Friday, December 20, 2013

Greenberry Jefferson Stokes

Later in life.

Go here for more details.

Whom does he resemble? Put your thumb under his nose and note the upper part of the face:  the large nose, deep set eyes, bushy brows, large head.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bananas under Grave Threat

In Central America:

The government in Costa Rica, one of the biggest suppliers of the fruit, has already declared a “national emergency” over the state of its crop.

The country’s half-a-billion-dollar banana export industry has been hit by two separate plagues of mealybugs and scale insects, with up to 20 per cent of its produce written off.

Magda Gonzalez, the director of the agriculture ministry’s State Phytosanitary Services (SFE), told The Tico Times last week that climate change had boosted insect populations in recent years, making plagues increasingly likely across the world.

In Asia, Africa, Jordan, and Australia:

Meanwhile, a Scientific American report warned of a variant of banana-eating fungus which is currently threatening key plantations around the world.

Scientists believed the disease, caused by the fungus Fusarium oxysporum f. sp.cubense (Foc), was limited to parts of Asia and Australia. Yet it has now been found in Jordan and Mozambique, and in a new strain to which the vast majority of bananas are susceptible.

“It’s a gigantic problem,” said Rony Swennen, a breeder at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

-from Britain's The Independent, noted on the current Drudge Report, and brought to my attention by Carol.

Here's the link to the Scientific American report.

Meanwhile, we have two stalks currently on our trees, but our little grove is in grave need of some TLC.  I'll get on it.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Bitter and the Sweet of Learning

1633 portrait of Johannes Wtenbogaert by Rembrandt.
Arminius as a youth may have attended St. Jerome School [Sint Hieronymusschool] in Utrecht.  Carl Bangs connects him to that school because of his friendship with Johaness Uitenbogaert [Wtenbogaert], “who was to become a lifelong, intimate friend of Arminius.”  Bangs is certain Uitenbogaert attended that school.  Bangs writes:

Of his teacher [Cornelius] Lauerman, Uitenbogaert later said, “I still remember that the teacher often said to me and my fellow students that the root of study is very bitter to bite into but that the fruit is very sweet.”
-from Carl Bangs, Arminius– A Study in the Dutch Reformation, Second Edition (Frances Asbury Press 1985) p. 35

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Timer to Turn on and Off an Outside Faucet

We have some plants outside that can't be reached by our current sprinkler system, and we hand- water them with the hose.  What do you do when you go out of town for a couple of days?  You first go to Home Depot and buy gadgets.  This time its a Melnor "Automatic [Digital] 1 Outlet Water Timer" (SKU 558-026) ($30) and an inexpensive Oscillating Sprinkler (SKU 619-344) ($7).  (I already have the hose.)

The timer unit is encased in a sturdy little plastic box, runs off two AA batteries (not supplied) and has an input port that fastens to the faucet and an output port to which the hose fastens.  Before installing the unit, however, one programs it - which is a snap, with some simple written instructions.  The unit has an LED screen to assist in the programing that is easy to read.  

When I first installed the unit, which I had programmed to be "off" but to turn on 15 minutes later for 30 minutes, the water poured through it when I turned on the faucet.  The instructions had a "trouble-shooting" chart, and the first thing on it was that problem.  The valves, the chart advised, may have come "open" during shipping.  Take out the battery holder, wait 30 seconds, and re-install.  I did that and then needed to slightly touch up the programming.  Back on the faucet it went, and no water ran through.  I installed the hose, fastened the sprinkler to the other end, and waited the 15 minutes.  Bingo.  Problem solved.

The timer is an elegant little work of applied technology.  The timer I bought was Melnor's basic digital timer product.  It makes more involved ones in its "Aqua-Timer" line.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Eight million dollar man

Zac Vawter
Associated Press/Photo by Brian Kersey
Zac Vawter
Zac Vawter’s right leg is a mechanistic marvel: Made of aluminum, it has a computer, two motors, and 13 sensors to measure movement or pressure, and weighs less than his left leg. For Vawter, who lost the bottom half of his right leg in 2009 after a motorcycle accident, walking comes as easy as thinking.
Too bad he’s not allowed to take the leg home just yet. The bionic leg is part of a project at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, funded by about $8 million from the Defense Department. Electrodes fitted to Vawter’s right thigh sense muscle movements associated with walking or bending an ankle, and read his intention to bend an ankle, walk, or climb stairs.
The smart leg, according to a September report in the New England Journal of Medicine, cuts falls and unnatural movements nearly in half, compared to regular prosthetics.

-from World Magazine's issue of 11-2-2013.

Here's the "preview" for the NEJM article to which World Mag refers.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Film "Pacific Rim" and Climate Change

I finally saw this movie, via Amazon, when the price finally dropped into the realm of reasonableness.  (Do people really pay $12.99 and above to watch a non-Prime Amazon movie?)

Inside all the fantastic photography and sympathetic characters and competent acting, the producers tuck a  climate change theme.  The aliens who climb out of the Pacific Rim and wreck havoc on the West Coast, are aliens who, millennia before, introduced the dinosaurs to our planet as a sort of guinea pig species.  Those creatures died out, however, because the atmosphere was not toxic enough.  So the aliens waited until humans polluted it to the extent that Earth is ready for them.  So here they come.


On the other hand, humans and their technology defeat the aliens in Act 3, using a nuclear device.

So what's the moral here?  Are humans and their polluting technology bad or are they good? Or do we have a mixed bag?  Or are the creators of the movie just sloppy or cynical?  I vote for sloppy.

Maybe we will find out in the inevitable sequel.  I sure hope del Toro is doing it.

The Bangs, Father and Son, the Dutch Reformation, the Pilgrims, and Jacobus Arminius.

The November - December edition of The University of Chicago Magazine, presents a profile of Jeremy Bangs, X'67, entitled "Going Dutch."  It not only introduces me to that gifted scholar,  but also to Leiden in the Netherlands, the Reformation as it took place in that country, and reintroduces me to the Pilgrims, "yes, those Pilgrims" as Lydialyle Gibson, the article's author, writes.  (What a beautiful name, Lydialyle.)

The article also introduces me to Jeremy's dad, Carl Bangs, PhD'58,

a church historian and theology professor, and an expert of the 16th-century Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius.  Carl Bang's biography, Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation (Abingdon Press), is a definitive text. 
Arminius!  But he was so wrong!  Isn't that just like a UChi scholar, picking such a subject to write about?

But over to Amazon, to look at that book.  Here's a great review:

5.0 out of 5 stars A Unique, Enlightening, and Rewarding Study (Especially for a Calvinist)., June 18, 2006
Mr. Bangs presents a very systematic and, sometimes, personally affective account of James Arminius. Not only does he present Arminius objectively as a pastor, theologian,and professor but also a few yet essential insights of a man who has had his share of sorrow.

I was warned many years ago not to read this book. I was told by Calvinist-leaning individuals that it would upset my faith and cause me to fall away. I have read this book 5 times and filled it with highlighting and notations. Apparently, the one who warned me never read the book. And I think that is a big problem with those who adhere to Calvinism when discussing issues regarding election and predestination. I would encourage every Calvinists to read this book not for the purpose of changing their view but to understand what Arminius really taught as, it seems, many books by Calvinist theologians misrepresent terribly the teachings Arminius espoused. To call him a heretic is to be wholy misinformed or uninformed about the man Arminius and his teachings.

