Friday, December 31, 2010

What I Read Today - Friday December 31, 2010

From: The New York Times

The Arena Culture

By DAVID BROOKS


Academic life encourages specialization and technical thinking, and, oddly, there are few fields in which this is more true than philosophy. The discipline that should be of interest to everybody is often the most impenetrable.

But occasionally brave philosophers do leap out of their professional lanes and illuminate things for the wider public. Hubert Dreyfus of Berkeley and Sean Dorrance Kelly of Harvard have just done this with their new book, “All Things Shining.” They take a smart, sweeping run through the history of Western philosophy. But their book is important for the way it illuminates life today and for the controversial advice it offers on how to live.

Dreyfus and Kelly start with Vico’s old idea that each age has its own lens through which people see the world. In the Middle Ages, for example, “people could not help but experience themselves as determined or created by God.” They assumed that God’s plans encompassed their lives the way we assume the laws of physics do.

For the past hundred years or so, we have lived in a secular age. That does not mean that people aren’t religious. It means there is no shared set of values we all absorb as preconscious assumptions. In our world, individuals have to find or create their own meaning.

This, Dreyfus and Kelly argue, has led to a pervasive sadness. Individuals are usually not capable of creating their own lives from the ground up. So modern life is marked by frequent feelings of indecision and anxiety. People often lack the foundations upon which to make the most important choices.

Dreyfus and Kelly suffer from the usual Cambridge/Berkeley parochialism. They assume that nobody believes in eternal truth anymore. They write as if all of America’s moral quandaries are best expressed by the novelist David Foster Wallace. But they are on to something important when they describe the way — far more than in past ages — sports has risen up to fill a spiritual void.

Spiritually unmoored, many people nonetheless experience intense elevation during the magical moments that sport often affords. Dreyfus and Kelly mention the mood that swept through the crowd at Yankee Stadium when Lou Gehrig delivered his “Luckiest Man Alive” speech, or the mood that swept through Wimbledon as Roger Federer completed one of his greatest matches.

The most real things in life, they write, well up and take us over. They call this experience “whooshing up.” We get whooshed up at a sports arena, at a political rally or even at magical moments while woodworking or walking through nature.

Dreyfus and Kelly say that we should have the courage not to look for some unitary, totalistic explanation for the universe. Instead, we should live perceptively at the surface, receptive to the moments of transcendent whooshes that we can feel in, say, a concert crowd, or while engaging in a meaningful activity, like making a perfect cup of coffee with a well-crafted pot and cup.

We should not expect these experiences to cohere into a single “meaning of life.” Transcendent experiences are plural and incompatible. We should instead cultivate a spirit of gratitude and wonder for the many excellent things the world supplies.

I’m not sure this way of living will ever prove satisfying to most readers. Most people have a powerful sense that there is a Supreme Being over us, attached to eternal truths. Though they try, Dreyfus and Kelly don’t give us a satisfying basis upon which to distinguish the whooshing some people felt at civil rights rallies from the whooshing others felt at Nazi rallies.

But Dreyfus and Kelly might help invert the way we see the world. We have official stories we tell about our culture: each individual is the captain of his own ship; we are all children of God. But in practice, willy-nilly, the way we actually live is at odds with the official story. Our most vibrant institutions are collective, not individual or religious. They are there to create that group whoosh: the sports stadium, the concert hall, the political rally, the theater, the museum and the gourmet restaurant. Even church is often more about the ecstatic whoosh than the theology.

The activities often dismissed as mere diversions are actually central. Real life is more about serial whooshes than coherent meaning.

We can either rebel against this superficial drift, or like Dreyfus and Kelly, go with the flow, acknowledging that the autonomous life is impossible, not seeking totalistic theologies, but instead becoming sensitive participants in the collective whooshings that life offers.

This clarifies the choices before us. This book is also a rejection of the excessive individualism of the past several decades, the emphasis on maximum spiritual freedom. In this, it’s a harbinger of future philosophies to come. Our culture is defined by arenas. Our self-conception just hasn’t caught up.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

What I Read Today - Thursday December 30, 2010

From: The New York Times
For Kodachrome Fans, Road Ends at Photo Lab in Kansas

By A. G. SULZBERGER


PARSONS, Kan. — An unlikely pilgrimage is under way to Dwayne’s Photo, a small family business that has through luck and persistence become the last processor in the world of Kodachrome, the first successful color film and still the most beloved.

That celebrated 75-year run from mainstream to niche photography is scheduled to come to an end on Thursday when the last processing machine is shut down here to be sold for scrap.

In the last weeks, dozens of visitors and thousands of overnight packages have raced here, transforming this small prairie-bound city not far from the Oklahoma border for a brief time into a center of nostalgia for the days when photographs appeared not in the sterile frame of a computer screen or in a pack of flimsy prints from the local drugstore but in the warm glow of a projector pulling an image from a carousel of vivid slides.

In the span of minutes this week, two such visitors arrived. The first was a railroad worker who had driven from Arkansas to pick up 1,580 rolls of film that he had just paid $15,798 to develop. The second was an artist who had driven directly here after flying from London to Wichita, Kan., on her first trip to the United States to turn in three rolls of film and shoot five more before the processing deadline.

The artist, Aliceson Carter, 42, was incredulous as she watched the railroad worker, Jim DeNike, 53, loading a dozen boxes that contained nearly 50,000 slides into his old maroon Pontiac. He explained that every picture inside was of railroad trains and that he had borrowed money from his father’s retirement account to pay for developing them.

“That’s crazy to me,” Ms. Carter said. Then she snapped a picture of Mr. DeNike on one of her last rolls.

Demanding both to shoot and process, Kodachrome rewarded generations of skilled users with a richness of color and a unique treatment of light that many photographers described as incomparable even as they shifted to digital cameras. “Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day,” Paul Simon sang in his 1973 hit “Kodachrome,” which carried the plea “Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away.”

As news media around the world have heralded Thursday’s end of an era, rolls of the discontinued film that had been hoarded in freezers and tucked away in closets, sometimes for decades, have flooded Dwayne’s Photo, arriving from six continents.

“It’s more than a film, it’s a pop culture icon,” said Todd Gustavson, a curator from the George Eastman House, a photography museum in Rochester in the former residence of the Kodak founder. “If you were in the postwar baby boom, it was the color film, no doubt about it.”

Among the recent visitors was Steve McCurry, a photographer whose work has appeared for decades in National Geographic including his well-known cover portrait, shot in Kodachrome, of a Afghan girl that highlights what he describes as the “sublime quality” of the film. When Kodak stopped producing the film last year, the company gave him the last roll, which he hand-delivered to Parsons. “I wasn’t going to take any chances,” he explained.

At the peak, there were about 25 labs worldwide that processed Kodachrome, but the last Kodak-run facility in the United States closed several years ago, then the one in Japan and then the one in Switzerland. Since then, all that was left has been Dwayne’s Photo. Last year, Kodak stopped producing the chemicals needed to develop the film, providing the business with enough to continue processing through the end of 2010. And last week, right on schedule, the lab opened up the last canister of blue dye.

Kodak declined to comment for this article.

The status of lone survivor is a point of pride for Dwayne Steinle, who remembers being warned more than once by a Kodak representative after he opened the business more than a half-century ago that the area was too sparsely populated for the studio to succeed. It has survived in part because Mr. Steinle and his son Grant focused on lower-volume specialties — like black-and-white and print-to-print developing, and, in the early ’90s, the processing of Kodachrome.

Still, the toll of the widespread switch to digital photography has been painful for Dwayne’s, much as it has for Kodak. In the last decade, the number of employees has been cut to about 60 from 200 and digital sales now account for nearly half of revenue. Most of the staff and even the owners acknowledge that they primarily use digital cameras. “That’s what we see as the future of the business,” said Grant Steinle, who runs the business now.

The passing of Kodachrome has been much noted, from the CBS News program ”Sunday Morning” to The Irish Times, but it is noteworthy in no small part for how long it survived. Created in 1935, Kodachrome was an instant hit as the first film to effectively render color.

Even when it stopped being the default film for chronicling everyday life — thanks in part to the move to prints from slides — it continued to be the film of choice for many hobbyists and medical professionals. Dr. Bharat Nathwani, 65, a Los Angeles pathologist, lamented that he still had 400 unused rolls. “I might hold it, God willing that Kodak sees its lack of wisdom.”

This week, the employees at Dwayne’s worked at a frenetic pace, keeping a processing machine that has typically operated just a few hours a day working around the clock (one of the many notes on the lab wall reads: “I took this to a drugstore and they didn’t even know what it was”).

“We really didn’t expect it to be this crazy,” said Lanie George, who manages the Kodachrome processing department.

