Saturday, January 30, 2010

Magic Mushrooms in Miami

Read this wonderful article in Thursday's Miami Herald about Benjamin Masopeh, a farmer from Ghana, who came to Homestead to show a farmer there how to grow oyster mushrooms. (There's just no place on earth like Miami-Dade County.)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Kiffin Update

There is a proposal to name a sewage treatment plant in Tennessee after him.

It seemed right to me at first. But after a very short moment of reflection, I think it's an entirely bad idea. Such plants are exceedingly necessary and useful. Good people design and run them. And such enterprises turn waste into something helpful. Obviously, it would be an inappropriate gesture.

Mort Zuckerman on President Obama

Mortimor B. Zuckerman is the Editor-in-Chief of U.S. News and World Report and a regular panelist on the McLaughlin Group, which Carol and I have watched for years on public television. He usually sits to the right of McLaughlin, the viewer's left, and it is on that side thatpundits who are politically "left of center" sit. On the left of McLaughlin, the viewer's right, is where the pundits sit who are "right of center." McLaughlin, of course, sits in the center, and I believe he thinks of himself as politically in the center.

After listening to Zuckerman's comments over the years, I would say that he is left of center, but not very much. Of course, that's a subjective viewpoint, as all of this left-of-center, right-of-center, labeling is. That labeling is quickly less than helpful and even damaging to political discussion. In any event, Zuckerman very much liked Obama during the campaign and has said very hopeful things about him over the last 12 months.

But now he writes an article in U.S.News entitled "The Incredible Deflation of Barack Obama." It is well worth reading. He doesn't bash Obama. He expresses his deep disappointment and he describes reasonably and accurately the mistakes that the President has made and the political consequences of them. He also expresses the hope the the President will somehow get back on the right course.

Frankly, I don't see Obama being able to turn his administration around. I do not believe he has the experience, the political know-how, to do so. His character also seems to lack the sort of humility that it would take for him to start anew and act differently. Finally, I believe he has a sort of religious faith that government has the answers, all the answers, if only government were large and powerful enough and had bright people like him to run it. I hope I'm wrong about his ability to get on the right course. I fear, though, that he will simply "double-down" on his bet that he can shove his agenda through by doing whatever it takes.

But if he looses very bright, opened minded, articulate, centrist, and well-connected people like Mort Zuckerman, the President will surely, surely fail.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Returning to the SLR Mode



I got a good price on a factory refurbished Nikon D40 from Adoroma by way of Ken Rockwell's great camera website. Here's what Rockwell says about the D40.

My D40 is too much fun. I own all sorts of serious cameras like the Canon 5D, Nikon D200, D80 and D70, but my D40, with its weightless 18-55mm lens and SB-400 flash, is what I grab most of the time as of May 2007 when I just want to make good photos easily. It works great with my other lenses like my Nikon 18-200mm VR.

The camera is no longer being made by Nikon and its factory refurbished ones are disappearing too.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Happy Public Art at Jacksonville Airport






Last weekend we traveled through the new (to us) Jacksonville International Airport and, but for the ubiquitous TV monitors blaring CNN which are very seriously annoying, it is a most pleasant place. (Ubiquitous TV monitors blaring anything would be seriously annoying.) People with good taste worked very hard on the design of the interior of the airport and execution.

Of all places to be presented with some happy public art were the entries to the rest rooms. The first photo presents the entry foyer to the men's room. Note the border around the entrance, both the sides and the top, and then the design on the wall at the rear of the foyer. (I'm sure that there are words for these several parts of the foyer, but I don't know what they are. I don't even know whether "foyer" is the right word to describe the entrance.)

The second photo shows a close up of the vertical boarder of the entrance. As you can begin to see, the boarders are really glass cases with objects in them. The objects in the cases that make up the entry boarders are little globes. The side cases have multi-colored globes and the case that runs across the top of the entrance have bands of multi-colored and blue-hued globes.

The back wall of the foyer turns out to be a glass case too. In it are diagonal rows upon rows of little paper airplanes. What a delight!

The last photo is of the concourse, looking toward the end of it where there is a huge arching window with a giant figure that appears to be walking by it outside. It took me aback when I first saw it. It looked so realistic. Was it a sculpture erected just outside the window? On closer inspection, it proved to be a sort of decal or painting, I don't know which. But it was great fun too.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Blind Man on Second Avenue

I was walking up SE 2nd Avenue from SE 1st Street toward Flagler about noon today. On the sidewalk coming toward me was a youngish man with a white cane, a blind man, and he was talking on a cell phone as he walked. I thought that strange. I thought hearing was very important for blind people, and here he was walking along the city sidewalk next to a busy street, on his cell phone.

