Monday, August 31, 2009

Google Voice

Cool new service--by invitation only--from Google. It was first put into service on March 11, 2009. Wikipedia summarizes most of the services nicely:
The service provisions a U.S. phone number, chosen by the user from available numbers in selected area codes, free of charge to each user account. Inbound calls to this number are forwarded to other phone numbers of the subscriber. Outbound calls may be placed to domestic and international destinations from any of a user's configured telephones, or from a web-based application. Inbound and domestic outbound calls are free of charge, while international calls are billed according to a schedule posted on the Google Voice website.
Other services include:
  • A single Google number for all user's phones.
  • Free calls and SMS in the contiguous US and Canada.
  • Calling International phone numbers for as low as 0.01 USD per minute.
  • Call screening. Announce callers based on their number or by an automated identification request for blocked numbers.
  • Listen in on someone recording a voicemail before taking a call.
  • Block calls.
  • Send, receive, and store SMS online.
  • Answer an incoming call on any of your phones.
  • Phone routing. Choose which phones should ring based on who calls.
  • Forwarding phones.
  • Voicemail transcripts. Read voicemails online.
  • Listen to voicemail online or from a phone.
  • Receive notifications of voicemails via email or SMS.
  • Personalized greeting that vary greetings by caller.
  • The ability to forward or download voicemails.
  • Conference calling.
  • Record calls and store them online.
  • Switch phones during a call.
  • View the web inbox from a mobile device/phone.
  • Set preferences for contacts by group.
  • Ability to change your number for a fee.
Tthe Google Voice page includes a number of approximately 1-minute-long videos--like the one below--that explain the primary features of the service:

I don't know why I never paid attention to it till this afternoon. But I thought I'd pass it along.

You can sign up for an invitation by clicking on the link in the light-yellow bar at the top of the Google Voice page.

Get myself into trouble . . .

I wrote an email this morning to the two senior pastors (one retiring in a few months, the other in the midst of entering in) and the worship leader at our church.

I thought you might find it at least interesting if not thought-provoking.

Let me confess that I know I have a quirk about how my mind works with language.

Spelling, punctuation, grammar, the words themselves: they matter very much to me. And I realize they mean much more to me than they do to the average bear. That's my training. That's a discipline I have pursued since I was very young. I realize that the structural elements of language make a difference, and so I seek to use them to the best effect.

I am concerned that [our church], in its worship/singing on Sunday mornings, seems, often, to ignore these elements . . . to the detriment of meaning.

Four of yesterday's songs "put me over the edge" in this regard, honestly.

Two of them, of course, we have sung many times before and I have held my peace. But after yesterday's experience, I thought I should comment.
  • All the Earth by Jack Hayford--a master wordsmith if I have ever bumped into one!--includes a major faux pas. I haven't said anything before, but I figure it is time.

    My guess: Jack accidentally misspelled a word he meant to use.

    Please notice that exalt is a transitive verb. It requires an object. One exalts--or raises up--a particular thing. In "All the Earth," we are asked to sing a phrase that says, "The fields will exalt, seas resound." The problem: there is no object for exalt. What do the fields raise up? The lyrics never say.

    So I've been thinking: Jack must have meant to say not that the fields exalt, but, rather, that the fields exult--rejoice--[and the] seas resound. . . .

    This morning, I did a quick Google search for Hayford's song, just to see if maybe it is our church that happened to get the lyrics wrong. And, apparently, it is not just our church. Everywhere I find that song, it includes the transitive verb exalt.

    However, I discovered where Hayford got that line. Check out 1 Chronicles 16:32 (NASB). My grammar led me to what the Bible actually says: "Let the sea roar [NIV says, "resound"], and all it contains; Let the field exult, and all that is in it."

    --May I request that we, at least in our church, correct this obvious copying error that either Jack or his publishing company made and bring our singing more in line with Scripture? . . . And perhaps someone--Pastor Alan, a friend of Jack's--can notify Jack, too, about this error?
  • Be Glorified by Louie Giglio, Chris Tomlin, and Jesse Reeves. Again, some master wordsmiths. But . . . Good grief! What are we supposed to mean when we pray, through song,
    Your life the air I breathe
    Be glorified in me
    What are those words supposed to mean?

    Please note: I have punctuated these words (or not) exactly as they are punctuated on the [church's] overhead . . . and the way I have found them punctuated online. --There is no punctuation.

    Which means I am left wondering: Are these supposed to be two sentences: "Your [God's] life is the air I breathe" . . . and "I want God to be glorified in me"?

    Is it supposed to be one sentence: I want to glorify the air I breathe and I want to glorify God's life?

