Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ex-Guantanamo Inmates Aided the Underwear Bomber

A front page article in this morning's Miami Herald states as follows:

Cascading reports [hold] that . . . the plot was hatched by two former Guantanamo detainees . . .

It was my impression that, when in a war, one lets war prisoners go when the war is over.

Oh, but this isn't a war. Excuse me.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Legos: "Hard Fun"

[W]ith only two million households responsible for 50% of U.S. sales, Lego isn't everyone's idea of fun.

The reality is that Lego's appeal is generally with a niche group of brainiacs, a group that includes many adults. Another major Lego challenge is the girls market, which the company has failed to crack.

[Lego CEO Jergen Vig Knudstorp] readily acknowledges that Legos eschew instant gratification, unlike many other toys. The deep form of engagement Lego requires - almost like reading a book, Mr. Knudstorp says - teaches children to be systematic, creative problem solvers.

"Many kids can easily get frustrated with the Lego experience," he says. "We call it 'Fun, but hard fun.' "

-From a WSJ article in the Thursday, December 24, 2009, print edition, on the back page of the Marketplace section.

Guess who's grandson this Christmas got a generous addition to his already respectable and well used Legos cache?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Pre-Christmas Fun!

When decorating cookies goes awry...

And the next day, we decorated gingerbread houses!!! Very Fun!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bien Hecho, Hijos!

Texas Gains Most People in 2008-09, U.S. Census Says

“The state remains a magnet, drawing people from other parts of country who are out of work and believe their job prospects are a lot better than the places they came from,” said Bernard Weinstein, former director of the Center for Economic Development and Research at the University of North Texas in Denton.

“Let’s be clear: Texas is having a recession like the rest of country, but it’s not as bad,” said Weinstein, now an economist at the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “Texas is going to pop up on a lot of radar screens as a place to relocate or expand for businesses.”

-from the linked-to article.

Arizona Honor Killing and its Home-Grown American (shall we say) Sister

These sorts of things are not reported much in the MSM. Is it me, or is it true that when they are reported it's the daughters who are killed? (Cf. here.) Not that the American un-culture can point any fingers, what with the government getting ready to tax all of us to fund abortions, regardless of gender. Are honor killings less honorable than economic killings (abortion to serve convenience) or quasi-genocidal killings (abortions for poor people, mainly those poor people of color) or, look, here it is again, sex-selection killings? I think it's all simply evil. But it puts the un-culture right up there (or down there) with Muslim fathers who kill their daughters. Nice.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mary Connects the Dots

Here. Amazing.

UPDATE: Are we seeing "fractals" here?

In ''The Artful Universe,'' (Oxford, 1995), the astronomer John D. Barrow argues that ''the arts and the sciences flow from a single source; they are informed by the same reality; and their insights are linked in ways that make them look less and less like alternatives.'' The geneticist Enrico Coen, who has just written ''The Art of Genes'' (Oxford University Press, 1999), uses painting as a metaphor to describe how organisms generate themselves. Beautiful natural patterns -- spirals, butterfly wings, rippling waves -- and their mathematical origins are explored in Philip Ball's ''The Self-Made Tapestry: Pattern Formation in Nature'' (Oxford, 1998). This writer has chimed in with ''Emblems of Mind'' (Avon, 1996), examining how music and mathematics create patterns that develop out of similar styles of metaphorical thinking.

-From the NYTimes article to which I link above.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

This Greeted Us as We Drove In from our Trip

I set this plant in its plastic pot in the branches of the Black Olive tree in our front yard about 9 or 10 months ago, taping the pot in place with some clear masking tape. The florist who helps keep our office green drops by these plants now and then, after they have flowered, faded, and been replaced in reception rooms up and down the building by cute young orchids in full bloom. I take these unhappy, deflowered but living things home and give them a tree to live in. Their roots creep out of the pot and fasten on the bark, they gradually leave their pots behind, and then they bloom again. So there was one waiting for us as we drove in.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"You Only Regret Your Economies"

This wonderful truth I heard for this first time just this way at a speech given a few weeks ago by Adrienne Arsht at the National Philanthropy Day luncheon here in Miami. Ms. Arsht is a hugely generous philanthropist and patron of the arts.

She said that her father had said this to her. The idea stayed with me after the speech, but not the exact quote. So I later contacted her office and Ms. Arsht's assistant gave it to me exactly.

In searching around the internet for this quote, I came across an essay on Reynolds Price by Peggy Meyer, Librarian Assistant at Lake Tahod Community Library. Here is what Ms. Meyer said about her reading of Price's collection of essays entitled Feasting the Heart:

My favorite [Reynolds Price] essay . . . is “A Motto,” and it sums up the feeling of the entire book. He recounts the story of an Irish friend of his. This friend had just found out his mother was dying and made the journey back home. While visiting, one night he checked in on her, saw she was resting quietly, and turned to leave without disturbing her. As he was about to exit, he heard her say, “Remember: I only regret my economies.”

Reynolds Price took this as a personal motto and says he has “never regretted a splurge in my life, only my stingy-hearted choices at the sun-baked crossroads of money and passion. In love and friendship, food and travel, art and commerce, thanks and praise…I only regret my economies still.”

Saturday, December 12, 2009

For Young "Men," 23 is the new 15

Says here.

Real Christmas Trees Greener? Healthier?

"Greener" says, Clint Springer, a biologist at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. Well, maybe "greener" but not necessarily healthier. "Real" trees kept for several weeks in a family's home can cause allergies, and that's a great reason to stay away from real trees for lots of people. We need some PhD's in the neglected field of "unintended consequences," people who were liberal arts majors in schools where the liberal arts are taken seriously, to help their narrowly focused engineering and applied science friends look at the bigger picture. (I would add politicians to that list too, but I despair of them.)

How Does Bone Loss relate to Breast Cancer?

Dec. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Bone-building drugs such as Merck & Co.’s Fosamax, Novartis AG’s Zometa and Roche Holding AG’s Boniva may cut older women’s risk of breast cancer, according to two studies presented today at a medical meeting in San Antonio. See the entire Bloomberg article here. The AP article on the subject appeared in yesterday's Miami Herald here.

The link between healthy bones and cancer is suggested in this statement by Susan E. Brown, PhD, an anthropologist who first became interested in bone health, according to her bio, when her grandmother died at age 102 from complications of a hip fracture. Here is what Dr. Brown says, in part, on her website Better Bones:

An underlying metabolic acidity is a common denominator among — and a likely contributing factor to — all degenerative and autoimmune diseases. An acid condition has several adverse effects on cell metabolism, including impaired energy production, fluid accumulation and edema, and a likely increase in free radical production. Interesting enough, kidney specialists working with acid-base balance now recognize that most Americans, as they age, live in chronic, low–grade metabolic acidosis. This condition contributes to a series of health problems, including loss of bone mineral, loss of muscle mass, a reduction in growth hormone, and the development of kidney stones.

