Thursday, August 16, 2018

Sanders and her opponents play gotcha while Rome smolders

On black employment gains, Sanders meant to compare Trump's first X months with Obama's first X months-- a fun data point, but the wrong time frame.

My problems with this moment are different:
1.) Presidents (and their cronies/partisans) take too much credit for macro performance. But then they need to eat the blame too. #GooseGander
2.) This sort of gotcha comparison is a common but lame attempt to grasp at power.
3.) The complaint misses a far larger issue: African-Americans and relatively marginal folks struggled under Obama's admin.The stock market boomed but we had a slow/lame recovery-- the sort of record that partisan Dems would have crushed if it'd been a GOP prez.

will these years see the ironic exodus of African-Americans to political independence?

You know what they say about statistics. And growth statistics in percentage terms (of things that are really small and getting bigger) is one of the oldest tricks in the book. But this op-ed by Deroy Murdock is still worth a look and some thought.

Politics and political history are full of ironies: "the buck-stops-here" Truman doesn't eat enough blame for the Korean War; Nixon goes to China and expands the War on Poverty far more than any prez; wage inequality between men and women falls most during the Reagan years; Clinton is one of the most conservative post-WWII prez; African-Americans suffered relatively under Obama; and now, potentially this...

The GOP isn't all that great for African-Americans .(Then again, who in govt is routinely good for anybody-- except those in power and their cronies?) But bipartisan passions (e.g., War on Drugs) and ironically, largely-Dem policy passions-- those in favor for 50 and 80 years now (minimum wage, Social Security/FICA, farm policy, Davis-Bacon, War on Poverty, opposition to the GI Bill for K-12, etc.)-- have been devastating to African-Americans.

Given a somewhat-likely perception of results and perhaps enjoyment of Trump's style, wouldn't it be ironic if the Trump years oversaw the exodus of African-Americans from obeisance of the Dem party to political independence?

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Florida: in "God" we trust...

News from Florida...

Ahh, but which god/God is the most popular for the interpretation of this phrase? In order, I'd say...
a.) the god of American civil religion-- vague morality, patriotism, "middle-class values", etc. (dominant since the 1950s but fading a good bit)
b.) the god of "Moral Therapeutic Deism"-- as per Christian Smith's work, another sort of vague morality, an emphasis on therapeutic uses of God, and a distant creator god (ascendant over the past two decades or so)
c.) the Trinitarian God of the Bible (holding steady in terms of disciples/apprentices of Jesus)

Friday, August 10, 2018

GOVT's Big Three and crushing those in the lower income classes

This man's testimony deals with the "big three": GOVT's K-12 monopoly power, GOVT's welfare policies that decimate family structure/stability, and the GOVT's War on Drugs-- all of which have a heavily disproportionate impact on the lower income classes...

Many other policies are a kick in the shorts to those in the lower income classes (FICA's 15.3% tax on every dollar they earn, SS's 0% ROI, mandatory licensing, crony capitalism, minimum wages, etc.). But "the big three" work in tandem and cause a TON of damage.


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

DC trip to Burkina Faso in 2018

Through Further Still Ministries, Southeast Christian Church, and Hope Alive Initiatives, Kurt and I had another great DC ministry trip to Burkina Faso (BF) in late July 2018. Compared to Ghana in 2015 and 2016, we were in a more urban setting in a poorer country where the dominant language was not English. These differences led to a substantially different experience for us and our team.

Kurt and I want to take new people on each trip. We want to expose more people to such opportunities, giving them a chance to see God move in radically different ways and empowering them to go “further still”—to do a range of other things, from everyday life to international missions. And we want the locals to be inspired by laypeople doing ministry. This year, Clay and Marie went with us. (Clay is an attorney; Marie works in manufacturing.) Marie is fluent in French, which we knew would be immensely helpful (although we still underestimated it). And Clay had volunteered to learn French, although that amounted to wishful thinking. Still, this got him on our list and onto the trip.

