The Road to Character

“People turn into little brand managers, using Facebook, Twitter, text messages, and Instagram to create a falsely upbeat, slightly over exuberant, external self that can be famous first in a small sphere and then, with luck, in a large one.” (The Road to Character by David Brooks, page 251.)

The Road to CharacterThis book triggered at least two nights of insomnia. The introduction provided more than a few slaps to the face, mostly regarding my uneasy relationship with Facebook. I like Facebook. And I hate it. I care too much about likes. I have an “overeager desire to have people think about me.”

The author speaks of the “resume virtues,” which our current society is very good at developing, versus the “eulogy virtues,” which. . . not so much. The eulogy virtues are those mentioned at your funeral and they’re probably not efficiency, productivity, and wealth.

He claims that before about 1950, we humans thought of ourselves as Little Me, part of a larger group that was smarter than we could be on our own. In recent decades, and thanks in large part to the self-esteem movement, we’ve exaggerated the Big Me: the one that just needs to “be myself” and follow its dreams to succeed. “This mindset is based on the romantic idea that each of us has a Golden Figure in the core of our self. There is an innately good True Self, which can be trusted, consulted, and gotten in touch with. Your personal feelings are the best guide for what is right and wrong.” (Page 249)

I lost interest in most of the character sketches that make up the middle bulk of the book. You’ll see from the page numbers below that there was a large gap in my reading. But the beginning and the end of the book shook me up and have consumed my thoughts for a few weeks now.

Some highlights:

“The noise of fast and shallow communications makes it harder to hear the quieter sounds that emanate from the depths.” (Page xiii)

“You are busy, but you find you have a vague anxiety that your life has not achieved its ultimate meaning and significance.” (Page xiii)

“It is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. . . You approve of yourself so long as you are not obviously hurting anyone else.” (Page xiv)

“Sometimes you don’t even notice these people [those with “impressive inner cohesion”], because while they seem kind and cheerful, they are also reserved. They possess the self-effacing virtues of people who are inclined to be useful but don’t need to prove anything to the world.” (Page xvi)

“They make you feel funnier and smarter when you speak with them.” (Page xvii)

Facebook thumbs up or downParaphrasing a Girl Scout handbook from the good old days: “The chief obstacle to happiness. . . comes from the overeager desire to have people think about you.” (Page 8)

“Humility is freedom. . .” (Page 8)

“You won’t even achieve enduring external success unless you build a solid moral core.” (Page 12)

Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

“All of us are given gifts, aptitudes, capacities, talents, and traits that we did not strictly earn.” We need to “justify our gifts”. (Page 24)

Albert Schweitzer: “Anybody who proposes to do good must not expect people to roll any stones out of his way.” (Page 25)

“A vocation is not about the pursuit of happiness, if by ‘happiness’ you mean being in a good mood, having pleasant experiences, or avoiding struggle and pain.” (Page 25)

“Those who pursue struggle end up being happier than those who pursue pleasure.” (Page 29)

“Communications have become faster and busier. It is harder to attend to the soft, still voices that come from the depths.” (Page 250)

“Social media allow a more self-referential information environment. People have more tools and occasions to construct a culture, a mental environment tailored specifically for themselves. . . Each individual can be the sun at the center of his or her own media solar system.” (Page 250)

“Our natural bent is to seek social approval and fear exclusion. Social networking technology allows us to spend our time engaged in a hyper-competitive struggle for attention, for victories in the currency of ‘likes.’ People are given more occasions to be self-promoters, to embrace the characteristics of celebrity, to manage their own image. . . People turn into little brand managers, using Facebook, Twitter, text messages, and Instagram to create a falsely upbeat, slightly over exuberant, external self that can be famous first in a small sphere and then, with luck, in a large one.”

“Moral realists saw the self as a wilderness to be tamed. . . People living in a high-pressure meritocracy are more likely to see the self as a resource base to be cultivated.” (Page 252)

See also:

Signs that made me smile

I enjoy a good sign. Here are a few that caught my eye.

