September 30, 2009

Dr. J on Truth of Christianity and Miracles

I am taking an apologetics 101 course at my church, and I couldn't help but see what my hero Dr. Samuel Johnson had to say on the subject:

Johnson's response to those who denied Christianity:

"It is always easy to be on the negative side. If a man were now to deny that there is salt on the table, you could not reduce him to an absurdity. Come, let us try this a little further. I deny that Canada is taken, and I can support my denial by pretty good arguments. The French are a much more numerous people than we; and it is not likely that they would allow us to take it. 'But the ministry have assured us, in all the formality of the Gazette, that it is taken.' -- Very true. But the ministry have put us to an enormous expence by the war in America, and it is their interest to persuade us that we have got something for our money -- 'But the fact is confirmed by thousands of men who were at the taking of it.' -- Ay, but these men have still more interest in deceiving us. They don't want that you should think the French have beat them, but that they have beat the French. Now suppose you should go over and find that it really is taken, that would only satisfy yourself; for when you come home we will not believe you. We will say, you have been bribed. -- Yet, Sir, notwithstanding all those plausible objections, we have no doubt that Canada is really ours. Such is the weight of common testimony. How much stronger are the evidences of the Christian religion?"

On Miracles:

"Why, Sir, the great difficulty of proving miracles should make us very cautious in believing them. But let us consider; although God has made Nature to operate by certain fixed laws, yet it is not unreasonable to think that he may suspend those laws in order to establish a system highly advantageous to mankind. Now the Christian Religion is a most beneficial system, as it gives us light and certainty where we were before in darkness and doubt. The miracles which prove it are attested by men who had no interest in deceiving us; but who, on the contrary, were told that they should suffer persecution, and did actually lay down their lives in confirmation of the truth of the facts which they asserted. Indeed, for some centuries the heathens did not pretend to deny the miracles; but said they were performed by the aid of evil spirits. This is a circumstance of great weight. Then, Sir, when we take the proofs derived from prophecies which have been so exactly fulfilled, we have most satisfactory evidence. Supposing a miracle possible, as to which, in my opinion, there can be no doubt, we have as strong evidence for the miracles in support of Christianity, as the nature of the thing admits."

September 29, 2009

Is Basic Economics Intuitive?

Economist Bryan Caplan thinks so:

1. Counterintuitive claim: Free trade makes countries richer, even if the other countries have big advantages like cheaper labor or more advanced technology.

Intuitive version: We'd be better off if other countries gave us stuff for free. Isn't "really cheap"
the next-best thing?

2. Counterintuitive claim: Strict labor market regulation is bad for workers.

Intuitive version: Employers don't like hiring people if it's hard to get rid of them. Suppose you had to marry anyone you asked out on a date!

3. Counterintuitive claim: Egalitarian socialism creates poverty... even starvation.

Intuitive version: If everyone gets the same share whether or not they work, you're asking people to work for free. People don't like working for free, especially when the work isn't very fun. (This is my response to Sumner's Great Leap Forward Challenge: "But how do we explain to school children that millions had to starve because of a policy that encouraged people to
share?")

4. Counterintuitive claim: Prices are determined by supply and demand.

Intuitive version: If the good were free, consumers would want a lot, but producers wouldn't feel like making much. If the good cost trillions of dollars, producers would want to make a lot, but consumers wouldn't want to buy any. In between there's got to be a price where consumers want to buy as much as producers want to make.

Endure Like Daniel

Below, I have included some inspiring words to start your Tuesday morning from Christian blogger John Mark Reynolds.

There are so many lessons to learn from the Biblical prophet Daniel. In his essay, Mr. Reynolds focuses on Daniel's ability to endure:

When tempted to despair about present rulers, dare to endure like Daniel.

When tempted to compromise in small things, dare to endure like Daniel.

When tempted to weariness by pagan culture, dare to endure like Daniel.

When tempted to doubt God’s promises, dare to endure like Daniel.

When tempted to flatter our rulers, dare to endure like Daniel.

When tempted to withdraw from public life, dare to endure like Daniel.

September 28, 2009

Phil Valentine on Useless Wars

Phil Valentine, a nationally syndicated radio host based here in Nashville, had a fantastic Op/Ed in today's Tennessean.

I haven't read the Tennessean in years, so I have to thank my wife for sending this along to me.

