Sunday, December 28, 2008

Murders down, except...

...amongst young black males.

The article notes that it is hoped that new resources can be used to stem this tide. What will work, though? Is it reasonable to expect murders to drop amongst all demographics?

It's worth noting also, as Steven Levitt observes, that the statistics are somewhat misleading.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A World Enslaved

There are now more slaves on the planet than at any time in human history.


Disheartening isn't it? Indeed, Buying a slave in Haiti takes just a few minutes...


But the deal isn't done. Benavil leans in close. "This is a rather delicate question. Is this someone you want as just a worker? Or also someone who will be a 'partner'? You understand what I mean?"

You don't blink at being asked if you want the child for sex. "I mean, is it possible to have someone that could be both?"

"Oui!" Benavil responds enthusiastically.

If you're interested in taking your purchase back to the United States, Benavil tells you that he can "arrange" the proper papers to make it look as though you've adopted the child.


Certainly I hope that we all take a moment to consider how we can help the slaves of the world.

(ht: Kottke)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Black and White

Barack Obama:

Black or white?

Congressman G.K. Butterfield:
Black or white?

I just read an interesting article that discusses our president-elect's racial makeup. It notes that,


Many people insist that 'the first black president' is actually not black.


It goes on to discuss the fact that people sometimes view people of mixed races differently, which I don't think is a surprise. But nonetheless, it's a pretty interesting article, and it casts some light on the above questions. Personally, I find it intriguing that just based on a person's actions, they can choose their identity if they are of mixed race.

It reminds me of a great short essay by David Matthews from the NYT a couple years ago. Ultimately, according to him, racial identification can come down to a choice.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Best of LIFE

Google recently began hosting all the photos ever used for LIFE Magazine. Some of these are amongst the most famous American photos ever taken, and most are fantastic.

A blog has begun documenting some of the best of these LIFE photos. Of those posted recently, the below is amongst my favorites. Head on over and find yours.

Madrid scenes de rue


(ht: Kottke)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Discussing Obama

So last night, as has been usual for the last month, some friends and us were discussing Obama. A couple interesting references emerged, and so I thought I'd pass them on. Some of the most interesting articles about Obama are actually interviews with him. It's much better to hear precisely what somebody thinks straight from their mouth as opposed to being rehashed by a journalist. Thus, here are a couple very interesting interviews that highlight some interesting statements by Obama.

First, just before the election, Rolling Stone interviewed the now president-elect. Some highlights include:

At your campaign stop this morning at a high school in Pennsylvania, you made what you called a "solemn vow to the young people of America" that you will make sure they can afford to go to college — "no ifs, ands or buts." How will you do that in a way that doesn't simply add to the crushing debt that students and their families already take on in the form of student loans?
We're going to give a $4,000 tuition credit to every student, every year, in exchange for a minimum of 100 hours of community service a year. That's above and beyond the additional scholarships we're offering for people who are willing to teach, nurses — there are certain categories and occupations where we have a shortage, so there will be targeted scholarships there.
If you're in the White House and could install any one play toy — bowling alley, water polo — what would it be?
Basketball court. If we can get an indoor basketball court, I'd be happy.

Indoor?
Yeah, just because the weather's kind of fickle in Washington.
In what way will people underestimate you as president?
[Long pause] Because I tend to be a pretty courteous person and I don't lose my temper, I think people underestimate my willingness to mix it up. I don't know if they'll continue to underestimate that after this campaign, but I think you'll still get columns saying, "He's too cool, he's too soft." [Laughs] That's OK, actually.

You like being underestimated in that way.
Yeah. No point in having them see you coming.

Second, a few years ago when Obama was running for Senate, he gave an interview on religion to Chicago Sun Times columnist Cathleen Falsani. Now, it's finally been republished in entirety. Some interesting lines:

FALSANI:
What do you believe?

OBAMA:
I am a Christian.

So, I have a deep faith. So I draw from the Christian faith.
FALSANI:
So you got yourself born again?

OBAMA:
Yeah, although I don't, I retain from my childhood and my experiences growing up a suspicion of dogma. And I'm not somebody who is always comfortable with language that implies I've got a monopoly on the truth, or that my faith is automatically transferable to others.

I'm a big believer in tolerance. I think that religion at it's best comes with a big dose of doubt. I'm suspicious of too much certainty in the pursuit of understanding just because I think people are limited in their understanding.
FALSANI:
The conversation stopper, when you say you're a Christian and leave it at that.

OBAMA:
Where do you move forward with that?

This is something that I'm sure I'd have serious debates with my fellow Christians about. I think that the difficult thing about any religion, including Christianity, is that at some level there is a call to evangelize and prostelytize. There's the belief, certainly in some quarters, that people haven't embraced Jesus Christ as their personal savior that they're going to hell.

FALSANI:
You don't believe that?

OBAMA:
I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell.

I can't imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity.

That's just not part of my religious makeup.

Thoughts?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Woolly Mammoths

Okay, this would be awesome!

Scientists are talking for the first time about the old idea of resurrecting extinct species as if this staple of science fiction is a realistic possibility, saying that a living mammoth could perhaps be regenerated for as little as $10 million.

Not only could woolly mammoths be brought back, but,

The same would be technically possible with Neanderthals, whose full genome is expected to be recovered shortly...

Jurassic Park anyone?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Politics

So now that the election's over (yep, Obama won), we can all settle down and get back to all the other things we discuss. What? You want to keep talking about politics? Well, here you go then.

In this season of evaluation of where each party is at (or in the Republicans' case, where they're not at), I think it's useful to look at the errors in worldview members of wings in both parties tend to make.

J. Budziszewski is a professor of Government and Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. About ten years ago, he wrote a couple articles for First Things. The first is entitled The Problem With Conservatism. In it he sets forth eight moral errors of political conservatism. He then contrasts the political conservative trajectory with the biblical worldview. Here are the errors:
  1. Civil Religionism: America is a chosen nation, and its projects are a proper focus of religious aspiration. Christianity: America is but one nation among many, no less loved by God, but no more.
  2. Instrumentalism: Faith should be used for the ends of the state. Christianity: Believers should be good citizens, but faith is not a tool.
  3. Moralism: God's grace needs the help of the state. Christianity: Merely asks that the state get out of the way.
  4. Caesarism: The laws of man are higher than the laws of God. Christianity: The laws of God are higher than the laws of man.
  5. Traditionalism: What has been done is what should be done. Christianity: Any merely human custom may have to be repented.
  6. Neutralism: Everyone ought to mind his own business, therefore moral and religious judgments should be avoided. Christianity: While one ought to mind his own business, moral and religious judgments can never be avoided.
  7. Mammonism: Wealth is the object of commonwealth, and its continual increase even better. Christianity: Wealth is a snare, and its continual increase even worse.
  8. Meritism: I should do unto others as they deserve. Christianity: I should do unto others not as they deserve, but as they need.
So they wouldn't feel left out, he also wrote an article entitled The Problem With Liberalism. Its points:
  1. Propitiationism: I should do unto others as they want. Christianity: I should do unto others as they need.
  2. Expropiationism: I may take from others to help the needy, giving nothing of my own. Christianity: I should give of my own to help the needy, taking from no one.
  3. Solipsism: Human beings make themselves, belong to themselves, and have value in and of themselves. Christianity: Human beings are made by God, belong to Him, and have value because they are loved by Him and made in His image.
  4. Absolutism: We cannot be blamed when we violate the moral law, either because we cannot help it, because we have no choice, or because it is our choice. Christianity: We must be blamed, because we are morally responsible beings.
  5. Perfectionism: Human effort is adequate to cure human evil. Christianity: Our sin, like our guilt, can be erased only by the grace of God through faith in Christ.
  6. Universalism: The human race forms a harmony whose divisions are ultimately either unreal or unimportant. Christianity: Human harmony has been shattered by sin and cannot be fully healed by any means short of conversion.
  7. Neutralism: The virtue of tolerance requires suspending judgments about good and evil. Christianity: The virtue of tolerance requires making judgments about good and evil.
  8. Collectivism: The state is more important to the child than the family. Christianity: The family is more important to the child than the state.
  9. The Fallacy of Desperate Gestures: "The perfectionist acts, at least in the beginning, from a desire to relieve someone else's pain. The desperationist acts to relieve his own: the pain of pity, the pain of impotence, the pain of indignation. He is like a man who beats on a foggy television screen with a pipe wrench, not because the wrench will fix the picture but because it is handy and feels good to use."
Thoughts? Do these points resonate with you?