Is it a sort of bigotry that makes me think that this is more bizarre than people driving their cars in traffic while on the cell phone? It's risky behavior for both. The driver thinks he is seeing everything because his eyes are open, even as his attention is focused on what the phone. The blind man thinks he is hearing everything, while he listens to his cell, and feeling whatever he feels with his cane, even though his attention is on his phone.

On second thought, it's not quite the same thing. The driver relies on his sight, and he is doing nothing to impair his sight with his cell phone use (if he is not dialing or texting, of course). The problem is that his attention is distracted. But as sight is to the sighted, isn't hearing to the blind? By listening on the phone, isn't the blind man especially impaired? I don't think I was being bigoted when the blind man's behavior seemed particularly bizarre to me today.

Carol Said This Made Her Think of Me. Now was that nice?

The Solution for Excess Being More Excess

Recently, politicians have been saying that more lending is necessary for the economy to recover quickly. While with bank CEOs in December, President Obama urged them to "take a third and fourth look" at their lending practices and announced that the administration's focus over the next several months will be "geared towards catalyzing and spurring additional lending, particularly to small businesses."

These political inducements to increase lending may do more harm that good. In a market economy, banks do not need any convincing to lend to sound businesses with profitable projects. The profit motive is usually sufficient. What politicians typically want is for banks to lend for projects that are not necessarily sound or profitable. Urging the banks to lend more than they would choose pushes them towards the risky practices of the past. More lending is unlikely to be a solution to the crisis brought about by excessive debt levels. Excesses are not overcome by still more excesses.


-Polina Vlasenko, Research Fellow, AIER, in "More Lending Isn't the Answer," Research Reports, January 11, 2010.

But if the banks won't do the lending, the federal government will.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Don at Our Wedding


My Uncle Don was a groomsman at my wedding in 1970. In the first photo, he is the groomsman at the far right. (To his right is my cousin Kenneth. Then my father, who was best man, and then me. The minister was my friend and roommate my senior year at Duke, Doug Tanner, who went on to Duke Divinity School after we graduated. The other groomsmen are, continuing to the left, Ashley James, Al Kirshen, a friend of mine from law school, and Tommy Watts, who grew up with me in Miami Springs. The bridesmaids from right to left are Margaret Drury, a friend of Carol's from Greensboro, Janice Horner, Carol's roommate at Duke, Debbie Williams, Carol's suite mate at Duke, Carol's sister, Mary Ann James, who was matron of honor, Gail Millians, who lived across the street from Carol in Greensboro, and my sister, Julia. The ring bearer is Jeff James, Mary Ann's son.)


The next photo shows Don second from the right, between Al and Ken.

The final photo doesn't have Don in it, but it's one of my two favorites from the wedding, so I thought I would post it.

The first wedding in my memory was that of Don and Ann in 1952 at the First Baptist Church of East Point, Georgia, the middle class suburb of Atlanta where my grandfather had his funeral home and, right next door to the funeral home, his own home. It was a grand wedding, and I remember the excitement and joy even today. I was six years old then. There is a photo among the pictures in Ann and Don's wedding album which has me in it, looking up at Ann in her beautiful wedding dress. I had about the same expression on my face as the one in the third photo. Both Ann and Carol were stunning brides, and both Don and I very blessed young men.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Uncle Don Passed Away

Friday morning we got word that Uncle Don died. He had been in the hospital in Macon for several weeks, after having fallen and sustaining serious head injuries. He died on Thursday. The funeral was to be in Eastman on Saturday (yesterday) and a memorial service is to be held to day at Wofford College in Spartanburg. He was Professor Emeritus at Wofford, where he had taught biology for 40 years before retiring, having started his career there at age 22, while working on his PhD at Emory. (The link has a good photo of Don.)

We knew that he was desperately ill, and as soon as we got word, Carol made arrangements for us to fly to Jacksonville Friday evening, stay in a hotel near the airport, and then get a car for us to drive to Eastman the next morning. We arrived at Ann and Don's church Saturday morning a little after 11AM, in time for the visitation that had just begun and the service at Noon. After the service, we drove in the caravan to the cemetery outside of town, and then came back to the church for lunch, where folks there had laid out a marvelous meal.

Ann and Don's children and grandchildren were there, of course. Their children are Donna, Mark, and Philip. Donna has four children, all daughters. Mark has three children, a son and two daughters. Philip has two children, a son and a daughter. But there were a lot of other people there, a lot of kinfolk, some of whom we had not seen in many years, some since my mother's burial in Atlanta three years ago this April, and still others since Ann and Don's 50th wedding anniversary celebration at that same church in 2002 or 2003. My cousin Butch Hemperley and his wife were there from Atlanta. My Uncle Asa and his wife from Hutchinson Island, Florida, were there, and many others. Among the most interesting among them all were the younger people, mainly the grandchildren, and I regret that I did not have the opportunity to visit with each one of them. Our short time there was quite structured - it was only about 5 hours - for we started back to Jacksonville about 4PM, arriving at our hotel after 8PM.