    Either way, it strikes me: these phrases may "feel" holy (or something), but neither one, as far as I can figure out, makes any kind of biblically appropriate sense. I see nothing in Scripture that suggests I should glorify the air I breathe. Nothing that suggests I should glorify God's life (whatever that means). Nor anything that suggests God's life (whatever that is really supposed to mean) is the air I breathe. . . .

    Yesterday, I spoke with [a young woman in the church], and she suggested that the first line should be written
    You're life, the air I breathe.
    Be glorified in me.
    Okay. Maybe. That's not what Giglio and Tomlin wrote. But, at least, it makes some sense. Better sense, certainly, than the lyrics as written. Even still, I'm afraid the lyrics are weak.

    I ought to note, however, that [another young woman] objected to [the first woman]'s proposed solution: "We try to avoid punctuation," she said.

    Yeah. I've noticed. To the detriment of meaning.

    --May I suggest that we use punctuation to clarify meaning in the songs we sing? Follow the rules of the language? And may I suggest we not sing the referenced section of "Be Glorified" until we can rework is so it says something good and true?
  • Everything by Tim Hughes.

    I'm not too keen on the way the author piles on participial appellation upon participial appellation before he finally provides a verb. It is hard enough to make sense of such a sentence (where you have eight appellations before a verb: "God in my living, There in my breathing, God in my waking, God in my sleeping, God in my resting, There in my working, God in my thinking, God in my speaking" before, finally, a verb: "Be"--"Be my everything."). But, despite the complexity, if you are paying attention, it finally makes sense.

    HOWEVER, at the tail end of the song, we wind up singing a heretical pantheistic affirmation that God is everything ["You are everything"]--repeated at least four times over (though, as I recall, [our worship leader] encouraged the congregation to sing it 8 times). Please! God is not "everything." He made all of creation. He made human beings. Etc. He is not the things He made.

    But then, after a pantheistic affirmation, finally, the song winds up repeating a kind of Hinduistic mantra, a meaningless jumble of words: "Jesus everything." Four times over on the screen. Eight times over as a congregation:
    Jesus everything. Jesus everything.
    Jesus everything. Jesus everything.
    As above: Whatever is that supposed to mean? . . . Or is it the intention of [our church] to advocate that its members enter into a kind of mindless euphoria through thoughtless repetition of meaningless--but holy-sounding--words?

    --Once more: May we avoid this section of "Everything" unless and until we can come up with a way of singing words that are meaningful and true?
  • And then, finally, Something About That Name by the Gaithers.

    I had a particular beef with this song as it appeared yesterday. Somehow, even though, I understand, the lyrics that show on-screen are supposed to come directly from the publisher, there was a definite error in transcription. AS IT APPEARED, the congregation was encouraged to sing that the name Jesus is "like a fragrance after the rain."

    I wondered which fragrance we were supposed to be suggesting the name Jesus is like. Perhaps Christian Dior's Poison or Lancôme's Poême?

    If we have to sing the song, it's probably better with the original lyrics: "like the fragrance after the rain." At least we know which fragrance we are referring to. Maybe. --Y'know, that fresh, clean smell. . . .

    On the other hand, after we get beyond the sentimentally positive feeling of this song, I have to really question: What truth do the lyrics actually encourage congregants to proclaim--and what truth do the lyrics suggest "all heaven and earth" is supposed to proclaim: that there is "some [undefined] je ne sais quoi [I know not what] about [the] name [Jesus]"? (I don't see any other or additional message. --Unless we want to suggest that there is strong value in the one line that equates Jesus with "Master" and "Savior," since it says
    Master, Savior, Jesus
    Like the fragrance after the rain)
    --With this song, too: Perhaps we can "put it on the shelf" and forget about it?
Finally, in sum: Will you please continue to call us to love the Lord our God (worship Him) not only with all our hearts and souls and strength but with all our minds as well? I find myself pressed to the wall to worship with my mind when called upon to sing phrases like these.

Thanks so much for listening to me.
One last comment that I didn't include in my letter to the pastors: the first young woman noted that she far prefers "praise songs" to "hymns" since hymns are so hard to understand.

I agreed that many hymns can be difficult to understand. Though I wish I had noted that, at least, after one invests the time and trouble to work through the lyrics, they almost always satisfy: they mean something.

I rarely get the same satisfaction nowadays when I try to sort through hard-to-understand praise songs. Far too often, at the other end of my troubles, all I find is gibberish.

The land of the unfree . . . especially when it comes to medical care and health

I have been reminded, this last week, several times, of why I'm finding it harder and harder to sing the last lines of "The Star-Spangled Banner":
O, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free . . . and the home of the brave?
Obviously, the banner still waves. The question is, does it still wave over a land of a free and brave people? Or of an enslaved and cowardly people?

I am beginning to think, more and more, we ought, rightly, to view ourselves as enslaved and cowardly.

