Saturday, September 24, 2011

Long Division, Wrong Division and Hilton Honors

I usually write this blog only once a week, sometime even less often. But, yesterday’s subject, “Snorks and $16 Muffins”, deserves a timely update. While the facts remain in dispute, it is becoming increasingly evident that the group auditing the muffin/cookie/coffee expenses got it wrong. The Inspector General’s (IG) office of the Department of Justice (DOJ) “stands by” their initial report of $16 muffins, $10 cookies and $8 coffee. The Hilton says no way. They note that this was a 5 day event with 534 people in attendance and the total bill for all refreshments including the muffins and cookies was $40,000. Still not cheap, but fairly typical of the expenses one would expect to incur for this type of event at a convention hotel.

(Now we really should have a discussion as to the purpose of the event and the number of attendees. Depending on how many traveled and how many actually stayed at the hotel, this hoot-n-nanny probably cost the taxpayers $750,000 or more. That’s not counting lost productivity. Oh wait, these are government employees. We may actually have derived a net benefit by having them doing something other than their jobs. The event was the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) Legal Conference. Decide for yourself what the attendees would have otherwise accomplished if not at this conference.)

So let’s recap. A federal agency decides to have a conference and invite over 500 people which literally cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. This conference was in August 2009. At some point the IG audits the expenses and two years later we get the $16 Muffin headline. I don’t know how many people are employed in the IG’s office or how many got involved in this audit or how many are now involved in the re-audit. But folks, this isn’t rocket science. We have the cost information. We have the attendee information. If there were any questions, I’m sure that the Hilton could have provided more details. The whole story stands as a classic example of our government flailing around and spending money and remaining clueless as to how much was spent, by whom and for what.

As a Hilton Honors member, I owe Hilton an apology for accusing them of charging $16 for a muffin, $10 for a cookie and $8 for coffee. Those are Starbucks prices, what was a I thinking?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Snorks and $16 Muffins

“To fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality”
- Hilton Hotels Vision Statement

I just want to know the name of the person who sold $16 muffins, $10 cookies and $8 coffee to the Department of Justice. (By now you must have heard the story. If you haven’t, go back to sleep or playing Angry Birds or whatever it is you do.) I also want to know who bought this stuff. I mean who buys $16 muffins? Probably the same people who buy $5 corn chips and $8 beers from a hotel room mini-bar. (I have never, even in my weakest, hungry, stumbling drunk moments; purchased anything from a hotel mini-bar.) But someone sold and someone bought the $16 muffin/$10 cookie/$8 coffee deal. I read somewhere that it’s called the morning “Eye-Opener”. They should call it the morning “Bend-Over”.

The truth of the matter is that the Capital Hilton Hotel in Washington looks just as bad in this as the Department of Justice. We’ve all read stories about government waste and crazy expenditures. But whenever the government is “buying badly” there is also a vendor who is “selling badly”. One may say that the Capital Hilton was just acting in the best interest of the Capital Hilton in selling over-priced muffins, cookies and coffee. But there is a point where maximizing profit in the short-run is not in ones best interest. This greedy, get-all-can-you-now way of doing business is a big part of our current economic crisis. In business and in politics, we want to win and win big. Don’t leave anything on the table. But it’s the wrong way to operate. Even if you are indifferent to the moral and ethical reasons for “doing the right thing”, you should consider that, strategically, “doing the right thing” is good business (and good politics) over the long run.

I guess it’s too late to do much about the $16 muffin fiasco. The DOJ will spend thousands of taxpayer dollars developing and communicating new expense policies. Perhaps the Hilton will give some money back to the DOJ and revisit their special event pricing strategies. Conservative politicians will rail about the $16 muffin and liberals will argue that it’s just another example of a greedy corporation’s price gouging. Until we acknowledge that there are two problems here, not just one, we will continue to go in circles. Sort of like a snork. You know, a snork…that seldom scene, nearly extinct bird that flies around and around in a circle, going faster and faster as the circle becomes smaller and smaller until finally, at the moment when the snork and the circle become one, the snork’s head goes up its own ass and the snork disappears.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lonesome Dove

I just had another birthday…THE Birthday…60. You can run, but you can’t hide from 60. So I decided to embrace it and in doing so thought about something I wrote a couple of years ago on the 20th anniversary of Lonesome Dove. I read it again and it made me feel better about being old and much better about being a Texan. (Just the opposite of how I feel about being a Texan when I listen to Rick Perry.) So here’s my birthday gift to myself…

Lonesome Dove has been with me since 1985 when I read the book for the first time. As a native Texan whose roots go back to the frontier days, the story grabbed me and I literally inhaled Larry McMurtry’s novel over the course of a summer weekend (getting a wicked sunburn in the process). The fact that he borrowed so liberally from Texas history and real events and real characters did not bother me one iota. Most of Texas history and all the hoorah is part fiction anyway so why not use it. (Just like my kin who swore that my great-great granddaddy, half Indian, rode the trail with Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving. Of course he did, that’s their story which makes it my story and I’m sticking to it).

