Saturday, May 31, 2008

Are Apologies and Reparations in Order? Call Trinity United

Richard Fletcher, the British Historian, writes as follows in The Quest for El Cid about the prosperous Moorish culture centered in Cordova during the late 10th Century:

"Slaves were imported into Spain and a high proportion of them were re-exported. Here is Ibn Hawkal [the Arab traveler who in 948 published "Description of the World", which included an account of Spain based on his travels there] again:

"An important export commodity is slaves, young men and women, who are brought in from Francia and Galacia; also Slav eunuchs. All the Slave eunuchs in the world come from Spain. They are castrated in this country; the operation is performed by Jewish doctors."

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Aunt Mary Ann Zips!

Conventions are helpful

Dear Designer of Nautica's Men's Underwear,

I sympathize with you, sir/madame. Designing men's underwear is well below your station. You were trained at the finest textile design schools, probably did a tour in Paris and Milan, and now, of all the indignities, you're designing men's underwear, a far cry from the haute coture of those runways.

I'm sure you thought that you were adding some needed "flair" when you did it. Or maybe you were fighting against the machine when you made this choice. Heck, when I first opened the package, I thought it was a really cool, convention breaking thing you were doing. So radical a choice, I'm surprised you were able to get it to go all the way through production. And, at first, owning a couple of these that you designed made me feel a bit more "in", as if I was part of your bold take-that-mens-underwear-design-industry gesture.

But, look, I'm a workaday kind of guy, often getting up earlier than I wish to attend to my kiddos' needs. I get dressed in the semi-dark, before I even have my first sniff of the aroma of coffee. In my semi-lucid state, I need a few cues to make sure that everything turns out just right when I dress.

I realize, now, that the wisdom of the ages is just that: wisdom. "But that's what everyone does!" you cry. Yes, but they do it because it's the best thing to do.

Next design round, please: go back to putting the label on the back of the underwear. Not the front. Labels go in the back. Thanks. I have enough things to think about during the day and prefer to not have this thought interrupt them: "Wait. Did I put my underwear on backwards again today? Arrrrrgh!"

A Questionable Gut

I've mentioned this before, but it's worth repeating. When Reagan was first running for President, I asked Senator Smathers, who had been out of Congress for about 8 years by then, whether he knew Reagan and what he thought of him. He said he did know Reagan, and that Reagan had "a good gut." That comment took me aback just a little bit. It was somewhat toward crude, and that was not the way Senator Smathers spoke at all. He was a very articulate and intelligent man. But that's where he went in trying to describe what he thought of Reagan.

There is a lively discussion on Sean's blog about Obama, and I have waded into those rough waters. My thesis is that Obama is too green to be President. As Senator Smathers might say, he lacks a "good gut."

This is a signal weakness, or Karl Rove would not be boring in there. That is Rove's thesis in a Thursday essay in the WSJ, entitled "Obama's Troubling Instincts."

But "Consider the source!," my friends, the Obama fans would cry. I would suggest that they consider the argument, because Rove is too astute to pitch a weakness that is baseless.

Mary at an IDP Camp

Mary has a post on her visit yesterday to an "Internally Displaced People" camp near Naivasha.


It has taken us more than a year to recover from the renovation, and we have yet to finish what remained for us to do. But we got a good start yesterday on several projects, as Carol worked on the windows and I worked in the backyard spreading what South Floridans call "lawn sand."

Friday, May 23, 2008

We Love Our Daddy!!!

I love the color black!

So, I love the color black. Dare i say it may be one of my favorite colors. When I think of what color I want a shirt to be, what do I think? black. When I think of what color I want a car to be, what color do I think? black. And, if I think of what color I want a diaper to be....? You got it.

Too bad Fuzzi Bunz no longer makes these in black. Honor only gets to sport this particular diaper since she has grown into her brother's old ones. SO PRECIOUS!!!! a baby in a black does it get any cuter than this?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Jethro's Management Advice to Moses

Jethro's management advice to Moses has been rattling around in my head for weeks, as I struggle to deal with all of the work on my plate. As you may recall, Jethro was Moses' father-in-law, someone who gave Moses his first real job, sheep-herding, and later his favorite daughter, Zipporah. In Chapter 18 of the Book of Exodus, we learn that Jethro visited Moses and Zipporah after Moses had led the Hebrews out of Egypt and into the Wilderness.

