Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy Old Year's Eve: A concluding comment on the Year 2008

I was introduced to a Dutch tradition when I met Sarita.

I had only heard of New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

But Sarita's family celebrated Old Year's Eve or Old Year's Night . . . a time to remember the past and contemplate the future.

And so, in keeping with that practice, I thought the following end-of-year/Christmas editorial from the National Post, a publication of which I was previously unaware, is most apropos:
“Yes, we can” is good politics but bad theology.
“No, we can’t” won’t inspire a campaign rally,
but the realization that the glory of this world
is constantly passing away
is the first step in the search
for another, more enduring glory.

Sic transit gloria mundi — thus passes away the glory of the world, the old Latin phrase puts it.

In 2008, the glory of money took the biggest hit. The economic ground shifted beneath our feet, and so much that was solid, so much that was powerful, so much that was thought stable, has passed away.

The mightiest of them all, General Motors, has devoted its most intense recent energies not to production, but to begging.

The year began with five famous investment banks on Wall Street. In 2007, they distributed year-end bonuses to their combined 186,000 employees of some $38-billion — more than the GDP of Bulgaria, to put it in perspective.

In 2008, Bear Sterns and Merrill Lynch were bought out to save them from going bust; Lehman Brothers went belly up; Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley converted themselves into regular banks. Transit: 5; gloria mundi: 0. . . .

The fundamental Christian telling of history is that we are always in crisis to a greater or lesser degree. Man is estranged from God and consequently estranged from his neighbour; therefore he lurches through history trying to avoid one calamity or another. The Christian believer knows we need Christmas.

We need Christmas because, contrary to a certain messianic politics that took hold of so many this past year, the simple answer is that we can’t save ourselves. The things we make and manufacture, whether automobiles or mortgage-backed securities, are not the stuff of salvation. . . .

The Christian faith is that the Child in Bethlehem came to save us from this passing world, entering into it that we might, with Him, overcome it. This year we may be more disposed to considering that possibility than most.

To our readers then, who do us the . . . honour of passing some of their time with us, we wish a Merry Christmas and a new year abundantly blessed by those things that do not pass away.

I couldn't say it so well myself.

Data-Driven Enhancement of Facial Attractiveness

New software "automagically" alters photos of human faces to conform more closely than they do at the beginning to objective standards of good looks.

"Professional photographers have been retouching and deblemishing their subjects ever since the invention of photography. It may be safely assumed that any model that we encounter on a magazine cover today has been digitally manipulated by a skilled, talented retouching artist. Since the human face is arguably the most frequently photographed object on earth, a tool such as ours would be a useful and welcome addition to the ever-growing arsenal of image enhancement and retouching tools available in today’s digital image editing packages. The potential of such a tool for motion picture special effects and advertising is also quite obvious," write the developers.

But what can possibly serve as an "objective" standard of good looks? How about a database of human observers' responses to various pictures: "Which is better looking?"

For the "scientific" explanation of the project . . . and some sample photos . . . check out the following 4:06 video.

Most of the changes are subtle. But I have to agree, they make a (positive) difference in most subjects' looks!

Another brief article by the developers.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Fine to keep exercising when you have a head cold . . .

I had been wondering.

I exercise five or six times a week. I have never enjoyed exercising. I "just" realize it's something I've got to do.

One of my "secrets" for being as faithful as I am is the acquisition over five years ago of an exercise machine that cost us, at the time, more than any of the four Toyota Corollas we had purchased up to that point. Perhaps you have seen ads for it: the ROM [Range-of-Motion] Quick Gym.

"Crazy" price . . . but it was the promise to give me a complete workout in exactly four minutes a day that sold me on it. And after having spent that kind of money, I have to confess, there is no way I can afford not to exercise except under extreme circumstances.

So in the last five years, I can tell you, I have missed my normal five- or six-days-per-week exercise pattern only
  • When I have been on vacation or otherwise unavoidably away from home.
  • When I have been suffering from congested lungs. (I tend toward asthma two or three months a year, on average. If I find myself coughing pretty uncontrollably throughout the day despite using my inhaler, I will skip the ROM to do some less aerobically challenging exercise).
And, very rarely:
  • When I am feeling really, really sick.
Otherwise, however--and I would say that over the last five years that has been a good 90% of the time or more (even including the substantial quantity of travel I've been doing lately)--I'm using the ROM every morning. No excuses.

I record exactly what I do on the ROM each day, all my "splits" (how many strokes I am able to do each minute), my final score (total strokes; and the "percent of goal" I achieve), and what, specifically, I attempted to do each day (upper body or lower body, at what difficulty level, and how many minutes; the manufacturer suggests "only" 4 minutes, and that is what I did for five years--until the last couple of days of August, when my vitality and longevity doctor urged me to push it up to 6 or even 8 minutes [!!! deadly!!!]).

Well, a couple of weeks ago, two days after noting that I felt "lousy; swollen glands [in the neck, below the jaw]," I recorded the very worst performance I have ever had on the ROM . . . I mean, ever. Five percent worse than my next worst day ever. I completely "ran out of gas."


I have wondered in the past whether I should skip exercising when I feel lousy.

Well, I think I finally got "the answer."

From the New York Times: Don’t Starve a Cold of Exercise:
[T]wo little-known studies . . . were published a decade ago in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Results from the studies were so much in favor of exercise that the researchers themselves were surprised.

The studies began, said Leonard Kaminsky, an exercise physiologist at Ball State University, when a trainer at the university, Thomas Weidner, wondered what he should tell athletes when they got colds.

The first question was: Does a cold affect your ability to exercise? To address that, the researchers recruited 24 men and 21 women ages 18 to 29 and of varying levels of fitness who agreed to be deliberately infected with a rhinovirus, which is responsible for about a third of all colds. Another group of 10 young men and women served as controls; they were not infected.

At the start of the study, the investigators tested all of the subjects, assessing their lung functions and exercise capacity. Then a cold virus was dropped into the noses of 45 of the subjects, and all caught head colds. Two days later, when their cold symptoms were at their worst, the subjects exercised by running on treadmills at moderate and intense levels. The researchers reported that having a cold had no effect on either lung function or exercise capacity. . . .

[Dr. Kaminsky] said he . . . tested the subjects at different points in the exercise sessions, from moderate to intense effort, and found that their colds had no effect on their metabolic responses.

Another question was: Does exercising when you have a cold affect your symptoms and recovery time?

Once again, Dr, Kaminsky and his colleagues infected volunteers with a rhinovirus. This time, . . . 34 young men and women . . . were randomly assigned to a group that would exercise with their colds and 16 others . . . were assigned to rest.

The group that exercised ran on treadmills for 40 minutes every other day at moderate levels of 70 percent of their maximum heart rates.

Every 12 hours, all the subjects in the study completed questionnaires about their symptoms and physical activity. The researchers collected the subjects’ used facial tissues, weighing them to assess their cold symptoms.

The investigators found no difference in symptoms between the group that exercised and the one that rested. And there was no difference in the time it took to recover from the colds. But when the exercisers assessed their symptoms, Dr. Kaminsky said, “people said they felt O.K. and, in some cases, they actually felt better.”

Now, Dr. Kaminsky said, he and others at Ball State encourage people to exercise when they have colds, at least if they have the type producing symptoms like runny noses and sneezing. He is more cautious about other types of colds that produce fevers or symptoms below the neck such as chest congestion.
There's more.

I think it's good and helpful information!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

For the coffee lover

11 wonderful coffee mugs to inspire . . . or, possibly, to depress you.

--From the WebUrbanist--"Urban Design, Culture, Travel, Architecture and Alternative Art."

