29 December 2008

Playing Games

Today, I was faced with a dilemma. As you are probably aware, I try to live my life by the standard of living set forth in the Bible, and specifically, the New Testament. Thus, if put to the question, I would affirm that I believe the following command to be from God Himself:

"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." (Col. 3:1-2)

On the face of it, this statement may appear to express a fairly innocuous and straightforward religious statement: spiritual things are more significant than physical ones. Nonetheless, it contains a principle that goes beyond this point, both in its scope and in its range of applicability -- namely, godliness is to be pursued before all earthly things. Thus, any activity is meaningless unless it somehow benefits one spiritually.

As someone who loves to play games, I find myself resisting this particular command. Yes, certainly discipline with godliness as the end result is a valuable thing to pursue, but what about the joy of planning one's strategy? The pleasure in playing one's cards in the best possible configuration? The thrill that comes with a hard-earned victory? Surely there must be some value in these things.

What, then? Should Christians eliminate from their lives every recreation and pastime except spiritual disciplines like fasting, silence, and prayer? Should I stop playing Spades and instead memorize Psalms so that I can recite a Psalm every four hours throughout the day? (I am not being overdramatic; some people actually do this.)

I think what I have established above is a false dichotomy of the physical in conflict with the spiritual. For those of us who must live real, everyday lives on earth, there can be no true separation of the two. Somehow, we must learn to live in a way that meets our physical obligations and needs as well as our spiritual ones. The balance is a fine one, but I believe it can be attained.

Instead of giving games up completely (which, in some ways, would be the easy way out), I am under the conviction that God wants me to use gaming to strengthen His hold on my life and to advance His kingdom. So what does that look like in practical terms?

Before answering that, I should probably address the question of what it means to play games. In a nutshell, I think it means to suspend one's disbelief and accept the rules of the game as absolute. There can be no transgression of them, regardless of how arbitrary they are (or seem to be). Moreover, a gamer must maintain a balance between realizing that the game is "just a game" and treating the gameplay as a vitally important activity (even though its importance springs solely from the fact that all the other players accept this seemingly arbitrary activity as important, too).

A game, then, provides the Christian with several valuable opportunities for spiritual discipline. Firstly, as with all human activities, it is a place to cultivate the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Just as there is no law against these qualities, no game contains rules preventing the exercise of these attributes in word or deed. In some ways, a game is a better place than others to practice these things, because the risk is lower and the expectation of receiving these things is also lower (depending on who one's gaming partners are, of course). Regardless of the risk, though, gamers can clearly see when their counterparts are exercising grace, so games are an ideal place to practice these disciplines.

Secondly, games are a good place to learn how to place oneself in a position of humility. James tells us that God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. When we play games, we learn important lessons, such as the fact that there are always more losers than winners and that winning is often a very artificial construction, and these facts can aid us in seeing that the vast majority of temporal successes are ultimately meaningless. Consequently, our success in these temporal matters is equally unimportant. Therefore, rather than exalting ourselves because we have gained ephemeral triumphs, we learn to diminish our own importance in light of our relative insignificance in the cosmos.

Thirdly, games help us to understand our own agency. We have choices about how we act and what we choose to do, but we are also at the mercy of other people's decisions, as well as circumstances outside our control. Games help us to gain a healthier view of reality, and for Christians, this should translate into a healthy respect for God's sovereignty and our own inability to make everything right by ourselves.

Games, then, should be more than just a waste of time for those who follow Christ. They provide a forum to grow, to discipline oneself, and, ultimately, to live out one's convictions. For those of us who have committed ourselves to setting our hearts on things above, they are a wonderful proving ground and a place to improve our spiritual conditions while simultaneously enjoying an aspect of our physical existences here on earth.

What do you think? I'd love to hear. :-)

28 December 2008

Conversation with Marshwiggle

Sometimes, we have funny IM conversations at work.

Marshwiggle [3:47 PM]:
Did you hear about Blagojevich?

Marshwiggle [3:47 PM]:
it appears they finally got him for asking for money/jobs/something for appointing whoever to teh now vacant Obama seat.

Luaphacim [3:55 PM]:

Luaphacim [3:55 PM]:
I heard about that...

Luaphacim [3:56 PM]:
I think he should repent and appoint a scoutmaster to the seat

Luaphacim [3:56 PM]:
and then the scoutmaster can reform American politics with his boyish charm and populist ideals

Luaphacim [3:56 PM]:
while nearly falling prey to the wiles of a worldly-wise female journalist

Luaphacim [3:57 PM]:
but triumphing in the end and going on to become George Bailey, the richest man in town

Marshwiggle [4:00 PM]:
hmm.. naw, there's some weird religious aspect to that dude.. sees angels and bunnies.

Luaphacim [4:00 PM]:

Luaphacim [4:00 PM]:

Luaphacim [4:00 PM]:
that could be a PR nightmare

Happy New Year to you, dear readers... IN JAIL!

22 November 2008

Meme Meme Meme

No time for substance!

The meme is via the Eavesdrop Writer Blog, which normally doesn't contain memes. Nonetheless, it must have caught the Vivienne's fancy as it has caught mine. (Incidentally, it's a pretty interesting blog and you should go there sometime.)

Here's the deal:
(1) Grab the nearest book
(2) open the book to page 56
(3) find the fifth sentence
(4) post the text of the next two to five sentences
(5) don’t dig for your favorite book. Pick the closest
(6) tag five people to do the same

Note that if you dig around for your favorite book, it ruins the whole point of the thing. It must be the book that is spacially closest to you.

