Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Celebrating Discipline

My church men's group will commence a new study built around Richard J. Foster's Celebration of Discipline, first published in 1978. It has been about that long since I read it. I have to ask what I would be like now, 30 years later, had I applied the disciplines Foster describes to my life.

But that was then, and this is now.

On page 5 of the edition I'm reading, Foster writes of "will worship," the worship of the will. He quotes from Col. 2:20-23, the KJV, which reads:

Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body: not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.[My bold].

My mind went straight to David Allen! If I can just get my life arranged in a certain way; just force myself to do the weekly survey; manage my tickler file; sort through that in-box and make the decisions that must be made: then life will calm down, and I will be happy (that is, blessed). It's "will-worship!" Plainly!

So, here we go with the Disciplines. One word of caution from Foster that I would note: "to know the mechanics does not mean we are practicing the Disciplines."

It would be fine for my kith and kin to pray that in 2009 the Spiritual Disciplines would become for me, as Foster writes, "an inward and spiritual reality . . . the inner attitude of the heart [that] is far more crucial than the mechanics for coming into the reality of the spiritual life."

Monday, December 29, 2008

Walter's Family at Christmas

We were in Austin for Christmas, and this photo was taken in the sanctuary at West Lake Hills PC just after the Christmas Eve Children's Service. Pictured are Walter, Morgan and their children, Felicity and Nautica, Morgan's parents, Mike and Mickey, Carol, Mary and Yours Truly. (Macon's family was under the weather and not able to attend.)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Beets

Richer than spinach in iron and other minerals. The greens are helpful in cases of anemia, tuberculosis, constipation, poor appetite, obesity, tumors, gout, pimples and helpful in the elimination of irritating drug poisons. Beets are one of the best foods to relieve constipation and they are also good for obesity. Mmmm!!

No Place for Schadenfreude

In Saturday's WSJ, the lead article is "The World of Madoff and His Clients." Adjacent to it is an article about Burt Ross, a former stockbroker, commercial real estate operator, former mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., husband and father. Mr. Ross is one year younger than I, has lived in the same house for 33 years where he raised his family, and lost his $5 million savings to Madoff. The article shows him to be a thoroughly decent man, someone whose sense of decency led him to submit to interviews by the WSJ that must have been painful and embarrassing for him but nevertheless provide an important lesson for the rest of us. I hope you can read the entire article, but here are some important or poignant excerpts:

Mr. Ross says he remembers being puzzled about how Mr. Madoff was able to show positive returns, even in months when the stocks Mr. Madoff's fund owned were down. . . . He pushed such thoughts aside, "I thought, 'Who am I to question?'" Mr. Ross says. "This guy has a formula involving computerized trading . . It's like Coke. We're not supposed to know the formula."

* * *

[Mr. Ross] says he cried when his 24-year-old daughter offered him reassuring words. On Thursday, he explained to his 22-year-old son, who had just completed his last college exam, that much of his inheritance was gone, and his son also comforted him.

* * *

Mr. Ross's wife, Joan, says she had always been nervous about whether their money was safe with Mr. Madoff. "We would revisit the issue from time to time," she recalls. "He was concerned about growth. When the market looked shaky, my concern was to preserve what we have until things settled down." She urged him to consider a safe alternative, such as Treasurys.


This morning, my readings were in 1 Timothy. There were rich men in the church in Ephesus, where Timothy was ministering. Paul writes this to Timothy at the end of the fifth chapter:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Friday, December 19, 2008

I Wish

Abby to FSU

We last posted on Abby Carr in February. The Herald today reports that Abby Carr has committed to play soccer at FSU.

FSU is one of the top six or eight schools in women's soccer in the country. I'm glad she will be in-state, because we may have more opportunities to see her play.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"The Madoff Inheritance"

This opinion column in today's WSJ by Daniel Henninger is well worth a read.

Also, take a look at the video interview of Henninger.

PC to Apple

My Christmas present from Carol will be a MacBook White. On the very day we ordered it, my HP Laptop died. Goodbye, then, to all that. (Except when I'm at the office.)

I will soon become a real nuisance to Mary Ann, Macon, Walter, and Mary, as I enter this brave new world. (Not that I am not already a nuisance, especially to the children. But that's called "rough justice.")

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Maybe a Little Too Smug

In my post yesterday about Bernie Madoff I said that investors should have known better. This morning a Jewish friend of mine told me about her 80 year old aunt who had everything she had with Madoff and had lost everything. The aunt has no other financial resources and lives in a retirement home. Others in my friend's wide network of family and friends, largely middle class, Jewish people, had lost very substantial sums. I had in mind the Mort Zuckermans of the world, who had lost money with Madoff, not aged widows. Time to recalibrate.

