Thursday, May 31, 2007

Indoctrinate U



Looks quite interesting, and I'll vouch for it's premise.

The great thing is, though, that even though this documentary rightly describes the situation in American Universities, there are folks like InterVarsity Staff & students who are salt & light there. By the Grace of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit, they're preserving, illuminating and salutarily disrupting the system.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Saving and Investing

Sean has a post that links to a question by a 20 year old asking the Simple Dollar how he can retire at 40. I haven't been impressed by what I see of the American ideal of "retirement", but what also caught my eye was the suggestion that the young person put 20% of his income into the S&P 500.

Last year, Mary asked me about where she should save and we looked together at Vanguard Funds. We settled on the Star Fund, which is a "fund of funds". That is, it is a group of Vanguard mutual funds into which a dollar invested will be allocated by the Star Fund manager. This gives great diversification. Because these are Vanguard Funds, there is no sales commission and there are very low maintenance fees. There is no maintenance fee at all for the Star Fund management. So the maintenance fees that are allocated to one's account are those of the particular funds that make up the Star Fund portfolio. Morningstar gives the Star Fund 4 (out of 5 stars), which is very good.

There are some other savings plans that have caught my eye. One involves investing in Savings Bonds, of all places. There is no sales commission here either, and no maintenance fee. Of particular interest to me are I Savings Bonds. These are bonds that guarantee an initial rate and have an inflation component, which tracks the CPI. Having lived through the inflationary 70s, I can tell you that inflation risks are important considerations. I Bonds are accrual securities. The interest they earn are not paid out, but are added to the principal. In the meanwhile, there is no income tax payable until the bonds are redeemed. I Savings Bonds qualify for the education tax exclusion. That is, if the proceeds are used to pay qualified college expenses, no federal taxes are due! Go to the government's website for more information on buying US securities.

You can redeem the bonds after one year, but the idea is to use these for "deep savings". Of course, savings bonds and other US treasury obligations are the safest investments you can make. I wouldn't put all of my savings in the S&P 500 (for which Vanguard has a very cheap fund), as the Simple Dollar seems to suggest, I would allocate about 40% to Savings Bonds.

I learned about I Savings Bonds by reading about them in an article by Annette Thau in the AAII Journal. The AAII is the American Association of Individual Investors. One has to be a member to access that article on-line, but I would recommend joining that organization and reading the monthly magazine. You will be amazed at how much you can pick up about sensible investing from that publication.

No to Cable Yes to Free

We stopped subscribing to cable when Macon was in junior high. Not only was it the expense, we couldn't see supporting MTV, much less running the risk that our children would be exposed to it. In addition, we were trying to reduce tv watching, not make it more attractive.

Presently we use an interesting technology for linking to commercial TV by pulling TV energy out of the air. No, we are not talking about satellite TV, which costs money. The method we use, costs no money.

Oh, yeah, we get it: rabbit ears, that sort of thing. But what are you going to do when HDTV is mandatory?

We can get HDTV out of the air for free as well. All the networks offer HDTV programs. You just need the right outside antenna. TV listings are available at antennaweb.org, and this website will show you what sort of antenna you need in your location to get both digital and analog broadcasts.

We use this other technology you might be interested in, a portable, sort of laptop technology. You use it for reading things . . .

(Thanks to Popular Mechanics for the HDTV info.)

Holy-Davidson

CREDO: I believe the machine I sit on can tell the world exactly where I stand.

COMMENTARY: Fists forward and boot heels to the wind. Exposed metal slathered with chrome. Fat rubber steamrolling an endless slab of highway. A V-Twin motor feeding your ears. Any questions? Didn't think so. www.harley-davidson.com

EXHORTATION: Live by it.

-From the ad in this month's Popular Mechanics.

I would like to think that the irony is intentional.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Church a Little Weaker

World Magazine in its May 19, 2007, issue, reports the following:

Montreat (N.C.) Presbyterian Church, a flagship congregation of the 2.3-million-member Presbyterian Church (USA), won its freedom from the liberal-run denomination. Following hours of contentious debate, the Presbytery of Western North Carolina voted 185-69 to "dismiss" the congregation to the more conservative 75,000-member Evangelical Presbyterian Church. But delegates also voted 174-35 to take over the church's property pending up to six months' further study.