Then I saw the mini-series and heard the music. They go together you know. God said so. By the time the mini-series came out, I was living outside of Texas for the first time in my life. And Lonesome Dove became my touchstone and my connection to home. A few years later I moved to Montana. Driving across the Montana state line from Wyoming and listening to the soundtrack from Lonesome Dove is as close to a heavenly experience as one can ever hope to have on this earth.

I just about wore out that soundtrack for the next few years as I spent weekends exploring the best places in the Last Best Place. And they are right, Montana truly is the Last Best Place, but it was not my place and with a few detours along the way I finally made it back to Texas. With a new Lonesome Dove soundtrack and the latest digitized version of the mini-series, I continue to enjoy and relive the story. It means more to me now as I approach my 60th year. It is the perfect tale about imperfect people in a world that is so beautiful and yet so cruel that it comes as close to the truth as one can get with fiction.

As John Graves wrote in his classic “Good Bye to a River”, I am unabashedly and unapologetically a Texan. Lonesome Dove makes me feel only more so and in a good way. I’ve had conversations with people from other states and nations who say they love Lonesome Dove. I nod and smile and affirm its greatness and its accuracy in portraying what Texas and the Old West for that matter, once was (or at least claimed to be.) But, I also know that no one loves the Lonesome Dove story more than a Texan. And no other Texan could possibly love it more than I do.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Where Was God on 9.11?

This question has been the title for numerous blogs, books, papers and articles.
Most of the answers I've read are of the cheesy "God is in control....we just have to trust him" variety. There are also those on the other end of the spectrum who put the blame on religion for the fanaticism that led to 9.11 and use the event as further evidence that God wasn't there at all. He either doesn't exist or he doesn't care.

The following response to the question, Where Was God on 9.11, is the best I've read:

by Dr. Ray Bohlin

The events of September 11th are indelibly etched in our hearts and minds. The horrible memories of personal tragedy and suffering will never really go away. As well they shouldn't. As Christians we were all gratified to see so many of our national, state, and local leaders openly participate in prayer services and calling upon people of faith to pray for victims' families and injured survivors.
What was lost underneath the appearance of a religious revival was the clear cry of many that wondered if our prayers were justified. After all, if we pray to God in the aftermath and expect God to answer, where was He as countless individuals cried out to Him from the planes, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? The skeptical voices were drowned out because of the fervent religious outcry seeking comfort and relief. But make no mistake; the question was there all the time. Where was God on September 11th? Surely He could have diverted those planes from their appointed destinations. Why couldn't the hijackers have been intercepted at the airports or their plots discovered long before their designed execution?
Why so many innocent people? Why should so many suffer so much? It all seems so senseless. How could a loving God allow it?
It is important to realize also that the suffering of those initial weeks is only the tip of the iceberg. There will be military deaths and casualties. The war on terrorism will be a long one with mounting personal and economic costs. The clean up will also continue to take its ever-mounting toll in dollars, lives, and emotional breakdowns.

Former pastor Gordon MacDonald spent time with the Salvation Army in caring for people and removing debris and bodies from the rubble of the World Trade Center. He relates this encounter from his journal of September 21 in Christianity Today.
"Later in the night, I wandered over to the first-line medical tent, which is staffed by military personnel who are schooled in battlefield casualties. The head of the team, a physician, and I got into a conversation.
"He was scared for the men in the pit, he said, because he knew what was coming 'downstream.' He predicted an unusual spike in the suicide rate and a serious outbreak of manic depression. . . . Many of the men will be unable to live with these losses at the WTC. It's going to take an unspeakable toll on them."
So why would God allow so much suffering? This is an ancient question. The problem of reconciling an all-powerful, all-loving God with evil is the number one reason that people reject God. I will try to clarify the question, provide some understanding, and make some comparisons of other explanations.

Psalm 73 and Asaph's Answer
The Bible answers the question of where God was on September 11 in many passages, but I would like to begin with the answer from Asaph in Psalm 73. My discussion will flow from the excellent discussion of the problem of evil found in Dr Robert Pyne's 1999 book, Humanity and Sin: The Creation, Fall and Redemption of Humanity.
In Psalm 73, Asaph begins by declaring that God is good. Without that assumption, nothing more need be said. He goes on in verses 2-12 to lament the excess and success of the wicked. In verses six and seven he says, "Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits." (Psalm 73:6-7). From this point Asaph lets his feelings be known by crying out that this isn't fair when he says in verse 13, "Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence."
The wicked seem to snub their noses at God with no apparent judgment, while Asaph strives to follow the Lord to no benefit. We have all experienced this in one form or another. Some things in this world simply aren't fair. In the last ten verses of the psalm, Asaph recognizes that the wicked will indeed realize their punishment in the future. God's judgment will come. He also realizes that God is always with him and that is sufficient.