Reading "Arminius" has helped me to understand the significance of Arminianism, it's value and importance in Christian theology, the essential issues that divide two camps of believers (one, Calvinism, and the other, Arminianism), and it has provided me with an alternative (and better, in my estimation) understanding of certain "problem" texts in the Bible.

Most important of all, to me, it has brought me closer to a man after my own heart; a man who knows the pain of lose, still trusts in God, and seeks to present God in a way that makes Him available for all sinners to embrace in repentance and faith.

I highly recommend reading this book. If you do not, you will miss a very important phase in Christian history. It has gotten to a point that when I'm going to my study to read this book and his "Works", I tell my wife I'm going to spend some time with my best friend.

Buy it, read it, you won't regret it.

Also, read "The Works of James Arminius", London Edition, 3 vols. So far, I've read all volumes three times. It is a little difficult to read at first, but once you get use to how it is written, you'll find it very rewarding.

Now, over to, to find a $6.00 "Acceptable" copy on sale (although,you never know just what you are going to get with "Acceptable" - other than a real bargain).  Can't wait to read it.

The reviewer quoted above, Mr. Banuchi, writes that he "read 'The Works of James [Jacobus] Arminius', London Edition, 3 vols.  .  .  . three times"!  There are editions of those works at Amazon in Kindle Editions.  Here is volume 1 of the edition published by the Christian Classics Ethereal Library ("CCEL").  CCEL's website is worth exploring.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Luther, the Wedding at Cana, the Three Estates, the Three Wonders, and Marriage

On January 10th, 1529, the lesson was the wedding at Cana of Galilee.  This passage, said Luther, is written in honor of marriage.  There are three estates: marriage, virginity, and widowhood.  They are all good.  None is to be despised.  The virgin is not to be esteemed above the widow, nor the widow above the wife, any more than the tailor is to be esteemed above the butcher.  There is no estate to which the Devil is so opposed as to marriage.  The clergy have not wanted to be bothered with work and worry.  They have been afraid of a nagging wife, disobedient children, difficult relatives, or the dying of a pig or a cow.  They want to lie abed until the sun shines through the window.  Our ancestors knew this and would say, "Dear child, be a priest or nun and have a good time."  I have heard married people say to monks, "You have it easy, but when we get up we do not know where to find our bread."  Marriage is a heavy cross because so many couples quarrel.  It is the grace of God when they agree.  The Holy Spirit declares there are three wonders: when brothers agree, when neighbors love each other, and when a man and wife are at one.  When I see a pair like that, I am as glad as if I were in a garden of roses.  It is rare.

-from Bainton's Here I Stand: a Life of Martin Luther, (Abingdon Press; 1950) p. 352.

Luther and Congregational Singing

[Martin Luther's] last and greatest reform of all was in congregational song.  In the Middle Ages the liturgy was almost entirely restricted to the celebrant and the choir.  The congregation joined in a few responses in the vernacular.  Luther so developed this element that he may be considered the father of congregational song.  This was the point at which his doctrine of the priesthood of all believers received its most concrete realization.  This was the point and the only point at which Lutheranism was thoroughly democratic.  All the people sang.  Portions of the liturgy were converted into hymns: the Creed and the Sanctus.  The congregation sang not "I believe," but, "We believe in one God."  The congregation sang how the prophet Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up and heard the seraphim intone Holy, Holy, Holy.

-from Bainton's Here I Stand: a Life of Martin Luther, (Abingdon Press; 1950) p. 344.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Goodby Gatsby, Hello Common Core

For high school [Miami-Dade County Public School] English teachers like [Chris] Kirchner, Common Core is prompting consequential and contentious changes in what students read and how the books are taught: The new standards call for a focus on depth over breadth, more challenging readings, and increased emphasis on nonfiction.

Students will be expected to make written arguments using specific evidence from reading assignments, often pulling together examples from multiple texts. No longer should teachers ask students to write solely based on their personal experience or opinion — arguing for or against school uniforms, for instance.

“It’s encouraged me to give up some practices I had a great allegiance to,” says Kirchner, “specifically, the teaching of whole novels.” -from this morning's print edition of the Miami Herald. The entire article, written by reporter Sarah Carr, is well worth reading.

I remember how much I enjoyed it when my high school English teacher, Ms. Campion, would throw out big, open-ended questions about Gatsby and the class would discuss and argue their answers.  It was so much fun, and it encouraged wide reading.

Read more here:

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Luther, through Bainton, on Vocation

In one respect Luther was more conservative than Catholicism because he abolished monasticism and thus eliminated a selected area for the practice of the higher righteousness.  In consequence the gospel could be exemplified only in the midst of secular callings, except that Luther refused to call them secular.  As he had extended the priesthood of all believers, so likewise he extended the concept of divine calling, vocation, to all worthy occupations

Our expression "vocational guidance" comes directly from Luther. God has called men to labor because he labors.  He works at common occupations.  God is a tailor who makes for the deer a coat that will last for a thousand years.  He is a shoemaker also who provides boots that the deer will not outlive.  God is the best cook, because the heat of the sun supplies all the heat there is for cooking.  God is a butler who sets forth a feast for the sparrows and spends on them annually more than the total revenue of the king of France.  Christ worked as a carpenter  .   .   .

-from Bainton, Here I Stand: a Life of Martin Luther (Apex Books 1950), pp. 232-233

Of course, I know this doctrine and embrace it.  But I did not get it from the pulpits I sat under, and I have sat under a lot of them. Here's more on this from Bainton:

The Virgin Mary worked, and the most amazing example of her humility is that after she had received the astonishing news that she was to be the mother of the Redeemer, she did not vaunt herself but went back and milked the cows, scoured the kettles, and swept the house like any housemaid. Peter worked as a fisherman and was proud of his skill, though not too proud to take a suggestion from the Master when he told him to cast on the other side.    Luther commented:

"I would have said, 'Now look here, Master.  You are a preacher, and I am not undertaking to tell you how to preach.  And I am a fisherman, and you need not tell me how to fish.'  But Peter was humble, and the Lord therefore made him a fisher of men."

The shepherds worked.  They had a mean job watching their flocks by night, but after seeing the babe they went back.

"Surely that must be wrong. We should correct the passage to read, 'They went and shaved their heads, fasted, told the rosaries, and put on cowls.'  Instead we read, 'The shepherds returned.'  Where to? To their sheep. The sheep would have been in a sorry way if they had not."

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Chicken nuggets: Please don't feeed them to my grandchildren.

Through a laboratory testing of chicken nuggets from two unnamed major national fast-food chains in Jackson, University of Mississippi researchers found that they contained just 40 to 50 percent meat, the remaining  50 to 60 percent comprised of bits of chicken-by-products such as fat, skin, connective tissues, blood vessels, nerve tissues, organ parts and ground bone fragments.

More here, including a video interview of the researcher.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

But didn't Adam have a point? (Just asking)

But Luther's question was not whether his sins were big or little, but whether they had been confessed.  The great difficulty which he encountered was to be sure that everything had been recalled.  He learned from experience the cleverness of memory in protecting the ego, and he was frightened when after six hours of confessing he could still go out and think of something else which had eluded his most conscientious scrutiny.  Still more disconcerting was the discovery that some of man's misdemeanors are not even recognized, let alone remembered.  Sinners often sin without compunction.  Adam and Eve, after tasting of the fruit of the forbidden tree, when blithely for a walk in the cool of the day; and Jonah, after fleeing from the Lord's commission, slept soundly in the hold of the ship.  Only when each was confronted by an accuser was there any consciousness of guilt.  Frequently, too, when man is reproached he will still justify himself like Adam, who replied, "The woman whom thou gavest to be with me" – as if to say to God, "She tempted me; you gave her to me; you are to blame."
There is, according to Luther, something much more drastically wrong with man than any particular list of offenses which can be enumerated, confessed, and forgiven. The very nature of man is corrupt.  The penitential system fails because it is directed to particular lapses.