One of the toughest decisions was how to deal with the dozens of requests from amateurs and professionals alike to provide the last roll to be processed.

In the end, it was determined that a roll belonging to Dwayne Steinle, the owner, would be last. It took three tries to find a camera that worked. And over the course of the week he fired off shots of his house, his family and downtown Parsons. The last frame is already planned for Thursday, a picture of all the employees standing in front of Dwayne’s wearing shirts with the epitaph: “The best slide and movie film in history is now officially retired. Kodachrome: 1935-2010.”

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What I Read Today - Thursday December 23, 2010

From: The New York Times

Lame Ducks Triumphant

By GAIL COLLINS


Wow, we’re getting a new nuclear arms control treaty for Christmas. I know some of you were hoping for iPads. But still, big news.

Good work, White House! Thank heavens we got rid of our former president, Barack Obama, who couldn’t even get the trade agreement he went all the way to South Korea to sign. Our current president, Barack Obama, would never let that happen, and, in fact, came up with a really excellent trade agreement with the South Koreans just the other day.

“Administration officials have bent over backwards to try to solve every problem that’s come up,” said Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, one of the Republicans who reached across the aisle to get the New Start treaty with Russia ratified.

The treaty, which needed a two-thirds vote, was actually approved 71 to 26. The Democrats did not have to go scrambling madly around looking for one last vote. And even the opponents were winners since they got to spend more than a week beating up on the Russians, revisiting the golden days when life was simple and wars were cold.

“They cheat. They are serial cheaters,” said Senator James Risch of Idaho, the author of my favorite unsuccessful amendment to the treaty. It would have made the entire groundbreaking nuclear-reduction program contingent on the return of four American Humvees that the Russians picked up during their conflict with Georgia. Risch hauled out blowups of one of the enslaved military vehicles, shouting: “You can watch your property right here being towed away by the Russians! Back to Moscow!” If the former Red Menace wants to “hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya,’ ” he added, “Well, that is fine. But give us back our stolen military equipment.”

When was it that the singing of “Kumbaya” became a shorthand for weenieness? “Kumbaya” is an excellent campfire song, especially for groups that border on tone-deafness and don’t know the words to anything. I remember singing it in Girl Scout camp with friends who emerged unscathed and became conservative Republicans. Some may be writing letters protesting the New Start treaty at this very moment. Please, give “Kumbaya” a break.

But I digress. Nothing, not even Humvees in chains, was going to stop the progress of what has recently become known as the “hard-charging lame-duck Congress.” It is a perfect image, with its suggestion of a flock racing along in the clumsiest manner possible but still stumbling over the finish line.

“When it’s all going to be said and done, Harry Reid has eaten our lunch,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who called the hard-charging lame duck “a capitulation in two weeks of dramatic proportions.” This is the rapidly evolving new hyperpartisan Lindsey Graham, who was so ticked off at the fact that the Senate was devoting a mere eight days to the treaty that he told the antitreaty obstructionist Jon Kyl of Arizona: “I want to apologize to you for the way you’ve been treated by your colleagues.”

His Start-supporting fellow Republicans appeared quietly unrepentant. Perhaps they were afraid that if they said anything in response, Graham would continue his evolution into awfulness right there on the Senate floor and start gnawing on the ankles of elderly legislators.

Good work, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry. We appreciate the way you’ve evolved from one of the world’s worst presidential candidates into an extremely useful senator. Unlike some unsuccessful presidential candidates we could name.

Good work, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the lone Republican who stuck with the treaty through thick and thin and never mutated into a scary new entity.

Good work, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Unlike your hapless predecessor, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, you’ve had legislation shooting off to the White House like angry birds in that video game. Unemployment compensation! Gay rights! Food safety! Judicial appointments! Arms control! Health care for 9/11 responders!

But let’s admit it. Nothing would have gotten done if Obama hadn’t swallowed that loathsome compromise on tax cuts for the wealthy.

If he’d taken the high road, Congress would be in a holiday war. The long-term unemployed would be staggering into the new year without benefits. The rest of the world would look upon the United States as a country so dysfunctional that it can’t even ratify a treaty to help keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. The people who worked at ground zero would still be uncertain about their future, and our gay and lesbian soldiers would still be living in fear.

It’s depressing to think that there was no way to win that would not have involved giving away billions of dollars to people who don’t need it. But it’s kind of cheery to think we have a president who actually does know what he’s doing.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What I Read Today - Wednesday December 22, 2010

From: The Wall Street Journal

Why I Don't Want an iPad for Christmas


By BRETT ARENDS
Everyone wants an iPad this Christmas, right?

Apple's tablet computer is this year's hottest adult toy. Sales are booming. James Cordwell, an analyst at Atlantic Securities, expects the company to sell six million this quarter, half of them here in the U.S. It's driving the company toward what will probably be yet another blowout Christmas period.

Apple is expected to sell millions of its popular iPad tablet computer this holiday season but Brett Arends has several reasons why he's not willing to join the masses and buy one for Christmas.

But you can count me out. I don't want an iPad for Christmas, thanks very much.

Sacrilege!

Why? Here are my reasons.

1. It'll be cheaper next year.
How dumb are people? Apple is coming out with iPad II in 2011. (Mr. Cordwell predicts April.) That means fanatics won't be seen dead with this year's model, and you'll be able to get it much cheaper. Try eBay or buy it "refurbished" direct from Apple. Price deflation in technology is a wonder to behold. Remember the first iPhones? The 8-gigabyte models cost $599. A few months later they cost $399. Now they're paperweights. The average middle-class American earns maybe $16 an hour after taxes. So if you save, say, $150 on a product, that's more than nine hours' extra work. Of course, if you love your job so much you like putting in an extra day for free, go ahead.

2. It's going to be better next year.
The next iPad will have new features—allegedly including video conferencing and maybe a better screen. This year's model will be so over. When Steve Jobs unveiled the second iPhone in 2008 he actually made fun of the slow first model—the same product that he had hailed a year earlier as the eighth wonder of the world. The audience yukked it up. Me? I'm not a fan of buying a product for $500 from a guy who's going to deride it a few months later.

3. Check out those profit margins!
OK, I admit it: I've been wrong about Apple stock lately. After correctly turning bullish at $85 two years ago, I turned cautious waaay too early. My mistake? This isn't a technology company. It's a luxury brand, like Hermès or Tiffany. And it's wooed customers so they'll pay almost anything for its products. Last Christmas, Apple's gross margins were 41%. That's incredible. It's good for Apple, good for stockholders—but not so good for shoppers. Me, I don't want to support someone else's 60% markups with my own dollars. Generally speaking, the smarter move is to invest in the Tiffanys of the world—and shop at the Wal-Marts.

4. Competitors are coming.
Right now the iPad has just one serious rival, the Samsung Galaxy Tab. So no wonder it's doing so well. But all that will change in just a few months. New tablets, many running on the Android platform, are expected to hit the market as soon as March. These will give you a much wider choice of size, style and operating system. And when these companies duke it out for market share, you know you'll be able to get a deal. So why would I buy now?

5. No Flash.
Do you want to watch video clips on the Web? On a boring old laptop or PC, you can do that for free. On the amazing new iPad? Only sometimes. Most Web video runs on Adobe Flash, and the iPad can't—or rather, won't—handle Flash. So there are plenty of video clips you won't be able to watch. And plenty of others you will have to pay to watch, either by renting them from Apple's iTunes, or by paying for a subscription service like Hulu Plus. Mr. Jobs had a very public bust-up with Adobe over Flash this year. I have sympathy for his position, as Flash can be unstable. But it's still the software most Web video clips use, and I want that choice.

6. The cost of the add-ons.
The iPad starts at $499 plus tax. That's nearly twice as much as a netbook. And I know if I get the cheapest iPad I'll regret it. It has only 16 gigabytes' storage. And it can only go online when you are in a WiFi hotspot, like at home or in Starbucks. A lot of the iPad's best features need an Internet connection. So if I want to use them wherever I go, I'll want the model with a 3G data plan that works everywhere. And those start at $629, plus at least $15 a month. Total cost: at least $809, plus tax, in the first year, and $989 over two years. This I don't need.

7. The games.
Yes, they're great. But that's the problem. Computer games are as addictive as cigarettes. And this is a habit everyone is taking up, not quitting. This is why I dumped my iPod Touch. Am I alone? Maybe. But I don't think so. I know lots of people with horror stories about addiction to immersive games. Someone I know—now, as it happens, a British member of parliament—once sat down to play Civilization, a role-playing game, on a PC one Saturday evening and didn't finish until three o'clock ... Thursday morning. (He stopped when he ran out of cigarettes.) And that was on an old PC. Games on the iPad are more intense than ever. A friend recently showed me some of the serious news apps on his iPad. I noticed that to get to them he first had to "wave" us past several screens of games. Is he really using his iPad to read that article about the Indonesian economy, or is he playing Angry Birds? Hmmm. You make the call.

