Wednesday, October 22, 2014

An Ad Libitum Diet.

A low-fat, starch-based, vegan diet eaten ad libitum for 7 days results in significant favorable changes in commonly tested biomarkers that are used to predict future risks for cardiovascular disease and metabolic diseases. 

-Conclusions from the abstract of the research report entitled "Effects of 7 days on an ad libitum low-fat vegan diet: the McDougall Program cohort," reported in the Nutrition Journal 2014, 13:99.

Within the limits of a diet very similar to the one described in this report, I do not count calories nor otherwise limit what I eat.  I do not gain weight and I feel good. ("Ad libitum" means "at liberty" and is where we get the phraise "ad lib.")

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Aging in Miami

At UM Med School's Center on Aging
Last night, Carol and I attended a dinner sponsored by our friends at Fiduciary Trust Company where Sara J. Czaja, PhD, of the UM med school's Center on Aging spoke.  Nearly all of us there were 65 or older, except for the staff of Fiduciary Trust.  As articulate as Dr. Czaja was, there were not a lot of new things in her talk for us, although maybe there were for others there.  Here were the things she said about managing aging:
  1. Exercise is definitely necessary to deal positively with both physical and mental aging.  She seemed to say that this was well established in the literature.  Carol and I are banking on this.
  2. One's diet appears to be important, but she did not get into detail on this idea.  She said something like "a heart-healthy diet is a brain-healthy diet."  I can't disagree with that of course, but define "heart-healthy."
  3. She named stress as a negative factor.  Of course, certain types of stress are negative at every age.  I could not tell whether she meant to say that people who are aging are more vulnerable to stress than younger people.  I would guess that they are.
  4. Social interaction is very important.  Well, of course.  At the clinical level, the Center is teaching the use of the Internet to aging people to help them build or bolster their social networks, teaching basic techniques to people who are not computer literate.  The researchers are seeking to quantify the positive affects on a population they recruited that is made up of 75% poor people.
  5. Learn something thing new.  This appealed to me.  I am ready.  Get me out from underneath where I am now!  How about a teaching career?
  6. The pills right now are disappointing.  She discussed this in answer to a question about the medications that are prescribed to address dementia.  She said that they simply don't work in too many cases.  The results seem to be better when there is an early diagnosis, but she made it plain that the drugs are no present solution.  

Monday, October 20, 2014

Another Book List

I like them, and here is one on the AbeBooks website, entitled "50 Classic Books and Why You Should Read Them", by Richard Davies.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Israelite Contrarian

Save more. Just save more; if you’re still working, you probably need to save more because you almost certainly aren’t saving enough. If you do the calculations based on having X when you get to retirement, you can begin to understand what X can do for you given all the uncertainties that come with later life. I’ll bet most investors would say, “I wish I had saved more, even though I had to give something up.” I just suspect that’s the case. So my guess is that you can pretty well predict somebody will wish they’d saved more.
Maybe when someone is making the saving decision, you can try to help them think more about their future self. Though there are many people who say “I’m not going to live long,” the evidence is that if you’re middle-class you are going to live a long time. You personally may not, but the odds are that you will.

-William "Bill" Sharpe, STANCO 25 Professor of Finance, Emeritus, Stanford University and recipient of the 1990 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, in an interview entitled "Don't Over-Rely on Historical Data to Forecast Future Returns," in the October 2014 issue of the AAII Journal, published by the American Association of Individual Investors, in answer to the question "What advice you would have for investors given your years of experience?"

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 -Jesus of Nazareth, from his "Sermon on the Mount,"  Matthew 6: 19-21Sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Losing Jesus. Losing People.

A friend of mine, lecturing in a theological college in Kenya, introduced his students to “The Quest for the Historical Jesus.” This, he said, was a movement of thought and scholarship that in its earlier forms was carried on largely in Germany in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He had not gone far into his lecture explaining this search for Jesus when one of his students interrupted him. “Teacher,” he said (“I knew I was in trouble,” my friend commented, “as soon as he called me ‘teacher’!”), “if the Germans have lost Jesus, that is their problem. We have not lost him. We know him. We love him.” 