-from Bainton's Here I Stand: a Life of Martin Luther, (Abingdon Press 1950, page 55)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

"For God's Sake, Would You Stop That Coughing!"

On my 10 minute drive to the Metrorail station in the mornings, I'm usually listening to Classical South Florida, 89.7 FM.  The radio station is owned by the people who purchased WMCU from the rascals on the board of Trinity International University years ago, to the dismay of a large, South Florida evangelical audience that had supported the old station for many years, including myself.  That being said, WKCP Miami has proven itself to be first rate.

As I was listening this morning, John Zech, who is tops as an announcer, presented a recording by Julian Bream, the lutist.   It reminded me of a performance of his during my freshman year at Duke.  He played in Page Auditorium, the main auditorium.

The large crowd consisted not predominantly of Duke undergraduates but people from the much wider Duke and Durham community. It was cold outside, and people came in bundled up.

Bream began to play beautifully, of course, gently and with great care.  A sort of intimacy began to fall over the auditorium.  But then someone coughed in the audience.  As if that person gave others permission, coughing began to punctuate the performance.  It would have been a different  thing if the Philadelphia Symphony had been playing Beethoven, and you weren't sitting right by the hacker, but this was Julian Bream and his lute, all alone up there on the stage.  It was bad.

Finally, Bream had enough.  He stopped playing, looked at the audience, and said "For God's sake, would you stop that coughing!"

Absolute silence.  Bream went back to his lute as if nothing had happened.  Nobody moved.  Nobody coughed. Nobody did anything but listen, and with a bit of apprehension.  It was wonderful!

Every time I have attended a concert since then and heard the first cough, I think of Julian Bream and his lute.   Until just a few years ago, he was still giving concerts and producing recordings.  He certainly taught me something.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Miami-Dade English Dialect. Sounds like home to me!

"What's noteworthy about Miami English is that we're now in a third, even fourth generation of kids who are using these features of native dialect," said Florida International University sociolinguist Phillip Carter, who studies language in U.S. Latino communities. "So we're not talking — and let me be clear — we're not talking about non-native features. These are native speakers of English who have learned a variety influenced historically by Spanish."

-from Saturday's Miami Herald, an article well worth a read.

Supposuvly, it's not just an accent, it is a true dialect, irregardless of what you might think.

More from the article:

Miami has always been home to Latin American immigrants, but the first sizable wave arrived from Cuba during the 1960s, followed by the Mariel influx of the 1980s and then the balseros of the 1990s. They were joined by political refugees fleeing regimes in Nicaragua and Venezuela and by immigrants from Colombia and Mexico and other countries to the south.

Immigrants overwhelmed the city's population so quickly that before long children growing up in Miami were learning English from people who were not native English speakers themselves. This led to a number of nonnative features like Spanish vowels and "L" sounds being incorporated into the language.

The first sizable wave of Stokes kids arrived in the 70s and early 80s.  

On one of the first telephone calls from Macon after his arrival Freshman year at Davidson, he said, "Dad, I feel like a Cuban!"  I said, something like "you are a Cuban; you just happen to look like everyone else up there."

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Home as a Better School for Character than a Monastery

After [Luther's] marriage his tone shifted and his concern was much less to establish the necessity of marriage [in light of the otherwise "uncontrollable" sexual impulse] than to portray the home as a school for character.  In this sense it was for him a substitute for the monastery.  All the vexations of domesticity, the tension of the sexes, bawling babies, and of disobedient children led him to say there is no need to go hunting for crosses.  At the same time he was often lyrical over the consolations of the married state.

-Bainton, The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, pages 256 - 258.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Let's Not Forget Cranmer's Wife

Henry [VIII] for all his effrontery was not unmoved by the unrest among the populace, and the intransigence among the distinguished.  He resolved to hew all the more closely to the line of schism without heresy, and in the latter part of his reign enacted the Six Articles popularly called the "bloody whip with the six strings" whereby a denial of the real presence was visited with death and clerical marriage was forbidden.  Archbishop Cranmer, who had married the niece of one of the Continental reformers, was compelled during this period to keep his wife at home or when traveling to conceal her in a chest; when it was turned upside down she was somewhat inconvenienced – and ought to be included among the minor martyrs of the Reformation.

-more from Bainton's The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, Enlarged Edition, p. 198.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Calvinism and the Scots

Scotland was the name in Europe above all others in which Calvinism became most firmly entrenched  .  .  .  [I]n no other land did Calvinism effect so tremendous a change in the national character and the national destiny. 
Calvinism transformed the Scots.  In the Middle Ages they were a notoriously rough and disorderly people who preferred to raid rather than to raise cattle .  .  .    The Reformation changed all that.  The Scots were to become a different people and the alteration was effected by the new kirk armed with the Book of Discipline.
-The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, Bainton, Roland H. (Englarged Edition 1985), pages 178 and 179.  (Google has the book here, but less pages 183-248.)
I would venture the speculation that Reformed Christianity in China has been working a similar transformation since the 19th Century.  Would that God again open the Middle East to the Gospel.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

e-Builder and Estate Planning

The Miami Herald's Business Monday of yesterday features e-Builder, based in Plantation [Broward County, just north of Miami-Dade], a firm that

has developed cloud-based software for construction program management that makes it simpler for builders and developers to efficiently manage the enormous complexity of major construction projects, and helps reduce costs.

The company’s Web-based system allows its clients — mostly builders and developers of multiple projects — to see and manage every detail of a project. It also permits other players, such as subcontractors and engineers, to view their particular section of a project and immediately communicate with each other via desktop computers, tablets or smartphones.

Its a great story in so many ways.  Two brothers, Jon and Ron Antevy, from "a family of construction contractors", working together (such a potent sort of partnership) to create a business that serves builders of complex construction projects as far away as California.  Their business bio shows fine educations,  hard work, creative minds.  They wed all that with enterprise software, which, to me, is ideation applied to the marketplace, one reality linked to another in such a productive way.  Plato and Aristotle, together at last.

The software is collaborative, involving people at all levels of the management of a complex construction project.

It fascinates me because where the Antevy brothers live is, on a much larger scale, where I live as an estate planning lawyer, dealing with ideas of what the future should look like, preparing a grand document that expresses that idea and marshaling a client's assets so that, when the contingency, no, the certainty, arises, those assets track the idea efficiently and effectively.  Where the horizon of e-Builder is relatively near and relatively certain, I have to deal with a horizon that is certainly there, death, but just when it will arise is usually of great uncertainty.  Meanwhile, however, we have developed with our client a plan for what should happen when the certainty arises.  And we have assets in the here-and-now that must be linked the plan, and there's the rub: making that link and then, once we make those links, tending those idea-asset links into that future, as circumstances will always change over the balance of the client's life.

I collaborate as well, with the client of course, and sometimes with members of his family, with business partners of that client sometimes, with bankers, accountants, financial advisers, insurance agents, people who also serve the client and ought to be involved with the estate plan build.

