Saturday, September 24, 2005

Show Your Support

A letter was delivered to our apartment yesterday. There was no return address on the envelope, but it looked pretty official and it was addressed specifically to me, 'Mr. Scott E. Pearce.' I opened it. Inside was a single-page letter that addressed me again as 'Mr. Pearce.' Below are the contents of the letter:

Mr. Pearce,

It has come to our attention that you are one of only nine people remaining in the greater New York metropolitan area who does not display a magnetic support ribbon on your personal vehicle. We have taken measures to confirm this through one or more reliable sources; you have not received this letter in error.

The reasons that you have as of yet not taken steps to display evidence that you do, in fact, support a cause is troubling news. In the volatile day in which we live, the need for support of all that is good and charitable has never been greater. There is no better way to support a cause than to purchase and display a magnetic ribbon on your car. After all, charitable work and donations to those in need should always be as public a gesture as possible.

Perhaps you are not aware of what you are missing by not displaying a magnetic ribbon on your 2001 Dodge Dakota. The purchase of a magnetic ribbon serves many purposes. First, almost half of the cost of the ribbon is contributed an organization consisting of many, many people who do not actually work for free. In actuality, the generous donation of $5 contributes very little financially to your cause of choice, but this should not be of concern because of the other ways in which your ribbon purchase shows support.

Not only does your purchase contribute financially, but it contributes much more importantly to you, the displayee. What good is supporting a cause if no one knows that you support it? Would your friends and neighbors have any idea of the depths of charity that your heart possesses without a collection of ribbons to make it outwardly evident? Of course not! Think of the self-satisfaction and personal pride you have not attained.

There is a veritable smorgasbord of causes worthy of your support. You have certainly noticed the variety of your fellow citizens' support, offered to the many causes available today. The list is practically limitless--limited only by cold-hearted Americans like you. Causes worthy of support include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:

"Support Our Troops" (also "Pray for Our Troops" and "Bring Our Troops Home")

"Breast Cancer" (also "Ovarian Cancer." Please no "Testicular" or "Prostate" or "Colon." Support for these causes should not be displayed--that's just gross.)

"AIDS Awareness" (Please no "Abstinence Awareness" or "Only Sex with Members of the Opposite Gender Awareness" for reasons that should go without saying.)

"Hepatitis C Awareness" (Please no "B" or "A")

"Feed Terrell Owens' Family"

"In God We Trust" (This should be displayed only in the most unassuming way possible)

It should, by now, be plain to see how your lack of support is both irrational and irresponsible. While your actions have not necessarily affected any one person or group directly, you should know that your negligence to support a cause may be interpreted by some to be an insult or worse, a sign of passive aggression.

Our troops need your support. Breast Cancer victims need your support. Hepatitis C patients need your support. They are not being supported to their maximum potential if your vehicle remains magnet-less.

This letter is intended to notify you of your grave negligence and to spur you on to show support of the cause(s) of your choosing. If you do not act in support of an approved cause, we wil have no choice but to force action.


The National Commission for Citizen's Awareness and Support

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Rolling Stones are the Most Overrated Legendary Rock Band of All Time.

So unless you've just returned from a summer-long missions trip to Tasmania, you've probably heard that the Rolling Stones are touring again. It's probably the big music news of the summer, and has got every radio deejay in any major city (even Pittsburgh!) simply drunk with giddiness. Ticket prices at the venues in our area started at $250 for floor level seats--and that's through TicketMaster, not even scalped yet!

I can only speculate as to your thoughts on the subject, if indeed you have any. If you're like me, you were born too early to have caught any part of the Stones' heyday, but you were born at such a time as to witness the band making (one can only hope, for their own sakes) maybe their last go-round, without exception being celebrated by the masses for their collective body of work.

If you're even more like me, you don't understand the fuss. In fact, if you are me, you think the Rolling Stones are perhaps the most overrated legendary rock band ever.

There is no doubt they are a legendary band. The fact that they have been around, practically unchanged since before man walked on the moon, grants them undisputed legend status. The fact that they can put on a show more than forty years after their first album earns my respect. I just don't think they're quite as great as so many people make them out to be.

I love a lot of Rolling Stones' songs--there might even be four or five that would crack a list of my 100 favourite songs. My complaint with the hubbub about the Stones is not the same as my confusion about the legendary status of Jim Morrison as "An American Poet"--at least I realize the Stones are a good band.