But May a Christian be Cranky?

I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

-Ephesians 1:1-3.

Oops.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas as Peace, Hope, and Love

From a "Christmas" Card that a vendor sent us here at the firm:

Rejoice in the spirit of Christmas which is Peace

Rejoice in the miracle of Christmas which is Hope

Rejoice in the heart of Christmas which is Love


I suppose I am to give the vendor a pass because he actually used the word "Christmas." But I don't. I would have preferred he use "Holiday" or "Season" rather than attempt to define Christmas in such saccharine terms.

The vendor sent me a nice tape measure. I'm thinking of sending it back to him. Am I just being cranky?

"Trust but Verify"

This quote is attributed to Ronald Reagan, and the context of his statement was foreign policy. But it can be applied in many contexts, and the latest notorious circumstance where the parties failed to exercise such discipline involves the investment manager Bernard L. Madoff. The context, of course, was the investment of one's money. What characterizes this scandal appears to be not only the scale of the fraud. What distinctly characterizes it is that that the people whom Madoff defrauded were those who, one would think, should have known better.

It reminds me of a scuba diving class that Walter and I attended when he was in Scouts and both of us were getting certified. It was the final classroom meeting before we went out on our culminating dive off of Islamarada. The instructors were first rate, and the handout that night was a chart that listed all of the things that could go wrong on a dive and kill you. I put up my hand and asked the main instructor how often beginners like us would find ourselves in such deadly situations.

She said very rarely. Most of the people who were killed, she said, were experienced divers who knew better than to make the mistakes described on the chart. She said that experienced divers often felt they could bend the rules and get away with it. Inexperienced, but well trained divers, she said, were usually very attentive to the rules. Furthermore, they would be on the dive and remind us.

What I think happened to the Medoff investors, people who knew the rules, was that they thought both Medoff and themselves were exceptional people, exceptional in their experience, in their intelligence, and in their social and professional standings. The red-flags of consistent investment performance above the norms, year after year, as if they and they alone lived in some alternate universe, were not for them. Those red flags were for the rest of us.

There is a Despair poster (I can't recall the name of it) that presents a sort of truth (something I call a "Despair-truth") which suggests that some people make huge mistakes as a lesson to the rest of us. So it is with those who are simply too smart, too fine, and too successful to be bothered with verification.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

May God Forgive Us.

We are pre-occupied by a foul-mouthed governor and by failed corporate/labor syndicates that build cars no one much wants. And this is happening. (Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for spotting this.)

As the Beltway Gathers the Means

Economic control is not merely control of a sector of human life that can be separated from the rest; it is the control of the means for all our ends. And whoever has sole control of the means also determines which ends are to be served, which values are to be rated higher and which lower - in short, what men should believe and strive for.

-Friedrich Hayek, as quoted in Hilton Kramer and Roger Kimball's column "Notes and Comments" under the subheading Freedom Imperilled in the December issue of The New Criterion.

That column also quotes from an article entitled The Loss of Individual Liberty in last month's Forbes. The Forbes article chronicles the ongoing nationalization of our economic life during the Bush Administration, what is happening at this moment, and what we can expect during Obama's reign.

But the ultimate economic truth is reflected in Psalms 50:10, and I take comfort in it:

[F]or every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sen. Bill Nelson on the Big 3 Bail-Out Issue

I send Bill Nelson, one of our Florida US Senators, emails about various issues. He is a Democrat, well-meaning and I have never read of any corrupt aspect of his service.

As readers have noticed from my posts, I'm ready to let the Big 3 go into Chapter 11. Sen. Nelson disagrees. Here is his response to my email:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the proposed bailout of the auto industry .

In my judgment, the Big Three automakers have arrived at this point through their own poor management. The fact that so many American manufacturing jobs are at risk is the only reason these companies deserve any taxpayer assistance. In order to avoid digging ourselves into a deeper economic hole, we must take action. But we cannot simply have another bailout. Any assistance from the government must come in the form of a loan with significant strings attached to force these companies to restructure the way they do business.

First, we must insist that the Big Three increase their average fuel economy to 50 miles per gallon by 2020. Automakers must also increase production of flex-fuel, electric, and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Foreign car companies have been building fuel-efficient cars for years, and now in this era of volatile gas prices, the American manufacturers find themselves at a disadvantage.