8. The waste.
The scarcest resource in life isn't money, land, fresh water or gold. For singles under 25, the scarcest resource is sex, and for the rest of us it's time. And the biggest waste of time I've ever discovered—after games (see above)—is the Web. Nothing comes close. It's a total black hole. Do I want to carry a device that lets me surf the Web endlessly wherever I am? That's easy. It's amazing how much time I have to read now that I never look at Facebook.

9. It'll get boring.
This year's totem is next year's meh. Economists call this "the hedonic treadmill." Human beings quickly get bored of each new item. We always want the buzz from something newer, better, bigger, faster or fancier. But the treadmill never stops. Think of how amazing the first Palm Pilots seemed back in the 1990s. Look at them now. The iPad may look like the eighth wonder of the world today. Soon it will seem so old.

10. The whole Apple cult is starting to creep me out.
OK, I already knew about the fans. Last summer, three-quarters of the people standing in line so they could buy the new iPhone the moment it went on sale already owned an iPhone. But now it's the company, too. Look at how it reacted last spring, when a Silicon Valley blogger scooped an early iPhone 4: Next thing he knew he was being handcuffed on his lawn in front of his wife while police ransacked his house. And think of Steve Jobs, complaining that news coverage of the iPhone 4's troubled aerial had been "blown so out of proportion that it's incredible." Hmmm, out-of-proportion media coverage—you sure you want to go there, Steve? This is the guy marketing a new telephone under the slogan "This changes everything. Again." Maybe this stuff shouldn't matter to me, but I have to confess it's turning me off.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What I Read Today - Tuesday December 21, 2010

The Wonder of It All

by Charles R. Swindoll

Luke 2:6-7

When Mary and Joseph began their journey southward to Bethlehem, they probably thought they had time to make the trip, register for the census, and then return home to Nazareth before the baby would be born. The weather cooperated and a donkey carried their provisions, but the journey proved more lengthy than either of them had expected. Mary was soon to give birth.

By the time they reached Bethlehem, Mary was exhausted. To make matters worse, the tiny town was packed with travel-weary people. Joseph searched for lodging . . . nothing. One kind family agreed to let them stay in a stable. It was a crude shelter, but it kept them out of the elements. No doubt a low fire warmed the chilly night air.

Once they were settled, Mary rested while Joseph worked his way through the corrupt registration process. Too soon, a powerful, dull ache gripped Mary's abdomen. She called out for Joseph in a panic, but he would be gone for hours. She had attended many childbirths, so she calmed herself and arranged their little shelter in preparation for the baby. A spare tunic would be His swaddling; a little bed of fresh straw in the feeding trough would cradle the newborn infant.

As evening fell, her labor pains intensified and accelerated. Joseph returned from the city tax office to find Mary moaning through a bone-deep wave of pain. There are no pains like those of childbirth. None so intense. None so hopeful.

Perhaps it was well into the night when Joseph laid the tiny Hope of Israel in Mary's arms. For nine months prior to His birth, Mary had talked to the baby, sung to Him, felt His body move, and looked forward to the day when she could finally touch Him. Now she looked into His eyes---Immanuel, "God with us."

It's hard to know if, in those first hours, God gave Mary a brief premonition of years to come, when another would point to her Son and say, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" . . . or when that promise would be fulfilled and a sword of emotion would pierce her own soul. Anticipated or not, those days would surely come. Mary's little Lamb was destined for sacrifice. But tonight she held her baby close, kissed His soft cheek . . . and wept quietly in the wonder of it all.

See Matthew 1:23; John 1:29; and Luke 2:35.

What I Read Today - Tuesday December 21, 2010

From: The New York Times

Thanks for the Tax Cut!

By LARRY DAVID


THERE is a God! It passed! The Bush tax cuts have been extended two years for the upper bracketeers, of which I am a proud member, thank you very much. I’m the last person in the world I’d want to be beside, but I am beside myself! This is a life changer, I tell you. A life changer!

To begin with, I was planning a trip to Cabo with my kids for Christmas vacation. We were going to fly coach, but now with the money I’m saving in taxes, I’m going to splurge and bump myself up to first class. First class! Somebody told me they serve warm nuts up there, and call you “mister.” I might not get off the plane!

I’m also going to call the hotel and get another room so I don’t have to sleep on a cot in the kids’ room. Don’t get me wrong — I love a good cot. The problem is they tend to take up a lot of room, and it’s getting a little tougher in my advancing years to fold it up and drag it to the closet. I mean, I’d do it if I had to, but guess what? I don’t! Not with this windfall coming my way. Now I get to have my own room with a king-sized bed. And who knows, maybe I’ll even get some fancy bottled water from the minibar. This is shaping up to be the best vacation I’ve had in years.

When I get home, thanks to the great compromise, the first thing I’m going to do is get a flat-screen TV. Finally I can throw out the 20-inch Zenith with the rabbit ears, the one I inherited from my parents when they died. The reception is terrible and I’m getting tired of going out to bars every time I want to watch a game. Last month, the antenna broke and I tried to improvise one with a metal hanger and wound up cutting myself. Every time I see that scab, I say to myself, “If, God willing, those Bush tax cuts are restored, I’m going to buy a new TV.” Well, guess what? They have been!

It’s also going to be a boon for my health. After years of coveting them, I’ll finally be able to afford blueberries. Did you know they have a lot of antioxidants, which prevent cancer? Cancer! This tax cut just might save my life. Who said Republicans don’t support health care? I’m going to have the blueberries with my cereal, and I’m not talking Special K. Those days are over. It’s nothing but real granola from now on. The kind you get in the plastic bins in health food stores. Did someone say “organic”?

The only problem is if, God forbid, the tax cuts are repealed in two years, how will I ever go back to Special K and bananas? Well, I did quit smoking, so I’m sure if push came to shove I could summon up the willpower to get off granola and blueberries. Of course, I suppose with the money I managed to save from the “Seinfeld” syndication, I probably could continue to eat granola with blueberries, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Life was good, and now it’s even better. Thank you, Republicans. And a special thank you to President Obama and the Democrats. I didn’t know you cared.

Larry David appears in the HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

Monday, December 20, 2010

What I Read Today - Monday December 20, 2010

From: An email from Brenda (from the web site http://stuffchristianslike.net/)

Being the only man at a women’s conference.

December 6, 2010


Last Saturday, I did something I’ve never done before. I attended a Christian women’s conference. And I’m not talking about falling on the estrogen grenade and hanging out with my wife and 100 other women at a local church. I went to Deeper Still, the super bowl of women’s conferences. Think 14,000 ladies. Think Kay Arthur and Beth Moore. Think Jon Acuff on the 15th row.

It was a wild experience and as a guy, a gentleman really, I brought back 9 observations about what goes on at Christian women’s conferences:

1. There will be at least 1 “husbands don’t help out around the house,” joke.

This one made me sweat a little. At one point one of the speakers made a joke about how men don’t do enough housework and I swear, I felt like every eye in that stadium was on me. I grabbed a broom from a janitor’s closet right then in an attempt to appease the crowd.


2. Kay Arthur will talk about sex.

I was there for a panel discussion. Someone in the audience asked a question about sex. Kay Arthur, the esteemed 70ish Bible expert, dropped some bombs in response. My favorite? She said that men are having a hard time with the recession and feeling inadequate. One of the ways wives can make them feel better about the recession is with sex. I am not making this up. Me and the other 4 men in the building stood up and cheered this comment.


3. A pastor will have to make the world’s most awkward transition.

David Platt, the author of the fantastic book “Radical,” was asked to close with a prayer right after Kay Arthur talked about sex. That’s a tough act to follow, but Platt crushed it. What did he say? He got up and said, “Kay Arthur, I’ve never been so happy for the recession. I hope it never ends.” Hilarious.


4. Priscilla Shirer will bring it like Chuck D from Public Enemy

Good grief, that Priscilla Shirer was on fire. I only caught a couple minutes of her but she absolutely destroyed that stage. Wow. I thought at the end she’d just drop the mic like Eminem at the end of 8 mile and walk off. Great stuff.


5. Young ladies will be told not to dress like harlots and sexpots.

As a dad with two daughters sitting next to him, I wanted to say, “Amen!” to this point. I loved what I heard at the conference about women being proud and beautiful and not cheap. They cannot say this enough. I wanted to hug this conference at this moment.