Saturn BBQ
Saturn BBQ
I think we can all agree that manure has been oppressed for too long
I think we can all agree that manure has been oppressed for too long
I like this better than Yield
I like this better than Yield
Do not dispose of anything specific here.
Do not dispose of anything specific here.
I only made it 'til about 3am
I only made it ’til about 3am
What if I want to please someone else?
What if I want to please someone else?
I think this is cute. I imagine the librarians in their meeting, saying, "We need something edgy, something that speaks to the teens of today!"
I think this is cute. I imagine the librarians in their meeting, saying, “We need something edgy, something that speaks to the teens of today!”
This town needs more of this street.
This town needs more of this street.
The State of California is always bragging about things it knows.
The State of California is always bragging about things it knows.
My kind of graffiti
My kind of graffiti
I want to make this into a t-shirt
I want to make this into a t-shirt
This is just the message I needed today.
This is just the message I needed today.
I think they mean "mouth-watering"
I think they mean “mouth-watering”
If I were seafood I would definitely think twice before accepting this welcome.
If I were seafood I would definitely think twice before accepting this welcome.
I'm impressed by his ability to maintain good diving form even while his head bashes in.
I’m impressed by his ability to maintain good diving form even while his head bashes in.
I appericate it when you eat with your fingers.
I appericate it when you eat with your fingers.
I magically recommend the black fungus
I magically recommend the black fungus
Big Burp Theory
Big Burrp Theory
I wonder if Patrick ever wishes this sign were more portable.
I wonder if Patrick ever wishes this sign were more portable.
Words to live by in a restroom in New Delhi
Words to live by in a restroom in New Delhi
As far as I can tell this means that behind this door there's a toilet and it has bum-washing capabilities and your baby can watch.
As far as I can tell this means that behind this door there’s a toilet and it has bum-washing capabilities and your baby can watch.
Do not make squirrels magically appear. Runner up: Do not play dice with squirrels.
Do not make squirrels magically appear. Runner up: Do not play dice with squirrels.
Still Cursing
Still Cursing
Hipster Crap
Hipster Crap
I just like the artwork here
I just like the artwork here
This sign stresses me out - New Delhi market
This sign stresses me out – New Delhi market
The use of shampoo and gel is prohibited in this area
The use of shampoo and gel is prohibited in this area

Do not drink Beverly at the World of Coke

Description of Beverly from The Coca-Cola Company site:

The product was introduced in Italy in 1969 as a non-alcoholic aperitif. Aperitifs are drinks that are consumed before meals and are believed [amazon template=iframe image right&asin=B00823BUZ6]to aid digestion. The 1971 ads for Beverly feature the slogan, “Cold as Helsinki, sparkling as Rio, dry as El Paso.” By 1978, the brand was popular enough to be featured in a company history of the Italian market and was available in both the “classic” and “white” versions. The brand continued to be sold in Italy battling against the bigger competitors, like Campari and San Pellegrino which also had products in that category. In 1991, Beverly “White” was chosen as one of the 16 products from around the world to be made available in the tasting area of the original World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta.

Here are a few photos of Beverly at Club Cool at Epcot, Disney World –


When I migrated recently to a new host, I had to abandon my old photo galleries, whose software is no longer supported. The single most-visited page on the old site was this 10-year-old photo of the Beverly drink dispenser from the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, which someone linked to from a Wikipedia article about the drink. And that being the top page tells you something about the thrilling nature of content.

So, I’m posting the image here and setting up a redirect from the old url, just to eliminate the disappointment of one more broken link on the World Wide Web.

For archival purposes, here are the old comments about it from the original page:

