Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Kerry Three Putts

Sunday afternoon I viewed the exciting finish of the Northern Trust Open on TV. During the week before I had, on behalf of a new client, been working with Northern Trust people here in Miami. I therefore knew what an important event this tournament was for the bank, because the bank people with whom I spoke on the new matter were talking about it. (I don't represent Northern Trust, and I have never represented them in its individual capacity. In fact, in the last three decades that bank and I have often been at loggerheads.)

The WSJ this morning comments on John Kerry being "angry at Northern Trust" over its sponsorship of the event, because the bank had accepted $1.6 billion in TARP funds last year. Senator Kerry's office announced that the Senator would answer Northern's "idiotic" decision to sponsor this event by introducing a bill to prevent "any recipient of TARP funds from hosting, sponsoring, or paying for conferences, holiday parties and entertainment events." The bill will include penalties, fines and forced reimbursement of TARP funds, unless the recipient gets a "waiver" from some sort of entertainment czar that the government would set up.

Last fall a client of mine was interviewing various banks and investment firms to determine who should manage his wealth. Among them was Northern Trust. During the vetting process, the Northern Trust people told us that the bank had accepted TARP funds, but that it was not out of any need for them. They said, essentially, that it was politically expedient to accept TARP funds, because the government made it clear that it expected the bank to take the money. As the WSJ editorial states, "Northern Trust could pay back the TARP funds tomorrow if the terms of that investment [which I was to understand the government virtually forced upon the bank] didn't make it onerous to do so before three years have elapsed."

(Lest anyone think that this is a slam against the President, I would, as a Blue Dog Democrat, take note that these funds were forced upon Northern during the late Republican administration. This is a slam against government.)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

My Political Heart May Have Found a Home

Walt Minnick of Idaho. I heard him on NPR this morning, talking about the "Stimulus" Act. Can we trade our Republican governor for this Democrat?

Here's Walt's view on the auto-bailout from his website.

UPDATE: Here's the NPR interview.

FURTHER UPDATE: Aha! What our governor is probably up to.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"Missionary Medicine in East Africa"


Our friend Juliet Lahmeyer brought Carol a copy of the February 2009 Samaritan's Purse Update. The Update is on the 'net here. An excerpt:

For young physicians just out of residency who feel called to medical missions, our Post-Residency Program provides the opportunity to serve for two years in a hospital overseas. Through this program, we have physicians and their families serving in over a dozen developing countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Drs. Garry and Leann Finke are serving at Kijabe Hospital in Kenya, where the couple continually witnesses God’s healing hand at work. Leann especially remembers a 13-year-old boy named Kelvin who spent a month in the hospital after being run over by a car. He almost died, but the Lord answered the prayers of the Christian staff at the hospital.

(I'm pretty sure that the photo is not of a ward at the Kijabe Hospital. For one thing, the wards we saw there were much neater. For another, the hospital is above the malaria line, so there would be no need for the mosquito netting. From the article, it would appear that the photo is of a ward in a missionary hospital in South Sudan.)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Asher's Blessing

Carol is teaching the Beth Moore study of Esther to a group of women at our church. She teaches the given lesson on Wednesday night and then repeats it Sunday morning for the women who missed it. (There's dedication for you.) In the meanwhile, I get the benefits of the lesson and Carol's insights into it as she prepares.

She brought to my attention yesterday this passage from Deuteronomy 13:

24 About Asher he said:
"Most blessed of sons is Asher;
let him be favored by his brothers,
and let him bathe his feet in oil.

25 The bolts of your gates will be iron and bronze,
and your strength will equal your days.

If I could describe the need for Asher's blessing in 21st Century terms, I would describe it as "What Boomers Would Pray For Should the Idea of God Happen to Come to Them in Their Distracted and Aging Lives." It sums up our fears and, especially, our needs.

Of particular interest is the blessing of "your strength being equal [to] your days." I read this at at very basic level, dealing as I do with clients whose parents or who themselves have needs that have outrun their physical or mental strength or both, but they still have the prospect of many days, even years, left on this earth. Sometimes I think that the greatest blessing of all would be for God to take me exactly at the moment when I fail to recollect the one memory too many; that is, at the very point where I find myself stepping over the threshold of dementia. (Maybe that was yesterday; I don't recall.)

Further Reflection:

But for the Christian "your strength" is not limited to one's individual physical or mental stamina or the extent of his 401k. Look at Pslam 27:1:

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?

My strength is the Lord. Let it happen.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Banquet

Does Honor's new shirt remind you of anyone?



My first thought was, "That looks like a shirt Juanita Stokes would like!"