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Year 2008 in Pictures

I am dismayed I'm so unaware of what is happening around the world.

Catch up on the beauty and pain of life (and death) in today's world.

120 large-size photos from the Boston Globe.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Theologically robust civility

I don't recall who first introduced me to Albert Mohler a few weeks ago.

Mohler is a prolific and brilliant, theologically conservative writer and radio commentator. I wish I had half his spiritual and intellectual firepower.

But ignoring my wishes, I would like to call your attention to his analysis of An Evangelical Manifesto, written back in May. His conclusion:
Issues such as abortion and marriage are not only important, but urgent. One gains the impression that the civility so prized in this document can only take the form of endless talk and dialogue. That may fit the culture of Washington think tanks, but it does not fit the culture of public policy or the lives most of us lead. The Manifesto is wonderfully prophetic in calling for civility, but it never explains how civility can survive a policy conclusion -- or how civil parties to a conversation about ultimate things can speak the truth and always be considered civil.

When the document correctly states, "In a society as religiously diverse as America today, no one faith should be normative for the entire society, yet there should be room for the free expression of faith in the public square," does it mean that there can or should be no normative morality for the public square? Or, one might wonder, would this normative morality (without which no society can survive) be as secularized as the framers of the Manifesto eloquently fear?

Where does a commitment to civility meet its limits? Can one speak truthfully of the Gospel, and of the fact that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation, and be considered civil?

In the end, I must judge "An Evangelical Manifesto" to be too expansive in terms of public relations and too thin in terms of theology. I admire so much of what this document states and represents, but I cannot accept it as a whole. I want it to be even more theological, and to be far more specific about the Gospel, I agree with the framers that Evangelicals should be defined theologically, rather than politically, culturally, or socially. This document will have to be much more theological for it to accomplish its own stated purpose.

Now, perhaps we Evangelicals will all gain by a civil conversation about this Manifesto that calls for civility. That at least would be a good place to start.

Someone has to speak up for final legal and policy conclusions. And when it comes to making final decisions, it seems few evangelical leaders are willing and able to "stand up and be counted" for their considered and absolute positions. They (we) seem willing to speak up for absolute truth. But when push comes to shove, our range of absolute statements is mighty thin!

Perhaps I should speak for myself: When push comes to shove, I find it difficult to make "Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen!" kinds of statements. I am happy to present my reasons for believing one way or another. I am happy to "argue" my position with passion. But to pretend I can make a definitive, "Thus says the Lord" statement beyond the specific words of Scripture (words that are open to potential different interpretations) . . . --I have a hard time with that.

And so I will continue to read Mr. Mohler to learn how he is able to conduct himself with grace and truth . . . a balancing act he seems perfectly able to perform. (Check out his Can a Christian Deny the Virgin Birth? message from December 23.)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Merry Christmas

I receive Google Alerts for various keywords--my name, for example, and Sonlight Curriculum.

Tonight I received an alert for "the daisyhead"/Connie's blog and her post titled, simply, "Merry Christmas."

It features Ephesians 1:4-6 ("For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will-- to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves.") and this video--a beautifully produced picture story of a little girl being chosen in adoption*:

Perhaps it hits me with greater force because I know my son and daughter-in-law ache to hold "their" want-to-adopt-them children in their arms.

We pray for Eduard, Inna and Vika on a regular basis. May they soon be able to come home!

* Song by Brad Avery and performed by Third Day.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Totally awful website design

I had reason to write to Revlon about their Mitchum Smart Solid anti-perspirant product. There's no information on the package that I saw for how to contact the appropriate person. And the only information I could find about the corporation behind the product was a small notice, in about 4.5-point type, that said "©Revlon Cons. Prod. Corp." So I typed into my browser and looked for an appropriate link that might lead me to an e-mail address. Happily, at the bottom of the page, there was a "Contact Us" link.

I went to the page and filled it out.

I should have paid closer attention (click on photos to see them at full size):

I probably shouldn't complain about being required to indicate whether I am male or female and, if female, prefer to be known as Ms., Miss or Mrs.

But "House Number"? I didn't even think twice about that one. You're asked for that kind of information when you live in an apartment, aren't you? And "Street"? What's that? I gave them my street!

Oh! No! They want me to spread my information like this:

Crazy! I've never seen anything like this before.

But particularly irksome: 255 characters to communicate a complete message? That's fine for professional writers; but what do they expect to the average consumer to do? And what are we supposed to do if our problem is somewhat complex, or we would like to "gush" about something that pleases us?

I found the entire experience quite frustrating.

After I had posted my concern, I did a little more hunting on the Revlon site and noticed that no Mitchum products were listed anywhere.

"Oh, no! Did I just send a message to the wrong company?"

So I did a Google search on Mitchum Smart Solid anti-perspirant.

Oh! There is a separate Mitchum site.

And what a joy that was to visit! (Not!)

First thing: my ears were assaulted with an astonishingly loud noise. (I have my speakers or earphones on all the time anyway, because I enjoy listening to music while I'm working. But this was two or three times as loud as what I'm used to.) It was the sound of concert hall crowd with the orchestra tuning up--the kind of noise you might hear 10 or 15 minutes before the performance begins. And almost simultaneously with the noise, I saw a stage curtain . . . which rose upon a darkened stage while about a dozen formally-attired musicians appeared.

Eventually, when the entire tableau had been set--and the cacophony continued to sound in my ears--I was greeted with this image:

Yep! That's it! The entire Mitchum home page.

And if you dare enter, you won't find any truly deep, thoughtful or useful information about the company or its products. No contact information. Terrible navigation that doesn't even permit you to "go back" to anything you've seen previously. . . .

Nothing, really, . . . except an adolescent "game" in which you can have the "musicians" create "music" with their armpits.

And this is quality marketing?


Oh. I should probably mention one last thing that really bothered me.

Considering what I am involved with on my other, "professional" blog, I was intrigued by the title of a link called All About Giving. "I wonder what they have to say? I wonder what Revlon's philosophy and approach may be?"

Perhaps you'll be as amazed and surprised as I was at what All About Giving had to say. Or not.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A wonderful congruence of posts . . .

I got the latest edition of the BEAM of Sonlight newsletter last night. I began reading it this morning.

The very last item in each issue is "A Little Humor." And this morning's humor was this:
Does this mean I've failed as a homeschooling mom?

Tonight my youngest made me ask myself this question.

She was flipping through some books about the Revolutionary War while working on a school project.

As she read a chapter about Paul Revere she exclaimed, "OH, it's one if by land and two if by sea!"

My response was something akin to "Well duh, what else could it possibly be?"

Her answer: "Oh you know how they used to say thee and thou and loveth? I thought it was one-eth by sea and two-eth by land."

She's 14, people. 14! We will never let her live this down.
Now here is where the "wonderful congruence" occurred.

The article immediately preceding the humor piece was Sarita's regular "A Word from Sarita" column in which she encouraged readers to "make the most of your family time" during the holidays and suggested means for doing just that.

One piece of advice:
We have a rule at our house that no one is allowed to make snide comments or put themselves or anyone else down. Our phrase: "No put-downs."

I know many families seem to almost value the well-phrased put-down. And while I understand the potential humor involved, may I note that it is expensive humor. It comes at the expense of the person who is weak.

John was the one who first pressed this point in our marriage. He noted Proverbs 26:18-19 and how it used a phrase that many people, accustomed to put-downs, use to justify their behavior. When someone is hurt by their words, they will often say, "I was just joking! And Proverbs 26:18-19 says, "Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows and death, so is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, "Was I not joking?"