We also must ensure that no taxpayer money goes to reward the people who got us in this situation in the first place. Shareholders in these companies should not receive dividends until the companies return to financial health. We must place limits on executive compensation and eliminate golden parachutes. Finally, we must insist that these companies replace their senior management. We need new leadership and fresh ideas to get us out of this mess.

I appreciate the time you've taken to contact me about this important issue. I am committed to keeping America on the leading edge of manufacturing and technological innovation. Please do not hesitate to share your views with me in the future.


Intervention by Congress, then, is the answer, and not the market-place. What a sorry pass we have come to in this country when the national political system chooses the winners and losers among US corporations.

One of the remarkably naive statements Sen. Nelson makes is "Shareholders in these companies should not receive dividends until the companies return to financial health." Only healthy companies pay dividends. They do not pay dividends unless there are earnings and profits. That is dictated by the market and by law. If the companies went in to Chapter 11, we can be assured that shareholders will be treated appropriately. The appropriate treatment will probably be that, when the smoke clears, the present shareholders will own little or nothing of the emerging companies, and they certainly will not receive dividends in the meanwhile.

More on Tebow from SI

Here.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Tim Tebow and UF's Win over 'Bama

My friend, Sam, a sold-out Gator, sent me the following. It is an email of a post somewhere, circulating among Gator fans and written by a 'Bama fan.

"What I saw in Atlanta"

I saw the third quarter. I saw Tebow get sacked. I saw Florida go 3 and out. I saw the Tide go 91 yards in workman like fashion. I saw a helpless UF defense. I saw Bama tie the game. I saw UF respond by missing their only FG of the season. I saw Bama march again. I saw a UF team that was beat. I saw a defense with hands on hips gasping for breath getting absolutely trucked. I saw an Alabama team rolling downhill through Gator players. I saw the UF players give all that they had left to keep Bama out of the end zone. I saw the Tide take the lead heading into the 4th quarter. I saw the end of a championship dream.

No way could the UF defense recover from the extended pounding they had just endured. With two DTs out there was simply no reserve left to call upon to stem the Tide. All that had been claimed pregame by the Crimson and White faithful about how their lines would wear UF down and control the game had come true. There was no hope.

And then things changed. I saw Tebow rally his offensive teammates and take them down the field. Run after run after run after run after run and they had Bama on their heels at their own 27. A throw a run and a throw and Tim has UF on the doorstep. Two more runs and Demps is leaping in the endzone. Florida has wrested the lead away and hope is reborn, dreams live again.

But this was not enough. Tebow leads this team, this university, not just its offense. He comes down the sideline toward the end zone where the Gator fans are thickest and exhorts them to cheer, to roar, to believe. He turns and runs to the special team players huddled for the upcoming kick. He slams into their huddle like a bowling ball knocking aside so many pins. He urged them to make the stop, to finish the play. And they did. He turns to the bench and gets in the face of his defensive teammates and makes his will theirs. He inspires them, he challenges them, he leads them. They face the same Bama players who had owned them in the third quarter, who had worn them down and controlled them. They faced those same Bama players and they stuffed them. Julio Jones who had tormented the Gators all afternoon saw a pass come his way only to have Joe Haden drill him so that the ball fell harmlessly to the ground. Julio would never see another pass. They held the line and stopped Coffee for a short gain. They crushed the line that had moved them at will and finally sacked Wilson. With the game on the line they had stuffed Bama for a 3 and out.

Then Tim Tebow went out to win himself and the University of Florida a championship. Two runs and it was 3rd and short. Tebow keeps it, meets Mount Cody in the hole and carries all 360 pounds of him for the first down. Tebow throws for 33, Tebow throws for 15, Tebow runs for 5. Bama is done. Tebow throws the last five yards to Riley Cooper on a pass that had no room for imprecision resulting in the TD that made dreams into reality. I have never seen a single player so impose his will on both his teammates, his opponents and the crowd as Tim Tebow did in that fourth quarter. I am in awe. His teammates understand. Carl Moore: "You knew he was going to lead us to victory," Louis Murphy: "I have never doubted him. He's our quarterback." Jeff Demps: "That's Tim Tebow. That's what he does, He's been putting us on his shoulders ever since the Ole Miss game, but I've never seen him like he was today." His opponents understand too. Rashad Johnson: "He kept those guys motivated. He kept them in the game when they had the opportunity to give up and wouldn't let them." Terrence Cody: "You give him a chance, and he's going to beat you,"

He's not Superman. He's not unbeatable. But he will never give less than everything he has and he will never shy away from a challenge. He is the best team leader I have ever seen in college sports. He willed a victory for UF, not on his own, but by giving his teammates the strength to believe and an example to follow. And that they did.