According to Valentine, the Op/Ed was written as a response to the following statement made by a Democrat friend regarding George W. Bush: "He got us into two useless wars that created the terrorists."

I bolded the phrase "useless war" because this phrase is really the focus of Valentine's opinion piece.

The left loves to berate Bush and those evil "Neo Cons" for "wasting" money fighting "useless wars". If they are so concerned about how we spend taxpayer dollars, why do they show zero concern for how we are wasting taxpayer dollars on the "useless war" against poverty and ignorance.

From the article:

"President Barack Obama will spend more on welfare in the next year than Bush spent during his entire time as president on the Iraq war. That bears repeating. Obama will spend more in one, single year on welfare than we've spent on the entire Iraq war. According to the Congressional Research Service, the war in Iraq cost us $622 billion. Obama's welfare spending will reach $888 billion for the next fiscal year. He also spent $787 billion on a stimulus package that seems to be going swimmingly well, don't cha think?

.....The total cost of every American war starting with the American Revolution is $6.4 trillion in today's dollars. Since we began the war on poverty we have spent $15.9 trillion on welfare. Yes, we've spent two-and-a-half times as much on welfare in just 40 years as on all the wars combined.

And where has that war on poverty gotten us? Although LBJ proposed it in 1964, the programs were not fully implemented until 1968. The percentage of people living below the poverty level was 12.8 percent. The latest statistics put that number at 12.3 percent.

Nearly $16 trillion down the drain and nothing to show for it. Wait a minute, I take that back. We do have something to show for it. We have millions trapped in cyclical dependency on the government and the illegitimacy rate in the black community is now 70 percent; 25 percent in the white community."

Valentine, like many conservative talk-radio hosts, can be a bit of a blowhard, but that fact doesn't take away from the veracity of his opinion piece.

There is also one other thing that has really bugged me since Obama took office. Where are the war protesters now? Where are the posters depicting Obama as Hitler? Where is the talk about prosecuting the President of the United States for war crimes? Because the last time I looked, President Obama wasn't pulling troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. The last time I looked, President Obama hasn't stopped spending money fighting terrorism at home or abroad. In fact, the last time I looked President Obama was increasing troop levels in Afghanistan and continuing White House support of programs like the Patriot Act.

The real "useless war" is not being fought in Iraq or Afghanistan. The real useless war is being fought right here in the United States by a bloated, inefficient, and bureaucratic federal government.

If we want to actually decrease poverty in this country, we need to all get up off our fat butts and do something about it as INDIVIDUALS. I am so sick of looking to the government and politicians for answers.

Draw It In the Dirt

Life, business, politics, love, etc. etc. all really come down to preparation, planning, and execution. However, sometimes you have to throw everything aside and just draw it up in the dirt.

This interview with Patriot's quarterback Tom Brady goes a long way in explaining the greatness of both Tom Brady and Bill Belichick:

On the Chris Baker touchdown, a guy had you in his grasp, but you were able to get away from the defense and deliver the ball well.

Yeah it was great protection. It wasn't how we drew that play up. It was pretty much on the sideline, Coach Belichick said, 'Well, what do you think about this?' The guys that ran the play didn't run it all week in practice and they made an adjustment.

You said Bill Belichick drew up the Chris Baker touchdown play on the sideline. Was he more involved in the offensive communication with you and the play calling this week?

He's always involved. He's involved in every play that's called. That one, like I said, we just kind of drew it up there on the sidelines and made it work.

September 27, 2009

Where have you gone.........President Madison

In 1816, Congress proposed the "Bonus Bill".

The "Bonus Bill", introduced by Congressman John C. Calhoun, was intended to direct the profits from the second national bank for "internal improvements". This was an 19th century "Stimulus Package".

President James Madison, who is often referred to as the "Father of the Constitution", vetoed the bill. The specific language he used is worth focusing on:

“The legislative powers vested in Congress are specificed and enumerated in the eighth section of the first article of the Constitution, and it does not appear that the power proposed to be exercised by the bill is among the enumerated powers. . . .”

“To refer the power in question to the clause ‘to provide for the common defense and general welfare’ would be contrary to the established and consistent rules of interpretation. . . .”

and the real kicker:

“Such a view of the Constitution would have the effect of giving to Congress a general power of legislation instead of the defined and limited one hitherto understood to belong to them.”

September 24, 2009

Last Embassy Rocks!