(ht: JT)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

One week from now...

Next Wednesday, approximately half the country will be celebrating their candidate's victory. Who will emerge victorious?


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Christian Hip Hop

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of being introduced to the music of Grits. They're a southern Christian rap group, and I loved their sound.

Shortly thereafter, I began hearing about Lecrae, another Christian hip hop artist. At the time, I think he may have been new on the scene, but I again loved the music.

Thus, I definitely enjoyed this interview of Lecrae by Mark Driscoll. If you've ever wondered if there's any good Christian hip hop out there, look no further.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Link of the Day -- Time's Top 25 Blogs

So if you're sitting here wondering what other blogs out there you should be adding to your reader, look no further than this list of the current Top 25 blogs by Time Magazine. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Go Cubs Go

I enjoyed this synopsis on the My Baseball Fantasy blog of the origins of the Cubs' postgame victory tune, "Go Cubs Go."

If you don't know the full story, definitely check it out. It's almost playoff time...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Golden Parachutes

Last week in the financial sector was crazy. Stocks, of which I own several just for fun, were nuts.

Huge companies have failed, and the major investment banks have quickly shrunk in number. I have been struck, though, by the fact that CEOs of these failed companies are still walking away with wealth. Even if stockholders and the average employee are not, the leaders seem to be doing alright.

In an article called How the Masters of the Universe ran amok and cost us the earth, explaining the Lehman Brothers failure, The Scotsman details the walkaway pay many of these CEOs garnered:

Fuld [Lehman's CEO] joined the bulge bracket. He was paid $34.5 million in 2005, comprising a base salary of $750,000, a $13.8 million cash bonus, and stock and options worth $19.94 million.

So how does his demise compare with the other fallen idols who have now fled the crashing debris in Wall Street? They may have driven their banks – and their shareholders – into enormous losses. But the former Masters of the Universe will never know what it's like to live in a subprime home.

By the end, 62-year-old Fuld was Lehman's biggest individual stockholder. Despite the crash, he stands to leave with about $65 million, based on Lehman's Friday morning stock price of $3.73. This tally includes 8.6 million unrestricted shares worth some $32.1 million as of Friday morning – though they had been worth $582 million last November before the credit crunch hurricane struck.

Chuck ("I'm still dancing") Prince left Citigroup with a package said to be worth $40 million. He also received a pension of $1.74 million and another one million stock options – worthless at the time of his departure. Merrill Lynch's Stan O'Neal spent much of last summer perfecting his golf swing, confident that his trusty lieutenants at Merrill could avoid those subprime bunkers. It turned out to be a bad call.

HE WAS ousted last October as the first waves of the credit crunch struck, with a retirement package reckoned at more than $160 million.

Jimmy Cayne, 15 years at the top of Bear Stearns, was said to be on the golf course in June 2006 just as the bank dropped the first of many clangers, with a 10 per cent dive in profits. Worse followed, with the bank having to put up $3.2 billion to try to rescue its imploding hedge fund.

By mid-March last year, when the bank collapsed, Cayne, who would rush from Wall Street by chopper to the private Hollywood Golf Club in New Jersey to play 18 holes before dark, had already relinquished the reins, handing over the chief executive's role to Alan Schwartz.

When Schwartz went cap in hand to the New York Fed for a $30 billion bail-out, Cayne was said to be competing in the North American Bridge Championship in Detroit.

Cayne and his wife, Patricia, sold all their 5.6 million shares in Bear Stearns – worth as much as $1.2 billion in January 2007 – for $61.3 million at the end of March this year. The couple recently bought two adjacent apartments in New York's plush Plaza building for $28.2 million.

He left with a $30 million "golden goodbye" – enough to do up his Park Avenue property and a mock Tudor mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut. But it emerged that the mansion, set in 2.3 acres of land, was surplus to requirements. "It no longer meets his needs,'' said the local estate agent, trying to sell it for $6.15 million. He was forced to cut the asking price.

That's how tough it gets at the top in Wall Street.

Hmm, something about this doesn't seem right. So here we have a bunch of companies failing miserably. The person who was paid to make sure exactly that was not the case is still being rewarded handsomely. Sure, they've lost money, but they've still gained much. I think Mark Cuban nailed it when he said,

There is one major problem on Wall Street, that until solved, will result in meltown after meltdown in future years. I can’t say if the meltdown monkey will hit every 2,3, 5 or 10 years. But I can say with certainty that it will happen again. Why ?

Because Risk and Reward have been decoupled for CEOs on Wall Street.

If you are the CEO of a major public company, once you qualify for your golden parachute there is absolutely no reason not to throw the Hail Mary pass, and do high risk deals every chance you get.

The excuse for such high levels of pay is that these are jobs high in risk, and so there needs to be a high reward so people can accept the risk. But if the risk is still worth millions of dollars, I think it's fair to say that the risk is gone. And thus, the incentive not to fail is greatly removed.

I was glad to see Newseek this week analyze the levels of pay of more of these CEOs and give a fantastic rundown. They asked what the CEOs heavily involved in the events of the past week went away with financially.

So what can we do? Is this a problem? I personally would not be opposed to legislation requiring publicly traded companies to cap CEO pay at something like 100 times the average worker at their company's salary. Thoughts?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Urban Jesus

This is pretty neat. My church is currently doing a series called Urban Jesus. We're talking about how,

The city changes you. In many ways the city becomes you and you become the city. The church at Corinth allowed the city to change them, even their view of God.

Paul writes the first few chapters of I Corinthians focused on the person of Christ and how Jesus should change even how we live in the city. Urban Jesus is a study on how city dwellers should be transformed by the Gospel of Jesus even more than their city.