I'll begin with the most recent issues, then go back to a few that have caught my attention in the semi-recent past.

Most recent: In my ongoing research into options for dealing with my rheumatoid arthritis--and very much thanks to Linda who brought this to my attention, I discovered a promising therapy called Low-Dose Naltrexone. (Besides this particular website, see also here, here, and here.

I wrote to my rheumatologist:
Dr. H:

I don't want to bore you with details of my somewhat successful, but mostly UNsuccessful pursuit of a dietary solution to my RA. If you would like the most recent details, you can find them on my personal blog at

Main point: I'm still looking for full relief and am just as motivated as ever to avoid the standard pharmaceutical "solutions." The side effects--and/or POTENTIAL side effects--creep me out.

Anyway. One of the readers of my blog suggested I look into LDN/low-dose naltrexone. I found this page ( and and thought: "This sounds promising."

Your thoughts?

I imagine KP won't cover the drug. But, hey, I'm already looking outside the "system."

What do you think? Foolish? Worth a try?

He replied:
Interesting concept.

Apparently LDN is used in doses approximately 1/10 those used for drug/alcohol rehab purposes.

Looks like some folks are using it on an experimental basis for a whole bunch of "off-label" purposes, including autoimmune diseases.

It would really need more extensive testing before one could advocate its widespread use.
Yeah. But I'm not looking for you to advocate its widespread use. I'm wondering about getting a prescription for me!

I wrote him back:
So . . . would you be willing to prescribe it for me so I could acquire it at the dosage referenced on the referenced website?
No. I believe we should stick with conventional RA treatments.

So I am aware of this promising therapy, but I'm not allowed to get it unless I get a doctor's prescription. I can't just do my own research and come to the conclusion that I'd like to try it. No. I have to have my doctor's permission.

Why? The government protecting me? Hardly! The only drugs my doctor has to offer include lethal and permanent-bodily-injury kinds of side-effects. And I come up with one that has no known significant or long-term side-effects and that appears to hold great promise, and I'm not allowed to try it?

Why can't I "simply" sign some kind of waiver of liability?


I have to find a medical doctor who is willing, possibly, to put his or her medical license on the line (in case some overbearing bureaucrat decides he or she has failed to "toe the line" quite tightly enough to satisfy the FDA).

I'm looking.


So: Land of the free?

I don't think so!

And then there is the following.

Only hours before I came to the conclusions I have summarized above, I ran into this story by Mike Adams of the Natural News e-letter:
A new law passed by the state Senate in Massachusetts [now awaiting approval in the House] calls for mandatory vaccinations of all citizens and a $1,000 / day fine for those who refuse to cooperate. It also legalizes health care "interrogations" of Massachusetts citizens, forced entry into homes without a warrant, the on-site destruction of buildings or objects suspected of harboring a disease or condition dangerous to the public health, the government kidnapping of family pets, "involuntary transportation" of people into quarantine camps and . . . language that allows Massachusetts police . . . to arrest, detain and interrogate anyone who gets in their way.

Meanwhile, all state law enforcement and medical personnel are granted complete immunity from prosecution for their part in violating your Constitutional rights. So if they violate your right to due process, or they accidentally destroy your home, or they kill your family dog because they suspect it might be infected, you have absolutely zero recourse.

Under this bill, Massachusetts becomes a medical police state. There is no debating it. It's all written, clear as day.
You can read the bill itself here.

I got thinking: Why does this bill come up now? Because of the mildly problematic H1N1 virus that has received so much news coverage? Because of concern over the deadly HIV? (No! Not HIV! That is explicitly excluded from coverage (lines 456-458): "In this section, 'disease or condition dangerous to the public health' does not include acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) or the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).")

Adams comments,
Massachusetts . . . is the same state that rounded up the parents of schoolchildren who hadn't been vaccinated, then corralled them into a courtroom (with attack dogs standing guard outside) and forced vaccine injections onto all the schoolchildren under the threat of jail time for parents who resisted.

Remember, readers, that this is all taking place in the "land of the free," a nation that former President George Bush claimed was so envied around the world that terrorists attacked America because they "hate freedom" and wanted to destroy our way of life. But terrorists need no help attacking freedom as long as Massachusetts is in the vaccine game, because this latest form of "gunpoint medicine" destroys freedom for everyday Americans in a way that terrorists could have never hoped to accomplish with all the bombs in the world.

Massachusetts . . . [is about to turn] "free" Americans into medical slave subjects who no longer have any freedom to decide the details of their own medical care. All options [will be] stripped from them but one: The Big Pharma option. That's the one that involves using untested, unproven and potentially dangerous vaccines that could paralyze you or even kill you. All to defend you against a virus that's so weak, almost anyone with decent levels of vitamin D and basic nutrition can resist the virus without incident.
Thank God we don't live in Massachusetts! Right?