I am absolutely loving The Last Embassy blog.

From the latest post:

In the Political-Economy argument of "expensive health insurance", if the term "expensive" is more related to "solvency" (Economics) than related to "Populism" (Politics), then "expensive" might be better
distinguished as funded and solvent.

Those same Private Plans are the
plans that leave no unfunded items to your children, grandchildren, and so on into the future. Why? Because they are Private Sector plans that are funded insurance plans.

Think for a moment about funded insurance plans. Real insurance plans. They do not come cheap! However, as a consumer of insurance,
you purchased health insurance, as well as other types of insurance, so that you do not leave anyone with unmanageable future obligations, including yourself.

A wise question to ask yourself is: if the three major Socialized Schemes in the United States have a current track record of being underfunded by $53 Trillion, what would be the direction of the funding/underfunding of a Socialized Medicine Scheme?

September 22, 2009

Netflix and Generous Severance

Please take time out of your day to scroll through these 128 slides.

The slides were put together by Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix.

I usually detest this type of drivel, but I found these slides to be challenging, educational, and inspiring.

A few of my favorite slides below:

Slide 26: But unlike many companies, we practice "adequate performance gets a generous severance package"

Slide 27: We're a team, not a family. We're like a pro sports team, not a kid's recreational team. Coaches' job at every level of Netflix to hire, develop and cut smartly, so we have stars in every position

Slide 28: The Keeper Test Managers Use: "Which of my people if they told me they were leaving in two months for a similar job at a peer company would I fight hard to keep at Netflix?" The other people should get a generous severance package now, so we can open a slot to try and find a star for that role

Slide 68: Netflix Vacation Policy and Tracking: "There is no policy or tracking". "There is also no clothing policy at Netflix, but no one has come to work naked lately." - Patty McCord 2004.

Lesson: You don't need detailed policies for everything

September 20, 2009

Worry

My wife and I saw the play Wicked tonight (go see it if you get the chance).

On the way to the show, we drove by a church that always displays some kind of quotation, saying, or scripture passage on the billboard sign in front of the church's property.

The quote tonight was particularly corny, but I really appreciated its message:

"Worry is a darkroom where negative thoughts develop."

My hero Samuel Johnson said pretty much the same thing in 1750:

"The misfortunes that arise from the concurrence of unhappy incidents should never be suffered to disturb us before they happen; because if the breast be once laid open to the dread of mere possibilities of misery, life must be given a prey to dismal solicitude, and quite must be lost forever."

Insurance Industry Expert on Real Costs of Socialized Medicine

This is a great post from The Last Embassy blog.

Some of the more powerful parts below:

Beyond all the other short comings of the Socialized Medicine Scheme discussed previously, attempting to "sell" a Socialized Medicine Scheme based on low-loss-cost -participation by the insured merely makes the Plan Cost much more expensive.

.....Think of it this way, as a sales pitch, having to pay very little out-of-pocket sounds great. However, the less the insured participates in the loss, means the more the insurer participates in the loss. The more loss exposure the insurer is faced with, the higher the premium.

The sales pitch of low out-of-pocket costs, like any "sales pitch", omits the remainder of the story. The remainder of the story is that low out-of-pocket costs translates into very high premium costs.

However, the premium cost story gets much uglier. Low out-of-pocket cost which translates into high initial premium cost becomes a cascading price spiral. Why? The low out-of-pocket costs further translates into over utilization. That is, with very little to be paid out-of-pocket, the insured is more apt to seek services. The more services used means more losses incurredmeaning premiums must rise to cover the increased losses.

The escalating price spiral receives even more fuel due to "forced participation". Consider those individuals forced to participate in the plan, who previously did not want to buy health insurance for any variety of reasons. These new "forced insureds" find the cost a burden. They also see the cost being forced upon them as a cost they need to recoup. The mind set becomes: if I have to pay "x" premium then I'll get "x" amount of services, further creating overutilization which further drives the price spiral.

....The Private Sector has long known that each individual has differing needs. Hence the plan discussed for each Individual Risk is an attempt to meet the Risk's (insured) need. For example, the multi millionaire can self insure, the self employed single carpenter who is 35 years old wants a high deductiblecatastrophe plan, the business with young middle income workers in their family years needs group coverage that includes wellness coverage, and so on.