6. Beth Moore will make you feel like family.

My wife got to hang out with Beth Moore after the event and she could not have been nicer. But I promise, there’s not a lady in that crowd that didn’t feel loved by Beth Moore. Want to make your wife happy this Christmas? Get her a Beth Moore book. LL Cool J’s name stands for “Ladies Love Cool James. I am no longer calling Beth Moore, Beth Moore. From now on, I will be referring to her as “LL Cool B,” because Ladies Love Beth.


7. Ladies will wave money.

At one point they about talked raising money for a girl in the crowd. In about 4.2 seconds, ladies had dollar bills whipped out and waving in the air. That is awesome and something you will never, ever see at a men’s conference. No guy in a flannel shirt with a beard is getting out a dollar, waving it above his head and yelling, “We can do it!”


8. There were zero Braveheart references.

I didn’t see any Gladiator clips either. Come to think of it, no one mentioned the Matrix.


9. Clothes will be mentioned.

One of the questions from the crowd was about a jacket that one of the speakers was wearing. As a boy, I’ve never thought, “What kind of pants is Andy Stanley wearing? I like the cut of his gib! And that mock turtleneck on Rick Warren, is that from the Maxx?”

I had an awesome time at the conference even though I was only there for about an hour. I was blown away at what Lifeway, the speakers and a stadium of ladies were up to. That point about the recession alone was worth it’s weight in gold. I’ll be back, I’ll go again and I promise to take notes, because they were bringing it.

Have you ever been to a women’s conference?

What I Read Today - Monday December 20, 2010

Sovereign Father, Heavenly King


by Charles R. Swindoll

Romans 8:28

That first Christmas, all eyes were on Augustus---the cynical Caesar who demanded a census so as to determine a measurement to enlarge taxes even further. At such a time, who was interested in a young couple making an eighty-mile trip south from Nazareth? What could possibly be more important than Caesar's decisions in Rome . . . or his puppet Herod's edicts in Judea? Who cared about a tiny baby born to an unknown teenage Jewess in an obscure Bethlehem barn?

God did.

Without realizing it, mighty Augustus was only an errand boy for the commencement of the fullness of time. He was a pawn in the hand of God . . . a mere piece of lint on the pages of prophecy. While Rome was busy making history, God arrived. The world didn't even notice. Reeling from the wake of Alexander the Great . . . Herod the Great . . . and Augustus the Great, the world overlooked Jesus the baby.

It still does.

As in Jesus's day, our times are desperate. Moreover, they are often a distraction from the bigger picture. Just as the political, economical, and spiritual crises of the first century set the stage for "the fullness of time" to occur . . . so today, in our own desperate times, our God is weaving His sovereign tapestry to accomplish His divine will. Times are hard, indeed---but they never surprise God. He is still sovereign. He is still enthroned.

Christmas is an excellent time to ask ourselves this question: Will I focus on Jesus as the center of my life and cling to Him, regardless of the circumstances I face?

Political corruption . . . religious compromise . . . economic crises---these will always be on the front page. But we must remember that our God is at work on every page. His picture never appears, but His fingerprints are all over the map.

He promises to use our uncertain times to accomplish His bigger and better purposes all around our world . . . and deep within our lives.

See Romans 8:28-30.

Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, Jesus: The Greatest Life of All (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008), 17-29; and from Charles R. Swindoll, "A Birth," in Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life (Portland, Ore.: Multnomah, 1983), 49. Copyright © 2010 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What I Read Today - Sunday December 19, 2010


How to Get Financially Fit in the New Year

It's time to think about getting in financial shape in 2011. Vague resolutions and good intentions won't do it. You have to have a plan. Stumped for ideas? Here's a 12-month agenda.
No, it's not comprehensive. But it's doable.
Each month, set one financial target and hit it. Easy, manageable -- and it means this time next year you'll be looking back on 2011 with some satisfaction.
JANUARY: Max those savings! Financial planners argue you should be saving 15% or more of your income each year. Set your 401(k) contributions to the highest level you can handle. At least contribute up to any company match, and ideally push the limits -- $16,500 if you're under 50, $22,000 if you're over. If you are self-employed, or have self-employment income, talk to a broker about special tax-savings vehicles open to you, including Solo 401(k) plans, SEP-IRAs and Keoghs.
[sun1219lede]Matt Collins
FEBRUARY: Target your cash flow. Get out all your statements and check stubs for 2010 and work out where all your money went. Chances are you spent more than you planned, or maybe realized. Restaurants, shopping, premium cable, car payments -- it all adds up. If you want to get control of it, you have to understand it. Now set a budget, and talk to your family about ways to cut back and save more.
MARCH: Live without plastic for a month. Lock up your credit and ATM/debit cards. Generations lived without the spending ease and convenience of plastic. It is no coincidence they found it much easier to live within their means. Try it. Set a weekly budget, cash a check for that amount at the bank each week, and live on it. Unless you are traveling -- where a card can be invaluable -- you may find it easier than you imagined. Once you get used to it, keep going.
APRIL: Spring clean your investments. Decide on the asset allocation you should have. Then look at what you have right now. There's probably a ton of rubbish in there -- mediocre mutual funds, stocks bought on tips, money left sitting in a low-yielding account. Don't forget the unused car in the garage that's still worth $4,000. Time to stop procrastinating. Clear out the rubbish, and put the money to better use.
MAY: Zap the debt. Pretty much any debt other than a reasonable mortgage is a burden. Credit-card debt is a disaster -- you're basically going backward financially as long as you carry a balance from month to month. To pay the 15% interest rate, you have to earn maybe 20% before tax. Not gonna happen. Cut up the cards, and live like a pauper till you get out of credit-card jail.
JUNE: Invest in yourself. Kudos to financial planner Dennis Stearns of Greenboro, N.C., for this suggestion: When someone asks him about investments, he writes, "I ask them how much they could improve their lot in life if they invested [some money instead] in a leadership workshop, better communication skills or anything to improve their productivity." After all, your knowledge and skills are your most important asset. This month, explore adult-education opportunities in your area.
JULY: Check your progress on the cash flow. Print out all your statements. Analyze spending by categories. See what you planned to spend, and what you actually spent. This is a constant battle. Still looking for savings ideas? Cancel cable for the next few months. It's summer time -- what are you doing indoors watching TV?
AUGUST: Convert your traditional individual retirement accounts to a Roth IRA. There will be a tax hit upfront, but thereafter money in a Roth grows tax free forever. Even better: There are no required minimum distributions after age 70. Before 2010, Roth conversions were typically limited to those earning below about $100,000, but that limit was abolished: Anyone can now convert to a Roth.
SEPTEMBER: Negotiate a Christmas truce with all the adults you know. That means family, extended family and co-workers. Stop the holiday shopping waste before it starts. This may save you hundreds of dollars. The only thing you will lose will be a bunch of sweaters you won't wear and trinkets you don't want. They'll save the same thing, too.
OCTOBER: Tackle your insurance. Dull? Chances are you are wasting hundreds of dollars a year on homeowners and car insurance. The insurance industry thrives on your laziness: Studies repeatedly find that identical coverage can sometimes cost half as much. Take this month to shop around aggressively to find cheaper coverage. And find out how much you can cut your premiums if you raise your deductibles. Sometimes that's a no-brainer.
NOVEMBER: Update your will. Do you have one? And if you do, how long ago did you check it? Circumstances change. Maybe you've had children or grandchildren. Or minors have graduated. Your assets have grown (or, alas, shrunk). Too many people avoid dealing with their wills because thinking about death makes them feel yucky. Too bad. You're going to die, like me, like everyone else. Deal with it. Dying with an out-of-date will can cost your family incredible amounts of pain and money and throw away decades of hard work.
DECEMBER: Open 529 plans for your children and grandchildren. These are no-brainers. The money grows tax deferred (and tax free if it's spent on qualified education expenses). It will help discipline college savings. After two years, the money is also sheltered from creditors -- something to keep in mind as you contemplate the financial upheavals and increases in personal bankruptcies of the last few years. Oh, and you keep control of the money, so Missy can't take it and run off to join a cult. (Well, she can, but at least she can't take the college money with her.)
Good luck -- and best wishes for a happy, prosperous and financially fit 2011.

