Storyline: The Improbable Philanthropist and other stories

DonAlAl Andrews makes an improbable philanthropist.

“Philanthropists have lots of money,” Andrews says. “I didn’t have any.”

Andrews is the first of half a dozen guest speakers who makes appearances during the Storyline conference. Donald Miller calls Andrews from the audience to join him at the cafe table onstage. The two settle in as though they’re about to share a cup of coffee. (“Cafe,” Miller has joked, is the word for “pub” for people raised Baptist.)

Andrews runs a nonprofit counseling service for recording artists and their families, Porter’s Call, in Nashville, Tennessee.

While he’s found meaning in his work, Andrews explained that he dreamt of something more. “What I really wanted to be was a philanthropist,” he says.

Because he didn’t have lots of money, he decided he’d make some—although, at first, he didn’t have a quick way to do it. “A character who wants something and has to overcome obstacles to get it,” Miller later reminds Storyline attendees.

Taking a slower, more deliberate approach, Andrews chose to write a children’s book, self-publish it, and give 100% of the proceeds to charity. He hired Jonathan Bouw, a professional artist and graphic arts professor at Taylor University, to illustrate it. The result: The Boy, The Kite, & The Wind.

“Why do people fly kites?” Andrews asks, breaking into a mirthful chuckle. “It always ends badly. It’s the one thing we do for fun that always ends badly. The kite ends up in the tree or crashing to the ground. Anyone here have a kite in their garage.” No hands go up.

And yet we keep flying kites.


Andrews wrote his book to try and figure out why.

But as Andrews worked on his book, something surprising happened. People heard about his project and wanted to join in. Before he knew it, Andrews had his own publishing company and a nonprofit to go with it, Improbable Philanthropy. A designer cooked up a logo. Donors appeared.

Andrews’ kites took off.

For his first project, Andrews funded the installation of an elevator at Thistle Farms, a nonprofit residential program in Nashville that helps women “who have survived lives of prostitution, trafficking, addiction and life on the streets.” They call it the “‘Al’-evator” in honor of the philanthropist who made it possible.

For his next project, Andrew is raising scholarship money for a group of Ugandan kids from the Restore Leadership Academy to go to university.

Miller uses Andrews as an example of the power of personal stories as a way to affect change. Going back to Miller’s definition of a good story: Andrews was a character who wanted something (to be a philanthropist) and had to over come obstacles (having no money, having no publishing experience) to achieve it.

Over the course of the two days, Miller calls up other speakers: entrepreneur Caitlyn Crosby, whose “Giving Keys” project promotes self-esteem and a pay-it-forward mentality; Bob Goff, founder of Restore International, a human rights watch group that finds “audacious ways to restore justice to children and the poorest of the poor”; and Mike Foster, who runs a ministry called People of the Second Chance. “It is time to stand in the sun with the shadow to our backs,” Foster says.

TomTalkingWe also watch an extraordinary film called I Am by Tom Shadyac. Shadyac has directed a slew of comedies—Ace Ventura; The Nutty Professor; Liar, Liar; and Bruce Almighty among them—but I Am traces Shadyac’s personal journey to answer the questions “What is wrong with the world? What can I do about it?” Along with stunning cinematography, the film features interviews with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, scientist David Suzuki, historian Howard Zinn, Rumi translator Coleman Barks, and a dozen other brilliant thinkers. It’s a thought-provoking blend of science, humanities, and spiritualism. After the screening, Shadyac engages in a talkback session with the audience.

Each improbable story illustrates Miller’s main point: our lives are like stories, and in proactively plotting them out—and taking ownership of unexpected plot turns—we can have a meaningful impact on the people around us.

It’s all very inspiring—part of Miller’s plan, no doubt. As I muddle about, wondering about my own purpose in life, it’s good to be reminded of folks who make differences big and small. They key, as Miller suggests and Andrews illustrates, is to have a clear goal. Everything works toward that. “If your life was a movie, what would the final scene look like?” Miller asks. “Now what scenes belong in your movie to help you get there?” Leave out the scenes that don’t help advance the plot toward that conclusion; leave out the scenes that don’t tell that story.

ChrisAlSigningAfter Andrews’ session, I pick up a couple copies of his book—one for me and one for the elementary school in my hometown, where I’ll reading Dr. Seuss books a few days from now for Read Across America Day. Andrews brims with good humor as he signs them for me. With a bigger beard and a few pounds, he could be Santa Claus (the most improbable philanthropist of all).

Why do people fly kites? Because, in so many ways, it’s uplifting.

GOP waving white flag on gay marriage: V-LGBT Day is a landmark triumph in the culture wars

CATEGORY: LGBTIt’s been an interesting few days.

  • The American Benefits Council and 278 employers, organizations and municipalities have filed a friend of the court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in a case regarding the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
  • Earlier today the far right Drudge Report was linking to a story outlining a new study that suggests gay marriage may save lives.
  • A large and growing list of prominent Republicans “have added their names to a legal brief urging the Supreme Court to declare that gay couples have a constitutional right to wed.” The list includes Mitt Romney, “prominent commentators and strategists Alex Castellanos, David Frum, Rich Galen, Mark McKinnon, Mike Murphy and Steve Schmidt; Mary Cheney; Ben Ginsberg, counsel to the Mitt Romney presidential campaign; George W. Bush administration officials Kevin and Catherine Martin, and Mark and Nicolle Wallace; and operatives ranging from Ken Duberstein, former chief of staff to Ronald Reagan, to Ken Spain, part of Washington’s younger generation.” It also includes a former director for Marilyn Musgrave, the barking dingbat who was once named the most conservative member of Congress.
  • And, just for fun, Clint Eastwood signed on, too. You might remember Eastwood – he’s the guy who lost an argument with a chair during last year’s GOP convention. I know, I know – Clint has always been pro-LGBT rights. It would have been more fun had he mentioned that during his debate with the furniture.

That list of companies signing the amicus curiae includes some very prominent names, too. For instance:

  • Adobe Systems Inc.
  • Aetna Inc.
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Alcoa Inc.
  •, Inc.
  • American International Group, Inc. (AIG)
  • Apple Inc.
  • Bain & Company, Inc.
  • The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation (BNY Mellon)
  • Bankers Trust Co.
  • Biogen Idec, Inc.
  • BlackRock, Inc.
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Inc.
  • Boston Scientific Corporation
  • Broadcom Corporation
  • Car Toys, Inc.
  • CBS Corporation
  • Cisco Systems, Inc.
  • Citigroup Inc.
  • Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC
  • Deutsche Bank AG
  • eBay Inc.
  • Electronic Arts Inc.
  • EMC Corporation
  • Ernst & Young LLP
  • Facebook, Inc.
  • The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.
  • Google Inc.
  • Intel Corporation
  • Intuit Inc.
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Levi Strauss & Co.
  • Liberty Mutual Group Inc.
  • Marriott International, Inc.
  • Mars, Incorporated
  • The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
  • Microsoft Corporation
  • Moody’s Corporation
  • Morgan Stanley
  • New York Life Insurance Company
  • NIKE, Inc.
  • Orbitz Worldwide
  • Partners HealthCare System, Inc.
  • Pfizer Inc.
  • Qualcomm Incorporated
  •, Inc.
  • Starbucks Corporation
  • Sun Life Financial (U.S.) Services Company, Inc.
  • Thomson Reuters
  • Twitter, Inc.
  • UBS AG
  • Viacom Inc.
  • Walt Disney Company
  • Xerox Corporation
  • Zynga Inc.
  • Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce
  • Greater San Diego Business Association
  • Greater Seattle Business Association
  • Long Beach Community Business Network
  • Portland Area Business Association
  • Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce

Some of those companies are predictable liberal hippie Silicon Valley outfits, of course, but a closer look will reveal many businesses with nary a progressive bone in their bodies (yes, corporations have bodies – they’re people, remember?).

In other words, the battle for marriage equality is over. Sure, there’s some mopping up to do, and the flat-earthers in the more socially conservative parts of the country will fight on as long as anybody pays them any attention. But make no mistake: today we’re celebrating V-LGBT Day.

This is wonderful news, obviously. What rights and privileges our country accords its citizens, they should be accorded equally. No nation that calls itself a democracy can deny to one segment of its citizenry that which is granted to others, especially when the denial of these rights is based on factors over which people have no control. Factors like race, gender and sexual orientation, for instance. Especially when those being discriminated against are hurting no one. Especially when their behavior actually strengthens the social  and economic fabric.

The reason I’m so interested in these events, though, has less to do with the actual policy and more to do with an argument I have been waging for years. In short, while this is a political victory, it’s one that emerges whole-cloth from shifting cultural dynamics, not overt political activism.

I’m a culturalist. I grew up a creature of popular culture – television, movies, sports, genre lit, rock & roll – and compounded the problem by earning a doctorate from a heavily cultural studies-oriented PhD program at the University of Colorado. I write poetry, but I also write lyrics for musical artists like Paul Lewis and Fiction 8. I love art galleries, but I also watch pro wrestling (a cultural descendent of medieval passion cycles, when you get right down to it). I’m right at home watching subtitled Eastern European art flicks, but my favorite movies are Blade RunnerAnimal House and Caddyshack. I have taught hard lit, but ask some of my former students about watching Tetsuo the Iron Man and certain Nine Inch Nails videos in my classes.

More to the point, while I’m an inherently political creature, I’m not politically active in the way so many of my colleagues, friends and acquaintances are. A point I have made, more times than I can count, is this: if you win the cultural war, the politics will take care of themselves. That’s what I care about, and it’s why I bang away at this damned keyboard instead of canvassing door to door.