I think the graphic for the series is pretty cool too.

Being a part of a church that is continuing the discussion begun by Tim Keller, Ray Bakke, and Bob Lupton, among many others, is pretty fun.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What's the best show on TV ever?

Jason Kottke wants to know.

And if you know us, you know we're happy about the results so far.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Suburban Dream

So, after basically taking two months off, I'm back. Or at least I hope to be.
What better subject to kick things off with than a spiel on the collapsing suburban dream.

So a couple months ago, CNN ran an interesting article asking whether, "America's suburban dream [is] collapsing into a nightmare?" They noted,

This change can be witnessed in places like Atlanta, Georgia, Detroit, Michigan, and Dallas, Texas, said Christopher Leinberger, an urban planning professor at the University of Michigan and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, where once rundown downtowns are being revitalized by well-educated, young professionals who have no desire to live in a detached single family home typical of a suburbia where life is often centered around long commutes and cars.

Instead, they are looking for what Leinberger calls "walkable urbanism" -- both small communities and big cities characterized by efficient mass transit systems and high density developments enabling residents to walk virtually everywhere for everything -- from home to work to restaurants to movie theaters.

The so-called New Urbanism movement emerged in the mid-90s and has been steadily gaining momentum, especially with rising energy costs, environmental concerns and health problems associated with what Leinberger calls "drivable suburbanism" -- a low-density built environment plan that emerged around the end of the World War II and has been the dominant design in the U.S. ever since.

Thirty-five percent of the nation's wealth, according to Leinberger, has been invested in constructing this drivable suburban landscape.

But now, Leinberger told CNN, it appears the pendulum is beginning to swing back in favor of the type of walkable community that existed long before the advent of the once fashionable suburbs in the 1940s. He says it is being driven by generations molded by television shows like "Seinfeld" and "Friends," where city life is shown as being cool again -- a thing to flock to, rather than flee.

"The image of the city was once something to be left behind,"

Continuing on that theme, the Freakonomics blog ran a quorum on the subject. They asked, "What is the Future of Suburbia?" Answers ran the gamut from 'apocalyptic utopianism' to 'brutal reality.

I then read a great article which talked about this trend featuring, of all places, Chicago. In The New Republic, in an article called Trading Places, Alan Ehrenhalt wrote about the demographic inversion of the American city. He notes,

In the past three decades, Chicago has undergone changes that are routinely described as gentrification, but are in fact more complicated and more profound than the process that term suggests. A better description would be "demographic inversion." Chicago is gradually coming to resemble a traditional European city--Vienna or Paris in the nineteenth century, or, for that matter, Paris today. The poor and the newcomers are living on the outskirts. The people who live near the center--some of them black or Hispanic but most of them white--are those who can afford to do so.

I'm not necessarily sure what to think of this trend. While part of me doesn't want to be part of a trend, I'm completely on board with the benefits of 'New Urbanism'. One of the things we love about the city is the walkability and the option of accessible public transit. Being part of a densely populated area seems to lend itself to a dynamic level of life in a neighborhood that is very appealing to us.

At the same time, there is no doubt that choices are being made. As noted, cost of living is higher. And certain amenities are being chosen over others. And I suppose it does come down to what you matter most. But I guess what most matters to me is that people make that choice not based on false reasons, like schools, but on what they actually are choosing between.
We must ask ourselves, do we want a big yard or a walkable community?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Problems

So I've been a bit busy lately. You may have noticed my post count dropping. Sorry about that. Don't worry, it's not an indication that I will be leaving this blogging world, just a reflection of all that's going on for the fam right now. If you're curious, my wife has documented much of it over at WCW's.

Additionally, my home computer has crashed and I've been without it for over a month now. It's got all kinds of problems (hopefully not as bad as those caused by this guy, but still, yikes.) That's the first time this has been the case (no computer) since the beginning of my freshman year of college. Not sure if it's a good thing or not. Hopefully I'll be getting it fixed soon, but until then, I'm limited.

Hopefully you'll bear with me, and when I'm able to get back up and running and a bit more time becomes available, I'll be back with a vengeance. And until then, I'll still try to post when I'm able.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Life in Google Street View

On a quiet afternoon at 6436 S. Oakley here in Chicago, two boys didn't notice the camera recording their every move...


Unsurprisingly, it appears that this particular picture has been pulled from online.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Play Budget Hero

Have you ever thought you could do a better job than our current politicians in Washington? Well, here's your chance. In a highly engaging online game, this site has given you the ability to play federal budget czar.

It's up to you, balance our federal budget...

Play Budget Hero.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Poor People With Checks

I apologize that I haven't been posting as frequently. Obviously there's been a lot going on. And then this past week my computer crashed. (still working on that)
That said, I will be continuing to try to throw fun insightful items up when I get the chance. So I hope you enjoy.

So I just got done watching this video featured on Freakonomics. To quote them,

What kind of people use check-cashing places? How do they work? Do such places contribute to inequality?

And most important — why are people paying for their own money?


Wonder no more.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Office Stress

So one of my co-workers got a little stressed last month. Unfortunately for him, it was all captured on the security cameras...


Office Worker Goes Absolutely Insane - Watch more free videos

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Peak Water

So most of us have heard of the concept of Peak Oil. But have you heard concern about Peak Water?

Here's a good post that talks about this. It's definitely interesting. And for sure read the linked Wired article. As you've seen on here before, the discussion of water usage is something that I think will be a big part of our future.

The paucity or abundance of water countries and regions hold has the potential to be a leading cause of conflict as we move through this century.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Genocides

I just finished watching The Devil Came On Horseback, a documentary about the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. Truly it is a horrendous situation; where more than 450,000 people have been killed. It is extremely sad that history keeps repeating itself.

Watching this, I feel it is of utmost importance that we be aware of what our history actually is. What was the greatest genocide of the last century?

If you said that perpetrated by Nazi Germany, you'd be wrong. While terrible, it only ranks third--just in the last century.

Civilians Killed by Governments in the Twentieth Century: Top Twenty Regimes
Location (Regime) Deaths Era
Soviet Union (Communists) 61,900,000 1917-1990
China (Communists) 35,200,000 1949-present
Germany (Nazi Third Reich) 20,900,000 1933-1945
China (Kuomintang) 10,400,000 1928-1949
Japan (Imperial-Fascist) 6,000,000 1936-1945
China (Communist Guerrillas) 3,500,000 1923-1948
Cambodia (Communists) 2,000,000 1975-1979
Turkey ("Young Turks") 1,900,000 1909-1917
Vietnam (Communists) 1,700,000 1945-present
North Korea (Communists) 1,700,000 1948-present
Poland (Communists) 1,600,000 1945-1948
Pakistan (Yahya Khan) 1,500,000 1971
Mexico (Porfiriato) 1,400,000 1900-1920
Yugoslavia (Communists) 1,100,000 1944-1990
Russia (Czarist) 1,100,000 1900-1917
Turkey (Mustafa Kemal "Ataturk") 900,000 1918-1923
United Kingdom (Constitutional) 800,000 1900-present
Portugal (Fascist) 700,000 1926-1975
Croatia (Fascists) 700,000 1941-1945
Indonesia (Suharto) 600,000 1965-present


And this is to say nothing of the 19th century. 8-10 million people died at the hands of King Leopold of the Netherlands in the Congo, 400,000 Circassians were killed by the Russians, ...and I could go on.