The Montreat church had voted 311-27 last January to leave the PCUSA. Complicating the property matter, the congregation meets in the large chapel of Montreat College, a conservative PCUSA school that sits on the grounds of a PCUSA national conference center. The church owns a separate three-story educational and office building on property held by its trustees. Montreat pastor Richard White contends that under state law, the church owns its property. PCUSA rules say church property is held in trust for the denomination.

The dismissal vote authorized the presbytery to organize a "continuing Montreat Presbyterian Church" from among a small number of dissidents, who would be granted use of 10 percent of the educational building.

The Genographic Project

Last year I clipped an article from the WSJ with the headline Project Hopes to Trace Your Ancestors Back 10,000 Years. The article reported a joint project commenced by the National Geographic Society and IBM to assemble a massive genetic database that would catalog certain genetic markers left in DNA from generation to generation. The result would be that one could see what path his ancestors took on their migration from East Africa, from whence modern man supposedly came, to his eventual home. (With Mary, that eventual home would be? Oh well. She always was a homebody.) I checked the status of this project recently, and it seems to be well under way.

Mail-in DNA testing kits are available. You would send in a swab taken from your cheek and the lab will find the markers in your DNA and match them with the movement of different groups of humans up to 60,000 years ago. Go here for more information.

(I must say that after visiting Kenya, it would not be a leap to think that God established the Garden there.)

Some Non-Intuitive Economic History

Much has been made about the rise of child labor [during the Industrial Revolution] and too little about the fact that, for the first time, there was remunerative work available for people of all ages. As economist W. H. Hutt [my link] has shown, work in the factories for young people was far less grueling than it had been on the farm, which is one reason parents favored the factory. As for working hours, it is documented that when factories would reduce hours, the employees would leave to go to work for factories that made it possible for them to work longer hours and earn additional wages. The main effect of legislation that limited working hours for minors was to drive employment to smaller workshops that could more easily evade the law.

In the midst of all this change, many people seemed only to observe an increase in the number of the poor. In a paradoxical way, this too was a sign of social progress, since so many of these unfortunate people might have been dead in past ages. But the deaths of the past were unseen and forgotten, whereas current poverty was omnipresent. Meanwhile, as economic development expanded in the nineteenth century, there was a dramatic growth of a middle class that now had access to consumer goods once available only to kings—not to mention plenty of new goods being created by the engine of capitalism.


From Socialism, Free Enterprise, and the Common Good, a speech by the Rev. Robert A. Sirico at Hillsdale College. The entire text is worth reading.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

How awesome was Square One TV?

So totally awesome. That's how. Check this classic out.


You can find more Square One Videos here.

Sadly, there are no Mathnet clips. Those were my favorite.

"The Pledge of Allegiance" - by Senator John McCain

As you may know, I spent five and one half years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. In the early years of our imprisonment, the NVA kept us in solitary confinement or two or three to a cell. In 1971, the NVA moved us from these conditions of isolation into large rooms with as many as 30 to 40 men to a room. This was, as you can imagine, a wonderful change and was a direct result of the efforts of millions of Americans on behalf of a few hundred POWs 10,000 miles from home.

One of the men who moved into my room was a young man named Mike Christian. Mike came from a small town near Selma, Alabama. He didn't wear a pair of shoes until he was 13 years old. At 17, he enlisted in the US Navy. He later earned a commission by going to Officer Training School Then he became a Naval Flight Officer and was shot down and captured in 1967. Mike had a keen and deep appreciation of the opportunities this country and our military provide for people who want to work and want to succeed.

As part of the change in treatment, the Vietnamese allowed some prisoners to receive packages from home. In some of these packages were handkerchiefs, scarves, and other items of clothing. Mike got himself a bamboo needle. Over a period of a couple of months, he created an American flag and sewed on the inside of his shirt. Every afternoon, before we had a bowl of soup, we would hang Mike's shirt on the wall of the cell and say the Pledge of Allegiance. I know the Pledge of Allegiance may not seem the most important part of our day now, but I can assure you that in that stark cell it was indeed the most important and meaningful event.