Maybe not!

Adams notes that Massachusetts isn't the first state in the U.S. to include these kinds of mandated vaccinations. The U.S. federal government got there first. Remember? (I did not. I have no recollection about this at all.)

Republican President George Bush signed the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP) in 2006.
It gives power to the Secretary of the U.S. government's Health and Human Services department (HHS) to declare any infectious disease a "national emergency" and therefore require mandatory vaccination of the entire population. Because of the existence of this PREP Act, the entire population of the USA is now but one pen stroke away from being subjected to mandatory swine flu vaccinations at gunpoint.

Those who resist such vaccines will be arrested and taken away for "isolation" in domestic prison camps. . . . [T]hose who refuse the vaccine [will be labeled] "a threat to national security" (enemies of the state) and [will be] imprison[ed] without trial, without charges and without any legal representation whatsoever.

Meanwhile, all those who take part in enforcing these crimes against the American people will be granted complete immunity. From the HHS website: "[The Secretary may] issue a declaration . . . that provides immunity from tort liability (except for willful misconduct) for claims of loss caused, arising out of, relating to, or resulting from administration or use of (vaccine or other pharmaceutical) countermeasures to diseases, threats and conditions determined by the Secretary to constitute a present, or credible risk of a future public health emergency . . ."

About four or five months ago, I ran into The Raw Truth About Milk by Dr. William C. Douglass.

Douglass tells the story of how raw, unpasteurized milk, a whole and wholesome food, slowly got squeezed out of the marketplace by its very much inferior replacement, homogenized and pasteurized milk--a product with fewer nutrients and more contaminants than its unadulterated cousin that comes from certified dairies.

I was so incensed at what I read, I decided I would see how our family might get raw milk.

Well. Legally, we can't. Not allowed. No one can sell us raw milk. It's against the law.

And yet a growing number of families are acquiring raw milk and drinking it.

We discovered that though no one can sell us raw milk, and--I wouldn't expect them to--no one will give us raw milk, it is still legal to own a cow (or a portion of a cow) and enjoy--without government interference--the milk it produces.

So we entered into a contract with a farmer. We bought a portion of one of her cows and are paying her an upkeep fee. We also pay her a delivery fee. And she makes sure we get a gallon of milk each week as our share of the cow. Total cost of the milk we receive under this arrangement is not too much more than it would cost us to purchase good quality organic milk from the grocery store.

Our family is happy. The farmer is happy. I just hope the State of Colorado will stay out of our hair as we engage in open trade of goods and services for money.


Any stories you'd like to tell about freedoms--or lack thereof--that you've found in the health sphere?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Another advertising medium that should bite the dust

Current Yellow Pages logo.Image via Wikipedia

Sarita brought a new phone book in from our yard this morning. Someone delivered it on our front walk late last evening. It had gotten soaked by our sprinkler system sometime last night.

"Oh, bummer!" I said.

And then Sarita asked, "Do you need it?"

Well, my goodness! I think I don't! Indeed, I can't remember the last time I looked up anything in the phonebook. Not the Yellow Pages. Not the White Pages. I just don't use the phone book anymore.

I look up everything on the internet.


Poor Yellow Pages! It's going to go the way of the dinosaur.

I certainly wouldn't want to be investing too much money in Yellow Pages advertising. I guess if I were serving an elderly clientele, I would want, still, to advertise. I should probably do some research on this, but I don't think it would be a great investment if my clients were largely 40 years old and under. Or maybe even 50 years old and under.

A revelation. On Sunday morning.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Friday, August 28, 2009

Health update

Meaux asked how my joints are doing: whether the ALCAT test has enabled me to control my Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Truth: No. Not to this point.

I am not sure whether the lack of full pain abatement is a result of the failure of the ALCAT test itself or whether it is a result of my failure to fully eliminate all the trace remnants of foods to which I have a sensitivity. (For example, I mentioned last week my experience in Thailand--that left me in greater pain than ever.)

Following that experience, I contacted the naturopath whom I had consulted about two weeks earlier. I told her that the supplements she had urged me to take had not helped.

Her recommendation: "Get 8 stalks of celery and juice them. Starting at 4 p.m. one day and finishing at 4 p.m. the next day, drink only the juiced celery." --This was supposed to serve as a "cleanse."

Well, I began my cleanse/fast at 7 p.m. one day and concluded it at 8:30 p.m. the next day.

My pain definitely subsided during that 24-hour period, but it didn't go away entirely. And then I ate at a restaurant. I had eaten the same food at that restaurant before and had never had a problem, but last Thursday, for some reason, I had a bad reaction. Just as I put the key into the ignition and the car upon leaving the restaurant, I could feel my right index finger and thumb begin to swell. By the next day, I was in worse pain than ever.