The nearest book is The Art of the Essay, edited by Lydia Fakundiny. I was recently re-reading this with fond memories of my non-fiction creative writing class at KU.

The essay is Benjamin Franklin's "The Ephemera". [This is the conclusion of the ephemera's soliloquy. I have linked to the full text above in case you want to read the rest of this short but insightful essay.]

"To me, after all my eager pursuits, no solid pleasures now remain, but the reflection of a long life spent in meaning well, the sensible conversation of a few good lady ephemera and now and then a kind smile, and a tune from the ever-amiable Brillante."

How very Franklinian. Happy weekend, dear readers! I figure that five people will read this, if I am lucky, so I tag you all.

16 November 2008

I Shall Wear the Bottoms of My Trousers Rolled

As you may have noticed in my last few posts, I am beginning to come to grips with my mortality. This is especially true because the news of my high cholesterol came as I was fighting the tail end of a vicious cold. The next week, my foot swelled up for no apparent reason, causing me quite a bit of pain for a few days. In a word, I felt like I was falling apart.

Considering my mortality has been a difficult thing for me, for a number of reasons.

First and foremost is that, in many ways, I still feel like a child. I like riding in the folded-down backseat of a station wagon at night while someone else drives and I go to sleep. I like ice cream. I like having as little responsibility as possible. I am surrounded by wondrous things, and I like not knowing how they all work (because as soon as the knowledge comes, the wonder dissipates).

Children, however, do not need to worry about cholesterol or cardiovascular disease. When children stub a toe or bruise a knee, they do not need a week to recover enough to go up and down the stairs without grunting. Most children seem not to get sickness that lasts for much longer than a weekend, and very few of them continue to hack and cough for the next month.

Secondly, I have always felt reasonably healthy. You know, like the kind of healthy that doesn't need angioplasty or a Rascal scooter. It is, therefore, disappointing to learn that my poor lifestyle choices have had negative consequences. Who knew that a lifetime of eating fats, carbs, and other delicious things could have such negative consequences? (Answer: me, but I didn't really know-know until the doctor told me I could die from doing this.)

Thirdly, I find that the idea of death bothers me. Not because I fear death, but because I would be leaving behind the woman I love and a large family of brothers, sisters, and parents who would presumably mourn my passing. It hurts to think that they might be in emotional pain and I would not be in any position to provide them with comfort -- or, indeed, with anything other than stiffness, decay and possibly diseases, at that point.

For all these reasons, I have been thinking a lot about my mortality and how I should act in light of it. And, of course, these lines from Dylan Thomas came to mind:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

So here is what I have done today in an effort to rage against the dying of the light:

1.) Listened to rock instead of classical while cutting coupons this afternoon
2.) Felt my foot beginning to swell up again and determined that I would give it a reason to swell up, so went to the gym
3.) Lifted weights entirely too much while at the gym, despite my knowledge that my whole chest will be throbbing all day tomorrow as a result
4.) Stacked the pillows differently while making my bed
5.) Wore my slippers out of the house
6.) Pushed my Toyota Camry's 4-cylinder engine up past 3,000 RPMs while getting on the highway (normally, I don't like taking it up much past 2,500)
7.) Choreographed an especially daring "chair dance" to do tomorrow, in case my foot becomes too swollen up to go for a run
8.) Didn't wear a belt with my jeans tonight

How is that for daring to disturb the universe? (Or at least daring to eat a peach?)

12 November 2008

Sometimes, the Song Stuck in Your Head Isn't a Real Song

Q. What do you get when you cross this

with this?

A. The song that was going through my head all day long yesterday. No, I don't really know why. Yes, I am a little frightened.

06 November 2008

The Wages of Peanut M&Ms is Death!

I have been craving Peanut M&Ms all day long. And I am a little tired of it, believe you me.

It doesn't help that Peanut M&Ms are easily obtainable. Seriously, I don't even have to buy them. They are located:

* In the hand-painted "M&M" bowl that someone gave to Mrs. Luaphacim and me on the occasion of our marriage (yes, our names both start with "M." Get it?). Said bowl sits conveniently atop the microwave on the way to the refrigerator (in which we keep the food I can actually eat).

* On the desk of one of my co-workers, with whom I have been sitting for about two hours per day in order to train him on calculating taxable gains. Sometimes he eats them, and the lovely aroma wafts by my nose in an unbearably delicious-smelling fashion.

* On top of a filing cabinet I pass each time I go to the bathroom. (Which is frequently, as I have been drinking a lot of water to control my appetite.) They are so inviting, and yet so full of carbs and fats...

In short, it gets to be unbearable sometimes. The only thing that keeps me from buckling under this enormous temptation is envisioning my own bloated, cholesterol-saturated corpse lying in the middle of a large, empty room with scattered handfuls of peanut M&Ms colorfully festooning the floor around me.

Two tough-looking, hard-boiled detectives are examining the scene.

Detective 1 takes a long drag on his cigarette. "So, what do you think got him?"

Detective 2 is silhouetted by backlighting from around the corner as he sticks his hands in the pockets of his trench coat. "I think it's pretty obvious."

"Yeah." Detective 1 shakes his head. "Why do they always think they can beat the M&Ms?" He blows an impressive smoke ring toward my cadaver. "When will they ever learn?" The smoke ring settles dramatically upon my bulging stomach.