One day the Vietnamese searched our cell, as they did periodically, and discovered Mike's shirt with the flag sewn inside, and removed it. That evening they returned, opened the door of the cell, and for the benefit of all of us, beat Mike Christian severely for the next couple of hours. Then, they opened the door of the cell and threw him in. We cleaned him up as well as we could. The cell in which we lived had a concrete slab in the middle on which we slept. Four naked light bulbs hung in each corner of the room.

As I said, we tried to clean up Mike as well as we could. After the excitement died down, I looked in the corner of the room, and sitting there beneath that dim light bulb with a piece of red cloth, another shirt and his bamboo needle, was my friend, Mike Christian. He was sitting there with his eyes almost shut from the beating he had received, making another American flag. He was not making the flag because it made Mike Christian feel better. He was making that flag because he knew how important it was to us to be able to Pledge our allegiance to our flag and country.

So the next time you say the Pledge of Allegiance, you must never forget the sacrifice and courage that thousands of Americans have made to build our nation and promote freedom around the world. You must remember our duty, our honor, and our country.

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Before our Memorial Day Celebration, I plan to lead our family in the Pledge of Allegiance. Hopefully this small gesture will remind us of the brave men and women in our armed forces that continue to protect our freedoms and rights as citizens of the United States of America.

Friday, May 25, 2007

"Cleaning" Hard Drives

At our office, we are disposing of some old servers. Carol has arranged to have the drives "cleaned" by some sort of process. I've taken the opportunity to do the same with some old computers around our house. As to the computers at our house, I removed the hard drives before sending them off. I am not sure what I will do with the drives, but I have in mind to use an electric drill and make a few holes.

Carol, as our office adminsitrator, keeps an eye on a list serve sourced by a web publisher called Technolawyer. She sent me this post:

For anyone interested, there is a free program available at dban.sourceforge.net that will let you securely wipe an old hard drive. The site doesn't look like much, but this program has been around for a long time and I have used it many times. Everyone should do it before you think about selling a computer on ebay or donating it to a school. A simple format does not delete any data on a drive, it just marks the area as "usable." Because of this, it is amazing how much personal information (cc numbers, ss numbers) can be recovered from old drives and computers that are sold on eBay every day.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I Have Never Gone to Class on a Wooden Floor Before

May 5, 2007

It was a sobering Easter. We were enjoying being together, and it began to dawn on us that it was the last Easter we would be with JT for many years. Watching the twins find their eggs put us back in the spirit of the day.



After Easter, we took a train to the coast for our last vacation together. The way it is supposed to work is that the train would leave at 7 in the evening and you would arrive at 9am. They provided bedding, and it would be a fun way to get down to Mombassa. The way it was supposed to work didn’t; the train broke down in the middle of the night and we didn’t get to Mombassa until 2pm.

What was great was that the car that was supposed to pick us up at 9 had broken down and was still there, so we managed to push start it and get to our hotel. It was a sweet time, with lots of walks on the beach and just enjoying being together.

It got a bit old on the way back, when the train broke down again and instead of arriving at 9am we arrived at 3pm. When I asked someone on the train about it, he said `It could be worse; it was last week.’

JT has made his final decision on a college. He is going to Wake Forest, which was always one of his top choices. They have the highest pass rate of CPA’s of any college in the country, my sister and her husband are only a few hours away, and they gave him a wonderfully generous aid package. He also made the varsity rugby team here at RVA, which was a huge thrill for him.

I’m proud of my oldest son, but in some ways he has been a huge disappointment. When I was a little heathen kid, the only prayer I ever remember praying was that God would make a Spider-Man movie. Usually, movies arrive in Kenya after the DVD has come out. But, in an effort to combat piracy, the Spider-Man 3 opened on Friday in Nairobi, just the same as the states.

And JT says to me: `Dad, I really think I should wait until I’m done with my Calc and French AP on Wednesday.’

Blowing off Spider-Man to STUDY? This HAS to come from Nancy’s side.

The sixth computer center is done and we have moved into a new area. This is the poorest school we work with. It is completely Masai, a tribe that still lives in mud and dung huts, and so the contrast between the center and the school is striking:


(The newest center in Namunja)


(The kitchen in Namunja)

The contrast to how they live is even more striking:

(A nearby home)

When I told one of the teachers what we were planning to do, he just started laughing and saying `Here? Here?’ And he just laughed again.

