he taught. In the biographical book prepared for the celebration we had opportunity to remark about our experiences and what coach meant to us. Some who had run in college remarked that he was the best coach they'd ever had. I remarked that he taught me how who you are means more to your team's success than how fast you are. In the end we all ended up saying the same thing. I guess we just paid attention to what coach said. And we remembered. And we will not forget. Thank you, coach, for running us hard, coaching us well, and teaching us how to live.

[*I've had much to reflect in these two days and of the thoughts I've had is that the realized unity of the church of Christ must be a great event, if the realized unity of our group is any true harbinger. Being that the good on this earth is of the favor of God and usually little more than the shadow of his righteousness, the culmination of humanity into the fullness of the age to come will be some experience beyond any possible description, and one which may possibly take an eternity to experience in its entirety.]

Thursday, July 19, 2007

What you can learn for $0.21

I stopped to buy gas at the Valero (which I always think is supposed to be Vaquero) and also picked up a drink before making my next stop for work yesterday. I, probably like you, usually pick up a 20 oz drink because it's easy and normal. When I tried to buy a 20 oz Dr Pepper for $1.29, the girl at the counter offered a 1-liter (33 oz) for $1.11. Knowing I didn't need that much I decided that I would get a 12 oz can, but then the counter-girl countered that after tax that can is $1 (or at least very close) and I relented and paid $1.21 for 33 oz of Dr Pepper. For those of you scoring at home, I essentially paid $1 for the first 12 oz and $0.01 each for the remaining 21 oz.

Here's what I think I learned for $0.21 that I probably wouldn't have noticed otherwise. The company (I'll be generic since I don't know which company is most instrumental in determining the price) is more concerned that you buy a unit of product (I'll be generic here too, since most soft drinks are priced this way) than how much product is in that unit. Likewise, you and I are more concerned with consuming a unit of product on the scale of our desire more than matching up individual preferences to fit the scale of our budget. We, and the company knows this, will make decisions to purchase more because of ease and habit (plastic, screw-top is better than aluminum can, and who really needs 33 oz?) than small fluctuations in price. In specific terms, this product has some level of inelasticity, since price (along a small scale) has little to do with our decision to purchase the product.

Also, and maybe more importantly, the product is in some manner of speaking worthless. The first 12 oz I bought cost $.083 each, but the remaining 21 oz cost only $0.01 each. How much we buy doesn't matter, so long as we buy. This also means that how much we buy doesn't affect the cost in any appreciable way. It seems to me then, that the cost of producing this product is all in marketing and delivering this product and not in the product itself.

Did I gladly buy nothing yesterday?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Art and the Gospel

I've got theories on everything. Most of them I keep inside, knowing that the sane don't care to know them and the others won't listen anyway. Many of these theories are built around disciplines about which I don't really know a lot. I guess this is related to my desire to be an economist, which is essentially a job that employs you to think about other peoples jobs and ideas. And I very seldom speak in such a public manner about the gospel, mostly because I'm quite afraid to speak untruth, but I think we can learn a few things about the gospel by learning a few things about art.

A few weeks ago my wife, son, and aunt-in-law (and I) went to the Dallas Museum of Art. This is a fun event and though I know little about art I'm neither profoundly emotionally discomforted nor extensively frustrated by my lack of interpretation when observing art. In most cases, I just like it.

But that's not to say it is easy to view art. After just a few hours viewing American, European, and contemporary art, rushing past the African and Asian exhibits, I've got an overwhelming headache that is simply attributed to over-stimulation from all the exhibits. This, and the time constraint that is attached to any out-of-town event, is really the reason I rush past the African and Asian exhibits. I don't have any energy left to contemplate them and these exhibits deserve the most thought.

What is always interesting to me is observing my rational and natural response to such exhibits. I counter thoughts of isn't this quite primitive with the understanding that all art is a cultural representation and my misunderstanding of these "primitive" pieces is really my great misunderstanding of the cultures they represent.

Really, this is what causes my headache in the galleries I can attend. I'm constantly, though subconsciously, trying to interpret these pieces in light of the cultural context (which I know a little better) but this rapid interpretation and appreciation (for which 30 seconds is too short and 2 minutes is too much for my brain to handle) is really more than I can process. If I can't really appreciate art from the cultures I best know (because I really don't have a great understanding of cultural history) then how can I really appreciate art from cultures I don't understand?

I've never seen the Jesus video, so I don't plan to make any sweeping statements about that evangelistic effort, but I know that many people who support this effort and many efforts similar and dissimilar because they believe that Jesus transcends culture and therefore art about Jesus transcends culture. The first statement I believe is absolutely true, but the second statement I believe is absolutely false and... may essentially void some forms of the first statement.