Please. Let me encourage you to protect your family and your time together as safe and affirming, not a battleground for put-downs and arguments.
I wrote back to the woman who said her family wouldn't let her daughter "live down" what she had said (or was it, rather, they wouldn't let her live down what she had thought?):
It strikes me that you caught your daughter in one of those odd "in-between" moments where she HAD thought, as a younger girl (how old was she when last she heard the poem?), that it said "one-eth by land and two-eth by sea." But now, seeing it in print, and having never given it a thought in years, she was startled to realize, "Why, of course!" And I expect she found it quite funny herself . . . unless and until family members "won't let her live it down."

Image via Wikipedia[Someone else suggested this was a case of misheard lyrics. My opinion,] It is, indeed, one of those "mis-heard lyrics" problems. Like thinking Jimi Hendrix said, " 'Scuse me while I kiss this guy" (instead of " 'Scuse me while I kiss the sky")--a lyrical mishearing I wouldn't have thought of had it not been that the website came up as the first option on my Google search for misheard lyrics). (Oh. And by the way, has some great examples of misheard lyrics; but there are, obviously, a lot of people with rather unrefined taste in music and/or language, so don't say I didn't warn you of potentially offensive language.)

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Thursday, December 18, 2008

U.S. Moral Authority

A mainland Chinese government official jokingly asked an American visitor whether the U.S. needed any help running Communist-style state-owned companies and building infrastructure. "We have experience at that," the Chinese official said.

Where is the U.S. headed?

Moral leadership is expressed not during the "good times," but when the chips are down.

The Scripture speaks of the righteous man fulfilling his oath "even when it hurts" (Psalm 15:4). That is righteousness. Not when you fulfill your word and it "costs you nothing."


I get the sense that "we" in the U.S. are not willing to do much unless it "costs us nothing."

--For more on U.S. Moral Authority--or lack thereof--see U.S. Moral Authority Takes Another Hit by Robyn Meredith.

Too many car companies!

Please, government! Let them go bankrupt! Let them go out of business!

There Are Too Many Car Companies Anyway, writes Michael E. Marks:
The result of having too many [automobile manufacturers] is exactly what we are now seeing. Not enough companies can earn their cost of capital.

But with government support, they can hang on, often for a very long time, which reduces profits throughout the industry, which leads to less investment, lower quality and less innovation. So if our government is going to aid and abet this poor outcome, perhaps it should think about supporting only one of these companies, or two at the most. We just don't need three. Period. What we need is less choice.
And the grounds for this assertion that there are too many car manufacturers?
I've picked two other categories, cellphones and computers. Both are products bought by substantial numbers of consumers, and both are products sold globally by major international companies. First some overall numbers:

ProductUnits Sold GloballyUnits Sold in the U.S.
Cellphones1.2 billion146 million
Personal Computers271 million64 million
Automobiles91 million16 million

These are all 2007 numbers. They'll likely be lower for 2008 and 2009

Now let's look at the number of global brands of each, available in the U.S.:

Major Cellphone Brands (8)

Sony Ericsson

Major Personal Computer Brands (7)

Lenovo (previously IBM)

Car Brands Available in the U.S. (40)

Land Rover
And the article continues.

In sum: It is helpful for companies to fail. Industry consolidation is a good thing.

And my view?

I think he's right!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Fund-raising three quarters of a billion dollars

Denny Hatch's Business Common Sense offers fascinating commentary if you like to learn about history and business.

Today's issue, comprised primarily of a lengthy quote from Walter Weintz's The Solid Gold Mailbox (Wiley & Sons, 1987), is right up there with the best of them as Weintz tells the story of how political fundraising got its start back in the 1950s. . . .

Hatch himself begins the column, as he always does, with a brief newspaper clipping (this one about Obama's $750 million fundraising campaign), and a discussion of the clipping (this time, about how astonishingly successful Obama's group was . . . because they ran "textbook campaigns in the primaries and general election" and what are the hallmarks of such a campaign). Weintz, who really started the entire politica fundraising industry, tells the story that forms the background of what makes a textbook political campaign.


PS: Want to subscribe to Business Common Sense for FREE? Notice the sign-up on the right-hand side of the page.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Prepared for a "rainy day"

Just bumped into the blog and found a post about a woman who hit a rough spot when she lost her $70,000 per year job.

Why is her story noteworthy? Primarily, I think, because of how quickly she ran into trouble.
When she was laid off in February, Patricia Guerrero was making $70,000 a year. Weeks later, with bills piling up and in need of food for her family, this middle-class mother did something she never thought she would do: She went to a food bank.
A few additional facts:
  • Guerrero is estranged from her husband.
  • Altadena is an expensive place to live.
    • Altadena's cost of living is 44.99% higher than the U.S. average.
    • The income per capita is $33,527, which includes all adults and children. The median household income is $70,673.
  • She has had to take extreme measures to pay for her interest-only mortgage of $2,500 a month.
  • She used her tax refund to help pay many of her bills for the first two months, but now that money is gone.
The author of the post comments (among many other insightful points):
People need to learn to spend less than they earn. Doing this gives an even bigger cushion when financial trouble hits. Seems like this lady was spending exactly what she earned (maybe more -- we don't know what her credit cards look like.)
A reader, then, comments:
This is a good example of the fact that everyone must expect the "unexpected." If we all took the advice of our Grandmother and saved for a rainy day, we would be better prepared for these events. King Solomon said "only a fool consumes all he has."
???!!! Where is that verse? Check out Proverbs 21:20:
In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"All roads do not lead to God, but . . ."

I received a copy of the Christmas letter sent by some friends of ours who are working with Frontiers, the mission to Muslims.

The husband wrote about attending a Sunday school class at his church where
they were teaching about all the things the Qur’an teaches about Jesus. For instance did you know that the Qur'an teaches that:
  1. Jesus was born of a virgin named Mary.
  2. Jesus is righteous.
  3. Jesus is sinless.
  4. Jesus performed miracles.
  5. Jesus is a word from God.
  6. Jesus is alive in heaven today.
  7. Jesus will return to earth on the Day of Judgment.
  8. Jesus' name is Messiah and he is a mercy from God.
And much, much more. . .
My friend continued,
In many places where we have workers many Muslims are finding Jesus in their own Qur'ans. They are also finding him through dreams, visions and miracles.

It is like a great quote I once heard, "All roads do not lead to God but God can be found walking on all roads." Praise God He is bringing His good news to distant lands and allows us to get involved with Him.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Making YouTube videos for a living?

After yesterday's post, I had to follow up a bit.

Here's the bigger story of how Corey created his video and what that has meant to him.


And then, totally just for fun--from the Onion News Network, a subdivision of The Onion: YouTube is sponsoring a $100,000 contest to encourage posters to create videos that are "actually good":

I'd say Corey's video makes the grade!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Geese taking off in 1200 fps slo-mo

The Casio Exilim F1 camera takes up to 1200 frames per second (fps) . . . which can create some mind-blowingly gorgeous images, even if they are grainy.

Check out these geese "walking on water" as they take off from a pond.

And then, perhaps, gaze in wonder--as I did--when I realized their "landing gear" had suddenly become completely contained in their beautiful, aerodynamic "airframes."

And then there's this video of creatures in the backyard . . . truly astonishing sights at 300 fps to 600 fps. The videographer comments,
Last weekend I went looking for fast-moving objects to capture in slow-mo, and in my backyard I came up with a freakin' menagerie of unexpectedly interesting little beasties.