Sadly, we continually seem to be reminded that people are evil. As German philosopher Friedrich Hegel said, "The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history." Oh that instead we would heed the words of George Santayana who said, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Homeless: Can you build a life from $25?

In a test of the American Dream, Adam Shepard started life from scratch with the clothes on his back and twenty-five dollars...

Did he make a go of it, and if so what does that say about the state of homelessness in our country today? Find out.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Alive

I found this tidbit of new research extremely interesting.

Understanding the concept of a "living thing" is a late developmental achievement. Early research by Jean Piaget, showed that kids attribute "life status" to things that move on their own (e.g. clouds or bikes) and even 10-year-olds have difficulty understanding the scope of a living thing.

Wow. That has some big ramifications to me. To be honest, though, it doesn't surprise me. First of all, if it takes humans this long, it is obvious that this is a concept animals would struggle with. And what follows to me is the interesting tie-in to the 'Age of Accountability' discussion. The question is, if you still don't truly understand what it means to be alive, do you understand what to be human really is? And then, do you understand that you have a soul?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Protestantism vs. Catholicism

The past year has seen continued evolution within Roman Catholicism as the new Pope continues to put his own stamp of leadership on that branch of Christianity. As I was reading about it recently, though, I was reminded that it is worth observing that there are distinct differences between Catholicism and Protestantism. This becomes especially important when we read what Pope Benedict approved as a statement about Catholicism:

This Church [the Christian church founded by Jesus], constituted and organised in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him.

...According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities [Protestant churches] do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called "Churches" in the proper sense.

He is claiming that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church -- or, in words the Vatican would prefer to use, the only institutional form in which the Church of Christ subsists. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has an interesting perspective on this:

It all comes down to this -- the claim of the Roman Catholic Church to the primacy of the Bishop of Rome and the Pope as the universal monarch of the church is the defining issue. Roman Catholics and Evangelicals should together recognize the importance of that claim. We should together realize and admit that this is an issue worthy of division. The Roman Catholic Church is willing to go so far as to assert that any church that denies the papacy is no true church. Evangelicals should be equally candid in asserting that any church defined by the claims of the papacy is no true church. This is not a theological game for children, it is the honest recognition of the importance of the question.
The Reformers and their heirs put their lives on the line in order to stake this claim. In this era of confusion and theological laxity we often forget that this was one of the defining issues of the Reformation itself. Both the Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church staked their claim to be the true church -- and both revealed their most essential convictions in making their argument. As Martin Luther and John Calvin both made clear, the first mark of the true Church is the ministry of the Word -- the preaching of the Gospel. The Reformers indicted the Roman Catholic Church for failing to exhibit this mark, and thus failing to be a true Church. The Catholic church returned the favor, defining the church in terms of the papacy and magisterial authority. Those claims have not changed.

I also appreciate the spiritual concern reflected in this document. The artificial and deadly dangerous game of ecumenical confusion has obscured issues of grave concern for our souls. I truly believe that Pope Benedict and the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith are concerned for our evangelical souls and our evangelical congregations. Pope Benedict is not playing a game. He is not asserting a claim to primacy on the playground. He, along with the Magisterium of his church, believes that Protestant churches are gravely defective and that our souls are in danger. His sacramental theology plays a large role in this concern, for he believes and teaches that a church without submission to the papacy has no guaranteed efficacy for its sacraments. (This point, by the way, explains why the Protestant churches that claim a sacramental theology are more concerned about this Vatican statement -- it denies the basic validity of their sacraments.)

I actually appreciate the Pope's concern. If he is right, we are endangering our souls and the souls of our church members. Of course, I am convinced that he is not right -- not right on the papacy, not right on the sacraments, not right on the priesthood, not right on the Gospel, not right on the church.

The Roman Catholic Church believes we are in spiritual danger for obstinately and disobediently excluding ourselves from submission to its universal claims and its papacy. Evangelicals should be concerned that Catholics are in spiritual danger for their submission to these very claims. We both understand what is at stake.

The Rev. Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, responded to the press by saying that the Vatican's "exclusive claims" are "troubling." He also said, "what may have been meant to clarify has caused pain."

I will let Bishop Hanson explain his pain. I do not see this new Vatican statement as an innovation or an insult. I see it as a clarification and a helpful demarcation of the issues at stake.

I appreciate the Roman Catholic Church's candor on this issue, and I believe that Evangelical Christians, with equal respect and clarity, should respond in kind. This is a time to be respectfully candid -- not a time to be offended.

So what are the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism? Justin Taylor quoted a nice rundown from Scott Manetsch, who is associate professor of church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, on his blog:

In summary, this reviewer believes it impossible to reconcile the classic Protestant solas with the teaching of the Catholic Catechism.

For Roman Catholics, Scripture and Tradition are two distinct but equal modes of revealed authority which the magisterium of the Roman Church has sole responsibility to transmit and interpret. For the early Protestant reformers, the holy Scripture provides final normative authority for Christian doctrine and practice, standing as judge above all institutions and ecclesial traditions.

For Roman Catholics, sinners are justified because of inherent righteousness. For the mainstream Protestant reformers, sinners are accepted on the basis of the righteousness of another—namely, the alien righteousness of Christ imputed to them.

For Roman Catholics, sinners are both justified by unmerited grace at baptism and (subsequently) justified by those infused graces merited by cooperating with divine grace. For the magisterial reformers, sinners are justified before God by grace alone.

For Roman Catholics, sinners are justified by faith (in baptism), but not by faith alone. For the sixteenth-century Protestant reformers, sinners are justified by faith alone.

For Roman Catholics, justification is a process of renewal that affords no solid basis for Christian assurance in this life. For reformers such as Luther and Calvin, justification is God’s decisive verdict of forgiveness and righteousness that assures Christian believers of the acceptance and love of their heavenly Father.


    And so there you go. As Mohler says, "This is a theological question." As with all theology, there is absolute truth at stake on this issue. Finding it becomes our task.

    Thursday, April 24, 2008

    Protecting Your Children

    So which is more protective? Not letting your child ride the subway by themselves or dropping them off at a subway station and telling them to find their way home?

    Have you heard of the case of Lenore Skenazy? Ed Gilbreath points the way:

    Skenazy equipped her 9-year-old son with a map, a subway card, and 20 bucks, then dropped him off at a New York department store to find his way home by himself. Skenazy wrote about this in The New York Sun and promptly heard it from outraged folks accusing her of endangering her son. There was some supportive feedback as well. Check out the article and a Today show segment about the episode. Skenazy, who believes today’s parents have allowed the culture to make them more paranoid than in earlier eras, has launched a website called Free Range Kids, where she calls parents to stop being so overprotective of their children.

    So, whaddya think? Is she right?