Copland Songs

One of the gifts God gave me was to have been raised in a church where music was central to worship and fellowship. It was a big (for its time) Southern Baptist church, big enough to support a "graded-choir program," a "minister of music" (not a mere music director), an accomplished organist who was a perfect match for a grand pipe organ, and a concert level pianist. A "graded-choir program" meant that there was a choir for every age group, beginning with the little ones (the "Cherub Choir"), the middling ones (the "Junior Choir"), and then the teenagers (the "Youth Choir"). At the top sang the adults (the "Sanctuary Choir").

We had a complete Christian Education program, built around Sunday School, which itself was divided according to age into "departments." Music was a central feature of that program too. The "educational building" rivalled the Sanctuary building, if not in beauty then certainly in function and floor space. During the Sunday School "hour," each Sunday School department had an "opening assembly" of about 10 to 15 minutes, following which the students "went to our classes", boys to theirs and girls to theirs, small groups of maybe around 6-8 children. There might be 6 or 7 of those classes per age group. Using materials from the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, the teacher led us. He or she had come to church the Wednesday night before where, at a "teachers' meeting," the "superintendent" of that department would have gone over the upcoming lesson.

We sang at the opening assembly of our Sunday School department, often singing from hymn or song books designed for our grade level. Each Sunday School department area had a piano and there was always a pianist, drawn from a talented pool of amateur musicians in the congregation. As we got older, the pianists, usually adult women, gave way to our peers who had been "taking piano" from an early age. By the time we were in high school, one of us was "leading the singing" and another of us was accompanying. Sometimes the minister of music would come in and with the piano accompany a solo or an ensemble presentation given by our peers who sang in the choir. Sometimes the solo or ensemble presentation was accompanied by one of us as well.

There were "music festivals" where our choirs would meet at assemblies of other Baptist choirs. We would sing our best numbers and be "evaluated" by panels of judges. There were presentations not only of choirs, but of ensembles (I sang in a "quintet" during high school with my cousin, Ken) and of individuals, either as pianists or "song leaders."

Our youth choir went on tour by bus several times. We had a tour to New Orleans one summer, for example, but the most unforgettable was the trip to the 1964 World's Fair in New York City. We sang in Baptist churches all the way up the East Coast and all the way back. Our choir not only gave a concert in the sanctuary of the church, with a sacred program, but at a "fellowship" time after the concerts, our ensembles presented lighter fare - one of them being something called "the Grasshopper Opera," which was a scream.

I was a boy soprano in the younger choirs, but by junior high all of the choir boys had voices breaking down, and the thing to be was a bass. It was OK to be a tenor, but to be a bass - that was where I wanted to be. (My father, also a singer, liked to refer to "the men and the tenors" in the choir. He, of course, was a bass.) So I thought I was a bass throughout the period, but I got no solos. The nicer voices were those of the boys who turned out to be real basses and of the boys who embraced their tenor hood. The main problem, in addition to my attitude, was that my voice was not developing as quickly as that of the other boys. So I did not sing solos. Of course, with my modest ego, that was fine. (Right.)

When I went to college, I kept singing, and as a freshman auditioned for and was admitted to the Men's Glee Club, the Sanctuary Choir (the one that sang every Sunday in the Duke "Chapel"), and a more select group called the "Chancel Singers." The music directors put me in the second tenor section of each group. It was OK. When you go away to college, you are expected to kick down the traces, and Dad had no idea. I also found the First Baptist Church of Durham a little dull and soon quit going. Besides, I was taking Old Testament at Duke the first semester and New Testament the second from an absolutely marvelous professor, Barney Jones, who was also a Methodist Minister. So my Sunday mornings were at Duke Chapel, singing in the tenor section of the choir.

There I was, singing tenor and doing Bible study with a Methodist. Everything we were warned about back in Sunday School concerning college was coming true. (I won't mention discovering Smokey Robinson, the Four Tops, Martha and the Vandellas and the aptly named Temptations. I won't mention d***eing.)

But my voice was growing up, and the ego was always there. So I asked my parents, who were dealing with the financial burden of putting me through college (my dad was too proud to fill out the financial aid forms and my mother had gone to work for Eastern Air Lines), to pay for voice lessons. They did. I found my way to the music department at Duke, which was different from the campus choral organizations, and to John Hanks, who was an accomplished tenor. Mr. Hanks became my voice teacher and, now and then, Ruth C. Friedberg would come in and accompany us during a lesson.

(Ms. Friedberg was a wonderful musician. She was an accomplished pianist and a member of the Duke faculty. When she played while I sang, something happened between us. Sometimes I think she was deeper into what I was singing than I was, like a mother deeper into her child's play than even the child, at least on a conscious level. It was not about me, of course, it was about her exquisite gift of listening to others. What a marvelous woman. She is now Professor Emerita of Music at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio.)