-from Wright, N.T., The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is (IVP 1999) at p. 13.  (A portion of the first chapter of Wright's book, which includes the introductory paragraph quoted above, may be read here.)

I remember hearing for the first time the phrase "the search for the historical Jesus" when Professor Barney Jones introduced the subject to our NT class at Duke my sophomore year (1965-66).  I had something of the same thought as the student in Kenya, but I didn't express it.  I thought, "I already know Jesus, and of course he lived in history."  Then Dr. Jones said that this was title of a famous book by Albert Schweitzer.  (Not quite.  The title was The Quest of the Historical Jesus, a title that I thought conveyed something a little different.)  Albert Schweitzer, an icon of mine, had problems with Jesus! Such consternation.

The other point made in the quote by the student - that the Germans may have lost Jesus - is just as pertinent.  Look what happened to that great country during the 20th Century.  And America is not far behind.  Last year we celebrated the 40th Anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, and, as of the beginning of this year, America has been the site of 56,662,169 abortions:  enormously more than the Nazis murdered in the death camps.  I can only begin to grasp the implications of that number - how many potential Schweitzers, for example, were among them, how many Beethovens, how many Lincolns, how many MLKs?  Name your heroes.  How many of those were lost? 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Unconventional Discoveries

The impetus for change [from "resource nationalism" by such countries asMexico to a more market oriented "resource maximization"]  is the revival of North American oil-and-gas output. The extra barrels suppress prices, putting pressure on government budgets in large oil-exporting countries. That strain also can be seen in the share prices of national oil companies.

 In the past month, as Brent has fallen by about 10%, shares in Russia’s Rosneft and PetroChina 601857.SH -0.51% have both tumbled by about 13%. In contrast, Exxon Mobil XOM -0.24% is down less than 5%. And many state-backed oil companies, especially those in Russia, Venezuela and Mexico, have high debt levels. In a crunch, that could end up the government’s problem; after all, national oil champions really are too big to fail.

 North America’s shale riches also challenge resource nationalism by competing for investment. Some 38% of incremental spending in upstream oil and gas from 2009 to 2013 went to the region, according to IHS Herold.
 *   *   *
Fraser McKay, a principal analyst at Wood Mackenzie, says that for the biggest four majors—Exxon, Chevron, CVX -0.54% Royal Dutch Shell RDSA.LN -0.23% and BP BP.LN +0.89% —unconventional discoveries have been by far the biggest source of new resource additions over the past five years. He also points out the relatively short time it takes to get oil and gas from such prospects fits with shareholders’ current mantra for cash flow to come out of the ground rather than just go into it for years on end.
-from yesterday's WSJ on-line, "Oil's Decline: Enemy of the People."
 My guess is that this is toning-down Putin's adventurism.

 See my 2012 post, Not Scarcity but Plenty, and Sean's Comment on it.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Billable Hours are the Golden Calf of the Legal Profession

The findings and the image itself are from the Robert Haft Blog post, Billable Hours Pressure Tops List of Stress Factors in Legal Profession.

When Jack joined the firm, the firm's billing practice was said to consist of several factors that included: the outcome of the case, the value of the case, the complexity of the legal issues, the number of key partners and of attorneys and support staff committed to the case.  All of these factors were said to have to be evaluated before a final bill was fixed.  The amount charged to the client was virtually always reached after consultations with the client so that the client's expectations were reasonably related to the charge finally made.

While the advent of the billable hour, facilitated greatly by the introduction of the computer to the firm's operation, provided certain benefits to the firm's billing practice, it not only facilitated the quantification of attorney hours invested in the case, it created a new approach to determining the compensation of the firm's associates and the facilitation of determining whether the associate should be retained, dismissed or advanced.