    Monday, April 14, 2008

    Loving Your Mugger

    Julio Diaz has a daily routine. Every night, the 31-year-old social worker ends his hour-long subway commute to the Bronx one stop early, just so he can eat at his favorite diner.

    But one night last month, as Diaz stepped off the No. 6 train and onto a nearly empty platform, his evening took an unexpected turn.

    He was walking toward the stairs when a teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife.

    "He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, 'Here you go,'" Diaz says.

    As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, "Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you're going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm."

    And so the story begins...

    Thursday, April 03, 2008

    The end of The Wire

    A couple weeks ago my wife and I said goodbye to our friends from inner city Baltimore. Over the past five seasons, we felt like we had really gotten to know the characters of The Wire. It has been called the best television show ever by some.

    For those fellow fans, Jason Kottke has a fantastic rundown of the reaction to the end. Please note for those who haven't seen it yet, the link contains MAJOR SPOILERS, so don't click it if you haven't seen the show. Instead, go out and rent it, starting with Season 1. Our favorite season was 4. Yours?

    Tuesday, April 01, 2008

    Being an Engineer

    A few years ago for my birthday I received the below birthday card from a friend of mine.


    Classic. Wired has been kind enough to elaborate on the difficulties of gaining an engineering degree. But, as the card says....

    The result is priceless. Right?

    Monday, March 31, 2008

    The Subprime Mortgage Debacle

    A buddy of mine posted this link to his blog, but I thought it was worth passing on to this audience. Interesting.

    So what role should the government play in fixing/regulating this industry?

    Saturday, March 29, 2008

    Water Purifying

    As an engineer, I am cognisant of the fact that many serious maladies facing the world today have the potential for fixes with improvements to technology and base infrastructure, especially in the developing world.

    A fantastic new development in this spirit was recently previewed on, of all places, the Colbert Report. Dean Kamen--yes, the inventor of the Segway--showed Stephen his new water purifier. It truly is an amazing device. It would seem to me that it has great potential to change the water game in Third World countries.

    Wednesday, March 26, 2008

    Back From the Heart of Texas

    We just returned from a fun quick trip to Texas. We attended a wedding on Lake LBJ outside Austin, and then we took the chance to visit both Austin and San Antonio, along with touring some of the Hill Country.

    So after spending some time in that region of Texas, I can definitely see the appeal. From the urban young feel of Austin and the University of Texas,


    to the beauty of Lake LBJ and the Hill Country,


    to the Alamo and the Riverwalk,


    there's a lot to see there. So add it to your list if you haven't been.

    Monday, March 17, 2008

    Learning to Lie

    New York Magazine recently ran a fascinating article on how we learn to lie. They observe how it is that kids grow up to learn to lie.

    And their conclusion is simple. Kids learn it from their parents. Sobering.

    Joe Carter summarizes,

    Bronson's article contains a number of revealing tidbits, including:
    1. Lying is related to intelligence. The smarter the kid, the better they are at lying.
    2. On average, a 4-year-old will lie once every two hours, while a 6-year-old will lie about once every hour and a half.
    3. Scholars have found that kids who live in threat of consistent punishment don’t lie less. Instead, they become better liars, at an earlier age—learning to get caught less often.
    4. Children lie because they see their parents lie, and learn to imitate them. Adults inadvertently teach children that honesty only creates conflict, and dishonesty is an easy way to avoid conflict.
    5. Permissive parents don’t actually learn more about their children’s lives.
    6. Most rules-heavy parents don’t actually enforce them since its too much work.
    7. Parents view arguing with their teenager as destructive to their relationship, while teens see it as strengthening their bond.

    Sunday, March 09, 2008

    Thursday, March 06, 2008

    Toilet to Tap

    There is little doubt that shortages of water are going to be a problem of the future. Recently, a new water purification plant opened in southwest California, which will allow reuse of wastewater after cleaning it. Of course, that is not sitting well with some residents. The mayor of San Diego attempted to stop the project. Some people are not okay with drinking what was formerly toilet water. Stephanie Pakalns explains,

    That's gross!

    I think this is completely okay, though. The process goes like this:

    ...the Orange County government [takes] sewer water and, instead of dumping it into the ocean after treatment, clean[s] it a second time using technology that renders the water almost distilled, exceeding all state and federal drinking standards, officials said.

    The water then goes from the new $480 million water plant in nearby Fountain Valley to the drinking supply that lies beneath Anaheim—percolating many months through the earth into an aquifer serving 2.3 million people in 20 cities.

    The process departs from the routine: Treated sewage typically is returned to the environment at large, such as in rivers and lakes, and after it dilutes in the vast bodies, the water is reharvested. The Orange County process skips the return-to-the-great-outdoors step.

    Hmm, sounds clean to me. And really, steps like this are going to be needed to meet the West's and the world's growing water shortages. The New York Times recently had an informational rundown of the dire situation the American West is facing in regard to water. It notes,

    ...a lesser Colorado River would almost certainly lead to a considerable amount of economic havoc, as the future water supplies for the West’s industries, agriculture and growing municipalities are threatened. As one prominent Western water official described the possible future to me, if some of the Southwest’s largest reservoirs empty out, the region would experience an apocalypse, “an Armageddon.”

    Take the time to read the NYT article as it will certainly make you think twice about the water you use. But most of all, it made me realize how valuable water is. So, I've decided to invest some money in 'water resources' stocks. Stocks from the sort of company who built this new sewage water recycling plant. Will people be willing to drink this water? Would you?

    Sunday, March 02, 2008

    Dr. Quantum

    I just watched the documentary What the Bleep Do We Know!? in order to get some thinking on quantum physics in. The original documentary I watched is, in my opinion, forgettable. While discussing interesting ideas on particle mechanics and consciousness, the scientists sound a bit too sure of themselves, while leaving obviously apparent their empty spirituality. They're searching to fill a hole they feel, but their explanations are labored.

    That said, in the follow up Down the Rabbit Hole edition, there are some pretty cool animations that do a good job of explaining some complex physics ideas. And I love thinking at the fringes of our understanding of our world. So tune in, and enjoy. Here's Dr. Quantum to tell you about the famous double-slit experiment that shows us the 'observer effect':



    I think part of the reason that this documentary was so successful is that people are searching for the answers to the ultimate questions of 'Who we are?' and 'Where did we come from?'. And if nothing else, the show gets you thinking about questions that may answer questions we have about our world. But, and here I guess I'll just repeat myself, I think science will ultimately point to God. The question to me is whether people will admit that.

    Friday, February 29, 2008

    Pythons could squeeze lower third of USA

    No burying the lede here. USA Today warns us,

    As climate change warms the nation, giant Burmese pythons could colonize one-third of the USA, from San Francisco across the Southwest, Texas and the South and up north along the Virginia coast, according to U.S. Geological Survey maps released Wednesday.

    The pythons can be 20 feet long and 250 pounds. They are highly adaptable to new environments.


    Seriously, you might want to reconsider venturing outside if you live in the South. Don't say the USA Today didn't warn you...