Not many of my political friends seem to believe me, though. I have been on multiple politics lists, including one very, very high-level and very secret one (as in, you can’t say the name out loud). In these environments, I tried to foreground the importance of cultural issues at every turn, but I got used to the sound of crickets chirping. Nobody was hostile about it, they just ignored me.

So I left. I walked away shortly after a panel I had put together with some like minds on the various cultural battles being fought (and in need of fighting) was rejected for Netroots Nation. I think the world of applied political activism is important, make no mistake. But it’s one piece of the puzzle, not the whole puzzle. You can go door-to-door all you like, but if your opponent is winning the cultural battle, you’re going to have a tough time of it.

Consider the role music plays in American culture. Back in the ’60s, artists were vocal advocates for social and political progress. Give me Dylan and The Beatles and Woodstock and I’ll take my chances in whatever social conflict you like. Popular music was central to youth culture and it energized and empowered a generation. These bands got played on the radio, too. All the time. Our airwaves were dominated by hippie peace freaks.

Flash forward to the last decade. When three talented young women from Texas made the mistake of saying something unkind about our president, they learned an important lesson: shut up and sing. There’s no telling what Natalie Maines’s comment cost The Dixie Chicks, but they were more or less disappeared from the airwaves. It’s to their credit that they refused to back down, but what can we learn from comparing their case to that of Dylan, of John Lennon, of Joan Baez and Peter, Paul & Mary and hordes of others from 30 years earlier? In the ’60s, you made a career off of dissent. Today, dissent ends your career.

Once upon a time, concerts were held to oppose the war. In the Bush years, Clear Channel Communications, a corporate radio monster with close ties to the administration, staged pro-war rallies. In the ’60s, popular culture exerted tremendous pressure on government to end an unjust war. In the 2000s, not so much.

Win the culture, the politics will take care of themselves.

Which brings me back to the gay marriage issue. In April of 1997, Ellen DeGeneres came out in the famous “Puppy Episode.” This was a landmark moment – Ellen wasn’t the first famous gay person in entertainment, but previous stars (Liberace, Rock Hudson, Jim Nabors, etc.) had the good sense to keep quiet about it. Ellen went all Jackie Robinson, though, and suddenly Hollywood had hauled homosexuality out of the closet and into America’s living room, insisting that everyone pay attention.

Since DeGeneres made that brave stand, what has happened? Well, there was Will & Grace. And Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. And Queer as Folk. Kurt on GleeMark and Justin on Ugly Betty. Multiple characters on OLtL and As the World Turns. Jack on Dawson’s Creek. Omar on The Wire. John Cooper on Southland. Cam and Mitch, our gay parents of two on Modern Family. And how about that storyline on Necessary Roughness?

And on. And on. And on.

The thing to understand is that for 15 years now, the writers, directors, actors and producers responsible for our popular culture fare, those responsible for the TV we watch and the movies we attend, have been normalizing gays. Once upon a time, it was a big scary deal to even think about a gay character (or openly gay performer). After awhile, though, it was no big deal at all. It was common. It was expected. Just like a few decades ago when it was a big scary deal to put a black on the screen in anything other than an overtly subservient role.

It’s easy to demonize the unknown. Hatred feeds on ignorance, and when you refuse to depict something before the public eye, you enable ignorance. But when you choose to depict gays, or blacks, or the handicapped, or the autistic, or whatever, you humanize them. At first it’s controversial. A month or two later, you’re used to it and it’s not a big deal anymore.

And after 15 years or so, the Defense of Marriage Act no longer makes a lick of sense. Not to corporations, not to most regular citizens, not even to Republican lawmakers.

Congratulations to all the political activists, the lobbyists, the legislators, the bloggers, the not-for-profit advocates – you won. We all won.

But the next time you hear me say that if you win the culture, the politics will take care of themselves, remember V-LGBT Day. Understand that this victory owes more to Hollywood than to Washington, DC.

Hemingway: the writer and “the writer…”

Ernest Hemingway: Courtesy Wikimedia

It’s almost impossible to write about Ernest Hemingway. He was such a caricature – a caricature of his own creation, mind you, both as the writer and as “The Writer” – that trying to write about his work or his writing style in any sort of rational, coherent way is, to quote Martin Mull, like “dancing about architecture.” Nothing one can say could be fair – and nothing one could say could be unfair.

Like the rock stars who first appeared near the end of his life and who proliferated in the decade immediately following his how-to for Kurt Cobain on ending life on one’s own terms, Papa, as he was called in the second half of his reign over American letters, was as authentically and in-authentically “The Man” as any guy who secretly wants to be a great artist while publicly scorning being a great artist could ever hope to be.

And, like Cobain, he didn’t count on the vultures who’d feed on the corpse of his work left behind. Or maybe he didn’t care.

Hemingway left behind a number of manuscripts (I use the term somewhat loosely) that have since been “shaped into books” by his descendants, editors at his old publisher Scribners, and scholars dedicated to that always pleasing to the masses pastime, textual criticism. As part of my now infamous reading list for 2013, I chose one of these posthumous texts, what is (please God let this be true but I know better, after all I am an English professor and this is how people in my field earn their bread, dissecting/re-sectioning and “re-considering” works) Hemingway’s “last major work,” the “fictional memoir” True at First Light.

(First, a sidebar: with the exception of A Moveable Feast and, maybe – still not sure I’ve made up my mind yet – this last book, feel free to ignore the posthumous publications. Both Islands in the Stream and The Garden of Eden are – how shall I say this delicately – ah, let me use the German – scheisse. Remember, Thoreau reminded us that we should spend what time we have for reading on only great books.)

The scholar Carlos Baker, he who supposedly called Hemingway “our greatest 17 year old novelist,” believed, as do others that Hemingway started brilliantly (The Sun Also Rises is nearly unanimously considered his best work) and slowly, gradually declined. If one wants to argue that he “got it back” with For Whom the Bell Tolls, feel free – but it’s too damned long and presages all the self-conscious flaws of Hemingway “the writer” in his posthumous work. And The Old Man and the Sea is Hemingway parodying Hemingway: if you want to read a great piece of Hemingway writing on fishing, go read “Big Two-Hearted River.” The pleasure, fear, and courage in the latter feels less contrived and more the product of the character’s experience and not the author’s pen.

True at First Light is a strange book. If one has read a lot of Hemingway (as I have) and sees him as something of a writing style guru (as I do), some of the passages feel like someone parodying the great Ernest:

“When you stop doing things for fun you might as well be dead.” True at First Light

That, to paraphrase the man himself, is not the truest sentence he could have written. Compare it to this:

“Life isn’t hard to manage when you’ve nothing to lose.” – A Farewell to Arms

But maybe he couldn’t do it anymore and knew it. By the time he wrote this stuff, in 1954-55 or thereabouts, he was a Nobel Prize winner. He’d had severe head injuries in one of his plane crashes (that probably played a role in his mental deterioration and eventual suicide) – so he blathers on a lot about how he feels at home with the Kamba tribespeople he works with and name checks both other famous writers (Fitzgerald, Orwell, and D.H. Lawrence among others) and celebrities (like Marlene Dietrich, with whom he had an interesting correspondence).

But always, with great writers, even at their worst, there are those moments when they make us remember why we admire, study and imitate them:

“In Africa a thing is true at first light and a lie by noon and you have no more respect for it than for the lovely, perfect wood-fringed lake you see across the sun-baked salt plain. You have walked across that plain in the morning and you know that no such lake is there. But now it is there absolutely true, beautiful and believable.” – True at First Light

To continue the previous comparison:

“In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.  In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees.” – A Farewell to Arms

“The writer” was still the writer. Maybe his celebrity, his injuries, his drinking had made him a lie by noon.

But he was always true at first light.

XPOST: The New Southern Gentleman

Latest smoking gun on Iran’s nuclear program just another misfire

Yousaf Butt lays waste to the magnetic-ring-sign-of-Iran-nuclear-expansion theory.

On February 13 Joby Warrick reported for the Washington Post that “Iran recently sought to acquire tens of thousands of highly specialized magnets used in centrifuge machines, according to experts and diplomats, a sign that the country may be planning a major expansion of its nuclear program that could shorten the path to an atomic weapons capability.” More:

Purchase orders obtained by nuclear researchers show an attempt by Iranian agents to buy 100,000 of the ring-shaped magnets — which are banned from export to Iran under U.N. resolutions — from China about a year ago, those familiar with the effort said. It is unclear whether the attempt succeeded.

Or as the ISIS report Institute for Science and International Security that Warrick sited concluded:

This large potential order by Iran in late 2011 for 100,000 ring magnets ready for use in IR-1 centrifuges implies an Iranian intention to greatly expand its number of these centrifuges.

Not so fast. Yousaf Butt of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute for International Studies explains.

The magnets in question have many uses besides centrifuges and are not only, as Warrick describes them, “highly specialized magnets used in centrifuge machines.” … Why ISIS does not offer alternate and more plausible applications of these unspecialized magnets is a puzzle. … For instance, one vendor outlines some of the various possible uses in speakers, direct current brushless motors, and magnetic resonance imaging equipment.

Even more damning to the report…

As others have already noted, it seems to make little sense to order ceramic magnets that are, as ISIS describes, “almost exactly” the right dimensions. If one is intending to purchase 100,000 ceramic ring magnets for critical high-speed centrifuge applications, why not order them exactly the right size? Ceramics are almost impossible to machine due to their brittle nature and are generally ordered to the precise specifications.