Nassim Taleb Interview

Please check out this interview with Nassim Taleb, best selling author of Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan.

From the interview:

Taleb: Today we still have the same amount of debt, but it belongs to governments. Normally debt would get destroyed and turn to air. Debt is a mistake between lender and borrower, and both should suffer. But the government is socializing all these losses by transforming them into liabilities for your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. What is the effect? The doctor has shown up and relieved the patient's symptoms – and transformed the tumour into a metastatic tumour. We still have the same disease. We still have too much debt, too many big banks, too much state sponsorship of risk-taking. And now we have six million more Americans who are unemployed – a lot more than that if you count hidden unemployment.

MW: Are you saying the U.S. shouldn't have done all those bailouts? What was the alternative?

Taleb: Blood , sweat and tears. A lot of the growth of the past few years was fake growth from debt. So swallow the losses, be dignified and move on. Suck it up. I gather you're not too impressed with the folks in Washington who are handling this crisis.

Ben Bernanke saved nothing! He shouldn't be allowed in Washington. He's like a doctor who misses the metastatic tumour and says the patient is doing very well. The first thing I would tell Chinese officials is, how can you buy U.S. bonds as long as Larry Summers is there? He's a textbook case of overconfidence. Look what happened to Harvard's finances. They took a lot of risk they didn't understand, and it was a disaster. That's the Larry Summers mentality.

Drunken Sailors - In Graph Form


In case the print is a bit small for you, and you are second guessing yourself as to whether or not that last blue bar, representing Current Liabilities and Unfunded Promises of the U.S. Government, really does read $63,400,000,000,000, it really does.

The More Things Change, The More They.....

Stay the exact same.

Here is John Stuart Mill in his 1869 essay On Liberty:

The third, and most cogent reason for restricting the interference of government, is the great evil of adding unnecessarily to its power. Every function superadded to those already exercised by the government, causes its influence over hopes and fears to be more widely diffused, and converts, more and more, the active and ambitious part of the public into hangers-on of the government, or of some party which aims at becoming the government. If the roads, the railways, the banks, the insurance offices, the great joint-stock companies, the universities, and the public charities, were all of them branches of the government: if, in addition, the municipal corporations and local boards, with all that now devolves on them, became departments of the central administration; if the employ√©s of all these different enterprises were appointed and paid by the government, and looked to the government for every rise in life; not all the freedom of the press and popular constitution of the legislature would make this or any other country free otherwise than in name. And the evil would be greater, the more efficiently and scientifically the administrative machinery was constructed—the more skilful the arrangements for obtaining the best qualified hands and heads with which to work it.

September 15, 2009

Winston and Clemmie

One of my favorite traits of the great Winston Churchill was his passion. He was a deeply rational and reasonable man, but he was also a man unafraid of showing his emotions and sometimes letting them get the best of him. If we never let our emotions get the best of us, then we aren't living life hard enough.

Below is a letter he wrote his wife Clementine in July of 1915 just before he joined the British Army in France as a Major. Churchill wrote the letter and sealed it in an envelope with the following instructions: "To be sent to Mrs Churchill in the event of my death".
Here is the text of the letter above:

Do not grieve for me too much. I am a spirit confident of my rights. Death is only an incident & not the most important which happens to us in this state of being. On the whole, especially since I met you my darling I have been happy, & you have taught me how noble a woman's heart can be. If there is anywhere else I shall be on the look out for you. Meanwhile look forward, feel free, rejoice in life, cherish the children, guard my memory. God bless you.

Good bye.


W.

September 13, 2009

Too Big Too Fail - Ferguson Doesn't Think So

Niall Ferguson, one of my favorite thinkers and writers, has a magnificent article in Newsweek entitled Wall Street's New Gilded Age.

Please read the entire piece. I think Ferguson's hits on some amazingly important facts and figues about our current financial system. Key excerpts below:

But now, barely a year after one of the worst crises in all financial history, we seem to have returned to the Gilded Age of the late 19th century—the last time bankers came close to ruling America. A few Wall Street giants, led by none other than -JPMorgan, are back to making serious money and paying million-dollar bonuses. Meanwhile, every month, hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans face foreclosure or unemployment because of a crisis caused by … a few Wall Street giants. And what makes the losers in this crisis really mad is the fact that there's now one law for the small debtors and another for big ones. If you lose your job and fall behind on your $1,500 monthly mortgage payment, no one's going to bail you out. But Citigroup can lose $27.7 billion (as it did last year) and count on the federal government to hand it $45 billion.