Jack was reasonably certain that these were not the only factors taken into consideration in assessing the value of the associate to the firm, but it was a fairly simple and reasonable way to come to decisions on associates that weren't clearly visible by the partners working on cases in which the associate was assigned.  It was also an important factor in determining the profitability of the firm year-to-year that the firm considered attainable.

As might be expected, this led inexorably to an increase in the target hours that were expected from associates before they were eligible for a bonus at the end of the year.  Inevitably, the target rose to 1900 hours and higher with bonus levels ranging from 2000 to 2400 per year.  In addition, the associate was expected to include his or her pro bono hours, continuing education hours, and his new business-getting efforts.  Although Jack was totally sympathetic to the near impossible task assigned to the associates, especially those who had families and were involved in bar associations developing valuable contacts and identity in the bar, he was very disappointed to observe clear instances of associates padding their hours on some rationale that Jack did not want to find himself discussing with them.

-from Gutierrez, Jr., Max, "The Life and Death of John J. Stevens, Esq. as a member of the Legal Profession," in ACTEC Law Journal, Spring 2013/Fall 2013, at 202, 203.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Paging Dr. Gawande

The patient first arrived at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas late on Sept. 25, complaining of a fever and abdominal pains, hospital officials said at a news conference. A nurse administered a checklist, on which the patient indicated that he had recently traveled from Liberia. Nevertheless, the hospital sent him home.

-from Time Magazine's "Mistake Led to Ebola Patient's Initial Release" post last evening.

Dr. Mark Lester, Southeast Zone clinical leader for Texas Health Resources, said a checklist for screening for Ebola was in place when the patient entered to [sic] the hospital on September 26, and that he was asked about his recent travels, including to Liberia, where the disease has killed nearly 2,000, according to the CDC. “Regretfully [sic], that information was not fully communicated” to the rest of the patient’s care team, Lester said. Lester described the patient’s condition as “serious but stable.”

-from a Newsweek post on October 1.

This is a nightmare right out of Arul Gawande's, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right.  While Dr. Gawande does not write specifically about the virus, it is clear that the Emergency Department at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital lacked the teamwork and discipline that make the simplest of checklists effective, the very things Dr. Gawande emphasizes in his excellent book.

(The New Yorker has just published an article by Dr. Gawande, "The Ebola Epidemic is Stoppable.")

Reading Again McCullough's Biography of John Adams

What a treat!

Ambitious to excel - to make himself known - he had nonetheless recognized at an early stage that happiness came not from fame and fortune, "and all such things, " but from "an habitual contempt of them," as he wrote.

-McCoullough, John Adams (Simon & Schuster 2001), p. 19.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

To Think Like a Lawyer. To think like a Christian.

After completing his first year of law school, Jack was thoroughly convinced that his decision [to go to law school] was the right one.  In college, there typically was a right or wrong answer to any question under study and included in an exam.  A good memory basically assured the student of a good test score and a good understanding of the subject matter.

The study of law differed significantly from the approach taken in learning the course material in college courses.  In law school, there were rarely right or wrong answers.  Jack was soon convinced that the study of law, using the casebook approach to learning the applicable law and the so-called "Socratic" method of teaching law, that is, engaging the students in the discussion of the case under study, were designed to prepare the student to think like a lawyer – not necessarily to learn the then applicable law.

-from Gutierrez, Jr., Max, "The Life and Death of John J. Stevens, Esq. as a member of the Legal Profession," in ACTEC Law Journal, Spring 2013/Fall 2013, at 182,183.

I would say that to think like a Christian about a question ought to be very much the way a lawyer is to think about a question.  Underlying a case discussion in the law school classroom is the notion that somewhere in the facts presented in the given case and in the history of the law going back to Moses and before as that history might relate to the facts, there is an answer, there is a just rule for the case.  There is also the notion that we can never get to the just rule, the perfect application, because the whole thing is simply too complex.  So the matter is approached - or should be approached - with humility but also with the idea that we must come to a decision,  recommend it, be ready to defend that decision, and then move on.