Also fairly embarrassing…

The alleged inquiry states, “Dear Sir We are a great factory in south of Iran and for our new project we need 100.000 pcs Ferrite Barium strontium ring magnet . … we would like buy from you [sic] company. We should be glad if you supply this magnet for us.” Presumably, an attempt to source 100,000 parts related to Iran’s controversial and often secretive nuclear program would not be conducted quite so openly. [It’s] also at odds with procurement best-practices, for several reasons. First, such a large order would likely drive up the market price and perhaps even signal to the supplier to choke off the supply, in hopes of obtaining a better price later.

I’ve saved the worst for last…

The apparent manufacturer or supplier of the magnets in question, Ferrito Plastronics, is evidently a “tiny firm in a dark alley in Chennai’s electronic spare parts hub on Meeran Sahib Street.” According to the Times of India, “the Chennai firm does supply magnets. But these, avers company proprietor Bala Subramanian, are the ones used in loudspeakers, coils, and medical equipment. Besides these, there are decorative magnets for fridges.”

In other words, if you haven’t figured it out yet…

Such a firm would seem unlikely to be the optimal source for 100,000 high-quality centrifuge ring magnets.

We’ll give Professor Butt the final word.

… reporters and editors should raise the bar for the evidence underpinning stories of alleged Iranian nuclear weapons-related work.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Game of Thrones: When “gratuitous sex” scenes aren’t

Somewhat resistant to fantasy, but intrigued by the viewer loyalty it generated, I finally began watching Game of Thrones. The first two episodes of the first season have convinced me to continue watching. But I’m not writing a review; instead, I’m reacting to my initial impulse to take the producers of Game of Thrones to task for including gratuitous sex scenes. Gratuitous in its second definition, that is: without cause; unjustified.

When the sex scenes in a novel, film, or TV series are described as gratuitous, it usually means that you can tell they’re included to increase readership or viewership both because they’re too numerous and they fail to advance the plot. You could argue that they provide a break from the tension of the plot, but more often they defuse it. Also, while comparing the actors’ techniques — where is it written that male actors need to fake thrusting with a force bordering on violence? — to your own, you find yourself further removed from the story.

But, of course, a sex scene can reveal much about a character’s, well, character. To cite another TV show, the early, cringe-inducing sex scenes with Nicholas Brody in Homeland reveal how damaged he is. Likewise, the sex scenes in Game of Thrones, thus far in my viewing experience, are not just central, but critical to, the plot. For example, they reveal the incestuous relationship between Ser Jaime Lannister and Queen Cersei Lannister  and they show how Daenerys Targaryen is learning to handle her barbarian warlord husband Khal Drogo.

Question: When porn develops slowly, as in “women’s porn,” does the lack of nonstop sex common to most porn become “gratuitous plot”?

The Voting Rights Act: why we still need it

CATEGORY: RacePoliticsI was scrolling through Talking Points Memo this morning on the metro when I came across a story titled “Overturning The Voting Rights Act Would Be Seminal Moment For Conservative Legal Movement,” detailing how conservative groups are hoping to overturn the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a law they consider to be outdated. The oral arguments will begin this week in the Supreme Court.

In particular, conservative groups are hoping to knock down section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which is the section blocking changes to voting procedures until they’ve been properly reviewed. From the Department of Justice:

“Under Section 5, any change with respect to voting in a covered jurisdiction — or any political subunit within it — cannot legally be enforced unless and until the jurisdiction first obtains the requisite determination by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia or makes a submission to the Attorney General. This requires proof that the proposed voting change does not deny or abridge the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group. If the jurisdiction is unable to prove the absence of such discrimination, the District Court denies the requested judgment, or in the case of administrative submissions, the Attorney General objects to the change, and it remains legally unenforceable.”

The argument that conservatives are making is that the law was created under segregation, and is no longer necessary:

“The only reason Section 5 was originally justified and upheld by the courts was because of Jim Crow — the unusual circumstances at the time in terms of voter disenfranchisement,” Ilya Shapiro, the editor-in-chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review who filed an amicus brief in the case, told TPM. “I don’t think there’s a way to justify Section 5 anymore.”

No reason to justify Section 5? Were we watching the same election?

There are plenty of reasons to reaffirm the Voting Rights Act. This election was rife with conservative groups trying to limit the amount of “voter fraud” (excluding thousands of poor, elderly, young and minority voters) to make sure this was a “fair election” (make sure that conservatives kept their seats). And rather than charging a poll tax, using the Grandfather Clause or asking voters to take a literacy test, states were keeping people away from the polls in new ways – and not just in the South.

This was the election where Pennsylvania did everything it could to stop minority voter turnout. In 2012, billboards popped up telling voters that they needed a photo ID to vote – many of them completely in Spanish – when in reality that law wouldn’t go into effect until the following election. Poll watchers monitored predominantly African-American voter districts to make sure there was no “fraud,” and the Department of Justice investigated Allegheny County for voter suppression.

This was the election where Ohio’s Tea Party took it upon themselves to personally police the voter rolls, attempting to purge thousands of African Americans, Latinos, students and poor people from the rolls in the counties President Obama won in 2008.

This was the election where Florida slashed early voting hours, which are predominantly used by minority voters and low wage workers who cannot afford to miss work to vote – and even admitted that they cut the hours for to suppress minority voting. Voters in poor areas received calls telling them the wrong election day and the state also targeted thousands of Hispanics as “potential non-citizens” so they could be purged from voter rolls. When the state voter board refused to purge the rolls, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner vowed to continue his quest to stop the so-called fraud, saying it was his “moral duty” to purge these people from the rolls.

With outrageous efforts like these (and crazies like Ken Detzner in charge), this was the election that made it alarmingly clear the Voting Rights Act is more important than ever.

And in the past, Even Congress agrees; they’ve renewed it in 1966, 1973, 1980, 1999, and again in 2006. In fact, in 2006 Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act on the basis that “vestiges of discrimination in voting continue to exist as demonstrated by second generation barriers constructed to prevent minority voters from fully participating in the electoral process.”

In simple language, new ways of keeping minority voters out of the polls are popping up around the country, especially in swing states, and it’s still important to stop that from happening.

Our country doesn’t have the same Jim Crow segregationist laws that we did in 1965, and that leads many leading conservatives to believe we can do without the Voting Rights Act. But even with those laws no longer on the books, suppression of minority voting rights is still a huge problem, in both the north and the south. And the suppression isn’t just limited to African Americans: as the Latino population has grown, so have the efforts to keep Hispanic voters from voting (especially in swing states – both of these groups skew Democratic).

Yes, we’ve come a long way since 1965. But voter rights have taken steps backward in progress over the past few elections, and it cannot be allowed to continue. Opponents of the Voting Rights Act call it “outdated” and irrelevant, but I argue with examples like these and so many more, that it is more vital and important to renew than ever – especially because the opponents of the Voting Rights Act are the ones suppressing voting to begin with. The law may be old and its purpose may be seemingly outdated, but it’s the best legal pathway to make sure that all Americans are allowed to vote, regardless of ethnicity, and it must be preserved.

Redistricting: by deceitfully moving a line, I can rule forever

In America, most — but probably not all — citizens who seek public office do so with initial good intent. They wish to perform a public service.

That quaint, altruistic notion lasts, on the national level, perhaps 10 minutes after the swearing-in ceremony.

Lobbyists descend. Party leaders demand fund-raising success now. The novice lawmaker is partnered with veteran D.C. good ol’ boys (and girls). And before casting a single vote, the political novitiate begins the daily grind of hours spent dialing for dollars.

And the new titles — Congressman, Senator — and their apparent conferred respect edge into the psyche. I like this, think the freshmen. People stand up when I enter a room. People with money — lots of money – offer me not-so-subtle favors. I like this.

The discovery of power breeds the lust to retain it. An individual politician may be a decent human being. He (or she) may not end up in sexual disarray or keep $90,000 in his freezer. But as a species, politicians place preservation of power at the center of their communal altar.

National politicians cheat, steal, connive, and kiss babies to stay in office. That we can live with. But we should no longer stomach the mind-numbingly boring — so mind-numbing far too many journalists ignore it — and tainted process of redistricting. We must demand its reform.

That’s because Machiavellian maneuvers in redistricting — manipulating lines on a map — is how these charlatans keep the power they use so ineptly and unwisely.

It’s no secret that re-election rates to Congress are astonishingly high. But too many of us in the governed class, myself included, have focused our attention on the ungodly sums of money these indeliberate deliberators raise.

It’s not, so much, the money anymore: It’s who draws the lines of congressional districts, how they are drawn, and with what motive.

Redistricting is the legally required process of equalizing the numbers of people in districts following the decennial census. This is done to ensure that House seats are fairly distributed. But gerrymandering — the redrawing of district lines with the motive of ensuring a “safe” district for an incumbent — has corrupted the process. Consider these few bizarre, convoluted examples of gerrymandered districts scattered through this post.

It’s quite simple, really. Legislatures in 34 states control redistricting. In other states, “independent” and “bipartisan” commissions draw the lines. It’s always been a partisan process, but in this era of childish political tantrums, the process serves only to maximize the power of those who rule, not distribute fairly the power of those who are ruled. Districts are packed, using unimaginable boundaries, with voters of one party to the maximum extent possible.

Now do you see why the re-election rates of incumbents in Congress are so damn high?

Despite the few successes in ’08, ’10, and ’12, voters find it difficult to “throw the bums out.”

