Wednesday, May 24, 2006


I noticed that a news report is indicating the first human-to-human spread of the bird flu in Indonesia. Actually I think this may have happened about 1 or 2 years ago in a hospital in Vietnam--a nurse was infected from a patient, but I never saw the finish of that story.

It is interesting to see how little news there is about the bird flu in America and also how little concern people seem to have. I sensed that in Europe, certainly at least in Vienna, there was extensive concern about the bird flu. In fact two women I heard talking almost seemed at the point of panic--they were talking about stockpiling antiobiotics and how to protect their children. I saw bird cages in a small children's zoo covered in some kind of green fabric to prevent wild birds from spreading it to these captive birds. Some people in north Germany seemed to be on the verge of hysteria because cats had become infected. The infection also was found in an enclosed turkey farm building in France.

Americans probably will not become preoccupied with this issue until the first infected bird is found in North America. The last great flu epidemic occurred near the end of World War I and many people did not even realize what was happening. It is now a distant memory, even to me, but in the late 1940s and early 1950s the polio scare struck America.


For the first time in my life I (acutally my household) will be participating in the Arbitron radio ratings for East Texas. The company sends a radio journal for each family member. Each participant must mark down the stations listened to for one week starting May 25. The folks at Arbitron even put a crisp $1 bill in each journal for a person's trouble!

I have been thinking about how I will skew the listening habits of East Texans. It is too late to save KTPB, but maybe I can reinforce a couple of other stations (like 101.9).

Thursday, May 18, 2006


It was a surprise to learn that KTPB, the public radio station sponsored by Kilgore College, is going off the air. I don't know all the reasons and who deserves the blame. Even more surprising is that it will be replaced by a Christian music station. There are already at least a half dozen Christian music stations in East Texas and I would have assumed the market is saturated. What is the need for another Christian music station that will probably be playing the same songs that all the others are playing?

Anyway I heard from sources(!) that most of the people who are calling KTPB expressing disappointment that it is going off the air are people who profess to be Christians. There may be some kind of conspiracy in all this, but it may indicate that some Christians do enjoy listening to something other than Christian pop.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Upon returning to my office and going through all my mail, I discovered that an unwrapped book had been put in my box. When I read the title, Good to Great, I almost tossed it because it seemed like one of those free self-help books that I sometimes receive. The author is Jim Collins and the cover says 2 million copies have been sold. It is one of those best-seller business books. I discovered my Dean is encouraging his department chairs to read it. Some others have read it, but I am not sure it is one of those required readings for all administrators. I would probably have never even picked it up, but I took it home to do a quick read these last few days.

It turned out to be a fascinating book. The author analyzed why some corporations have moved from being "good" to becoming "great." However, I thought beyond corporations--why do some universities move beyond average to become great? Why do some churches become great and others shut their doors? Why do some individuals move beyond mediocrity to become great? So while it was a business book, it offers a lot to think about beyond the corporation. I am inclined to think that the ideas introduced should be discussed by any institution or individual seeking excellence.

Some ideas from the book:

People are not your most important asset. The right people are.

Good to great leaders are: self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy--these leaders are a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.

We found no systematic pattern linking executive compensation to the process of going from good to great.

A great executive said: his best hiring decisions often came from people with no industry or business experience.

Great corporations have rigorous cultures, not ruthless cultures.

Put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems.

Great management teams consist of people who debate vigorously. . .

Leadership must create a climate where truth is heard.

The purpose of bureaucracy is to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline. . . .

Great executives are less interested in flashy programs that make it look like they are Leading!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


After living in Vienna some friends said I would suffer culture shock on returning to Texas. Here are a number of adjustments I am making (in no particular order):

Eating appalling American bread (a rather flavorless glue-like substance).
TV automobile dealership commercials aimed at a customer with an IQ of 80.
The demise of KTPB – why can’t NPR support stations in small markets better?
Tasteless yoghurt.
Telephone charity solicitors.
Inadequate public transportation.
Can’t find a lamb kebap stand anywhere.
Eurosport is so much better than ESPN.
Bill O’Reilly.
Television stations that stress news, but leave me with no idea of what is really happening in the rest of the world.
No television commercials telling me how delightful it is to vacation in “beautiful” Uganda.

Monday, May 08, 2006


This is the title of an essay by Charles Colson in the April 2006 issue of Christianity Today discussing music in today's church. He focuses on the evangelical church, but I think some of his ideas could be applied to Anglican or Roman Catholic circles. It was interesting to listen to a Roman Catholic youth group in Vienna sing some of the same praise songs sung in the LU chapel or the Baptist church I attend.

I recommend reading the entire article, but here are a few of the thoughts Colson raised:

--We'd been led through endless repetitions of a meaningless ditty called. . .

--Theater-like churches where musicians. . .often perform at ear-splitting levels.

--Christian radio stations are dropping serious programming in favor of all-music formats.

--A respected broadcaster recently dropped Focus on the Family on the grounds that it had become too involved in "moral issues."

--One station cancelled my four-minute BreakPoint commentary saying that four minutes is the equivalent of one song. Horrors!

--The decision by influential Christian broadcasters and music companies to avoid moral controversies could result in the church withdrawing from the culture as it tragically did a century ago.

--Music is important in the life of the church and can inspire us to focus on Christ. But it cannot take the place of solid teaching.

--According to a recent study, the average college graduate's proficient literacy in English has declined from 40 percent in 1992 to 31 percent today. One out of three college graduates cannot read a book or absord a serious sermon.

The article started out concerned about the shallowness of contemporary Christian music and then moved on to raise issues about the intellectual shallowness of contemporary Christians.

Contemporary Christian music appears to have a number of problems:

1. Colson is correct that much Christian praise lacks content. One or two syllable words are chanted over and over again. Traditional hymns with 5 or 6 stanzas have more potential to communicate serious theological truth--they even use 3 or 4 syllable words. The problem is that some of the old hymns have had their words changed by editors of modern hymnals who believe today's congregation will be confused (and may need to use a dictionary) to understand a word like "justification." But one advantage of some contemporary Christian songs is that they could be safely sung by a Muslim or deist.

2. Some praise songs do not seem "singable," at least for the average untrained congregational worshiper. (I even recently had a fairly accomplished vocalist tell me that some songs chosen by his church choir director were not written for the range of voices in the choir.)

3. Recently while driving through Eastern Oklahoma I was listening to a contemporary Christian music station and then later some station with Christian music from the 1950s or 1960s. I believe the older Christian music had more harmony and the voices had more range than the contemporary recording artists have. Much contemporary Christian music is just loud.

4. I don't think one can argue that all of the old hymns were outstanding, but many of the classics which survived into the 1990s were great songs with significant messages or truths waiting to be voiced.

5. Very few praise choruses will stand the test of time. Praise songs of 5 or 10 years ago have disappeared to be replaced by another generation. As with so much in modern society, there is no permanence.

6. I would also raise the issue of words just being put on a screen as opposed to people having to use a hymnal with words and all of the bars, rests, and notes. As a non-musician it would seem that we are creating a generation of worshippers who do not have any idea of how to read music. I would think trained musicians and church choir directors would be upset at this.