It is the furthest school because the roads are non-existent, and I blow a tire every time I go. It is the furthest place from any civilization, as I understand civilization, that I have ever been. It isn’t to say that I don’t respect the Masai and love their culture, but it is so different than anything I know.

At all the other schools, none of the children had seen a computer before, but they all knew what they were. At this school, many of the students had no clue what a computer was.

School starts up on May 8th, and our teacher tells me that the students come everyday to peer inside and look in wonder at what they will learn. One student told me `I have never gone to class on a wooden floor before.’ All their classrooms have dirt floors.

This school has tripled in size because of the food you have provided, and now they are going to learn computers.

Thank you for the computer center, and for the wooden floor.

Your pal
Steve Peifer
Rift Valley Academy

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Greatest Album of All Time

I would love it if Iron Maiden lived next door. That way, I could barbecue pork tenderloin for them, and we could talk together about how awesome their new album is.


New Terminator TV Series.

Seriously! Called the Sarah Connor Chronicles. On Fox ('course).

Check it out. Looks pretty dang good to me!


Sydney Bristow is Dead, long live Sarah Connor!

More on Pocket New Testaments in War

An excerpt from a biography of Mel H. Nesteby posted on the website of an organization known as the "American Ex-Prisoners of War Organization":

Mel enlisted in the Army on 17 May, 1941,.at Fargo, N.D. He chose a warm part of the world, in contrast to the frigid temperatures of Alaska, in which to serve, and the Philippine Islands over the Panama Canal Zone. Since he had been driving a big Caterpillar tractor in his farm work, he figured that he would be qualified for operating a tank. At Fort Snelling, near St. Paul, Minn., Mel was sworn into the Army. Mel and some other recruits attended a service at a nearby Methodist Church. Each young man was presented a pocket-sized New Testament. This little book was a divine gift, with a significance far beyond expectations. It sustained Mel through all his trials in the coming years. Not only that , but it brought the presence of Jesus to men who had reached the final hours of their lives: men so sick and so destitute that they were beyond recovery. This little Bible was confiscated by the Japanese at the time of surrender; but miraculously, it was returned to Mel. On its second page, it bears the stamp of the Japanese Imperial Army censor, with a date line inserted, and it is a sacred keepsake today.


Houston Baptist University has a Bible Museum. If you will scroll down this post, you will find an article entitled "A Veteren's Day Look at Soldier Bibles" that discusses them in earlier wars.

See also this history of the Pocket New Testament League.

And find the pocket New Testament reference in this amazing story of WW II.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Two Items of Evidence for Our's Once Being a Christian Nation

Among my mother's things, she left a pocket New Testament that my dad carried during WW II when he was in the Navy. My mother said that the government gave one of these to each service man and woman. The first page of this little book has the heading "The White House - Washington" and this message:

As Commander-in-Chief I take pleasure in commending the reading of the Bible to all who serve in the armed forces of the United States. Throughout the centuries men of many faiths and diverse origins have found in the Sacred Book words of wisdom, counsel and inspirition. It is a fountain of strength and now, as always, an aid in attaining the highest inspirations of the human soul.

This page bears the facsimile signature of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

At the back of the New Testament, the little book contains the Ten Commandments, and "Psalms, Prayers, and Hymns", including Psalms 19, 23, 24, 27, 46, 51, 91, and 121, The Lord's Prayer, A Prayer on Going into Battle, A Prayer for Loved Ones, A Prayer for a Pure Heart, A Prayer of Thanksgiving, Washington's Prayer for the Nation, A Prayer of Penitence, and hymns, Our God, Our Help; Lead On, O King Eternal; Onward Christian Solders; Faith of Our Fathers; Eternal Father, Strong to Save; How Firm a Foundation; Rock of Ages; Abide with Me; Now the Day is Over; America the Beautiful; My Country, 'Tis of Thee; the National Anthem. Finally there are two pages entitled "Where to Look" with scriptures. For example, If you are facing a crisis, read the 46th Psalm, page iv.

(As I leafed through this book, looking for notes, I found only one, a little piece of paper at Romans 10 with the citation "Romans 10: 1-10" in my dad's handwriting.)