I think this way of thinking would serve Christians well.  We have a crucial set of beliefs about a creator-God, his loving nature, his engagement with his creation, what  he expects of us, and how he has chosen to deal with us in light of the way we often choose not to meet those expectations. As to that expectation, we have the rule.  He calls us to apply that rule to "the facts presented [to us] in a given case."  In the difficult cases, we struggle to find the right answer - and there are many more difficult cases that come before us than we often think.  There is grace in the law school classroom, where we students, by educational necessity, are never able to come up with an answer that satisfies the professor, no matter what we do.  The grace is that we may come back again to the next class and struggle with more cases as we learn how to think lawyerly.  There is God's grace as well.  He does not expel us from the world in which he reigns.  Instead, we learn, we become more aware of the difficulty of cases that perhaps at one time we thought were easy ones.  We see that God calls us to struggle with them, to make a decision, and finally to move on.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What Does Leonard Say? Well, He Won't be Saying Anymore.

Around our house for as long as I can remember, there was "Leonard."  By that I mean a Leonard Maltin Movie Guide was always somewhere within 15 feet or so of the TV, because we love to watch movies.  Whenever someone in the family mentioned a movie title or tripped over something that looked like a movie while channel surfing, someone else would ask, "What does Leonard say?"  It didn't hurt that the Miami Herald reviewers seemed never to meet a decent movie that they liked - unless it also promoted an item on the Herald cultural or political agenda.  But we would have latched onto Leonard anyway, buying a new edition about every two years or so.  In fact, the time is ripe for a new one, because the one on hand right now is the 2012 edition.

But Leonard won't be sayin' anymore.  The 2015 guide, CNN reports, will be his last: 

"I saw it coming a couple years ago," said Maltin, 63.  "There were pretty consistent strong sales for many, many years, and that started to change.  It came as a kind of a jolt."

Leonard points to the internet as the villain here.  With all due respect to the great man, however, he seems to me simply to be quitting.  Why not completely morph online?  (The CNN article states that he will remain online as a sort of blog on Indiewire.) The web would seem a logical place to move the whole enterprise, especially in light of the sheer volume of material out there - which several years ago required him to divide his treasure trove of reviews between the guide-proper and something called Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide.  (And a web edition doesn't have to allow access without charge.) The guide already has a Kindle edition, for not much less than Amazon's print book - isn't there enough profit in that to keep the thing going?

Family, the 2015 Guide is on the Christmas list - and maybe the Classic Movie Guide too.  Leonard will continue to speak around our house.

(Note to kids: He still gives Miss Firecracker three stars.)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Post-Modern Ohm's Law Abbreviations

When I was growing up, this was symbol that helped us remember Ohm's law.  "E" is for electromotive force (EMF) in volts.  "I" is for intensity of charge motion or current in amperes.  And "R" is for resistance in ohms.

The symbol works this way: To determine voltage in a circuit, put your thumb over the E and you are reminded that EMF in volts equals the intensity of charge motion in amps multiplied by resistance in ohms.  To determine current ("I"), put your thumb over the I and you see that amps equals the voltage divided by the resistance.  To determine resistance, cover R and you are reminded that EMF divided by intensity of charge (or volts by amperes or amps) will get you get the resistance (that is, the ohms).

Pretty neat, except that since I learned Ohm's law, post-modern electrical engineering whippersnappers have been changing the abbreviations.  Now for E, we may get V in an Ohm's law formula discussion.  That may seem more appropriate, as V of course stands for volt.  But E, by referring to electromotive force, reminds you of the signal characteristic of voltage.