The timing of the trip was interesting. We didn’t go back to Africa in 2017. Kurt’s family situation was up in the air—with a new marriage and his last child going off to college. Also, we needed our materials translated into French and we weren’t sure that it would be done by Summer 2017. (It was, but we didn’t know that until it would have been too late to plan the trip.) It turns out that 2018 allowed us to get Marie on the trip, as she got aspects of her work and personal life in order—again, important. All in all, we saw the delay to 2018 as God’s providence to get us to BF with Marie on our team.

BF has had some terrorist activity and our government rated it a Level-3 threat. The threats have been quite sporadic and the larger threats of kidnapping were hours north of the capital city. Southeast Christian (our sponsoring church) never seemed worried—whether they saw the threats as minor or were relying on the information they acquire “on the ground” through other sources. Still, we had a bit of fear going into the trip.

Early-on, we lost another team member to these concerns. And we had hoped one of Kurt’s daughters would go, since she’s relatively strong in French. So, we only had four people when we’d rather take five or six. If one more had dropped, we might have been stuck. But all of us felt led by God to go and despite some modest spiritual warfare, none of us had huge doubts.

Even so, it was good to get some encouragement from the Lord. Clay ran into someone from BF at work. But the biggest providence was what the Lord did with Marie’s vacation. She works for a manufacturing company that dictates all vacation time for line workers through scheduled furloughs to regulate production. Furloughs have been in May for decades, but this time, the furlough was scheduled for…wait for it…late July. Perfect timing! This providence was a big deal—again, for Marie to go at all, but also to signal that God was in control of the trip. 

The location of the trip was certainly not random. DC and the underlying work of our ministry partner (Hope Alive Initiatives) both involve empowerment and multiplication. We describe it in light of a popular metaphor: don’t give a man a fish; teach him how to fish. But our goals are grander: we want to teach the man how to teach others to fish. In discipleship terms, we would point to the four generations of II Tim 2:2 (Paul, Timothy, faithful people, who can teach others). Addition is fine, but we’re aiming for multiplication.

Hope Alive’s work from 2013-2015 had multiplied from Northern Ghana into the capital city of BF, about 250 miles north. So, Hope Alive formalized the training with their three-year program, working with ten different churches. As before, DC was one of the modules that Hope Alive uses to empower locals. (They also do medical, vision, dental, businesses, and schools.)

The primary Western language in BF is French, so language was a key. Going into the trip, we had to deal with getting materials translated and it dramatically impacted our team member selection. On the trip, we had to use interpreters and faced difficulties in having casual conversations—both of which were compounded by cultural differences. I had worked with interpreters in relatively static settings and that was relatively easy. I say X; they translate it; and in most cases (presumably) we catch wrinkles and problems. In this context, we had a more dynamic setting with discussion. The free flow of dialogue made the translation efforts—and our sense of whether it was accurate—more challenging.

Fortunately, we had four excellent translators for the week: Cephas, Jehojakim (the primary leader), Daouda (David), and Theophilus (a local pastor). But this is where I didn’t fully anticipate Marie’s value. She could catch problems on both ends, in a way that was not possible for us or even the native translators at times.

I took French for five years (8th-12th grade) and got to shake some of the rust off. It came in handy. I was able to bump through casual conversations, especially with a dictionary in hand. I was able to do some stuff in French if it was written out (memorizing the two DC verses, reading the Bible, and leading a responsive reading in my sermon). Especially when I knew the context (common given the topics at hand), I was able to read well and speak/listen ok.
Kurt and Clay were mostly lost, but they picked up a few phrases as the week progressed. And it was some good comic relief too, hearing them try to pronounce French words. I persuaded Kurt to read Ephesians 4:2 in French after I wrote it down phonetically. When he read it successfully to his small group, “the crowd went wild”.