Everything is a twitch here, a blur there—you have to realize that this whole two-minute video consists of just 10 to 12 seconds of real life, shown at 300fps or 600fps.

Gorgeous and hilarious music . . . if you're into Star Wars

Brilliant 4:10 lip-sync of Moosebutter's a capella tribute to John Williams, composer of many of the great and/or famous film scores of the past 40 years, including Valley of the Dolls; Goodbye, Mr. Chips; The Poseidon Adventure; Jaws; Close Encounters of the Third Kind; the entire Star Wars series; Superman; the Indiana Jones series; E.T.; Jurassic Park; Schindler's List; and many, many more.

Moosebutter comments: "Corey Vidal put up a video version of this song. More people saw it on the internet than probably ever saw any of our other videos on the internet." And, they say, "If you came [to our page] because you saw Corey's video, celebrate by eating some candy corn! It's on us."

And with the great job Corey did, Moosebutter decided to make their own, original, 4:35 version:


Monday, December 08, 2008

Looking for Christmas presents for members of the family . . .

I came across a number of t-shirts I thought certain family members would enjoy.

This one, especially, from Despair, Inc., tickled my fancy:

Reminded me of an email I received on Friday:

Sunday, December 07, 2008

See anything new or different?

My brother urged me to set my blog for modern monitors, rather than for the old 800x600 monitors of yesteryear.

I attempted it earlier in the week, but ran into difficulties with the graphic files that create the rounded corners on the various graphical blocks on the page. I own all the appropriate graphical software, but couldn't figure out what to do.

So yesterday I called my son and--voila!--he had me on the straight and narrow in about 10 or 15 minutes.

I like the wider body text much better than the narrow style I have been fighting for so long.

I hope you do, too!

Thanks, Pete, for the recommendation!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Cool tool!

I've been using TechSmith's SnagIt for several years, now. What a wonderful program!

But I think they just got beaten.

Check out this 4:39 introduction to Evernote--screen capture software that works on Macs and Windows machines, even on web-enabled cell phones . . . and will even read words that are part of a photo or graphic! Best of all: it's free!


[See also Top 5 Reasons to Use Evernote by Tyler Tufte on

Friday, December 05, 2008

A gorgeous ice sculpture . . . and then . . .


. . . I guess it's "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."

Or, "So close! So close and yet so far. . . ."

Or, "Only those who dream big can achieve things beyond our wildest imagination."

I am so glad they got the photos and video of the sculpture before that final point of failure.

And I'm so glad the guy who was making that final cut didn't get hurt.

Thanks to Dave for sending me the link to the video.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Ever made your own root beer, ginger ale, etc.?

Two things converged to get me to look at a page that tells you how to brew your own root beer or ginger ale:
  1. I read Little Britches last week while on vacation. And Ralph Moody, the author, aka "Little Britches," mentions drinking birch beer as a boy of 8. . . . Somehow, I know, that is a soft drink but made in a more "natural" way than the kinds of soft drinks we buy in the grocery store today.
  2. I was introduced to yesterday and stumbled upon the referenced "How to" article.
So when I saw the article, I followed the link.


. . . May I urge you, however: read the follow-on comments where you'll learn (from the original author),
When I made this as a college student with my younger brother, . . . I never particularly cared for the end product as it had a distinctive yeasty taste and I much preferred to drink the store-bought product instead. The same with the grape wine that my brother and I made - it also had a yeasty taste. Although, the cranberry wine (using Ocean Spray Cranberry juice) had a very good taste.
And (from a respondent),
Try a champagne, montrachet or ale yeast (not a lager yeast) and say goodbye to yeast bite:)
And (again from the original author),
I didn't include information on sassafras in the article since root beer extract has been bottled and sold commercially by Hires and others since the late 19th century and can be found in most grocery stores. Prior to selling the commercially bottled extract on store shelves 19th century pharmacists used to mix and sell the syrup on request. Also, all of the 19th century recipe books that I checked called for using syrup to make root beer.

Finally, while ginger root can usually be found in grocery stores, one has to go looking for sassafras in the woods. Also, ginger extract is not as common in stores as the root beer extract and one must either go to a specialty store that deals in brewing supplies or go on the web to find the ginger extract. Cook books from the 19th century forward also contain recipes for ginger ale using both the extract or the ginger root itself.
. . . Among other things!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Get rid of income taxes for a year!

Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas notes that the federal government has committed to spend--or has already spent--close to $7 Trillion in an attempt to jump-start the U.S. economy. It "only" takes in $1.2 Trillion (one number he mentioned) to $2 Trillion (the number his interviewer mentioned) in income taxes each year.

"Why not give the money to the people who can really use it?" he asks. "Let's get rid of the cronyism and the fat-cat paybacks. . . ."

I kind of like the idea!

Intersexuality, Transgenderism (?) and Transsexuality

If you read my post from yesterday, you may have noticed the fourth response I quoted, from a woman who opened her response by identifying her "unique perspective":
I'm Intersexed, which means biologically speaking, I'm neither 100% male nor 100% female. That's pretty common - over 1% of people are, and for about 0.1% it's fairly obvious. But I have one of the really rare conditions like 5ARD or 17BHDD where the appearance changes over time. Psychologically I always was female, but when you have the body of a rugby forward... pretending to be male was easier. Until my body changed.
I first came across this issue a few years ago when doing research on some new wrinkles in a New York City antidiscrimination law--a law that was now permitting people who "identify" as male or female, whether or not they are biologically male or female, to use the restrooms assigned to members of the gender with which they "identify."

I decided to follow through a bit more on this subject of intersexuality. The author of the comments I quoted yesterday, A. E. (now "Zoe") Brain, tells an interesting and, I would say, disturbing story. As she writes in her "About Me" space:
Actually, I am a Rocket Scientist. Also hormonally odd (my blood has 46xy chromosomes anyway) and for most of my life, I looked male, and lived as one, trying to be the best Man a Gal could be. Anyway, in May 2005 that started changing naturally for reasons still unclear, and I'm now Zoe, not Alan : happier and more relaxed not to have to pretend any more.
So what is it like to be an intersexual?

She has written over 180 posts on the subject. Many of them quite disturbing. You can start with her latest post on the subject: A Personal Thanksgiving.

How would you want to help your child if s/he were in a similar situation?

I hope not like the mother who wrote to a personal advice columnist in the Jamaica Gleaner:
Q: My 10-year-old son is acting like a girl. I beat him almost every day for this. People tell me he is going to be gay and that it doesn't matter how I beat him since the female hormones will be there because the Lord made him that way. I am planning to send him to his father in Kingston who says he can beat it out of him. What should I do? He is very bright in school.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Thoughtful rant about what might generically be referred to as "sensitivity training"

I've enjoyed a series of articles by Randy Cassingham about what he refers to as ZT-- "Zero Tolerance"--policies, especially in public schools. (You can find a few of them here, here, and here . . . among many others.) In essence, Cassingham says, ZT is the same as Zero Brains . . . and has no legitimate place in an educational institution.

Now comes a rant from a man subjected to corporate "training" concerning sexual harassment.
I find it deeply offensive to my personal sense of honor and integrity to be punished or otherwise lectured on something I did not do. Period. And to be subjected to two hours of second-grade style, “who can tell me what Johnny did wrong by telling Sarah she has a hot body” lecturing infuriates me on many levels.

To begin with, I do not need to be told this is inappropriate behavior. I already know that is inappropriate behavior. I learned that was inappropriate behavior not from the State of California or a battalion of corporate lawyers, but from my parents, who raised me to be polite, well-mannered, and who spent much of their own youth trying to form me into a civilized gentleman. I know, I can see the smiles on many faces already. It’s like I’m speaking in Aramaic.