From: Someone (Sun 07 Aug 2005 09:34:51 PM EDT)
Yeah…. That tasted like *&%$
From: ~Naquisha~ (Sun 22 Jan 2006 10:07:56 PM EST)
From: Danny Lewis (Wed 01 Mar 2006 11:03:57 PM EST)
Yeah, if there was anything I could relate the taste to, it is cough surup. My favorite drink, however, was the watermelon soda from China.
From: Mr. Thirsty (Mon 24 Apr 2006 10:51:55 AM EDT)
This stuff is delicious! But it’s definitely not for those with wimpy tastes. :p Too bad it’s not available in the US – I’d buy it.
From: Jessica (Fri 26 May 2006 04:23:06 PM EDT)
Beverly is like eating grapefruit and drinking milk. Then puking it in an ashtray and drinking it again.
From: Erin (Wed 21 Jun 2006 01:06:29 PM EDT)
Someone I know made a bet w/ his friends on how much he could drink… Search Beverley Epcot on yahoo video’s… the boys name is Matela
From: House4 (Tue 18 Jul 2006 04:04:35 PM EDT)
Beverly mostly tastes like alcohol and grapefruit. After you try it, you should go and wash your mouth out with mouth wash.
From: Patrick (Wed 19 Jul 2006 11:29:32 AM EDT)
They should get rid of Beverly before someone gets really sick. My favorite drink was all of them exept for Beverly. Where did this drink come from??
From: House4 (Wed 07 Feb 2007 03:58:23 PM EST)
I thought it came from Germany. But some how it’s Italy. UGH that drink is nasty. It will drive your taste budds sick.
From: Richard (Wed 21 Feb 2007 10:38:01 PM EST)
I tried Beverly at the World of Coke. All of the descriptions of its taste by the postings on this site do not come close to expressing how bad it is. It’s taste is worse than*&%$
From: Máire Ruadh (Fri 16 Mar 2007 09:57:35 PM EDT)
I like it. I don’t drink soda often, and all but Mozambique, Israel and Italy are wayyyy too sweet for me. Wish I could buy it here.
From: Jim (Fri 20 Apr 2007 02:49:47 PM EDT)
I LOVE this drink. Every time I go to EPCOT I drink it. Trying to find out how to buy some. My wife however is fairly certain I’m crazy.
From: Da Dawg (Mon 23 Apr 2007 12:56:35 AM EDT)
Beverly actually isn’t that bad. It is basicaly liquid bitter.So if you like bitter, then you’ll like Beverly.
From: Terry F (Wed 14 Mar 2012 04:36:41 PM EDT)
It tastes like scotch and sewer water mixed with black licorice steamed in castor oil.
From: Britt (Tue 20 Mar 2012 02:20:45 AM EDT)
Lived on this stuff in Epcot. Every time we got overheated we stopped by and had 1, 2, 30 cups of Beverly. Not only do I love the flavour, but it’s the only drink they have that isn’t super sweet. I wish we could buy it in Canada
From: Adrienne S. (Wed 25 Jul 2012 11:01:25 AM EDT)
Beverly tastes like dish soap and carbonated water.
From: Tony D (Sat 01 Sep 2012 06:23:01 PM EDT)
First time I tried it, I hated it; by the third trip, I loved it.
From: tracey (Mon 05 Nov 2012 02:39:25 PM EST)
it’s nasty.
From: Mattie (Sat 15 Dec 2012 10:26:20 AM EST)
It tastes like sprite for about half a second.……………… and then barf
From: John D (Sat 23 Feb 2013 04:43:53 PM EST)
I actually like this a lot- at first I didn’t, but I got used to it after drinking it a few times. Definitely an acquired taste, and definitely one most people won’t like.
From: ratbunz (Sun 07 Apr 2013 12:36:03 PM EDT)
Why did they name it beverly were they mad at her?
From: ratbunz (Sun 07 Apr 2013 12:38:46 PM EDT)
My favorite was bibo I can’t remember the actual flavor but it was yellow and tasted like candy sorta if they sold that here I would buy it ill have to look on e bay or amazon or something
From: Maggie Woods (Wed 26 Jun 2013 06:59:09 PM EDT)
It was disgusting. After I tried a whole cup I thought I was going to puke!!
From: READ THE COMMENT AND ANSWER ME (Thu 08 Aug 2013 08:02:53 PM EDT)
HAVE YOU TRIED THE BEVERLY?????????????HELLO?????????????????????-nascar5
From: Kaylyn (Mon 14 Apr 2014 04:08:59 PM EDT)
I really liked the taste of Beverly. Like others have said, I think it was because it was not so sickening sweet like some of the other ones. I do not drink pop usually FYI.
From: Terrible (Sat 07 Jun 2014 02:30:59 AM EDT)
This is the worst garbage i’ve ever consumed
From: Great (Tue 24 Jun 2014 09:32:34 AM EDT)
I really liked the Beverly. I didn’t get the bitter aftertaste that people normally get. I though it rather sweet and resembling Sprite.
From: Taisttester (Wed 16 Jul 2014 04:08:17 PM EDT)
It really isn’t that bad. My sister thought she going to throw up.d :
From: Su (Sun 26 Oct 2014 01:20:38 AM EDT)
I liked it!
From: nutty guy (Tue 11 Nov 2014 10:06:15 PM EST)
tasted like cough syrup
From: cookies n creme (Tue 30 Dec 2014 04:36:55 PM EST)
this is the worst drink that you could possibly consume
From: Bob Bubbers (Tue 06 Jan 2015 08:23:39 PM EST)
The people claiming they like it are liars trying to seem better than you.This soda is carbonated vomit, please don’t ever put it in your mouth.