The DC training was standard fare for us. On Monday, Marie led off with “Identity in Christ”. In addition to her fluency, she was amazingly comfortable for someone who had not spoken in an upfront role. Then Kurt taught on Spiritual Warfare. On Tuesday, Kurt finished and then handed off to Marie who led the group through Neil Anderson’s “Steps to Freedom in Christ” booklet for most of the day. (Clay provided an opening testimony on its effectiveness.) She did a bit more on Wednesday before Kurt and I finished the morning with teaching on discipleship. On Thursday AM, Clay taught on principles of hermeneutics and I taught through Genesis 3. We had some miscellaneous teachings on Friday and Saturday AM, but the bulk of the other times were for small group discussions.

We had four small group sessions led by each of us. In terms of material, we use questions from DC material on unity/conflict/fellowship, leadership, marriage, and stewardship. The plan is always to model an effective small group with avid participation, facilitating more than teaching, striving to empower rather than teach at folks. As the week continues, we look to move from modeling to shepherding—having them lead the groups while we provide counsel. This was especially important given the language barriers: having them lead (with little or no translation) was far more efficient.

Interesting details from the small group discussions: 1.) As in Ghana, there was a lot of interest (and trouble) with “leave and cleave”. In Ghana, it was driven largely by tribal/cultural influences; in BF, it had a big chunk of (limited) personal finance driving young people to remain too connected to family.

2.) Going through our “warm-up questions”, I was struck by how often they (and we) use basic definitions without being able to explain the terms. Sometimes, this works well enough: we know what unity and stewardship mean and can operate without formal definitions. Other times, the lack of definition leads to a lack of specificity—and sloppy thinking which leads to various errors. A bigger problem: terms can reduce to jargon for newcomers who are left to infer the meaning (hopefully well, but good luck). We encouraged them to define their terms carefully and then to use small groups to discuss the intricacies and applications of important concepts.

3.) In discussing Moses at age 40 (kill an Egyptian) and 80 (after 40 years in the Wilderness), I noticed that fear and humility can look the same, even though they’re driven by wildly different priors. And I was led to ask folks whether they struggled in their approach to leadership in terms of the brashness of young Moses or the tentativeness of old Moses.

4.) The most memorable moment was Clay speaking during a rain storm. We experienced three levels of rain—light, medium, and cats/dogs. Thursday opened with a mix of medium and Biblical—as in, it was time to look around for Noah. With the metal roof and a large concrete building with few people in it, the noise of the rain ranged from a nuisance to hilarious. Clay opened the training in these conditions—and alternated between talking loudly into the mic to taking a break when it was too much. It was bad enough where we took video to remember it. And it was so bad that it was actually funny. We were joking afterwards about Clay as Job—and wondering if we should play the role of Job’s friends.

Two observations came out of this session. First, our numbers were lower, since they were mostly coming by bike, scooter and motorcycle. But most of them eventually got there, showing a resolve that few Americans would have matched. They came in sopping wet many times. Second, Clay’s struggles informed my approach to the next session, as I was going to teach through Genesis 3. Already concerned about relying on translators—and wanting far more interaction than in Clay’s session—I decided to move to a small group format. So, we huddled in two semi-circles of French speakers around me and the English speakers on a third row—and we were able to get through it well.

The small group move was also helpful in that it modeled something different and probably better for them. Instead of the expert teaching up front from the stage, I was sitting with them and we were piled together as we studied God’s word. It was also an occasion to bring the men and women together in one tight group. They seemed comfortable and equal throughout, but it was a different level to have us all crammed together. (The women also enjoyed my teaching on Genesis 3:6 about the “sin of Adam”—in particular, his sins of omission!)

BF was similar to and different from Ghana. But it was difficult to tell where the differences arose: A poor country (BF) vs. a less-poor country (G). A capital city (Ouagadougou in BF) vs. villages near a large city (Tamale in G). Differences from tribal or cultural influences. A different mix of denominations (this time, largely Christian Missionary Alliance which hosted). BF is poorer, but the capital city seemed to put us in a more prosperous and cosmopolitan setting. The BF’ers didn’t dance nearly as much. Perhaps BF’ers dressed a bit better and were a bit busier, coming and going more often. BF had a nicer church building, but we were told it had been built by outsiders and its non-church buildings were not as nice. The airport in Ouaga was about the same size as the airport in Tamale, indicating a trade-off between the country and the cities.