I have been reading some about the importance of the alkaline-acid balance in one's body and have discussed the matter with Mary. According to what I read, the body needs to maintain a roughly neutral pH or slightly alkaline status. Where the pH moves to the acidic side, then the body must buffer that condition to bring the body back to a healthy pH. The body does so in several ways, but two of them involve muscle loss and bone loss, as the body somehow extracts from those (and other) organs the compounds that will buffer the acidity. If one's body is chronically out of balance on the acid side, then the stress on one's system to fight back to normalcy could break down its ability to fight disease generally, not to mention permanently weaken bones and muscles.

According to what I have been able to understand about the "bone-building drugs" mentioned in these articles, they retard or protect the bones from the process of breakdown. Does that breakdown have its source in the body's pH being acidic in the first place, and is the cancer-prevention mechanism involved with these drugs mainly one of restoring the alkaline-acid balance?

What one eats has a huge impact on the acid-alkaline balance, according to Dr. Brown. Are we surprised that fruits and vegetables produce an alkaline response, where meat and dairy produce an acidic response? Could what one eats affect his or her risks of osteoporosis and cancer? In her book The Acid-Alkaline Food Guide: A Quick Reference to Foods & Their Effect on pH Levels, Dr. Brown writes that those on the typical America diet are in a chronic states of acidosis, the condition of being on the wrong side of the alkaline/acid balance.

Dr. Brown, by the way, seriously (and, to me, convincingly) questions the use of such drugs as Fasomax to treat osteoporosis.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Blue Dogs Push Back

Yes, Virginia, there are conservative and moderate Democrats. How can one be a Christian and a Democrat? I've heard that one. How can one be a Christian and a lawyer? Heard that one. How can one be a Christian and a PCUSA Presbyterian? Heard that one, too.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

On Being Well Shod in Rochester

Mary reports that she bought a pair of these yesterday. Just to walk across the street from her house to the hospital.

Food and Medicine

2500 years ago, Hippocrates, the "Father of Medicine", said to his students, "Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food". Moses Maimonides, the great 12th century physician, repeated the Hippocratic statement when he said, "No illness which can be treated by diet should be treated by any other means".


A friend of mine, years younger than I, who recently had heart surgery because of blocked blood vessals, will rely on drugs to prevent the re-accumulation of plaque rather than change her diet.

A consequence of the inevitable decline in the quality and extent of healthcare in this country, whether the decline arises from nationalization or the failure to reform the situation we have now, will be that people will re-examine the way they eat and live, they will change their behaviors, and learn to avoid disease that was always preventable. The people who do not will simply die earlier than they would have otherwise.

The cartoon above strikes very close to home. I had always considered my dear father, who died of heart disease, a "big man" - in the sense of being "big boned." I never thought of myself that way; my mother told me that her maternal grandfather (family name Jordan) was a small man, and I thought that my build may have reflected his build. But as my dad lost weight in the years before his death, his physique began to look more and more like mine, until it was mine. He was just (and I hate this word to describe such a wonderful man) "fat." He was not big boned at all. He simply "carried it well," kept his Florsheim shoes shined and wore Hickey-Freeman business suits. He always looked good to me. But he died of his good looks.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

I Would Agree that the Climate Change Evidence "is Worsening"

WASHINGTON -- Starting Monday, negotiators in Copenhagen will try to nail down all of the main elements of a treaty to curb global warming, but a final agreement won't be possible until the United States figures out what it is willing to do to reduce emissions of heat-trapping pollution.

President Barack Obama plans to visit the talks on their final day to promise that the United States will cut its share of emissions and to press for a strong agreement. The world, however, will be watching to see whether he also signals a willingness to pressure Congress to enact the law that's needed to make that happen.

Despite charges by some critics that data on global temperatures have been altered, the evidence of climate change is conclusive and worsening.

-First three paragraphs of lead article on the front page of the Miami Herald this morning. I don't agree that "the evidence of climate change is conclusive," but I certainly believe that "the evidence of climate change is . . . worsening."

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Sub-freezing in Certain Parts Elsewhere this Morning


"The Road to Stalingrad"

The object of the present work [The Road to Stalingrad: Stalin's War with Germany: Volume One, by John Erikson] can be set down briefly enough: it is designed to investigate the kind of war the Soviet Union waged, the nature of command decisions and the machinery of decision-making, the course of military operations, Soviet performance in the field and the economic effort behind the lines, the emergence of Soviet 'war aims' - beyond mere survival - and, finally, the Soviet style of war. In sum, it is an attempt to probe how the Soviet system functioned under conditions of maximum stress: from this point of view it is less military history per se and might more properly be regarded as a form of social history.

-from the Preface

A reading of the preface indicates that this must be a most well-written and powerful work, as it is reputed to be.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

More on Tebow and McCoy

I exchanged emails with my Gator friend Sam about the Texas/Texas A&M game and the Florida/FSU game, that is, about Tebow and McCoy. Here's what he wrote:

I watched the Texas game myself. Colt McCoy has more talent than Tim Tebow, as did the Oklahoma quarterback in last year's BCS national championship game. Tebow's major asset however is not his football talent. It's his leadership coupled with his will. One feeds the other. He is able to bring out the best in his players, both on offense and defense, just by being with them on the field. He is able to bring out the best in people wherever he goes, whatever he is doing, just by being there. Someone on ESPN the other day said it best -- that a player who does not have the greatest skill in college football has single-handedly changed the game. Last Sat, before the UF-FSU game, UF had its annual senior day. All schools do it -- an opportunity for the seniors to be introduced one by one for the last time. He came out on the field crying in front of 91,000 screaming fans. Yet not one person thought that he was a sissy or less of a man. And even with all that emotion, he proceeded to play a great game, accounting for 5 touchdowns before the coaches took him out of the game as a show of good sportsmanship.

I'm thankful that he played here and that I had the opportunity to watch him play for 4 years. I expect him to be a great leader of men wherever he goes. And people will be better for his just being around them.

Monday, November 30, 2009

McCoy vs. Tebow

I saw the Texas vs. Texas A&M game on TV while visiting in Austin this past weekend, and Colt McCoy, the Texas quarterback, was amazing. Speculation is that the Heisman is McCoy's to lose after that game. But lose to Tebow?


Should Texas and Florida get into the national championship, it will be one amazing game. And we'll see.

An article in today's Atlanta-Constitution on Tebow's influence reports that 93 million people googled John 3:16 the day after Tebow wore the Bible verse on his eye black at last year's BCS Championship Game. 93 million people!

Whatever happens with the Heisman, Tebow is simply a world apart from any other college athlete playing right now. Or maybe ever before and ever more.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dealing with a Lost Laptop

Several years ago, we learned that our old firm, based in New York, kept in a laptop its data on the boxes of client files it had stored in a Miami warehouse. Then they lost the laptop. Fortunately, by then we had transferred most of the client files we had taken with us to our own warehouse. But can you imagine the irresponsibility of keeping such valuable data on a laptop?

Well . . . yes, I can.

I read this article in the local Austin paper yesterday about Absolute Computrace, a software service that helps you track down lost laptops and even destroy or lock down data that a lost one might be carrying.

Catching up in Austin

It's always intensely interesting to see what's on the plates of the Austin families. Here is an incomplete catalog.