What I Read Today - Sunday December 19, 2010

The U.S.S. Prius

As I was saying, the thing I love most about America is that there’s always somebody here who doesn’t get the word — and they go out and do the right thing or invent the new thing, no matter what’s going on politically or economically. And what could save America’s energy future — at a time when a fraudulent, anti-science campaign funded largely by Big Oil and Big Coal has blocked Congress from passing any clean energy/climate bill — is the fact that the Navy and Marine Corps just didn’t get the word.
God bless them: “The Few. The Proud. The Green.” Semper Fi.
Spearheaded by Ray Mabus, President Obama’s secretary of the Navy and the former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the Navy and Marines are building a strategy for “out-greening” Al Qaeda, “out-greening” the Taliban and “out-greening” the world’s petro-dictators. Their efforts are based in part on a recent study from 2007 data that found that the U.S. military loses one person, killed or wounded, for every 24 fuel convoys it runs in Afghanistan. Today, there are hundreds and hundreds of these convoys needed to truck fuel — to run air-conditioners and power diesel generators — to remote bases all over Afghanistan.
Mabus’s argument is that if the U.S. Navy and Marines could replace those generators with renewable power and more energy efficient buildings, and run its ships on nuclear energy, biofuels and hybrid engines, and fly its jets with bio-fuels, then it could out-green the Taliban — the best way to avoid a roadside bomb is to not have vehicles on the roads — and out-green all the petro-dictators now telling the world what to do.
Unlike the Congress, which can be bought off by Big Oil and Big Coal, it is not so easy to tell the Marines that they can’t buy the solar power that could save lives. I don’t know what the final outcome in Iraq or Afghanistan will be, but if we come out of these two wars with a Pentagon-led green revolution, I know they won’t be a total loss. Wars that were driven partly by our oil addiction end up forcing us to break our oil addiction? Wouldn’t that be interesting?
Jackalyne Pfannenstiel, the assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment, used to lead the California Energy Commission. She listed for me what’s going on:
On April 22, Earth Day, the Navy flew a F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet powered by a 50-50 blend of conventional jet fuel and camelina aviation biofuel made from pressed mustard seeds. It flew at Mach 1.2 and has since been tested on biofuels at Mach 1.7 — without a hiccup. I loved the quote in Biofuels Digest from Scott Johnson, general manager of Sustainable Oils, which produced the camelina: “It was awesome to watch camelina biofuel break the sound barrier.”
The Navy will use only “third generation” biofuels. That means no ethanol made from corn because it doesn’t have enough energy density. The Navy is only testing fuels like camelina and algae that do not compete with food, that have a total end-to-end carbon footprint cleaner than fossil fuels and that can be grown in ways that will ultimately be cheaper than fossil fuels.
In October, the Navy launched the U.S.S. Makin Island amphibious assault ship, which is propelled by a hybrid gas turbine/electric motor. On its maiden voyage from Mississippi to San Diego, said Mabus, it saved $2 million in fuel.
In addition, the Navy has tested its RCB-X combat boat on a 50-50 blend of algae and diesel, and it has tested its SH-60 helicopter on a similar biofuel blend. Meanwhile, the Marines now have a “green” forward operating base set up in Helmand Province in Afghanistan that is testing in the field everything from LED lights in tents to solar canopies to power refrigerators and equipment — to see just how efficiently one remote base can get by without fossil fuel.
When you factor in all the costs of transporting fuel by truck or air to a forward base in Afghanistan — that is, guarding it and delivering it over mountains — a single gallon of gasoline “could cost up to $400” once it finally arrives, Mabus said.
The Navy plans in 2012 to put out to sea a “Great Green Fleet,” a 13-ship carrier battle group powered either by nuclear energy or 50-50 blends of biofuels and with aircraft flying on 50-50 blends of biofuels.
Mabus has also set a goal for the Navy to use alternative energy sources to provide 50 percent of the energy for all its war-fighting ships, planes, vehicles and shore installations by 2020. If the Navy really uses its buying power when buying power, and setting building efficiency standards, it alone could expand the green energy market in a decisive way.
And, if Congress will simply refrain from forcing the Navy to use corn ethanol or liquid coal — neither of which are clean or efficient, but are located in many Congressional districts — we might really get a green revolution in the military. That could save lives, money and the planet, and might even help us win — or avoid — the next war. Go Navy!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

What I Read Today - Thursday December 16, 2010

I Wanted to Join the Fight Against Hitler’

By THE NEW YORK TIMES


In 2006, Alan Schwarz interviewed Bob Feller for a chapter in his book “Once Upon a Game: Baseball’s Greatest Memories.” They collaborated on this essay, in which Feller, nicknamed “Rapid Robert” for his fastball, reflected on his decision to enlist in the Navy during World War II and miss almost four seasons of major league baseball. Feller died on Wednesday at age 92.

I was driving my new Buick Century across the Mississippi River, across the Iowa-Illinois state line, when my world — everyone’s world — changed forever.

It was Dec. 7, 1941. I was driving to my meeting with my Cleveland Indians bosses to hash out my 1942 contract, and out it came on the radio: the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.

The last thing on my mind right then was playing baseball. I immediately decided to enlist in the United States Navy. I didn’t have to — I was 23 and strong-bodied, you bet, but with my father terminally ill back in Van Meter, Iowa, I was exempt from military service.

It didn’t matter to me — I wanted to join the fight against Hitler and the Japanese. We were losing that war and most young men of my generation wanted to help push them back. People today don’t understand, but that’s the way we felt in those days. We wanted to join the fighting. So on Dec. 9, I gave up the chance to earn $100,000 with the Indians and became the first professional athlete to join the Navy after Pearl Harbor.

It was one of the greatest experiences in my life. You can talk about teamwork on a baseball team, but I’ll tell you, it takes teamwork when you have 2,900 men stationed on the U.S.S. Alabama in the South Pacific. I was a chief petty officer. I helped give exercises and ran the baseball team and recreation when we were in port. But I was also a gun captain — I was firing a 40-millimeter quad at eight rounds per second.

The Alabama was involved in one of the most important battles of the Pacific. In June 1944, we were supposed to shell the beaches of Saipan for two hours so that our Marines could land safely. The Japanese tried a surprise attack — but we were ready. The American Navy and Air Force, we had all the big carriers and battleships like the Iowa, the Wisconsin, the New Jersey, the Alabama, you name it, we had them all. Our pilots and gunners shot down 474 Japanese aircraft, sunk three of their carriers and got several of their escort ships. And when the sun went down that night, it was the end of the Japanese naval air force. We made it look so easy, ever since they’ve called it the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.

We were involved in so many other important engagements, including some in the north Atlantic over in Europe. Our ship won nine battle stars, eight of them while I was on it. It was an incredible time for all of us.

I went on inactive duty in August 1945, and since I had stayed in such good shape, and had played ball on military teams, I was ready to start for the Indians just two days later, against the Tigers. More than 47,000 people came to see me return — there was such a patriotic feeling, with V-J day so fresh in everyone’s minds. Even though I hadn’t pitched in the major leagues in almost four years, I struck out the first batter. I wound up throwing a four-hitter and winning, 4-2.

What a great night ... I kept it up the rest of the season, too, and then had what many people call my best season in 1946, when I won 26 games with 348 strikeouts.

A lot of folks say that had I not missed those almost four seasons to World War II — during what was probably my physical prime — I might have had 370 or even 400 wins. But I have no regrets. None at all. I did what any American could and should do: serve his country in its time of need. The world’s time of need.

I knew then, and I know today, that winning World War II was the most important thing to happen to this country in the last 100 years. I’m just glad I was a part of it. I was only a gun captain on the battleship Alabama for 34 months. People have called me a hero for that, but I’ll tell you this — heroes don’t come home. Survivors come home.

What I Read Today - Thursday December 1, 2010

Memories Are Made of This

by Charles R. Swindoll

Mark 3

During the Thanksgiving holiday a few years ago, I experienced a moving moment as I watched our younger daughter, Colleen, with her baby, Ashley Alissa, who at that time was a newborn. Colleen had nursed her back to sleep and was holding Ashley ever so tenderly, as only a mother can do. Colleen didn't see me as I stood in the shadows, thinking . . . reflecting . . . remembering.

In my flashback, it was I who held our darling Colleen nestled in my arms. She had been born only a month or so earlier, and her arrival had brought a fresh ray of hope and happiness to our lives. In her tiny eyes, which danced with delight, I found a reason to smile. Her chubby little hands gripped my fingers, as if saying, "I love you, Daddy . . . you're special to me."

As these reflections passed through my mind, I realized anew the profound importance of caring for the young and being sensitive to their needs. I also realized again that both require sacrifice and commitment.

There stood the young mother, who was once our little baby, in the glow of a night light . . . exhausted from too little sleep, yet committed to her baby's comfort, whispering, "I love you" and determined to do whatever was necessary through the silent hours before dawn.

For many, I realize, such pleasant, nostalgic scenes of home are foreign, even nonexistent. Home was a battleground where only the fittest survived. Some of you who read this may not recall even a handful of pleasant memories springing from your original family. Not until Christ found you, won you over, and entered your life, did you begin to discover what love is all about.