It seemed like there was less spiritual warfare in BF, but there was still plenty. Likewise, we still heard many testimonies about miracles. One of the challenging theological questions is how God deals with “those who haven’t heard” the Gospel. If one is only saved by Jesus, how can I be justly judged if I never hear about Jesus? There are various answers to this question. For example, the “inclusivist” view observes that one can only be saved by God’s grace—and that all who are saved by faith in God’s grace will be saved through the work of Jesus, whether they’ve heard of Him. John 14:6 says that nobody comes to the Father except through Jesus, but does this require knowledge about the bearded God-Man from Galilee?

Another answer is that God will give everyone a fair opportunity. And one way this could occur is through miracles, visions and dreams. We heard testimony about many of these in Africa. Where God might move through His word and His people in the “Christian” West, He might be more likely to use supernatural means in a non-Christian context. At the worship service, six visitors stood to introduce themselves during the appointed time to give their life to Christ. In the West, we often go to church and then become a Christian; in Africa, people often come to Christ and then go to church. If this is how God works, I think the African has the advantage: I’d rather have one clean shot at hearing and accepting the Gospel, than trying to get past the baggage of having Christianity all around me, especially if I imagine that I’m a Christian already. 

Some of the miracles were done in the life of a former imam—from an opening vision to some miraculous deliverances from persecution. Very cool stuff! Another interesting modern technological miracle: Google Translate (which I used to prep for this trip) and Word (which allows entire documents to be translated). How close is the translation? Of course, I don’t know. Google Translate is reasonably effective. If Word is equally so, I’ll have a good draft of an Arabic version of DC28:20 in about five minutes. Crazy! (Stay tuned!)

For now, we’re excited about having a good translation of DC28:20 in French—and we’re hoping that it will be used in France and French-speaking countries. Since Christianity struggles in France and since French is relatively minor among Western languages, there are few Christian resources in French. We’re hoping that this effort will be multiplied—as ministries across the world use DC as a discipleship resource.

Worship was excellent. A little over three hours long, including tons of music and four choirs in three languages (French, Moore and Dyula). I preached on the Holy Spirit for a little under an hour, wrapping up with a responsive reading in French that I was able to do reasonably well. (Kurt deferred on preaching, allowing Marie and Clay to preach/teach.) They observe Communion once per month, so that lengthened the service more than normal. Bread was taken together; a cup of hibiscus juice was taken one at a time.

Miscellaneous things:

On Saturday afternoon, after the last training session, we went to a market—or at least, a large set of shops. I got to do some bargaining as I picked up souvenirs for the fam. I bought a wonderful bronze sculpture for Tonia. Most of the bronzes were of women, but I found a piece with a man and a woman reading a book together. It’s on our mantle now.

Travel was easy this time: no delays/hassles with airplanes. In town, our van had AC and we enjoyed short little trips around the city with Saul as our driver. In Louisville, we had two interesting little providences: a French women checked us in at the Delta counter and we got to see the Marcums at our gate (just back from leading a month of family VBS in Beirut). On the way back, I was just trying to survive early-on, but that was my illness not the airlines. (Note to self: start the Cipro much sooner next time and pack powdered Gatorade for the trip.) We did have a strange little moment with the customs officer in Oauga—where he slowed us down and might have been asking for a bribe—but it worked out without an incident.

On the way to Africa, I sat next to a young German who was between jobs and relationships—and wanted to visit his father in Ghana and get entrepreneurial.  He said his customs officer increased the assessed value of his goods by threefold, leading to a tariff that would have been three times higher. After some negotiation and a bribe, he was able to get the rate down to 70% of the original assessed value. Not good for economic development, but a terrific story to use in the classroom. We also talked about Christianity and he was under the mistaken impression that it is “religious”. I told him that Jesus was anti-religious in the same way he was and asked if he had read the Gospels. He said no. I laughed and said you can’t critique something/someone unless you’re willing to give them a good-faith reading. I encouraged him to read Luke and/or John—and will prayerfully hope to see him in Heaven.