I was treated to a video that had precisely the same emotional pitch and condescension as the old ABC After-School Specials, which is appropriate when aimed at 10-year-olds but in a room full of adults was unimaginably cloying and infantile. In this helpful lecture on the evils of hateful stereotypes, a clueless, insensitive white male managed to offend everyone without the dimmest awareness of his own boorishness until confronted and re-educated (with a rising string section!) by emotionally advanced, sensitive (yet strong!) women and his solemn, understanding (but firm!), black male superior.

I’m getting a little tired of this movie. I see this movie everyday. . . .

[T]he essence of the 22 page workbook I received (and for which I was not given a crayon with which to write nor a gold star when it was completed) was boiled down to a single sentence, in bold italics at the bottom of page 15:

It is not the intent of the alleged harasser, but the impact on the recipient.

It doesn’t matter if you meant to hurt someone. As long as someone was hurt, then harassment took place.

Now at the end of all this, the facilitator – who is clearly a lovely person, for this is not aimed at her – smilingly told us not to be paranoid but just to be careful not to offend anyone. And the other 23 people nodded happily and made jokes and goofed around to show how lighthearted and un-paranoid we suddenly all were. And yet, this harassment and sensitivity training did not succeed fully, because there was one person who was offended, and who in point of fact felt extremely harassed. And that person was me.

Perhaps, in future editions of the handbook, we can add another victim group to the protected category: rational adults. Perhaps I might contribute a chapter to this sensitivity training. Something like:

The rational adult is a small and shrinking minority in the workplace. His cultural heritage – which is just as valuable as anyone else's! – has taught him that “personal responsibility” means he has a right to feel insulted, offended and harassed when being lectured on things that he did not do, nor would ever contemplate doing. In this ancient and primitive culture, a person’s “honor” and “integrity” are relied upon to govern behavior. If such a person unknowingly gives insult, they will “apologize.” According to their tribal ethics, people who intentionally harm, insult or harass others deserve to be fired on the spot.

I am told this course was “preventative” – to stop harassment before it happens. Fair enough. Tomorrow, perhaps, we can have a course on how to prevent office electrocutions by sticking screwdrivers into the sockets, or a poison-prevention class involving two role-players and a gallon of copier toner, or perhaps we can facilitate a upper-level meeting to try and determine what warning placards may be missing from every object and sharp corner in the building, or a support group for those people rendered incapable of speaking or smiling for fear of giving some kind of unintentional offense to someone. These are all areas ripe for new legislation and demanding of state funding. Because when you really get down to how much unintentional offense there remains left to give, you can see we have a genuine crisis on our hands. . . .

My parents – remember them? – taught me at an early age that what people said or thought or wrote about me did not have the power to hurt me – only I can allow them to do that. My self-worth, self-respect and self-esteem are earned, and not given, and are therefore mine – impervious to anything in the outside world, which is why I am willing to sit at this desk, as the only one of 24 happy, smart, creative people, and look like some reactionary nut case for being enraged about the fact that we willingly submit ourselves to insults to our personal honor and integrity that our forefathers would never, ever have countenanced. And I am ashamed on behalf of them. But just me. No one else thinks anything of it at all.

And so, with smiles and good will all around, behind a plate of donuts and cartons of morning orange juice, we again fall another step from the adult world of action and consequence, to the warm, friendly, everlasting childhood of kindergarten, where no one’s feelings can ever be hurt and teacher is always there to make sure – in her gentle but firm way – that there will never be harmful consequences to your actions because your actions will be so curtailed in advance that offending someone – like feeding and housing yourself – are things that we simply no longer have to worry about any more.

And the endless sleep, in the warm, clean, fluffy bed, continues unabated.

And the post itself is followed by a series--a lengthy series!--of readers' comments.

Among them:
Now that you have completed harassment training, you have ethics training to which to look forward. A couple years ago, I couldn't help but notice that in all the scenarios in the ethics training, the villian was a white male and the ethical saints were minorities or women or both.

Most of us make a rational calculation that it's just not worth challenging these racist and sexist indoctrination flicks, but my mind is start to change on that. The environment at work has degenerated to the point where the white male is the designated perpetrator. If you send a recipe for apple pie to a female colleague and she calls it harassment, then that's what it is. And there are real consequences.

What managers have done is give the craziest, most dysfunctional workers license to wreak havoc to their team on a whim. I think it's time to steadily push back with sharp and persistent criticism of the rotten status quo.
I did the mandatory training about 7 years ago, just before I became self-employed. Actually, I did learn something in the class: that the person who invariably gets named in a lawsuit is NOT the office boor, but rather a more-or-less decent person who inadvertently and innocently makes a wrong comment to the wrong person. And even supposing you stay the course and prevail in count, terrific - so now you can add "Successfully defended against sexual harassment accusations" to your resume?

Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Background on this diversity push for those interested. . .

Corporate Diversity Training

[How diversity training was started in an elementary classroom (which it why it's so demeaning and condescending for adults) and then peer reviewed on the Johnny Carson show (akin to being on Jay Leno for approval).]

Following are all comments from other people at the message forum unless in [ ].
The teacher was using behavior mod which is a totalitarian reeducation technique. They use it in college orientation, and it produces people who think any controversial topic is taboo.

Townhall article excerpts:
Anyone doubting that intimidation is the name of the game should read The Authoritarian Roots of Corporate Diversity Training, a new Special Report published by the National Legal and Policy Center.

Diversity training is a brief, intensive orientation program of lectures, audiovisual materials and role-playing exercises. In tone and substance, sadism rules the day. The training operates on an assumption that employees must be punished for sins not yet committed.

A disillusioned government diversity specialist recently described the consequences: You cannot overestimate the damage to race relations that "diversity awareness" training is causing in this country. It's having the opposite effect to that intended, causing divisions, resentment, and an increase in judgments based on race, where previously such things were actually quite rare. How do I know this? I was involved in putting together a diversity "toolkit" for a government department, and saw first-hand the effect it had as it was rammed down the throats of staff.
[Quotes from the excellent The Authoritarian Roots of Corporate Diversity Training paper]
[W]hether their main motivator is the carrot or the stick, either way corporate executives have no problem with inflicting emotional degradation upon their own employees in the name of promoting diversity. Shouldn’t shareholders and the rest of the public be made aware of this?

University of Pennsylvania historian Alan Charles Kors argues that for sheer sadism, campus diversity training resembles Maoist Chinese re-education sessions.
Higher education officials furiously promote diversity in hiring and training.

Why don’t more employees challenge this new regime? For one thing, such action might label the dissenter as a troublemaker and open him up to being fired. Second, and related, diversity training from the start has been about manipulating the emotions, not engaging the mind.
[CONTRAST this with Spring 2007 Cato article on "Infidel: My Journey from Somalia to the West" and comments by 31-yr old black female and former Muslim on value of the Western culture, white males and the science and reason they brought to the world]

Challenging the New Regime: CEOs Must Take the Lead

Corporations are in business to provide goods and services to customers willing to pay for them, not to force attitude therapy on employees who don’t need it—and at the threat of being fired or denied a promotion.

If just a few leaders openly repudiated the now-dominant regime, it would spark long-needed debate in every major company in America.

One CEO who has spoken out is T.J. Rodgers, head of the successful San Jose-based computer chip manufacturer, Cypress Semiconductor. Rodgers fired back at Jackson. “He declares racism based on dubious statistics,” he remarked. “Then he gives you a chance to repent—and the basic way to [repent] is to give Jesse money. The threat is you’ll be labeled a racist if you don’t.”

