Wednesday, June 30, 2004

A New Amateur Radio satellite Launched from Kazakhstan. In the "so cool" department, ham radio operators got a new satellite in orbit. Read all about on the Amateur Radio Relay League's website. (What? You don't want to read all about it? You don't think its cool? That really hurts.)

Sunday, June 27, 2004

A Dose of Reality. As some of the kin know, I have been researching "end-of-life" issues in preparation for a seminar I will be leading at the Christian Life Conference at Montreat College. The conference begins on July 3 and goes for 3 days. My seminar is just one of a number of small group opportunities that the conference offers, along with big plenary sessions of Bible study, great preaching and worship. I have been reading statutes and cases dealing with "living wills", termination of life-prolonging procedures, physician assisted suicide, and the like. I have also been looking at websites and reading books and articles written by orthodox Christians and others.

On Thursday of this week, the Pulmonary Hypertension Association had its annual conference at the Inter-Continental Hotel in downtown Miami, very near my office. There were over 1000 people who attended the conference: physicians, nurses, representatives of drug companies, patients, and family members. One of the seminars offered at the conference was entitled "End of Life Issues", and Linda Carr, who organized and ran the conference, gave me a ticket to attend. I did so yesterday afternoon.

Linda Carr is the mother in the Carr family, and that family lives near us and attends our church. Linda helped start the Pulmonary Hypertension Association and is a past president of it; the oldest daughter, Hannah, a rising high school senior, suffers from Pulmonary Hypertension ("PH")("Suffers" does not do justice to the way that Hannah and the rest of Carr family deal with the disease. Frankly, if I were a disease, I would not want to fool around with the Carr family); the father, Austin, is a very good trial lawyer and leads a long-running Friday morning men's breakfast where we meet, read scripture and pray; Cody, their son, is a rising senior at Columbia in NY (he's only 19 years old), and Abby, their younger daughter, is such a good soccer player that she plays keeper on the boys' teams. They bless our church and are a remarkable family.

A physician and two RNs led the seminar. Mostly patients attended, although there were some family members and at least two social workers. I had been thinking of "end-of-life" issues as a Christian lawyer, of course, struggling with how the law's rules of decision-making intersect in this context with Christ's commandments to love God and love one another. What the people wanted to know at the seminar, however, was what its like to die. That was their primary "end-of-life" issue.

A lot of people die of "PH". Ten years ago, when physicians in Miami diagnosed Hannah with PH, they told Linda there was not much to be done and that Hannah would soon die. Instead, Linda, through the internet, prayer, and with maternal ferocity, found her way to a physician at Presbyterian Hospital in NY who was working with experimental drugs to deal with PH symptoms. That physician has been working with Hannah since then. Hannah, now a varsity basketball player who has achieved county-wide recognition, is doing well.

But a lot of people die with PH. Maybe most of them die of that disease. I'm not exactly sure about the statistics. But a lot die of it. I think most of the patients at the seminar expected to die of PH, and that's why they were there. There was plenty of time for questions and comments, and one of them said she was in the end stages of the disease (she had a portable oxygen machine that she pulls along behind her, as did several others) and wanted to know whether the physician would describe the stages until death through which she should expect to pass. The patients at the seminar wanted to know whether at their death they would suffocate, was it like drowning, or would they go suddenly?

One person who spoke was a father whose little boy had recently died, and he described the experience at the hospital where his son passed away, surrounded by his family, indicating that it was a gentle death in those circumstances. The doctor answered that sudden death is one of the ways people die and the other is "shortness of breath", the suffocating experience that the people there fear so much. He did not have a lot more to say than that, except to say that people with heart disease die that way too. One of the nurses did not want to use the word "suffocate" and rejected the "drowning" analogy, but said that the way people died was too individualized to give general guidance.

But the other nurse, who in some respects seemed the least articulate during the seminar up to that point, said something very simple and profound: "I am there with the patient as the patient dies, and if he wants something to deal with the discomfort, I will give it to him." God bless such nurses.