The food was good—at least in terms of taste. (That said, I got quite ill on something, so who knows?) Breakfast was solid—mostly PBJ on French bread, but also mixing in some yogurt, eggs, and bananas with nutella. Lunch was at the training site—very hot and tasty, always with a bit of meat. We had cassava one day—heavy compared to the lighter couscous they would serve at dinner. We had half of a fish one day: heads (as mine) or tails. The lunch conversations were always good. I got along relatively well with my broken French, their broken English, and my dictionary. Dinner was back at the Guest House with Tina as our cook. She took both style and substance seriously, with great presentation and a nice effort at a variety of dishes. Some were a stretch—like tacos. Her potato/ham soup was delicious and her beef bourguignon was a nice little taste of France. We had salad with most meals (that might have caused my intestinal troubles) and fresh mango for a few meals.

We had lunch out on Sunday and I vomited after my ham/papaya pizza. It may have been the accumulation of trouble plus a rich lunch, but more likely, it was just the lunch. For eight hours, from mid-afternoon until we got on the plane, I was in rough shape. I had struggled with diarrhea for two days, followed by the eight hours of this very rough business, and then two more days of diarrhea. I’m still not sure I’m back to full strength/stamina. But once I was on the Cipro, I felt better quickly.

The bugs were only a minor issue again. After the rains we experienced, I’m guessing that the bugs were worse the next week. They were fortunate to have two days of heavy rain; we were fortunate since it drove the temperatures down! The weather was quite similar to Louisville. The day of the heaviest rain will probably be their coolest day of the year—with a high in the mid-70s. The weather was like Louisville—a bit warmer without rain and cooler with rain. It was awesome to see the big clouds rolling in and the rain storm preceded by a tremendous dust storm. It was funny/amazing to see people biking and scootering home, many with goods they were selling on the streets.

The CMA Guest House was small, lovely and utilitarian—comfy with A/C, hot water, and functional beds. After each evening’s debrief session, we played quite a few games—mostly Splendor, but also some Love Letter, Double or Nothing, and Star Realms. We missed having Sampson and Zak with us. In particular, I was hoping to hear Zak and Kurt yell at each other again over games of Star Realms. But it was certainly good to be with Elolo and Francis again. And God willing, it’ll be good to see them again in Africa and/or America in the near future!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

SCOTUS ruling, reduced union cartel power, and implications for teachers and parents/students

Good stuff but I think Pullmann misses a big point that is more subtle and more long-term: She notes that reduced union power will make teachers more vulnerable to government school districts in their monopsony positions (as the primary renter of particular labor services).

Of course, teachers frequently beg to be put into this position-- by avidly advocating government as the monopoly provider of K-12 services. So, the long-term implication is that teachers will be less prone to advocate both monopoly over others and monopsony power over themselves.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

2018 vacation: St. Louis and Memphis

With the kids getting older and working, we didn't do a family vacation in 2017. This year, although we didn't have Zach with us, the other five of us took a modest excursion to St. Louis and Memphis. In terms of length, difficulty, and pleasure, it was similar to our vacas to Michigan in 2014 and 2015. In terms of complexity, cost, and length, it did not rival our big trips to NC in 2010 (sorry, not much detail in this blog post), to NY in 2011, to NC/SC in 2013-- and esp. to our huge trips to SD/CO in 2012 and from SF to Glacier in 2016. Still, it was a really nice trip-- and easier to pull off if you're looking for a great little vacation in the Midwest. 

We left Louisville on Sunday afternoon and got to St. Louis in time for dinner in Chesterfield (a bit west of St. Louis), a look at The Awakening (a sculpture of a giant emerging from the ground), and Incredibles II. The trip to Chesterfield was driven mostly by my desire to see The Awakening and show it to the kids. I used to visit it often with friends when I was in HS/College in No. VA. And it is cool, but I'm not sure it'd be worth the extra driving for the average person. 