Clone Wars.
This is an animated series from the creator of Star Wars that picks up the story-line between episodes two and three of the film series. Aidan is a big fan of the series, and has a costume of Captain Cody, the clone partner of Anikin Starwalker. We watched an episode yesterday. The political issues in the made-up galaxy are very important and obvious features. (I find that Wikipedia has a big article on the Clone Wars, and that brings me a bit more up to date.) There is a lot of stylized violence, but mainly robots die and not people, at least not up close. In addition the main humans are Jedi Knights who have marvelous powers and seem to avoid serious injury. War is a necessity or, at least, an inevitability, and there is competition among the protagonists for who can make the most "kills" and be the bravest warriors. The animation is attractive and clever and very much like the animation in the current video games. I can understand why Aidan finds it so interesting.

In the First Circle.
Walter, a huge Solzhenitsyn fan, brought this new, unexpurgated version of The First Circle to my attention. I read the first version 40 years ago! Now it's out again in this complete version. I'm adding it to my wish list. (Amazingly, Amazon sells it for $13.) In discussing this with Walter, he mentioned Solzhenitsyn's Harvard address, and it reminds me that I need to go back and read it again.

Dan Carlin's Hardcore History. Speaking of Russia, both Walter and Macon spoke to me about the podcasts that introduced them in vivid detail to the battles on the Eastern Front during WWII. I had not heard of Dan Carlin or his websites, Hardcore History and Common Sense, until Walter and Macon mentioned them. I want to explore those sites. My exposure to the Eastern Front was most recently through Keegan's The Second World War and, years ago and in much less detail, Liddell Hart's The History of the Second World War. Between those two, I would definitely go with Keegan, but I mean no disrespect to Liddell Hart. I don't know what single volume history is the one now to read on WWII. UPDATE: When Walter and I were at a Barnes & Noble store, we looked at the bibliography in Keegan's book to see what he recommends to read concerning the Eastern Front. His recommendations are Erikson's, The Road to Stalingrad and The Road to Berlin, which are volume one and two, respectively, of his Stalin's War with Germany.

Packer's Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. I think we are realizing at our church that we have lost our way somewhat on the matter of evangelism. There is such a thing as getting too comfortable, and that probably applies to us. But Van spoke to the congregation about refocusing on this matter last Sunday, and so I asked Macon what he would suggest as an initial resource for our Sunday School Class. It was Packer's little book, and he had one to loan me. I had never read it, and I have found the first two chapters challenging and enjoyable to read.

Austin Rifle Club.
Macon and I went pistol shooting at the crack of dawn yesterday at this wonderful facility outside of Austin. He had his Springfield Armory XD 45 and borrowed for me a Colt 1911 from a friend (a vintage, service weapon that his friend's father had owned). It was obvious that Macon has had some good training. Handling semi-automatics is not very familiar to me, but I enjoyed it. Macon collected the spent brass, against the day when he might get into reloading.

Studying the Book of Romans. Macon and Walter lead a Sunday School class at their church and have been co-teaching Romans, taking it slow and easy. Their texts are mainly three: Barth's Epistle to the Romans, Stott's The Message to the Romans: God's Good News to the World; and N.T. Wright's Paul for Everyone: Romans Part One. Carol and I are looking forward to attending their class tomorrow morning.

Dealing with Vegan Parents/In-Laws
. Both families are doing really well with Carol, Mary, and me, and our odd eating preferences. We got through the Thanksgiving feast at Morgan's house in great style. There were plenty of non-meat dishes, and Kellsey had baked a vegan loaf with a cashew sauce that was tasty. Yesterday Carol baked a pumpkin loaf and fixed us all for supper a "quick" spinach/chick-pea/something else dish with brown rice that has become a standard at our house. Morgan had a tasty salad. Everyone seemed to enjoy the meal.

Today is Felicity's birthday!
Wow! Ten years old! We get to think a little more about what a blessing she is to all of us today.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving in Austin

Here are two photos from our Thanksgiving Day. We started it at Macon's house, when, after breakfast, the six of us went to downtown Austin and "ran" in the 5 mile "Turkey Trot." It was a beautiful day, and a great way to visit Macon's clan.

After the trot, we went to the airport, where Mary had just arrived from Rochester via Chicago.

We returned to Macon's house, and the first photo is a shot of Mary taking Macon's blood pressure. She had brought her doctor's bag (a colorful purse from Kenya that is just the right size) with her kit. She had warned us that she needed to practice her physical exams, and got right to it. Aidan and Honor were fascinated, as well as Dad.

We had the Thanksgiving feast later in the day at Walter's house, and the second photo is of the entire Austin clan, plus Mary, Carol, and me, all on Walter's front steps. We had a bonus at the feast because Doug and Sue joined us, and they took the second picture for us. (I'm resigned to the fact that there is no way we are going to get the kids to cooperate with these kinds of photos at this point in their lives!)

It was simply a wonderful day!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Banana Flower Opens

Four views of the opening banana flower on the "Goldfinger" plant. (I took these photos this evening, because we will be gone the next four days. It will surely look different when we return.)

See the flower not yet open here. (It's the bottom photo.)

What appears to be happening is that the top layer of petals of the flower have folded back, revealing the first set of "hands." These will be the top ring of bananas of the bunch that is forming. Look especially at the third photo. You can see layers of petals below the first level of baby bananas. I think as each set of petals unfolds, there will be another layer or level of bananas revealed. The progression will continue with each set of petals peeling back to show the next layer of bananas, until the entire bunch is exposed and complete. I could be wrong about this; so we shall see.

Uh-Oh. Urban Meyer to Notre Dame?

No separation of Church and Sport after Tebow, I guess.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dove Avenue [Banana] Plantation November Update: Fruit Coming!

The first photo shows all three "trees" (they really are plants). The 'Cavendish' is in the rear; the 'Goldfinger' (aka 'FHIA-01') on the right and the 'Ice Cream' (aka 'Blue Java' or 'Ney Mannan') on the left.

The second photo shows the inaugural bunch of the Dove Avenue Plantation, this one on the Cavendish, and not yet mature.

The third photo shows the flowering head developing on the Goldfinger. The fruit develops from this part of the plant.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Tebow: the "Un-all about me" Football Hero

The Gator-Seminole game a week from tomorrow will be Tim Tebow's last home game. My friend Sam, a Gator who recently retired to Gainesville, tells me that a wave of appreciation is sweeping the entire town, with advertisements being taken in newspapers and posted on billboards expressing thanks for this young man.

Sam said that Tebow has had an "unbelievable impact" on the Gator Nation "just doing the right thing." Sam describes him as the "un-all about me" football hero. He also said that Gator fans next weekend will all be sporting the "eye-black" patches at the game in honor of Tebow.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Lord, help me . . .

to do great things as though they were little, since I do them with your power; and little things as though they were great, since I do them in your name."

-Pascal, as quoted by Ortberg in If You Want to Walk on Water . . .

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tebow-type Eyeblack

My friend Sam, a Gator, sent me one of these.

What scripture would you eye-black? Would it be OK to reference something really obscure in the Bible and probably funny out of context?