A day or so after Jethro arrived for the visit, he went to work with Moses. Jethro was simply appalled. Moses was working from "morning to evening" acting as judge in all the disputes that these contentious and disputatious people (my adjectives) brought before him.

"What you are doing is not good," Jethro said, "You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone."

Jethro had some advice for Moses:

1. Focus on your core calling and understand how God relates to it.
"Be the people's representative before God and bring their disputes before God." Moses was a splendid interface between the people and God. That should be enough for any one. But Moses was invested in the result of his decision making. Part of the strain of making decisions is worry that you will make the wrong decision. As a result, decisions are deferred and the problems get worse. Jethro advised Moses to put that part of the decision-making process on the Lord. You are not God, Moses, God is God. Do the best you can; keep within the boundaries of truth, humility, and righteousness as you make your decisions, and leave the rest to Him. Remember, Moses, you are you and God is God, regardless of the lofty position you may have achieved with these people out here in the Wilderness. Don't be confused on this score.

2. Educate your constituency so that they can deal with problems among themselves and not have to come to you with every issue that may arise. Jethro advised Moses to teach the people "the decrees and laws and show the way to live and the duties they are to perform". The implication is that if the people were schooled in how to behave, then many of their problems would not arise or would be worked out at an individual level.

3. Delegate Reasonably. Jethro advised, "Select capable men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain" and have them handle unresolved disputes. In this judiciary, Jethro suggests several levels: "officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens." Moses is only to get only the most difficult cases, as the disputes go up the levels of appeal, and those really difficult ones, of course, he should take up with God.

Jethro states: "If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied." Jethro states that the advice is not simply his idea of how Moses might best manage his work. Jethro states that "God so commands." Jethro is advising prophetically, then. He is, in a manner of speaking, laying down God's law for the situation. And how so? What do we know about Jethro? As Chapter 18 begins, we are reminded that Jethro is a priest of Midian. He is a God fearing man, a leader himself, and the person whom God put in Moses' path when Moses fled Egypt as a young man. Managing competently, then, is not an option for those who fear God. It is not a technique developed by free-market gurus. God states to Moses and I believe to any manager who seeks to follow Him, that we are to manage manage competently and, if I may extend the application even further, along the general lines that Jethro sketches for Moses.

UPDATE: I discussed this passage with my Friday breakfast group this morning. They helped me see that I did not quite get the point of Jethro's use of "God so commands", and straightened me out. So I rewrote the immediately preceding paragraph.

There is another point we developed during our discussion this morning. One might object that Jethro's advice is not generally applicable because it was given to Moses, a person who had very special, even exceptional access to God, perhaps as no other figure in the Old Testament, excepting only Adam. How, then, could it possibly have application to us?

The answer leaped right to the lips of everyone: We have the same, in fact even better access than that Moses enjoyed, access more appropriately comparable to that of Adam before the Fall. How so, but through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

News from Steve

From Steve Peifer's latest general email:

On Friday I went to Nyakairu Primary School, which is another poor school we have been able to add because of your kindness. It was another school that I hadn't been to in years, and not since we have been able to bring food. The kids were so grateful, and they told me to send `Our happiness to them.'

In the midst of all the yelling and shouting, a little boy came up to me and said `Our lunch is the only food I eat.' Often times, that is a prelude to a request for money.

He just told me and walked away.

There was a lot more to that email, but this hit me.

If you want to get directly on Steve's email list, send him an email and ask:

And if you want to be one of "them", go here and contribute.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Woman on a Mission

Yesterday the Herald had a great article on Marilyn Brummitt, the coordinator of volunteers (and much, much more) at the Miami Rescue Mission. Her husband, Ron, is the executive director of the mission, and our congregation at FPC Miami Springs has had the pleasure of both of them visiting us many times. Volunteers from our church, led by the pastor's wife, Juliet, have helped there. Russ Weigel, who is part of our Friday breakfast group and a lawyer, does a one-lawyer legal aid ministry to homeless people there from time to time.