Wojtek the WWII Bear

Feeding Wojtek the bear

Today I learned (from the Bathroom Book) that during WWII the Polish army enlisted a bear that became a corporal. He wrestled with the soldiers, drank beer and ate cigarettes, and helped lift heavy artillery boxes off delivery trucks.

They even created a cool logo –


More info:

  1. BBC Article
  2. Documentary: Wojtek – The Bear That Went To War
  3. Book at Amazon: Wojtek the Bear

The Christmas Truce

100 years ago, in December 1914, World War I was about 5 months old. In August, the Germans had initially moved rapidly through Luxembourg and Belgium on their way to France. Allied defenses held them at a battle line called The Western Front. By December casualties were high and all both sides could do was hold the line until reinforcements came. They dug trenches and placed barbed wire fences all along the line. The space between them was called “No Man’s Land” and in some places they were only separated by a few yards, close enough to be able to hear the enemy in their trenches.

It was wet and cold and miserable and boring. A British paper said “The bravery of our men, and they are splendidly brave, consists of sitting, often for days and nights, in sodden trenches, with the terrifying and earth-shaking concussions of shells.”
[One soldier wrote:] “You don’t see anything, although the wicked enemy is only 3-400m away , but you hear plenty.” . . .

“Each side could hear each other’s coming and goings, their songs and stresses, a good deal of the time. They got used to it. Here is Second Lieutenant Denis Barnett, serving with the Prince of Wales’ Leinster Regiment, writing a letter home in March the following year: “I had a conversation with a German the other morning. It began just at dawn: ‘Guten morgen, Allyman’, and we soon got going. I told him about the Kaiser, and he said we were all sorts of things I didn’t know.”

As early as December 11, near Armentieres, the Germans threw a big chocolate cake over into the British trench. On it was a note that said, “We propose having a concert tonight as it is our captain’s birthday, and we cordially invite you to attend. Provided you will give us your word of honor as guests and you agree to cease all hostilities between 7:30 and 8:30.” The British thought it was a trap, but they listened to the concert and clapped after each song. One of the Germans yelled over, “Please come mit us into the chorus.” A British soldier replied, “We’d rather die than sing German” and a German quickly replied, “It would kill us if you did.”

The night of December 21 was particularly cold. Sleet fell and the next night was even colder.

Lieutenant Geoffrey Heinekey of the 2nd Queen’s Westminster Rifles was writing to his mother about the recent flurry of activity in the trenches: “A most extraordinary thing happened … some Germans came out and held up their hands and began to take in some of their wounded, and so we ourselves immediately came out of our trenches and began bringing in our wounded also. The Germans then beckoned to us and a lot of us went over and talked to them and they helped us bury our dead. This lasted the whole morning and I talked to several of them and I must say they seemed extraordinarily fine men.”

Another British soldier wrote: “Without a doubt, on the British and German sides of the barbed wire, there are educated men; men who fear God; men who try to live up to the doctrines of their religion , faith, hope and charity.”

As the weather deteriorated, there was a sense that both sides were fighting a common enemy in the weather.

On Christmas Eve, the Germans put up small Christmas trees on the walls of their trenches, lit with candles.
Once darkness had fallen on Christmas Eve, the singing began. At first each side sang their own patriotic songs, trying to drown out the other side with loud singing. Then a group of Germans sang “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” which was practically a national anthem for the Allies.