Think of the scripture references one could have worn to an Obama rally last year.

Is this a Despair issue? Will lightning strike their warehouse if they fool around with scripture on a product like this? Will lightning strike me for bringing the subject up?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cheap Food & Healthcare: That's the point, isn't it?

As I observe the current health care debate and reflect on the Republican farm policy change in the 1970s to give the nation cheap food, my mind goes back to Jesus' ministry. He fed the multitudes once or twice, as reported in the Gospels, and may have done that more often. He healed the sick. But when that did not turn out to be the point of his ministry, people soured on him. Now we have big government stepping up to the plate, continuing the cheap food policies and now promising cheap health care. I get it: Jesus missed the point. Our government gets it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Patterns of Knowledge Acquisition

Mary's recent post.

Service, Honor, Commitment, Courage, Country, Tebow; Marriage Miracle

As I watch the exciting Florida-South Carolina game, I see that the Gamecocks, instead of having the names of the players on the football jerseys, have the names of traits of good character. I like that. One of the Florida jerseys has the name "Tebow" printed on the back of it, which may not trump all the traits of character on the jerseys of the opponents, but it comes close.

UPDATE: The character traits on the SC jerseys were special for that day, as they we worn to commemorate Veterans Day that happened earlier in the week. The traits represent the profile of the good soldier. The explanation was given at the beginning of the game, which I missed. Sam, my Gator friend and all around UF/Tebow expert, filled me in on this.

Carol a night person; I a morning. Carol grows up a Methodist; I a Baptist. Carol a Republican; I a Dem. Carol not a Spurrier fan. I love the Old Ball Coach.

Can this marriage be saved?

King Corn

Mary recommended the documentary King Corn, and Netflix has it on DVD. We saw it last week, and it was entertaining, informative, and, finally, disturbing. It is about how a peculiar, basically unhealthy kind of corn, corn with very little protein and mostly starch, transformed the Midwest breadbasket and, from there, the entire food industry, after a change in farm policy under the Nixon Administration. (What? I thought the Republicans are our friends!) I also commend, then, the movie to you.

UPDATE: Mary and I discussed the several references to Earl Butz, Nixon's Secretary of Agriculture and apparently the author of the policy change that crowned Corn as King (at least, that's the movie's thesis, and it seems plausible.) At the end of the movie there is a respectful and not unsympathetic interview of the elderly Butz at his nursing home apartment. What one learns is that the policy change that the Nixon administration wrought was with the best of intentions - to make food cheaper by encouraging the production of corn. The result that we wear the extra food on our bodies and hurt ourselves that way is an unintended consequence of the federal government's decision to intervene in such a critical part of the market place. While it is true that putting money into the pockets of farmers hardly hurt the Republican party, the goal of making food cheaper is a worthy one.

Friday, November 13, 2009

"There are no rainy days, just unprepared people"

This from one of the guys this morning who rode his BMW bike to the breakfast. I remarked on riding through the cold (for Miami) weather to Grunberg's, and he recited this aphorism. He said it's a much used saying of dedicated BMW riders. I liked it.

CLARIFICATION: A "BMW bike" is a very, very fine motorcycle. Not a bicycle.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ortberg on Failure and Discouragement

As long as my sense of being valuable and significant is tied to my success, it will be a fragile thing. But when I come to know in the marrow of my bones that I am just as valued and loved by God when I have fallen flat on my face, then I am gripped by a love stronger than success or failure . . .

When you have a discouraging spirit or train of thought in your mind, you can be sure it is not from God. He sometimes brings pain to his children - conviction over sin, or repentance over fallenness, or challenges that scare us, or visions of his holiness that overwhelm us. But God never brings discouragement. Always, his guidance leads to motivation and life.

-John Ortberg in If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat, page 143.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Pass the Broccoli, Please

We watched Food, Inc. on DVD this evening.

The link is to the Amazon entry for the DVD. It's worth going there because the Amazon link has (1) a video interview with the director, Robert Kenner, and (2) a written Q&A section with Kenner, Co-Producer/Food Expert Eric Schlosser, Food Expert Michael Pollan and Producer Elise Pearlstein. This information will present the thesis of the film. But the film is still very much worth watching.

There are many interesting points, but there is one that especially got my attention:

Our government subsidizes the production of corn, so that the "industrial food" complex pays less than market value for the corn it uses. Thus, we as US consumers pay less than we would for products with corn in them.

When NAFTA was enacted, according to the film, cheap, subsidized US corn flooded the Mexican market. Mexican farmers could no longer compete in their home markets and their farms failed. They became illegal immigrants and came to the US looking for jobs. Many now work in US industrial food factories, such as the hog slaughterhouses that Smithfield runs. Smithfield can run those factories and sell cheap products in part because the feed for the hogs is subsidized and they have really cheap labor.

Here we are raving about losing our free market in the health care sector (as if it is really "free," but that's another story), where we have had no really free market in the food sector because of government subsidies.

Other points that got my attention include one that pertains to the E. Coli problem. That problem arises in part, according to the film, because the cows are fed corn and not grass.

In Exercise Jargon, What's a "Burpee?"


The Walter Series: Part II

Beyond Google; the ABA; A Lawyer's Suicide

Beyond Google: This article from the November 2009 ABA Journal on "the next generation of [Internet] search" was an eye-opener for me.

Rejoining the American Bar Association: After more than three decades, I have rejoined the ABA. I left it when the House of Delegates endorsed Roe vs. Wade. The organization is still much politicized, but being a member helps me keep in touch with that politicalization aspect, with the cultural changes that continue in the profession, and allows me access to some very good practice thinking. So I back am "in" the ABA again, but I hope not so much "of" it. Maybe I'll have opportunities to push back too.

"A Death in the Office": Just how barren is the practice of law in America these days? The November ABA Journal gives an answer in this article on the suicide of Mark Levy, who reached one of the profession's acknowledged peaks. He was an exceptionally fine lawyer, but he simply wasn't making enough money for his giant D.C. law firm. So they asked him to leave. He dealt with it by killing himself.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Noah Gordon, the Novelist

My mother, who was an avid reader, especially of good novels, loved Noah Gordon's books. My sister Julia, another avid reader in our family, took Nita's collection of those books back to her home after our mother passed away. Recently, however, we talked about those books, and Julia then mailed them back to me. I am reading The Physician, and it is a fascinating read. What a story-teller is Gordon! With Mary on her way to being a physician, this is an especially interesting book.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

More on Medical Screenings

The Herald's article today goes beyond PSAs and mammograms.

Christopher Tin - Baba Yetu (Official Music Video)

"Christopher Tin is an American composer, best known for his composition Baba Yetu, featured in the 2004 computer game, Civilization IV." Intro to Wikipedia entry.

Thanks, Sean, for bringing this to my attention by linking this on your facebook page.

