Friday, August 25, 2006

Book: Through Painted Deserts

Through Painted Deserts is apparently the first book written by Donald Miller, but was only subsequently published after Blue Like Jazz made such a splash. He refers to having rewritten the book for its present form, so I would assume there was a small scale printing previously.

Of Miller's books, this one reads most like a novel as it gives his account of his travels with his friend Paul from Houston to Portland with a pilgrimage to the Grand Canyon in the middle. Absent from this edition are the kind of challenging and insightful statements that I had come to expect from Donald Miller. His goal here is obviously different. All in all, Through Painted Deserts is an interesting read, but not one that you cannot live without.

Truth in Advertising

What the world thinks is going on is evidently more important that what is really going on. With the kind of instant media we have in 2006, wars are evidently fought as much in TV images as in the trenches.

Read Michelle Malkin's The Great Ambulance Hoax


one of those responsible for uncovering the hoax.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Juan Williams: Banish the Bling

Juan Williams writes a strong op-ed, Banish the Bling: A Culture of Failure Taints Black America, in yesterday's Washington Post. Williams discusses Bill Cosby's message and the fact that so few seem to be taking Cosby's side. Williams contends,

"Not one mainstream civil rights group picked up on [Cosby's] call for marches and protests against bad parenting, drug dealers, hate-filled rap music and failing schools."

Bill Cosby will be in Birmingham, AL on September 21 to promote his message. [Details here.]

Saturday, August 19, 2006

College Football or the NFL?

Ivan Maisel argues: Passion, tradition elevate college football over NFL

While I do not agree with Maisel at every turn, he does whet the appetite for the college season that begins in 11 days.

Friday, August 18, 2006

280 Progress?

A step toward a solution for Birmingham's miserable Hwy 280. If it works for Tampa, then surely this 10-mile bridge would work for Birmingham.

In the meantime, Mr. Langford, turn on these lights.

I-65 in Nashville (as pictured) is well-lit the entire stretch of the metro area. In Birmingham, there must be an ongoing air raid precaution so that all of those street lights that stand along I-65 are turned off. (The picture of Birmingham would just be black.)

(Larry Langford is the Jefferson County Commissioner, and the light switch for all the interstate lights is located in his garage.)

Rick Warren, FOX Celebrity

"Positive" is certainly a word that should be associated with Rick Warren, with his personality, his ministry, and his books. In a 6 minutes 43 second interview on FOX News (video home page) Warren exudes warmth and confidence while explaining why bad things sometimes happen to good people. As FOX builds up Warren's already celebrity status in light of their upcoming special on Rick Warren: "Can Rick Warren Change the World?", Warren is apparently appearing on several different shows as a spiritual commentator.

Jesus? Not Here
Notably absent from Rick Warren's video clip above is any mention of Jesus. While I do not think that Christians have to squeeze Jesus into every other sentence when in front of the cameras, the topic of the show that included Warren with a live studio audience had to do with the bad things that happen and how people can cope with them biblically. Interestingly, one of the family members of JonBenet Ramsey mentioned her faith in Jesus in her taped interview; meanwhile, Rick Warren didn't mention Jesus' name once (no, there was no editing.)

Among the statements that Warren did make:

"God loves to turn crucifixions into resurrections."

"God specializes in bringing good out of bad."

"The bottom line is this...freedom to choose...[is the] greatest blessing we have...[and] is also our greatest curse."

Rick Warren is one of (if not "the") the most visible evangelicals in the world now, and his fame is on the verge of multiplying greatly. On this particular show, when they asked the question "Can Rick Warren Change the World?" he just smiled and laughed a giddy laugh. I pray that he presents a much stronger truth of God's glory in Jesus Christ in the feature on FOX. The ministries that he is working toward are all extremely great and highly commendable, including ministries aimed at poverty, disease, illiteracy, spiritual emptiness and egocentric leadership. Maybe "spiritual emptiness" is Warren's inoffensive way of talking about man's need for a Savior, but if he is not going to mention the Savior when asked about the ultimate solutions to life's problems on FOX, is Jesus really the reason that Rick Warren is crusading for a changed world?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Birmingham City Schools...Not Good

This article looks at the poor condition of Birmingham's city schools and the exodus that the system has seen in favor of schools in the burbs. Some interesting quotes from the article:

...the migrating students take more than $30 million of state education funding with them.