One can have a big ego and still not have a lot of confidence, and I was that person, especially as a singer before Mr. Hanks. He believed my choral singing was not good for my still-maturing voice. He said that ensemble music directors exploited their good choir voices by encouraging those singers to "over-sing." So he got me jobs at churches in Durham singing on Sundays where I would solo frequently. My junior year I sang in the choir of an Episcopal church in Durham, which was really good because the chairman of the History Department, Dr. Watson, was in that choir and I got to know him well. When my senior year arrived Mr. Hanks had me take the job as the soloist at the First Church of Christ Scientist. During that time I finally got over my stage fright. At the Christian Science Church I led the singing at the Wednesday night service and on Sunday morning, each Sunday morning, I sang a solo.

The Christian Scientists were simply wonderful people to sing with and to sing to. To them, there would always be something good about whatever I sang, and they told me about it. And I soon got over trying to lay the ground-work for low-expectations with them when, before the service, I might tell the reader that I had a sore throat or that I did not sleep well, or some foolish thing like that (I soon learned to go to bed early enough on Saturday night.)

Among the high points of my music at Duke were the vocal recitals of my senior year. There may have been two of those that year, but I only recall what I sang and what the recital hall looked like when I sang and how I felt. I could have sung those songs at separate recitals or only at one. Of course, I was one of several young vocalists who sang, and I do remember those others very well - they had voices far superior to mine, but I was OK with that by then. (Finally, I'm beginning to grow up!) The songs I remember singing were John Duke's Yellow Hair and Copland's arrangements of Simple Gifts and Gather at the River.

This entire post so far is simply prologue to the video I have embedded below. Marilyn Horne sings the very two Copland numbers that I sang (along with a third, Long Time Ago). She sings so very beautifully, and listening to her set off this train of memories that I have recounted. Her Gather at the River moves me nearly to tears, because I'm back at Central Baptist Church again, singing Shall We Gather at the River from the Broadman Hymnal. And my mind at the same time is transported "over yonder" where gathered are my mother and father, family (older and two younger ones) and friends. Finally, I see the future, when we will be so gathered as well. What a blessed prospect!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Things never to say to a two year old...

So, here is a little interchange between me and Honor from several days ago when we were on a plane and it was landing. Being two, Honor was sitting in her own seat and looking a little bit frightened to be there. As we landed, the plane bumped around a little bit.

Honor: what's that, Mommy? What's that?

Me: Oh, don't worry, Baby, that's just the plane's wheels braking.

Honor: (her eyes fly open in sheer terror)

Me: I think about it a moment and realize that Honor heard me say, "Oh, don't worry, Baby, that's just the plane's wheels breaking".

She thought that the wheels were falling apart and that I was telling her not to worry! Well, don't you guys worry, I quickly explained to her the difference between when something breaks and when it brakes. Her eyes slightly relaxed, but she wasn't truly relieved until we got off the plane.

Silly, Mommy. Scaring such a sweet sweet girl like that!

Monday, February 09, 2009

"Put Your Car Keys By Your Bed at Night"

Someone in the office sent this idea in an email, which I think is pretty good. I quote her explanation in part:

If you hear a noise outside your home or someone trying to get in your house, just press the panic button for your car. The alarm will be set off, and the horn will continue to sound until either you turn it off or the car battery dies. This tip came from a neighborhood watch coordinator. Next time you come home for the night and you start to put your keys away, think of this: It's a security alarm system that you probably already have and requires no installation. Test it. It will go off from most everywhere inside your house and will keep honking until your battery runs down or until you reset it with the button on the key fob chain. It works if you park in your driveway or garage. If your car alarm goes off when someone is trying to break into your house, odds are the burglar won't stick around . . . After a few seconds all the neighbors will be looking out their windows to see who is out there and sure enough the criminal won't want that. And remember to carry your keys while walking to your car in a parking lot. The alarm can work the same way there.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Despair is on Drudge


As an advertiser. briefly. It was this ad for bittersweets. (I think I asked that girl for a date once at Duke as a freshman. I recognize the expression.)

Go here to order.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Jobs and the Public Sector

Maybe you saw the photo of the thousand or so people lined up for 35 firefighter jobs with the City of Miami. It ran with this article from the Herald, which treated it as an example of the growing unemployment problem generally. If the people in the line were all unemployed, then it certainly would be evidence of tha problem. (And there is such a problem, of course.) But this particular line is likely about something else. It's probably about getting a job in the public sector.

Glenn Reynolds on his blog quotes this from a Forbes article:

America, in case you hadn’t noticed, is dividing into two nations. The 22.5-million-strong public sector (that includes retirees) is growing ever larger, and enjoying ever greater wages and benefits often guaranteed by state constitutions.