To you, the church---those folks who people the place, who reach out in compassion, who provide you a healthy and a safe environment in which to grow---has become "home" and "family" as well. Which is a needed reminder to us that the people of faith are the only models many have to look to, to learn from, to count on.

What can we in the church do? We can help those who have no memories of parental commitment and sacrifice to build new memories. This requires commitment and sacrifice from us, no doubt about it. But, oh, isn't it worth it all?

Think of some young person(s) in your church who has a need for a family touch. Take the opportunity to build a memory that impressionable individual will never forget.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What I Read Today - Wednesday December 15, 2010

Huge gap in how Democrats, Republicans define 'compromise'


By Gloria Borger, CNN Senior Political Analyst

STORY HIGHLIGHTS


(CNN) -- Everyone seems to have an opinion about whether big men should cry, given Speaker-elect John Boehner's soggy "60 Minutes" on Sunday. Just for the record: fine by me, no big deal, even a good thing.

Now that that's out of the way, there is one exchange that actually matters way more than a few tears: Boehner's refusal to let the word "compromise" pass between his lips.

It seemed odd, in a way, that Boehner treated the bland word as some sort of epithet not to be uttered in front of the children. And the endearing emotional connection he made by weeping was somehow blunted by this refusal to even acknowledge the C-word.

So what was Boehner's reasoning?

"When you say the word 'compromise' ... a lot of Americans look up and go, 'Uh-oh, they're going to sell me out,' " he told CBS' "60 Minutes." "And so finding common ground here makes more sense."

Now I get it. For Boehner, it makes more sense because it's really a matter of political survival. Why? Because there's a huge gap between how Democrats and Republicans view compromise. According to a recent Gallup Poll, 59% of Democrats think it's a good thing. As for Republicans, not so much -- 41% say their leaders should instead "stick to their beliefs."

Hence, the Boehner preference for common ground.

Ah, but what about President Barack Obama? When the tax cut deal was struck, he headed straight for the podium to declare that a "compromise" had been reached -- and called the agreement a compromise over and over again. A bipartisan plan, he said, one that is "... not perfect, but this compromise is an essential step on the road to recovery."

And so Obama's Great Compromise was born.

We're parsing words here, but the labels give the clues to what's ahead. Boehner understands his new members aren't in the mood to work much with what's left of the Democrats; Obama understands that independent voters want him to behave as the adult. (Indeed, about 60% of them applaud the deal.)

And, by the way, for all of the yakking we've heard about Obama's angry liberal base, here's a headline from Wednesday's Washington Post poll: 87% of liberals support Obama.

And pretty soon, the moment of truth will arrive. Now that Republicans and Democrats have both spent almost $900 billion on this tax cut package, they have to figure out how to pay for it. The deal only intensifies the pressure on the president -- and the Congress -- to move to the next stage. Every economist can now argue -- and they do -- that the nation has gotten the stimulus it needs in the short term. But what about the long-term deficit?

Here's a bipartisan truth: There are no more fig leafs left.

And here's a GOP truth: The new flock wants to cut spending and the deficit, because that's what they promised they would do. Sen.-elect Rand Paul of Kentucky says he's got a package of $500 billion in cuts in his back pocket, ready to go.

Doesn't this all intensify the political argument for the White House to step forward and call their bluff? Or, better yet, offer a new paradigm: tax reform that leads to deficit reduction through the slashing of some sacrosanct tax breaks. The deficit commission managed to do it with the support of three conservative GOP senators; why not offer it to the Congress?

If compromise is a dirty word -- and common ground is just its handy, amorphous replacement -- there's got to be some new ground to be plowed.

Here's the Pollyanna dream scenario: The president offers to deal on tax reform in his State of the Union message in January. He makes it clear that reform brings with it serious deficit reduction. The GOP agrees; there is some down payment on cuts as the parties decide to avoid a showdown over raising the debt ceiling to keep the government running. They work at it it; we watch in wonder.

Then we can all have a good cry.

Or, we can wake up.

The choice is theirs.

What I Read Today - Wednesday December 15, 2010

From: The New York Times

We’ve Only Got America A

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN


Former President José María Figueres of Costa Rica has a saying I like: “There is no Planet B” — so we’d better make Plan A work to preserve a stable environment. I feel the same way about America these days. There is no America B, so we’d better make this one work a lot better than we’ve been doing, and not only for our sake. When Britain went into decline as the globe’s stabilizing power, America was right there, ready to pick up the role. Even with all our imperfections and mistakes, the world has been a better place for it. If America goes weak, though, and cannot project power the way it has, your kids won’t just grow up in a different America. They will grow up in a different world. You will not like who picks up the pieces. Just glance at a few recent headlines.

The world system is currently being challenged by two new forces: a rising superpower, called China, and a rising collection of superempowered individuals, as represented by the WikiLeakers, among others. What globalization, technological integration and the general flattening of the world have done is to superempower individuals to such a degree that they can actually challenge any hierarchy — from a global bank to a nation state — as individuals.

China has put on a sound and light show these past few weeks that underscored just how much its rising economic clout can be used to warp the U.S.-led international order when it so chooses. I am talking specifically about the lengths to which China went to not only reject the Nobel Peace Prize given to one of its citizens — Liu Xiaobo, a democracy advocate who is serving an 11-year sentence in China for “subversion of state power” — but to intimidate China’s trading partners from even sending representatives to attend the Nobel award ceremony at Oslo’s City Hall.

Mr. Liu was represented at Friday’s Nobel ceremony by an empty chair because China would not release him from prison — only the fifth time in the 109-year history of the prize that the winner was not in attendance. Under pressure from Beijing, the following countries joined China’s boycott of the ceremony: Serbia, Morocco, Pakistan, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Colombia, Ukraine, Algeria, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, Vietnam and the Philippines. What a pathetic bunch.

“The empty chair in Oslo’s Town Hall last Friday was not only that of Liu, but of China itself,” observed Rowan Callick, a columnist for The Australian. “The world is still waiting for China to play its proper, full role in international affairs. The perversity of such a successful, civilized nation playing a dominant role as a backer — if sometimes merely by default — of cruel, failed or failing states is intensely frustrating.”

It gets worse. The Financial Times reported that “outside Mr. Liu’s apartment in Beijing, where his wife Liu Xia has been held under house arrest since the award was announced, large blue screens were erected, preventing television cameras from having a view of the building.”

Honestly, I thought China’s leaders had more self-confidence than that. Clearly, they are feeling very insecure. Think if China had said instead: “We disagree with this award and we will not be attending. But anytime one of our citizens is honored with a Nobel, it is an honor for all of China — and so we will pass this on to his family.” It would have been a one-day story, and China’s leaders would have looked so strong.

As for the superempowered individuals — some are constructive, some are destructive. I read many WikiLeaks and learned some useful things. But their release also raises some troubling questions. I don’t want to live in a country where they throw whistle-blowers in jail. That’s China. But I also don’t want to live in a country where any individual feels entitled to just dump out all the internal communications of a government or a bank in a way that undermines the ability to have private, confidential communications that are vital to the functioning of any society. That’s anarchy.

But here’s the fact: A China that can choke off conversations far beyond its borders, and superempowered individuals who can expose conversations far beyond their borders — or create posses of “cyber-hacktivists” who can melt down the computers of people they don’t like — are now a reality. They are rising powers. A stable world requires that we learn how to get the best from both and limit the worst; it will require smart legal and technological responses.

For that job, there is no alternative to a strong America. Critics said of the British Labour Party of the 1960s that the Britain they were trying to build was half-Sweden and half-heaven. The alternative today to a world ordered by American power is not some cuddly multipolar system — half-Sweden and half-heaven. It is half-China and half-superempowered individuals.

Managing that will never be easy. But it will be a lot easier with a healthy America, committed to its core values, powerful enough to project them and successful enough that others want to follow our lead — voluntarily.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What I Read Today - Tuesday December 14, 2010

From: The New York Times

Ben Franklin’s Nation

By DAVID BROOKS


After you read this column, go to YouTube and search “Hans Rosling and 200 countries.” You’ll see a Swedish professor describe the growth of global wealth and well-being over the past 200 years.

He presents an animated time-lapse chart. It starts in 1810, when the nations of the world were clumped on the bottom left-hand side of the chart because they had low income and low life expectancy. Then the industrial revolution kicks in and the nations of the West surge upward and to the right as they get richer and healthier. By 1948, it’s like a race, with the United States out front and the other nations of the world stretched in a long tail behind.

Then, over the last few decades, the social structure of the world changes. The Asian and Latin American countries begin to catch up. With the exception of the African nations, living standards start to converge. Now most countries are clumped toward the top end of the chart, thanks to the incredible reductions in global poverty and improvements in health.