Monday, November 02, 2009

JAMA on Rethinking Cancer Screening - Big Reaction

After 20 years of screening for breast and prostate cancer, several observations can be made. First, the incidence of these cancers increased after the introduction of screening but has never returned to prescreening levels. Second, the increase in the relative fraction of early stage cancers has increased. Third, the incidence of regional cancers has not decreased at a commensurate rate. One possible explanation is that screening may be increasing the burden of low-risk cancers without significantly reducing the burden of more aggressively growing cancers and therefore not resulting in the anticipated reduction in cancer mortality. To reduce morbidity and mortality from prostate cancer and breast cancer, new approaches for screening, early detection, and prevention for both diseases should be considered.

-Abstract from the Journal of the American Medical Association, October 21, 2009.

A New York Times article last week, reporting the JAMA article, provoked a lot of interest.

And comments from Dr. MacDougall. His comments include the following:

The truth is breast and prostate cancer are caused by the rich Western diet full of beef, chicken, cheese, milk, and oils, and contaminated with powerful environmental cancer-causing chemicals. A sizable share of that $20 billion [now spent on screening that MacDougall finds wasted at best] must be spent on advertising, education, and subsidy programs to bring about monumental changes in our eating. The American Cancer Society needs to put meaning behind their apology by enthusiastically spreading the message that a starch-based diet with fruits and vegetables is fundamental for cancer prevention and good health.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Make that the Dove Avenue Plantation and "Shamba"

This weekend I worked on clearing a spot in the backyard for the veggie garden. First I dug up a rough rectangle of about 6 X 5, taking out the firmly rooted St. Augustine grass. Then I prepared the bed using the (ahem) double-dig method. This sophisticated approach to family farming in Miami Springs involves: (1) covering the bed with an inch or so of compost, peat moss, and Lowe's magic veggie soil formula, called something like "jungle blend" and (2) "double-digging" trenches that will result in the soil being loosened down to 18 inches or so, with the top 8 to ten inches being mixed up with the compost, peat moss, and jungle-blend layer. Along the north edge of the bed, I drove two re-bar stakes and tied a piece of what looks like fencing (but is used to reinforce concrete when you pour it on a flat surface) to make a trellis for the tomato vines.

The first photo shows what the bed looked like when I was half-way through the double dig. The second photo is of the bed from a different angle at about the same stage. The darker half is the half still covered with the blend of compost, peat, and jungle blend. The lighter half is where that layer has been mixed in with soil that was already there. With the double-dig, you work your self down the length of the bed by digging a trench with a D-handled flat spade, then using a D-handled spading fork on the bottom of the trench to loosen the soil further, and then digging another trench right next to the first one, turning the spoil from the new trench into the first one. And so on. (Got it?) The third photo shows the bed all ready for the starts, with the trellis in place.

I will transfer the starts this coming week, and probably bury a couple of sweet potatoes and seed some carrots and radishes.

Shamba means "farm" in Swahili.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Saturday Morning at the Office, Coffee at Hand

Mmmm. It can get better than this. But this is very good.

Overcast outside. Big day ahead - a long to do list.

1. Catch up with my timeslips for October, because the end of the month is here. I really, really hate those things. As if one can value a life by the tenth of an hour. Thank you bean-counters of America and what you did to our profession; may hell consist of mountains of beans for you and a calculator whose batteries run out every 10 seconds.

2. Do the David Alan office sweep. Sometimes this is encouraging and other times it is discouraging, as in, I don't have enough life left to get this stuff done. Who knows what today will bring. I pray for the former, of course.

3. Finish the veggie garden. We have been nursing our "starts" since last Saturday. They are still in their little pots. I started last weekend on clearing the grass away from a patch in the back yard to which to transplant them; got some soil stuff at Lowe's; but I have quite a ways to go. The best thing would be to build a box around the patch; cover the ground with cardboard; and then fill the box with 20 or so bags of store-bought soil, mulch, compost; and then plant. This helps avoid the bugs, etc. But I don't have time for that, so I'll loosen the soil that's there (a lot of sand left over from the renovation), mix in what I got from Lowe's, put in the starts, give them tender loving care (mainly water and weed removal), and hope for the best this year. (There's always next year with the box, etc., if we crash.)

4. Prepare for the Sunday School class tomorrow. Chapters 3 and 4 of Ortberg's, If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to . . . That's fun. The only problem with this study is that I would sort of like to walk on water, but stay in my nice comfortable boat. Can't we work that, Lord? All things are possible, right?

5. Flag the sprinkler system. The last step of the renovation will begin on Monday, when the old asphalt driveway will come out and pavers go in. I have little flags to put out at the sprinkler heads, so the workers know to avoid them, or at least might devote some effort to doing so. I am not optimistic, but at least I've learned how to fix the system.

6. Do paper work at desk at home. I can't keep up with all of this. It's nearly as bad as the office.

7. Go to the Halo-Ween party at church tonight. This is an outreach effort to get the parents in the community to bring their little kids, so we can meet them. Carol is on the committee getting ready for it, and will spend all afternoon decorating. I am to show up to help at the party itself. We are not suppose to have scary masks, and frighten the little kids. What fun is that?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Nita and Hettie

My fraternal grandmother was Hettie Johnson, and I remember her very well. She moved to Miami from Atlanta during the mid-fifties. She was a widow by then, my grandfather Walter L. Stokes, having died in 1949. Not only was our family here, but my Aunt Frances [Stokes Harris] and her family were here. The Harris clan had moved here from Greensboro, first to Miami Springs, and then to a bigger home in what is now Pinecrest, about 12 or so miles south of us. Grandmother lived with them.

Then, when I was about 11 or 12, my Uncle Harold [Harris] had a heart attack (right out of the blue) and died, leaving behind my Aunt Frances and two young cousins Ken and Tim. My aunt, Ken and Tim moved back to Miami Springs, less than a mile from our house, and Grandmother Stokes came with them. Aunt Frances moved there so that my dad and mom could help her with her two sons and our grandmother, and also because my dad had helped her get a job in the weather department at Eastern Air Lines at the airport, which is adjacent to Miami Springs. Our families were close but we got even very closer after they moved back to Miami Springs. For example, we all attended the same church downtown and my cousins and I went to the same junior high school, Ken and I were in the band, etc.

Grandmother Stokes developed breast cancer. I don’t think they could do a lot for women with that disease back in the late fifties and early sixties, and she finally died at home, at Aunt Frances’ house. I believe my dad was there. I remember that she had very little money; Aunt Frances had little; and we had little. Dad and Aunt Frances would take her to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where she was treated as a charity patient. I think I was in the 9th grade when she died. (I have pictures of her.)

Sometimes when I look at Mary, I see her, because Mary is slim and tallish, as Grandmother Stokes was, and Mary walks as I remember Grandmother doing. (It was startling the first time I saw this.) She was a very calm and dignified lady, soft spoken, very gentle, very conscientious about doing the right thing and being aware of the needs of others.

My mother was my father’s second wife. He had been married for a short time to a woman who would simply not move out of her mother’s house, he said, and they divorced within a year of their marriage. That woman never remarried. In my dad’s religious culture, he was not to marry again himself. But then he met my mother, and that took care of that. But Grandmother Stokes didn’t think he should marry again and somehow let my mother know about it. But over the years, my mother said, my grandmother began to soften and finally admitted that she had been wrong, that God must have meant for my dad and my mother to marry. That’s a story that has always been interesting to me, and one that does great credit to my mother, I think, who helped my aunt and my dad care for Grandmother both emotionally and physically.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Benadryl and Public Schools

Casa de los Trucos October Political Index

From a front page article in today's Miami Herald on sales of Halloween costumes this year:

Perhaps the biggest difference from Halloween 2008 is that political masks were gathering dust this year, retailers said.