I have often thought of using enterprise software on the micro-scale of estate planning.  There are many, many variables in such planning, not only in terms of the potential collaborators, but crucially at the asset level.  It is too expensive for lawyers to do the work at that level. Staff can do that work, however, as long as they are well trained and well-directed.  The well-direction, it seems to me, can largely come from the right enterprise software, it seems to me.  What lives in my head, after 40+ years as a lawyer, ought to be transferable in significant part.  Just as the education and experience of the Antevy brothers, the owners of e-Builder, were transferred to their software, why not something like that being transferred to the loss-leader of all loss-leaders in the trusts and estates world, estate planning.  There is huge market for estate planning, that is, there is a huge need for estate planning, if we could only get the price right.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Little Boy Humor and a Remarkable Mind

Eight-year old grandson is visiting us with his family: a mom, a dad, and little(r) sister.

Last night, at the supper table no less, but at least after we finished eating and were just talking, the children  wandered into the dangerous topic of putting things up one's nose.  It was all just cracking the kids up. 

Finally mother had to warn the small people that if they put something up their nose and it wouldn't come out, then we would have to go to the emergency room, where they would put instruments up one's nostrils to extract the object.

More laughter!

"And what would instrument that be?!!," Grandson chortled, "A viola or a violin??!!"

Friday, August 09, 2013

The American Middle Class: Seeking Like Gentiles

When we turned the American dream into a dream about materialism, we disheartened our young, who now are forced to achieve what we've defined as success in a straitened economy.

-Peggy Noonan in "How Obama Wooed the Middle Class" in today's WSJ.

24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

-Jesus in Matthew 6: 24-34 (NKJV).

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Well, I think it's weird.

I'm not sure I could have survived to adulthood had not my dad, granddad, uncles, and various other grown-up men (and a few women) encouraged me to finish my supper with "Eat it!  It will put hair on your chest!"  The subtext was always this:  The amount of hair on one's chest and (by extension) everywhere else on one's body it might grow, has a direct relationship to the amount of manhood.  And being a man, by the way, was always a good thing.

Now this:  All along, Gillette tells us, women have wanted hairless men.  That's what they really want.

Just another reason, I suppose, why people should keep their clothes on until after they marry.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Got Fruit Juice? Got Diabetes?

The fruit juice industry has essentially taken the 'apple-a-day' mentality and used it to sell fruit juices as healthy," said Barry Popkin, a professor in the department of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Gillings School of Public Health.

Popkin and other experts would rather see people eating whole fruit. Because most juicing methods remove the produce's fiber, drinking juice omits one of the key benefits of eating fruit, while delivering huge amounts of sugar and calories.

"Every one of the long-term studies of the health effects of fruit juices shows that you increase your risk of diabetes and weight gain" with regular juice consumption, Popkin said.

One 2010 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology followed more than 43,000 adults in Singapore for five years and found that those who consumed two or more servings of fruit juice per week had a 29 percent higher risk of developing diabetes than those who didn't drink juice regularly — not far behind the 42 percent increased risk for weekly soda drinkers.

-from "Fruit Smoothies Dangerous for Your Health?" by Abby Olena of the Chicago Tribune.  (In the Miami Herald home delivery edition today.)

The abstract for the study to which the article refers is here.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

About that Old Hard Drive

Today, the WSJ reports that a federal jury found GoldmanSachs trader Fabrici Tourre "liable for misleading investors in a mortgage-linked deal that collapsed during the financial crisis, delivering a historic win for a U.S. regulator [the SEC] eager to prove its mettle inside the courtroom."

According to the WSJ article, smoking guns included emails Tourre sent to his girl friend:

Several emails from Mr. Tourre to his girlfriend, Marine Serres, a Goldman saleswoman at the firm's London office, revealed that Mr. Tourre shared some pessimism about the market.

At his trial, Mr. Tourre translated what he wrote, partly in French, to Ms. Serres: "The entire building is at risk of collapse at any moment. Only potential survivor, the fabulous Fab (as Mitch would kindly call me, even though there is nothing fabulous about me…) standing in the middle of all these complex, highly leveraged, exotic trades he created without necessarily understanding all the implications of these monstrosities."

Mr. Tourre called the note a "silly romantic email to my girlfriend, sent as I was very stressed that day," and said it was referencing a newspaper article he had forwarded to Ms. Serres.

How the government got those emails and others are the subject of this post by Bianca Boscar of the Huffington Post:

Fabrice Tourre (a.k.a. the "Fabulous Fab"), the Goldman Sachs mortgage trader who has become synonymous with Wall Street shenanigans, has now become synonymous with something else: the worst possible way to dispose of an old computer.

Among the more titillating passages in a front-page New York Times expose about Tourre's private correspondence with his lawyers is a disclaimer that the newspaper obtained his e-mails via a computer someone found "discarded in a garbage area in a downtown apartment building."

The computer was then passed on to someone else, who noticed that it continued to pull down fresh e-mails -- messages sent to someone with Tourre's name, a name suddenly in the news. The e-mails, correspondence between the trader and his lawyers, discussed how to handle accusations that he and his employer, Goldman Sachs, had played a key role in engineering a near-financial apocalypse.

Dishonest. Dumb.  Great combination.

The Orange Blossom Special Train Wreck

Florida insurance regulators unveiled for the first time Wednesday the prices proposed by private insurers for individual health plans to be sold on the state’s federally-run exchange, which is scheduled to launch Oct. 1.

But the proposed health plans and prices — and the state’s analysis that federal healthcare reform would cause premiums to rise — were hardly definitive of the actual costs that Floridians are likely to pay for health insurance next year.

That’s because the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has yet to approve the proposed health plans for Florida’s exchange, and those plans, including the prices, may change as they have in other states.

And while Florida insurance regulators said this week that the Affordable Care Act will cause the price of individual health plans sold in 2014 to rise 30 to 40 percent higher than similar plans sold today, and small group plan premiums could rise by 15 to 20 percent, they also conceded that those projections were based on a “hypothetical” health plan that does not exist anywhere in the state.

What’s more, the price projections released by the state do not factor in substantial government subsidies that will be available to many consumers based on household income, which will offset their actual out-of-pocket

-from the front page of today's Miami Herald.

Read carefully the "What's more" paragraph - an editorial gloss by your friendly journalists, who otherwise orchestrate the tone of this article into a "surely it won't be so bad" key.  Those "substantial government subsidies" come from the taxpayers and from those insureds paying the increased premiums, persons to whom those subsidies will not be available "based on household income."

But we shall see, won't we?  Sometime after the mid-term Congressional elections, of course.  One only hopes that the writers of this article (and their editors) will someday bear the full "out-of-pocket" impact of the AFA.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"The Biggest Government Bond Bubble in History" [UPDATED]

 So Andrew Haldane, a top official at the Bank of England, declared in June of his own institution, as quoted in "The Near-Zero Interest Rate Trap", an opinion piece in today's WSJ,  written by Robert I. McKinnon, a professor at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.  Professor McKinnon writes that the bubble is not limited to the Bank of England:

The Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, and European Central Bank all have used quantitative easing to force down their long-term interest rates. The result is that major industrial economies have all dramatically increased the market value of government and other long-term bonds held by their banks and other financial institutions. Now each central bank fears long-term rates rising to normal levels, because their nation's commercial banks would suffer big capital losses—in short, they would "de-capitalize."
With less capital, we would have banks reducing lending even further, and there we go again: staring at deflation.  Meanwhile, the stock market struggles upward, because investors and savers, rejecting those bonds already, have nowhere else to go.  What are the investors and savers to do, then, bury their cash in the back yard, buy gold?  The market rules, and it will finally make its will effective, whether the politico-bankers are in Washington, D.C. or some other first-world capital.