.....In April this officially became the longest recession since World War II. The International Monetary Fund expects the U.S. economy to shrink by 2.6 percent this year. The unemployment rate is heading for 10 percent. With numbers like that, you'd think some radical reform was in order. But no. Despite much talk on both sides of the Atlantic of new financial regulation, the likelihood is that the most important flaw in our financial system will not be addressed. On the contrary, the emergency measures taken a year ago have made it significantly worse. That flaw can be summed up in a single phrase: banks that are "too big to fail." Let's call them the TBTFs.

Between 1990 and 2008, according to Wall Street veteran Henry Kaufman, the share of financial assets held by the 10 largest U.S. financial institutions rose from 10 percent to 50 percent, even as the number of banks fell from more than 15,000 to about 8,000. By the end of 2007, 15 institutions with combined shareholder equity of $857 billion had total assets of $13.6 trillion and off-balance-sheet commitments of $5.8 trillion—a total leverage ratio of 23 to 1. They also had underwritten derivatives with a gross notional value of $216 trillion. These firms had once been Wall Street's "bulge bracket," the companies that led underwriting syndicates. Now they did more than bulge. These institutions had become so big that the failure of just one of them would pose a systemic risk.

....The compensation issue, by the way, is a red herring. Politicians like to focus on bankers' bonuses, because everyone can be shocked by the fact that Lloyd Blankfein, the Goldman CEO, gets paid 2,000 times what Joe the Plumber gets. But that's a symptom, not a cause, of the deep-rooted problem. The TBTFs are able to pay crazy money because they reap all the rewards of risk-taking without the cost: the risk of going bust. Ask yourself, how did Goldman make those handsome second--quarter profits of $3.4 billion? Yes, by leveraging up and taking on more risk.

.....What's needed is a serious application of antitrust law to the financial-services sector and a speedy end to institutions that are "too big to fail." In particular, the government needs to clarify that federal insurance applies only to bank deposits and that bank bondholders will no longer protected, as they have been in this crisis. In other words, when a bank goes bankrupt, the creditors should take the hit, not the taxpayers.

September 10, 2009

Drunken Sailors - A History

Please, please, pretty please read this incredible piece by John Steele Gordon on The Sorry Tale of America's Out-of-Control Spending.

From the piece:

At the end of fiscal 2008, which came on September 30 of last year, the American national debt stood at $9.6 trillion. That sum is, perhaps, quite beyond the imagining of most people. It is, after all, 250 million times the average per capita income. Even the total fortunes of the entire Forbes 400 list add up to less than 15 percent of it. To use a journalistic measure that dates back to the late 18th century—when the British national debt had become a major political issue in that country—if you laid 9.6 trillion silver dollars end to end, they would reach to the sun and back, with enough left over to wrap around the Earth more than 1,700 times.

.......The bad news is that the debt is rapidly rising, both in absolute terms and relative to GDP, thanks to the current recession, the stimulus effort to end that recession, and the bailout of the country’s financial system. The budget deficit for fiscal 2009 is estimated to be a staggering $1.6 trillion, larger than the entire national debt as recently as 1984. It is the largest peacetime deficit (measured as a percentage of federal revenues) since 1936, when the country was still in the throes of a far worse economic downturn. The deficit will cause the ratio of debt to GDP to rise to over 80 percent by the end of fiscal 2009. That will be the highest it has been since 1950.

.....The U.S. debt exploded in the last half-century from a fateful intersection of 1) a national economic trauma; 2) a fundamental change in the prevailing economic theory; 3) ill-considered political fund raising reforms after Watergate; and 4) reforms in Congress that made spending impossible to control.

......Roosevelt, in office, quickly accepted the need for “passive deficits,” those resulting from the poor economy. Then in 1936 John Maynard Keynes published The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money. Keynes argued that while supply and demand must balance in the long run, in the long run, as he famously quipped, “we are all dead.” In the short run, Keynes thought aggregate supply can outstrip demand (producing depression) or vice versa (producing inflation).

Keynes argued for “active deficits”—deliberate spending in deficit to increase demand and bring the economy into balance in times of depression. Keynes also argued, of course, that when the economy overheated, the government should be in surplus to soak up excess demand.

