Saturday, June 16, 2018

Hello to the Springs Gardener

Two years ago at our house, we had a professional landscaper renovate the lawn and shrubbery.  For maybe eleven years or so before then, our lawn, especially the turf (St. Augustine grass) gave a sorry look.   This mainly resulted from a renovation of our house at the start of that eleven year stretch.  We made the kitchen larger, more pleasant and functional - including the installation of a new window over the sink that offers a view of South Florida's gorgeous sunsets.  Off that new kitchen, we built a fourth bedroom with its own bathroom, and we put a roof over the back porch that had simply been "screened-in," as we say in Miami-Dade.  That little bathroom for the fourth bedroom, on the west side of our house, a bit toward the SW corner, required a trench for a service pipe, a trench that went north along the west side of the house, around its NW corner, and headed east until it met the main sewer line that came from Dove Avenue, the east-west street that our house faces.  What a mess all that digging made, not only digging for the trench but also for a foundation that needed to be laid for the  new bedroom and the back porch that adjoined it.  (Don't ask why that porch didn't have a foundation, but, as we discovered, was just a slab spread on the ground.) After the trench was filled in on the west and front sides of the house and the foundation dug and constructed on the south side, we completed the rest of the upgrade.  All that trench and foundation work tore up the lawn, and I did nothing much after we finished the project to make the rough places plain.  I even gave the yard up to a crew of grass cutters of the mow-blow-and-go variety.   I didn't realize how bad the outside looked until, two years ago, the professional landscaper, to whom I gave more or less carte blanche, did his good work, and I saw what a world of difference it made.

But all that good work created a much higher maintenance demand.  Either I had to improve my relationship with the lawn and shrubs (hereinafter referred to as "the garden") or I would see the look slide into mediocrity or worse.  And I was a Springs boy, having lived in this town from a tiny baby, taking absences only for college and law school, a year in New York City, and a year in a duplex east of the Gables, until we bought our first house back in the Springs.  A Springs boy takes care of his own lawn, and makes it at least better than average.  Furthermore, we had invested hard-earned cash with the landscaper, who pulled up all the grass and weeds, covered the ground with rich dirt, and then laid on top big squares of new St. Augustine, adding all sort of plants around the base of the house and along the back border of the lawn, lovingly surrounding those plants with a flatbed worth of 2 cubic feet bags of brown mulch he had trucked in.  This would take a lot of work to keep up, and what was I going to do?

One Biscayne Tower - Thanks a Lot, Joe!
I had learned, however, the secret of good landscaping maintenance from a friend, Joe.  Joe is a building engineer for a tall office building downtown, known as One Biscayne Tower.  It had great landscaping around its base, and I asked Joe if he would give me an insight into how he had arranged to keep it so beautiful.  He drew closer to me, and lowered his voice.  "Paul," he said, "the secret is a crew that shows up at 5AM several mornings a week to pull weeds, trim, transplant and replace the shrubs, cut the grass, water, fertilize, mulch, and pick up the trash.  That's the secret."

Thanks a lot, Joe.

So, this blog post is an introduction to my story of trans-planting Joe's secret to my new garden.  Personally. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Reading Knack Slipping Away. How to stop it.

I feel the reading knack slipping away.  I want to reclaim it.  What is the problem?  What is the solution?

My favorite spot at home is on the sofa in the den, stage-left.  It is very comfortable. A lamp on the end table provides good light.  I can see directly into the kitchen, where very often Carol is working, and she is an attention-drawing presence (and always has been), easy to look at.  Her mere presence draws my attention away from my book.  Divorce is probably not the answer.  In fact, every man should have my problem, whether he is a reader or not.

To my right, as I sit on the sofa, the TV is almost immediately adjacent.  Although it looks across my point of view, its screen is very easy to see.  And there are a set of controllers within my reach, giving access to a cornucopia of fast-food for the brain, largely junk.  Either throw a brick through the screen or find another comfortable place to read.  Maybe in the kitchen.

A very large number of books waits for me.  They are in several places in our house, where they wait, but especially on the shelves of a sort of home office.  When I am in that room with the bookshelves, I find myself,  like the jackass who died of hunger, as he stood between two stacks of hay, not being able to make up my mind about what to read.  What we need here is a list.

There must be a reading muscle.  Like any muscle.  My endurance flags when I pick up a book.  I'm not a tough enough reader.  I see a new idea or a new word as I read.  My mind slips away from the book as I think about that idea or go look up the word in the dictionary.  Within limits, that's probably a good thing.  But most of the time,  for crying out loud, make a note on a note pad and keep reading.  And then go back to those notes.

Read no more than, say, three books at a time.  Not ten.

Always have a book that you are reading that is very challenging.  Commit X number of minutes to it each day. For that matter, when you sit down with any book, easy or hard, decide how long you are going to read, and then hang in there.

Ride MetroRail to work, not the car.  Yes, it takes longer, but you can spend the time reading, unless some idiot sits next to you and starts jabbering on his cell phone.  (Do not take weapons on MetroRail if you are a reader.)