But the article astutely has Marilyn at its focal point, and gives some great insight into her ministry. She's one of those Christians that one is simply proud to know.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


So I'll go to my third crossfit workout tomorrow at crossfit central - the Austin branch.

I'm going M-W-F from 12:15 - 1 pm. In short, crossfit treats kettlebells like part of a complete breakfast, rather than the full meal.

Endorsed by the most bionic friend I have, Kurt, an Army Captain, and confirmed by Morgan's cousin Paul who just graduated from the Air Force Academy and is on his way to flight school, I figured it had the goods, and it does. It's like a feast, the kind that leaves you out of breath and heaving 15-20 minutes later. is the mothership, and they post fun videos of workouts like this one.

I Love This County. God Loves Miami-Dade too.

This afternoon I attended the installation of the new "Certified Lay Pastor" at the Iglesia Presbiteriana Vida Nueva on Coral Way, about three blocks east of the Palmetto. A CLP is a layman who, under certain exceptional provisions of the Book of Church Order (the constitution of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.) may assume the office of pastor of a given church. The CLP at Vida Nueva is Heidi Arencibia, who arrived in Miami a refugee from Cuba within the last ten years, bringing her children with her but having to leave her husband behind, and making her way here in Miami successfully, as so many of these refugees have done. About three years after she arrived, her husband was able to leave Cuba and rejoin his family.

(It did not hurt that her country of refuge was the United States, but far from diminishing her courage and Christian fortitude, her success and the success of her countrymen indicates to me at least that we need to reform our immigration laws so that they are as helpful to all outsiders as those laws have been and continue to be to the Cuban people.)

My attendance was "official", as I am a member of the Committee on Ministry of the Presbytery of Tropical Florida, a very powerful committee that watches over the pastors of the churches within the presbytery and pastoral relationships with individual congregations. I've been a member for nearly two years, and I have learned a great deal about our presbytery, its presbytery level officials (or "bureaucrats" to be less generous, which I don't really mean to be), ministers and congregations, and about how Presbyterians (or at least these Presbyterians) connect. It has been an eye-opening and enriching experience. Where I thought that becoming a member of this committee would mean something like gearing for battle against apostate clergy, I've learned how decent the people with whom I work have turned out to be, whether "liberal" or "conservative."

One of the things that the committee does is vet pastors who have been "called" from outside the presbytery to minister to a church within it. In other words, we review the resumes of these men and women and have the opportunity to ask them questions on the matter of their theology and approach to ministry. We can vote not to admit them to our presbytery, which is the same thing as a state bar refusing to admit a lawyer from outside the state to practice. We have probably gone through at least six of these examinations since I began my tenure. Most of the pastors whom churches had called were fine, as far as my fairly conservative views are concerned, but I must say that I have been at times dismayed by the vague and incomplete statements of faith that I have heard and read. I imagine that a COM in a PCA presbytery would have dealt much more firmly with some of the fuzzy theology. On the other hand, I think that anyone going before a PCA COM would know what that COM is looking for and write to it skillfully. In the PCUSA, a pastor seeking "admission" to a given presbytery may not know who is going to be examining him, and I think that accounts for the vagueness and fuzziness that I sometimes see.

I expected that I would have the most trouble with how pastors appearing for examination would deal with the authority of scripture or, perhaps, the matter of homosexual behaviors. But that has not been the case. The weakest areas have been on the issue of why Jesus came, not exactly a fringe issue. I have become the COM's questioner on the matter of the Atonement. The other day, we examined a young man, a very attractive young man who had spent several years in the banking industry in Dallas before going to seminary, who had a very fuzzy statement of faith. He was articulate and long-winded, in a way that probably reflected a strategy of filling up the time with his words so that our questions would be few. Finally, I asked him, "Do you hold to the orthodox view of the Atonement?" He started to begin another ramble, and I interrupted him and said, "Say yes", and he stopped and said "Yes". I was smiling at the time and people laughed. But I doubt that you would see that exchange in the PCA.