In 1999, public schools in the metro Birmingham area were the eighth-most segregated among America's 50 largest metro regions...

Blacks now make up about 99 percent of the students in Birmingham city schools.

"It is my perception that only about 5 percent of the students that go...are really interested in school and are really doing the best they can do."

The article is interesting in that it is a mixture of factual numbers and personal interviews with people who have chosen either to move for better education or stay and push for improvement. It is difficult to ask people to stay in support of the city when their children's education is so important. Also, the article really does not address whether the formation of the surrounding school districts played a key role in bringing the city schools to the current place, or whether the new schools was merely a reaction to the steady decline. The cause-effect relationship between the two is likely difficult to discern.

I expect that some of the renovation and resurgence in the downtown of Birmingham will eventually begin to affect the school system as people who care strongly about the city's vitality are likely to play an increasing role in the city's politics. The political situation will change slowly. The school situation will only change with intentional and drastic measures.

The Bigger Picture
Taking another viewpoint of the entire story, the emphasis placed on education by the people in an area certainly affects the quality of that education. The reason that other school districts are doing better than the city schools is in part due to the community within which they find themselves. For the most part, the communities in which schools are thriving are also areas in which everything else appears to be thriving too. The areas where schools are struggling are those same areas where businesses are closing, crime is increasing, and houses are left empty rather than remodeled. Looking at the bigger picture, this is not merely a school problem to be addressed by the school board.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Poor Customer Service at Enterprise

One of the questions that I've wondered about over the past several years is whether or not one is better off using discount websites such as Expedia, Orbitz, and the lot. Somewhere in the back of my mind I have reasoned that making a reservation for a flight, hotel, or rental car through one of these discount sites somehow promotes inferior customer service in one's actual relationship with the company. HOWEVER, I COULD BE WRONG.

Taking my actual experiences in travel into account over the past several years, the argument could possibly go the other way: it is better to use a discount travel website.

In the past three years, my wife and I have flown several times, stayed in too many hotels, and rented a handful of cars. We've made reservations for "low prices" through the likes of Expedia and we've also made reservations through the company's own websites. While I haven't found in difference in the experience of customer service in dealing with the check-in counters, the billing is just too fuzzy - and I'm talking about direct reservations, not the discount places.

Hidden Fees
I guess it is the hidden fees that I truly despise. For just once, I would like to book something for a quoted price and actually see that price on my credit card bill. Just that asking too much?

Enterprise - "We'll Pick You Up"
My recent experience with Enterprise Leasing Company serves as a prime example. I decided to make the reservation on the actual Enterprise site, finding no real price advantage to using the other sites. For a short trip to Kentucky from Birmingham, the rental was going to be $125.00. The actual bill on my Visa statement (no actual bill was issued by Enterprise) was $175.00. After a deep breath and counting to 10, I decided to leave a message at their website. It was easy enough. In fact, I received a call the next day from someone with the company to follow up. He had left a message with a number - a number I called several times but only got his voice mail. It wasn't worth my trouble to worry about calling him everyday, and obviously, it wasn't worth Enterprise's trouble to make sure we use them again. (I certainly won't.) And, no, they didn't pick me up, nor did I violate any of the known pitfalls that could have added a charge. The car was clean. It had enough gas. Etc. etc.

If the industry just works this way, then I can just quit renting cars. However, the vehicle that I rented earlier this same year through Expedia (and it was not an Enterprise car) did not result in the same charges/hidden fees. Is Expedia the way to go?

Interesting Book
The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth looks to be an interesting book that dives into some of the things that business do. This blog describes what the book refers to as a "bad profit" - money made at the expense of customer relationships.

In the future, I will ask for a price quote, and I will ask them if that is the price that I will see on my credit card bill. I'm not looking for a price somewhere between $100-$200 when I rent a car. I'm looking to know whether it will cost $100 or $101.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Birmingham Blogs

Wade on Birmingham is a blog that obviously focuses on local events and news. I can't remember how I first stumbled upon it a few days ago, but I think it will be a regular read.

EchoBooming in Birmingham is also a B'ham-based blog, and I remember now that I found Wade on Birmingham as a link from EchoBooming, but I don't know how I first connected to EchoBooming.

Part of my recent desire to look up more Birmingham blogs and sites has been in part a reaction to the lack of quality local news as I blogged about here.