As to the stock-market, which had a "Great July" this year, one has to view its return in a 15 or 20 year perspective and, then, discount its rise by the inflation that has occurred during that period.  Furthermore, with respect to a tax-paying investor, one has to further reduce those returns by the income tax that the taxpayer must pay on that investor's returns.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

China Fouls Its Farm Lands

Estimates from state-affiliated researchers say that anywhere between 8% and 20% of China's arable land, some 25 to 60 million acres, may now be contaminated with heavy metals. A loss of even 5% could be disastrous, taking China below the "red line" of 296 million acres of arable land that are currently needed, according to the government, to feed the country's 1.35 billion people.

Rural China's toxic turn is largely a consequence of two trends, say environmental researchers: the expansion of polluting industries into remote areas a safe distance from population centers, and heavy use of chemical fertilizers to meet the country's mounting food needs. Both changes have been driven by the rapid pace of urbanization in a country that in 2012, for the first time in its long history, had more people living in cities than outside of them.

-from a story in today's Weekend Edition of the WSJ, entitled "China's Bad Earth".

Among other things, the rice harvest is becoming increasingly toxic and in decline.

Not enough little girls and younger women, the air fouled by pollution, resulting in shorter life-expectancies, and now this. What is to become of China? Believe me, that bell will toll for us.

Lower Suicide Rates for Coffee Drinkers

These results from three large cohorts [of American adults] support an association between caffeine consumption and lower risk of suicide.
-The conclusion from a study published in the World Journal of Biological Psychiatry.

A cup of coffee certainly lifts my spirits. Drinking coffee raises Dr. McDougall's eyebrows, however.  The plant-strong people don't like it either.

I have a list of spirit-lifting, physical activities.  Coffee drinking is up there, but certainly not at the top.

It would be helpful to know who funded the linked-to study.

Friday, July 26, 2013

A High Calling

[God] has "told [us] what is good" (Micah 6:8), in the Bible, in the person of his Son, and in the gift of conscience.  He has given us faculties to discern the divine order in the world.  Law is thus not merely a means of social control to be manipulated by those in power to achieve their ends.  Making, interpreting, and executing law consistent with divine ordering is a high calling, not a power-grab or arbitrary assertion.

-from "Evangelicals and Catholics Together on Law: The Lord of Heaven and Earth - a Joint Statement by Evangelical and Catholic Legal Scholars", just published and accessible to read through the Journal of Christian Thought, the Summer 2013 issue, and the Journal of Catholic Social Thought.

This part of the joint statement (and the whole of it) I find to be profoundly encouraging and moving.  Practicing law can become so wearisome and such an invitation to cynicism.  In the hands of Christians at least, the process is potentially transformed.  While we Christian lawyers are liable to lose sight of our calling, non-lawyer Christians seem to fail utterly to see it. 

The faith community has generally lost the idea of vocation except as it applies to religious-workers.  How many times did I hear, growing up a Southern Baptist, that this person or that is giving himself to "full-time Christian service", as he marches off to seminary or the mission field.  No minister I ever heard of ever recognized a young person going off to law school that way! 

At best, the church communities tend to view the lawyers among them as leadership resources for the congregation or denomination and sources of financial support, and, at worst, as Christians who are caught in terrible tension between the dark demands of the law and their Christian faith.  The question I have been asked over the years, when the subject of being a Christian lawyer comes up, is a variation of the theme "How can you be a lawyer and a Christian."  The answer is that God calls Christians into the profession, and he will not call us into something in which he will not also be absolutely involved.

(Speaking of vocation, I would suggest that the next project for a joint statement is Evangelicals and Catholics Together on Business: The Lord of the Marketplace.)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Shirley Jones on the Diane Rhem Show Today

Wow, what a woman, Shirley Jones, a fixture at our house when the kids were growing up, when the main VHS cassette we had was "The Music Man".  "Oklahoma!" was the first screened musical I can remember seeing, and a wide-screen one at that at a Miami top of the line theater.  It even had an intermission.  Mom and I went.  (We were real movie-pals.) I had never seen Shirley Jones before in anything, and I found her simply amazing.

She has a new book out, entitled Shirley Jones: a Memoir, and Diane Rhem interviewed her today on NPR.  That interview is worth a visit.

UPDATE:  I downloaded the book via Kindle and have read the first third or so of it.  I think the interview will do for most people.  The author startles with details of her sexual history (and in the interview, one is forewarned of it).  The story, simply written, provides a window into the entertainment world and that world is as troubled as we bourgeoisie believe it to be.  Miss Jones was an extraordinarily gifted young-woman, in the right place and at the right time.  She appears not really to have been prepared for the fantastic world she entered.  (A Universalist religious upbringing.  No reading of the Great Books or equivalent life-apprentice experience, apparently.)  Approaching 80 years of age, however, she can write purple (and wear it) if she chooses.  She chooses.

And of course I'll finish the book.

SECOND UPDATE:  Finished the book.  It is an entertainment.  Ms. Jones is an entertainer.  The book, easy to read, has substance to it, however, as there clearly is substance to Ms. Jones herself.  Why did she remain devoted to her first husband for so long?  I think the fundamental answer is her devotion to her children, although she writes of him in indearing terms consistently, perhaps too consistently.  Dealing with him was obviously a terribly difficult situation for all of them.  She got their children, his son, and herself through it all with a sort of iron will, independence, and remarkable gifts.   

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Ol' Dan Tucker died with Plantar Faciitis

Ol' Dan Tucker (or "Old Dan Tucker") is an old song I learned with a number of others as a very little boy.  I had a record player that was in a little suit case with a handle.  I could lay it down flat, open the top, plug in the cord, set a record on the turntable, turn it on, and place the needle at the edge of the 78 rpm disk. I remember a particular record - it was yellow - that had Oh Susannah, Ol' Dan Tucker, some nursery rhyme songs.  I played it all the time.

But I could never figure out the lyric that reports that Ol' Dan Tucker "died with a toothache in his heel."  Your teeth are in your head, I carefully reasoned.  How can you have a tooth ache in your foot?  I laughed.  Somebody was making a joke.

Somebody was telling the truth.

I hurt my right foot, specifically my right heel, at CrossFit a couple of months ago.  I ignored the pain, and the pain only got worse.  I finally limped to a podiatrist.  His diagnosis, after an x-ray and an MRI (I do what I can to support the medical profession these days), was plantar faciitis.  I had this problem once before, but the pain was centered at my arch.  This pain is in my heel.  Like a sharp nail is buried in it, point up.

And its killing me.  I probably won't die, but I finally understand what happened to Ol' Dan Tucker, poor guy.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Ali Ahmed: the 12-Year-Old Boy who Put Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood to Shame

Artificial Sweeteners, Diabetes, Obesity, Heart Disease, and Stroke

On NPR's Science Friday yesterday, Ira Flatow interviewed Susan Swithers, Professor, Behavioral Neuroscience,  Purdue University, (PhD from Duke), and author of an "opinion paper" published in the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism with the following thesis:  artificial sweeteners may change your brain's sweetness pleasure centers and cause "metabolic derangements."  (The abstract of the paper, entitled "Artificial sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements" is here and the full text is here.)

Here are excerpts from the NPR interview, the full text of which and the audio as well are at the link in the first line of this post:

FLATOW: I'm very interested in what goes on in the brain, and reading your opinion paper and from scientific studies we have done in the past on this, it seems like your brain and your body sort of get confused about what's happening when they taste artificial sweeteners.