Start a blog, so you can tell people what you are reading and what you think of it.  Or maybe you don't suffer from "show and tell" disease.  That showed up in me in first grade.  Never left. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Long-Term Care Insurance

My partner, Juan, gave me a heads-up on this from NPR's "Planet Money."

The link gives a pod-cast button that is worth a listen.  The related text includes the following;

Last week, General Electric said it was taking a massive loss — $6.2 billion — related to an obscure corner of the company: long-term-care insurance.

Long-term-care insurance is this kind of insurance that anyone can buy. It covers things like nursing home care, or a home health aide.

But recently, GE came out and said it was having an "adverse claims experience" with these policies. 
Basically, the company got the math wrong, and lost billions as a result.

This isn't just about GE. MetLife got out of this business and so has just about everybody else. They all said the same thing: we underestimated how much this was going to cost.

Carol and I have a policy on myself, and two policies on Carol.  The premiums have gone up in the last few years.  When I bought one of the policies years ago from Northwestern Life, the agent warned me that the insurance company was only guessing at what the premium needed to be, and that I should expect that the premium would go up at some point as the company began to figure it all out.  The NPR podcast to which I refer above states that they haven’t figured it out yet.

One thing that I have noticed in my law-practice experience is this: The better care one receives as an elderly person, the longer one lives, generally speaking.  So, perhaps the long-term care insurance model works against itself.  What the model seems to require, at least in part, is some certainty about when the customers will die.  If the insurance company looks at the mortality tables, however, it is looking at a universe of people for whom the level of care varies substantially.  But their customers, who will receive better long-term care than most, will not die on time.

The question Carol and I have is whether the companies will figure it out before they go under.  In the meanwhile, we pay the higher premiums.  I’m not sure that’s the right choice.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Potiphar's Wife and Joseph's Alleged "Laughter"

Our pastor, Sam Miranda, preached this past Sunday morning on the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife.  As is customary at our worship service, the bulletin provided the scripture, Genesis 39:1-23, using the English Standard Version (“ESV”).  As is also customary, Sam read the scripture, in its entirety, as we followed along, before he began preaching.  Here is that reading, as the ESV gives it. I have added italics in places pertinent to what I would like to discuss:

39 Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph's charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.

Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master's wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master's wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” 10 And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.

11 But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, 12 she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house. 13 And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house, 14 she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. 15 And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.” 16 Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, 17 and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me. 18 But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.”

19 As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, “This is the way your servant treated me,” his anger was kindled. 20 And Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. 21 But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22 And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. 23 The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph's charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed.

            What caught my attention was the apparent difference between what Potiphar’s wife told the men of her household about Joseph’s purpose “in coming in to her” and what she told her husband about Joseph’s purpose.  As the scripture reads in the ESV, she told the household men that Joseph came in to “lie with me,” but to Potiphar that Joseph came in to “laugh at her.”   This account confuses me further because the passage states that Potiphar’s wife told Potiphar “the same story” about the incident.  I will concede that in speaking to the household men, Potiphar’s wife said that her husband brought among them a Hebrew “to laugh us,” but as far as Joseph’s alleged particular purpose as to her, she told them that Joseph’s intention was “to lie with me.”

            Here is how the NIV renders verses 14 – 18.  It translates “laugh” as “to make sport of,” but is otherwise about the same:
she called her household servants. “Look,” she said to them, “this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. 15 When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”
16 She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. 17 Then she told him this story: “That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. 18 But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”
I have the ESV Study Bible, and it has a note on Genesis 39:13-15 that includes the following statement:
“Laugh” recalls 21:9 and 26:8, where it has the connotations of “making fun of someone” and “caressing,” respectively.
            The reference to Gen. 21:9 is to the son of Hagar, Ishmael, whose “laughter” so offended Sarah that she demanded of Abraham that he cast out both Hagar and her son.  The reference to 26:8 is to the Philistine King Abimelech who, seeing Abraham and Rebekah “laughing” together, infers that there is something more intimate in their relationship than the brother-and-sister lie that Abraham had told him.

            In verse 14, the New English Translation translates the word for “laugh” (ESV) or “sport” (NIV) as “humiliate,” and has the following translation footnote (footnote 35) for that translation:
Heb. “to make fun of us.” The verb translated “to humiliate us” here means to hold something up for ridicule, or to toy with something harmfully.  Attempted rape would be such an activity, for it would hold the victim in contempt.
            My surmise is that the use of the word translated “to make fun of us” had a breadth of meaning that did not necessarily refer to “rape” or “having sex,” but, given the context, could be understood as meaning the lie that Potiphar’s wife wants her husband to believe.  But by using a sort of euphemism and not something explicit, it gives Potiphar himself a way out: He would throw Joseph in prison and not seek what was probably the ultimate penalty for attempted rape.  If word had gotten around that Potiphar had imprudently allowed a Hebrew slave sufficient access to make such an attempt, it would have damaged Potiphar’s reputation.  The lie of Potiphar’s wife maintains appearances for both of them, and Potiphar will not push the details.

            But my main point concerns the different translations of a given Hebrew word that we see from Bible version to Bible version.  I think the ESV choice is the least appropriate among all of the alternate translations.  In the Preface to the ESV, a body described as "The Translation Oversight Committee" states that the ESV is an "essentially literal translation.  If it is that approach that gets us "to laugh at," rather than "to humiliate," then I think they fall short here.