For the next five days, I ate nothing but brown rice or millet plus chopped celery cooked in filtered water, sea salt, and coconut oil. Toward the end, I also sometimes added organic applesauce that had no sweeteners of any variety added to it.

After five days, I was hoping I would pain-free. I thought I could then experiment, adding one new ingredient per meal, to see which ingredient would trigger a sensitivity reaction.

Sadly, after five days, I was just about as wracked with pain as ever. And then, without explanation, even when I was eating food for which I should have been completely free of all reactions, my thumb or my feet would become excruciatingly inflamed.

Yesterday, for the first time, I found myself completely unable to use the thumb and forefinger of my right hand to open a simple plastic-on-plastic, screw-off cap from a bottle of lotion. I mean, we're not talking a lot of pressure, here! But I simply could not bear the pain. So I squeezed the top between the inside of my little finger and the palm of my hand and unscrewed the cover.

I am very frustrated.

At the same time, I am highly motivated to find something other than the standard drugs to relieve my pain!

This morning, I saw an ad for a "new" drug for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers.

"Sounds great," I thought to myself as I clicked through. And here is what I saw:

Looks great, doesn't it?

Yes, it does. Until you read the fine print, below:

Oh, yeah! That's what I want! (Not!)

The warnings continue:
What is the most important information I should know about CIMZIA?
CIMZIA is a medicine that affects your immune system. CIMZIA can lower the ability of the immune system to fight infections. Serious infections have happened in patients taking CIMZIA, including tuberculosis (TB) infections caused by viruses, fungi, or bacteria that have spread throughout the body. Some patients have died from these infections.
Doesn't that make you want to take CIMZIA?

There is more, but I will leave that up to you to read on the CIMZIA page itself.

Enjoy your health while you have it!

Back on Uncle Sam's Plantation

It's been more than half a year since Star Parker wrote this column. I was just introduced to it this morning. It is worth our deep consideration:
Six years ago I wrote a book called Uncle Sam's Plantation. I wrote the book to tell my own story of what I saw living inside the welfare state and my own transformation out of it.

I said in that book that indeed there are two Americas -- a poor America on socialism and a wealthy America on capitalism.

I talked about government programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training (JOBS), Emergency Assistance to Needy Families with Children (EANF), Section 8 Housing, and Food Stamps.

A vast sea of perhaps well-intentioned government programs, all initially set into motion in the 1960s, that were going to lift the nation's poor out of poverty.

A benevolent Uncle Sam welcomed mostly poor black Americans onto the government plantation. Those who accepted the invitation switched mindsets from "How do I take care of myself?" to "What do I have to do to stay on the plantation?"

Instead of solving economic problems, government welfare socialism created monstrous moral and spiritual problems -- the kind of problems that are inevitable when individuals turn responsibility for their lives over to others.

The legacy of American socialism is our blighted inner cities, dysfunctional inner city schools, and broken black families.

Through God's grace, I found my way out. It was then that I understood what freedom meant and how great this country is.

I had the privilege of working on welfare reform in 1996, passed by a Republican congress and signed into law by a Democrat president. A few years after enactment, welfare roles were down fifty percent.

I thought we were on the road to moving socialism out of our poor black communities and replacing it with wealth-producing American capitalism.

But, incredibly, we are going in the opposite direction.

Instead of poor America on socialism becoming more like rich American on capitalism, rich America on capitalism is becoming like poor America on socialism.

Uncle Sam has welcomed our banks onto the plantation and they have said, "Thank you, Suh."

Now, instead of thinking about what creative things need to be done to serve customers, they are thinking about what they have to tell Massah in order to get their cash.

There is some kind of irony that this is all happening under our first black president on the 200th anniversary of the birthday of Abraham Lincoln.

Worse, socialism seems to be the element of our new young president. And maybe even more troubling, our corporate executives seem happy to move onto the plantation.

In an op-ed on the opinion page of the Washington Post, Mr. Obama is clear that the goal of his trillion dollar spending plan is much more than short term economic stimulus.

"This plan is more than a prescription for short-term spending -- it's a strategy for America 's long-term growth and opportunity in areas such as renewable energy, healthcare, and education."

Perhaps more incredibly, Obama seems to think that government taking over an economy is a new idea. Or that massive growth in government can take place "with unprecedented transparency and accountability."

Yes, sir, we heard it from Jimmy Carter when he created the Department of Energy, the SynfuelsCorporation, and the Department of Education.

Or how about the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 -- The War on Poverty -- which President Johnson said "...does not merely expand old programs or improve what is already being done. It charts a new course. It strikes at the causes, not just the consequences of poverty."