Looking at this New Testament reminded me of the Bible that I received when I graduated from Duke University in 1968. It is a leather bound, gilt-edged RSV that each graduating senior received on the platform, just before being handed his or her diploma and shaking the president's hand. The first page of the Bible has a copy of the old Duke official seal at the top. The seal is circular with a cross prominent in the middle. The base of the cross appears to be the top of a mountain, perhaps Calvary, and the sun's rays blaze from behind. Along the circumference are the words Universitas Dukiana and Eruditio et Religio.

Below the seal are the words "presented to __________________ upon graduation from Duke University [class of] 1968. Below that inscription is the following:

THE AIMS of Duke University are to assert a faith in the eternal union of knowledge and religion set forth in the teachings and character of Jesus Christ, the son of God; to advance learning in all lines of truth; to defend scholarship against all false notions and ideals; to develop a Christian love of freedom and truth; to promote a sincere spirit of tolerance; to discourage all partisan and sectarian strife; and to render the largest permanent service to the individual, the state, the nation, and the church. Unto these ends shall the affairs of this University always be administered.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Yes, of course, feel free to question my sanity.


I have several weeks been trying to get my lawnmower to work. This is the one I bought about a year ago that has an electric starter. Well, the electric starter went South some months ago, but it had a back up pull cord that worked OK for awhile. Now the thing just won't start. I've changed the oil, changed the spark plug (twice). Today I will empty the gasoline tank with the old fuel and put in some gasoline fresh from the service station, to see if stale fuel is the problem. I fear stale gas is not the problem (at least not with the lawn mower), and I will have to take the mower to the shop. That will cost not only money but a lot of time.

As I was dealing with this problem yesterday, I remembered a Glenn Reynolds post about his purchasing a push mower. Great idea! No gas, no spark plug, no oil, no noise. So off I went to Home Depot and bought one.

Fortunately, it was quite late in the day when I brought the box with it home (oh, so light!), assembled the handle and connected it tothe base unit (oh, a marvel of engineering!), and started to push. And push. And push. Ugh! It was hard! But the sun was on its way down, and so I soon had to stop. That was a good thing, because it was a work out. I should have gotten ready with a strict, six-month kettle bell regimen. But I didn't.

Maybe it will rain today.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Prayer Request: Debbie Newman

This came to me via email this morning from Adrianna, one of the women in our church. We have an email/telephone "prayer chain" and this is part of it. (I added the links.)

Please pray for Debbie Newman, a 37 yr. old mother of 2, a 7 year old boy and teenage girl. She was recently bitten in the neck by a Brown Recluse Spider, had surgery yesterday and now today was diagnosed with a type of staph infection that has only a 20% chance of survival. The poison of the Brown Recluse is deadly enough and they may not have gotten out all the flesh and muscle that have the poison but now this deadly staph infection is added to the threat of the poison. Debbie is a life-long friend of my daughter, Joelle, and our family has know her since she was a child. She has always lived in Miami Springs. The spider that bit her was in her back yard in Miami Springs on Truxton Av. Pray for her, her children and then be careful. I had no idea these spiders were here in Miami.

UPDATE: Adrianna reports:

Sunday [Debbie] began responding to the antibiotics, they were planning surgery this morning [Monday] to remove more flesh, but when they saw she started to respond, they cancelled the surgery. This also means the antibotics are actually working on the Mercer Staph infection, as well.

Thanks for the prayer!

"If she had done a miserable job as dean, MIT might have been more forgiving,"

MIT recently fired its admissions director, someone who had worked there successfully for 28 years, because she had falsely claimed when she first came to work that she had three degrees. James Taranto comments with his usual dry wit on that and the value generally of a college education.

For those interested in the Griggs vs. Duke Power Co. case that Toranto cites, you can find it here.

Toranto didn't finish high school, much less college.

Some of the dumbest people I know went to good schools, Some of the smartest either never went to college or didn't finish.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Literary Thoughts

Refraining from pedantry is difficult when there are so many good words in the world.

"LEO"

LEO stands for Literacy Education Online, a website I discovered when I was looking for some grammar help on verb tenses. It is full of useful information.