This convergence is great news, but the change in the global social structure has created a psychological crisis in the U.S. Since World War II, we’ve built our national identity on our rank among the nations — at the front with everybody else trailing behind. But in this age of convergence, the world doesn’t have much of a tail anymore.

Some people interpret this loss of lead-dog status as a sign of national decline.

Other people think we are losing our exceptionalism. But, the truth is, there’s just been a change in the shape of the world community. In a world of relative equals, the U.S. will have to learn to define itself not by its rank, but by its values. It will be important to have the right story to tell, the right purpose and the right aura. It will be more important to know who you are.

Americans seem uncertain about how to answer that question. But one answer is contained in Rosling’s chart. What is the core feature of the converging world? It is the rise of a gigantic global middle class.

In 2000, the World Bank classified 430 million people as middle class. By 2030, there will be about 1.5 billion. In India alone, the ranks of the middle class will swell from 50 million to 583 million.

To be middle class is to have money to spend on non-necessities. But it also involves a shift in values. Middle-class parents have fewer kids but spend more time and money cultivating each one. They often adopt the bourgeois values — emphasizing industry, prudence, ambition, neatness, order, moderation and continual self-improvement. They teach their children to lead different lives from their own, and as Karl Marx was among the first to observe, unleash a relentless spirit of improvement and openness that alters every ancient institution.

Last year, the Pew Research Center surveyed the global middle class and found that middle-class people are more likely than their poorer countrymen to value democracy, free speech and an objective judiciary. They were more likely to embrace religious pluralism and say that you don’t have to believe in God to be good.

Over the next few decades, a lot of people are going to get rich selling education, self-help and mobility tools to the surging global bourgeoisie. The United States has a distinct role to play in this world.

American culture was built on the notion of bourgeois dignity. We’ve always been lacking in aristocratic grace and we’ve never had much proletarian consciousness, but America did produce Ben Franklin, one of the original spokesmen of middle-class values. It did produce Horatio Alger, who told stories about poor boys and girls who rose to middle-class respectability. It does produce a nonstop flow of self-help leaders, from Dale Carnegie to Oprah Winfrey. It did produce the suburbs and a new sort of middle-class dream.

Americans could well become the champions of the gospel of middle-class dignity. The U.S. could become the crossroads nation for those who aspire to join the middle and upper-middle class, attracting students, immigrants and entrepreneurs.

To do this, we’d have to do a better job of celebrating and defining middle-class values. We’d have to do a better job of nurturing our own middle class. We’d have to have the American business class doing what it does best: catering to every nook and cranny of the middle-class lifestyle. And we’d have to emphasize that capitalism didn’t create the American bourgeoisie. It was the social context undergirding capitalism — the community clubs, the professional societies, the religious charities and Little Leagues.

For centuries, people have ridiculed American culture for being tepid, materialistic and middle class. But Ben Franklin’s ideas won in the end. The middle-class century could be another American century.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What I Read Today - Thursday December 9, 2010

From: The New York Times

Falling Off the Bandwagon

By GAIL COLLINS


Dear Answerperson:
My boyfriend is a liberal Democrat and ever since the president announced his tax deal with the Republicans, he has been impossible to live with. First he burned his “Audacity of Hope” sweater. Then he began messing up the cat’s litter box, claiming he needed to draw “lines in the sand.” Now he wants to call off our wedding because he says that when you put your trust in people, they break your heart.

Miserable Moderate

Dear Miserable,
Ask your boyfriend if he would rather spend the entire holiday season wondering what Senator Joe Lieberman will do next and whether Olympia Snowe will vote for cloture. Then he will turn pale and offer to take you out for a nice dinner.

Answerperson

***********

Look on the bright side, Democratic base. You’ve been urging President Obama to get really mad. Ever since the inauguration, you’ve been waiting for him to take a stand, point fingers at the people who are blocking progress and demand that they get the heck out of the road.

And this week he did it! Yippee!

Of course the liberal Democrats did not really plan on his getting mad at the liberal Democrats. But you can’t have everything.

“This isn’t the politics of the moment. This has to do with what can we get done right now,” the president said heatedly as he defended his tax deal with the Republicans against outrage from the Congressional left.

It takes a lot to make President Obama incoherent. I think the vision of trying to corral 60 votes in the Senate on the night before Christmas sent him over the brink.

The lame-duck Senate has been extremely busy not passing a range of legislation. The votes on two Democratic proposals to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for everybody but the rich were 53 to 37 and 53 to 36. Of course, under venerable Senate tradition, that means they failed entirely.

It was at that point that Obama announced a deal with the Republicans to salvage unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless and create a sort of ministimulus bill with tax cuts for everybody, including the working poor, besides the dreaded, hated giveaway to the undeserving wealthy.

“The American people are outraged!” said Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. He wanted the president to draw that line in the sand, let the unemployment benefits lapse, the tax code fall into limbo, and hold out until public opinion forced 60 votes to come around.

If you really wanted the American people to rally around no-tax-cuts-for-richies, shouldn’t we have had this conversation before the election? It’s a lot easier to send Washington a message at the polls than on a protest march in a sub-zero wind-chill factor.

No, we waited until now because the Senate leaders left the timing up to their members who were running for re-election, and the Democrats in question said they’d rather not have to go on the record.

O.K., I’ve got to admit it. I’ve fallen off the line-in-the-sand bandwagon.

For one thing, opposing the Obama-Republican deal puts you on the same side as Sarah Palin, who sent out one of her twitters from hell on the subject, and Christine O’Donnell, the former Senate candidate. At a Tea Party meeting on Dec. 7, O’Donnell announced that it was a day of sorrow and “Tragedy comes in threes: Pearl Harbor, Elizabeth Edwards’s passing and Barack Obama’s announcement of extending the tax cuts, which is good, but also extending the unemployment benefits.”

(I am happy to note that O’Donnell has announced that she’s got a book deal and a new political action committee. Really, I don’t know what I’d do if she went away.)

Plus, the Senate has worn me down. The filibuster rule makes it impossible to do anything more difficult than passing rules against tainted food, and the Democrats have not made any serious attempt to get rid of the filibuster rule. So work around them, I say.

We have no idea if Obama’s unheroic attempt to get a deal done is going to pass. The Democratic senators who totally failed to exempt the wealthy from a tax-cut extension are outraged at the president for giving up on them.

“This is beyond politics. This is about justice and doing what’s right,” said Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana as she slammed “the almost, you know, moral corruptness” of tax cuts for millionaires.

It was a stirring statement, and would have been even more so if Landrieu had not been one of the few Democrats who actually voted to put the tax cuts on the books in the first place in 2001. Senator Harry Reid has already warned that members of his caucus “have concerns” that will need to be addressed. He has one himself about legalizing online poker, a matter that the casino interests in his state of Nevada are very excited about.

So this is what it takes to put the drama in Obama.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What I Read Today - Wednesday 8, 2010

"But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength;

they shall mount up with wings as eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faith." Isaiah 40:31

What I Read Today - Wednesday December 8, 2010

How to Waste Time


by Charles R. Swindoll

James 4:13-17

Have you noticed how many day-planners are available these days? And then there are the time-management self-help books: how to increase your efficiency, how to make every moment count, how to invest your time wisely and productively.

While all those voices and handy products scream for your attention, I'd like to play devil's advocate and tell you how to waste your time. Five proven ideas come immediately to mind:

First, worry a lot. Start worrying early in the morning and intensify your anxiety as the day passes. Worry about your own failures and mistakes---about what you should or could have done but didn't. To add variety, worry about things you should not have done but did. Hanging around negative people is another secret you won't want to forget. Remember: Potential ulcers need fresh acid.

Second, make hard-and-fast predictions. Of course, you'll need to ignore that little throwaway line in the fourth chapter of James: "you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow." But forget that comment and set your expectations in motion. Be as specific as you can. For example, one month before his July 1975 disappearance, Jimmy Hoffa announced: "I don't need bodyguards."

Third, fix your attention on getting rich. You'll get a lot of innovative ideas from the secular bookshelves (I counted fourteen books on the subject last time I was in a bookstore), plus you'll fit right in with most of the hype that's pouring out of entrepreneurial seminars and high-pressure sales meetings.

Fourth, compare yourself with others. Not only will you ricochet between the extremes of arrogance and discouragement, you will also spend the time not knowing who you are.

Fifth, lengthen your list of enemies. If there's one thing above all others that will keep your wheels spinning, it's perfecting your skill at the Blame Game. With a full arsenal of suspicion, paranoia, and resentment, you can waste endless evenings stewing over those folks who have made your life miserable.