On Monday, we saw the Gateway Arch. Of course, it was excellent. And I would definitely recommend the movie ($4). Then we went to the Cathedral Basilica which was amazing-- as good or better than any I've seen in Europe. It has a staggering amount of art-- most of it is the form of mosaics-- twice as much as the closest comparison. It was also cool/fun to see an American (and St. Louis) twist on the art/decor. I hadn't really thought of the European cathedrals as European per se, but instead imagined them as universal. (We didn't take time to see the Old Cathedral near the Arch. I'm guessing that would be worth a look too.)

I hadn't originally planned on visiting the "Museum of Economy", but we walked right past it-- and since it was free, we checked it out. It was ok-- and probably better for reasonably-interested non-economists. After lunch, we hit the Science Center just outside of Forest Park. It was also ok, but would have been (much) better for younger kids or for kids who hadn't already spent so much time in Louisville's similar effort. Monday evening we walked through the three blocks of Citygarden (a few cool statues, incl. Eros Bendato's head) and Union Station's Grand Hall light show (somewhere between ok and cheesy in a classy building).

We spent Tuesday at Forest Park-- St. Louis' amazing city park with tons of attractions to boot-- most of which were free. Definitely visit its renowned zoo and its strong art museum. Optional: the Jewel Box (beautiful place for a wedding, but not worth a visit even for its $1 charge), the World Fair Pavilion, and a nice little sculpture park (behind the art museum). The zoo was good, esp. the close proximity to the hippos, elephants, and penguins. But it was not as awesome as I expected, given its reputation. (Or again, maybe I've already been to the zoo too often!) 

Wednesday was City Museum-- an awe-inspiring, must-see combination of fun house, museum, and industrial reclamation project. It's filled with slides-- and giant slinky-like metal tubes and solid places to crawl through (wear jeans)-- some of which were too tight for me and Tonia. Outside, you can crawl through more slinkys that are eight stories above the ground! They had shells of old airplanes poised on towers, a bus hanging off the side of the building-- and then there was the roof, with more of the same (and worth the additional $5 cost). City Museum and the Arch make St. Louis a must-see destination for those in the Midwest with school-aged children. I can't imagine a better combination of things for a family to visit. 

On the way out of town, we saw Ready Player One at Keller Plaza (their version of Village 8) and then dropped by the Laumeier Sculpture Park-- the best park and the best sculpture park we visited (highly recommended: bring a meal, a soccer ball and a frisbee).

We did have a lot of scheduling and parking snafus in St. Louis-- which was somewhere between funny and irritating. We missed the opening of the refurbished museum at the Arch by one day. I missed two restaurants that were not open on the days we visited. (I really wanted to get the BBQ Brisket nachos at Big Baby Q, but they're only open Thurs-Sat. We tried Failoni's on a Monday, the only day they're closed. Also on Monday, we missed Bahn Mi So, but returned on Wednesday to get some excellent spring rolls and some really-flavorful but really-low-meat Bahn Mi sandwiches. Then, we headed to Ted Drewes, just down the street.) Parking was a bit strange too: I missed the small print at that the Marriott Airport was going to charge us $13/day. And a local garage had a posted special on the entrance sign, but it required you to stay until mid-afternoon. A few oops, but the family thought it was all very amusing, so that's something! 

One more funny parking story (where I might save you some money): When we went to City Museum, there were workers wearing safety vests and vigorously waving flags to direct you to their lot. The first lot was charging $15; the next lot was charging $10; the next lot was charging $5. (As it turns out, there was one right around the corner that would have been free.) They're preying on low-info tourists, so take your time, use your head, and check out your options! (Likewise, you can park for $15 next to the zoo or head down the street to park and walk.)