You Owe Me

There is an old fashioned, evangelical word that describes an insight, given as a matter of grace by the Holy Spirit, into one's own character, an insight that reveals something not very pretty but also gives one hope that the same Holy Spirit will help in reforming that trait or disposition. I had one of these insights last night in a discussion I had with Carol, after we returned home from church and our respective Bible studies. Our men's group is marching through Luke, and we had covered part of "the Sermon on the Plain" in the sixth chapter of Luke. Carol and I discussed that scripture in the context of what is happening in our law office. We prayed. I was, as it were, "convicted".

Here is the particular scripture from Luke in question (but like Glenn Reynolds often says, you need to "read the whole thing")

If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

We have had some staff leave our firm over the past 12 months, people that we trained and even nurtured. My perception is that it hurt us. It made me angry with these people. After all, they owed us. They didn't do right by us. We had transferred value to them, more than they had returned, and it did not look like that we would ever get full value back. Plus the interest we deserved. (Now we are looking at more changes in firm personnel, not to my liking.)

And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.

How can this possibly work? The key verse is this one:

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

This scripture is familiar to those of us who have been raised on the Bible. (Probably too familiar.) But what I am referring to is "insight", how to make the connection between familiar scripture and present circumstances. We should know (and do know, at least intellectually) that our firm is there to serve not only our clients but also our staff. If we nurture our staff to the point where they believe that they must leave us to grow, then so be it, even if we think them wrong. Bring on the next person whom we can employ to serve our clients, whom we can expose to our values, whom we can encourage and nurture, to whom, maybe, we can give more than they can ever return. Our own source of support and encouragement comes from a third party, not from them. His resources are boundless, more than we can ever use. His blessings spill out of any sort of container we can fashion; they run over and just pour into our laps.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

More to Learn from the Russians than Kettlebells

Of the kidnappings in Beirut during the 1980s, Bernard Lewis writes in today's WSJ:

There was only one attack on Soviet citizens, when one diplomat was killed and several others kidnapped. The Soviet response through their local agents was swift, and directed against the family of the leader of the kidnappers. The kidnapped Russians were promptly released, and after that there were no attacks on Soviet citizens or installations throughout the period of the Lebanese troubles.


The WSJ kindly posted Lewis' entire essay today on Opinion Journal. His thesis is that the Islamists think the US is a weak and decadent culture and that what we did in Afghanistan and began in Iraq were anomalies.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Be a Wiener!

In response to Carol's request for a picture of the "not so great" t-shirts:


That's right, people, "BE A WIENER!" That's what our race shirts say. Need I say more?

*(second picture included so you can see close-up shot of the aforementioned slogan).

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Racing Day!

Well, yesterday was RACING DAY!!! We borrowed a stroller with an infant car seat adapter from my brother and his wife and headed out to join hundreds (or maybe even thousands) of others as we ran from the Hula Hut through scenic Tarrytown and back to the Hula Hut again in the "Hot To Trot 5K"(a race that supports Big Brothers, Big Sisters.)
Having not run a lick in over a year, I was a bit daunted by the idea of running a 5K, but I believed that it would be possible with the help of a little interval running (not to mention the encouragement of my fantastic husband who slowed his own pace considerably so as not to leave me and Honor in his dust!) Let me hear three cheers for interval running! (and three more for Macon and his great patience and encouragement through the race).

Aidan rode in our BOB stroller (YEA for BOB strollers!) while Macon pushed him, and Honor rode in her carseat which was attached to yet another BOB stroller (did I mention, YEA for BOB strollers?) that I pushed.

Here's some pictures of us before and after. I'm sure you'll be able to tell which is which!



I must admit that the main reason I was motivated to sign up for this was because I had heard on the radio that this race had "pretty cool t-shirts". Unfortunately, whoever made that statement does not have great taste. We were disappointed to discover that the t-shirts were not "pretty cool" at all. Next time we register for a race, we're checking out the t-shirt design first!

Mother's Day 2007

At Central Baptist Church in Downtown Miami, the grand place where I grew up, a place surely a part of heaven, Mother's Day was big. At the worship service, the recognition of the oldest mother began when all the mothers were asked to stand. They were applauded when they did so, in a church where we simply did not applaud. (We were "high church Baptist".) Following the applause, those who had been mothers for X years were asked to be seated, then X + 5 and so on, until the oldest remained standing.