Last year Casa de los Trucos [a costume shop] sold all 84 of its Barack Obama masks. By Tuesday afternoon, it had only sold two this season.

"That gives you an idea of how popular he is now," [Jorge] Torres [the manager of los Trucos] said. "Maybe we'll have to wait another four years."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Radical Roots. What Happened?

As I was growing up in the Reformed Tradition, I saw very little of that world-formative impulse so prominent in its origins. For me the tradition represented a certain theology and a certain piety. The piety came through most clearly in the prayers. As I remember them, they were of the structure “We thank you, Lord, for the many blessings you have granted us, and we ask you to remember those less fortunate than we are.” The attitude communicated was that it was God’s business to care of the oppressed and deprived of the world, our role was simply to pray that he not neglect to do so. If presented to me then, the thesis of Michael Walzer in his book The Revolution of the Saints, that “the Calvinist saint [is] the first of those self-disciplined agents of social and political reconstruction who have appeared so frequently in modern history,” would have seemed comically perverse as a description of my own tradition.

Since then I have learned of the radical origins of the tradition in which I was reared. Learning of those origins has given me a deepened appreciation of my own identity. It has also produced in me a profound discontent over my tradition’s loss of its radicalism. Why has it become so quiescently – sometimes oppressively – conservative?

-Nicholas Wolterstorff
in Until Justice & Peace Embrace.

Sister Mary Jones

This is Nancy and Sharon's mom at the Epworth Village Halloween Party. I've known Mary for over 35 years. She is a great lady and was/is a pillar of our church! Nancy tells me that three of Mary's aunts were nuns and that Mary gave that blessed vocation serious consideration. I'm glad we Presbies got her.

Monday, October 26, 2009

What's an Heirloom Tomato?

Hundreds, maybe thousands, of the followers of this blog have been asking, as a result of my post on the Fairchild Veggie Festival. Note the "update."

Here's Wikipedia's definition. And from what I understood from the festival, Wiki's got it about right.

(We heard at the festival a number of not-nice things said about the tomatoes one buys in grocery stores. These are definitely not heirlooms.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Get-up! Get-down! The Movie

The oatmeal actually cooks. It doesn't roast. But it does take 5.5 minutes. (Thanks, Walter and Jack.)

Dove Avenue [Banana] Plantation October Update

Fairchild Gardens Veggie Day

The official name of the event at Fairchild Gardens this weekend is "The Edible Garden Festival," and Carol and I were there yesterday when the Gardens opened. Fairchild Gardens is such a beautiful place, it should not take a festival for us to get there. But we did go to the festival, and it was not a disappointment.

There were some lectures, and we went to three of them. The first was by Ginny Stibolt, who has recently published The Sustainable Garden for Florida. She was very, very articulate and thoughtful, a good writer who gets her hands dirty in a very productive way. We bought her book and she autographed it.

Then Carolyn Coppolo spoke on Creative Container Gardening. This lady, who owns the Redland Herb Farm (scroll down) in South Dade, is a very funny and learned lady. She had a booth at the Festival and there Carol bought rosemary and basil plants.

Next Margie Pilarski told us about Growing Organic Heirloom Tomatoes. She owns Bee Heaven Farms in South Dade, and was just full of information on these kinds of tomatoes, over 160 varieties of which she has dealt with in just the last four years or so. At Margie's booth, we bought three tiny heirloom tomato plants, one a Black Zebra, another a Black Plum, and another a Lime Green Salad. I've posted a photo of Carol at Margie's booth. UPDATE: Bee Heaven Farms has a blog, too, which is as interesting as the website. Margie also started Redland Organics, and here is that organization's site.

From these booths and others, we also bought an egg-plant, cabbage, yellow squash, zucchini, red bell peppers and collards, bringing them all home with the intention of planting them in our backyard, west of the banana patch, and eating big this winter. I've posted a photo of our haul.

Fairchild is simply a stunning place. I can't close this post without a photo of its baobob tree, which Aidan refers to as a "billybob" tree, reflecting his Texas roots (so to speak). (That's Carol at the base of the tree. Click on the photo to get a better perspective on its immensity.)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Heresy: Should a Christian Abandon Football?

Maybe so.

If I would not want my grandson playing the game at any level, as it is now played, should I watch (thereby encourage) the play of the grandsons of others?

Or perhaps the better way is to engage the game faithfully, as these people are doing.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Health Care Debate: Personal Responsibility vs. Patronizing the Insured

The health care insurance debate seems often to pose the question of whether we should have government intervention or rely on the "free" market. More specifically, which of the two, the question is framed, is more "efficient" and more likely to provide wider coverage effectively?

Hidden beneath that debate is where I think the real issue lies. That issue is whether we will trust people to make their own health care decisions, requiring them to live with the consequences, or whether we will not trust them to do so and therefore devise a system where others make the decisions for them (but again requiring the citizen to live with the consequences, not the bureaucrat who makes the decision).

An article in the Herald business section today exposes that hidden issue. According to the article, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, which offers a variety of plans to its customers, requires its own employees to accept a plan that calls for high deductibles and an "HSA" or "health savings account." The article states, in part:

Critics of HSAs say that their problem is that they assume consumers can make intelligent decisions about their health care when it's often difficult for most people to judge the costs and benefits of complex medial alternatives.

Think about other decisions that citizens are called upon to make that are complex. For example, what about the decision to get married, to have children, to buy a car, to change jobs, to go to this church or that, and even to vote. Shall the government (or some giant corporate institution entrenched in Washington to which we are forced to pay tax-like premiums) make those decisions too? I am amazed at the patronizing tenor of at least part of the debate we are hearing on whether to adopt a national health care system.

Great Management Advice from the Coach

In the sports section today's Herald, Coach Shula is asked about the Wildcat/Single-wing offense. He does not condemn it as a gimmick in any respect. Instead he says:

It’s about utilizing your personnel to the best of their abilities. You’ve got to analyze the personnel you’ve got, put them in a position where you can get the most out of their abilities and don’t ask people to do what they’re not capable of doing.

This is absolutely true for all management situations.

BoingBoing, Greenberg Traurig, and Ralph Lauren

I love this. (Thanks, Glenn.) Greenberg is HQd down the street. Shame on them.

How's Your Bank?

Bauer Financial gives ratings.

Vegetable Farming in Overtown

Great story this morning in the Herald. The project is sponsored in part by The Collins Center for Public Policy. The center is named after Leroy Collins, who was governor of Florida when I was growing up, and one of the few Southern Governors who facilitated the transition to the integrated public school system mandated by Brown vs. Board of Education.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Windows 7

I'm reading that an upgrade from XP to 7 is difficult and that, if you want to go to 7, you should buy a new machine with it already installed. That's a bummer, if true.