18th century philosopher David Hume stated the classical problem of evil by saying that if God were indeed all powerful He would do something about evil, and that if He were all-loving He would want to do something about evil. Since evil exists, God must either not be able or not want to do anything about it. This makes God either malevolent or impotent or both. But Hume chooses to leave out the option, as Asaph resolves, that God is patient. Hume, like many before him and after him, grows weary with a God who is patient towards evil.

We long for immediate justice. But before we pray too earnestly for immediate justice, we'd better reflect on what that would be like. What would instant justice look like? Immediate justice would have to be applied across the board. That means that every sin would be proportionately and immediately punished. We soon realize that immediate justice is fine if applied to everybody else. Dr. Pyne quotes D. A. Carson as saying, "The world would become a searing pain; the world would become hell. Do you really want nothing but totally effective, instantaneous justice? Then go to hell." I think we're all quite comfortable with a God that does not apply immediate justice.

Evil and the Sovereignty of God
Next, I want to focus on God's sovereignty. We understand that God knew what He was doing in creating people with the ability to choose to love Him or hate Him. In order for our love for Him to be real, our choice needed to be real and that means creating creatures that could turn from Him as well as love Him. In order to have creatures with moral freedom, God risked evil choices.
Some would go so far as to say that God couldn't intervene in our evil choices. But in Psalm 155:3, Psalm 135:6, and in Nebuchadnezzar's words of praise in Daniel 4:34-37 we're told it is God who does whatever He pleases. However, God does perform acts of deliverance and sometimes He chooses not to. We are still left with the question "Why?" In the book of Job, Job basically proclaims his innocence and essentially asks why? God doesn't really give Job an answer, but simply reminds him who is in charge. (Job 38:2-4) "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?" the Lord asks Job.

The parameters are clearly set. God in His power is always capable of intervening in human affairs, but sometimes He doesn't and we aren't always given a reason why. There is tension here that we must learn to accept, because the alternative is to blaspheme by assigning to God evil or malevolent actions. As Asaph declared, God is good!

This brings us to the hidden purposes of God. For although we can't always see God's purpose, we believe He has one in everything that occurs, even seemingly senseless acts of cruelty and evil. Here is where Jesus' sufferings serve as a model. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him. (Hebrews 12:1-3) So then, we should bear our cross for the eternal joy set before us. (Hebrews 12:11, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18) But knowing this doesn't always make us feel better.
When Jesus was dying on the cross all His disciples but John deserted Him. From their perspective, all that they had learned and prepared for over the last three years was over, finished. How could Jesus let them crucify Him? It didn't make any sense at all. Yet as we well know now, the most important work in history was being accomplished and the disciples thought God was absent. How shortsighted our perspective can be.

The Danger of a Nice Explanation
But with this truth comes the danger of a nice explanation. Even though we know and trust that there is a purpose to God's discipline and His patience towards ultimate judgment, that doesn't mean we should somehow regard evil as an expression of God's goodness. In addition, we can be tempted to think that if God has a purpose to evil and suffering, then my own sin can be assigned not to me but to someone else, namely God Himself because He had a purpose in it.

Dr. Robert Pyne puts it this way.
We may not be able to fully resolve the problem of evil, and we may not be able to explain the origin of sin, but we can see the boundaries that must be maintained when addressing these issues. We share in Adam's guilt, but we cannot blame Him for our sin. God is sovereign, and He exercises His providential control over all things, but we cannot blame Him either. God permits injustice to continue, but He neither causes it nor delights in it.

Another danger lies in becoming too comfortable with evil. When we trust in God's ultimate purpose and patience with evil we shouldn't think that we have somehow solved the problem and therefore grow comfortable in its presence. We should never be at peace with sin, suffering, and evil.

The prophet Habakkuk sparred with God in the first few verses of chapter 1 of the book bearing his name by recounting all the evil in Israel. The Lord responds in verses 6-11 that indeed the Babylonians are coming and sin will be judged. Habakkuk further complains about God's choice of the godless Babylonians, to which God reminds him that they too will receive judgment. Yet the coming judgment still left Habakkuk with fear and dread. "I heard and my inward parts trembled: at the sound my lips quivered. Decay enters my bones, and in my place I tremble. . . . Yet, I will exult in the Lord." (Habakkuk 3:16-19.) Habakkuk believes that God knows what He is doing. That does not bring a smile to his face. But he can face the day.
"We are not supposed to live at peace with evil and sin, but we are supposed to live at peace with God. We continue to trust in His goodness, His sovereignty, His mercy, and we continue to confess our own responsibility for sin."