It was always Mrs. Dorothy left standing there, at least in my memory. I marveled at how anyone could be that old. She was dressed to the T, had snow white hair, and a sweet smile. She was related to practically an entire section of our big church sanctuary. My mother bought shoes for my siblings and me at her shoe store in Coral Gables, by then run by one of her several daughters. (As a younger mother, Mrs. Dorothy was a business woman, as well as a Christian mom. Those types don't appear solely in Proverbs.)

There was an orchid for the youngest mom too, but this woman usually changed from year to year, so I don't remember any particular one, just that they seemed to get prettier and prettier as I moved into adolescence.

Flowers were everywhere on Mother's Day Sunday at church: one of the members was a florist. There were even flowers at the entrance ways to the sanctuary, small corsages for the women, if necessary, but all the mom's seemed to be wearing some sort of corsage given them at home. There were also boutonnieres for the men, a red carnation for those whose moms were still on earth, and a white one for those whose moms had gone to heaven.

I would get a white carnation today. I don't much like that, frankly.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Anne Perry's Favorite Fiction

The Wall Street Journal has a guest column from time to time where notables list their five "best books". British author Anne Perry wrote the column in the April 21, 2007, edition. I can't link to the WSJ, as it charges for use of its web edition. But I can let you know that Anne Perry's favorite "fictional tales rooted in history" are

1. I, Claudius, by Robert Graves;

2. Full Dark House, by Christopher Fowler;

3. The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Emmuska Orezy;

4. To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis; and

5. The Ballad of the White Horse, by G.K. Chesterton.

Anne Perry writes crime novels set in the late 19th Century, all dealing with murder. She is personally acquainted with that crime, having served time for it herself.

Theodore Dalrymple, about whom I have posted several times, writes about that crime here.

She's a fine, successful writer, and Carol and I enjoy her books.

I just checked out from the library I, Claudius. PBS based a TV series on the book several years ago.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Weather Alert Radio

The other day Kellsey discussed with Carol her contingency plans for a tornado in Austin, and the subject came up of weather radios. Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit pointed to this one. Reynolds writes for Popular Mechanics, a favorite magazine of mine, is a law school professor, and, of course, runs a succesful blog. He also is an amatuer photographer. (But what does he do in his spare time? Really.)

UPDATE: Speaking of disaster planning, Reynolds keeps an eye on what other things you should have at hand. This post is his latest.

International Human Rights

Preparing for a job in that field, from the International Justice Mission.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

'Nita, the Feminist

As I was going through Juanita's wallet, I came across a tiny clipping with this:

Three Wise Women
would have . . .
Asked directions,
Arrived on Time,
Helped deliver the baby,
Cleaned the stable,
Made a casserole,
Brought practical gifts and
There would be
Peace on Earth.


One thing that surprised me were her views on abortion. She strongly believed that women should have the choice. She was of the same generation as Barbara Bush, who also has that view and is also a fine wife and mother. This is worth thinking about.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

"The Great Unwind"

As a "small investor", I watch the stock market, and its recent rise is worrisome. The WSJ's front page, lead article on Monday reports on the "leveraging" that the big hedge funds practice to make extra returns in the financial markets. "Leveraging" means to borrow money and use the proceeds to buy investments that one thinks will grow in value faster than the interest one will pay on the borrowing.

The classic example of leverage is buying stock on margin. One would buy, say, 100 shares of XYZ corporation for $10 a share or a total of $1000. To "leverage", one would borrow $500 from the broker and put $500 dollars of his own money into it. The investor would pledge the stock to the broker as collateral. Assume that the broker charges the investor an annual interest rate of 5%. After one year, the market value of the stock increases 10% to $11 per share and the investor sells. His gross profit is $100. He pays the broker back what he borrowed plus interest of $25. He pockets his own $500 plus the balance of the profit, which is $75. On his $500 investment, then, the investor made a return of 15%.

Had the investor simply invested $500 without borrowing the broker's $500, He would have made $50 dollars, that is, a return of 10% on his money. He used the broker's $500 to make an extra $25.

