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.