           Let me also observe that in each case where Potiphar's wife mentions Joseph, she never gives his name.  Instead her is "the Hebrew slave."  One commentary notes that Potiphar's wife is not merely descriptive, she evidences her racial bigotry.  If that is the case, then it would have been all the more "humiliating" to Potiphar that his wife would "lie with" such a creature, and it would have been a public disgrace.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Football Season? Really?

Dealing with my annual pre-football season crisis. To watch or not to watch. Lots of good reasons not to do so. The time, my gosh, the time! The saturation of the market place. The exploitation of college players against highly paid coaches and administrators, and the corruption. The concussion issue. The proliferation of above average entertainment on the tube. The outdoors during a wonderful season of the year. All kinds of books to read. Ham radio. And friends! The dear friends! These are just a few. People not standing up for the national anthem is a turn-off, but who can really blame these young men, given the sorry education they received, the opportunists they attract and the clap-trap they are fed. So that's not really important in the scheme of things. The other things certainly are.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Dunkirk the Movie and Dunkirk the Event

Finally saw Dunkirk last night with Carol. As we drove to the movie theater, she read to me from "Their Finest Hours," volume 2 of Churchill's The Second World War epic, specifically from Chapter 5, "The Deliverance of Dunkirk." In a short space of time, that reading gave us some very necessary context. The movie should be an invitation to go much deeper into that event. Its telling on the screen was bereft of any meaning other than the poignant survival situations of the characters and the immediate objective of getting the troops back to England to fight another day. There was no reference to the transcendent at any point. Contrast this with the first paragraph of Churchill's chapter on the event: 

"There was a short service of intercession and prayer in Westminster Abbey. The English are loath to expose their feelings, but in my stall in the choir I could feel the pent-up, passionate emotion, and also the fear of the congregation, not of death or wounds of material loss, but of defeat and the final ruin of Britain." 

I concede that the movie ended with one of the protagonists, at last in England and on the train home, reading a newspaper account of Churchill's speech to Parliament on June 4, in particular that part of the speech where "we shall fight on the beaches" appears. I didn't think it was quite enough.

Here is what B.H. Liddell Hart writes of Dunkirk in his History of the Second World War, at page 74:

"The escape of the British Expeditionary Force in 1940 was largely due to Hitler's personal intervention. After his tanks had overrun the north of France and cut off the British army from its base, Hitler held them up just as they were about to sweep into Dunkirk - which was the last remaining port of escape left open to the British. At that moment the bulk of the B.E.F. was still many miles distant from the port. 

"But Hitler kept his tanks halted for three days. His action preserved the British forces when nothing else could have saved them. By making it possible for them to escape he enabled them to rally in England, continue the war, and man the coasts to defy the threat of invasion. Thereby he produced his own ultimate downfall, and Germany's five years later. Acutely aware of the narrowness of the escape, but ignorant of its cause, the British people spoke of 'the miracle of Dunkirk'." 

I would say that the "intervention" was the Lord's, through the malignant mind of Hitler, and that the British public had it right. It was a "miracle." Perhaps those prayers at Westminster.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Lord's Day 13: How are we "God's Children" and What Follows from the Answer to that Question?

Here is the text from Lord's Day 13, which is our Sunday School lesson for tomorrow.  As you can see, it is made up of Question 33 and Question 34 of the Heidelberg Catechism.  As you may recall, we are in the part of the HC that addresses the matter of "God the Son."
(Be sure to read the scripture references, if you have a chance.  I also have some questions further below, after Questions 33 and 34.)

Lord’s Day 13
Q & A 33
Q. Why is he called God’s “only begotten Son”
when we also are God’s children?
A. Because Christ alone is the eternal, natural Son of God.1
We, however, are adopted children of God—
adopted by grace through Christ.2

Q & A 34
Q. Why do you call him “our Lord”?
A. Because—
not with gold or silver,
but with his precious blood—1
he has set us free
from sin and from the tyranny of the devil,2
and has bought us,
body and soul,
to be his very own.3

1.  In what way are we, as children of God, not like Jesus as God's child, in terms of our nature?

2.  How are we like Jesus in terms of our relationship to God.  And not like him?

3.  Is everyone a "child of God," as people are often fond of saying?  What do people mean when they say, "We are all children of God?"   (How do we deal with Hitler and Stalin?  Do we simply say that they were "inhuman" and go on?)

4.  What use is it to be a child of God?  Why should anyone care?

5.  Does it seem odd that in QA34, "gold or silver" is contrasted "with his precious blood," in terms of what liberates us from "sin and from the tyranny of the devil?" Isn't gold and silver a path to liberation?

6.  Why should we want to  be the Son's "very own" or, the "very own" of sin and the devil, which seems to be the default status?  Are those really the only choices?  (And, besides, many of us seriously doubt that there is  even a devil, even those of us willing to concede at least an "historical" Jesus of some sort.)

7.  In fact, why can't I be my very own? Why can't I belong to myself alone?  Isn't that really the current project, to be one's own?