    Wednesday, February 27, 2008

    The Last Lecture



    What would you say in your last lecture?

    Thursday, February 21, 2008

    Rush, Little Baby

    This morning on NPR, I was listening to a story on Morning Edition on about self-regulation in kids. It was pretty fascinating. So continuing on the raising kids theme...

    The story notes,

    We know that children's capacity for self-regulation has diminished. A recent study replicated a study of self-regulation first done in the late 1940s, in which psychological researchers asked kids ages 3, 5 and 7 to do a number of exercises. One of those exercises included standing perfectly still without moving. The 3-year-olds couldn't stand still at all, the 5-year-olds could do it for about three minutes, and the 7-year-olds could stand pretty much as long as the researchers asked. In 2001, researchers repeated this experiment. But, psychologist Elena Bodrova at the National Institute for Early Education Research says, the results were very different.

    "Today's 5-year-olds were acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and today's 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago," Bodrova explains. "So the results were very sad."

    Sad because self-regulation is incredibly important. Poor executive function is associated with high dropout rates, drug use and crime. In fact, good executive function is a better predictor of success in school than a child's IQ. Children who are able to manage their feelings and pay attention are better able to learn. As executive function researcher Laura Berk explains, "Self-regulation predicts effective development in virtually every domain."

    Basically, these researchers have shown that a main reason for this diminished ability to self-regulate is that independent playtime has been lost for today's children. They note that imaginative play helps develop a child's ability to function independently in the world today. The New York Times, in an extensive article on play, noted,

    Yet for humans, pretend play is one of the most crucial forms of play, occupying at its peak at about age 4 some 20 percent of a child’s day. It includes some of the most wondrous moments of childhood: dramatic play, wordplay, ritual play, symbolic play, games, jokes and imaginary friends. And it is the kind of play that positively screams out for hyperbole when outsiders try to describe it.

    At the same time as the recognition of the possible value of play grows, we live in an era where parents are pushing to give their child every advantage they can. In fact, it can probably be stated without hesitation that today's American parents care more about their childrens' success than ever before. Many claim that via the right developmental aids you can help give your child an advantage. And often, this 'pushing' comes at the cost of time spent playing. In a fantastic article, from which I took the title to this post, the Boston Globe reported on the overwhelming trend to provide your child with infant academic assistance. They state,

    This desire on the part of many middle-class and affluent parents to help their kids get ahead is understandable. We've all heard the predictions about how, in the downsized and outsourced economy of tomorrow, our children may be the first generation of Americans to be worse off than their parents. Into this vat of anxiety, two forces have been poured that are turning up the heat even more. First, advances in brain research have offered tantalizing clues about the magic at work in our infants' gray matter. Second, market forces have exploited these tantalizing clues and used them to sell billions of dollars' worth of educational toys and programs, often by making claims wildly beyond the conclusions drawn by the scientists who did the actual research.

    They go on to talk about the (sometimes subconscious) competition between moms of babies and preschoolers as they compare the advancements of their children. They note, however, that sometimes what seems worth bragging about may not be such:

    Spend enough time in suburban preschools these days, and you're bound to hear one parent or another uttering a boast masquerading as a complaint about how they just can't keep the books coming fast enough for their precocious 3- or 4-year-old reader. Odds are, there's probably no reason to boast. Researchers who've been marinating in reading studies for years say a tiny percentage of children - maybe 3 percent, maybe a little more or less - can be classified as truly early readers. These 3- or 4-year-olds understand phonics and context, and they will likely keep up their accelerated reading pace throughout their school years. Bravo to those kids. Reading is the gateway to so much of life's important learning, so a few years more of it can't hurt them.

    But most of the other early readers bringing smiles to their parents' faces aren't really reading at all. They're demonstrating merely that they've memorized lots of words by sight. Instead of understanding the discrete sounds and segments that make up the word CAT, and understanding that each letter in the word has both its own name and its own sound or group of sounds, these children - like our early ancestors - see it as just a whole symbol for the furry feline. Change the first letter to E, and they might still think feline, until they memorize the new word. Studies have demonstrated that the early reading advances these kids show typically wash out a few years down the line.

    They continue,

    A classic study in the 1930s by noted researcher and Illinois educator Carleton Washburne compared the trajectories of children who had begun reading at several ages, up to 7. Washburne concluded that, in general, a child could best learn to read beginning around the age of 6. By middle school, he found no appreciable difference in reading levels between the kids who had started young versus the kids who had started later, except the earlier readers appeared to be less motivated and less excited about reading. More recent research also raises doubt about the push for early readers. A cross-cultural study of European children published in 2003 in the British Journal of Psychology found those taught to read at age 5 had more reading problems than those who were taught at age 7.

    Interestingly enough, I can possibly attest to this. As a kindergartener, I went to an elementary school that needless to say was not academically advanced. It actually ended up being one of the reasons my parents decided to move to another town. So I didn't learn to read my kindergarten year. That said, my parents were content to let me advance at my own rate. They didn't push me to read at home and entering the first grade at a new school, I didn't know how. I just wasn't that interested in learning yet. That changed the first day of school when I realized that all my classmates at the new school knew how to read. Literally, according to my parents, I learned to read in a few weeks. I was not going to let myself be behind these other kids, and that was all the motivation I needed. Those who know me can probably attest to the motivation that competition can be for me. I didn't turn back and quickly came to absolutely love reading. A love of reading that endures to this day. I devoured books throughout my youth, and continue to, as much as time now allows.

    Did I love reading more because I wasn't pushed to learn and possibly learned when my brain was more optimally ready? I don't know, but I know I wouldn't change it.

    They conclude the article, which appropriately enough was subtitled "How the push for infant academics may actually be a waste of time - or worse," by noting,

    This doesn't mean that early exposure to learning isn't important for kids. It is vitally important. It should just be the right kind of learning, and the right kind of exposure. Study after study shows the best thing parents can do for their children is give them a nurturing, rich, vibrant environment, reading to them often and exposing them to lots of language in organic ways...

    [But]...in fact, ...this heightened push for early learning might even slow down normal brain development through a phenomenon known as neurological "crowding," where information jams up the synapses in the brain that might best be reserved for more creative tasks in later years. Remember that in his early years, Einstein was considered just an average student.

    All of this brings us back to that surprising brain study giving late bloomers cause for celebration. Researchers from the National Institutes of Mental Health performed periodic MRI brain scans on children and teens ranging in age from 5 to 19, tracking the relationship between the thickness of the brain's outer mantle, or cortex, with the subject's IQ. They found that the people whose IQ scores put them in the "superior intelligence" category had cortexes that matured much later than those of average intelligence. The cortexes of the smartest kids peaked by around age 11 or 12, whereas the average kids' peaked by around age 8. Jay Giedd, one of the lead researchers, says he and his colleagues were initially taken aback by the findings, but with more reflection they realized they made all kinds of sense. "By having this peak period of plasticity later," he says, "the brain is adapting to the 12-year-old world, which is more complicated, more similar to the adult world, than the 8-year-old world."

    The idea is, patience pays off.