If any employee of a modern corporation spoke out this way, he most likely either would be reprimanded, with an order to attend diversity training, or fired outright. Yet Rodgers is not an employee; he’s an employer. That is what gives him the freedom to speak without fear. He openly challenges the Diversity brigands because he knows the buck stops with him. In exercising his freedom to speak, he effectively gives his employees that same right.

Not many other CEOs, unfortunately, have this kind of spine. Consequently, neither do their employees.

Do CEOs really believe the diversity claptrap or do they put on a happy face to avoid legal and other problems? Either way, they are acting in a manner contrary to the best interests of their companies, shareholders and the public at large. For not only do their actions remove funds from company coffers and into those of their tormentors, but worse, they render employees cynical and fearful, knowing that going along with the diversity hustle is necessary to keeping a job.

Thus far companies have treated their commitment to diversity as though it were an unalloyed good, with no negative consequences. But experience has shown that there are negative consequences, most of all a dreadful silence. We live in an America where the tiniest perceived insult by one employee against another can result in the destruction of a career. This is tyranny—prosperous tyranny, perhaps, but tyranny all the same.
I recommend that those guys who feel demeaned by this crap take legal action under the same provisions as the harassment laws. Because it really is harrassment.

I have a not-quite-unique-but-incredibly-rare viewpoint. I'm Intersexed, which means biologically speaking, I'm neither 100% male nor 100% female. That's pretty common - over 1% of people are, and for about 0.1% it's fairly obvious. But I have one of the really rare conditions like 5ARD or 17BHDD where the appearance changes over time. Psychologically I always was female, but when you have the body of a rugby forward... pretending to be male was easier. Until my body changed.

Anyway, I've seen things from both sides now. I've seen the crap that men have to put up with that many feminists don't recognise - like the fear they feel when they see a child crying, and can't comfort it for fear of having their lives destroyed. I've seen this brain-dead, demeaning rubbish that is "sexual harassment training" that they all have to go through in corporate America, which I can only compare to having mandatory potty training at 6 month intervals.

I've also seen genuine harassment, some of it minor and inadvertent (and which a quiet word would fix), and some of which went over the border into sexual assault, usually by those who come from cultural backgrounds where women are truly second-class citizens. And sometimes by the kind of psychopathic personalities that sometimes end up as senior management.

There is a need for some kind of training, to avoid lawsuits. There's also a need for it, as there are some genuinely good guys who come from a background where a friendly breast grope is quite acceptable. All they need is a 1 hour session once in basic manners.

But mainly it's because in the past, far too many guys who were "brought up right" did nothing when the office boor harassed the secretary. It was ... normal background. Had a gay guy groped their crotch though, they would have exploded. This is an over-reaction to that situation, and just as that situation needed fixing, so does this one. It's harrassment.
[L]ike the Nazis, who went after the Jews with invented claptrap and insane ideas, because the Jews were where the money was, the rise of the sensitivity culture is a piracy culture, an extortionist racket.

At the root of this piracy is the legal system, which has developed an infuriating, disproportionate ability to collect damages beyond all proportion. Thus churches and corporations, being largely productive (the magic word is "have assets") are thrown open to ruin by the disconnect between the jury awards and reason, since the eithical spine of the jurors themselves is the pivot.

Most jurors are well meaning, but suckers for spending other people's money (as are, co-incidentally, your governments, which in the midst of a developing depression, want an even larger division of your labor...why should (socialist) public pensions and salaries and other comforts be inconvenienced by your troubles?).

What has really created a problem is that as socialist dogma in the public schools spreads, it has infected jury pools with irresponsible, self-absorbed, free-lunch types. At least in part because of this, sexual abuses, and God forbid, personal slights and perceived unkindness, which we all know will occur from time to time, become the fodder for disproportionate and destructive awards extracted from well-meaning and/or productive organizations. Small wonder then that the "touchy-feely" elements of the legal rackets promptly step forward with antidotes for the very venoms they spew. The price is reasonable! Just a few thousand dollars per session, or per backgrounder, plus the decency, dignity and presumption of innoncence once promised to us as citizens, and always deserved by decent people.

So what if you get thrown under the bus by the indifference of law and the vile greed of the hyperbolic, extortionate left: on the one hand they have the opportunity to extravagantly loot productive organizations, on the other to to make money immunizing against lawsuits. What's not to like?

This degrades society and wastes resources, but it is easier for institutions and corporations to become the handmaidens of fraud-peddling social engineers, abusing and insulting volunteers or employees, rather than take a principled stand against this abuse.

This is truly a high tech middle ages that is evolving. The age of reason is over.
And even,
I'm fortunate to work at a really great company, where we took this lemon of a law and made lemonade. I'm part of a troupe of in-house improv actors who help put on the training. When I was recruited I warned them that I thought the law was BS. The man in charge considered that a feature, not a bug.

We just finished a show - I mean session - which included upper management actually using the words "welcome wedgie as opposed to unwelcome wedgie" and concluded with an improvised opera called "Nice Jeans".

My heart goes out to anybody who has to watch one of those crappy videos. Although I hear there's one with Wesley Snipes that's pretty, uh, interesting.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cool interactive history of the Middle East!

A wonderful Flash movie. (Click on the image to go to the site where you can watch it!)

I expect you'll be amazed, as I was, at how various empires extended their reach. . . .

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Latest find by Lawrence Livermore Laboratories

As reported on FreeRepublic, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the United States' chief lab charged with "ensuring the safety, security and reliability of the nation’s nuclear weapons" (Wikipedia article), has discovered a new element:
Posted on Saturday, November 15, 2008 9:34:43 AM by dvan

A New Element Discovered

Lawrence Livermore Laboratories has discovered the heaviest element yet known to science.

The new element, Governmentium (Gv), has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons, and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.

These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons.

Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert; however, it can be detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A tiny amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction that would normally take less than a second, to take from 4 days to 4 years to complete.

Governmentium has a normal half-life [in the United States] of 2-6 years. It does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places. In fact, Governmentium's mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.

This characteristic of morons promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as critical morass.

When catalyzed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, an element that radiates just as much energy as Governmentium, since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bail-out for the auto makers? Please, no!

I have been deeply concerned about the socialistic shift in our government's perspective over the last several months. And so, now, the auto makers are making their appeals to Congress to bail them out. A mere $50 billion. But where does it all end? Are we, company owners who are careful with our money, who make sacrifices to make ends meet, who can afford to pay our employees only relatively "average" wages and stretch to provide them basic benefits like 401(k) plans and health care, . . . are we supposed to subsidize these corporate giants who have been paying their employees unbelievable wages for years, who have promised them the world (and more)?

I remember living in Flint, Michigan, home of GM headquarters, back in the late 70s. Our neighbors, who had done little to develop their skills beyond graduation from high school, hated their jobs, hated GM, but were unwilling to do anything about either situation because, they said, "Where else can I make $25 an hour?" I'm sure that was overtime pay, but they were making a lot of overtime. And, combined with methods they used to game the system--having friends check them in and out while they were off fishing or hunting--they made very good money.

And now we, the ones who have been paying high prices for our cars due to these union members' shenanigans--we're supposed to feel sorry for them and have money taken out of our pockets so they can continue to live high off the hog?

I don't think that's right!

We are told great disaster lies ahead if we do not pay up. "For every job provided by the Big Three automakers," we are told, "there are 10 more in the broader economy." Is that true? And is it true that, if the jobs in the Big Three go away, all these other jobs will disappear as well? I doubt it!