I don't even think I'm in the dark because I didn't live when they were in their prime, when they were revolutionary. This is similar to how people say "The Graduate" was a ground-breaking film in it's day but now isn't worth the price of a rental. Deejays don't build up the Stones as a band that changed rock n roll forever and therefore we should still celebrate them today. Deejays frequently call the Stones the greatest rock n roll band ever. I just don't get it.

Mick Jagger is great as a frontman. He's never not been ugly, and is altogether lacking as a lyricist, but is still a good lead guy to have. Keith Richards is even uglier then Mick and doesn't even hold a candle to any of the truly great guitarists of his day.

The Rolling Stones boast an ok frontman and an ordinary lead guitarist; as a group they haven't done enough to be considered revolutionary; as musicians they haven't had much success straying from their formulaic, almost predictable core style; and they've only just barely survived a rock scene in their lifetime that often was unhealthy enough to make them the only band left standing.

It seems to me that the only thing they really have going for them is that they've lasted. They're sixty-something and people are paying thousands of dollars to be in their audience for a few hours. It's beyond me, but it's one thing I can't knock them for. They sell. They've always sold.

Just please don't make them out to be more than they are. It grates my ears to hear deejays proclaim them the greatest rock n roll band of all time, or introduce "Satisfaction" as the greatest rock n roll song of all time. They're a good band that has lasted. Nothing more.
Christian Pop Culture

Here at the outset I would like to cite a post from Daryl's blog that sparked me to put to keyboard the thoughts below. Daryl's blog can be found at or at the link to the left. The post was titled, "Cutesy Christian Catchphrases."

Daryl vented his displeasure at the catchphrase fad that started with WWJD? and is still so prevalent in Christian circles today. He ranted about how even an edifying and beneficial idea can be manipulated in what would appear to be questionable ways. Daryl's frustration, I think, stems from the fact that both the instigating and participating catchphrase Christians seem to be displaying an image of the disciples of Christ that many of us do not wish to be associated with.

I commend you to read his blog for more on that topic and I will now continue onto my own.

My displeasure is with how much of mainstream Christian pop culture is merely a rip-off of the secular mainstream. How can it be that we who are called to be set apart as a people holy to the Lord find it so appealing to witness to this fact with spin-offs of the world around us?

Exhibit A. The "got milk?" ad campaign was rated the most effective promotion of a product in something like a dozen years, and it's easy to see evidence of that--imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so they say. There are perhaps only a few objects in the English language that have not been copied-and-pasted into the "got milk?" phrase. I've seen bumper stickers and t-shirts with everything from "got beer?" to "got peace?" to "got virus protection?" People of all kinds have no shame ripping off a popular phrase to push their own product or idea, because in doing so they can siphon off a guaranteed positive association for themselves. Sadly, in this case, Christians are no exception. "got Jesus?", "got salvation?", and "got Spirit?" can be seen plastered on the back of the car in front of you--or maybe even your own.

Other examples can be found on the tshirts that are in every Christian bookstore: the "CK" logo for Calvin Klein turned into a "JC" for Jesus Christ; what looks like a GAP tshirt, but the message is now "GAP-Jesus fills it" instead of the clothier. The list goes on. "King of Kings" instead of "King of Beers" (Budweiser); "Jesus Inside" instead of "Intel Inside"; "You're in good hands with AllFaith" (AllState insurance); and perhaps my favourite from : a rip-off of those lean, green heroes in half shells, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles--"Teenage Jesus-Worshipping Christians". You've got to check out to get the full effect of what I'm trying to express.

Exhibit B. Painting with a broad brush (which is apt to get me in trouble), Christian radio, on the whole, is embarrassing. There has never been a dire lack of good Christian music, but you wouldn't always be able to tell from what one can at any time receive on mainstream Christian airwaves. This is not a statement where I can point to specific examples such as with the slogan rip-offs, but there is an underlying current that is noticeable enough to me.