Detective 2 takes out his Glock 19 9 mm and inspects its 15-round magazine. "It didn't have to be like this, you know." He hears a sudden movement in the corner of the warehouse and fires off a shot into the shadows. "He could've eaten carrots instead, and we never would've had to come and clean up this mess."

"It's always the carrots that drive them to the M&Ms. I've seen it a dozen times," says Detective 1 as he drops his cigarette butt, grinds it with his heel, and dives to cover just in time to avoid a burst of fire from the Uzi-toting terrorist across the room. Rounds of 9x19 mm Parabellum hollow points shred the packing crate behind him.

Detective 2 lobs a grenade over at the intruder, and after the explosion, lights a cigarette of his own. "It's a shame, a 27-year-old kid like that. Well, I guess we're about wrapped up here."

As they leave the building, Detective 1 sets a Demolition Charge M183 next to a load-bearing support beam, and shortly thereafter, I am entombed in the rubble of the warehouse, never to be seen again.

So that is how I have been avoiding Peanut M&Ms.

My one ray of sunshine in this diet is that I actually can eat some meat (yes, I know I said I was becoming a vegetarian, but I was mistaken). It might keep me out of the abandoned warehouse for another few weeks, anyway.

04 November 2008

Give Me Vegetables or Give Me Death (Literally)

First, as a former teacher of freshman composition, I should note that the title of this post is not entirely original.

Second, I should note that I was going to blog about the election, and after about 20 seconds of effort, I realized that:
a.) too many people will be doing that tonight, and I should not lay a further burden upon the Inter-nets with my woefully unskilled political comments,
b.) no amount of ranting on my part would cause a substantial change in the outcome, except to drive my blood pressure higher, thus creating more health problems for President-elect Obama to deal with, and
c.) I don't actually care about the election, because, in retrospect, it was merely a matter of whether our once-great nation would be driven to its inevitable perdition in a red hearse or a blue one.

Nevertheless, I still felt like writing, so I decided to write on the thing I have been pondering for the past several days: my own mortality. And believe me, there is nothing like a physical examination to make one ponder one's own mortality.

Why, you may ask, was I taking a physical exam in the first place? Simple: it was free, and I am much, much too cheap to turn down any (potentially) valuable thing that is offered for free. Which I am sure is why my place of employment offers free physical exams -- to get cheapskates like me to come in so they can identify my defects and cure them using the wonders of Medical Science.

The first thing that made me consider my mortality was the doctor's ginger examination of certain reproductive organs that may or may not have been in my possession. She informed me that such examinations should be occurring at LEAST monthly in order to detect testicular cancer in its early stages. Naturally, I was worried. I had never performed such an examination before, and neither had anyone else -- what if the cancer had come, gone, and dried up all my future generations, unbeknownst to me?

And then there was my weight. The doctor informed me that this was my "biggest challenge." (She did not seem to be intending the pun.) As if I didn't know that? Hello, I administer life insurance policies. If I couldn't find my way around a standard mortality table, I think I would die of embarrassment (which, incidentally, is only a figure of speech; embarrassment does not substantially increase mortality rates as defined in the industry's standard tables. More discussion of mortality tables might follow in a later post).

But the real blow came this morning. I arrived at my cubicle, steaming mug of tea in my hand, and noticed a manila inter-office envelope sitting on my chair. Upon opening it, I saw a sheet with the following notations:

Blood Test -- Lipids
Triglycerides: 167 (Normal 0-149)
Total Cholesterol: 243 (Normal <200)
HDL (Good) Cholesterol: 40 (Normal 40-90)
LDL (Bad) Cholesterol: 170 (Normal 0-99)

As an over-achiever, I was not especially surprised to find that my scores on this test were generally well above average. Which is not to say that I was pleased with the results.

Along with these test results, my doctor had very thoughtfully included a stack of guilt-inducing brochures with titles like "Watching Your Cholesterol," "What's Your 'Desirable Weight'?", "Angioplasty 101," and "Heart Healthy Guide." I have always been a sucker for free brochures, so I read through Hope Health's very interesting "Watching Your Cholesterol" on my morning break.

I was delighted to learn within the very first paragraph that "You can't live without cholesterol." So far, so good, I thought.

"What was that?" my cube-neighbor asked.

"Nothing," I replied, resolving not to think out loud next time.

Alas, then came the bad news: "But you only need a little cholesterol." Dang.

"Your liver makes most of what your body needs." Double dang.

"Extra cholesterol has to go somewhere, so it gets dropped off in your arteries. ... The buildup of cholesterol in arteries is called plaque (plack). Over time, the plaque buildup can narrow and even block the arteries. This leads to heart disease and heart attack." OK, we are past "dang" now.

At this point, it should be noted that the above referenced plaque (plack) is not actually the same as the plaque (plack) that is removed from one's teeth during free semi-annual dental checkups.

It should also be noted that I am not sure why the writers of the brochure felt the need to add a pronunciation guide for plaque (plack), but I must say I am beginning to be rather fond of it.

Further, it should be noted that the word plaque (plack) also kind of looks like the word plague (plaig) if you sort of squint, but the pronunciation guides are completely different, so they are clearly distinct words.

"Why do you keep muttering 'plack'?" asked my nosy cube-neighbor. "And did you just switch to 'plaig'?"

"I think you're imagining things," I responded. "Get back to work."

And that, dear reader, is why I am on the cusp of becoming a vegetarian (hence the title of this post). Not so much because I am worried that I will die from high cholesterol (although the inexorable mortality tables would indicate that such an occurrence is likely), but because
1.) My wifey loves me and does not want a prematurely dead husband on her hands,
2.) I really should take care of this magnificent piece of biological machinery with which my Maker has endowed me, and
3.) Honestly, who really wants plaque (plack) to build up in his arteries?