    So, in an era where children are pushed more than ever to develop academically and athletically, it just may be that these efforts are backfiring. And ironically, these pushes may be stealing time from what a child may truly need. NPR summarizes,

    It seems that in the rush to give children every advantage — to protect them, to stimulate them, to enrich them — our culture has unwittingly compromised one of the activities that helped children most. All that wasted time was not such a waste after all.

    Sunday, February 17, 2008

    Adultolescents

    Considering I have my own child now, I've begun to resonate more with articles on parenting and the issues parents face raising their children as I watch the news.

    Thus, it hit me when I recently read two articles on the growing problem of children from affluent Christian settings not being ready psychologically or emotionally for adulthood. First, I noticed where John Piper wrote about "'adultolescence'—that is, the postponement of adulthood into the thirties." He references another work that defines further what this phenomenon entails. Then, he goes on to discuss how the Church should respond:

    How might the church respond to this phenomenon in our culture? Here are my suggestions.

    1. The church will encourage maturity, not the opposite. “Do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20)....

    He adds a total of 15 suggestions. Good stuff, and especially important to keep in mind if we're working with youth or college students.

    It all reminded me of this post by Anthony Bradley I read entitled The Suburban Church: Ushering Kids Into Counseling In Their 20s and 30s. Anthony notes,

    Raising church kids in the suburbs may be setting them up for psychological distress in their 20s and 30s. A few weeks ago at a youth group from a very large church in a middle class suburb of St. Louis, I asked the following question: 'What are your parents doing to you right now that will probably guarantee that you will be in counseling when you’re in your 20s and 30s?'

    I knew about the nearly irreversible lacerations of divorce or the nuclear fallout when negative comments about appearance are delivered to daughters. I was shocked by the other laments. Here is just a small sample from that night...


    He concludes,

    Once this dam broke the youth pastor had to cut it off so he could give his talk about how the Gospel addresses all of their issues related to past pain. Many hands were still up in the air. It was sad. Dr. Madeline Levin, in The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids, summarizes new national data saying, 'America’s newly identified at-risk group is preteens and teens from affluent, well-educated families. In spite of their economic and social advantages, they experience among the highest rates of depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, somatic complaints, and unhappiness of any group of children in this country.' It seems that this is no different in churches of affluence. What happened?

    And I think we can all wonder that question. The question for us as parents now, though, is how do we prevent this from being the case for us too?

    Wednesday, February 13, 2008

    Sending out an S.O.S.

    I've always been fascinated by the concept of people sending a message they don't know will be received. Although somewhat morbid, I wonder what note I would write if I were like a miner trapped in a mine after a collapse. Or how about the notes that people write to be placed in a time capsule? Today, I read a good story describing how NBA star Anthony Carter wrote to his future self a note in elementary school about how he would make the NBA. Pretty cool that he saw it fulfilled.

    Similarly, sending out a message in a bottle is the ultimate in notewriting hopefulness. I was reading on the Kircher Society's blog and they shared a pretty crazy story in this regard:

    The strangest [bottle voyage] case was perhaps that of Chunosuke Matsuyama, a Japanese seaman who was wrecked with 44 shipmates in 1784. Shortly before he and his companions died of starvation on a Pacific coral reef, Matsuyama carved a brief account of their tragedy on a piece of wood, sealed it in a bottle, and then threw it into the sea. It was washed up 150 years later in 1935 at the very seaside village where Matsuyama had been born.

    Whoah, what a coincidence! So, if you could write a note to your great grandchild, what would you say?

    Sunday, February 10, 2008

    Evolution of Dance

    Probably many of you have seen this before, but since I haven't posted it before, in case you haven't -- enjoy.

    Sunday, February 03, 2008

    Pacifism on the Streets

    So it's been about two years since I was held up. Thinking back on it, it's a life experience that's taught me a lot.

    Today, I was reminded of the credo to 'turn the other cheek' while watching an episode of The Wire. You see, one of the kids was getting sick of being beaten up, and decided to take some boxing lessons. His instructor, recognizing that his goal was revenge, reminded him gently that even by gaining the ability to defend himself, he was not taking the target off his back. Trouble would just keep coming.

    This marvelous story by Shane Claiborne hit home to me after my own experience. How hard it is to walk the violent streets, content to be used by the depraved if they so choose. Shane tells of walking with 11-year-old Cassim in the streets of Philadelphia and facing down a group of young toughs. After they've somehow left them be after a minor beatdown, Cassim asks,

    Shane, why am I taking boxing lessons?

    Shane responds by noting that using those skills would only have escalated the situation. He goes on,

    I asked Cassim if he thought Jesus was happy with how we acted. He thought about it, and then nodded with a smile. I told him that, honestly, I wasn't sure exactly what Jesus would have done if he were in our place … but there are two things I know Jesus would not have done. He would not have fought. And he would not have run. I told him Jesus may have thought of something else, or he may have done something weird to throw them off, as he often seems to do – like drawing in the dirt with his finger (or writing on the road with sidewalk chalk, "you are better than this"), or maybe pulling a coin out of a fish's mouth (or pulling a piece of candy out of a pigeon's mouth). But I think Jesus was happy with how we acted, and that we were good representatives – good witnesses – of Christ to them. Cassim agreed, and then we prayed for them together. And finally, as he was leaving, Cassim reminded me that each of those boys has to go to bed thinking about what they did that day, and so did we.

    I'm not sure about those other boys, but Cassim and I both slept well that night...

    I wonder, would I have had the toughness not to fight back? I remember well dealing with the anger after losing my wallet. My gut wasn't to turn the other cheek but seek revenge.

    Today I was reminded of that when I wanted the youngster in The Wire to fight back and win. Take out the evildoers by force--I wanted revenge for him. It's got me thinking...
    I'm not there yet.

    Tuesday, January 29, 2008

    How We Get the Odds Wrong

    I thought this article in Psychology Today was pretty interesting. Basically, it points out that we as humans are terrible at analyzing risk. It notes,

    Our brains are terrible at assessing modern risks. Here's how to think straight about dangers in your midst...

    These days, it seems like everything is risky, and worry itself is bad for your health. The more we learn, the less we seem to know—and if anything makes us anxious, it's uncertainty. At the same time, we're living longer, healthier lives. So why does it feel like even the lettuce [with pesticides on it!] is out to get us?

    The human brain is exquisitely adapted to respond to risk—uncertainty about the outcome of actions. Faced with a precipice or a predator, the brain is biased to make certain decisions.

    The first item it points out hits home for me:

    I. We Fear Snakes, Not Cars
    Risk and emotion are inseparable.

    Fear feels like anything but a cool and detached computation of the odds. But that's precisely what it is, a lightning-fast risk assessment performed by your reptilian brain, which is ever on the lookout for danger. The amygdala flags perceptions, sends out an alarm message, and—before you have a chance to think—your system gets flooded with adrenaline...Emotions are decision-making shortcuts.

    As a result of these...emotional algorithms, ancient threats like spiders and snakes cause fear out of proportion to the real danger they pose, while experiences that should frighten us—like fast driving—don't. Dangers like speedy motorized vehicles are newcomers on the landscape of life. The instinctive response to being approached rapidly is to freeze. In the [past], this reduced a predator's ability to see you—but that doesn't help when what's speeding toward you is a car.