There is little difference between a secular "love song" and a man-centered "praise song"--the words "baby" and "Jesus" can be interchanged between the two without either sounding much different. If Mr. Rock Star wants to tell a girl he loves her (for whatever reason), Rock Star composes priceless verses like "Can't live without you, baby" or "All I need is the air that I breathe, and to love you" or "Oh, Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby, cause you mean so much to me." If Mr. CCM artist wants to tell Jesus he loves Him (for whatever reason), he assembles a song with lines like "I'm desperate for you/I'm lost without you" or "This is the air I breath" or "Yes, Lord, Yes, Lord, Yes, Yes, Lord, Amen."

I don't think it's a stretch to say that it is, in this case, Christian culture that is guilty of mimicking secular culture. Ambiguous, emotionally driven, self-serving lyrics are all too common in today's Christian Top 40 and on our churches' overhead projectors.

It is true that the apostle Paul taught that we are to "be all things to all men" so as to make the gospel attractive to all kinds of people. I do not believe that this is an adequate defense for this all-out Christianizing of secular pop culture. When Paul's missionary journey took him to Athens, he noticed that the people there worshipped a great number of gods. It's noteworthy to see how Paul shared the gospel to that particular people. He could have said, "You worship this god Zeus. Well, my God is kinda like Zeus. Let me see if I can relate to you using your own gods as starting points." No, Paul instead threw all that out the window and unashamedly preached the true God to the people of Athens. No apologies. No cutesy Christian catchphrases. Just Christ crucified.

All this is not to say that it's wrong to spin-off what's already out there. It's easy. It can be effective. But why go that route? Why resort to merely taking what the world feeds us, doing a little photoshop work and presenting it back to the world--Christianized, but not necessarily improved? To me it makes Christians seem second rate, as if we can't produce quality of our own. If I were an unbeliever browsing it would seem to me that these Christians were living with a foot planted in each realm, as a child sitting in his room of Christianity, but looking out the window and longing to be playing outside with the other boys and girls.

Christ commanded his disciples to be a salt and light in a dark generation, even warning them not to lose their saltiness. It will be a constant and lifelong struggle for each of us to put off the old man and clothe ourselves with Christ. It is difficult to stand out; it is a daunting task to try to truly live in this world but not be of this world. But we must.

"You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men." Matthew 5.13

"And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." Romans 12.2

Friday, September 09, 2005

PennDOT, I'm Sorry

I was involved on-and-off in the earthwork operations of a large building expansion site in Roxbury this summer. A huge trucking distribution center was expanding its existing building and putting up a new one next to it. The earthwork involved was almost a perfectly balanced cut-and-fill situation straight from a geotech textbook. The area under construction was the slope of a hill, with the bottom half being below grade and the upper half being above grade. Solution: Move top half of hill to bottom half of hill, creating level building pad.

In cutting the upper part of the hill, the contractor generated massive amounts of boulders. They can't use boulders as structural fill, so they brought a crusher onto site for a few weeks and before long, they had turned un-usable boulders into gravel they could use as retaining wall backfill. In paying a little extra to operate the crusher and transport the new gravel, they probably made out like bandits by not having to pay to truck boulders off site and then pay to truck gravel in. The eliminated the middle man (the quarry) and came out smelling like roses.

This is common practice for such a situation since it makes sense and is to the advantage of most everyone involved. However, it got me thinking...

What do they do in areas like the Lehigh Valley, where the parent bedrock is limestone? Do they re-use limestone?

*We've come to the part of this entry where Scott has succesfully built a 'stop'--a point where the reader will have to stop to wonder, "Why would the re-use of limestone be a problem, Scott? Tell us, tell us!" This is what we in the business call a captured audience.*

Limestone is a geotechnical concern because many types of limestone are dissolvable in water. You've probably seen a picture of a sinkhole. Maybe your uncle Phil lost his Audi into a sinkhole when one opened up in his driveway. They look like imploded crater holes.

Sinkholes occur where water seeps into the subsoil, ponds on a section of limestone, and essentially causes the limestone to vanish. This happens so gradually over time that often the soils will retain enough of their strength so as to make the dissolving to be practically imperceptible until failure. On the surface, the roadway or farmer's field looks normal until one morning uncle Phil can't drive to work and farmer Maurice can't harvest any corn from his field.

Limestone, therefore, would be a problem to re-use as structural fill because the life expectancy of a subgrade prepared with limestone--particularly one close to the surface or near the groundwater table--would be significantly reduced.

So, getting to the apology, eventually...