Of course, I will be doing other things to lower my cholesterol as well. Exercising, for instance. Unfortunately, according to the height-weight chart my doctor enclosed in my packet, I am very close to morbidly obese. Thus, I was not sure whether I should go straight to something as strenuous as jogging for 30 minutes every day, or if I should work up to it gradually.

As I was browsing resources from the National Institutes of Health Weight-Control Information Network, I ran across the answer: Dancing. The perfect exercise for people who can't... stand up for long periods of time?! Really?! Yes, really:
You can dance in a health club, in a nightclub, or at home. To dance at home, just move your body to some lively music!

Dancing on your feet is a weight-bearing activity. Dancing while seated lets you move your arms and legs to music while taking the weight off your feet. This may be a good choice if you cannot stand on your feet for a long time.
So I guess I have found the solutions to my recently increased awareness of my mortality: Vegetarianism and Dancing While Seated. If nothing else, they should at least help to amuse me as I attempt to further delay my inevitable Shuffle Off of This Mortal Coil.

25 October 2008

Year-Old Haiku

More cobwebby stuff from my inbox: two haiku that I scribbled in my boredom during a long, stupid day of systems testing. I basically had to process a transaction on my system, and then telnet in to a unix server and run cycles to validate whether the transactions had pulled data from the correct tables. Yuck.

These were probably influenced pretty heavily by The Tale of Genji, which I was re-reading at the time.

Date: 10/2/2007.

Autumn rain, cloaklike,
Free of prejudice and spite,
Shrouds all -- none escapes.

Bleak white digits dance
Bottom-to-top on black screen.
-System error- (Death)

24 October 2008

Old Puns Never Die...

I am cleaning out my gmail box. Here is a punny IM monologue that I e-mailed myself from work on July 24, 2008, which makes it just about three months old today. Surprisingly, it does not seem to have improved with age. Happy Friday!
luaphacim [3:47 PM]:
hehe... so, you ever have one of those times when you are so punny that you just despise yourself?

luaphacim [3:47 PM]:
I had one of those times just now...

luaphacim [3:48 PM]:
the guy across from me was telling the girl who [phone] shadows him about a recent remodeling job his wife had done...

luaphacim [3:48 PM]:
she redid their kitchen...

luaphacim [3:48 PM]:
all new floors, cabinets, and countertops...

luaphacim [3:48 PM]:
he was under the impression that the countertops were genuine granite...

luaphacim [3:49 PM]:
they looked really nice, and he was pretty happy about it

luaphacim [3:49 PM]:
and then they were watching HGTV, and the lady on the show was talking about how they were using a budget composite rock for the countertops to kind of cut costs

luaphacim [3:49 PM]:
and my friend's wife remarked that they had done the same thing on their kitchen...

luaphacim [3:50 PM]:
he felt cheap and betrayed, because he had been under the impression that it was the genuine article

luaphacim [3:50 PM]:
at which point, I interjected, "Derek, it sounds like your problem was that you were taking it for granite."

29 September 2008

Meme from Magen

Here's a meme from my favorite blogger of all.

Instructions: Figure out your answers for each of the below questions. Put your answer into a Google image search. Grab the first interesting image for each answer, and post the images on your blog.

1.) The age you will be on your next birthday

2.) A place to which you'd like to travel

3.) Your favorite place

4.) Your favorite person

5.) Your favorite food

6.) Your favorite animal

7.) The town in which you were born

8.) The name of a past pet

9.) The first name of a past love

10.) Your favorite color

11.) Your first name

12.) Your middle name

13.) Your last name

27 September 2008

Work-Related Humorz

In order to appreciate the following IM conversation, you need to know several things about my place of employment:

1.) We deal with a LOT of old people
2.) Many of these old people, for reasons best known to themselves, found it necessary to purchase an ungodly number of whole life policies. You know, as opposed to purchasing, say, one policy with a higher face amount and probably lower premiums. I tend to blame unethical insurance agents, but maybe that's just me.
3.) We do not have an automated way to quote future policy dividends and other values. This means we have to write these letters manually. Using complex spreadsheets. Until our eyes start bleeding.
4.) Our standard values projection letter is five years out, but we don't have a maximum time frame if the customer requests it (which they, regrettably, do with alarming frequency).

I have, of course, altered certain elements of the below conversation for readability and to protect the not-so-innocent. Happy Saturday!

Luaphacim [8:54 AM]:
why is it always the people with 5 policies that want value projections through 2030?

Cube neighbor [8:54 AM]:
i dont know, but it really is always those people

Luaphacim [8:54 AM]:

Luaphacim [8:55 AM]:
it's like there is an inverse relationship between number of policies and reasonableness of requests

Cube neighbor [8:56 AM]:

Luaphacim [9:23 AM]:
I came up with a possible solution

Cube neighbor [9:23 AM]:

Luaphacim [9:23 AM]:
people who have more than one policy are addicted to life insurance...

Luaphacim [9:23 AM]:
they can't live without it

Luaphacim [9:24 AM]:
they have to have more and more to satiate their desires

Luaphacim [9:24 AM]:
they order endless policy projections to analyze their toys

Cube neighbor [9:24 AM]:

Cube neighbor [9:24 AM]:

Luaphacim [9:25 AM]:
they have what state-of-the-art 19th century psychiatrists might call a "mania"

Cube neighbor [9:25 AM]:

Luaphacim [9:26 AM]:
hehehe *Note: This was audible*

Luaphacim [9:26 AM]:
this guy is going to have a whole wardrobe

Luaphacim [9:26 AM]:
You SO just made me LOL.