The reason one can only borrow 50% of the value of the XYZ corporation from the broker is that the government limits how much one can leverage in buying stocks. These sorts of limits permeate the financial system, but not completely. The hedge funds have figured out how to avoid those limits and in many ways the hedge funds are simply unregulated. So they borrow great sums and in very complicated ways, using "derivatives" to engineer the leverage. The very large returns that the hedge funds have enjoyed in the past several years have interested pension funds and public companies in their approach, according to the WSJ, and they are now on the bandwagon as well. (The WSJ reports, for example, that "garden-products maker Scotts Miracle-Gro Co . . . [has] loaded up on on debt to improve returns.")

The WSJ calls it a "leveraging binge", and you can tell that its editors are worried because they put their article on the front page of Monday's edition. The article states in part:

No one is sure what will happen to this complex brew in the event of a serious market downturn. When markets turn bad, leverage can create a snowball effect. Lenders and derivatives dealers demand that investors provide them with more collateral - the stocks, cash or other assets they pledge to cover potential losses. Sometimes, investors dump stocks and bonds to raise cash. Prices drop more, losses accelerate, and more selling ensues. Some Wall Street analysis have taken to referring to a nightmare version of this scenario as "The Great Unwind.

Not having a pension plan provided by a big corporation, government agency, or union, I am like a lot of my peers and have saved using IRAs and 401K plans. The financial markets are about the only place one can invest such savings. So I have been buying stocks and bonds over the years, but quite a large proportion of stocks. (I have never bought anything on margin. Except for my house.) That approach has done reasonably well, but I am so worried about this that I am significantly reducing my exposure to stocks, and I started doing that in earnest earlier this week. I will continue to do so, until I feel comfortable. Yes, the stock market continues to go up, and hit record highs. But it worries me.

Let's go back to our XYZ company illustration. Let's assume that in one year its value goes down 10%. At the end of the year, then, the investor's position is worth $900. He sells the stock and pays the broker back the $500 he borrowed, plus $50 of interest. That leaves our investor $350. He lost $150 on the deal or 30% of his investment. As you can see, leverage works the other way too. And in these illustrations I am assuming relatively benign price movements. But things seem to be different in the financial markets. The price movements may not be so benign when the Great Unwind begins.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Perry for President

Bless you, Governor. (Thanks, Instapundit.) (By the way, my next concealed carry.)

Jack and I go Boom!

Yesterday Jack and I travelled up to Indiantown, actually to the west side of Indiantown, down a road to a cow pasture that an enterprising gentleman has turned into a game preserve, rifle and pistol range, and a skeet and trap shooting range. Along one side of part of a field there are also some store-front sets, something like the set of a western, where people who dress up like cowboys and pack six-shooters have meets of some sort. We went there to see a lady for a skeet shooting lesson. Her name is Jo Hanley and she is an approved instructor of the National Skeet Shooting Association.

My goal was to hit one clay pigeon. (Jo calls them "birds", also politically incorrect. In the blue states they refer to such things as "clay targets" so we don't hurt the feelings of our feathered friends, and I am not making this up.) I hit several and missed a lot, but Jack did very well. We blasted through 5 boxes of shells, using two Remington 1100s, 20 gauge, that Jo had brought for us. We spent about two hours there.

On the way back to Miami, Jack and I decided that the 4 and 1/2 hour round trip to Indiantown was simply not worth the trouble, as good as Jo is as an instructor. We decided we learned enough from her to go back to Trail-Glade Range, rent their shotguns, and blast away there. But we did break the ice, and Jack discovered that he already has most of the hang of it.

As for me, I have the same problem with skeet as I have with golf: I get tense and, as a result, I don't have a smooth swing of the gun as the barrel leads the bird and then follows through after one pulls the trigger. But now and then, I would put it together and blast the bird out of the sky, just as I sometimes smash a golf ball solidly, straight and respectably long. Those moments keep me coming back to golf, and will propel me to more skeet shooting, at least for a while longer, to see if I can get better.

Jack and I are thinking we would each buy a used 20 gauge automatic and see how far we get. He's been emailing me links all day to posts on AuctionArms.com for mostly 12 gauge shotguns for sale. It looks like you can get something for as little as $385, which is not too bad to start with. Stay tuned.