Posted on 12/8 4:34 PM | IP: Logged


Sam, who is not a Christian but a member of a reformed Jewish Synagogue, has been coming to our Friday morning Bible Study/Breakfasts for quite some time. He knows that Tebow is a Christian. He observed this morning that Tebow is the third great quarterback at Florida who was the son of a Presbyterian minister. Sam knows that Tebow's facepaint on game-day has a scripture reference: Philippians 4:13. I read him that scripture this morning.

Sam mentioned the movie Hoosiers and the scene where, before the state championship game, one of the members of the team is kneeling in prayer, and the coach is trying to get him up and onto the court. The young man, whose father is a minister, finally gets up, with a big smile on his face. He tells the coach, according to Sam's recollection, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me." Sam said that he could not explain what happened to Tebow in the fourth quarter of the game with Alabama except to say that the Spirit of the Lord was upon Tebow, and Sam wanted Russ and me (there were only three of us there this morning) to explain what that meant.

And we did. We discussed what the prophet Joel wrote about the Spirit being promised to God's people, about Pentecost being the fulfillment of that prophesy, after Jesus having been crucified, raised from the dead, and ascending to heaven, and how Peter discussed the matter of the Spirit in the second chapter of Acts, making reference to Joel's prophesy, we in every case reading from Scripture. We also read the account of Paul's conversion in Acts and of what the rabbi Gamaliel (with whom Sam is familiar) said to the Sanhedrin that had brought Peter and John before it: that if the Way was not of God, it would collapse of itself, but if it was of God, there was nothing anyone could do to stop it.

At the risk of sounding foolish, I believe the Spirit of the Lord was on Tebow for such a time as this. Sam believes it, and that may be the key to his heart.

SunTrust International Center Christmas Party



Some of the folks from our office. Front row, left to right: Susana, Maria, Cynthia, Carrol. Back row: Paris (my secretary), Carol, Yours Truly, Sandy, Kanaan.

This was in the big lobby of our building last evening.

WWJD - The Bailout(s)

Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, "May you never bear fruit again!" Immediately the tree withered.

-Matthew 21:19

Not Too Excited About "The Day the Earth Stood Still"

"Everything will be explained," a government goon tells Jennifer Connelly's exobiologist, Dr. Helen Benson, in "The Day the Earth Stood Still." A space ship has landed and Helen is urgently needed to make nice with the occupants. What's never explained is why anyone would do such a dumb remake of Robert Wise's 1951 sci-fi classic, which starred Patricia Neal as a touchingly plain mother and Michael Rennie as Klaatu, the Christ-like visitor carrying a message of peace (or else). Where the original film was unpretentious, this version, with Keanu Reeves as Klaatu, is insufferably full of itself, an "X-Files" episode pumped up to pseudo-cosmic proportions. Where the first one had the warmth of confident artistry, this sorry second is as cold and blank as the expression on Mr. Reeves's face. Instead of Sam Jaffe doing Albert Einstein, John Cleese soldiers through a silly cameo as a Nobel laureate who studies biological altruism. In the spirit of critical altruism, I say stay home and watch the real thing on DVD.

-Joe Morgenstern's review in today's WSJ.

Government Too Big to Fail?

I'm reading about Bank of America laying off huge numbers and the Big 3 automakers possibly going into Chapter 11, because that's where the union (and upper management) death-grip on that industry can be broken. But the crisis in state and local governments brought on by the economic downturn? I'm hearing very little about laying off government employees and getting rid of upper management there. Is government the real "protected industry" that will bring us all down? What an irony that will be.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Haiti's Medical Services Hell

This article appeared yesterday in the Miami Herald. It concerns conditions at a maternity hospital run by Doctors Without Borders. The article requires one to read it completely to see that a signficant contributor to the problem is the failure of government because of corruption and strikes.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Cool

It's started already...the desire to be cool. The longing for things that are cool.

I bought Aidan some new shoes recently and had them shipped to our house since they didn't have his size at the store. I should have waited until the morning when he was not so very tired, but he saw the box and wanted to see them, so I showed him.
And I quote:
"I don' like them, Mommy. They don't look cool. and, I only like things that are cool."

Seriously?!! He's only 4!!! Not to mention the fact, that they are indeed cool. They light up for goodness sakes. And, they were only $30. Stride Rite shoes usually cost between $40 and $60 per pair! I'm not taking 'em back. I sure hope he likes them better in the morning.

sigh...