Cube neighbor [9:27 AM]:
I heard.

Yeah, that's my life.

25 August 2008

funney = true

Chuckle of the day:
I saw it on a T-shirt.

29 July 2008

On Mondays

Sometimes, you know it will be an inauspicious Monday before you even get out of the car and trudge up the hill to your office building.

Yesterday, I was running late and on low blood sugar. I had cooked up some spaghetti for our Monday and Tuesday lunches and doled them out into 4 plastic containers, trying my best to divide the spaghetti evenly among them (388 calories each). This activity kept me from eating my morning Cheerios, which really can leave me in a bad mood. To make matters worse, I could only find 3 lids, so I slapped some plastic wrap on the fourth container and figured I would take it to lunch that day in order to just get it out of the way.

I rushed to work, having left home about 10 minutes after I normally do. And, being who I am, I was stewing the whole way there over how late I was going to be. As I whipped through the rain-drenched streets, I nearly spilled my plastic-wrapped spaghetti container on the floor going around a corner, and quickly resolved to be more careful. I drove a little more slowly the rest of the way.

When I arrived in the parking lot at work, I juggled my newspaper, industry education textbook, umbrella, and lunch as I got out of the car. I finally settled with the newspaper and textbook under my left arm and the umbrella in my right hand, along with the spaghetti. This was my first significant mistake.

As I walked into the fierce wind, struggling to keep my umbrella from getting out of control, I made my second mistake. I thought I could certainly reconfigure my umbrella to limit the amount of surface area exposed to the wind, so I tilted it back. Not much, but enough to make my morning much, much worse.

A gust of wind caught my umbrella, jerking my arm back. I lost control of my lunch container, and my umbrella was swept inexorably to the ground. Fortunately, I had a tight enough grip on the handle of the umbrella to keep it from blowing away.

And, as I looked down at my predicament, I saw that my entire lunch had deposited itself neatly into my umbrella. Just then, a co-worker walked by. She looked at me curiously, and I can't blame her -- there I was, standing in the rain and wind, with my umbrella upside down and resting on the ground, and a neat little heap of spaghetti and meat sauce piled in it, while I held an empty plastic container.

"I swear there is a logical explanation for this," I told her. She just smiled and kept going, clearly impressed by my prodigious intellect.

It is very rare that I give a day up for lost at 7:45 a.m., but when I do, I always have excellent reasons for doing so.

27 July 2008

The Danger of Excessive Competence

I am not generally opposed to competence. In fact, I am all for it -- I like competent people since they can get things done well without an undue amount of trouble for all concerned parties. The problem comes, then, when a competent person oversteps her bounds and begins to become supercompetent.

It happens slowly, of course. At first, it is just a too-eager response to a manager or supervisor when they are assigning her to a task. She comes dangerously close to being enthusiastic about work, which is a trait that the system should have been beaten out of her between the 6th and 8th grades. By the time she was in high school, she should have developed a well-pointed disdain for any sort of assignment given her by anyone in authority. Something along the lines of "Ohmygosh, I can't believe you're giving me WORK to do" or "Oh, how sweet, you still think you are in charge of me."

And yet, somehow, she has slipped through the system with a modicum of her work ethic intact. Who knows how or why -- perhaps she was homeschooled, or maybe she just spent too much time with the wrong crowd. There is no point in flinging accusations and recriminations at this point; the barn door was open, she got out, and nothing we can say now can backdate the shutting of said door.

The important part is that she has begun to ruin her own life and the lives of her co-workers. Again, this occurs gradually. Her bosses, gratified by her willingness (and capability) to actually do good work without being coerced or threatened, do not immediately take advantage of her. They praise her, promote her, coddle her for a little while.

Initially, her co-workers are cautiously approving. They rightly figure that if she is willing to work harder, be more conscientious, and do her tasks more thoroughly, the team will perform better without them having to actually change anything. This may mean more prestige or better bonuses, and they don't have to do a thing to gain it.

But they, like our hapless hypercompetent heroine, don't see the long-term dangers of the situation. First and foremost, management will soon build up an immunity to her current level of supercompetence. This, in turn, will necessitate increasingly higher levels of competence if she wishes to attain the same performance level.

Worse still, managerial expectations for other team members will also increase. Managers will realize, "Hey! Our employees may potentially have the ability to do things correctly the first time, thereby increasing productivity, efficiency, and overall performance! Perhaps we should expect everyone to be competent!" Which, of course, is a death knell for the rest of the team.

Not even the excessively competent one is immune from the negative effects of her actions. She is constantly asked to do more and more things as she demonstrates that she is capable of getting tasks done. Eventually, her Outlook inbox fills up, never to be emptied again. She may block off an entire afternoon, resolved that she is going to be caught up TODAY... but she can't stop the e-mails from coming, and she sure can't stop people from marking them "urgent."

Her fate, then, is somewhere between drowning and suffocation, as she slowly runs out of time and enthusiasm. And about the time that she loses the will to live, she is promoted to middle management, where the circle of life can be completed. It is a tragic fate, but also somehow appropriate, as are so many of the most heartrending sights in this world.

14 July 2008

On Brush Thievery

My suspicions began shortly before Independence Day. At first, I was somewhat less than credulous about the prospect. After all, I thought to myself, who on earth would steal something so... worthless?