At the same time, I feel very comfortable being on the COM and happy to be there. I will go further and say that I am blessed and that I see God at work there and in our presbytery. Maybe that is evidence that I have been tainted by my association with people who dare to venture beyond the limits of the Westminster Confession, but there I am.

And so I get back to the installation this afternoon. Below is a photo that I took. The service was mostly in Spanish, and I got the gist of it fine. Furthermore, I felt the Spirit moving in that place in a way that I don't often sense. And the newly installed CLP, who received an MDiv equivalent from a Methodist/Presbyterian seminary in Cuba before she emigrated to the US, made a very short talk at the end of the service, in Spanish, that had fire in it. I want to go back and hear this woman preach, even if I have to take my Spanish-English dictionary!

What is interesting about this installation is that her being called did not exactly fit the Book of Church Order. It was not really made for the sorts of situations you see in Miami-Dade. It took the coordination of the COM with another powerful Presbytery committee, that which deals with candidates for ministry. It happened that I was the "liaison" with Vida Nueva church and had been working with them on the project of getting Mrs. Arencibia in a position to be "admitted", but we also had to get the permission of the other committee, the Preparation for Ministry committee. The chair of that committee was Van Lahmeyer, my pastor! So we made it work, despite the objections of a at least one of the pastor-members of COM, who, while he may not be a particular literalist with Scripture, took a pretty wooden view of the Book of Church Order.

I saw God work through this entire process and this afternoon was such a wonderful culmination of His sovereign will and grace.

(THE PHOTO: Heidi Arencibia is on the front row, in the dress. Next to her is the Rev. Dr. Arlene Gordon, the Presbytery Executive. To Heidi's left is the Rev. Mr. Martin Anorga, who gave a good "Proclamacion de la Palabra," the sermon. At the first row at the extreme left is the Rev. Dr. Peter Wendell, the Clerk of Presbytery. To Peter's left is the Rev. Mr. Edwin Gonzalez-Gertz, who is the minister of a bi-lingual church in Broward County and who also serves on the COM. Next to him is the Rev. Mr. Leon Lovell-Martin, the pastor of a church in Miami-Dade, the moderator of the COM, a very articulate and effective leader whom I have really come to admire and like. The other two people are elders at Vida Nueva, one of whom is Manny Perez, the Clerk of Session with whom I worked a good deal on this project.)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Greatbreakfast at Grunberg's

Friday morning breakfast with the guys.

Car Dollars and Sense

A few years ago when the Prius first came out, I had a discussion with Macon about whether it would be worth paying the extra money for such a car in view of the gas savings one would achieve with the Prius. (We didn't know it then, but gas was cheap!) We concluded it would take a lot of driving the new car in order to make up for the cost of acquiring the Prius when we compared the cost to either keeping the old one or buying a more conventional new car.

With Mary coming home this summer (Yea!!), we may be looking at buying a "new" car (by "new" we mean "new to us"). I have been driving her Nissan Pathfinder, which I love and which has about 84,000 miles on it. So we need a third car among Carol, Mary and me. One question is whether she takes that one back and I get the "new" car or I keep the Pathfinder and she gets the "new" one. But we know we need a third car. So we are coming around again to the question of whether we should pay extra for a car with really good mileage or pay less for a car that is not as thrifty at the gas pump.

Something like this question is addressed at a blog called Frugaldad here. In that post, the question is whether one should buy a truly new car with very good gas mileage or keep the old car that is paid off, working well enough, but is costlier at the gas pump. Frugaldad crunches the numbers, sort of, and concludes that it will be a long time before the gas savings compensates for the extra cost of the new car.

In this calculus, I would also like to introduce the safety element. If the price of gas economy is getting a smaller car, one assumes a certain degree of extra risk . Thus, such risk increases the economic cost of acquiring such a car; the true cost is more than the out of pocket dollars one pays for the car. One could get a larger car that is a "hybrid", but just last week the WSJ auto guy said that such autos sold by GM and Ford were "overpriced", although he gave no details on how he arrived at that conclusion. (Maybe if you discount the price by the risk that one avoids with a larger car, the GM and Ford SUVS to which he refers are not so overpriced.)