Art, being a profound visual representation of culture and idea makes a great medium for the movement of ideas where speech and experience fail. But it seems to me that if I am ill-prepared to understand the historical and modern art of a people from across the world (or even across the street) then I am ill-prepared to create art to distribute to that people as a representation of the idea of Christ.

Even as that last sentence reminds me of my failure, I am reminded that an image of Christ, which may be portrayed adequately through such a medium, is not the fullness of Christ any more than the sixty-six books of the canon are the fullness of Christ. If these stories are no more than a shadow of the nature of Christ (within which the fullness may be reflected but not stagnantly depicted) then our best-guided efforts at evangelism must be understood to be at best a reflection of that shadow.

If this rambling has become too long, let me end with this. A friend at school in Minneapolis tells me of debates he has had with like-hearted (but obviously different-minded) men about whether the gospel can be represented in art--specifically in an untranslated or wordless video. In some manner this is brave, yet not brave enough, and I am not sure that this evangelism will persist when the breeze of the culture that brought it has passed.

Often I have listened or read of evangelistic efforts and wondered how many people became worshipers of Jesus, the Christ, and how many became worshipers of the culture that brought this idea that was presented. The evangelism of the gospel of Christ is no small matter (and one about which I hope that these open-ended thoughts are not confused with condemnation), but I suppose that a little more staring and contemplating of "primitive" art would do me good. And maybe my ability to reflect the gospel as well.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

What to do if your 4th generation iPod gives you a sad face

If you've already followed the sad-face instructions at Apple support, then maybe you should just shake it. Really, it worked for me.

[This may not work for video, photo, shuffle, and the earliest iPods]

Is 10mpg always 10mpg?

Or to put it a different way, is the difference between 20 and 30 mpg the same as the difference between 30 and 40 mpg? Well, the difference is 10mpg, right? Maybe not. Let me paraphrase a Car Talk Puzzler to explain.

Buff Barry drives a rather big truck that gets roughly 8 mpg while his wife, Gentle Gina drives a Prius that gets near 50 mpg. Gina is interested in a new Smart car which gets almost 100 mpg* but Barry spoke to his mechanic who said that she doesn't need a new car and for a few hundred dollars he could adjust the timing and probably get Barry's fuel economy to increase to 10 mpg. Which should they choose?

[It should be noted that Smart makes electric cars, and is only used here because I couldn't think of a better car. Also, unless Barry's mechanic listens to car talk or is Matt Damon, it's unlikely he would really know the answer to this problem.]

The answer is that improving gas mileage from 8 to 10 is far better than switching from 50 to 100. This doesn't seem so, because we look at the values 2mpg and 50mpg and conclude that saving 50mpg is 25 times better than saving 2mpg. Think of it from this perspective: knowing that the average American drives 12,000 miles per year. If Gina drives that far in her Prius then she buys 240 gallons of gas. If she gets a new car then she gases up half as much and only buy 120 gallons of gas. Barry, on the other hand, is always at the pump. Getting only 8mpg, he buys 1,500 gallons to drive 12,000 miles. If his mechanic could increase his fuel economy by 2mpg (to 10) then he'd only purchase 1,200 gallons per year, saving him 300 gallons of gas.

So there it is. Increasing 2mpg for Barry saves him almost three times as much gas as if Gina increased her fuel economy by 50mpg. Interesting, but what does that really mean? That maybe the numbers are more important where we are least concerned. Tom and Ray give the Accord Hybrid a poor review because its fuel economy is much worse than the Camry and Altima Hybrids, specifically in the city. And while 7mpg is no small matter (average fuel economy is 27mpg for the Accord and 34 for the other two, 91 gallons per 12,000 miles driven), other comparisons may be lacking. Comparing four common trucks shows that apparently small differences in mpg are... well larger than they appear. The Lincoln Mark LT (Ford's luxury truck), Chevy's Silverado, the Honda Ridgeline AWD, and the GMC Sierra Hybrid average 14, 15, 17, and 17 mpg respectively. These small differences amount to 857, 800, and 706 gallons per 12,000 miles. Here 3 mpg difference in these trucks amounts to nearly double the 7 mpg difference in the hybrid cars.

So when is 10mpg 10mpg and when is it not? I don't know, but while trying to figure it out, read the government's suggestions on saving fuel.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Happy July 5th!

It doesn't look like Tim got a mug

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

For whom the toll tolls

Here is a great read from the NY Times about electronic toll monitoring and what effect that has on drivers, known or unknown.

[Sure, but the NY Times is a pinko paper, some of you might object. Well, I found this article through Greg Mankiw, and he's no pinko, so don't be worried that your voting habits will change from reading just this article.]

Now who can read that and not want to go study public policy?