And yet, little by little, the pile of dried-out brush on the walkway next to my garage continued to shrink. Initially, I had attributed its diminution to the simple processes of nature. When I cut that brush at the beginning of June and piled it in its place behind the trash can, it had been resplendent with verdant foliage. As the weeks progressed, however, the leaves dried up and began to blow away, leaving the pile (I thought) a little less impressive than it initially had been.

My original plan of disposal was dependent on thrift, as so many of my plans are. I would borrow a friend's truck and take the mound of branches to a place of disposal, if I could
a.) find a free Saturday morning
b.) arrange for my friend not to need his truck that same morning
c.) overcome the revulsion in the bottom of my soul that arises every time I am required to pay any money at all for any goods or services that seem less than absolutely necessary (such as a fee to allow a forestry center to recycle my yard waste into mulch that they then sell by the truckload to interested parties)

So there I was, slightly less than a month later, and my three conditions still had not been met. Nonetheless, as I mowed the lawn that day, I noticed that the pile seemed to be getting smaller. And the more I thought about it, the less able I was to attribute this to the normal shrinkage of drying leaves. It was seriously smaller; I was able to get my lawn mower through to the back yard without my normal tortuous strivings.

Something was very wrong here.

Yet, as the weeks progressed and the pile continued to vanish, I was unable to find the culprit. Until yesterday, that is.

My wife and I were coming home from a friend's house, and as we pulled into the driveway, we saw a jeans-clad figure hunched over in the yard by our brush pile. I knew it was time to act, so I flung open the car door and raced over to the scene of the crime.

"Hi, Pat!" I said. "Nice day, isn't it?"

She looked up sheepishly. "Yes," she replied, a twinkle in her blue eyes. She brushed a loose strand of white hair from her face. "So nice, I thought to myself, 'Pat, you've just got to get out of the house and do something in the yard today.'"

"Well," I responded, feeling grateful and ashamed all at once, "I appreciate you stealing my brush pile."

"Aw, it was nothing," she said. "I have extra room in my yard-waste cans every week, so I thought I'd just help you get rid of this pile. Besides, what are neighbors for?"

What, indeed.

I love this town.

23 June 2008

St. Paul's Blog 5: The Rest of Acts

Jerusalem was really exciting. I started a riot in the temple (not even on purpose!). It didn't stay in the temple for very long, though, because they decided to drag me out into the street so they would have more room to beat me. A cohort of Romans came by and calmed the crowd down some, which was nice. I knew an opportunity when I saw it, so I asked him to let me say a few words to the crowd in Hebrew. After the crowd shouted me down and started throwing dirt and clothing into the air, the Roman commander decided he should probably take me someplace a little safer (like prison).

I met some different rulers, like Felix, Festus, and Agrippa (no, I didn't make fun of their names, but it was pretty hard). I got to preach to all of them, and it went pretty well, I suppose, because nobody fell asleep and plummeted to their deaths or anything.

So now I'm on my way to Rome to preach to the Emperor. Of course, my escorts and I have had a few little problems, such as a shipwreck. The captain can't say I didn't warn him... "Let's wait for winter," I said. "We're all going to die," I said. But nooooo, he just HAD to get to Phoenix before the winter set in.

The soldiers were all for killing us prisoners when the ship ran onto an island after being buffeted for a couple of weeks at sea, but the good ol' centurion kind of liked me and wanted to make sure I got to meet the Emperor, so he let us live. Then, a snake almost succeeded where the soldiers left off -- who knew that snakes liked the fire so much? -- but God saved me yet again!

I'm more convinced than ever that God will use me just how He wants to, no matter how many riots or high priests or soldiers or snakes try to stop Him. Regardless of what happens to me in Rome, He will be glorified, and if I die in the process, I just get to see Him face to face that much quicker! Talk about a win-win situation.

22 June 2008

St. Paul's Blog 4: Acts 18:23-21:17

I'm kind of tired lately. There has been a lot to do here in Asia. For instance, it seems like every time I turn around, someone is wanting me to use their handkerchief. I do my best, but there's only so much snot one man can expell before his nose gets sore. This is definitely not what I meant when I said "all things to all men."

Here's how exhausted I am: I hardly even put up a fight when my friends told me not to go down to the big riot at the Ephesus Theater... and you know how much I love a good riot every now and again. It's probably for the best that I didn't go, because the city clerk stopped the riot pretty quickly without even preaching a lot to make the people madder at him. What a boring ending.

I guess I'm not the only tired one around, though. A few weeks ago I was preaching in Troas, and some kid named Eutychus fell asleep during my sermon. I was kind of ticked off because I had only been talking for a few hours and I was barely halfway through my first sentence! He died (a fall from a three-story window will do that to you), but I wasn't done preaching yet, so I raised him from the dead, gave him something to eat, and made sure he was sitting on the front row for the rest of my sermon. THAT should teach him a thing or two.

We're in Caesaria now, on our way back to Jerusalem. I've been trying to get some rest, but it's hard since about every half hour, one of Philip's daughters starts prophesying. Most of their prophecies are pretty good, but every once in a while, one of them will talk about a tiger in the woods and how he will be the master of some tournament of catching eagles and other birdies with traps made of sand. Now that just doesn't make any sense at all.

Speaking of prophets, one stole my belt the other day. When I tried to get it back, he tied me up and basically said that there was a lot more where that came from if I kept going toward Jerusalem. You might think I was in quite a bind, but really I was knot. I knew that with Christ on my side, I would never have to be afrayed!