Similarly, we now get C instead of I for current.  Maybe this, like V for voltage, is an obvious improvement.  But it is not simply current that kills you, it is the intensity of charge motion that will do it.  Every electrical impulse has current, for Pete's sake.  Not every one of them has 1000 amps.  It is probably good to remember that when dealing with electrical circuits.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Answer to Poor Hedge Fund Results and High Fees and Costs: "Index Funds" says Warren Buffett

Yesterday in the WSJ, a big article appears (behind the pay-wall) on the unhappiness of public pension funds, including Calpers, the big CA public pensions fund, with their hedge fund investments.  Here is the closing paragraph of that article:

Mr. Meiberger [on the board of the San Francisco Employees' Retirement System] said at the [the board's June] meeting that he had sought out Warren Buffett's advice on the matter. The billionaire investor's handwritten response: "I would not go with hedge funds—would prefer index funds."

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Satan Got In Our Way

This Sunday's lesson addresses 1 Thessalonians 2.17-20.

In this passage of this letter to the believers at Thessalonica, Paul writes from Corinth that he wanted to return to them "again and again – but Satan stopped us." (NIV 1984)

What is this about Satan? And what about God's sovereignty?  Juicy problems.

N. T. Wright is not so sure about a being named Satan. His translation of the problem passage is "but the satan got in our way." Note that Wright does not capitalize "satan."

Here is what he writes in pertinent part in his essay on this passage:

Paul doesn't always mention 'the satan', but when he does he seems to be aware that behind at least some of the ordinary frustrations and thwarted plans that are common to the human race we may discern a darker and more malevolent force at work. This force – and it may be going too far to see it as 'personal' – embodies itself from time to time in human beings and organizations that block God's purpose or hold it up for awhile.

-Wright, N. T., Paul for Everyone – Galatians and Thessalonians (Westminster John Knox Press 2004) at p. 105.

 John Stott takes a little more time with this passage in his short "exposition" of Thessalonians.  (He doesn't want to elevate his book to the status of "commentary"), The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians.

His translation is the NIV 1984, "But Satan stopped us."  Stott does not stop to consider the question of whether there is a "personal" Satan, that is a being, a sort of person, named Satan.  Instead, Stott addresses the question of whether this being at this time and place frustrates God's will:

 [W]e observe that the apostle blames the devil for the failure of his attempts to return. Satan 'thwarted us' (REB) or 'prevented us' (JBP, JB), he says, using a verb (enkopto, to cut into) which could be applied either to 'breaking up a road to render it impassable' or to an athlete 'cutting in' during a race. The more important question is why Paul attributed this blockage to Satan, while attributing others to God.  One answer could be that God gave Paul spiritual discernment to distinguish between providential and demonic happenings.  Another is that the attribution could be made only with the benefit of hindsight. 'It was probably evident – in retrospect, if not immediately – that the one check worked out for the advancement of the gospel and the other for its hindrance.'. A third and more theological perspective is to say that 'both statements are true.  Although Satan does his part, God still retains supreme authority . . . '. At all events, Paul's purpose is to affirm that his inability to return to them [the believers in Thessalonica] was not due to any indifference on his part, but rather to the malign influence of the devil.  [footnotes omitted]

On the question of God's providence, N. T. Wright does have this important thing to say:

Underneath the opposition of 'the satan' we may sometimes discern the strange providence of God.  This does not rob the 'satanic' opposition of danger or threat, but reminds us that God remains sovereign even over present dark frustrations. 

-Wright at p. 106.


"Neuroplasticity is one of science's most startling discoveries of the past thirty years.
We used to think brain development was a one-way street: you were born with a thousand trillion neural connections, give or take, and what followed was mostly a lifetime of pruning, according to the rules of use it or lose it.  We now know that the brain can retrofit itself, growing new neural connections(and pumping up existing ones) upon exposure to novel circumstances.  That's what adaptation is all about.
True enough, it works best if you are young."
-from Grierson, Bruce, What Makes Olga Run? The Mystery of the 90-Something Track Star and What She Can Teach Us About Living Longer, Happier Lives. (Henry Holt 2014) at p. 48.

Of course, Olga Kotelko, the subject of Grierson's book is not young, but the point he makes is that neuroplasticity is working even into one's 90s  - at least into Olga's 90s - in a marvelous way.  And I turned only 68 yesterday.