Automobiles will still need to be fixed. There will still be a call for parts for all these used vehicles. If one brand goes down, some other brand will have to replace the vehicles once they die. . . .

I was pleased yesterday to read an article in The Economist that provided a far more elegant argument against further government largesse directed to Detroit:
Bailing out Detroit would be a bad use of public money. It would be bad in principle, because it would be an open invitation to companies everywhere to apply for aid to survive the recession. Banks qualify for help because the entire economy depends upon their services. They are vulnerable to sudden collapses in confidence that can spread to other banks that are perfectly solvent. A good car company does not face the same threat. And although Detroit employs a network of suppliers, which would suffer if production shuts down, nothing would sap a recovery and job-creating enterprise like locking up badly used resources in poorly performing companies.

America’s carmakers accept the principle, but they argue that in practice they too are a special case. . . . [And] with one last shove from the taxpayer, it will be alright.

There is something to this--but not because of what is happening in America. As our special report explains, the global car industry is shifting from the saturated markets of rich countries to the huge potential of fast-growing emerging markets. As recently as 2005, America bought 10m more cars than the total of the BRICs--Brazil, Russia, India and China. This year, sales of cars in the BRICs should overtake those in America. . . .

In the next 40 years, the world’s fleet of cars is expected to increase from around 700m today to nearly 3 billion.

Some greens and pedestrians may find that a terrifying prospect. But for today’s embattled carmakers it is an extraordinarily exciting one--and that includes the giants from Detroit. GM has been as nimble abroad as it has been flat-footed at home, an early-mover in China, Brazil and Russia, it holds strong positions in all three markets. Ford is not far behind.

The next Chapter
But is that justification for a bail-out? Not at all. The United States created Chapter 11 precisely to help companies that need protection from their creditors while they restructure their liabilities and winnow out the good business from the bad. If the North American businesses of GM and Ford filed for Chapter 11, their activities elsewhere would be largely unaffected. Even in North America, their businesses could continue to make vehicles as they shed costs and renegotiated contracts.

The carmakers retort that being in Chapter 11 will poison their business. Buying a new car is a long-term gamble on there being dealers, spare parts and a thriving second-hand market for your vehicle. Drivers overwhelmingly tell surveys that they would not take the risk when Mercedes and Toyota make perfectly good alternatives. But $50 billion is a lot to stake on a hunch. A wiser bet is that whatever consumers say today, the stigma of being in Chapter 11 would fade, obscured by price cuts, advertising and most of all news that the car companies were tackling their remaining problems. Remember that, in many ways, Chapter 11 is more stable and predictable than depending upon the government.

That is an unpopular message. It is almost certain to be ignored by Congress, which is itching to “save jobs” and to counter the public-relations disaster of bailing out Wall Street. If the state is determined to keep the industry out of Chapter 11, it should set up a special fund and demand preferred equity to deter shareholders in other industries from asking for money. But it would still do better to let the car firms fail.
My answer: Amen! Please! Let it be! Let them fail! . . . And let their problems (and private solutions) become a proper warning to other large firms who would like to bully taxpayers into providing their multi-hundred-million-dollar annual salary executives their desired salaries, and their overpaid workers and over-pampered retirees all their desired benefits.

The rest of us don't get to enjoy such benefits; why should they . . . especially at our expense?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Facing giants in the midst of a land flowing with milk and honey . . .

Along with virtually everyone else I've talked to about this, I've been deeply distressed by the socialistic turn of the United States government in the last many years, but most especially as evidenced by the unprecedented corporate bail-outs of the past few months.

Now comes someone who wants us to view things differently. And I'm inclined to believe him.

Gary Moore has a degree in political science from the University of Kentucky. After serving as an artillery officer, he became a senior vice president of investments at Paine Webber during the 1980s. He then thought about attending seminary but soon discovered that seminaries no longer teach about the moral dimensions of managing this world’s wealth, despite them being a favorite topic of Moses, Jesus, and the church fathers.

He began informal study of the subject and later founded The Financial Seminary, a non-profit ministry, to build bridges between the financial and moral communities. He also founded his own investment firm as “counsel to ethical and spiritual investors.” Since then, he has advised some of America’s well-known ministries, churches, banks, and individual investors, while authoring many articles about integrating religion or spirituality and ethics with personal financial management and political economy.

And Moore writes:
[I] was mentored by the Rhodes Scholar turned legendary mutual fund manager Sir John Templeton, about whom [I have written] two books.

Mr. Templeton was not only respected for his unusual gifts for making money but also as one of the most devout and ethical men on Wall Street. Mr. Templeton died last year. But he had always celebrated Thanksgiving by sending greetings and presents for that day as he believed gratitude and generosity are absolutely crucial for enriching our worldviews and then our lives. That also allowed him to keep Christmas spiritual and focused on God’s Gift to us. It is in that spirit--and in memory of Mr. Templeton--that The Financial Seminary sent this [article] . . . so it might be shared with [others]. . . .

As in the ancient story [Numbers 13], Mr. Templeton was famous for focusing on the milk and honey in the Promised Land while the majority focused on the giants.

During the early eighties, people thought inflation would impoverish us; but Mr. Templeton predicted a soaring stock market. During the early nineties, people thought the federal debt was earthshaking; but Mr. Templeton predicted “the twenty most prosperous years in history” for our world. Yet he was very much a realist. In the late nineties, he predicted that if you invested in the Dow Jones, you would be lucky to break even in ten years, which has also been prophetic. Being a serious student of the Bible, Mr. Templeton knew fat years and lean years are simply the order of things [Genesis 41]. Yet God knows we are again seeing giant-sized problems and are again feeling rather hopeless.

Our natural tendency to focus on our challenges can be demonstrated by my holding a piece of paper aloft and asking what you see. You’ll probably respond “a sheet of paper.” But if I take a magic marker, place a dot in the middle and ask again, you’ll likely reply you see “a dot.” Of course, what you really see is a very large piece of paper with a relatively small dot. That’s precisely why our media focus on the very small number of plane crashes rather than the much larger number of planes that arrive safely each day. Unfortunately, after a while, that focus on the negative becomes a habit and begins to shape our worldview, including how we see the economy and our finances.

For example, let me ask if you’ve ever seen the size of our federal debt. . . . Virtually all of us have, of course. There’s even a billboard about it on Times Square that we often see updated on the evening news. It’s now about $10 trillion, which sounds so giant-sized it can frighten any of us. But [it's like the dot on the paper. N]ow let me ask this: Have you even once seen the size of our nation’s assets? . . . Very, very few of us have. Yet the same people who estimate the federal debt also estimate our nation’s assets, which are much, much larger. I’ll get to those assets in a moment. [They are like the paper surrounding the dot.]

But my point is that while [God] teaches us to count our blessings, the world usually teaches us to count our challenges. That’s been true since the very beginning, as explained in this beautiful passage Mark Buchanan wrote in Christianity Today a few years ago:
In the Garden of Eden the first thing the serpent did was create in Adam and Eve a sense of scarcity. "Did God really say you must not eat any of the fruit in the garden?" (Gen. 3:1).

God did say--commanded, in fact--that they "may freely eat any fruit in the garden except fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat of its fruit, you will surely die" (Gen. 2:16). The serpent's trick, then as now, is to turn this staggering abundance and gracious protection into frightening scarcity and bullying deprivation, the stinginess of a despot.