    And sure enough, despite the fact that I work on roads for my occupation and know the frequency of accidents, I am I admit a bit scared of snakes. Never have I felt those same emotions getting into a car...

    So here's to recognizing what's truly dangerous and not living in fear...

    Sunday, January 27, 2008

    Where I've Been

    Continuing the tradition from last year, here's where I was in 2007:

    Chicago, IL *
    Cadillac, MI
    Haines City, FL

    Naples, FL
    Fort Myers, FL
    Greenville, IL *
    St. Paul, MN *

    Crookston, MN
    Elbow Lake, MN

    Hmm, shorter than last year. I suppose this might have had something to do with it...
    How about you, where were you?

    Criteria = One or more nights spent in each place. Those cities marked with an * were visited multiple times on non-consecutive days.

    Wednesday, January 23, 2008

    Our Fine Governor

    The State of Illinois thankfully finally last week passed funding for transit. It was a contentious affair, that came with much lengthy political wrangling. In the end, the governor gave in and granted his own approval with the caveat that senior citizens ride free on transit. True to the weird form he's been holding, he added this priceless nugget of wisdom:

    It's like the little boy with a pile of horse manure, I kept digging cheerfully in that and found a pony in there -- the pony is free public transportation for all seniors in the state of Illinois.

    Seemingly, he can only be described as a scat enthusiast with a penchance for nursery tales nobody else has heard of. Illinoisans should be proud of their leader...

    Sunday, January 20, 2008

    Sanctity of Life Sunday

    This Tuesday marks the 35th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that led to the legalization of abortion across our country. Since then, nearly 50 million of our nation's children have been killed via this 'procedure'.

    In reading about abortion this year, I found this interesting article that talks about who has abortions. I was pretty surprised actually. It notes,

    In American pop culture, the face of abortion is often a frightened teenager, nervously choosing to terminate an unexpected pregnancy. The numbers tell a far more complex story in which financial stress can play a pivotal role.

    Half of the roughly 1.2 million U.S. women who have abortions each year are 25 or older. Only about 17 percent are teens. About 60 percent have given birth to least one child prior to getting an abortion.

    Really a different category of people than I think I picture. It certainly is valuable to be familiar with what the face of abortion truly might be, especially as we consider it politically.

    This year, due to the election, I'm sure abortion will remain in the news. As I've said before, it is my most important issue, and so I will certainly be watching closely to see how it is discussed in the campaign season.

    Thursday, January 17, 2008

    Greening the Desert

    They laughed and said it couldn't be done...



    Wow, that's pretty cool.

    Can we really "Fix All the World's Problems in a Garden"?
    (ht: Where)

    Monday, January 14, 2008

    How to Read a Blog

    Ever checked in here at IJAB hoping to find a new post and been disappointed? Probably (at least I hope so). As is obvious, I don't post as often as say, Kottke.

    That said, there's no need to keep coming back to check if there's a new post up. Instead, use the technology available today, and have that post sent to you. Yep, no more checking blogs for new posts, just have any new posts sent directly to you. How can this be, you say? Well, all you need is a blog reader (aka: news reader, RSS reader, or aggregator).

    Here, maybe this video will help:



    So if you're anything like me, you enjoy reading quite a number of blogs. Now if you were jumping from blog to blog to check if there had been any updates, you're in for quite the time-wasting. No more of that.

    There are a couple leading web-based readers, namely Google Reader and Bloglines. Either is great. Go sign up for your blog reader now.

    Saturday, January 12, 2008

    Chicago - Home of Human Capital

    As probably anyone reading this knows, I love Chicago. It's a great city. But why is it great? What about Chicago makes it a place we want to be?

    Yes, probably some of it is the architecture, some the lakefront, some the good planning. But all those really lead into the last, which is maybe the biggest reason of all. Chicago is home to a group of young dynamic people, who are the sort of people who you want to live near and be sharpened by. This was reaffirmed by this recent article in Crain's Chicago Business:

    Brains, bodies and beauty
    Human capital — a buzzword among economists — simply means people. Think of it as raw material made up of bankers, traders, consultants, advertisers, engineers, artists and others who, through brainpower and creativity, turn ideas into money.
    "The comparative advantage of cities is determined by how smart, how trained, how innovative, how entrepreneurial the people are in that city," says Edward Glaeser, a Harvard urban economist who advised the Chicago Council on Global Affairs' study group.

    Chicago's human capital is strong. Among U.S. cities, Chicago ranks first in the concentration of young people (ages 25 to 34) living within three miles of downtown. It's second only to New York in the number of those with college degrees. Its universities are world class. The University of Chicago has been home to 20 Nobel Prize laureates, while both the U of C's Graduate School of Business and Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management rank among the world's best business schools. Chicago also has the quality of life that keeps people here — vibrant art and music scenes, restaurants, museums, parks and recreational facilities.

    Here's to living in a world-class city like Chicago!

    Monday, January 07, 2008

    Gangs of LA

    In honor of the last season of The Wire kicking off, I thought I'd pass on this link to a fascinating article on gangs in LA. Apparently they're still a problem. Did anyone really think they went away?

    Perhaps as an addendum, I should point out that Steven Levitt may not fully buy that the problem is worsening.

    Sunday, January 06, 2008

    The World Without Us

    Last year, Alan Weisman wrote a book called "The World Without Us." The book, based on interviews with scientists and other experts from around the world, describes what would happen across the planet if, for some reason, human beings were suddenly to disappear.

    It's pretty fascinating stuff. I was especially struck when I saw an interview he did specifically on Chicago. He observes,

    "The foliage in [Lincoln Park] will definitely be the seed source from which the forests will start succeeding down the streets and eventually inside of the buildings. Winds will blow all kinds of seeds out of the park.

    Helping the process along will be squirrels throughout the city, taking up residence in bungalows, two-flats and high-rises. They'll bring in seeds of all sorts, and, pretty soon, trees will be growing out of living room windows.

    Within a few decades you'll find a tremendous wild snarl of stuff growing over buildings, coming up from the streets. Just imagine, no one maintaining the streets anymore. And the plastic bags would be clogging the sewers, and you'll get all this leaf litter because nobody would be raking leaves.

    Gone will be the cockroaches, which only survive in the northern climate in the comfort of our heated buildings.

    Gone, too, will be the rats -- no garbage for them to eat, and a lot more raptors to prey on them.

    On the other hand, you'll get wildlife coming back in here. Certainly there will be plenty of coyotes. They will outcompete the dogs. Eventually wolves will probably range all over America. They'll be eating deer. There's going to be plenty of deer. Whether moose will make it down here or not, it's a function of climate change.

    The predators are going to get the cattle. As the cattle go, buffaloes should regenerate and spread."

    Can you picture a herd of buffalo roaming through the Loop?

    Thursday, January 03, 2008

    The Campaign Officially Begins

    And the winners in Iowa are...



    What will this mean for the next political year?