“Just a line from the trenches on Christmas Eve,” wrote Major Arthur Bates from the London Rifle Brigade in a pencil scrawl to his wife. “A topping night with not much firing going on & both sides singing – it will be interesting to see what happens tomorrow. My orders to the company are not to start firing unless the Germans do.”

In another area, The Germans sang ‘Stille Nacht’. The London Rifles replied with ‘The First Noel’. The Germans clapped. When the British started ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’, the German side joined in with the Latin words ‘Adeste Fideles’.

At 5am Christmas morning, a rumor started circulating that some of the allies were in No Man’s Land speaking with the Germans.  “Impossible, whose leg are you pulling?” said Edward Roe. “If you don’t believe me, go and see for yourself.” “And there they were, sure enough,” wrote Roe later. “British and German warriors in No Man’s Land, talking to each other and exchanging souvenirs. There is a Christ after all.”

Each side took the opportunity to bury their dead, some of whom had been inaccessible since October. They met in the middle and agreed to terms of an unofficial truce, which included things like:

  • Any action taken by the Artillery of either Army did not break our truce as we had no control over Artillery
  • If either side received an order to fire, they would fire the first three rounds high in the air so as to give the other side time to get under cover.
  • If either side fired a shot with intent to kill, the truce was declared off.

Up and down this section of the Western Front, similar scenes played out. One British soldier helped a German who had lived in England before the war write a postcard to his girlfriend.

A British soldier named Esslemont Adams went across No Man’s Land with the intent of arranging a burial service. As he started to cross, a rabbit ran across No Man’s Land and soldiers from both side chased it. “The Germans caught it, and Adams agreed to a joint funeral service which opened with Psalm 23 – “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” – and a joint prayer. After the service, a German colonel took out his cigar case and offered him one. It was an awkward moment for Adams, who was a Presbyterian and didn’t approve of smoking. “May I be allowed not to smoke but to keep this as a souvenir of Christmas here and of meeting you on Christmas Day?” he asked. “Oh yes,” said the German, with a laugh. “But can you give me a souvenir?” Adams took off his cap, dug into the lining to find the copy of the Soldier’s Prayer he always carried (“ Oh God, wash me from all my sins in my Saviour’s Blood, and I shall be whiter than snow”). The colonel put it in his own hat. “I value this because I believe what it says, ” he said. “And when the war is over, I shall take it out and give it as a keepsake to my youngest child.”

Men exchanged gifts. They played football, in some areas with a real ball and in others with whatever they could find. One man ran into a German who had been his barber in England and got a haircut from the enemy in No Man’s Land.

This is Private Ernie Williams of the Cheshire Regiment: “A ball appeared from somewhere, I don’t know where, but it came from their side … They made up some goals and one fellow went in goal and then it was just a general kickabout. I should think there were a couple of hundred taking part. I had a go at the ball. I was pretty good then, at 19, everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves. There was no sort of ill-will between us … There was no referee, no score, no tally at all.”

In another area a soldier recorded: “A German looked over the trench – no shots – our men did the same, and then a few of our men went out and brought the dead in (69) and buried them and the next thing happened a football kicked out of our trenches and Germans and English played football. Night came and still no shots.”

“It was a peculiar mixture of dreamlike exhilaration and celebration. “In the afternoon, I went out and had a chat with ‘our friends the enemy’, ” wrote Sergeant Bernard Brookes of the Queen’s Westminster Rifles in the Frelinghien-Houplines sector.
“Even as I write (dusk),” wrote Sergeant Bob Lobell, “I can scarcely credit what I have seen and done. It has been a wonderful day.”

One soldier summed it up in a letter home: “So there you are; all this talk of hate, all this firing at each other that has raged since the beginning of the war quelled and stayed by the magic of Christmas. Indeed one German said ‘But you are of the same religion as us and today is the day of peace!’ It is really a great triumph for the church. It is a great hope for future peace when two great nations hating each other as foes have seldom hated, one side vowing eternal hate and vengeance and setting their venom to music, should on Christmas day and for all that the word implies, lay down their arms, exchange smokes and wish each other happiness.” –

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

All quotes are from Boyle, David: Peace on Earth: The Christmas Truce of 1914 and