Put these five surefire suggestions in motion, and you can forget about all the hassles connected with being happy, efficient, productive, and contented. Within a couple of months, those things won't even be on your agenda.

All this sounds like foolish exaggeration, doesn't it? But just stop and think: How much time are you already wasting on some of these things?

Excerpted from Day by Day with Charles Swindoll, Copyright © 2000 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. (Thomas Nelson Publishers). All rights reserved worldwide.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What I Read Today - Thursday December 2, 2010

A Sunday School teacher began her lesson with a question, "Boys and girls, what do we know about God?"

A hand shot up in the air. "He is an artist!" said the kindergarten boy.
"Really? How do you know?" the teacher asked.
"You know - Our Father, who does art in Heaven... "

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What I Read Today - Wednesday November 24 , 2010

From: The New York Times

November 23, 2010


U.S.G. and P.T.A.

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

For me, the most frightening news in The Times on Sunday was not about North Korea’s stepping up its nuclear program, but an article about how American kids are stepping up their use of digital devices: “Allison Miller, 14, sends and receives 27,000 texts in a month, her fingers clicking at a blistering pace as she carries on as many as seven text conversations at a time. She texts between classes, at the moment soccer practice ends, while being driven to and from school and, often, while studying. But this proficiency comes at a cost: She blames multitasking for the three B’s on her recent progress report. “I’ll be reading a book for homework and I’ll get a text message and pause my reading and put down the book, pick up the phone to reply to the text message, and then 20 minutes later realize, ‘Oh, I forgot to do my homework.’ ”

I don’t want to pick on Miller. I highlight her words only because they’re integral to a much larger point: Our unemployment today is not only because of the financial crisis. There are some deeper problems. If we’re going to get more Americans back to work, we will need more stimulus from the U.S.G. — the U.S. government — from the top down. But we will also need more stimulus from the P.T.A.’s — the Parent Teacher Associations — from the bottom up.

The deeper problems fostering unemployment in America today can be summarized in three paragraphs:

Global competition is stiffer. Just think about two of our most elite colleges. When Harvard and Yale were all male, applicants had to compete only against a pool of white males to get in. But when Harvard and Yale admitted women and more minorities, white males had to step up their game. But when the cold war ended, globalization took hold. As Harvard and Yale started to admit more Chinese, Indians, Singaporeans, Poles and Vietnamese, both American men and women had to step up their games to get in. And as the education systems of China, India, Singapore, Poland and Vietnam continue to improve, and more of their cream rises to the top and more of their young people apply to Ivy League schools, it is only going to get more competitive for American men and women at every school.

Then, just as the world was getting flattened by globalization, technology went on a rampage — destroying more low-end jobs and creating more high-end jobs faster than ever. What computers, hand-held devices, wireless technology and robots do in aggregate is empower better-educated and higher-skilled workers to be more productive — so they can raise their incomes — while eliminating many lower-skilled service and factory jobs altogether. Now the best-educated workers, capable of doing the critical thinking that machines can’t do, get richer while the least-educated get pink slips. (We used to have a receptionist at our office. She was replaced by a micro-chip. We got voice mail.)

Finally, just when globalization and technology were making the value of higher education greater than ever, and the price for lacking it more punishing than ever, America started slipping behind its peers in high school graduation rates, college graduation and global test scores in math and critical thinking.

As Education Secretary Arne Duncan put it to me in an interview, 50 years ago if you dropped out, you could get a job in the stockyards or steel mill and still “own your own home and support your family.” Today, there are no such good jobs for high school dropouts. “They’re gone,” said Duncan. “That’s what we haven’t adjusted to.” When kids drop out today, “they’re condemned to poverty and social failure.” There are barely any jobs left for someone with only a high school diploma, and that’s only valuable today if it has truly prepared you to go on to higher education without remediation — the only ticket to a decent job.

Beyond the recession, this triple whammy is one of the main reasons that middle-class wages have been stagnating. To overcome that, we need to enlist both the U.S.G. and the P.T.A. We need teachers and principals who are paid better for better performance, but also valued for their long hours and dedication to students and learning. We need better parents ready to hold their kids to higher standards of academic achievement. We need better students who come to school ready to learn, not to text. And to support all of this, we need an all-society effort — from the White House to the classroom to the living room — to nurture a culture of achievement and excellence.

If you want to know who’s doing the parenting part right, start with immigrants, who know that learning is the way up. Last week, the 32 winners of Rhodes Scholarships for 2011 were announced — America’s top college grads. Here are half the names on that list: Mark Jia, Aakash Shah, Zujaja Tauqeer, Tracy Yang, William Zeng, Daniel Lage, Ye Jin Kang, Baltazar Zavala, Esther Uduehi, Prerna Nadathur, Priya Sury, Anna Alekeyeva, Fatima Sabar, Renugan Raidoo, Jennifer Lai, Varun Sivaram.

Do you see a pattern?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What I Read Today - Tuesday November 23, 2010

From: The New York Times

November 22, 2010


Sin and Taxes

By DAVID BROOKS

This has been a great month for conversation. The Bipartisan Policy Center and the chairmen of the fiscal commission released big plans for reducing debt and reforming government. This has set off a deluge of interesting commentary about how we should govern ourselves in the coming century.

But is any of this going anywhere? Are any elected officials actually going to follow through on these plans? Has anybody discovered a political formula to get spending cuts, tax increases and other reforms through the Congress?

I’ve spent the past few days calling Congressional leaders and other budget mavens to get an answer to that question. The answer is No.

Nobody has a political strategy for getting anything like this passed in the short term. There is very little likelihood the political class as currently constituted will address the looming fiscal disaster soon.

Some Republicans have been talking honestly about cutting entitlement spending, but almost no Republican seems willing to accept tax increases as part of a bipartisan budget deal. You could offer Republicans a deal that was 80 percent spending cuts and 20 percent tax increases and they’d say no. They’d say no to 90-10, too.

Ronald Reagan raised taxes 12 separate times during his presidency. But “No New Taxes” has become the requisite for membership in today’s G.O.P. Without a tax increase there will never be a bipartisan deal and without a bipartisan deal there will never be a solution because no party will ever take sole responsibility for the brutal spending cuts that are also required to reduce the debt.

The Democrats don’t offer much hope either. Some moderate Democrats would like a big budget summit. Put everything on the table. Don’t come out without a plan.

But the Democratic Party is in the middle of an identity crisis. The liberals are fighting hard to make sure the moderates don’t gain control of the party (Nancy Pelosi’s re-election as leader was partially about that). These mobilized and defensive liberals are certainly not going to hand control of the government to the few remaining budget hawks and tell them to go remake the welfare state.

The liberal Democrats show no sign of accepting significant spending cuts to the programs they regard as their movement’s greatest achievements. They are in no mood to revisit health care, even though Medicare will have to be hit to get the debt under control. Many of them are in no mood even to acknowledge the scope of the problem, as their responses to last week’s various commission reports demonstrated.

So we’ve still got budget gridlock. But it’s worth stepping back to acknowledge how abnormal this is. As late as the 1980s and 1990s, Congress did pass serious measures to control debt. Across the Atlantic, Britain is enacting a budget with spending cuts and tax increases. In fact, all affluent countries are now faced with the challenge of reforming their welfare states and few are as immobilized as the U.S. is.

This is in part because the problem is so hard — baby boomers are retiring and medical advances raise costs. But the U.S., more than other country, is immobilized by a shift in the ethos of its leadership class.

For centuries, American politicians did not run up huge peacetime debts. It wasn’t because they were unpartisan or smarter or more virtuous. It was because they were constrained by a mentality inherited from the founders. According to this mentality, a big successful nation exists in a state of equilibrium between its many factions. This equilibrium is fragile because we are flawed and fallen creatures and can’t quite trust ourselves. So all of us, but especially members of the leadership class, should practice self-restraint. Moral anxiety restrained hubris (don’t think your side possesses the whole truth) and self-indulgence (debt corrupts character).

This ethos has dissolved, on left and right. The new mentality sees the country not as an equilibrium, but as a battlefield in which the people, who are pure and virtuous, do battle against the interests or the elites, who stand in the way of the people’s happiness.

The ideal leader in this mental system is free from moral anxiety but full of passionate intensity. This leader pushes his troops in lock step before the voracious foe. Each party has its own version of whom the evil elites are, but both feel they’ve more to fear from their enemies than from their own sinfulness.

Compromise is thus impossible. Money matters should be negotiable, but how can one compromise with opponents who are the source of all corruption?

I meet many members of Congress who had hoped to serve under that first ethos but now find themselves living within the second. The good news is an ethos can change: a financial shock, a popular movement, something unexpected. Just don’t expect the big change to emanate from Washington in the near term.