Economists took to Keynesianism immediately. It is not hard to see why. First, it gave economists a powerful new analytical tool. Second, it greatly increased the power and influence of economists. Before Keynes, presidents had not needed economists any more than they had needed astronomers. But if government was now to be the engineer of the national economic locomotive, revving and braking through Keynesian means as needed, then government needed experts to guide it.

.....Campaign finance reform after the Watergate scandal brought the political action committee system into being, making, in effect, lobbyists major funders of political campaigns. Naturally the lobbyists were interested in federal spending, not federal fiscal restraint.

The budget and the debt exploded. Like an alcoholic trying to quit drinking, Washington tried to reform itself with a series of budget deals and “summits.” None of it worked, as Congress, like the alcoholic, kept making one-time exceptions to the rules.


What goes for football, goes for....

Just about everything in business.

Chris Brown, who writes for Smart Football, has a great piece up at the EDSBS blog about what makes a college football offense bad. I believe this article could easily be tailored to be about bad businesses and companies.

Some excerpts from Brown's piece:

Grab-bag offense: Far and away, the number one problem from a strategic view is a disorganized, “grab-bag” offense that lacks a definable identity. This isn’t to say that you can only do one or two things, but the bad teams almost universally do not know who they are. Say what you will about Tony Franklin at Auburn, but that whole thing was a mess last year because, among other reasons, they had an identity crisis. But this problem is not just germane to coaching changes or new offensive coordinators. Often, teams that have been fine try to “update” their offenses with the new-new thing, and more often than not they regress. There’s a completely true old coaching adage that it is less important what system you run than it is the fact that you have a system, preferably one that you know well and can coach. Hence an offense like Urban Meyer's works for a lot of reasons, but one reason is that the entire team is completely committed to it. The same is true for Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech, or Nebraska’s great I-option teams, or really any other good team you can think of. They might appear “multiple,” but there’s an identity there. Again, it’s hard to underemphasize this because not only does it make planning coherent, it has its biggest gains probably for practice time: when Meyer or Johnson or Osborne or any of the other committed coaches practice their offenses, they focus exactly on what they will actually do in games, and their stuff all fits together. A grab-bag team might be adding or subtracting stuff week by week, and they never get good at anything.


Bad practice habits. One thing USC does as well as anyone is that their practices are very fast, and very efficient. Similarly Mike Leach's Texas Tech Practices are famous for their complete focus on throwing the ball and working on all the skills necessary to do it well. One thing many fans might not realize is that “team periods” — i.e. scrimmages, 11 on 11, etc — are, in most coaches’ minds, negatively correlated with being good at fundamentals. In other words, practices are about focusing on individual players, individual and position drills. When you do 11 on 11, the coaching tends to be more diffuse, and more difficult, and guys tend to regress or not get better at the little skills. This is the hardest one for fans to see, but if your team cannot play well or is undisciplined in missing blocks, running routes, and the like, then their practice habits might be poor.

September 9, 2009

Paradigm Shift?

Either the stimulus has been a complete and total failure, or we may simply be beginning to see a paradigm shift in how people and financial instituations are thinking about their personal finances and consumer credit.

Government - Getting Results?

And we are talking about the federal government runing an industry with roughly 580,000 establishments and 14 million employees.

September 7, 2009

50 Things Being Killed by the Internet

Please read this entire piece if you get the time.

Some of my favorites from the 50 Things Being Killed by the Internet article:

2) Fear that you are the only person unmoved by a celebrity's death
Twitter has become a clearing-house for jokes about dead famous people. Tasteless, but an antidote to the "fans in mourning" mawkishness that otherwise predominates

12) Letter writing/pen pals
Email is quicker, cheaper and more convenient; receiving a handwritten letter from a friend has become a rare, even nostalgic, pleasure. As a result, formal valedictions like "Yours faithfully" are being replaced by "Best" and "Thanks"

13) Memory
When almost any fact, no matter how obscure, can be dug up within seconds through Google and Wikipedia, there is less value attached to the "mere" storage and retrieval of knowledge. What becomes important is how you use it – the internet age rewards creativity

27) Knowing telephone numbers off by heart
After typing the digits into your contacts book, you need never look at them again.

28) Respect for doctors and other professionals
The proliferation of health websites has undermined the status of GPs, whose diagnoses are now challenged by patients armed with printouts.