Trillions of dollars later, black poverty is the same. But black families are not, with triple the incidence of single-parent homes and out-of-wedlock births.
Parker concludes her column:
It's not complicated. Americans can accept Barack Obama's invitation to move onto the plantation. Or they can choose personal responsibility and freedom.

Does anyone really need to think about what the choice should be?
My answer: Yes. For most of us, it is not an easy choice. We are like the false prophets of Israel (about whom I read just yesterday morning in Lamentations 2:14). They were unwilling to expose Israel's iniquity--the one behavior (exposing Israel's iniquity) that could have restored the nation's fortunes. Instead, they "[saw] for [Israel] false and deceptive visions, . . . oracles that [were] false and misleading."

And I sense we tend to be the same today. We prefer the message of "love" and "forgiveness" and "tender mercy" in the midst of our self-seeking. We prefer not to listen to the message of judgment and condemnation for our foolish and wicked ways. (It struck me, as I read Jeremiah how many of his "positive" statements were among the Scriptures I was urged to memorize when I was involved with the Navigators in college. I can't remember a single exact-opposite verse I was ever urged to memorize. [Consider, for example, Jeremiah 29:11--"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."--and compare it to Jeremiah 21:10--"For I have set my face against this city for harm and not for good, declares the Lord: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire." --Which one do you think we were urged to memorize while I was in Navigators? . . . Yeah. It was definitely not Jeremiah 21:10!])

When those who "even" claim the name of Christ have their ears so tuned to listen in only one direction, why would anyone bother to speak the truth to power (much less to the mob)? Jeremiah himself told the king why he was disinclined to speak the truth (though he always did, as far as we can tell): "If I tell you, will you not surely put me to death? And if I give you counsel, you will not listen to me" (Jeremiah 38:15).

How about you? Are you willing and able to speak the truth to yourself, much less to others?

I try to keep in mind what Jesus said: "He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much" (Luke 16:10).

I pray I will be faithful in the little things--even in holding myself accountable with the wealth put at my disposal--so that I will be faithful in much (whatever the "much" may mean).

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New Testament meat: Bringing home the bacon

I thought you might get a kick out of this.

I don't know if I told you about what I ate all last week. I described it this way to one of my doctors who is trying to help me with my rheumatoid arthritis: It was "some of the most boring/low-quality food I have ever had the misfortune to eat. (Happily, it wasn't spoiled or laden with microbes. I never suffered intestinal distress. BUT . . .) In order to avoid my food sensitivities, I found I was eating white rice and overcooked Chinese vegetables plus gristly chicken, beef, or fried fish--always and only cooked in brown sauce--three meals a day for over a week."

[The reason this came up in discussion with my doctor is because--as Jonelle suggested when I got home, the brown sauce must have included wheat, so . . .) by the end of the week, I was in great pain, with inflamed joints in my hands, feet, and even in places I had not suffered arthritic pain before--my wrists and elbows. . . . By the time I arrived home on Sunday, I could barely walk. --I have never been that bad before. I felt like an old man.)

Anyway. While I ate this food three meals a day, everyone else only had to eat it two meals a day. Breakfast, besides the rice and meat and brown sauce, also offered--for everyone who could eat it--all the standard breakfast foods Americans usually enjoy: cereals, eggs, bacon, pancakes, and so forth.

The first day, however, Sarita's and my eyes popped as we saw a number of children come to their tables bearing plates piled high with bacon . . . and, often, only bacon.

"Mom! Mom!" cried one. "Look!"

She was so excited to be able to eat bacon.

And it was at that point that our companion said, "Yes. Where we are (in the Muslim world), we cannot buy pork of any kind. So when one of our teammates leaves the M world and comes back, they always bring a huge hunk of bacon. And we always share it all around the expat community.

"They call us all as soon as they arrive: 'New Testament meat!' And then we all put all other events on hold so we can descend on the home of the recently returned friend who has the meat to share.

"What a joy!"

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest--California's ongoing fiscal crisis . . . and those who are being fleeced

Andrew Packer wrote a sad commentary on America's--and, specifically, California's--ongoing ethical and moral decline in last Friday's Sovereign Society Offshore A-Letter.

He began with a reference to a line in the Jim Carrey film, Dumb & Dumber: "Those are just as good as money. Those are IOU’s":
The movie’s villain finally gets his million dollar briefcase . . . opening it only to find a stack of cocktail napkins with the letters “IOU” scribbled next to hundred-thousand dollar amounts.

