Wednesday, May 27, 2009


When a book grabs me before I have read the tenth page, I know I am in for a treat. I began reading Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy by Joseph Schumpeter just yesterday. I have only been able to put it down because I knew I had other obligations. Still, I am captivated by the insight of this great economist. He realized before WWII was over that the Soviet Union - not Germany or Japan - stood as the greatest threat to democracy (and, one might argue, to freedom). He realized before the war ended that Germany and Japan needed to become allies to the US in order to hold off Soviet expansion. These truths seem obvious to the detached observer looking back over the six plus decades since he published his book, but at the time they were so controversial that he had to mask them cleverly throughout the book. He masked some of it so well, in fact, that many readers took him to be a defender of (and believer in) socialism.

His ideas are still groundbreaking today. As one article put it in 2000, "The greatest economist of our time died fifty years ago." He understood that facism, socialism, and capitalism could not stand together, but none of the three could destroy the other. In short, the man had a keen grasp of the dangerous future the world had in store. The introduction to this latest edition explains how visionary he was.

His first section of the book, however, would have grabbed my attention without the introduction. He explains the doctrine of Marx - yes, Karl Marx - and calls him a prophet of a religion. When I compare his words to the attitude of most socialists I have met, I see exactly what he meant. Socialists see an ideal world waiting for us all - if we would all agree to follow socialism together. Those who do not agree are heretics, sinners of the worst kind. Having argued with many socialists, I can see where Schumpeter got such a notion. Socialists have their doctrine and - in most cases - it does not matter whether it agrees with logic, disregards human nature, or calls upon irrational behavior. It is simply right. How true it is that socialism becomes a religion. As I continue to read the book, I may feel inclined to write more on this subject, but the first chapter already has me nodding my head so vigorously that I couldn't help but put up a post about it. I am excited to read the section detailing how socialism can work (or how it doesn't). I am sure I will want to post about that one.

-- Robert

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Family, Like Olive Garden - Part Two

Today my wife gave our daughter her choice of restaurant while we were on a shopping trip. She picked Olive Garden, so we agreed to go there. Our table was right next to a couple who we used to live around the corner from in our old house - and who just so happen to be LDS. We chatted between tables here and there, and something about the church came up in our conversation. They left before us, and a couple seated at the table in the opposite direction got up shortly thereafter. The wife of the couple leaned over and said, "I picked up from your conversation that you are Mormon," then paused just a beat before saying, "We are, too."

Then in the brief conversation that followed, we even realized my wife knew them. So in the course of just one week, we proved that the LDS Church is indeed family - and we did it at Olive Garden.

-- Robert

Friday, May 22, 2009

Graduation Day

Today is graduation day for the high school here in town. It reminds me of various graduation days past. I remember my high school, when people stood up and yelled "we survived!" meaning no one in our class died (first class to survive all four years without a death in about a decade). I remember my undergraduate graduation with Ted Turner's speech, "Hey, look at me: I've made millions with cable companies, I own the Braves, and you could do that, too... except we're all going to be blown up by the North Koreans before you get the chance! Happy Graduation!" (I swear that's a paraphrase of his entire speech). I remember my Masters graduation when my friend we all elected to give our speech used conference talks to give great advice to us.

Graduation days have a way of making a profound image in our lives, "Something big happened there." The fact is, though, it happened in the preceding days, months, and years. The date itself is simply a marker of completion. It stands as a demarcation, "Before this date, I did not have..." and "After this date, I had...." whatever recognition was received. They are beautiful moments in many cases, truly, but they are not where the achievement happens. They're mile markers in the road map of life. After school, such mile markers become more vague, or at least more personal. Wedding dates, the births of children, passing important tests... those all stand out to the few people involved, but they hold little importance to anyone else.

Lives begin to take their own paths. Certainly roads can occasionally cross, or even merge for a time, but each family - and within it, each individual - begins to cut its own way through the world. My mind has been on such things a lot lately, as we prepare to leave this familiar road we've been on for so long and head off into the great unknown. Our little family will quickly be on five different paths - me at school, my daughter at school, my wife possibly at school, and my sons continuing to progress at home until they start school, too. We will each find new milestones on our own, some of which we will share and care about together, but many of which will be extremely personal. I look forward to that future. I also realize we must take great care not to lose each other along the way.

-- Robert

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Roof's On!