Imagine the United States, if political wrangling over redistricting and unfettered spending on campaigns by millionaires and billionaires remains unchecked. Will the day come when members of Congress simply cannot be removed through the ballot box?

If that happens, it will make the doomsday-prepping wingnuts seem absolutely prescient.

Cast your eye over history. What has been the fate of nations when citizens could not peacefully remove their government?

As boring as it is, demand transparency in redistricting efforts. And demand media organizations cover them as ardently as they do the tragic OJ-Lite™ drama under way in South Africa.

Emphasis added: the foreign policy week in slices

The U.S. military, “witch burning,” negotiations with Iran, among other affairs.

Emphasis, as always, added.

A “fundamental problem with COIN.”

Where foreign forces go, violence follows.

. . . a wave of “insider-attacks,” perpetrated by members of the Afghan security forces, has killed 60 coalition troops this year (compared with 35 last year). Leon Panetta has described these killings as “kind of a last-gasp effort” of the Taliban to resist their inevitable demise. He also remarked, “It’s near the end of their effort to really fully fight back.” It’s hard to say which is worse: our president and defense secretary deliberately misrepresenting the situation in Afghanistan to such a degree, or our president and defense secretary genuinely misunderstanding it to such a degree.

The Last Men, Luke Mogelson, The New Republic


The promotion system reinforces professional ignorance. Above the company grades, military ability does not count in determining who gets promoted. At the rank of major, officers are supposed to accept that the “real world” is the internal world of budget and promotion politics, not war. Those who “don’t get it” have ever smaller chances of making general. … Its result is generals and admirals who are in effect Soviet industrial managers in ever worse-looking suits. They know little and care less about their intended product, military victory. Their expertise is in acquiring resources and playing the military courtier.

Rank Incompetence, William S. Lind, The American Conservative

The UK’s National Health Service: “a benevolent deity”

By now I am convinced that the NHS – and I hyperbolise, but only slightly – is the greatest achievement of humankind, the nearest we get to a benevolent deity, a goddamn superhero. It is an imperfect manifestation of a beautiful ideal – free care based on need, free care for all, without judgement, without reservation.

However long this [the author’s father dying] goes on for, they’ll continue throwing resources at this individual and never show a single sheet of figures to any of his relatives.

This Is How You Healthcare: American Death in London, Sarah C. R. Bee, NSFWCorp

To Netanyahu, Syria Just Another “reason to blow Iran to smithereens”

Netanyahu can’t unring the bell in Syria either, but there’s little doubt that he’d like to. The Israeli prime minister remained suspiciously silent during the Syrian uprising’s first 90 days but then, as if testing the wind, began to cautiously support the rebels. By July of last year he was all in, but only after his silence bordered on the embarrassing. Even then, he characterised the May 2011 Houla Massacre (in which a reported 108 Syrians were slaughtered by Assad’s henchmen), as being carried out primarily with the help of Iran and Hezbollah. It was almost as if the Syrian military was a bystander.

This was all part of the same sad drumbeat, as if Netanyahu feared that (in the midst of the Arab Spring), we’d lose sight of the real agenda — which was finding a reason to blow Iran to smithereens. It wasn’t so important that the Houla Massacre was evidence of the Syrian government’s hate of its own people, (you see), it was important that it was carried out by people who hate Israel.

Israel’s democracy myth, Mark Perry, Al Jazeera

Protecting Papua New Guinea’s “Witches”

Even assuming the political will emerges to invest in stronger policing and community protection, it will be years before the terrorism fades in communities like Simbu, an epicentre for violence.…

Bishop Anton Bal, the Catholic bishop of Kundiawa, the capital of Simbu … argues that the catch-22 with sorcery is that the more it’s talked about, the greater its power and allure. So his programs include training up networks of local parish volunteers as a kind of resistance movement. Operatives deflect and douse conversations about blame as soon as a death in the community occurs. They go to the funeral and when someone brings up the question of sanguma they shift the topic — talk about the weather, shut it down. Or raise the alarm.

It’s 2013, And They’re Burning ‘Witches’, Jo Chandler, The Global Mail

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Storyline: Conference, Day One


“Did you come from a cold, wet place?” Donald Miller asks. A murmur of laughter ripples through the room. “That’s awesome,” he says, laughing. The weather in San Diego is in the mid-sixties today, and everyone I’ve met so far at the Storyline conference has reveled in it. “That part is free,” Miller quips.

Miller has a smile his mouth can barely contain. He strolls back and forth across a half-moon dais, obviously delighted to be here. Behind him, the space has been set to look cozy: a pair of cushy leather chairs fronted by a glass coffee table, a round cafe table flanked by two short metal stools, tall plastic ficus trees in august gray urns, an antique book cabinet with dust-dimmed glass. It could be his own portable neighborhood coffee shop if not for the massive movie screen that hangs behind him.

“The most powerful stories are people,” Miller says. “What will the world miss if you don’t tell your story?” His question hangs in the air like a static charge and appears onscreen in letters as big as Miller’s head.

Miller believes we all have the potential to lead lives that make good stories, and through Storyline, he’s made it his mission to help people realize that potential. “I want you to contemplate the idea that we might be called to something special,” he says.

The problem is that our stories get hijacked, he explains, blaming commercialism and religious legalism as the main culprits. It’s the dream of owning a Volvo for the sake of owning a Volvo, he says. It’s the belief that your trip to Bed, Bath, and Beyond is really important. It’s buying into the myth sold by advertising: We won’t be happy unless we buy more stuff.

Donald Miller chats between sessions with a Storyline attendee.

Donald Miller chats between sessions with a Storyline attendee.

“That’s not the story we should be buying into,” Miller says. It’s not the story we should be writing for ourselves.

“The locus of control is inside of you,” Miller says. “You have the power to affect change.” By approaching life proactively rather than reactively, we have the ability to start writing our own story.

“A good story consists of a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it,” Miller explains. He promises that we’ll talk a lot about conflict, and our need to confront it, and our need to find redemption in it.

The character’s clarity of purpose is key. There needs to be something at stake, too. “Nobody is going to want to want to watch a movie about a guy who wants to buy a Volvo,” Miller says. “That’s not a compelling reason to watch a movie.”

Good stories have meaning, they save lives—meant in a broad sense—and the characters are transformed because of them.

Miller’s approach is heavily influenced by the work of psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. Frankl’s contemporary, Sigmund Freud, argued that people are motivated by the quest for pleasure; Frankl, on the other hand, argued that people are motivated by the quest for meaning. When they can’t find meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure.

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to their graves with the song still in them,” Miller says, quoting Thoreau. Then Miller asks, “Is there a story inside you?”

That’s what we’re here to find out.

Taylor attacks his critics instead of correcting his distortions of a peer-reviewed study

CATEGORY: ClimateOn February 13, James M. Taylor of The Heartland Institute published a deceptive and dishonest blog post at Forbes in which he falsely claimed that a new study rejected the overwhelming scientific consensus about the human causes of climate disruption. On February 20, Taylor dedicated a second Forbes blog to the same study, and instead of admitting his factual errors and correcting his original post, he chose to attack both his critics and the study’s authors. However, his second post was filled with yet more false claims that demonstrate yet again Taylor’s habit of deception and dishonesty.

Taylor attacks a straw man

According to Taylor, climate disruption realists (those who accept the reality that human activity is the dominant driver of climate disruption) supposedly feel that “only atmospheric scientists are qualified” to comment on climate disruption and that geoscientists and engineers are not qualified. While having an understanding of atmospheric science certainly helps understand certain aspects of climate disruption, it is not true that only atmospheric scientists can be climate experts. Scientists who study glaciers and ice caps provide understanding of how the Earth’s glaciers will respond to climate disruption and how that may affect sea level rise. Chemists who are experts in geochemistry provide valuable information on how fast carbon dioxide is sequestered by chemical reactions with rocks. Biologists provide information on how plant and animals will respond to ocean acidification and higher temperatures. Some climate experts such as Ray Pierrehumbert were even engineers before they changed their focus and became climate researchers.

The problem with Taylor’s assertion (his “Argument #2”) and his related claims of hypocrisy by climate disruption realists is that they’re straw man logical fallacies. In this case, Taylor has falsely asserted that his critics are making a claim that they haven’t actually made, and he’s attacking the assertion instead of the real one because it’s easier and because it distracts his readers. In the process of creating his straw man, Taylor attacks both James Hansen and the head of the IPCC, Raj Pachauri

As Taylor says, Hansen is an astronomer by education. But Hansen’s original expertise, namely the atmosphere of Venus and how it’s resulted in Venus’ surface temperature being hot enough to melt lead, is directly relevant to climate disruption. Furthermore, Hansen has been publishing peer-reviewed studies about the greenhouse effect and the Earth’s climate since 1974. His publishing record and decades of work are what make Hansen an expert, not his original astronomy background.

And while Pachauri is a railroad engineer, he’s also an administrator, not a scientific expert. It doesn’t take a scientific expert to be a good administrator and manage scientists effectively. If it did, corporations run by MBAs without engineering backgrounds would fail because the managers and executives didn’t understand how to design a telephony circuit or an Ethernet switch. Whether or not Pachauri is a climate expert is immaterial – Taylor’s claim is a distraction either way.