The serpent lied, and we got taken in. Now, despite the overwhelming evidence that we live amidst overflowing abundance—abundant food, clothes, warmth, friends, things—we always feel it's not enough. We sense it's running out, it's insufficient. . . . [T]he deepest theological concept is thankfulness; because to know God is to thank God.
God had a divine plan to deal with our human tendencies to focus on the economic negative. It is called the Book of Numbers. It seems a boring book but it’s a crucial one as it was essentially summarized by St. Paul when he counseled us to “put your minds on the things that are good...that deserve praise” [Philippians 4:8].

You see, it’s always been true that to know God, who is Ultimate Reality, you have to know not only our economic challenges but also our blessings.

By today’s standards, the Hebrews didn’t have many economic blessings. But they did have what economists call “human capital,” or people with rudimentary skills. So God had Moses number, or count, those blessings.

We, too, need to carefully consider the “overwhelming evidence” of our “overflowing abundance” before we can cross over to our own Promised Land. But first, let’s put our blessings into the larger perspective, both historically and globally, just so we know how very, very thankful we should be.

Economic historians tell us that at the time of Christ, the average human lived on the equivalent of about $600 per year. Due to limited diet, poor health care and seemingly endless war, Jesus was relatively old when he was crucified at thirty-three. At the end of the first millennium, people around the world were still living on the same $600 per year. And as hard as it is for us to imagine, when the Pilgrims and Native Americans celebrated the first Thanksgiving, they were living on even less.

Importantly, while historians tell us the American economy has seen its share of fat years and lean years since the first thanks/giving season, our economy has been growing at a fairly steady 2% per year for the past two hundred years. Yet, always remember, a minister named Thomas Malthus famously predicted back then that we would have starved long ago as food production could not keep up with population growth. As with most worldly-minded economists, the good reverend forgot that people are not simply mouths to feed but are created in the image of God to be co-creators. That’s basically why economics is called “the dismal science” and we Christians need to practice “spiritual economics.”

From a global perspective, the average human now lives on less than $8,000 a year. The Economist magazine recently estimated the average net worth of a human being is less than $2,500. Let me repeat those realities: Today, the average person in our world lives on less than $8,000 and has a net worth of less than $2,500.

Now, let’s number our blessings. As to income, the average American today lives on nearly $50,000, or nearly one-hundred times what people did at the time of Christ.

In its most recent report, which is very rarely seen, but a small, relevant portion of which is available here, The Office of Management and Budget in the White House estimated that America’s total wealth is $120 trillion, with a “T.” Subtract the $8 trillion America owes other nations and our net wealth is an astounding $112 trillion. Yes, that figure has fallen some in 2008, as it always does during recessions. It may fall even further, as it did from 2000 to 2002. Still it is an amazing number.

The report says the average American enjoys about $370,000 of wealth. No, what we call “private wealth” or our personal wealth, isn’t that large. It’s about half of that. But you need to add the value of your portion of [your] church, for example--a value that is in what economists call the “independent sector” of the economy. And you need to add your portion of the roads that [permit you to travel from place to place and that enable shipping companies to transport goods from factories to your favorite retailer . . . and from the retailer to your home. --These are all resources that] are in the “public sector.”

All that wealth--plus our parks, schools, military, libraries, foundations, Red Cross and so on--is very real wealth that enriches us each day. Yet we seldom think about it as we focus on the twin giants of deficits and debt.

So I hope that you’ll open a copy of the OMB report, study it, and, each time someone talks about the huge deficit our federal government will run this year and next, and it will, to stimulate us out of recession, or the size of our federal debt, you will put those giants into perspective by sharing the size of our assets. There is no need to argue the deficit or our debt “doesn’t matter.” They do. And they will matter more as the boomers retire, particularly if our wars continue. Guns and butter are expensive. Difficult stewardship decisions must be made. So pray for our leaders. But as the story of the Hebrews indicates, there is never reason for the children of an almighty God to feel “small as grasshoppers” when contemplating such giants.

In fact, it will surprise those who’ve lived in fear of the federal debt, but the White House report says that as a percentage of our national wealth, the federal debt has actually been in decline for nearly fifty years. Yes, as reported nearly every day, the nominal size of the debt has been growing. Yet as has rarely been reported, the size of our assets has been growing even faster, hence the increase in our net wealth. The same pattern has been repeated in households so household wealth is also at an all-time record despite the much reported increase in personal debt. As a percentage of our nation’s assets, the federal debt is only 6.8%, down from 10.4% in 1960. That is, if the federal debt was a mortgage and our American home was valued at $100,000, our mortgage would be $6,800.

Still, economists who study human nature tell us today’s realities amount to little if people falsely assume they will not have enough tomorrow. They will still hoard what they have, reducing both giving for today’s challenges and investing for the future. They thereby turn their worst fears into future realities, just as the Hebrews did when their fear of the giants, and not the giants themselves, kept them out of the land that God had promised for over four hundred years.

So it seems very timely to share with you what might have been Mr. Templeton’s last and most important economic prediction. Yes, he told the financial media our stock market would likely be flat during this decade as he knew our economy was running low on “spiritual capital,” or the virtues of thrift, prudence, patience, trust and so on. But understanding the somewhat cyclical nature of economic reality, he also knew that would pass, however painfully. So he also asked [me] to co-author an article for Equities magazine about why the Dow Jones Industrial Average might rise to the one million level by the year 2100. Yes, he saw milk and honey in our future even after numbering the giants.

So Mr. Templeton left us one sure-fired investment recommendation for sharing in that milk and honey rather than wandering the dry desert of despair when he counseled:
In all my years of investment counseling, there was only one investment which never proved faulty, and that was tithing--giving at least 10% of your income to churches and charities. In all my history, I have never seen a family who tithed for as long as ten years that didn’t become both prosperous and happy. That is the best investment anyone can select.
Thanks be to God indeed.

--Reprinted by permission of the author. Emboldened emphases added.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Flotsam science: low-cost rubber duckies provide clue to ocean (and sub-glacial) currents

In an era of billion-dollar space telescopes, gene machines and city-size particle accelerators, some scientists just have to make do with tub toys. From Greenland's glaciers to the boundless Pacific main, researchers are tracking thousands of rubber ducks, frogs, beer bottles and wooden tops set adrift around the world to solve critical questions of oceanography, glaciology and global warming.

[They] call it flotsam science.
The field got its start back in 1992 when a Pacific storm dumped 28,200 plastic ducks, turtles and frogs from their shipping container into the ocean. Each of the toys had a unique manufacturing code that positively identified its origin . . . thus providing a wonderful means for discovering where ocean currents travel.

Some of the toys from that accident made it through the Bering Strait into the Arctic Ocean, over the North Pole via pack ice, and into the North Atlantic Ocean. According to Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer, editor of The Beachcombers Alert, the professional journal dedicated to this research.

Eleven years after its release,
one of the plastic ducks turned up in Maine, while one of the plastic frogs washed up in Scotland, more than 7,000 miles from where it started.
And the latest deliberate release of such flotsam? In August, Dr. Alberto Behar of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, placed
Dr. Behar tosses some rubber ducks into the Jakobshavn Isbrae. Each duck has been imprinted with an email address and, in three languages, offers a reward for its return.90 yellow rubber ducks into the melt water flowing down a chasm in the largest of Greenland's 200 glaciers -- the Jakobshavn Isbrae -- which has been thinning rapidly since 1997. Each duck was imprinted with an email address and, in three languages, the offer of a reward. If all goes well, Dr. Behar hopes that one day they will emerge 30 miles or so away at the glacier's edge in the open water of Disko Bay near Ilulissat, bobbing brightly amid the icebergs north of the Arctic Circle, each one a significant clue to just how warming temperatures may speed the glacier's slide to the sea.

Much more at the original article in the Wall Street Journal.