I read that here (which Instapundit linked, approvingly) and also in a review in today's Miami Herald.

UPDATE: The NY Times tech person likss 7, but confirms that it is preferable to buy it pre-installed on a new computer.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Report from Brazil

This morning a missionary couple to Brazil whom our church supports paid the congregation a visit. At the luncheon after the service, someone asked them about the street children in the big cities of that country. They said several things.

Two laws create part of the street-children problem, they said. One is a child-welfare law that prohibits employment of persons under the age of 14. What this means is that children are either unable to help their families or they are often employed by criminal enterprises, especially illegal drug gangs. The children are attractive to the drug lords because of the other law: children cannot be prosecuted criminally under age 14. They said that when a child reaches age 14, the child is often murdered by the drug gang, because he is no longer immune from prosecution and knows too much.

Another problem, they said, is that the Roman Catholic Church prohibits birth control and is still a very great influence. Thus there are poor families with 10 or more children, and the parents are unable to support them. Often these children are better off on the street than in the family, because there they can stand at street corners and beg enough to feed themselves, or sell small items.

They think that the money that Brazil is spending on the Olympics would be better spent on the street children problem. They are disappointed that Brazil won. They also commented on how dangerous Rio de Janeiro is, where the Olympics will be held. The live in Anapolis, and said they never go to Rio nor ever would, because of the danger there. (See here, for example.)

The husband was a year behind me at Hialeah High, and an FSU grad. Hehas been a missionary in Brazil since 1970. Early in his ministry he met his wife, a native Brazilian, and they have been missionaries together continuously since then. Despite their description of the street children problem and the Olympics concerns, their overall remarks indicated that they are quite proud of their county,

They conduct a camp and conference center ministry. It sounds like their work is very effective. Their mission field is populated with nominally Roman Catholic people who will not enter a Protestant church. But these people will attend a Christian camp or conference, because it is held on "neutral ground." There, the missionaries said, the Gospel has plenty of room to do its good work.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Get-up! Get-down!

I asked Walter about a basic exercise I could adopt without buying a lot of equipment. He suggested the "get-up." This is where you get down on the floor and then get back up again. It helps, he said, to have knee pads.

I remember reading about this exercise many years ago, when I was deep into weight training (at least deep for me). This was a favorite of Jack LaLanne, the fitness guru who had a tv show in the 50s. (Jack, age 95, just keeps on ticking: Exhibit A for his methods. And he is a vegetarian. I want to be like him when I grow up.) Here is a description of Lalanne's get-up.

There is something called a Turkish Get-up, that looks like a modification of the idea. It involves a kettle-bell or dumbbell. I like LaLanne's approach much better. And besides, there is less chance of knocking your teeth out when the kettle bell slips.

No Free Lunch (So to Speak)

The health care bill requires compliance with healthy living guidelines and penalizes bad eating habits:

According to a Washington Post article that Drudge links to:

President Obama and members of Congress have declared that they are trying to create a system in which no one can be denied coverage or charged higher premiums based on their health status. The health insurance lobby has said it shares that goal. However, so-called wellness incentives could introduce a colossal loophole. In effect, they would permit insurers and employers to make coverage less affordable for people exhibiting risk factors for problems like diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

The article states that the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, and the American Diabetes Association are against this approach. My guess is that they are against this approach because a large part of their support base comes from people who make money off the Typical American Diet. (How cynical of me. Sorry.) And what would these organizations do if the diseases they supposedly address were reduced 30% or more. (Oh, I'm just awful!)

If my taxes and insurance premiums have to pay for someone else's heathcare, then I'm fine with putting pressure on these other people to adopt a healthy diet. In terms of liberty, on the other hand, both sides lose: I am required to pay for that person's health care and that other person may not do harm to himself without paying a penalty.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Harry Reid Gets a Special Deal for Nevada

In the Health Care Bill just reported out of the Senate Finance Committee, the Majority Leader procured for Nevada special treatment regarding Medicare cutbacks otherwise applicable to all states, except for Michigan, Oregon, and Rhode Island, who also get the special deal. Senators from other states are ticked. They want special treatment for their states, too.

How about this: No special treatment for any particular state. I thought this was National Health Care, as in the United States of America.

If the bill isn't good for all of us, maybe it just isn't a good bill.

Gaming Obamacare

Will a young, healthy, childless individual or couple buy health insurance costing 7.5 percent of their income, as required by Obama’s health legislation? Not until they get sick. Then they can always buy the insurance, and the Obama bill requires the insurance companies to give it to them. And if the premiums come to more than 7.5 percent of their income because they are now sick, no problem. Obama will subsidize it.

-Dick Morris, here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Albert Lea, Minn., and the "Vitality Project"

Organizers said the first-of-its kind experiment added an average 3.1 years to the expected longevity of participating residents . . .

* * *

"I always thought being meatless would be a horrible way to live," Aeikens said. "But there are oodles of things that are tasty and good, vegetables and fruits that really make up a good diet. I wouldn't go back."

-Read the whole story.

UPDATE: More on the Vitality Project here and here.

The Narrow Path

If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn't lead anywhere.

-Attributed to Frank A. Clark.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"But I'm Still Growing!"

"Sir Edmund Hillary made several unsuccessful attempts at scaling Mount Everest before he finally succeeded. After one attempt he stood at the base of the giant mountain and shook his fist at it. "I'll defeat you yet," he said in defiance. "Because you're as big as you're going to get - but I'm still growing."

From Ortberg, If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

"I Never Failed Anything in my Life!"

Carol and I are reading John Ortberg's If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat. It's built around Matthew 14:25-32. In the first chapter, he poses the question of whether Peter "failed" when he got out of the boat, walked a ways toward Jesus, and then began to sink.

Part of his answer to the question includes this illustration:

Somebody once asked Winston Churchill what most prepared him to risk political suicide by speaking out against Hitler during the years of appeasement in the mid-1930s, then to lead Great Britain against Nazi Germany. Churchill said it was the time he had to repeat a grade in elementary school.

"You mean you failed a year in grade school?" he was asked.

"I never failed anything in my life. I was given a second opportunity to get it right."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Nobel Prizes, Sweden, Norway, Reading Wills

The Swedes award the Nobel Prizes, except one; the Norwegians award the Nobel Peace Prize.

But Bobby Muller, who won the Nobel [Peace] Prize as co-founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, told The Times: "I don't have the highest regard for the thinking or process of the Nobel committee. Maybe Norway should give it to Sweden so they can more properly handle the Peace Prize along with all the other Nobel prizes."

- the TimesOnline

The Last Will of Alfred Nobel, in pertinent part, states:

The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way: the capital, invested in safe securities by my executors, shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind. The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics; one part to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement; one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine; one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction; and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses. The prizes for physics and chemistry shall be awarded by the Swedish Academy of Sciences; that for physiology or medical works by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm; that for literature by the Academy in Stockholm, and that for champions of peace by a committee of five persons to be elected by the Norwegian Storting. It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration be given to the nationality of the candidates, but that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be Scandinavian or not.