Only a measly ten miles of the entire PA section of I-80 widens to five lanes across; the other 352 miles is only four lanes. The New Jersey part of I-80, by comparison, has only ten miles of four-lane highway; the rest is six or more! New Jersey's interstates are it's pride and joy (which is helpful since seemingly half of the ground cover of the greater Newark area is interstate) and are a smooth ride almost anywhere. In Pennsylvania, I have always complained, a driver is hard pressed to find a stretch of one mile without a pothole or 100 miles without construction.

Well, PennDOT, it seems I was too quick to pass judgment. For years I have bad-mouthed you and scoffed at your inability to maintain your sorry excuse for an interstate highway system. I always assumed that your highway design engineers were a rag tag bunch of buffoons who didn't know DGA from a DCP. It turns out, you're not bad engineers, after all--you're just good businessmen and inconsiderate of your state's drivers.

You know about limestone's susceptibility to decay over time and yet that hasn't stopped you from using crushed limestone as your roadbase. You didn't see the need to spend millions of taxpayers' dollars on importing costs when you had all the subbase material you needed right in your own backyard. Instead of bringing in clean stone from another state, you simply paid your local Tom, Dick, and Harry Pennsylvanian to give you cheap processed limestone for your roads. You save millions of dollars, and instead figure you'd just spend a portion of the fortune you saved by employing Frank, Joe, and Larry road crewman to repair the roads that always go bad because they're paved on limestone subbase and limestone dissolves in water!

Engineering school prepared me to think like an engineer (innocent as a dove), but a year of working for an engineering firm has taught me to think like a businessman (wise as a serpent). Engineers design in a perfect world, and they are driven by fear of failure. This is how we get the reputation of being out of touch and unrealistic. Businessmen live and breathe in the real world and they are driven by the bottom line. This is how they get the reputation of being ruthless and sacrificial when it comes to quality.

Any good engineering solution needs to be driven by both quality and practicality. PennDOT, in my opinion, has sacrificed quality for the bottom line. They have paved their roads with a material that dissolves in water, all for the sake of a little green.

You may remember that after my first round of golf this season, back in April, I had announced, "My goals for the year are to break 50 for a round of nine, go the whole summer without scoring over 60, and go a whole round without a 3-putt."

You probably don't, but it brings nonetheless it brings me great pleasure to declare that I have achieved one of these goals so far this summer.

On a sultry July Saturday, Phil, Ben, and I played a round of nine at Fairway Valley, the course behind Warren Hills high school. I shot a triple-bogey 8 on the par 5 first hole, and triple-bogeyed the 8th with a 6. Despite those two black eyes, I was otherwise surprisingly steady and even par-ed a par 5 for the first time.

I ended up with a score of 49, demolishing my previous best mark of 55, set in April. I hit a couple remarkable shots, but neither significant enough to be remarked on here--which is exactly my next point.

I am gradually becoming a better golfer. I'm dangerously close to becoming a golfer. Two summers ago, I would have called everyone I knew to tell them about shooting a birdie on a real golf course. I birdied a hole for the first time this summer, the morning of my bachelor party, and hardly raised my heartbeat. The difference in me these days is that I expect great things from myself and the problem is that I routinely almost achieve them. My golf game is to the point now that I'm disappointed if I more than double-bogey. In fact, snowmen and 7s are now the exception. It's exciting to think about, but only when compared to what I once was.

I am Tiger Woods.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Overdue Update

My bride, Rebecca Rose, and I finally did uni-flesh this past June 25th, 2005. We have wasted no time and are well on our way to living happily ever after in the bliss that is marriage.

We are living in Washington, New Jersey, just an unladen swallow's flight away from Hackettstown and my parents and the church. Becca has started at the presitgious Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, and I am a promising young geotechnical engineer with Whitestone Associates in Watchung.

We have spent our post-wedding summer seemingly alternating weekend trips to Montrose and Williamsport, visiting Becca's family and the Williams family, respectively. Now that we will be home a little more often, we will be starting and I will be leading a bi-weekly small group Bible study in our apartment. The boys and girls youth groups will be starting up again this month, and Becca and I will both be serving as counselors. I will have way more fun because boys' idea of craft time is painting a pine wood derby car.

I'm gonna put an end to this entry now because it feels like I'm writing a family Christmas letter.