SWITHERS: Exactly. That's what we think is the big problem. So if we think about a world there are no artificial sweeteners, when we taste something sweet, it's often a sugar, and that means when the sweet taste hits our mouth, our bodies, our brains, based on this experience can learn to anticipate that calories and sugar are going to show up. And as a result, we'll start to produce changes, physiological changes, like the release of hormones and the activation of our metabolism so that we can deal with the arrival of those calories in that sugar. And we think that's kind of a learning process, and that helps us not only regulate how much we eat but also to keep our blood sugar in a more healthy range.

And now if you introduce an artificial sweetener, what you do is you get this very strong sweet taste in your mouth, but you don't get the consequences that normally ought to show up. No calories show up. No sugar shows up. And so your body will then adjust to that new reality by saying wait a minute, I've tasted something sweet. I have no idea what's going to happen. I'm not going to release those hormones, or I'm not going to release as many of those hormones. And that's what we really think the confusion comes from.

*   *   *

[W]hat [the confusion is] doing is making it so that when people taste something sweet that does deliver sugar and calories, they don't have as strong an ability to deal with that. So they drink a regular soda or they eat a piece of fruit, anything that taste sweet and does provide the sugar and calories, and their bodies can't anticipate that those are going to show up. And if these physiological processes normally help us regulate things like food intake, then that's where you run into the problem. We eat a chocolate cake. We don't know what's going to happen. And so we end up with these negative outcomes.

*   *   *

[O]ne of the things that might be happening is that some of these same hormones that are released in response to sugar that help us regulate food intake are also implicated in helping regulate not only blood sugar but having cardio-protective effects. And one of the things we tried to do in this paper was to sort of use converging approaches, so looking not only at large epidemiological studies in people but use more basic research where we can get more directly at mechanisms.

And those studies, for example, have suggested that there's a hormone named GLP-1 that is thought to play a role not only in helping regulate blood sugar [ed.: think diabetes] but also in satiety [ed.: think obesity] and also to have cardio-protective effects. So if it turns out that these artificial sweeteners blunt the release of a hormone like GLP-1, then over the long term we're going to be losing out on those sort of protective effects.

The entire entire interview (which is very short) is well worth reading (or hearing).

Professor Swithers has done earlier work that indicates a link between artificial sweeteners and weight-gain.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Phil Gramm on Tax Reform

In today's WSJ.

A wonderful dream, but still a dream.

The getting there would require a revolution.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Dan Lopez, a "Young Invicible", is not Stupid

Dan Lopez rarely gets sick and hasn’t been to a doctor in 10 years, so buying health insurance feels like a waste of money.

Even after the federal health overhaul takes full effect next year, the 24-year-old said he will probably decide to pay the $100 penalty for those who skirt the law’s requirement that all Americans purchase coverage.

“I don’t feel I should pay for something I don’t use,” said the Milwaukee resident, who makes about $48,000 a year working two part-time jobs.

Because he makes too much to qualify for government subsidies, Lopez would pay a premium of about $3,000 a year if he chose to buy health insurance.

“I shouldn’t be penalized for having good health,” he said.

Persuading young, healthy adults such as Lopez to buy insurance under the Affordable Care Act is becoming a major concern for insurance companies as they scramble to comply with the law, which prohibits them from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions and limits what they can charge to older policy holders.

Experts warn a lot of these so-called “young invincibles” could opt to pay the fine instead of spending hundreds or thousands of dollars each year on insurance premiums. If enough young adults avoid the new insurance marketplace, it could throw off the entire equilibrium of the Affordable Care Act. Insurers are betting on the business of that group to offset the higher costs they will incur for older, sicker beneficiaries.

Read more here:

Study: China's Policy on Air Polution Cuts Life Expectancy by 5.5 Years

“Evidence on the impact of sustained exposure to air pollution on life expectancy from China’s Huai River policy”

This paper's findings suggest that an arbitrary Chinese policy that greatly increases total suspended particulates (TSPs) air pollution is causing the 500 million residents of Northern China to lose more than 2.5 billion life years of life expectancy. The quasi-experimental empirical approach is based on China’s Huai River policy, which provided free winter heating via the provision of coal for boilers in cities north of the Huai River but denied heat to the south. Using a regression discontinuity design based on distance from the Huai River, we find that ambient concentrations of TSPs are about 184 μg/m3 [95% confidence interval (CI): 61, 307] or 55% higher in the north. Further, the results indicate that life expectancies are about 5.5 y (95% CI: 0.8, 10.2) lower in the north owing to an increased incidence of cardiorespiratory mortality. More generally, the analysis suggests that long-term exposure to an additional 100 μg/m3 of TSPs is associated with a reduction in life expectancy at birth of about 3.0 y (95% CI: 0.4, 5.6).

-the Abstract of a study paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, July 8, 2013.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

NIH: "Only Half of U.S. Youth Meet Physical Standards"

And those standards aren't so high.

What ever happend to the President' Council on Youth Fitness?  Ike introduced that program in the mid-1950s.  I clearly remember our phys ed teachers talking about it.  It had a very important impact.

Well, it's morphed into something else.  And our phys ed programs in the public schools are being cut.

If, however, we fight our wars with drones from an easy chair and a joy stick, what difference does it really make?  Right?

We will become like the dreaded Kaldanes in Edgar Rice Burroughs, the Chessmen of Mars:

[T]the Kaldanes are almost all head, but for six arachnoid legs and a pair of chelae. Their racial goal is to evolve further towards pure intellect and away from bodily existence:
It is only your brain that makes you superior to the banth, but your brain is bound by the limitations of your body. Not so, ours. With us brain is everything. Ninety per centum of our volume is brain. We have only the simplest of vital organs and they are very small for they do not have to assist in the support of a complicated system of nerves, muscles, flesh and bone. We have no lungs, for we do not require air. Far below the levels to which we can take the rykors is a vast network of burrows where the real life of the kaldane is lived. There the air-breathing rykor would perish as you would perish. There we have stored vast quantities of food in hermetically sealed chambers. It will last forever. Far beneath the surface is water that will flow for countless ages after the surface water is exhausted. We are preparing for the time we know must come -- the time when the last vestige of the Barsoomian atmosphere is spent -- when the waters and food are gone. For this purpose were we created, that there might not perish from the planet Nature's divinest creation -- the perfect brain. 
Except, somehow, I don't think the rest of the world is going to sit back and let us evolve that way.  You see, we have this nice lunch set before us every day, and the rest of the world wants to eat it.

Besides, John Carter made short work of the Kaldanes.  He had a terrific body and knew how to use it.  (His girlfriends weren't half bad either.)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Women More Vulnerable to Alcohol

Women are more vulnerable than men to alcohol's toxic effects. Their bodies have more fat, which retains alcohol, and less water, which dilutes it, so women drinking the same amount as men their size and weight become intoxicated more quickly. Males also have more of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, which breaks down alcohol before it enters the bloodstream. This may be one reason why alcohol-related liver and brain damage appear more quickly in heavy-drinking women than men.

*    *   *

[Is there a  female] drinking problem? Doctors around the world differ. The National Institutes of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the Department of Health and Human Services say that for American women, anything more than a drink a day is risky. In countries such as France, Italy and Spain, where life expectancy for women is longer, authorities set the safe threshold at double that—and sometimes higher.

-from the "Saturday Essay" in yesterday's Wall Street Journal by Gabrielle Glaser, entitled "Why She Drinks: Women and Alcohol Abuse."