It was a classic comedic moment back in 1994 . . . but unfortunately for many of California’s creditors, it’s become a harsh reality today.
I was unaware, but, apparently, California has now not only attempted to pay its creditors with IOUs, but it has also attempted to collect "income" taxes based on those IOUs even while certain parties claim it refuses to accept the return of the IOUs themselves as a form of tax payment. [The Board of Equalization website itself, however, claims it will accept the IOUs--or "Registered Warrants"--as payment. --Of course, if you happen to owe less in taxes than the value of the warrants, you will be stuck with a scrap of paper--or not (because the state says, if you attempt to pay with the Warrant that has a face value greater than your taxes, it may hold on to the overage for up to 120 days)-- . . . a scrap of paper that promises to pay you far less in interest than a free market ought to give you for the risk you are taking by lending to a low-grade debtor. Indeed, according to the BoE itself, their current rate is all of 0.0%!]

Whether California is willing to receive tax payments via its own warrants or not, the fact remains that, based on the cost of insurance against potential default on their debts (instruments called credit default swaps, or CDS's) more and more entities in emerging economies are being rated higher than U.S. entities. Thus, for example, as Laura Cochrane of Bloomberg reported, "Eleven years after Russia defaulted, investors want less to insure its debt than California’s. . . . [And] The cost of protecting against a default by Turkey plunged below New York City’s for two weeks before climbing back above [on August 6th]."

Writes Packer:
[A]t the moment, Russia, home of large swaths of natural resources and a crony government can get cheaper insurance for its debts than California, home of . . . large swaths of natural resources and a crony government.

Of course, one of those governments has at least tried to make some strides towards capitalism, and the other has taken the other route. It doesn’t take the pricing changes in the market to tell you which.

As though it couldn’t get any worse, California then decided it wouldn’t honor the IOUs it created and forced on its creditors. This, of course, makes it an even worse currency investment than the ruble. And the Zimbabwe dollar.

Let me be perfectly clear here about a nearly-universal truth of economics . . . when an entity that’s not legally entitled to create their own money supply decides to create their own money supply, RUN, not walk, to the nearest exit. Because all that happens onward is an acceleration of government theft.

After all, what would happen to you if you tried to pay your bills with IOUs? Go ahead, try and buy a Ferrari with a piece of paper with some numbers on it and say, “That's every bit as good as real money, sir. That’s an IOU.” You’ll get laughed off the car lot.

Yes, people are laughing at the plight of California, but the joke’s not fully on them. Using the power of the state, the joke’s on anyone who had the simple misfortune of doing business with them.

The lesson here is simple: don’t believe or do business with any entity that doesn’t follow its own rules. After all, California – along with 49 other states – is bound by the words of the 10th Amendment: “No state shall make anything but gold & silver coin a tender in payment of debts.”

The solution is blood simple, but the path to it will be difficult for many involved.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Something about bartering

I was talking with someone--an American--who has a joint operating agreement with a company in China. (He actually sold a Chinese company the right to produce and distribute a product he developed. --I could comment further on what he told me about that experience, but it would be off-topic.)

We got talking about bartering and how one goes about negotiating the best prices in a barter economy . . . as in China . . . and as in most of Thailand (where we were this past week).

I told him about my methods, my pleasure in the process, and some of my favorite experiences of negotiating--like the time, in Old Jerusalem, when I asked a store keeper--more out of idle curiosity than serious interest in purchasing (because I figured it would be too expensive to purchase)--how much he wanted for an ancient coin he had in his case.

The store keeper gave me a price.

"Oh," is all I said. I had no intention of bidding for it. It was way more than I had any interest in spending, and there was "no way" I was going to counter-bid to get the price I had vaguely thought I might spend "if," for some reason, he had mentioned a price that was even remotely close.

"So what did you want it for?" asked the shopkeeper.

"Oh, it's all right," I said, waving my hand and shaking my head to indicate I was not interested in bidding on it.

"No!" he said. "Tell me!"

"No, no," I replied. "Really. I would be embarrassed to mention the number I had thought I might offer for it. It's too low."

"Tell me," he pleaded.

"It's all right," I said. "No."

"Please," he asked.

"Okay," I relented. "But really. I don't expect you to sell it for this. I had absolutely no idea how much you thought it was worth. But I thought, if you had offered it for _____ [a number one quarter the size of what he had mentioned], I would have considered it."

"Oh," he replied.

"Thank you," I said, and bowed slightly as I turned to go.

A few moments later, however, as Sarita and I were walking down the . . . I'm not sure what to call it. It's not really a street there in Old Jerusalem, but maybe you could call it an alley, or a row or something . . . Anyway. As we walked down the way going from the man's shop, I suddenly realized he was at my side.

"Sir," he pleaded, looking at me with earnest eyes. "You know, it is okay to squeeze an orange, but you should leave some juice for a man's children." --He said something like that. I can't remember the exact phrase. But it was something about squeezing an orange and leaving something for a man's children.