This is all very complicated, isn't it? But I think the question is worth some time spent with a spread sheet. But I'm not so interested in an analysis that assumes a car one already owns. For our situation, I would like to compare the cost of a low mileage, safely sized semi-gas guzzler from CarMax with an equally safe but fuel efficient new car, say the Camry hybrid. How many miles will you have to drive the Camry to compensate for its extra cost over the CarMax car? That shouldn't be too hard to figure.

But even with that analysis, there are additional variables that could affect the ultimate cost outcome:

1. If one buys the CarMax, would he be more careful of the miles he puts on it, as compared to the situation if the Camry were purchased? By that I mean, would a Camry owner be less careful about his use of the car and, therefore, put more miles per year on it than would the CarMax driver?

2. Gas prices might go down (probably not, though).

3. Innovation could continue, so that if one had bought the CarMax, several years later he could buy an even more efficient car than the Camry and leapfrog the Camry owner in terms of overall savings. (This reminds me of the question of when one should buy a new computer.)

Any ideas out there? Anyone have a good, safe used car for sale?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A balanced life...

We recently visited Freddie's again with some friends. Honor and her little friend, Paisley, had great fun in the gravel with the big truck. At this point, I had begun to think that perhaps my little girl was showing some trends towards tomboy-ness. I had wondered if she was going to be a complete and total girly-girl because of her preoccupation with scarves. Evidence at Freddie's seemed to be pointing towards a less feminine trend.
Then, the other day, we visited with another neighbor who has a little girl. Her house is full of accessories: Princess hats, boas, flowers, tutus, purses, feathery high-heels for babies, etc! Honor had a blast! she had on at least one of everything, including a kitchen apron. I couldn't get her to sit still so the pics are more than a bit blurry, but it appears that her girly-girly side has definitely not disappeared despite apparent tomboy behavior tendencies. So, it appears that perhaps she is simply headed for a more balanced life. I was a tomboy and wasn't quite comfortable with my feminine side until after college. If these pictures are any clue, I think that my baby girl is going to be way ahead of me on embracing all of herself from a much earlier point in her life.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"The Challenge from China"

This should change some minds on Obama. I am not saying that it will, but I am suggesting that it should.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Where's the Juno, Hombre?

Picture of the Rocket Garden at the Space Center, and the subject of a 26 year old inside-joke at the Stokes house.

Noah's Ark in Schagen, the Netherlands

Don't completely write-off the Dutch. Look here and then here.

More Bang! Bang!

This is another excellent video. It addresses how to hold the semi-automatic pistol, and answers the question of what part of the finger to use to pull the trigger, and why.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Tethered Internet

Here's a worrisome observation about the technology that iPhone, the argument goes, typifies.

But that can't be right, can it? We do have this, which is, I think, "unthethered." (Thanks for the reference, Instapundit)

Then there's Despair and Amplifier. Those Sewell and Stokes boys aren't exactly tethered or tetherable, if the latter is a word.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Steve Needs a Little Help

From his latest Email:

The tribal clashes, horrific inflation and the falling dollar have led to the perfect storm: it used to cost us $1.50 to feed a child for a month. Due to the tribal clashes, there are many displaced people who have nowhere to go and have no monies at all. It has led to three thousand additional students at the 34 schools we provide food for. Last term we fed about 15,000 children a day. This term it is right at 18,000, with no additional schools added.

The official government statistic for inflation is 20%. But we are seeing a much bigger rate in almost everything we try to buy. This term, it will cost us $6 plus to provide food for one child for a month. That is close to FOUR times what it was last term.

The dollar has declined against the shilling in the past few years. At one point, we got 80 shillings for every dollar. At this point, we are fortunate to get 60 shillings for every dollar. It has gone from 80 to 60 in a fairly short time.
So, we have more kids, more expensive food and our dollar buys much less. I have had a dozen schools request food in the past two weeks; headmasters are afraid of what is coming.

It could be a time to panic, but I seem to recall a story about a bunch of guys in a boat when a big storm came by. Lots of them were very scared, but one of them was calm and took care of everything.

In the time of a perfect storm, it is such a joy to know the guy in the boat.

How to give.

Bang! Bang!

This is kinda cool.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Catching up with Web2. build v4y987c

I'm messing around with Facebook badges & Twitter badges. I dropped in Walt's twitter account, too.