It was hands off alcohol in my life until I went to college.  I cannot remember my parents telling me not to drink.  But they would not drink themselves.  We were Southern Baptists, and my dad told funny stories about how Baptists drank only behind closed doors with the shades pulled down.  In that way, I knew early on that drinking was something Baptists were not to do, if not for themselves personally but as an example to others who might have a sort of fatal propensity about liquor - we were to look out for our brother and be careful for ourselves.  I learned that Baptists sometimes would drink anyway - I learned about hypocrisy, alcohol, and the power of alcohol.

My dad told stories about men who had ruined their lives with alcohol, men whose intellect and drive he admired.  Stories were the way he made his points - he never preached at me.  And I didn't feel manipulated.  I could tell that he absolutely feared what could happen to himself and, then, to his family if he failed in this way (or any other way).   (He warned me about the  risks of sex outside of marriage this way: one example was a story he told me several times, about one of his friends in the Navy, who contracted what we now call an STD while they were stationed in Brazil during WWII.  And died of it.  He talked about what a fine man this fellow was, from a good Midwestern family.)

As to women and alcohol, I remember during Freshman Rush at Duke attending a frat party the ATO's threw.  It was the first time I had ever seen drunk women.  Furthermore, the women I saw were my age, and I was shocked.  They were so pretty and fresh, and so loose with "the brothers" in their conduct.  It simply depressed me, Baptist boy.  It still depresses me to see an inebriated woman.  Why is that?  I think I fear for them. They are defenseless and unprotected.

Years later, Carol and I attended a big party at the Indian Creek Country Club, a very exclusive place.  People were all dressed up.  It was something out of a movie.  The alcohol flowed.  Toward midnight, as the party was breaking up, Carol and I saw two women trying to make their way from the tables toward the exit.  They were stumbling drunk, and we were embarrassed for them.  We still talk about it now and then.      

Friday, June 21, 2013

Miami Heading Under Water

“It may be another century before the city is completely underwater (though some more pessimistic scientists predict it could be much sooner),” writes [Rolling Stone] contributing editor Jeff Goodell in the [Rolling Stone] piece, to run in the July 4 issue. “But life in the vibrant metropolis of 5.5 million people will begin to dissolve much quicker, most likely within a few decades. The rising waters will destroy Miami slowly, by seeping into wiring, roads, building foundations and drinking-water supplies — and quickly, by increasing the destructive power of hurricanes.”

Concerns of sea-level rise are not new, nor is the threat news to many South Floridians. But Goodell’s warnings of a watery Armageddon enabled by political ineptitude at the state and federal level generated a buzz Thursday — both supportive and cynical.

-from this morning's Miami Herald, reporting on the Rolling Stone article.

Somehow Venice still rocks along.  Furthermore, I think we have more to fear from "political ineptitude at the state and federal level" than the current meme about climate change.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Retirement Kills

New research presented in this paper indicates that being retired decreases physical, mental and self-assessed health. The adverse effects increase as the number of years spent in retirement increases.

The results vary somewhat depending on the model and research strategy employed. By way of example, the following results were obtained:
  • Retirement decreases the likelihood of being in ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ self-assessed health by about 40 per cent
  • Retirement increases the probability of suffering from clinical depression by about 40 per cent
  • Retirement increases the probability of having at least one diagnosed physical condition by about 60 per cent
  • Retirement increases the probability of taking a drug for such a condition by about 60 per cent.
Higher state pension ages are not only possible (given longer life expectancy) and desirable (given the fiscal costs of state pensions) but later retirement should, in fact, lead to better average health in retirement. As such the government should remove impediments to later retirement that are to be found in state pension systems, disability benefit provision and employment protection legislation.

-Gabriel Sahlgren for the Institute of Economic Affairs, London, in his article "Work Longer, Live Healthier: The relationship between economic activity, health and government policy," describing the results of his research on data from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE).  Thanks to the American Association of Individual Investors, in its June 2013 issue of the AAII Journal, for reporting on the Sahlgren research.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Shuckers Restaurant Deck Collapse: Thinking Inside the Box

The piling-supported deck of a waterfront North Miami Beach restaurant, under the weight of 100 or so patrons, collapsed recently.  The municipality in question had recently completed a building inspection that is mandatory for structures 40 years and older.  The restaurant passed the inspection.

“We took it for granted that the whole thing was in there,” said [Building Official Raul] Rodriguez, who signed off on the completed inspection in January.
*   *   *
The concrete blocks covering reinforced steel supporting the deck had deteriorated and  .   .   . much of the steel itself was eaten away, he said Monday in a press conference, four days after the deck of the popular spot collapsed, injuring 24 people as fans cheered on the Miami Heat.
Rodriguez also said Monday that after closely studying a required 40-year inspection for the restaurant and bar, he did not find any mention of an inspection of the deck.

Still, he said, the 40-year inspection determined all buildings and structures and electrical outlets on the property were in good working order – which village officials thought included the deck.
*   *   *

[Engineer Steven] Jawitz, who wrote the January report, responded that Miami-Dade County building code does not require the deck to be inspected. He said he only cleared the building and its electrical system. He refused to say why the deck wasn’t inspected, or whether that decision was his or the restaurant’s owners.

Another example of bureaucratic thinking that hurts people.  If it's not on my checklist, then it's not my job.  Never mind that the point of the exercise is the safety of the citizens who pay the taxes that support the bureaucrat.

And we want to entrust just everything to these people so we can do what, exactly?

Addendum:  Ultimately, the responsibility belongs to the owner.  I haven't verified this, but a friend told me that the owner had pulled a permit to repair the deck in 2011, but had not done anything further. 

"The Young Won't Buy Obamacare"

 [Supreme Court Justice Samuel] Alito pointed out that young, healthy adults today spend an average of $854 a year on health care. ObamaCare would require them to buy insurance policies expected to cost roughly $5,800. The law, then, isn't just asking them to pay for "the services that they are going to consume," he added. "The mandate is forcing these people to provide a huge subsidy to the insurance companies . . . to subsidize services that will be received by somebody else."

Since he puts it that way, why would they sign up for ObamaCare, especially since the alleged penalties will be negligible and likely unenforced?

-Holman Jenkins in today's WSJ.

A very sizable portion of the "somebody else" will be the Yuppie parents of the young people.  Pile this on top of the subsidy the young people are/will be paying to Social Security and other "entitlements".

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my children and their friends.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Men, Women, and Gender, the Incidental, the Essential

Is the essential about being a man or a woman different or is it the same?  I am referring to something beyond being a human being.  Is the way that a man is human essentially different from the way that a woman is human?   Or is there no difference?

This question has come up several times in the last couple of weeks.  It came up as Carol and I listened to some DVD talks by Richard Rohr, who seems to talk as if there is an essential difference between men and women but hedges so carefully about the issue - especially when he has younger women in his audience - that I begin to think that gender is cultural with him.

In my direct experience lately, the question has come up as I observe my wife and my daughter together preparing Mary's apartment for the residency journey, and myself, as I deal with too many "management" issues that seem without end, without a sort of "accomplishment" point or coda, when I can rest, that is, where I can reach a place where I am left alone for awhile, feel pretty good about what I accomplished up to that point, look around, and then decide what I want to do next.  I identify the former  - building, managing, and administering a living place, that is a family economy or village economy or a larger, community economy that will be comfortable and useful over time - with femaleness.  I identify getting to a successful finish, then resting, and then moving on to the next, essentially new task (not just another task or an old task that comes up cyclically) with maleness. 