I said, "Sir, really. I am not trying to squeeze you. I was just interested in what a coin like that might cost. I had no intention of buying it. I was just curious."

"But if I offered it to you for your price, you would buy it?" he asked.

"Yes," I said.

"Okay," he said.

"What? You will sell it to me for _____?"


--I was truly not excited. But was happy (willing) to conclude the deal.

I mentioned several other situations and said something about figuring my negotiating opposites know for how much they can sell something and still make a profit. They won't sell it for below cost. . . .

I don't know if I told my companion about my experience several years ago in a back alley somewhere in Bangkok when a woman tried to sell me some Siang Pure Balm.

I really didn't want or need any of that amazing ointment, but the woman was persistent. And she pleaded in the most doleful tones.

She spoke no English, and I spoke no Thai. But she made her interests clear. I needed to buy her product for the sake of the baby she was carrying in a sling over her shoulder.

But I don't need any of your balm, I indicated. And, furthermore, I am not interested. And, finally, I have no money.

All I had on my person at the moment was a single coin--and I pulled it out of my pocket.

If my memory serves me correctly, it was a 1 baht coin--the equivalent of 3 cents.

No, no, she shook her head and held up her hand with five fingers extended. She wanted 5 baht--15 cents.

I'm sorry, I pantomimed. I have no more. To illustrate the point, I turned my pockets inside out so she could see: That was truly all I had.

Next thing I knew--I had a small bottle of Siang Pure Balm and she had 1 baht.


"No," said my companion last week. "It is not crazy. And sometimes they will sell to you at below cost."

"What . . .???" I exclaimed. "Come on!"

"No. It's true!"

"But why?"

"They have invested their own money in inventory, and if they are short on cash, they would rather turn the inventory into cash than let it remain as inventory. So they will sell to you at below their cost."

And my thought?

Oh, great! Now I have another moral issue to worry about when I'm negotiating in a foreign context: "What is the lowest legitimate price for me to negotiate so that my counterpart is still making a profit?"

But/and what am I supposed to do if and/or when I really don't want or need whatever-it-is she or he wants to sell?

If they press themselves upon me, must I respond? Must I--unless I have no money at all--offer them something, even if not to purchase whatever-it-is they are trying to sell me? Must I "simply" engage in charity?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Brilliant insight

Hopefully, when you read this, Sarita and I will be close to home. I am writing it, however, on Saturday morning (Thai time), in the last couple of hours before we take off.

I was reading the latest edition of Sonlight's semi-weekly newsletter, the Beam of Sonlight.

One of my favorite parts of the paper is the Humor section--usually a mom's observation concerning something one of her kids has said or done.

This week's, I thought, was brilliant:
My son told me that there are three uses for the word "we."

In normal usage, we means you and I. Then there's the royal we which kings use to mean I. Last is the maternal we which means you, as in "We need to clean our room."
Ah, yes!

I would say he is brilliant, highly observant, a great grammarian. He certainly understands his pronouns!

His mom said, simply, "That kid has a wicked wit."

Okay. I'll go with that.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A tribute to Dr. Winter

During the conference we attended this past week, one of the speakers shared the tribute he read at the memorial service for my mentor, Dr. Ralph Winter.

I found the following comment--with which he closed his eulogy--at least thought-provoking.

I'm not going to get the words exactly right--and I have the feeling this must have been borrowed from someone else--but the gist of the comment was this:
Most of us, as we walk through life, look at things the way they are and ask, "Why?" Dr. Winter was a man who looked at the future, and the way things might be, and asked, "Why not?"
I would like to be that kind of person!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Something funny from where I am

It's Saturday morning here in Thailand. Last night, and a few nights ago, Sarita and I went to the "Night Market"--a huge, open-air, bazaar-like affair held on the streets around a certain part of town where we are.

Unbelievable deals. Most legal. Some illegal. (Like the 100-baht DVDs of first-run movies. --Even the latest Pixar film, Up, is available. 100 baht for one; six for 500 baht . . . and that's before any negotiating. --I decided not to negotiate because I decided we wouldn't buy.)

But one of the "funner" things we ran across: T-Shirts.

My favorites, two or three designs based on the "Darwin series."

One: "Stop Following Me." There were actually two designs that used this phrase.

One looked like this:

(Photo here from

But another one, my favorite, featured the same basic series with the guy in front not appealing to his "followers," as seen above, but in which he is giving the guy behind him a karate kick to the stomach.


And then there was the "Something, somewhere went terribly wrong" t-shirt:

I'm afraid I can identify with this latter one. A bit too much. (Photo here courtesy of

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Japanese illusionist defies the laws of physics . . . and biology

I found this video on a website I visit every now and then.

I have no idea what the commentator is saying, but the visuals are enough! (6:42 of Japanese TV)