Jerusalem, here I come.

St. Paul's Blog 3: Acts 15:36-18:22

Hi again! Boy, it's been a while. I kind of lost track of time, what with all that wacky circumcision hullabaloo! It wasn't exactly what you'd call a cut-and-dry case, but I think we managed to slice through the complexities of the situation and come up with a fairly incisive resolution.

After that was over, Barnabas and I wanted to go back to see all of our old friends to encourage them in their faith. The only problem was that Barnabas wanted to bring his whiny little quitter of a cousin with us. I basically told Barnabas that if John Mark came along, I might end up martyring him myself, so we agreed to disagree and went our separate ways. Consequently, I have a new buddy named Silas who came on this trip with me. He has a very nice singing voice, which may seem irrelevant, but it came in handy later.

After picking up Timothy (and circumcising him, just to be on the safe side), we headed to the part of Asia that is famous for its Macedonia Nut Cookies. Of course, being who we are, we immediately got into some trouble. We cast a demon out of a slave-girl, but instead of thanking us, her masters made the Romans mad at us. I guess they preferred to have their possession intact, so to speak.

After we had lost our shirts and quite a bit of blood, the kind jailer escorted us to his very nicest cell. To thank him, we sang some songs, and I think I can say without being immodest that we brought down the house. The jailer said it just about killed him to hear it. Then the jailer and his whole family got saved, and the Roman officials apologized to us! It all goes to show you that God continues to be faithful, even when you're getting stripped and beaten and no one in the whole town has even offered you a single one of their famous regional cookies.

21 June 2008

St. Paul's Blog 2: Acts 13:1-15:35

Guess what! We went on a missionary journey!!! It started out with some pretty stiff opposition and went downhill from there. You’d think that people would be happy to hear good news, but noooo. All they want to do is yell at us. The governor of Cyprus seemed willing to hear what we had to say, but his blind friend--well, at least he was blind by the time we’d left--was a little less willing to “see” things our way.

Barnabas’s whiny little cousin Mark couldn’t take it, so he was gone before we even left the first little island. It’s a good thing too, because I think I’d have helped him “see” things my way by the end of the trip too, if you know what I mean…

In the next town we were able to expound at great length on the gospel, and they even asked us back the next week. But we must have done something to offend the Pisidian Antioch Ladies’ Society because they ran us out on a rail. That was OK; the town was real dusty anyway, so we cleaned our feet off and headed for Iconium…

Iconium was a lot like Pisidian Antioch, except that the people there weren't very welcoming and also they tried to stone us.

We hoped we might get a warmer reception in Lystra, and we weren't disappointed. All we did was heal one guy and suddenly they were convinced that we were gods! (I was kind of offended that Barnabas got to be Zeus and I had to be Hermes.) After a lot of talking, we managed to keep them from offering sacrifices to us. But then our old friends from Pisidian Antioch and Iconium came to town, and pretty soon, the rocks were flying again.

Next, we visited the town of Derbe. I'm not sure why they call it that, because it doesn't even resemble a hat or a race. But the people there were friendlier, so that was nice. Even better, we reached a lot of people there for Jesus! This missionarying can be pretty exhausting sometimes, but it's worth it.

St. Paul's Blog 1: Acts 8-10

For the past week, I have been writing a blog in the voice of St. Paul for a Bible camp's daily newspaper. The kids were studying Acts, so they thought it would be kind of fun to have a "different" take on the reading. And I am nothing if not "different."

I kind of banged it out between doing other things, so the quality varies, but I figured I should probably post it here because I'm so bad at posting other things. :-)

This week I had a real eye-opening experience. It was pretty unexpected; I guess you might say it kind of blind-sided me.I had just finished a very successful campaign against a fanatical cult of peace-loving zombie worshipers in Jerusalem, and I was on my way to Damascus to do the same thing there. I was all set; I had several faithful thugs, letters from the religious leaders in Jerusalem, and a nearly full bottle of my new Threats 'n' Murder Brand Mouthwash ("It makes heretics say, 'Ouch!'"©).

Suddenly, a blinding flash exploded across my retinas, and that was the last thing I remember seeing.

So it turns out that I had been wrong. Really wrong. The people I had been persecuting in Jerusalem -- the ones who had insisted that the infamous Jesus of Nazareth had been the messiah and had risen from the dead after his crucifixion -- hadn't been lying. I spoke with their living Lord myself that day on the road.

After the voice stopped, I continued on with my companions to Damascus. We stayed at Judas's house on Straight Street, where I fasted and prayed for three days and three nights. During that time, the only thing I remember seeing was a vision where a man named Ananias came and laid hands on me to heal me. So it wasn't that surprising when a man named Ananias came to the house and did exactly that.

The first thing I asked after the scales fell from my eyes was whether I could be baptized. I was amazed by my experience, and I was convinced beyond doubt that Jesus was the messiah.

I guess this means I might have to start using my knack for troublemaking in a more constructive way in the future...

I am aware of all internet traditions

Tee hee... I found out about this via EB and TLQ.