Two brothers (I'm not referring to my sons) I knew were very successfully in business together, the one the "outside" person - the salesman, the personality, the one coming bck in with the new ideas, and the other the "inside," managing the processes, the employees, the architecture, so firm and sure. Is it more male to be the outside partner?  (But we have two males!)

Does it matter whether gender is essential or cultural?  I think it does, because cultural is changable, although sometimes at a great cost.  Essential, on the other hand, is not changeable.  Spending time challenging the essential is a waste of time, at best, and destructive, at worst.

I am not saying that the essence of being a man is being a husband and father or of being a woman being a wife and mother.  But I will say that the the race depends on this being the case often enough and it is because of the essential differences when it is the case, but it is not necessarily always the case and it does not need to be.  There is a way of being a doctor, I think, that will at some "essential" level  be a male way for men and a female way for women.  And that will be a very good thing.  It would be wrong, however, to deal with men and woman doctors by denying that the differences one sees belong to the essential.  At least so it seems to me.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Urban Farming with Micro-Greens in the Heart of a Miami Warehouse District

The three-acre Miami Green Railway Organic Workshop, or GROW.  Crazy.

Christian Gnosticism showing up: Showing up on unhealthy bodies.

A 2006 Purdue University study first broke the news that religious people tended to be heavier than nonreligious, with "fundamental Christians" weighing in as the heaviest of all religious groups.  Lead researcher Ken Ferraro minced no words: "America is becoming a nation of gluttony and obesity, and churches are a feeding ground for this problem."

-from an excellent article in the June 2013 issue of Christianity Today, entitled "The Fitness Driven Church."

More from the article, written by the very gifted Leslie Leyland Fields:

"We've been teaching very little about 'body,' and when we do, it's primarily negative: don't get drunk, don't smoke or take drugs, and don't have sex outside of marriage," Gary Thomas, author of Every Body Matters: Strengthening Your Body to Strengthen Your Soul, tells me. "Until recently, we've not known where to go from there."

After years of being a consumer of MSEM ("Mainstream Evangelical Media,") whether directly from the pulpit, in Sunday School classes, at conferences, magazines, etc., it has only been in the last several years that I awakened to what I describe as an aspect of Christian Gnosticism, an aspect that ignores the importance of what we put into our bodies and taking care of them.  Ms. Fields refers to the problem as "dualism".  Her article quotes 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, and that's one of many appropriate Biblical references:

19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

My kids will remind me that, years ago, when I taught a high school Sunday School class that each of them attended, I would bring to each class meeting a box of a dozen freshly baked donuts from Dunkin'.  Mea culpa.  On the subject of churches feeding children and young people bad food (not to mention adults), Ms. Fields reports:

An 18-year Northwestern University study released in 2011 found those who attended youth group as teenagers were 50 percent more likely to be obese by the time they were 50 than those who didn't.

(Two years I posted on a fine article in CT written by Leslie Leyland Fields on the matter of what church-goers eat.)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

"Locked, Loaded, and Ready to Go!"

[A]ccording to a handful of quarterback tutors, including Trent Dilfer and Chris Weinke, among others who have recently praised Tebow’s changed throwing motion, he won’t be throwing his signature lame-duck passes for much longer, either.

“Like I told Tim when I found out (Monday) that he signed, ‘You’re locked and loaded, ready to go,’” Weinke told USA Today on Tuesday.

The most recent praise came from former IFL (Intense Football League) All-Star Dennis Gile, who worked extensively with Tebow on his throwing mechanics for more than three months in Scottsdale, Ariz., after last season. Gile, who was himself once signed by the Patriots as a undrafted free agent in 2003 but was subsequently released during training camp, told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday that Tebow’s throwing motion has become “100 times better.”

-from today's New York Dailey News.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

All Things Do Not Automatically Work Themselves into a Pattern of Good.

Growing up at Central Baptist Church in the Fifties meant a lot of Scripture memorization.  It was not drudgery for a child.  In fact, because the adults took Scripture so seriously, a child quoting Scripture would become the center of admiring attention.  My mind filled up with Bible verses and even chapters, all King James Version.  The Scripture in that translation still inhabits me.  One fragment from Romans 8 is verse 28:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

All things work together for good?

John Stott writes that

the familiar AV [KJV] rendering 'all things work together for good' is surely to be rejected, since all things do not automatically work themselves into a pattern of good.  The AV statement would be acceptable only if  'it is the sovereign guidance of God that is presumed as the undergirding and directing force behind all the events of life' [citation omitted].   An early copyist evidently felt the need to make this explicit by making 'God' as the subject of the verb.  But the manuscript for this reading, although 'both ancient and noteworthy' [citation omitted] is insufficient to secure its acceptance.  The addition is also unnecessary, for the order of the words permits the translation 'we know that for those who love God he is working .  .  . '.  He is ceaselessly, energetically, and purposefully working on their behalf.  Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 247.

The Revised English Bible (1989) gets it right:

[A]nd in everything, as we know, he [God] co-operates for good with those who love God and are called according to his purpose.

The NIV (1983) somewhat similar:

And we know in all things [even sad and desperate things] God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

When things work out, absent God's cooperation they tend not to work out.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Better Late than Never for Wal-Mart and its Groceries

 Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which is working to keep its produce aisles fresh, announced steps to improve the quality of its fresh fruits and vegetables.

The nation's largest grocer and retailer said Monday it is making more changes in its operations, training and sourcing as it looks to increase sales of bananas, lettuce and other produce and instill more confidence among shoppers looking for healthier choices.

-from an AP report in today's Herald.

Here's more:

But analysts say that despite Wal-Mart's pledge to make its food healthier, its produce often looks tired and well below the quality of rivals like Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Costco and Kroger. C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, says that at Wal-Mart, some of the "produce is fresh, some isn't."

"It's not consistent," he says, describing some of the fresh fruit as "wilted."

Burt Flickinger III, president of retail consultancy Strategic Resource Group says it's key for grocers to make sure they offer the freshest strawberries, cabbage and the like since produce carries 50 percent higher profit margins than canned fruits and vegetables. It also adds a halo to the store brand and fosters shopper loyalty.

"Consumers don't have confidence in Wal-Mart's fresh produce the way they have confidence in Whole Foods, Costco and other competitors," says Flickinger. He and others say that a big factor is that Wal-Mart has cut so much store staff that it doesn't have as many workers to stock the shelves in a timely manner.

Look at those profit margins on produce.  One can do well by doing good in the retail food business.  What a concept.

The comment about Wal-Mart cutting its staff is very telling.  I remember a successful businessman in my church years ago telling me that "You've got to have good people working for you, Paul." 

Later, a successful business consultant, my older son's father in law, told me that he had never met a lawyer yet who had enough help.  What he was referring to is the tendancy of "good" lawyers not to let things go, that is, not to delegate and to develop people who are competent to receive delegation.  (You can't bill for teaching, and we worship the billable hour.)  He made that observation just as I was leaving the big firm and opening the small one.

It was the best practice advice I have ever received, and it came at just the right time.  At the old firm, I had a paralegal, a half a secretary, and one half of an associate.  (Plus a gigantic staff for 300- 400 lawyers, a staff with its own inertia and inefficiency.) The firm would not allow me to hire anyone else.  (Their advice was to work harder, if I had more work than I could presently handle.)

Now we are six lawyers, three paralegals, one secretary, and a lot of technology - all growing from the same practice.  (Plus a staff of five, some part time, who are extremely efficient and nimble.)