So now I am not sure what I am going to say about "End-of-Life Issues", other than to suggest to people that they find the hospital where the little boy died or track down that nurse and have her there when its time for them to go. But I appreciate God leading me to that seminar yesterday. There are, of course, many more things to say about end-of-life issues, but I am going to be thinking about those people at the PH Association seminar for a long time. May God bless them and their families too.




Sunday, June 20, 2004

Europe vs. America. The WSJ comments on a report by two Swedish economists entitled "The EU vs. USA" comparing the GDP per capita of Europe to the USA. Its astonishing what a difference there is between the two places. For example, the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line has dropped to 12% from 22% since 1959. In 1999, 25% of American households were considered "low income, " meaning they had an annual income of less than $25,000. If Sweden were judged by the same standard, about 40% of its households would be considered low income. Germany and Italy just barely exceed Arkansas in GDP per capita. If the US had frozen in place at 2000 levels while Europe grew, Switzerland and Britain would need until 2010 to get there if they continued growing at their present rates.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

More on Non-Profit Hospitals (Maybe not so good) and Something on Cutting off Medical Care to Lawyers. The NY Times has an article about non-profits being sued for overcharging poor people who are uninsured. (I have been following this story for a couple of years in the NYT and WSJ.) On a related note, see this article about a proposal that was made to the AMA at its recent convention about cutting off medical care to lawyers who sue doctors, also in the NYT. How about refusing medical care to drug dealers and other criminals? Maybe people who jay-walk. I'm about to be a little embarrassed for South Carolina, because it is a doctor from that great state who proposed this idea. (Actually, he said he was trying to draw attention to the malpractice problem. Well, fair enough then.)

Friday, June 18, 2004

"Once it was established that charges had to be brought at any cost and despite everything, threats, violence, tortures became inevitable. And the more fantastic the charges were, the more ferocious the interrogation had to be in order to force the required confession." Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

SpaceShipOne - Way, Way Cool. For photos of this private, manned spacecraft and its launch platform, look at this website. The next test flight will be on June 21. Stayed tuned!
Vintage Craig Barnes. Many thanks to Walt for pointing me toward's National Presby's archive of old Craig Barnes sermons, available in real audio and in text. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to find the start of his available sermons.

Meanwhile, here's some of Craig's good theology:
In the words of the old Pietists, prayer is a means of taking shelter under the broad folds of a sacred mantle that covers all who bow their heads before God. Surrounded by this loving mantle, you are left with "a peace that passeth understanding." My grandfather used to speak frequently about the peace that passeth understanding. But we don't hear that phrase so much anymore. And that's a shame, because it is exactly what we search for when life is confusing. What we need is a peace that goes beyond understanding since understanding is exactly what we do not have and may not get for a long time. We can live with that confusion, but only if our souls stop churning.

How do we find this cherished peace that passeth understanding? The same way David did. By allowing the Holy Spirit to move our prayers beyond our desires to encounter the desire of God, which is that we remember his steadfast love. Psalm 25 begins with a request for direction, but moves quickly to a soulful renewal under the mantle of God¹s love. Similarly, we may begin our prayers asking, "What about my job?" or "Where is this relationship going," but if we are listening in prayer, we'll hear the still small voice of the Spirit telling us, "I love you."

If you know that, if you are again convinced that you are loved and forgiven by God, you know that you¹ll be okay no matter what happens. That is because you understand that your life will end up in the right place not because of your good choices, but because of the choice God made to love you. And this love is waiting for you at either fork in the road.

Having been renewed through prayer, in the merciful love of God, David then says, All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness. There is so much freedom in this! God owns all the roads. Option A and option B both belong to God. So you cannot choose your way outside of the love of God.

The choice that God is concerned about most is not about your job options, but about your true calling to look for the grace of God on every road of life. If God wants you to be a butcher, baker, candlestick maker, you're not going to be able to miss it. In the words of C.S. Lewis, God uses all the wrong roads to get us to the right places. If you believe that God owns all the forking roads, and that if out of his gracious love, God has already chosen to lead you to a future filled with hope, then you are free to make the best choices you can without anxiety that your life is on the line every time you choose.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Can God, Would God, Will God Save Without One Knowing Christ?