01 May 2008

(Mostly) Annotated Books of Pretension

Well, that whole thing clearly didn't work out, did it? The first of the year hit, and with it came mega-lots of overtime. I have been storing up all of my brilliance so as to share it with the Internets some day, but until that day arrives, I felt compelled to partake in a meme I picked up from Evil Bender. I would link to the original, but you can click through if you really want to, and I am too lazy. Speaking of having one's English degree(s) revoked, failure to properly cite might be due cause... :-)

Italics: I have read
Strikethrough: Started, never finished
Normal: Never even tried

* Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
* Anna Karenina (seemed like a good idea at the time)
* Crime and Punishment (a labor of sheer stubbornness)
* Catch-22 (I was reading a friend's copy over at his house, set it down, and then never saw him again. Not by design or anything; it just kind of... happened.)
* One Hundred Years of Solitude
* Wuthering Heights
* The Silmarillion (It's no There and Back Again: A Hobbit's Holiday for readability...)
* Life of Pi : a novel
* The Name of the Rose
* Don Quixote (In Spanish - beat that!!)
* Moby Dick (too... much... whale)
* Ulysses
* Madame Bovary (I always associate this title with hidden lady-parts)
* The Odyssey
* Pride and Prejudice
* Jane Eyre (I know I read both this and Wuthering Heights when I was younger, but now I can't for the life of me keep them straight. I think Wuthering is the one with the crazy wife, right?)
* The Tale of Two Cities
* The Brothers Karamazov (see note on Anna Karenina)
* Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies (never heard of it, but it sounds awesome...)
* War and Peace (see note on all Russian novels I have ever read)
* Vanity Fair (Anyone else just adore Thackeray?)
* The Time Traveler’s Wife (Is that anything like The Time Machine? Mmm... delicious, plump, lazy Eloi...)
* The Iliad
* Emma
* The Blind Assassin
* The Kite Runner
* Mrs. Dalloway
* Great Expectations (Best... Dickens... Evar)
* American Gods (did I mention I love Gaiman? srsly.)
* A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (pretty funny when it's not being all self-indulgent... which is heartbreakingly often)
* Atlas Shrugged (still can't think of my attempt to read this monstrosity without getting visuals of that terrible, terrible scene written by the Ayn Rand fanboy... you know the one. Ew.)
* Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
* Memoirs of a Geisha
* Middlesex
* Quicksilver
* Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West (Only if reading through the first chapter in Barnes and Noble counts as an attempt to read the book...)
* The Canterbury tales (Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote The droghte of March hath perced to to roote...)
* The Historian : a novel
* A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (How can anyone NOT read this?)
* Love in the Time of Cholera (see note on Catch-22)
* Brave New world (Ford is in his flivver and all's right with the world!)
* The Fountainhead (ugh, TWO by her? I SO wish I could rinse my brain out.)
* Foucault’s Pendulum (want to read)
* Middlemarch (Did you know that George was really a woman?!)
* Frankenstein (the monster is so much more articulate in the book than he has been in any movie... why is that? Maybe because 10-page monologues don't translate well to the silver screen, I guess, but it's still a shame. Hulk smash.)
* The Count of Monte Cristo (want to read)
* Dracula (I kept hoping for the good part, and then it was over. Ripoff.)
* A Clockwork Orange (I read the British version with the very moral final chapter still intact. What up now?)
* Anansi Boys (want to steal from EB's shelf read)
* The Once and Future King (should have, didn't. ah, well)
* The Grapes of Wrath
* The Poisonwood Bible : a novel
* 1984
* Angels & Demons (sweet Moses, no. why? Seriously, why?)
* The Inferno
* The Satanic Verses (I would probably put out a death sentence on him too... because I WISH I WROTE THIS WELL!! little religious/geopolitical humor there for you)
* Sense and Sensibility
* The Picture of Dorian Gray (Spoiler: the picture is HIM!! but only sort of)
* Mansfield Park (sadly, no)
* One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
* To the Lighthouse (I am ashamed.)
* Tess of the D’Urbervilles
* Oliver Twist (typical, depressing, quirky Dickens. Gotta love him)
* Gulliver’s Travels
* Les Misérables (I don't seem to do well with Hugo... unless, of course, it's Hugo Gernsback)
* The Corrections
* The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
* The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
* Dune (I want to kiss and marry this book. seriously.)
* The Prince
* The Sound and the Fury (this reads like a tale told by an idiot)
* Angela’s Ashes : a memoir (want to)
* The God of Small Things
* A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present (yes, I know I am a freakin' pinko commie leftist hippie. And yes, I'm ok with that.)
* Cryptonomicon (I thought this only existed in scifi movies?)
* Neverwhere (want to)
* A Confederacy of Dunces
* A Short History of Nearly Everything
* Dubliners
* The Unbearable Lightness of Being
* Beloved
* Slaughterhouse-five (See note on Catch-22)
* The Scarlet Letter
* Eats, Shoots & Leaves (Yes, it's pop linguistics. Yes, it's prescriptionistic to the extreme. But it's also sort of funny.)
* The Mists of Avalon
* Oryx and Crake : a novel
* Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
* Cloud Atlas
* The Confusion
* Lolita
* Persuasion
* Northanger Abbey (nope - on the list, eventually)
* The Catcher in the Rye (insert angst here)
* On the Road (didn't understand or appreciate it much, unfortunately... I was too young)
* The Hunchback of Notre Dame (more Hugo... I really do mean to read this stuff)
* Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything (sounds fun but also too self-aware for my taste)
* Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values (want to)
* The Aeneid
* Watership Down (bunnies!)
* Gravity’s Rainbow
* The Hobbit (now THAT is high-quality fantasy that doesn't put me to sleep.)
* In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
* White Teeth
* Treasure Island (of course - I was homeschooled, duh)
* David Copperfield (second-best Dickens evar)
* The Three Musketeers (Surprise, a Hugo I finished!!)