It sounds a lot like "soup's on" in my head. Seeing a picture of our new house with the windows in and the roof on made it feel a lot like we could move on in. I realize the inside is the slow part, but still, it's nice to know things are coming together. And fast. My wife's blog shows a picture here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Family... Like Olive Garden

Last night was Family Night at Chick-fil-A, so we took the kids to let them play while my wife got her hair done. I was happily holding the baby while he watched the zoo going on through the glass - obviously, other families had a similar idea to ours. Off to my left I kept hearing something I have learned to pick out of almost any crowd: a Utah accent. More accurately it might be called a Utah-Idaho accent or Wasatch front accent, but I associate it primarily with Utah because that is where I first heard it. I can tell when a customer service agent is from Utah. I pegged one of the loan agents in Texas for having grown up in Utah - and he left fifteen or twenty years ago. In a strange way, it makes me think of home, probably because so much of my wife's family lives or has lived out there.

So I kept hearing that accent. I kept cocking my head to see who it was without being overtly rude. I'm just a curious person by nature. I figured out it belonged to the woman at the table beside us, but I didn't think I should just blurt out, "What's someone from Utah doing in south Georgia?" After all, that reminds me far too much of a popular phrase my wife and I both hear far too often, "Ye ain' from 'roun' here, er ya?" (okay, it is rarely said with such distinctive backwater tones, but it still has that ring to it).

Instead, I thought I would let the moment pass without comment. Then she and her family were preparing to leave and she said, "He is such a happy baby." or something along those lines. My son is indeed a very sweet natured child, and I said, "This is about how fussy he gets," he was not even making a sound, "I think that's just the way third children are."

She picked up on what I said and told me she and her husband were both third children. She pointed out her third daughter happened to be sitting there when I said it. I said, "I'm a third, but that doesn't count because I'm the baby. My wife is the baby, too, but she's the youngest of nine." Again the woman noticed what I said and mentioned she was third of eight and her husband was third of nine. I said, "You probably hear a lot of 'Are you Catholic?' then 'Are you farmers?' and finally 'Are you Mormon?'"

She said, "Are you Mormon?" and I said I was, so she said "We are, too!"

As it turned out, they were a couple that our friends had been telling us about for weeks. We had several common connections beyond just being members of the church. It turned into a thirty-plus minute conversation of how we all came to be where we are, how we each met our spouses, and how we'd met our common friends. In the course of that chat, the husband said, "The church is like one big family... like Olive Garden." I got a kick out of that line. How true it is, though. I didn't assume they were Mormon because they were from Utah. I didn't even presume to say anything to them just because they sounded different from the locals. Still, just because of a common bond we share, simple chit-chat about children turned into something much more. I have had more wonderful conversations with people in even more random locations because of a shared faith. Just such a conversation led me to find the school where I am meant to finish my education. I feel blessed to be a part of something like the LDS Church.

-- Robert

Friday, May 15, 2009

Vibrance of Youth

Last night, I had a wonderful conversation with a young man I haven't seen in a while. He is about to start taking piano lessons from my wife. In his eyes, I saw something I hadn't seen in him for a while: hope. A vision of the future, perhaps. Whatever it was, it clearly had changed his coutenance, and I was glad of it. He has always been a "good" kid, so it was hard to see him going through a rough time, but now he seems to have decided to do some things for himself instead of for "the crowd". Instead of playing every sport available, he wants to focus on becoming a musician and acting with the drama department at school. He even has a plan for where he wants to go to college and what he wants to do when he gets there. I was glad to hear it. I told him that a sailboat on the water without a plan will go whichever way the wind blows, but if its captain has a plan he knows which way to trim the sails. So many people wander aimlessly through life, letting forces outside of themselves dictate their paths. Clearly this young man still has a lot of years ahead of him before he can accomplish the plan he has set in place, but I hope, and more importantly believe, he can. Focus of purpose is powerful, and desire is even better.

How did I conclude he was serious about his plan? As we were about to part, my wife's friend mentioned a book in our presence, How Full Is Your Bucket, and I told him a little bit about it. Then I told him about another book written by the same author, Strengthsfinder 2.0, and then another one for youth called Strengths Explorer. He said, "I would love to read that book, and with summer coming up, I've got plenty of time to do it." Someone who really wants to accomplish a goal tends to look for resources to do so. When I suggested he might find some insights into his plan by reading those books, he jumped at the chance. That's how I knew he was serious, and that's why I feel confident he can achieve his goals.

He also invigorated me because that conversation is just the sort I hope to be having with future students when I become a professor. I know that is my calling in life, to inspire others to greater heights. I am excited for that future.

-- Robert

P.S. Yes, I realize this is the longest period I've had without a post on this blog. I've had a lot going on at work and in life as we prepare for our move. We've got less than two months before we leave, and I've got a lot to accomplish in that time.