S&R examined the nature of expertise in April 2012 when 49 former NASA employees wrote a letter insisting that NASA prevent its scientists from publishing their scientific conclusions about industrial climate disruption:

Expertise in the effects of high levels of carbon dioxide on astronauts doesn’t make one an expert on CO2‘s effect on ecosystems. Expertise in lunar geology doesn’t make one an expert in geochemical sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Expertise in heat transfer through space shuttle heat tiles doesn’t make one an expert in heat transfer between the Earth’s surface and the atmosphere. Even expertise in weather forecasting doesn’t make the forecaster an expert on climate.

No amount of expertise on one subject can magically bestow expertise on any other subject. Expertise must be earned through dedicated effort day in and day out, over the course of years.

Taylor’s attacks are against a straw man argument that his critics have not actually made, and he fails to tar his critics as hypocrites in the process.

Taylor falsely claims government scientists are guilty by association

Taylor continues his deceptions by resorting to yet another logical fallacy, specifically guilt by association, when he falsely claims that the scientists surveyed for the Doran and Zimmerman 2010 study (D&Z2010) are biased simply because they work for or are funded by government grants. As S&R wrote in response to another of Taylor’s failed attempts to discredit scientists using guilt by association,

Is commentator David Brooks inherently biased because he writes for the New York Times? Is Richard Lindzen, the contrarian MIT climatologist, inherently biased because he teaches at MIT? In every case the answer is clearly “no” – any individual may well be biased, but simple association does not and can not prove bias.

If we applied Taylor’s own poor logic to Taylor himself we could automatically dismiss everything he writes on the subject of industrial climate disruption simply because he’s a Senior Fellow at The Heartland Institute. (emphasis original, links removed)

Furthermore, even if Taylor is correct that the source of money is corrupting, then by his own logic, scientists in the employ of fossil fuel-related industries are far more likely to have been corrupted than those scientists employed by the government. In 2010, S&R found that fossil-fuel related industries (those involved in the production, transportation, consumption, and refining of fossil fuels) were responsible for approximately $9 trillion, or 15%, of the entire global economy in 2008. In contrast, the entire global budget for climate research globally in 2008 is estimated to be about $3.8 billion, or 0.04% of the revenues of the fossil fuel-related industries.

Taylor can’t have it both ways. If Taylor wants to claim that scientists are automatically tainted by government money, then scientists are automatically tainted by industry money too. And there’s over 2,500 times more industry money than government money.

Taylor dishonestly distorts yet another survey

from Doran & Zimmerman 2010

from Doran & Zimmerman 2010

Taylor’s last deceptive claim borders on being dishonest. He falsely claims that “an often misrepresented survey claiming 97 percent of scientists agree that humans are causing a global warming crisis… (emphasis added),” a reference to the previously mentioned D&Z2010 survey. The problem is that D&Z2010 doesn’t say that 97% of scientists agree, it says that 97.4% of “climatologists who are active publishers on the subject of climate change” agree. The survey says that only 82% of all respondents (all scientists from various academic institutions and government research labs) agree that “human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures.”

A related claim of Taylor’s, however, is dishonest. Taylor writes that D&Z2010 “asked merely whether some warming has occurred and whether humans are playing at least a partial role (emphasis added).” The actual question posed in D&Z2010 was “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures? (emphasis added)” Note the difference in significance between Taylor’s “at least a partial role” and D&Z2010’s “a significant contributing factor.” This is a dishonest attempt by Taylor to downplay the results of the D&Z2010 study.

Taylor repeats his dishonest allegations about the Lefsrud and Meyer study

But most of Taylor’s dishonest claims are made in reference to the survey of professional engineers and geoscientists by Lianne Lefsrud and Renate Meyer. Taylor writes that Lefsrud and Meyer “claim their survey is not strong evidence against the mythical global warming consensus, therefore skeptics cannot cite the survey while debating the mythical consensus.” However, what Lefsrud and Meyer actually claim – three times just in their response to Taylor at his original Forbes blog – is that their results are not representative of all scientists.

First and foremost, our study is not a representative survey. Although our data set is large and diverse enough for our research questions, it cannot be used for generalizations such as “respondents believe …” or “scientists don’t believe …”

We do point this out several times in the paper, and it is important to highlight it again.

But once again: This is not a representative survey and should not be used as such! (emphasis added)

As S&R found last week, the authors correctly state that the study is not representative.

There is no mention [in Taylor’s original Forbes blog] that all the study’s respondents were only in Alberta, Canada. There is no mention that they’re all members of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA). There is no mention that the membership of APEGA is predominantly employed by the Alberta petroleum industry and its regulators. And there is no mention that the authors repeatedly and specifically write in their study that their results are not applicable beyond the respondents and members of APEGA.

Furthermore, Taylor repeats the false claim he that he originally made with respect to Lefsrud and Meyer’s “[frequent] use terms such as “denier” to describe scientists who are skeptical of an asserted global warming crisis.” S&R identified this lie of Taylor’s previously, writing that

the word “denier” is used exactly twice in the body of the paper – in the conclusion on page 20 of a 24 page paper. Taken in context, the authors clearly differentiate between those who deny climate change (such as the 0.6% of survey respondents who reject that climate change is occurring at all) and those who are skeptical of it for some reason.

Taylor writes that climate disruption realists are “attacking the integrity of scientists” in an attempt to “minimize the damage” supposedly caused by Lefsrud and Meyer’s study. As demonstrated above and by Taylor’s critics previously, this claim is false for a couple of reasons. Since the study isn’t representative, there is no damage to be minimized. Similarly, Taylor’s critics aren’t questioning the integrity of the individuals who responded to the survey, only whether the respondents are a representative sample of all scientists like Taylor claims.

Ultimately, Taylor’s critics are not questioning scientists’ integrity, they’re questioning Taylor’s integrity.

Tesla vs. The Times: Elon Musk dusts up with the doubters

The tiff between Elon Musk and the New York Times has turned into one of the most entertaining car reviews of all time. In case you’ve missed it, Tesla has installed “Supercharger” stations strategically along the East Coast. These are capable of quick charging batteries with the idea that Tesla owners will be able to drive from New Jersey to Boston in a manner similar to owners of liquid fueled cars. To prove it, the company gave reviewers a brand new Model S and company support. The New York Times reviewer didn’t make it, and the Times published a photo of the Model S being put on a flatbed truck. Elon Musk doesn’t like bad reviews. He once sued Top Gear for filming the hosts pushing a Roadster that wasn’t actually and completely dead. Yes, he sued a scripted comedy show known for its willingness to trash $100,000 sports cars because they weren’t properly deferential to his baby. In his petulant way, Musk personally fired back at the Times and accused the reviewer of purposefully sabotaging the review. The Tesla fanboys and electric car geeks created a run on torches and pitchforks in comment sections across the internet, pointing to the graphs based on vehicle data logs that Musk published. CNN and Tesla car club members repeated the trip successfully as evidence that the Times reviewer is in the bag for the oil industry, except that nobody else really repeated the Times trip.

The point of the charging system and reviews, as i understand it, was to prove that you can use your new $100,000 Model S (base price is $60,000) like any other $100,000 car. The failure of the Times review was that it attempted to do so, and took notes like a car review rather than a technology review. Musk complained that the reviewer used the heat too much and once even went 80mph! So CNN’s conclusion that the Model S is every bit as good as a BMW or Audi falls a little flat. At $100,000 i would expect the vehicle to be well composed at speeds far above 80, and i’m damned well going to exceed the speed limit most every chance i get. If Musk doesn’t think owners should drive so fast, he should limit the Model S to 75 or some other battery and environmentally friendly speed. The Germans generally limit at 155.

I admit to being something of a petrolhead, though a quirky one (one of my aspirational cars is to import a Lada 2104, the Riva Kombi, to be my daily driver), but i’m not philosophically opposed to electric cars. If i wasn’t philosophically opposed to buying new vehicles and had a garage to charge, i’d consider buying an electric because most days neither driver needs to exceed 20 total miles. I’d consider it even though i’d never recoup the cost premium in fuel savings. The problem would be that where we use the most fuel is to make the 450 mile drive to Detroit. In a Model S with the largest battery pack, there would need to be a supercharger in roughly Gaylord, MI and likely multiple spots along the way given that for a significant portion of the year it’s cruel and inhumane to drive the length of Michigan without heat. Even the fast charge would add significant time to an already long trip, and i would gouge my eyes out with the turn signal stalk if i had to drive the speed limit the whole way just to be able to make it. … not to mention the rage if i pulled up to the supercharger and had to wait an hour for someone else to finish before i could even start to recharge.

For $100,000 i could build a large enough garage to purchase and hold the whole collection: my BMW, import the Lada, buy/build an electric conversion Porsche 914, and a nice used VW TDI wagon for the better half and  road trips. But even for $100,000, i cannot buy an electric car that could be my only car.

Musk doesn’t appear to be interested in building a practical electric vehicle at a realistic price point for something approaching mass adoption, so his petulance when someone says that a $100,000 toy isn’t always practical mystifies me. I’d feel the same if Pagani got all bent out of shape because a reviewer decided that a Zonda is a really bad car for taking the family to visit Grandma at Christmas. We don’t need proof of concept for electric vehicles. The White Zombie Datsun proves that a properly sorted electric car will destroy most gasoline powered cars in a drag race, and that was built in a garage by a guy who converted another Datsun to electric for daily driver use. Color me unimpressed that Elon Musk did the same thing with a Lotus Elise.