"Here is another thing that used to puzzle me. Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him? But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know him can be saved through Him. But in the meantime, if you are worried about the people outside, the most unreasonable thing you can do is remain outside yourself. Christians are Christ's body, the organism through which He works. Every addition to the body enables Him to do more. If you want to help those outside you must add your own little cell to the body of Christ who alone can help them." C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity.

"For he that illuminates inwardly by giving men the Holy Spirit, the same one, by way of commandment, said unto his disciples, 'Go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to the whole creation' (Mark 16:15). And so in Philippi, Paul preached the Word outwardly to Lydia, a seller of purple goods; but the Lord inwardly opened the woman's heart (Acts 16:14). And the same Paul, after a beautiful development of his thought, in Rom. 10:17 at length comes to the conclusion, 'So faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the Word of God by the preaching of Christ'.

"At the same time we recognize that God can illuminate who and when he will, even without the external ministry, for that is in his power: but we speak of the usual way of instructing men, delivered unto us from God, both by commandment and examples." The Second Helvetic Confession, secs. 5.006 and 5.007.
Canadian Medicine Redux. A new Canadian study shows that not-for-profit hospitals are better at containing costs (and saving lives) than for-profit.
The Iraq we don't hear about.

An article in the London Times makes a number of interesting observations, including but not limited to the following:

In the last quarter, Iraq's currency has increased by almost 15% against the dollar and the two most traded local currencies, the Kuwaiti dinar and the Iranian rial.

Despite the violence, Iraq has attracted more then 7 million foreign visitors, mostly Shi'ites making the pilgrimage to Najaf and Karbala where (despite sporadic fighting) a building boom is under way.

Iraq is earning a record 41 million to 44 million British pounds a day from oil sales. (That money goes into a fund controlled by the UN but Iraqi leaders want control transferred to the new interim government at the end of the month.) This has lead to greater economic activity, including private reconstruction schemes.

This year Iraq has had a bumper harvest with record crops, notably in wheat. It could become agriculturally self-sufficient for the first time in 30 years.

Iraq will have a soccer team in the Olympics.

During the last 10 months elections have been held in 37 municipalities. In each case victory went to the moderate, liberal and secular candidates. The former Ba'athists, appearing under fresh labels, failed to win a single seat. Hardline Islamic groups collected 1% to 3% of the vote.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

WMD. Aha?
1 Corinthians 4:1-5

I remember a particular class session during an American History course that I took in college. I was a history major, it was an upper level course, and the teacher was marvelous. She gave us an assignment during the class. I listened very carefully to her as she described it. It seemed hard and I was not sure I completely understood it.

After class I went up to the professor and I asked her about the assignment. I described to her what I understood it to be and I expressed to her my uncertainty about it. She said that I understood it correctly, that I should go ahead and deal with the assignment the best I could, and "let the chips fall where they may". For some reason, that answer simply clicked and, rather than feeling frustrated by the answer, I felt relieved. I think she probably understood that the assignment was not all that easy. She also handled my inquiry with respect and her response indicated that she had a certain level of confidence in me, confidence that I lacked up to that point. I went ahead and did the assignment. I have no recollection now about what it involved. But I have remembered the circumstances and that conversation with her to this day. And it helps me with whatever problem I am facing.

Really, no one can expect you to do more than you can do. You don't always know exactly how to accomplish something you need to accomplish, but you have to start on the project, you have to do it as best you can, and you can't run away from it So you do it and you let "the chips fall where they may". It doesn't matter what third parties think about how you did. It is a secret thing between you and God, just as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4 1-5.

This reminds me of the dynamics of committing a sin. When someone else is involved, we think of that person sinning against us or of us sinning against them. But David wrote in Psalm 52, "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight." When I sin, then, it may be obvious to third parties, but it is really a secret thing between God and me. I remember how careful my father was to avoid humiliating me before others when he needed to correct me, and I also remember the fear in my heart when he took me into the bedroom and closed the door behind us and dealt with the problem more or less in secret.