Paul? Carol? Mary? Other posters? I'd be happy to drop your facebook badge in there. Just follow these instructions and send me the link. I'll drop it in our 'umble blog here.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Pay Gap Among Medical Specialties

With Mary thinking about medical school, I've been paying more attention to articles on medical economics and related issues. The WSJ had another front page article on the subject today. Among other things, the point is made that physicians whose specialities call for running patients through high-tech tests make a lot more money than physicians whose specialty requires them to spend time talking to the patient in order to pick up clues as to what is wrong with them.

This reminds me of a recent experience involving a young college student in our church. She came back from a mission trip to Haiti last Christmas with stomach problems. Everyone at church immediately thought she picked up something from the food or water there. But her university is in Orlando and so she went to physicians there, mainly GI doctors who put who through a number of tests, including an endoscopy. The main GI doctor, who was supposed to be a premier physician, dismissed any relationship to the Haiti trip. Finally, she came back down and saw an infectious disease physician at the UM med school who specializes in tropic diseases. He asked her a few questions and hardly examined her otherwise. He immediately identified the bacterium and prescribed the medicine. She's now fine - more than three months later and at a huge cost in money and time. My guess is that the GI physicians in Orlando make a good deal more than our infectious disease physician in Miami.

So what do we do about that? How about asking our government to deal with that problem? Now there's an idea. (Actually, the government already has a great deal to do with the problem.)

Saturday, May 03, 2008

More on the Lawyers of Atocha

Austin, who spent a year in Spain when he was in college and later taught Spanish in high school before going to law school, read the post on Los Abogados de Atocha and did some research on his own.

He told me that a print of the Genoves painting was hanging in the Atocha law office when the assassins burst-in. The blood of the lawyers spattered on the print. The painting was already famous in labor circles, but then it became a sort of icon and the basis for Genoves sculpture.

I got the book.

"Dietary cholesterol . . . has an insignificant effect on blood cholesterol. It might elevate cholesterol levels in a small percentage of highly sensitive individuals in a small percentage of highly sensitive individuals, but for most of us, it's clinically meaningless." Taubes, Good Calories. Bad Calories at p. 19.

He also makes the point that the increase in heart disease during the twentieth century occurred because other, infectious diseases were being dealt with successfully, allowing people to live long enough to die of a heart attack. While it is true that the increase in heart disease occurred at the same time that it appeared that Americans changed their diets to more meat, eggs, etc. (an appearance that may itself be inaccurate because of the problem with getting good numbers in the early half of the century), the mere association does not mean that there is a cause and effect relationship between eating dietary cholesterol and heart disease.

Mary has a great new post up!

Over here. (It includes a mini-review of "Iron Man", and much more.)

Swim Class

As it turns out, Aidan's swim class was just him and our neighbor's son. They had the teacher, "Miss Kate". You may notice that another class is going on at the same time led by "Miss Nora" (Miss Kate's mom).

They are fantastic teachers, and Aidan has really enjoyed himself. Everyday he has been nervous to start and slow to get into the pool, but once he is in, he has a fabulous time and does a great job of following directions. He even swam underwater for the first time yesterday! YEA, AIDAN!!!! Friday was supposed to be their last class, so they got medals and lollipops. Their Monday class this week was canceled, though, so they actually will still have one more class as a make-up class this coming Monday. If any of you lurkers out there are looking for a great swim class in Austin, please check out Nora Martin's Swim School

Oh, and you have probably noticed the very cool tree house (with slide that you cannot see). This is in the front yard for siblings to play on while their brother or sister has a lesson, or it's there to play on if you get there early. VERY FUN.

Friday, May 02, 2008

"Iron Man"

The WSJ movie guy just loves this flick, coming out today.

We need a full report from the usual suspects. (Or do I have to go over to Sean's blog to get some intelligence.)

I Love This Country

I ordered from Amazon the Gary Taubes book, Good Calories. Bad Calories. It arrived today.

In the Amazon box with the book were coupons from McDonald's, one for a free southern style Chicken Sandwich and the other for a free southern style Chicken Biscuit for breakfast.