I want to post more about Uncle Don and Aunt Ann later. They meant so much to me, as a model of a loving couple, fine parents, as community and professional leaders, very, very hard workers and people who helped and supported me directly, especially when I was at Duke and they showed such hospitality to a lonely boy. I was there at the beginning of their marriage, at their wedding in East Point in 1952, and now I am there at the end of their marriage in Eastman. I find myself profoundly saddened, but very thankful for them both.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Government Workers


Each work day morning I usually commute to downtown on MetroRail. Along the way, there is a stop at the Tri-Rail station, where commuters from Broward County board our train. Tri-Rail is a heavily subsidized, public commuter train company that rents track time for its cars from CSX. Tri-Rail's route runs parallel to I-95, beginning in north Palm Beach County and running south to its termination at a station near MIA airport. Its train stops at the MetroRail transfer point where its commuters join my ride.

A very substantial number of the people who get on board at the Tri-Rail station are government workers and the government they mostly work for is our county government, known as Metro-Dade. These people live in Broward County, home of late 20th century "white-flight," as to which sort of people I always thought "Good riddance." But here they are back, populating our local bureaucracy, living off our taxes, getting guaranteed pensions, health care, working their tough 9 to 5 jobs, and enjoying all the legal holidays and generous vacation benefits. Plus they are as noisy as they can be when they get on board. (Don't they have books to read? Or a newspaper?)

These government workers exit at two stations downtown and they walk all of about 100 feet to government buildings built immediately adjacent to the MetroRail stations. Do you think that county government had a hand in designing MetroRail? None of those buildings, built as they are on prime downtown property (or what could have been prime downtown property), pay any taxes, of course. They are built to absorb taxes, which they do well.

MetroRail, of course, is also a heavily subsidized, public transportation entity, except it runs on its own tracks, the construction of which was mostly financed with federal taxes back in the 20th Century. (President Reagan ridiculed the expenditures on MetroRail, famously saying that the government could have bought every one in Miami-Dade a Cadillac and saved money, instead of subsidizing the construction of MetroRail.)

Several years ago the people of Miami-Dade County in a referendum passed a one-half cent additional sales tax. We were promised that the funds would help with needed capital improvements and address deferred maintenance for MetroRail. The Miami Herald could not stop writing about what a wonderful thing such a tax would be. All the politicians supported it. It passed. But the funds were not used for capital improvements for MetroRail. Instead, they were used to raise salaries of the government workers who are employed by MetroRail. Even the Herald had to admit that Metro-Dade broke its promises and we were had.

All of this rant is preamble to the chart I am posting. It's a great chart, because it shows how bad the situation has become. For another unhappy chart, go to Instapundit. (I do recognize that the chart I posted does not purport to show all private-sector workers vs. government workers. It shows all "goods-producing" workers. There are, of course, workers in the private service sector. Lawyers, for example. [Pause for derisive laughter.] If service workers were added to the chart, then we would not see the lines cross so soon.)

Of course, we need some government workers, and many of them are conscientious and competent people. (Some of my best friends are . . . etc.) But they will be hurt along with the rest of us when our society collapses because of radical government expansion.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Friday, January 01, 2010

"I See You"

This is the greeting of the Na'vi, the people of Pandora in the movie Avatar. Carol, Mary, and I saw the 3D version last night, and it is a spectacular event.

"I see you." Oh, to be seen! Oh, to be seen, and not hide ourselves from each other, from God, and from our own self-consciousness.

But that is the question, isn't it? Who do we think we are? How do others perceive us? The Na'vi greeting suggests that these people "get it." They see each other and themselves as they are, and accept each other in their special sort of nakedness. In addition, they see the "natural" world as it mainly is, in its connectedness, in their connection to it (or among it, as part of its "network"), and in the "deity" that is at its center, a God who not only generates the life force (a familiar sci-fi conceit) but who also generates personal works of redemption, works that give people from our world new bodies, that makes them new creatures.

The central metaphor for our not being sure who we are is the ability of the protagonists to move from one body (the human) to a new body, their "avatar," a body that is strangely beautiful and close to perfect. At first, I thought John Cameron was simply reciting a Hollywood pantheism, but then I began to see his film as an attempt to describe a sort of universal theology, something that is close to the truth, a story that would describe what amounts to God's common grace, his involvement with the here and now, his transformative power. There is even a suggestion that people, human or Na'vi, may somehow participate in Gods' great work of calling us back to Eden. Pandora is where we come very close to "the Deity." where he sees us, and where we see each other. Is it over the top to suggest John Cameron as God's post-modern prophet? Probably. But see the movie.

Making it Through Another New Year's Eve, Alive and Unwounded

But not everyone in Miami was so fortunate. Alas, the stupid, celebratory gunfire is nothing new, as I reported last year and the year before.