And the same thing applies when another sins against us. We think, "I am aggrieved!" And all sorts of destructive behaviors proceed from our sense of righteous indignation. But the sin was against God, not against us. God will deal with the sinner, he will deal with that person perfectly. There will be perfect justice meted out to him or her, we can count on it. As for us, the person who was hurt by the other's sin, we are released from our grievance and can proceed with our lives.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Steve Qunizi. Steve Quinzi is our new music director at FirstPrez in Miami Springs. He has encouraged me to sing, and I have sung a number of new songs and arrangements during the worship service as a result. He is a fabulous keyboardist: you hum something, and he will pick it right up and play it in any one of a number of rhythm's and styles until he finds something that sounds right. He is a composer and music entrepreneur. If you type his name in Google, you will find a number of sites in which he appears. Here is one of them. Here is another.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Wal-Mart and H.E.B. in Mexico. Those of us who are fans of Central Market (owned by H.E. Butt Grocery Co.) might be interested in reading this article on the fight between H.E.B. and Wal-Mart over the Mexican market.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Florida Trusts and Estates. I am experimenting with a new blog for my law practice. I am not happy with the advertisement that appears at the top of the page, but this seems to be how the new Blogger, under Google's ownership, will support itself. I am looking into a different blog approach for the firm. But in the meanwhile, we will experiment with this blog.

The primary purpose of the blog will be to allow the other three lawyers and me to post practice nuggets for the benefit of each other. We are continually developing little pieces of knowledge as we work on various cases. But we often forget them and almost always fail to pass them on to one another. So now we have a place where we might put this information.

A secondary purpose would be to attract other lawyers to comment on our posts. Another would be to generate some publicity.

I am talking to a web designer about designing a webpage that will have a blogging feature. We would blog on that webpage, of course. But by having the blog inside our own webpage, we would be able to grow into something more involved than just the blog.

We still have our FindLaw/West Publishing webpage, but we find it difficult to deal with. Blogging is so easy and so much fun. With a local web designer (who also does some sort of hosting), we might be able to be more effective.

I think a blog by lawyers is called a "blawg".

I look forward to your comments.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Quicksilver and The Confusion

Sean asked me to tempt him to begin Neal Stephenson's "Baroque Cycle", of which the two titles above are the first two of the three book trilogy. I'm not exactly sure what he will find tempting (besides, I want to tempt Jaquandor, too!), so I'll just write the reasons why I kept reading through ~2000 pages of Mr. Stephenson's writing (over the two books).

I learned a whole lot, about all kinds of interesting (to me) things. Here are just a few: Newton, Alchemy, society in France & England in the late 1600s & early 1700s, the beginning of the Enlightenment, the Cromwell Revolution, Leibnitz, the invention/discovery of Calculus, the dispute between Newton & Leibnitz, the Royal Society, swordfighting, horsemanship, where watered steel came from (the material used to make a Samurai's Katana sword), the economic principles that enable banks to function, how we moved from currencies of pieces of gold/silver to paper currency, the development of city states on the Indian sub-continent, how to make Phosphorus, & the ins and outs of the relationships between the royal families of England, "Germany", France, Spain & Russia.

There are a number of interesting characters in the books and I found that if there was a point where my interest in the story was waning, my interest waxed in whatever particular subject matter with which the characters were dealing. And the books are long enough (!) that the characters move through multiple story arcs & twists & revealings in one book.

I like the way Stephenson turns a phrase. My experience of reading these books is often punctuated by the thoughts, "Oh! I never would have described that [feeling/event/scene/apparatus] that way. What an interesting perspective. How on earth did he ever think to write about it in such an original way?"

It takes a bit to get into the first one, but the reader is rewarded for faithfulness and the story grows in complexity and the setting more interesting. I highly recommend them.

Ultimately, I guess it's worth saying that I like the books because I enjoy the stories of the Stephenson's characters. Some characters (IMO) are funny people, others are brilliant, still others are quite mysterious. I've grown quite attached to them at this point and I'm on the edge of my seat while waiting fo the next installment.

Caveat Lector (with apologies to Dorothea): If the books were movies, they'd receive an "R" rating for: on screen sex & violence. Not unusual for a Stephenson book, so this description is superfluous for those who've read Stephenson before.
Offshoring/Outsourcing. Here is a provocative article on US companies sending jobs overseas. The author opposes sending jobs to India, for example. He discusses briefly the BMW plant in South Carolina as if that supports his argument against offshoring and outsourcing. Do you find the use of that illustration condescending? Furthermore, do you find the use of that example a support to or a refutation of his argument against offshoring and outsourcing?