We ate well in St. Louis. We had Byrd and Barrel for lunch-- great sandwiches and chicken "nuggz". Ted Drewes' frozen custard was excellent. I had initially heard great things about it, but then was counseled to lower my expectations. But it was as good as I had heard at first-- a solid notch better than the DQ Blizzard, richer and more flavorful. We got three flavors of "Gooey Butter Cake" from Park Avenue Coffee-- good but not great. I wanted to get to Seoul Taco for a bulgogi burrito, Half and Half for breakfast (if just me and T), the Balkan Treat Box for cevapi (couldn't find the food truck), and Failoni's (a restaurant recommended by Hugh Halter in Flesh)-- but they didn't work out. On our way to Memphis, we tried some of St. Louis' semi-famous Provel thin pizza at Imo's-- good but not great. The highlight of our eating was Fitz's-- big portions of good food and huge ice cream floats with a variety of home-brewed sodas to finish things off.

We spent Wed PM in St. Genevieve-- the oldest European settlement west of the Mississippi. We saw a decent fireworks show there before heading to the hotel. The town was a back-up plan in case we finished early in St. Louis. So, for us, it was mostly a stop-over. Thursday was our travel day to Memphis. We hiked at Trail of Tears SP (ok) and saw its good little museum on the history of the Trail (particularly the role of the Cherokees). Next up was lunch: we tried Lambert's (seemed like a cross between Golden Corral and Cracker Barrel with them throwing rolls to you), but the line was too long, so we settled for Imo's pizza in the car. We stopped by the New Madrid Earthquake museum-- a solid account of earthquakes in general and the big New Madrid quake in particular. (Strangely, we later saw better pictures of the earthquake's aftermath, recorded a century later, in the Pink Palace's museum in Memphis.) 

Our last stop pre-Memphis was the Art Deco Greyhound Station in Blytheville, AR. It was cool enough to look at from the outside, with a brief detour. But one of the board members happened to stop by and give us some history/explanation as we looked in the windows. (He tried to call the caretaker to let us inside, but got no response.) He also mentioned a little museum at the Kress Five-and-Dime (also apparently of architectural interest), so maybe doing both of those would make it doubly worth your while. 

We got to Memphis on Thursday evening, grabbed dinner at Gus' Famous Fried Chicken, and sat on a blanket to watch Jonny P in concert at the Levitt-Shell amphitheater. Good times! But not good enough for the kids to do it again the next night. ;-)

Friday was Graceland. It was immense in cataloguing Elvis' impact and his possessions. It was also strange for reasons I did not anticipate. It was professionally done in terms of presentation, impressive logistics (earphones and IPads to communicate info; shuttle buses to get people to Graceland and the museum exhibits), and pricing (expensive but probably profit-maxing). But the staff ranged from average to impersonal; it was difficult to know where to go; and we didn't get a map from anyone. 

We never saw a brief overview of the productive/prolific aspects of his life. The timeline became obvious after awhile but it would have been helpful to see it on the front end. In a word, it was music, military, movies, and his semi-comeback in music.The history of Elvis they presented was thorough where it spoke, but left out all of the nasty or off-putting stuff-- e.g., the early courtship of Priscilla starting at age 14, distance and then infidelities in their marriages, separation after 4.5 years and then divorce 18 months later, the damage of his movie career to his musical career, his substance abuse for at least five years, and the reasons for his untimely death-- or other key aspects (that distract from Elvis' glory?) like the immense role of Colonel Tom Parker (who is credited with revolutionizing music mgmt). 

It was also odd in that I had little idea how prolific he had been, especially in terms of movies (33 films [mostly low-budget, formulaic B-movies], beginning at age 21), despite the year and a half of military service, and his early death. I plan to research his life a bit more-- both because I understood so little and because I wonder how much they left out! (Researching Elvis, I found a significant connection to The Imperials-- the first musical group I saw in concert!)

The rest of the day, we did a few miscellaneous things available to us in the later afternoon and evening: the pavilion at the St. Jude Research Hospital (lovely with some cool history, esp. Danny Thomas' insistence on serving all races in the Deep South, his leveraging of Lebanese and Syrian Americans to support America, and the first leader-doctor's insistence on trying to cure vs. treat cancer); the pomp and ceremony of the duck march at the classic Peabody Hotel; a walk on a segment of Beale Street (including a quick stop at Schwab's); and the Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid (spectacular for both the Bass Pro Shops and the Pyramid). We tried to find the Mud Island River Park, but with its $10 cost and marginal value, we decided to skip it-- apparently a wise decision, according to the locals. 