37) Personal reinvention
How can you forge a new identity at university when your Facebook is plastered with photos of the "old" you?

42) The nervous thrill of the reunion
You've spent the past five years tracking their weight-gain on Facebook, so meeting up with your first love doesn't pack the emotional punch it once did.

And I will save the best for last:

44) Trust in Nigerian businessmen and princes
Some gift horses should have their mouths very closely inspected.


A Great Coach

Football has started, and I am officially a happy man.

Football season always gets me thinking about coaching. Week in, week out football fans get to watch and see the results of the good, the bad, and the ugly in coaching.

A friend and I were recently talking a little college football and we ended up trying to define what it means to be a great coach. Is it just about winning? If not, what other factors should we consider.

The same week I had this conversation with my friend, my father informed me that my old high school basketball coach was being considered for induction into the Georgia Coaches' Hall of Fame. My father asked if I would write a recommendation letter for Coach Bell. Since my old high school basketball coach is the best coach I have ever played for in any sport at any level, this recommendation letter gave me the perfect opportunity to lay out my thoughts on what a great coach really is.

Gentlemen,

My name is R. Stephen Prather, and I am writing to encourage you to induct Coach Ron Bell of Marist High School into the Georgia Coaches’ Hall of Fame.

I had the extreme honor and sometime pleasure (Coach Bell didn’t like losing very much) of playing for Coach Bell from 1993 – 1997. As a freshman at Marist, I was a member of the ’94 State Championship team that went 32-0 and finished the season ranked in the top ten nationally. Coach Bell was rightly awarded the National Coach of the Year award for that ’94 perfect season.

I have played sports all of my life. My earliest memories are of sports. I was blessed to letter in both basketball and baseball at Marist and was able to earn a baseball scholarship to Vanderbilt University. Throughout the more than 25 years I have played team sports, I have had plenty of good coaches, bad coaches, and mediocre coaches. However, I have only had one great and unforgettable coach and that coach was Ron Bell.

I don’t know what specific criteria your committee uses to judge coaches, but I have always judged coaches by three distinct criteria.

1) Wins and Losses: No matter how hard we try, we can’t separate coaching from wins and losses. If you don’t win, it is hard to make the argument that you were a great coach. John Wooden was a great and faithful man and had a profound impact on the lives of those who played for him. However, would John Wooden be John Wooden if his career record wasn’t 664 wins and 162 losses? When it comes to wins and losses, I think Coach Bell passes with flying colors. Coach Bell had a career record of 616 wins and 199 losses. Of the 815 high school games Coach Bell coached in, he came out victorious more than 75% of the time. Over a 25 year career, I think it is fair to say this is record is quite remarkable.

2) Impact on his Players: Great and legendary coaches have a lifetime impact on the players that come through their program. It has been 13 years since I played for Coach Bell, but I recently found myself retelling a Coach Bell story to one of my co-workers. Coach Bell once made our entire gym class sit in the men’s restroom for the entirety of the fifty-five minute gym period because we refused to regularly flush the gym’s “commodes”. Coach Bell’s reason for this punishment was classic Ron Bell: “WINNERS FLUSH COMMODES!” To this day, I have never forgotten these words. Every time I want to take a short cut in life, give a half-cocked effort, or make an excuse for not following through on something, I remember that “WINNERS FLUSH COMMODES!” Outside of my immediate family, Coach Bell has had as much of an impact on my character development as anyone. He taught me how to be a man and how to win with grace and lose with grit and determination. I often thank God for putting Coach Bell in my path.

3) Impact on his Program: There are certain coaches that define a program. When you think of Penn State football, the name Joe Paterno comes to mind. When you think of UNC basketball, the name Dean Smith comes to mind. Well, if you ask an ’84, ’94, and ’04 Marist Alum to describe Marist basketball, I am fairly confident you would receive the same answer: Ron Bell.

Whether it was putting together a twenty page scouting report on our opponent, watching endless (and I mean endless) hours of film, or sleeping an entire week on the floor of his modest office, Coach Bell did everything he could to give us the best opportunity to succeed. We never lost a game because we weren’t prepared or because we didn’t have the proper game plan. In fact, any one that watched Marist absolutely destroy a far superior Lithonia team in the ’94 State Championship game knows that when it came to game planning, Ron Bell had no equal.