Monday, June 07, 2004

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Canadian Poor Healthier than American Poor. This article makes that point.
George F. Will on Ronald Reagan. A very interesting column.
Ronald Reagan. Sean Meade encouraged me to post a view of President Reagan.

The senior partner of the law firm in which I grew up was George Smathers. Smathers was a US Senator from Florida from 1952 to 1968. He was in not only the law firm in Miami where I worked, Smathers & Thompson, but also had a separate firm in Washington DC, from which he did his lobbying work. He spent most of his week in Washington DC during the 1970s and early 80s, but came to Miami for the weekend and was in the office on Friday. We often went to lunch together on Friday. Senator Smathers, who is a Democrat, told great stories and seemed to know every one in Washington. And he knew Reagan.

When Reagan was running for the Republican Presidential nomination, I asked senator Smathers what kind of man Reagan was. Smathers without hesitation said that he "had great instincts". He compared him to Eisenhower in that respect. I think he meant that both men had the gift of knowing the right thing to do when it needed to be done. I think that proved to be the case.

Sean mentions that Reagan and Bush are alike in that both espouse limited government, but both turned out to be big spenders while in office. That observation may be true, but I would suggest that the men are quite different.

Reagan's administration spent a lot of money on defense in pursuit of a particular strategy that was immensely successful. That strategy assumed that the Soviet Union would attempt to keep up with the US in its own defense spending and, in doing so, the Soviet Union would spend itself into bankruptcy, which it did. The Evil Empire fell as a result.

Reagan began his administration with a very large tax cut. He believed that the only way to limit government was to cut down on what it fed upon, the people's money. He believed that government needed to be limited because it was a grossly inefficient in determining what its citizens needed and in delivering those services. I suppose that if you believe that government can be reformed to become more efficient than the market-place in delivering services, then you would have to say that Reagan was a bad president. But I think the verdict of the 20th Century is that he was right on that point.

When he came into office, the US was coming off of its worst inflationary period of the century and the economy suffered from something called "stagflation". His predecessor, President Carter, told us essentially that we would simply have to live with scarcity. Reagan would have none of that. The tax cut commenced a recovery that lasted through the Clinton years, even though there were some ups and downs during that period - although nothing particularly serious.

The tax cuts and the defense spending did, however, increase the deficit. But that deficit did not hurt us, and it vanquished an adversary.

Sean mentions that the first President George HW Bush labeled President Reagan's economic approach as "voo-doo economics", thus giving the Democrats a pejorative that they could not come up with on their own. George HW Bush delivered that judgment while he was unsuccessfully running against Reagan for the Republican Presidential nomination.

But George HW Bush did not let his views of Reagan's economics stop him from serving as Reagan's running mate.

Furthermore, George HW Bush was not nearly the man that Reagan was. He did not keep his promise to the American people when he raised taxes. He did not keep his promise to the Shi'ite's in southern Iran, when he invited them to revolt against Saddam and then allowed the US to stand by when Saddam massacred so many of them and caused them terrible hardship. We would not be in Iraq today had George HW Bush the character of Ronald Reagan.

My view is that the present President is somewhere between his father and President Reagan, but more like his father. It is very hard for me to understand GW's Medicare Drug Bill, his Education Bill, and the other big spending bills that he has championed or permitted. I think that he and Cheney are big spending Republicans in the same wing that George HW Bush led. I think President Clinton was much more astute in his spending (and cutting) than George HW has been. (When President Clinton served, the Republicans served as an effective check and balance. With GW as President, he is aided and abetted by big spending Republicans in Congress.) Reagan's view of government was entirely different from the view the two Bush Presidents hold.

So I think Senator Smathers was right. Reagan had good instincts. President Reagan served our country well. I thank God that he was our President.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

The Great High Mountain Tour. This tour is coming to Winston-Salem this weekend, to Fort Worth on June 14, and to Austin on June 15. World Magazine gave it a good review. Many of the musicians are those that appear on the sound track for the movies O, Brother, Where Art Thou and Cold Mountain. Here is its website.