The problem with electric car adoption is the charging infrastructure. Musk has successfully installed a hobby level of charging infrastructure in a few places. That’s great. It’s a start, but it’s not an achievement that makes him a world-changing genius who should never be questioned or criticized. Making something expensive and impractical is just eccentric, no matter how cool it is. So as much as it pains me to compliment General Motors, the technological platform in the Volt is a far more profound advancement in electric vehicle progression than anything Musk has ever done, because it is a fully usable vehicle at a realistic price point. While it is not technically an EV, it’s the electric vehicle i’d buy, except that i won’t even buy a used General Motors product, much less a new one. For this car guy, Musk’s antics and self-perception put Tesla in the same group as GM.

At least one article has said that Musk and Tesla are understood by the techies but not by the car guys when it comes to reviews, and i think that may hold true beyond reviewers to some degree. I don’t want a rolling iGadget, i want a car. So as good as this Truth About Cars post is,  and it’s the most interesting take on the situation i’ve read because of its perspective from automotive PR, it may miss the point if Musk isn’t building a car company but a self-propelled-tech company.

Storyline: Prologue

First in a series

I’m forty-thousand feet above the Rocky Mountains. Denver is some ninety miles to my left and a long way down. I’ve lost the sun beyond the curve of the earth, but the light it still throws is as bright orange as the glow from inside a smelting pit. Molten sunshine has been poured along the horizon. Somewhere in the direction of the glow is San Diego, although I won’t arrive until well after dark.

I’m heading to Point Loma Nazarene University, a place I’ve never been, to attend a writing conference of sorts. “Storyline” is life-planning process developed by memoirist Donald Miller built on the premise that our lives are like stories: if we employ the techniques screenwriters and novelists use when they’re planning stories, we can have greater clarity in our own.

Storyline-cover“Storyline will help you live a better story and, as such, experience a meaningful life,” Miller writes. “It’s about creating a great overall human experience.”

In all the writing classes I teach, my basic premise is “Tell good stories.” Whether it’s a news story, a feature, a press release, an ad, a piece of fiction, a play, a memoir, a piece of history—we’re telling stories. Even an essay is the story of an idea.

So, as a writer, Storyline caught my interest as something that might give me a few more tools to put in my pedagogical toolbox. It’s a safe assumption that I’ll learn a new activity or gain a new insight that I can then use in my teaching.

But that’s only part of it.

I could use a little life-planning right now, to be honest. Since successfully defending my Ph.D. back in November, I’ve felt a bit adrift.

I knew part of my deep restlessness came from the post-high crash that always comes after finishing a major project. Part of it was the need to decompress after the intensity of cramming four years of doctoral work into two. Part of it sprang from the realization that I now had a shitload of free time and had no idea what the hell I going to do with it.

The soundtrack playing beneath all that has been some dirgy shoegaze score—the result of a breakup back in September with a girl I thought I was going to marry. Tough to think you have that part of life figured out only to discover, overnight, unkindly, that you don’t. That’s been a hard tune to shake, like an earworm from hell but burrowed in my heart.

In the wake of all that change, I figured I needed to just chill a little and the next phase of life would reveal itself to me. I had the holidays to get through, and my Africa trip, and a new semester to start. I had several books under contract that I needed to wrap up. Certainly there was stuff to do to keep me busy while life reordered itself.

But so far: nada. If anything, I’ve become even more restless.

“If a character doesn’t know what they want,” Miller says, “the story gets muddled. The same is true in life.” That might describe me just about exactly.

Enter: Storyline.

I’d been getting notices about the Storyline conference for weeks because I follow Donald Miller’s blog, but it didn’t seriously catch my eye until late January. The book, however, has been on my radar screen for months. Well, more accurately, it’s been on my coffee table for months.

BlueLikeJazz-coverI first started reading Miller two summers ago. Ironically, it was Claire, the girl who broke my heart, who introduced me to Miller’s work. She bought me a copy of Blue Like Jazz, which I gobbled up in a couple quiet afternoons. As summer wore on, Claire read Miller’s A Thousand Miles in a Million Years to me whenever we drove somewhere in the car; she recorded her own audiobook version of it as a gift at summer’s end. I tried to re-listen to it before coming to the Storyline conference but couldn’t.

This past summer, I picked up a couple of Miller’s other books, including Storyline. Much to my surprise, what arrived was not another clever memoir about the search for meaning but a workbook I didn’t have time to do because of my dissertation.

Now, it seems, the time has come.

But because I never seem content to do anything the easy way, I’m going to do Storyline but also write about the process as I go through it. A kind of meta-writing project—writing about the writing—similar to my National Novel Writing Month project a couple years ago when I wrote a novel and also wrote about writing a novel. I’m going to do Storyline and write about doing Storyline.

I’ve also recruited a couple friends to go through the process with me, too. Feeny, a married woman in her late twenties, lives near Toronto and works as a Starbucks barista. Money is a single guy around thirty who works for a newspaper not too far from me. They’ve agreed to let me pick their brains as we go and pass along their experiences.

“Sit ‘palms up,’” Miller’s book advises. “Accept that which helps you and softly reject what isn’t helpful.”

This is particularly important advice, I think, because Storyline is a faith-based process. “Our story is a subplot on God’s story,” Miller writes. “When we live our lives as though we are the star of the show, nobody likes our story. Nobody learns from it or is inspired by it or thinks it’s beautiful.”

I’m somewhat skeptical of this. I am a deeply spiritual person, but that aspect of my life is deeply personal. (I’ll write more about that later in the series.) To tackle something faith-based in such a public way, and for this particular audience at S&R, has the potential for awkwardness. However, Miller’s work bills itself as “nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality,” and he frequently references non-Christian religious thinkers.

“I doubt all those who go through Storyline believe in God,” Miller admits, “but we encourage you, perhaps in the tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous, to simply understand it makes no sense to believe the universe is all about you.”

That’s something I can buy into, and hopefully it’ll be an “in” for most readers, too.

So here I am, over the Rocky Mountains, starting my Storyline journey on literally a wing and a prayer. I have a short layover in Sin City and then it’ll be on to San Diego. Day one of the Storyline conference awaits.

“Palms up.”

Saturday Video Roundup: Mash The Beatles

It’s amazing how many really cool mashups seem to incorporate The Beatles. Or maybe that isn’t amazing at all. I mean, they were the freakin’ Beatles. Anyway, I know we’ve done this theme before, but best I can tell, it ain’t broke, so I ain’t fixing it.

Here’s The Fabs and Queen doing one of my favorite tunes off of their blockbuster album, Jazzey Road, “Fat Bottom Girls Come Together.”

Also, this is a rare outtake from those same sessions.

Many of you probably never knew that The Beatles collaborated with Bob Marley.


Meet The Zepples.

Finally, have you ever wondered what The Beatles would have been like if they’d had David Lee Roth as their singer?

San Jose Mercury-News having a hard time understanding who the real victims were in Vegas shooting

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be. – Kurt Vonnegut

You may have seen the story about the Hollywood action movie-style murder on the Las Vegas strip early yesterday morning. All the stories I’m seeing focus on the shooting victim, one Ken Cherry (aka Kenny Clutch, an aspiring rapper from Oakland). Turns out that while Clutch projected a gangster image, he was actually a pretty nice guy. Reports the San Jose Mercury-News:

A rapper with Oakland ties who was killed in a shooting and fiery crash Thursday on the Las Vegas Strip may have glorified the gangsta style in his videos, but family and associates said Ken Cherry was nothing like the image he portrayed….”In my interaction with him, I can tell you that by the way he looked and what he put out there on his videos, he fit a certain stereotype,” attorney Vicki Greco said. “But I also can tell you that away from that, he was anything but that kind of stereotype. He was honest. He was loyal. He was very dependable. Sometimes, he’d drop by my office just to say hello. He was a nice, nice kid.”

How very CB4.

You know who else wasn’t a gangsta in real life? THE TWO FUCKING INNOCENT VICTIMS IN THE TAXI CAB!!

…a Las Vegas television station late Thursday identified the taxi driver as Michael Boldon, 62, who the station said had recently moved here from Michigan to care for his 93-year-old mother.

The victim’s son, who drives a limousine, told Fox News 5 that he last talked with his father after 3 a.m., and later called his cellphone shortly after the crash to warn him to avoid the Strip. But there was no answer.


We don’t know the whole story yet, and I’m trying not to speculate too hard around the details we do have, which seem to want to tell a story we have heard before. I’m keenly aware of the fact that by simply typing the word “rapper” here I might be perceived by some as playing into a subtly racist meme. On the other hand, the details being reported are what they are, and sadly, it isn’t like rappers never engage in beefing that goes violent and by the way, has anybody ever heard of Tupac Shakur?

It’s a shame that an apparently nice young man got shot. He didn’t deserve it. But the two folks in that cab probably deserved it even less, especially if that whole gangsta thing figured into the events leading up to the shooting.

If I’m the SJM-N editors, I might be holding off a day or two more before I begin the canonization proceedings for Kenny Clutch. From what we can tell, it seems like there might be a couple of other folks whose families and memories are more immediately deserving of our sympathies.

The short, useful life of Downton Abbey’s Matthew Crawley

Matthew[Spoiler alert] Poor Matthew Crawley. He survives World War I, early 2oth Century medicine, and plows into a milk truck just after becoming a father. How very British. How very Lawrence of Arabia. Americans were (are) furious.

I realize that I should not admit my love of Downton Abbey. But it is the only show that I’ve made an effort to watch in its original run in years. I know: it’s essentially a soap opera. Yeah, but with really great costumes. And wonderful writing. And Maggie Smith. I know: it romanticizes class divisions and contains historical inaccuracies. Oh well–it’s fiction.