I could tell a thousand more stories and give countless additional examples of Coach Bell’s greatness, but I think you get the picture. If you wait another hundred years, I don’t believe you will find another coach more deserving of this honor than Coach Ron Bell.

Thank you for your time in reading this letter, and please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or need any additional information.

September 4, 2009

Coburn Townhall Answer on Public Option

This will just smack you on the head with common sense.

I have never understood why people think the only way to "care" is to have the government "care" for them.

Which one of these scenarios sounds more "caring" to you:

a) A community coming together as individual citizens to care for its downtrodden, needy, and sick. Let us not forgot this passage from Ezekiel 34: 3-4:

3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.

In this passage Ezekiel is not being called to prophesy against the government of Israel. The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel to prophesy against "the shepherds of Israel." The failure to take care of our downtrodden, needy, and sick is not the failure of a government whose job it NEVER was in the first place but of our churches, our communities, our "shepherds."

b) A government taxes your money and let's a bureaucratic cadre of government-paid employees make decisions about "caring" for the downtrodden, needy, and sick from Washington, D.C.

I am so sick and tired of people asking the government to take other people's money and their caring for them.

I am not trying to be overly political here, but Dr. Coburn's message in the above video hit a nerve or two.

REITs In Trouble?

Some very interesting analysis of the economic and financial situations facing Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) from Dan Amoss:

The issue facing REITs parallels that of the banks: an industry-wide solvency crisis. Only REITs lack access to enormous subsidies from the Federal Reserve, which include the manipulation of borrowing rates down to the range of 1%, resulting in a profitable spread on new lending.

If you carefully consider the combined statistics on commercial mortgage debt, equity, and future rental cash flows, you come to the conclusion that the value of many REITs is permanently impaired. Even if a core group of higher-quality REITs escapes bankruptcy, their equity will still be impaired because lenders will only refinance properties on very tight terms: strict covenants, high interest rates, and requirements of hefty equity infusions into upside-down properties. This is a transfer of wealth from REIT shareholders to creditors. This wealth transfer is occurring through many channels, but the most important one relates to claims on future rental cash flow, which will be bleak regardless of who owns it:

  1. Creditors will take a higher share of those rental cash flows via higher interest rates
  2. Of the cash flows that trickle down to shareholders, they will be divided up among more and more REIT shares as we see more and more dilutive secondary offerings

......Lots of REITs have plans to sell properties to pay down debts but… Sell to whom? And at what sort of price? Yet REIT investors seem unaware the hundreds of billions in new equity that creditors will require to refinance mortgages that were made during the 2006-2007 peak in values — and what that catalyst will do to the value of their equity.

September 3, 2009

No More Wet Blankets

A friend recently sent me the following quote from the great Christian apologist Thomas Aquinas:

“It is against reason to be burdensome to others, showing no amusement and acting as a wet blanket. Those without a sense of fun, who never say anything ridiculous, and are cantankerous with those who do, these are vicious, and are called grumpy and rude.”

Let's all resolve to make a few ridiculous statments and avoid wet blanketness over the Labor Day Weekend.

Most Important Meal of the Day

Everyone has heard the saying about breakfast being the most important meal of the day.

After reading this piece, I think it's safe to say Mr. Churchill was a proponent of the importance of a good, big breakfast.

While on a British Overseas Airways Corporation flight to America in 1954, Sir Winston was not pleased with the breakfast being offered, so he decided to order this own:

'1st Tray. Poached egg, Toast, Jam, Butter, Coffee and milk, Jug of cold milk, Cold Chicken or Meat.


'2nd Tray. Grapefruit, Sugar Bowl, Glass orange squash (ice), Whisky soda.' He then adds: 'Wash hands, cigar.'


Sounds like a pretty dang good breakfast to me.

September 2, 2009

More Larry Reed

I beginning to really like what I am hearing from Larry Reed.

“Some say [certain] companies are ‘too big to fail.’ So we’re turning them and our economy over to an outfit that is too big to succeed. While most people would say it’s wrong to take a dollar from the responsible and give it to the irresponsible, our politicians tell us that if we do that a trillion times, it’ll be to our advantage. But if two wrongs don’t make a right, how can a trillion wrongs make anything right? It may be good politics for the moment, but it’s also madness and immorality writ large.”

One day in the very near future, I believe a very large number of Americans are going to wake up and ask themselves "What the hell happened?"