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Saturday, March 9, 2002


My wife and I had a baby yesterday (Friday) afternoon, Timothy Eli Woodlief. Hospitals are good sources of material for Sand in the Gears. Preprare for more insightful commentary early next week.

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Thursday, March 7, 2002


Today is my daughter Caroline's birthday. She would have been 6.

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Wednesday, March 6, 2002

Is Nothing Sacred?

Was There A Seventh Brady Child?

Forbes reports that CBS has for some time employed a "Time Machine" that allows it to compress programs in order to squeeze in more advertising.

This is a terrible blow to the integrity of television art.

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Legalized Plunder

a href="http://www.fortune.com/indexw.jhtml?channel=artcol.jhtml&doc_id=206477"target="_blank">Fortune has an eye-opening article about the massive leech that is the asbestos litigation machine, and how it has, after sucking its original victims dry, increasingly turned to deep pockets that had only tangential relationships with asbestos manufacturers. The estimated take is $200 billion, at least $50 billion of which will go directly into the pockets of trial attorneys. What is worse, plaintiffs are increasingly comprised of people with no discernible illness. Facts matter little, of course, when one is litigating against perceived fat cats in Mississippi, East Texas, and a number of other illiterate bastions of organized robbery.

If you haven't done so, read Frederic Bastiat's short book, The Law. An excerpt: "It is impossible to introduce into society a greater change and a greater evil than this: the conversion of the law into an instrument of plunder .. it erases from everyone's conscience the distinction between justice and injustice."

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Tuesday, March 5, 2002

Freaky People

Something funny I overheard in a breakroom: "There's a lot of freaky people in the world. I'm sure they have their place, just so long as it's not next door to me."

Words to live by, my friend.

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Religious Fervor

From the wonderful Media Research Center comes this exchange on CNN's Inside Politics regarding Attorney General John Ashcroft's recent speech to the National Association of Religious Broadcasters:

Judy Woodruff: "Attorney General John Ashcroft, Margaret, yesterday described in a speech, the war on terrorism in religious terms. He talked about how it's grounded in faith in God. Is this appropriate language for the Attorney General?"

Margaret Carlson (of Time): "...[Ashcroft] has a history of using his bully pulpit, as Attorney General, as a pulpit. He has prayer sessions every morning in his office. He doesn't agree, apparently, with pluralism, that he believes that there is one form of religion ... and it should be practiced as an official matter of state."

How about Carlson's command of the English language? Apparently neither the ability to think nor speak is necessary to give commentary on CNN. And what a curious definition of pluralism, this notion that diversity means people can't talk about their faith. What does Carlson expect him to do -- hold a Buddhist chanting session every Wednesday, just to offset all the Jesus talk? The man's not a Unitarian, for crying out loud.

Somehow we've developed this belief that not talking about God in public is the neutral position. But there is, of course, no neutral position. There either is a God, or there is not. Not talking about God in our government, schools, and entertainment media (and, truth be told, in many of our churches), is akin to declaring that he doesn't exist. If that's the position that Carlson and others want to take, then they should have the by-God guts to say so.

Claiming that allowing him into those spheres somehow violates "pluralism," on the other hand, is just plain dishonest. Their vision of pluralism is a state in which all uncomfortable views (on God, abortion, evolution, etc.) have been shunted aside in favor of the neutral, "objective" views. But that's the opposite of pluralism. Pluralism, in other words, means affording people to space to espouse their beliefs, no matter how wrongheaded we think they are. As long as Ashcroft is upholding the Constitution, pluralism means you just have to live with his voluntary prayer meetings.

But pluralism is the last thing Carlson and her ilk have in mind. It's a convenient catch-phrase, akin to the university notion of "multiculturalism," in which people look different, but think, speak, and vote the same way.

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Monday, March 4, 2002


While we're on the topic of annoying business features (see below), I want to direct your attention to something that must be stopped. Occasionally I'll have to fill out an address form on the web, and I'll get a pull-down box from which I must select my country. There are a lot of countries out there. With this in mind, it makes sense to put at the top of the menu those countries from which the majority of one's customers hail, or simply those countries which have an overwhelming number of internet users. (These things are counted, you know.) You could still make it alphabetical, perhaps with a "Top Five" list followed by a divider line and then the rest of the countries.

Instead, some sites force me to scroll through 75 countries to find "United States," rather than put it right at the top. One site I was just on, searching for a new web counter, had "Afghanistan" as its first country. Does this business really think there are that many Afghani's in need of web-tracking services? Were we dropping modems in those care packages? Shouldn't the U.S., if only by virtue of having recently kicked the pants out of Afghanistan's dictatorial rulers, get top billing?

This isn't about jingoism, it's about customer service. When India surpasses the U.S. in another few decades in terms of literacy, and becomes the new center of culture and technology, then by golly, Indians shouldn't have to search for their country sandwiched between Iceland and Indonesia. It's annoying and leads to errors. There's no telling how many businesses out there have my address as Kansas, United Arab Emirates.

On second thought, perhaps that's not such a bad thing.

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I mailed my music catalog order (see "The Christian Consumer," below). I noticed that the postage-paid envelope they provided has the word "Rush" stamped in its upper-left corner. What does this mean? Am I supposed to believe that the Postman is going to walk faster when he sees this? The postage is the same as any other bulk mailing, which means that this will get lumped in with all those Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes entries of mine that apparently never made their way to Ed McMahon. In other words, this will get there when it gets there, and not one federal employees' union-sanctioned break sooner.

So why create this false expectation? If the customer is deceived into thinking that "Rush" actually means something, then he will expect his order to be filled more quickly than if it were going through the "regular" mail. Wouldn't it be better to put "Slow" on the envelope, so I'll be surprised when my CD's get here three weeks from now?

This is why consultants get big bucks, you know. We snoop around a company for a while, and then impart pearls of wisdom like "You should convert from MS-DOS to Windows," and "You shouldn't put 'Rush' on your return envelopes." This also explains why the Ross Perot vision of better managed government was always a mirage. It is nearly impossible to manage any large enterprise well, public or private. Government organizations just perform a bit worse because they tend to be populated by unambitious twits and are hamstrung by rules that prevent corruption and carpal tunnel syndrome. But even private organizations are vulnerable to ineptitude, wastefulness, and inflexibility. That's the beauty of Schumpeter's "creative destruction."

This is the kind of stuff I think about all day long. It's a wonder I can function at all.

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