Note that the excerpt states that the Peace Prize portion (which I have put in bold-face) goes to the person "who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, etc." It is difficult to see how the President could have done the "most . . . work" (during what time period? The past year? During one's lifetime?) or (not "and"?) the "best . . . work." The use of the word "work," in any case, makes a strong case for having actually done something to advance the interests described in the excerpt rather than having eloquently expressed certain aspirations along those lines but not yet accomplished anything. On the other hand, an alternate reading (of this English translation) could be that the prize winner should be one who either "did the most [unspecified something] for fraternity between nations," whether or not he did any actual work, or "did the best work" for that purpose. The alternate is a little strained, I would say.

Anyway, Obama, short of turning the honor down (which would have been a work) made a humble and eloquent statement, citing his international aspirations, which many would say is the "most" and/or "best" he could have or at least should have done, under the circumstances.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Metric Screws and Pitch

As I was putting together my new bike for its commuter function, I found various useful things left over from my former days as a bicycle commuter, and one of them was a headlight for the handlebars. I needed a headlight, and this one, manufactured by Cat-Eye at one time (but no more) had been a good one. Would it still function?

When I picked it up out of the drawer to which it had found its way over the years, I noticed it was heavy with the batteries that I had negligently left in its case. I anticipated that the batteries would have leaked all over the inside and ruined the headlight. But when I opened the case, the batteries were clean with no leakage. When I tested the batteries, they were dead, of course. But no leakage. Duracells, they were. They must have been in the case for nearly 8 years, sitting in the drawer of a chest in the garage. Yet no leakage. Score a ten for Duracell.

The headlight slides on a mount, and the mount grasps the handle bars. The engineering is ingenious, because you can slide out the headlight and use it as a flashlight, leaving the mount behind on the handlebar. But the mount was missing the screw that fastens it down. The nut was there, sort of embedded on one side of the mount, but there was no screw. It would have been a screw of very small diameter, and about an inch or more long.

I got out the shoebox where I collect all the extra machine screws and nuts that have ever shown up in my life. Actually, a good part of the mass of metal in that box consists of screws and nuts that I inherited from my dad, so there are at least two generations of that hardware. The origins of the box, then, were in my dad's house as he was growing up during the Great Depression. I don't think anyone ever threw away anything during that era that would have even a remote chance of being useful, if not in one's life then in the lives of succeeding generations. Those habits persisted. As I grew up, naturally and with little thought I just knew that it was written that men put extra screws in shoeboxes and Mason jars. So I had this box with machine screws, probably 75 years or more in the making.

None of them seemed to work. The nut that was embedded in the mount would take none of the screws that seemed to be the right size. I looked at the nut in a magnifying glass to see if there was a damaged thread. I couldn't tell, but figured that was it. So I took the screw that seemed right and the nut-that-wouldn't-take to the neighborhood hardware store ("Village Hardware"). I got the old guy there to wait on me and not the kid.

We walked to the back of the store where there is an impressive set of cabinets with all sorts of screws and nuts in little, labeled drawers, wonderfully sorted. (What a great place!) But as we went through the drawers, we could not find a screw to fit. I just knew the nut-that-wouldn't-take was defective, so we looked for a nut like it. But none of the nuts were of the small size of the nut in question, even though the diameter of the hole of the new nuts seemed right. So the new nuts we found wouldn't fit where the "defective" nut had been embedded. But suddenly a light went on in the mind of the old guy (the other old guy), and he said "metric."

Immediately the whole enterprise became political. Here was multi-nationalism, multi-culturalism, One World, free-trade, the UN, probably France, all of that, getting in the way of lighting the street before me as I pedaled up Hammond Drive in the early morning. Metric! The-nut-that-wouldn't-take was metric. I may be a Democrat, but there are limits. This could be one of them.

The reason that the subject nut would not fit on my screw is that metric screws and nuts have pitches that will vary. The US screws in my box seemed just to have one pitch (but maybe not), none of them probably square with any available metric pitch (but I really don't know.) But in metric-land there are different pitches for, I assume, different uses. In addition, the nuts will have a smaller outside diameter, so they will fit in smaller places.

So we walk even further back in the store, and the older (even older) gentleman helping me found a small, flat wooden box, opened the lid, and there were metric screws and nuts. Among the screws was one that fit the subject nut. It had a pitch that fit. The problem was that it was a bolt headed screw, and I needed either a slot or Phillips head, because the screw fits down into a recess that surrounds the head so closely that one cannot get anything around it to tighten. But that problem was solved when I departed Village Hardware and went to the Lowe's in Hialeah, discovering that there is an entire section devoted to metric screws and nuts. I found the slot head screw that I needed.

But at a Hialeah Lowe's you would figure that I would find my metric solution - no one speaks English in Hialeah.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

New Bike

Giant Innova (a hybrid). It was marked-down at Cycle World, the bike shop owned by the ethnically Chinese, Jamaican couple from whom we have bought bikes for years. (The mark-down was more than 75% off list!)

I began riding my bike Monday to the Metro-Rail station, as I used to do years ago. I have rented one of the bike lockers at the station there, which keeps the bike safe and dry.

The bike pictured above (and the one at this link) is the same model as I bought, but I had mine outfitted with fenders and a rack. I ordered from REI a new set of panniers, a rear light, and a bell.

Sunday I took my set of lawyer's uniforms down to the office, and I change when I get there. I commuted this way during the time that Macon, Walter and Mary were in high school and needed a car. So I left mine at home for them and took the bike and train, saving the expense of a third car. I appreciated the kids being OK with that.

We've always enjoyed bikes in our family, taking them with us on camping trips to North Carolina (Cade's Cove in the Smokies was a wonderful place to cycle), trekking down to Matheson Hammock along Old Cutler Road below Coral Gables, riding around the Springs (I especially remember the trips we took with visiting missionaries when we had the missions conferences at church, led by Ed Roberts, an Elder, Walter's Sunday School teacher, and a seasoned biker), taking the Highlands Hammock State Park circle through the swamp at midnight with Jack and Bob in the pitch, pitch black, and making round trips on the bike trail from the Shark Valley entrance at Everglades National Park, seeing dozens of alligators disturbingly close and even more waterfowl.

It's been fun to see Doug and Sue's bike photos on FB, taking fabulous trips in the Rockies. I recall the bike photos of them, Kellsey, and Macon on their grand trip to Hawaii years ago, pedeling up and down the volcano road.

Last Saturday when I picked up the new bike at Cycle World and as we walked it out to the car, I asked Carol whether it was Christmas. It felt like that.

Law School vs. Med School: the First Year

Talking, texting, and emailing with Mary about her first year of med school leads me to reflect on my first year of law school. It comes down to this:

During the first year of law school, one is terrified and bored. In med school, one is terrified and profoundly fascinated.

Monday, October 05, 2009

McChrystal Should Resign

Shame on the President for putting McChrystal in the apparently untenable position in which the general finds himself, but the general should have resigned before he went public with his criticism of the President. Now the issue is about McChrysal and not about the President and his neglect (at best) or his reneging on yet another campaign representation (at worst), i.e.that Afghanistan is a war of necessity.