I try to avoid spoilers. It was only by accident that I saw headlines about Dan Stevens, the actor who played Matthew, was leaving Downton. I figured that he would probably get killed off. If the series were made in the USA, we’d just pull a Darrin Stevens and switch actors. But, with the death of Sybil earlier in the season, there was always the faint possibility that the character would live on. But, alas, that was not to be. As soon as Matthew left the hospital after holding his newborn son for the first time, smiling, driving fast through the English countryside, I new he was a goner.

I’m not sure if anyone has asked creator Julian Fellowes about the possible homage to the opening of David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia: T.E. Lawrence polishing his motorcycle (a Brough-Superior, first one to do over 100 mph), climbing on and then having a marvelous fast drive on gravel lanes in the English countryside (clip here). Until he encounters bicycles coming in the other direction. With poor Matthew, it was a convertible and a milk truck.

Someone did ask Fellowes for a reaction to the outrage among American fans. His response was not sympathetic, “Most of the [UK] soap operas always use the Christmas special to kill huge quantities of their characters.” Some writers have sympathized with actor’s dissatisfaction with the character of Matthew, saying that he got bad story lines.

I beg to differ. Matthew saved Downton at least five times: becoming the male heir, marrying his cousin Mary and securing her estate and reputation, investing his inheritance in Downton and saving it from bankruptcy, convincing Mary’s father to modernize Downton’s management, and fathering a male heir. He got to fight WWI and survive (even though they thought he was a paraplegic for awhile). He decked Sir Richard. At Christmas. Finally. Best punch thrown in the entire series. He made his Irish brother-in-law-to-be his best man and taught the family to value him.

Yeah, Matthew did spend parts of the series trapped in a wheel chair and then trapped in a period of mourning that reduced him to stumbling around like one of the undead, with dark circles that must have been designed to appeal to the Twilight crowd (do they even know PBS exists?). His character seemed to be frequently Embarrassed, Depressed, Confused, or Offended. And I understand his wanting to leave before he gets so type-cast to Americans that the brevity of his career rivals that of Hugh Grant.

Well, here’s to Dan Stevens in hopes that he made a good choice.

And here’s to Matthew Crawley. Thanks for saving Downton. RIP.

Tim Tebow decides to do the right thing for professional reasons (but reserves the right to do the wrong thing later when nobody is paying attention)

I was reading the Internets today and guess what? – our boy Timmy is back in the news.

New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow has decided to cancel his appearance at a Dallas church that is led by a pastor, Robert Jeffress, who has been criticized for his remarks about gays and other faiths.

Tebow sent out a series of tweets Thursday announcing his decision:

“While I was looking forward to sharing a message of hope and Christ’s unconditional love with the faithful members of the historic First Baptist Church of Dallas in April, due to new information that has been brought to my attention, I have decided to cancel my upcoming appearance. I will continue to use the platform God has blessed me with to bring Faith, Hope and Love to all those needing a brighter day. Thank you for all of your love and support. God Bless!”

Good for you, Tim. It’s great to hear that you’re genuinely committed to spreading Jesus’s message of love and acceptance, no matter what the circumstances are. Do the right thing, though the world may end. I’m proud of you. I think that….ummm, wait, hold on a second….he what? You’re kidding.

Jeffress told the Associated Press that Tebow told him he would like to speak at First Baptist at some point, but “he needed to avoid controversy right now for personal and professional reasons.”

So….you’ll go speak to the hatemongers as soon as everybody looks the other way for a second? The hell? Can somebody show me where it says in the Bible that you’re supposed to do good works for the Lord as long as it’s professionally expedient? (Hey, maybe this is what was going on with that whole “denied the Lord thrice” thing. I got your back, Jesus, but I got to look out for my family, hear what I’m saying?)

Let’s see if there’s anything else interesting in this article.

Jeffress said Thursday that First Baptist was being mischaracterized as a “hate church,” and that the church’s teachings were consistent with historic Christian beliefs.

Did I miss the part where hate and “historic Christian beliefs” (as interpreted by the likes of the Rev. Jeffress) are mutually exclusive?

“We had planned for him to speak very positively about the difference Jesus Christ had made in his life,” Jeffress said.

This would have been a great speech. If it weren’t for his very, very public displays of piety Tebow would never have played a down in the NFL. To paraphrase Chico Esquela, “Jebus been bery bery good to me.”

What else?

“There are a disproportionate amount of assaults against children by homosexuals than by heterosexuals, you can’t deny that,” Jeffress said in July.

Wait, what? Yes I can.

“And the reason is very clear: Homosexuality is perverse, it represents a degradation of a person’s mind and if a person will sink that low and there are no restraints from God’s law, then there is no telling to whatever sins he will commit as well.”

Which is why our history is so rife with gay serial killers, rapists, Lehman Brothers executives and superchurch pastors.

In a 2011 interview, Jeffress said that Islam and Mormonism were religions that are “heresy from the pit of hell,” and criticized the Roman Catholic Church as “the genius of Satan” and “corrupted” by cults.

And since this sounds like an intramural matter between the good reverend and his fellow Abrahamic religious conservatives, I’m just going to step back and leave it alone.


We’ve been telling you what Tim Tebow was for a long time here at S&R: an opportunistic, hypocritical self-promoter who can’t play a lick. Between this and the fact that at present the NY Jets don’t want him anymore and can’t seem to find anyone else who does, either, the evidence continues to mount that we’ve been right all along.

The All-NBA What-If Team

David “Skywalker” Thompson before he arrived in the NBA. Damn.

We sports fans love a good “what if?” debate, and there are millions of them. What if Portland had drafted Michael Jordan instead of Sam Bowie? What if Roman Abramovich had left José Mourinho alone instead of meddling? What if Barry “The Asterisk” Bonds hadn’t decided to become a walking pharmaceutical test facility? What if Don Shula had pulled Earl Morrall and put Johnny Unitas in the game earlier in Super Bowl III? What if the fucking refs had called the interference on that early Baltimore pick-six in their playoff win against the Broncos a few weeks back?

And my favorite: What if [insert player here] hadn’t gotten hurt?

The simple fact is that all of our major sports (and a lot of the minor ones, too) are littered with players who never realized their full potential due to injuries. For instance, I don’t know how many yards Gale Sayers would have finished his career with had he not blown his knee, but if they’d had the medical tech then that they do today it would have been many thousands more than the 4,956 he retired with.

Some of the greatest sports injury what ifs can be found in the NBA. In a parallel universe where a few injuries didn’t happen, the list of top five greatest players in history contains a couple names you don’t find on the corresponding list in this universe. So I decided to have a crack at naming the NBA’s all-time What-If Hall of Fame starting five.

Point Guard: Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway

Hardaway was the #3 pick in the 1993 draft and along with teammate Shaquille O’Neal led the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals in his second season. He was an All-NBA First Teamer in 1995 and 1996 and was named to the third team in 1997. He was also a four-time all-star (1995, 1996, 1997, 1998). But he blew his knee early in the 1997-98 season, and while he returned to play for another ten years he was never the same.

Shooting Guard: David Thompson

Put simply, David Thompson was the best player I ever saw. If not for injuries (and a self-inflicted coke problem later on) there is little doubt in my mind that he would today be regarded as the greatest player who ever lived. Let’s consider some of the highlights:

  • 4× NBA All-Star (1977–1979, 1983)
  • ABA All-Star (1976)
  • 2× All-NBA First Team (1977, 1978)
  • NBA All-Star Game MVP (1979)
  • ABA All-Star Game MVP (1976)
  • ABA Rookie of the Year (1976)
  • ABA All-Rookie First Team (1976)

Standing 6’4″, DT was one of the most remarkable pure athletes in basketball history. He had a flat-footed vertical of 44″ and did this show dunk he called “cradle the baby”: he’d wrap his arm around the ball, leap up above the rim and punch the ball down through the net with his other hand. Long-time basketball watchers will tell you that the 1976 ABA Slam-Dunk Contest, with Dr. J beating Thompson in the final (that was the one where Erving became the first person to dunk taking off at the free throw line) was the greatest dunk contest in hoop history. Thompson also pretty much invented the alley-oop, so you’re welcome LA Clippers.

Have a look at his numbers over the first few years of his career.

1975–76 Denver (ABA) 26.0 6.3 3.7 1.6 1.2 .515
1976–77 Denver 25.9 4.1 4.1 1.4 0.6 .507
1977–78 Denver 27.2 4.9 4.5 1.2 1.2 .521
1978–79 Denver 24.0 3.6 3.0 0.9 1.1 .512
1979–80 Denver 21.5 4.5 3.2 1.0 1.0 .468
1980–81 Denver 25.5 3.7 3.0 0.7 0.8 .506
1981–82 Denver 14.9 2.4 1.9 0.6 0.5 .486
1982–83 Seattle 15.9 3.6 3.0 0.6 0.4 .481
1983–84 Seattle 12.6 2.3 0.7 0.5 0.7 .539

He began having injury issues after the 1978 season, and even with them he continued to post great numbers through 1980-81.

I guess there’s one other factor to consider – DT never played in a big media market, and that always helps the legend. Had he done everything in his career in LA or New York or Boston there would be a lot less chatter about Michael Jordan being the best ever.

Thompson is in the Hall of Fame. And despite that honor, still stands as the most underrated player in pro basketball history. He was that good.

Small Forward: Grant Hill

My friends in the Offsides Sports Community had a lot of ideas about this one, including Bernard King and Elgin Baylor. The argument there is that as great as their careers were, they could have been even better (a version of the argument I make about Thompson, in essence).