He Was There!
Though we have come to a better understanding of the problem of evil, we are still left with our original question. Where was God on September 11th?
While the Christian answer may not seem a perfect answer, it is the only one which offers truth, hope, and comfort. Naturalism or deism offers no real answers. Things just happen. There is no good and no evil. Make the best of it! Pantheism says the physical world is irrelevant or an illusion. It doesn't really matter. Good and evil are the same.
To answer the question we need to understand that God does, in fact, weep over every sparrow and grieve over every evil and every suffering. Jesus is with us in all of our suffering, feeling all of our pain. That's what compassion means, to suffer with another. So the suffering that Christ endured on the cross is literally unimaginable.
"The answer is, how could you not love this being who went the extra mile, who practiced more than He preached, who entered into our world, who suffered our pains, who offers Himself to us in the midst of our sorrows?"
We must remember that Jesus' entire time on earth was a time of sacrifice and suffering, not just His trial and crucifixion. Jesus was tempted in the manner of all men and He bore upon Himself all our sin and suffering. So the answer is quite simple. He was there!

He was on the 110th floor as one called home. He was at the other end of the line as his wife realized her husband was not coming home. He was on the planes, at the Pentagon, in the stairwells answering those who called out to Him and calling to those who didn't.
He saw every face, knew every name, even though some did not know Him. Some met Him for the first time, some ignored Him for the last time. He is there now.

Let me share with you one more story from Gordon MacDonald's experience with the Salvation Army during the initial clean up at the World Trade Center.
"There is a man whose job it is to record the trucks as they leave the pit with their load of rubble. He is from Jamaica, and he has one of the most radiant smiles I've ever seen. He brings a kind of spiritual sunshine to the entire intersection. "I watch him--with his red, white, and blue hard hat--talking to each truck driver as they wait their turn to go in and get a load. He brightens men up. In the midst of those smells, the dust, the clashing sounds, he brings a civilizing influence to the moment. "Occasionally I go out to where he stands and bring him some water. At other times, he comes over and chats with us. We always laugh when we engage. "I said to him last night, 'You're a follower of the Lord, aren't you?' He gave me an enthusiastic 'Yes! Jesus is with me all the time!' "Somehow this guy represents to me the quintessential picture of the ideal follower of Christ: out in the middle of the chaos, doing his job, pressing a bit of joy into a wild situation.

Raymond G. Bohlin is President of Probe Ministries. Dr. Bohlin was born and raised in Chicago, IL and is a graduate of the University of Illinois (B.S., zoology, 1971-1975), the University of North Texas (M.S., population genetics, 1977-1980), and the University of Texas at Dallas (M.S., Ph.D., molecular and cell biology, 1984-1991). He has been with Probe Ministries since 1975 and has lectured and debated on dozens of college and university campuses. He has addressed issues in the creation/evolution debate as well as other science-related issues such as the environment, genetic engineering, medical ethics, and sexually transmitted diseases. Dr. Bohlin and his wife Sue, an associate speaker and Webmistress for Probe Ministries as well as a professional calligrapher and Christian speaker, live in Plano, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, and they have two grown sons. He can be reached via e-mail at

Monday, September 5, 2011


Happy Labor Day. If you are employed, congratulations. If you are not employed, don’t give up. Most likely you will find a job. Whether employed or unemployed, the following tips are worth reading. They come from Robyn Greenspan’s ExecuNet online newsletter (

1. Regardless of where you land, YOU need to take personal responsibility for YOUR future. Don't expect your employer to take responsibility for your career. Take advantage of opportunities to receive training in all areas. Your education is never over. You may be sick of books, but it is essential that you keep learning.

2. Although you want to give your all to your new job/employer, don't neglect development of your "personal brand." Get out there and join appropriate organizations. Make contacts. Network. Don't assume that you will stay in one place very long. From day one, keep a file on those you meet and stay in touch. Read about personal networking.

3. Learn to love change. Throughout your career you will need to manage change, both as one leading change and as one facing change. Nothing stands still any more. If you do, you will be run over. Read some books about change by John Kotter.

4. Be nice. Learn to get along. Help others. You may be real smart and extremely knowledgeable, but much of your potential success will be the result of whether people like you. That's just the reality of things. That doesn't mean being a phony, a suck-up, a brown-nose. People see through that. Learn to genuinely like people and see past the things that may turn you off. Be someone that people like to be around.

5. Do more than you have to. Don't try to just get by. Anyone can do that. Build a reputation as the one who goes the extra mile. And this isn't just for others to see. You will personally benefit when you approach things this way in all areas of your life, whether it be your career, sports, hobbies, relationships, etc.

6. Find meaning to your life. Take time to examine who you are and why you are here