Saturday started with the National Civil Rights Museum-- located at the Lorraine Motel where MLK Jr. was shot and the boarding house from where he was shot. Again, this was an immense museum-- somewhere between impressive and trying too hard. For me, it was an odd combination of overkill on stuff I already knew (from my reading and our visits to Selma and Atlanta) and tons of info on conspiracies about King's murder by James Earl Ray that I had somehow not heard much about (related PBS video here-- h/t: Chris Lang). Again, the attendees were left with tons of questions: were the conspiracies real, pseudo, or imagined? Was the perspective of the museum curators biased or unbiased? After lunch, we toured the Gibson Guitar Factory. None of us are big guitar people, but it was very interesting, as plant tours usually are. Rodney works in the plant and did a terrific job giving the tour. 

Then, we headed back to the Pink Palace where, thankfully, we had received free tickets when we tried to go on Friday and the electricity had been knocked out. The first problem was that the mansion and the Piggly Wiggly display were closed until the Fall (advertised as closed until the Summer, so pooh on that). Why didn't they have lower prices while half the museum was unavailable? This may be the ultimate dork econ move, but I was geeked to see the PW display since it was the first large grocery store. The big tech advance that made it possible: the invention of the bas-kart, which allowed stores to evolve from carry your own small basket to cruising around with a huge basket on wheels. (How do I know this?! My old buddy/roomie wrote about PW in his dissertation in the field of Industrial Organization.)

The second problem was that the bulk of it was a solid natural history museum. Not a problem exactly, except, again, I've seen this sort of thing a bunch of times-- and often, done better. And this one was really aggressive and dogmatic about evolution-- at least when it was convenient. The presentation chastised opponents; it provided a self-righteous statement of beliefs; and then it got really vague when the narrative was obviously narrative-- and not an impressive narrative at that. Hilarious. How did language evolve? Oh we're not sure how that happened but we're sure that it did. Vital organs like the eye? Oh, that was easy; evolution could have-- and must have-- accomplished that. God of the gaps and hand-waving, anyone? The soul, the conscience, the vast gap between apes and men? Not a word. Sure, present the science and assert the narrative, but leave the dogmatism, the not-so-natural selectivity, and the self-righteousness behind. At $14, without Piggly Wiggly, the Pink Palace would have been a big ripoff. 

All that said, the most memorable thing about Memphis was that we ate so WELL! I already mentioned Gus' Chicken-- the kids' favorite meal of the trip. We tried to go to Rendezvous which has dry-rubbed ribs and service with attitude, but the lines were too long. Instead, we ended up at the midtown version of Central BBQ-- apparently preferred by the locals-- and it was excellent. We had a terrific, cheap lunch buffet at Pho Binh. We had a great dinner at the Arcade-- a diner-style establishment that is the oldest restaurant in Memphis at 99 years old! Make sure to order the syrup and sweet potato pancakes which were both the best I've ever had. 

Our third dessert highlight of the trip was Jerry's Sno Cones. Life-changing stuff-- the best sno-cone I've had by far (great consistency in the ice and a huge variety of rich flavors for the ice) PLUS soft-serve ice cream in layers. For $4, you get the coolest dessert ever. It was good enough that we're wondering why it isn't a craze across the nation. And we're trying to figure out if we can start a business to sell them or something like them. Wow!

If I had to sum up our time in Memphis, it would be great food in a poor man's New Orleans with two important, strange, overwhelming museums that left us with tons of knowledge but tons of questions. Maybe those are the best sort of museums after all?

I had intended to stop for dinner in Brownsville at Helen's Bar-B-Q and to see Billy Tripp's Mindfield. But the sno-cones came too late to have dinner so soon. So, we skipped Brownsville and headed home. Five hours later, we had completed a wonderful little vacation in 14 hours less than a full week. If you're looking for a weeklong vacation, I'd edit ours slightly and duplicate it!