Still, guys who could have had greater careers strike me as less compelling than a guy who, thanks to injuries, barely managed to be a shadow of what he could have been. Hill is the only Hall of Fame level talent ever produced by Duke’s legendary Mike Krzyzewski. Before injuries set in late int he 2000 season we saw serious superstar potential. Hill was named to seven All-Star Games, but look at his stats and notice what happened after 1999-2000.

1994–95 Detroit 70 69 38.3 .477 .148 .732 6.4 5.0 1.8 .9 19.9
1995–96 Detroit 80 80 40.8 .462 .192 .751 9.8 6.9 1.2 .6 20.2
1996–97 Detroit 80 80 39.3 .496 .303 .711 9.0 7.3 1.8 .6 21.4
1997–98 Detroit 81 81 40.7 .452 .143 .740 7.7 6.8 1.8 .6 21.1
1998–99 Detroit 50 50 37.0 .479 .000 .752 7.1 6.0 1.6 .5 21.1
1999–00 Detroit 74 74 37.5 .489 .347 .795 6.6 5.2 1.4 .6 25.8
2000–01 Orlando 4 4 33.3 .442 1.000 .615 6.3 6.3 1.2 .5 13.8
2001–02 Orlando 14 14 36.6 .426 .000 .863 8.9 4.6 .6 .3 16.8
2002–03 Orlando 29 29 29.1 .492 .250 .819 7.1 4.2 1.0 .4 14.5
2004–05 Orlando 67 67 34.9 .509 .231 .821 4.7 3.3 1.5 .4 19.7
2005–06 Orlando 21 17 29.2 .490 .250 .765 3.8 2.3 1.1 .3 15.1
2006–07 Orlando 65 64 30.9 .518 .167 .765 3.6 2.1 .9 .4 14.4
2007–08 Phoenix 70 68 31.7 .503 .317 .867 5.0 2.9 .9 .8 13.1
2008–09 Phoenix 82 68 29.8 .523 .316 .808 4.9 2.3 1.1 .7 12.0
2009–10 Phoenix 81 81 30.0 .478 .438 .817 5.5 2.4 .7 .4 11.3
2010–11 Phoenix 80 80 30.1 .484 .395 .829 4.2 2.5 .8 .4 13.2
2011–12 Phoenix 49 46 28.1 .446 .264 .761 3.5 2.2 .8 .6 10.2
Career 997 972 34.4 .484 .315 .770 6.1 4.2 1.2 .6 17.1
All-Star 6 6 22.2 .571 .500 .545 2.5 3.2 1.2 .2 10.5

Hill is still playing and I don’t know if his career will get him into the Hall of Fame. Time will tell.

Power Forward: Maurice Stokes

I’m tempted to go with a twin towers lineup and play Ralph Sampson at the four, just like the Rockets did. But it’s just about impossible to ignore the tragedy of Maurice Stokes, whose story goes way beyond “career cut short by injury.” Wikipedia sums it up for us:

Playing for the National Basketball Association’s Rochester Royals (which became the Cincinnati Royals in 1957) from 1955 to 1958, Stokes grabbed 38 rebounds in a single game during his rookie season, averaged 16.3 rebounds per game overall, and was named NBA Rookie of the Year. The next season, he set a league record for most rebounds in a single season with 1,256 (17.4 per game). He played in the All-Star Game all three seasons of his tragically short career, and was named to the All-NBA second team three times. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in September 2004.

On March 12, 1958, in the last game of the regular 1957–58 NBA season, in Minneapolis, Stokes drove to the basket, drew contact, fell to the floor, struck his head and lost consciousness. He was revived with smelling salts and returned to the game. Three days later, after a 12-point, 15-rebound performance in an opening-round playoff game at Detroit against the Pistons, he became ill on the team’s flight back to Cincinnati; “I feel like I’m going to die,” he told a teammate. He later suffered a seizure, fell into a coma and was left permanently paralyzed. In the end, he was diagnosed with posttraumatic encephalopathy, a brain injury that damaged his motor-control center.”

I think we have our power forward. And one of the saddest sports stories you’re likely to encounter. Ever.

Center: Bill Walton

Again, let’s turn to the concise Wikipedia entry for a nice summary:

He signed with the Trail Blazers but his first two seasons were marred by injury (at different times he broke his nose, foot, wrist and leg) and the Blazers missed the playoffs both years. It was not until the 1976–77 season that he was healthy enough to play 65 games and, spurred by new head coach Jack Ramsay, the Trail Blazers became the Cinderella team of the NBA. Walton led the NBA in both rebounds per game and blocked shots per game that season, and he was selected to the NBA All-Star Game, but did not participate due to an injury. Walton was named to the NBA’s First All-Defensive Team and the All-NBA Second Team for his regular season accomplishments. In the postseason, Walton led Portland to a sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference finals (arguably holding his own against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during the series)[10] and went on to help the Trail Blazers to the NBA title over the favored Philadelphia 76ers despite losing the first two games of the series. Walton was named the Finals MVP.

The following year, the Blazers won 50 of their first 60 games before Walton suffered a broken foot in what turned out to be the first in a string of foot and ankle injuries that cut short his career. He nonetheless won the league MVP that season (1978) and the Sporting News NBA MVP, as well. He played in his only All-Star Game in 1978 and was named to both the NBA’s First All-Defensive Team and the All-NBA First Team. Walton returned to action for the playoffs, but was reinjured in the second game of a series against the Seattle SuperSonics. Without Walton to lead them, Portland lost the series to Seattle in six games.

Walton soldiered on, finally calling it a day after ten seasons. A close look at his cumulative stats reveals what a remarkable player he was, even beat up and playing on busted wheels. Have a look at those per 36 minute numbers, for instance. There is a very credible argument to be made that had he remained healthy, Walton might have gone down as the greatest center to ever play the game and, along with Thompson, one of the five best at any position in history.

What if, huh?


Special thanks to my peeps in the Offsides Sports Community, who had all kinds of recommendations and insights here.

Image Credit: Today’s ACC Headlines

Recreating Shackleton’s unbelievable voyage

In the annals of polar exploration, there are any number of extraordinary journeys that have reached mythic status. Scott’s failed return from the pole, with its simultaneous overtones of tragedy and inspiration; the journey of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Birdie Bowers, Edward Wilson and Henry Robertson on that same expedition to harvest some Penguin eggs in the middle of winter, later recounted in Cherry-Garrard’s aptly named The Worst Journey in the World; Nansen’s improbable crossing of Greenland on skis in 1888, and his equally improbable attempt to reach the North Pole by getting frozen in the ice several years later; Amundsen, taking the idea from Nansen, locking himself in the ice and letting himself float his way (over three years) to be the first European to complete the Northwest Passage. And then there’s Ernest Shackleton, whose 1916 exploits following the sinking of his ship, the Endurance, in Antarctic waters still has an element of unreality to it.

The facts are straightforward. Shackleton was the leader of an expedition to chart Antarctic waters, and to attempt to cross the continent, if possible, since the South Pole had already been reached by this time. It was Shackleton’s third trip to Antarctica, and second as a commander of a naval vessel (in his first command, Shackleton and his men got pretty close to the South Pole, but were forced to turn back). The first two went fine, or about as fine as these things could go—no one died under Shackleton’s command. This one, though, was a different matter: the Endurance became trapped by a sudden freeze in 1915, and remained trapped for ten months before being crushed by the ice and sinking. And while Shackleton and his men were able to remove necessary supplies before the sinking, there they were on the ice, with a bunch of stuff the absolutely needed to survive, with no obvious hope of rescue. So they lived on the ice for a couple of months, and then, as what passed for the Antarctic summer was ending and their ice was breaking up, in April 1916 set sail, in three open lifeboats, for Elephant Island—over 340 miles north of where they were when the Endurance sank. After sailing for five days in heavy weather, they made Elephant Island, and then had to deal with—now what? There was still no hope of rescue unless someone could alert potential rescuers.

So Shackleton and four of his crew did what anyone would do—they set sail (again in an open boat) for the whaling station on South Georgia island, 800 nautical miles away. Well, they did that, but it took 16 days. But then they discovered they had landed on the wrong side of the island. So they had to climb the 2,950 foot mountain that separated the two shores of the island to reach the whaling station. Which they eventually did, got the rescuers, and returned to Elephant Island after four and a half months to rescue the rest of his crew. In all of this, not a man was lost—another extraordinary aspect of this widely celebrated voyage. There have been movies made about it, including one with Kenneth Branagh.

So a couple of sports decided to recreate Shackleton’s voyage, and they actually survived to tell the tale. But it was close, apparently—the weather appears to have been just as uncooperative for them as it was for Shackleton’s group. Still, it’s nice to know that the age of iron men and wooden ships has not completely passed. Good for them. This isn’t the first time someone has attempted to duplicate a Shackelton expedition—a couple of years ago, descendents of Shackleton’s 1909 failed attempt to reach the pole attempted it again, and made it.

Words are often insufficient to capture experience—we all know this. But they fail particularly badly when trying to capture being in an open boat in fifteen foot waves for days on end, or the effects of sustained cold on the human body—our metaphors just aren’t expansive enough. Not that people haven’t tried. But anyone who has actually been in that open boat knows the difference between words and experience. Sadly, there are fewer and fewer of them all the time.

The stamp set above was issued in 2009 by South Georgia, where Shackleton was buried after his death on his fourth voyage to Antarctica in 1922. He rests there still.