In private-sector America your job, assuming you still have one, hangs on the fate of the economy. If your employer ever offered a pension for life, like young officer Goss is receiving, odds are it has stopped doing so, or soon will. Those retirement accounts you scrimped and saved to assemble? Unless they are invested in Treasurys, they aren’t doing too well. In private-sector America the math leads to the grim prospect of working longer and living poorer.

In public-sector America things just get better and better. The common presumption is that public servants forgo high wages in exchange for safe jobs and benefits. The reality is they get all three. State and local government workers get paid an average of $25.30 an hour, which is 33% higher than the private sector’s $19, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Throw in pensions and other benefits and the gap widens to 42%.

Glenn suggests that we read the whole thing, and that's a good idea.

On the other hand, doesn't the "stimulus" bill give us all these kinds of pensions? Maybe it's in there, and we shouldn't be concerned.

More Beetz!

Beet greens with yogurt sauce. Mmmm!

(The link has a nice photo of some beets. Desktop photo?)

Not-so-Happy Meals

Canadian study indicates that that the correlaton between breastfeeding babies and a lower incidence of asthma is negated by fast food consumption.

Imagine that.

The next thing you know, they'll be telling us that eating hot dogs increases the risk of leukemia. Ooops.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Food, Allergies, Gastrointestinal Distress, Migraines: Hello, Family

Justine Raphael bases her family's eating plan on the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) Diet created by a British pediatrician and the similar Specific Carbohydate Diet developed by a Canadian biochemist. Both ban processed foods, all starches, some dairy products and an assortment of other foods, including soy and okra. Both claim to relieve everything from Irritable Bowel Syndrome to autism.

Such diets may seem "really extreme, but it's all relative to the degree of suffering," says Dr. Patricia Restrepo, a physician and clinical dietitian in Miami. "If I'm really suffering with something, I'm willing to go to an extreme to make a difference, to see results, to heal the whole intestinal tract."

Many of Restrepo's patients have endured years of gastrointestinal misery, allergies and migraines. While she doesn't prescribe the GAPS Diet per se, she says winnowing patients off wheat and processed foods "is the only thing that has given us great results'' in many cases.

Raphael reports "some amazing changes'' in her family's health. Seventeen-year-old Eli, whose colitis was so severe she required blood transfusions, "has grown and gained weight. She looked anorexic before." As for Mom, "I don't get colds anymore; the digestive symptoms are gone. . . . My immune system is obviously happy. My husband noticed the same thing -- the digestive symptoms he thought were normal are gone."

None of which is to say that you need to sign onto Raphael's diet in order to embrace her kitchen savvy. Nor do you need pricey kitchen gear, just "a couple of good knives, a cutting board and some pots."

From a good article on food in today's Miami Herald.

Ersatz Apology in SEC Land

The new Tennessee football coach, Lane Kiffin, wrongfully accuses Florida's Urban Meyer of recruiting violations, is reprimanded by the SEC for it, and then makes a pusillanimous, if not outright fraudulent "apology." What have the Vols done to themselves in hiring such a person?

Monday, February 02, 2009

No Bail-out for the Prudent Investor

This morning I saw my friend, the bank manager, on the People Mover. He is my window to the front-lines of the credit crisis. As you may know, the banks with their government subsidies are simply writing off many, many loans. They are "forgiving" the debts of the people who borrowed money from them to invest in the real estate bubble. An interesting aspect of such debt forgiveness is that the borrower realizes taxable income on the debt forgiveness. Thus, my banker friend these days is taking calls from borrowers who cannot comprehend why the government should tax them on the forgiven debt.

These borrowers are the people who "flipped" real estate purchases, using borrowed money for their initial purchase and then being bought out by the subsequent speculator who himself borrowed money from a bank to purchase the subject property. At those flip sales, then, the seller walked away with cash, because his buyer was mostly if not completely financed by the next bank. The flip cycle for a given property typically would happen several times, and each time the seller would walk away with the cash provided by the bank in respect to debt that is now being forgiven as a result of government bank bail-outs. If this sounds like a sort of Ponzi scheme, then you are listening well. Except here no one gets indicted. The government picks up the tab.

But at least our speculators must pay taxes on the profit that they have made from their flip sales. I hope the tax enforcement is vigorous.

The banker contrasted all this with the story of a friend of his who bought a lot near Baptist Hospital with his own money. Then, with his own money again, he built a $600,000 house on the lot. The house did not sell and sits there shuttered. There is no government bail-out for him, the banker observed.

The banker also observed that there is no bail-out for the banker himself in respect of his retirement investments in the stock market. He will defer his retirement for several years, he said, because he believes that it will take at least 10 years for his stocks to get back where they were. None of his stock purchases were on borrowed money. (Prudently, he wasn't all invested in stocks.) No bail-out for him either.