I could write about how I really hoped that he would like them, and how disappointed I am that he doesn't. I could write about how shocked I was at how the "coolness" factor has already kicked in. I could write about how I really want to raise him to know that he is precious and wonderful no matter how cool what he wears is or is not. but really, "sigh..." seems to express it best. So, I say again,

sigh...

Sunday, December 07, 2008

A No-Touch Surgeon

At the other end of the spectrum from the Colombian nurse is the cardiac surgeon who does not touch his patient, Sudhir Srivastava, of the University of Chicago Medical School. There is a fascinating article about him in the current U of Chicago Magazine. He uses a robot to do a sort of microsurgery.

The article exhibits not only the genius of the surgeon and the remarkable technology, it also shows the specialization required of the other members of the surgical team. No generalists here.

The webpage where the article begins also has a video of a "single vessel TECAB." (You know what a TECAB is, right? You will. It's a Totally Endoscopic Coronary Artery Bypass.)

A Nurse Who Does Everything

On Friday, I saw Dr. Feinberg, my oncologist, for the six-month check up. Part of the visit to the office that houses his oncology group includes having blood drawn from a vein for evaluation in the lab there. Dr. Feinberg does not do the blood drawing. Instead, there is a unit of phlebotomists, technicians who specialize in finding the right vein (or artery, now and then: ugh!).

I had a new phlebotomist on Friday, a lady from Colombia. She had her own style, as each of the phlebotomists there does, and hers was minimalist. I sit down in the chair, lay my right arm out, elbow down and open on the special pad which is part of the arm of the chair. The chair is next to a small table where she sits, facing in my direction, and holds various small bottles and things to stick with.

Now and then (not often) I get a tube tied around my upper arm like a tourniquet and something to squeeze in my fist. Then the technician starts looking for a good vein, sometimes commenting on their being deep or "there's a good one" or "did you drink a lot of water today?" Sometimes, though rarely, they will want to look at both arms. When they finally do the stick, it is not painful. The phlebotomists there are really good (I've been going there for I think 15 years.) But there seems to be an inverse relationship between the amount of chatter I hear from them, as they articulate their search-and-stick process, and how easy the procedure that day turns out to be.

The Colombian lady is friendly and says very little, really, that has anything to do with her work. She simply dabs a spot with alcohol on the inside of my elbow and sticks the needle in, and I feel virtually nothing: no tourniquet, no ball to squeeze, no looking around for veins, maybe a tap or two with her finger on the one she seems instantly to find, absolutely no fuss. I like this lady.

As we are sitting there waiting for the blood to come out and as she otherwise finishes, I ask her whether the doctors know how to do what she does. She says that not even the nurses "in this country [USA]" can do what she does, especially when it comes to a deep blood vessel. She states that in Colombia, nurses who are "registered" are people who mainly handle paper. She was not such a registered nurse, she said, and she did everything, from drawing blood to emptying bed-pans to changing the sheets. She commented on how one gets to know the patient that way and that how that aspect of care, getting to know the patient, had a higher value there than here in the US. I couldn't tell whether she meant that the physicians had that higher value there or whether it was limited to the sort of nursing she practices, a nursing where the nurse "does everything."

She said that doctors who know how to draw blood as she does are those who, during their own training, make it a point to learn, as if a medical student would not ordinarily pick up that skill if he or she did not decide that she was going to learn it. It made me wonder about missionary doctor preparation. Can (and should) a medical student preparing for that life equip himself or herself with the skills of a Colombian nurse who is not registered but who "does everything"?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Thanksgiving Weekend at Highlands Hammock State Park

Thanksgiving morning we hooked up the pop-top and got on US 27 for Sebring, a town in Highlands County, once famous for its speedway and about three hours north of us. Near Sebring is Highlands Hammock State Park, our family favorite for all time, and there we spent the weekend.




Disarmed Mumbai

At about 9:45 p.m., two gunmen, slender and in their mid-20s, ran up the circular driveway at the entrance to the Trident. They shot the security guard and two bellhops. The hotel had metal detectors, but none of its security personnel carried weapons because of the difficulties in obtaining gun permits from the Indian government, according to the hotel company's chairman, P.R.S. Oberoi. The gunmen raced through the marble-floored lobby, past the grand piano into the adjoining Verandah restaurant, firing at the guests and shattering the windows.

-From the WSJ and today's excellent front page article on the attacks on Mumbai. (Even many of the police were armed simply with bamboo sticks, known as lathis, according to the article.)

UPDATE: Carol mentioned to me that Glen Reynolds referred, in part, to the self-defense issue yesterday here.

Gurkhas involved in some of the rescues.