Friday, January 30, 2009

Bluster or Dangerous Path?

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri, bio here) is proposing a compensation cap for employees working for companies which have received federal bailout money.  Senator McCaskill's plan would cap salaries, including bonuses and stock options) at the salary of the President of the United States, which presently stands at $400,000.  Her plan also comes on the heels of President Obama's attack on the bonuses, totaling $18.4 billion as being irresponsible and shameful.  

I'm interested in seeing how this plays out.  To stand in front of a microphone and blast the "evil and greedy" Wall Street guys is easy.  Introducing legislation is taking it to a whole new level. If nothing else, I respect Senator McCaskill for putting her money (or legislative pen) where her mouth is. It'll be interesting to see if President Obama jumps on board with this idea or otherwise backs some form of legislation.  It's possible that President Obama might find himself between a rock and a hard place. If he doesn't support any legislation to remedy something he calls "irresponsible and shameful", he runs the risk of being perceived as all words and no substance (a perception which dogged him in both the primary and general election).  If he jumps on this piece of legislation, he might be getting himself into an even worse mess.

Creating a compensation ceiling is surely going to create a mass exodus of the most talented people in companies which have received bailout money.  Even with a historically bad week in the job market, someone who is very good at what they do in the financial services sector will find a way to get paid above a $400,000 ceiling, whether it be by finding another company outside of the country or by though some entrepreneurial venture.

Senator's McCaskill's retort might be, "Let 'em go, they created this mess in the first place. There are plenty of bright people who are willing to work for $400,000 who can lead Citibank."  That's where things get a little dicey.  Are we going to find the most qualified person who is willing to get paid $400,000, or are we looking for the most qualified person who can justify the return on investment of his/her salary, period?  Is Senator McCaskill really willing to turn Citibank, Morgan Stanley and AIG into higher paid versions of the Social Security Administration office? I have a friend who works there, but she'd be the first to admit that when it comes to workforce, you get what you pay for. If you need some complex financing for a multibillion dollar takeover, do you really want to be serviced by a bunch of people who aren't crazy about the pay, but like the 9 to 4 work hours and benefits?

So I think our Congress should tread very carefully in this area of mandating compensation rules.  But like I alluded to earlier, at least Senator McCaskill is putting her neck out on the line as opposed to simply "expressing outrage".  President Obama?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Economy's Emotional Toll

It grieves me to read stories such as the recent account of the murder-suicide of a family in Los Angeles, allegedly due to the recent firing of the husband and wife amidst mounting debt.  The Great Depression was marked by stories of investors who had lost everything jumping out of skyscraper windows, but it looks like the less dramatic, but still devastating deterioration of our economy is going to have a mounting human toll as well.

An article in confirms this, reporting that the economic meltdown is causing a rise in the number of calls to counseling hotlines.  I applaud this, and think that any program which can help bring people out of despair into a place where they can gain perspective can only be positive.  Surely churches and other institutions of faith can be meeting these needs as well. I wouldn't be surprised as programs such as these take their side along with job training and job creation programs as supplements to government stimulus packages making their way through Congress.

I'm all for problem solving, but at the same time, I wonder if we as a society have sufficiently gone through a period of confession and acknowledgement of the sin that pervades this whole environment.  As a society, we have shown awful stewardship by living beyond our means.  We have been consumed by greed, accumulating more for ourselves as our fellow man starves.  We have coveted the things our neighbor has in our purchasing, not being content in what God has provided for us.  As a result of our greed and covetousness, we have made idols of our jobs, worshipping the means of provision as opposed to the Source.

Many months ago, before the financial meltdown marked by the failure of Lehman Brothers and sale of Merrill Lynch, I had posted a blog about my own struggle with the idolatry of work (which can include job security) and how I try to deal with it.  I concede that much of my approach is not rocket science, but a fundamental need to "get back to basics" as it relates to where (or I should more correctly state "in Whom") I put my trust.  The "laddering" technique is just a way that helps me get there, but to understand the logic behind a construct is one thing - to own it with your heart and soul is another.  I understand that.  If and when I find myself in a situation where I am without a job surrounded by criticism, negativity, and mounting debt, that God-willing I won't react as Ervin Lupoe did.  I acknowledge that the pressure, stress, and despair is immense, but I pray that my response would be in the words of my dear friend once posted on his wall: "Let the struggles of the world bring you to your knees - for there you will find victory."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Curious George, It Wasn't

Sarah took part in Daniel's preschool's "mystery reader" program yesterday, where she was given the opportunity to surprise Daniel at preschool and be a guest reader to the class, reading one of Daniel's favorite stories at her choosing. So we had this exchange over dinner last night:

"Cool, sounds like fun. What did you read?" I asked.
"I read a Bible story from Daniel's children's Bible," she said.
"Which story?" I asked.
"Oh, the crucifixion."

I had to pause for a second to determine if she was kidding. She wasn't. Daniel's preschool is affiliated with the local Episcopal church, and to their credit and my happiness, they actually don't run away from their faith affiliation. They hold a chapel service for the kids, and reading a Bible story was thankfully not met with a teacher pressing the panic button paging the ACLU. But I have to say that my wife's choice of the crucifixion was a little surprising, despite the fact that, as she pointed out to me, it's one of Daniel's favorite passages.

The account of the crucifixion in Daniel's children's Bible pulls no punches either. For those of you who are big believers in the fourth chapter of theologian J. I. Packer's book "Knowing God" where he speaks strongly against depictions of Jesus, you may object at the illustrations of Jesus being sentenced to death by angry men, forced to carry a cross beaten and battered, and his death on the cross (the illustration only shows his legs and a weeping Mary at he foot of the cross), but the concept of judgment, physical beating and death are all there for the kids to see. I asked Sarah what the kids' reactions were when she read it and showed them the pictures, and she thought they seemed okay.

Just to be clear, Sarah did read the resurrection account as well, so the happy ending was told and redemption and the Christ's victory over death was hopefully what the kids came away with. All in all I think she made a good choice. I probably would've picked something lame like "Left Behind: The Kids". Nothing like a little post-rapture tribulation to spice up a kid's life.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

So Much For Daniel's Hockey Career

There's an alarming article on which reports the alarming scale of brain trauma that occurs in the course of some physical sports.  Looking at the tissue of dead athletes, researchers have been able to see that the damage of concussions is far from superficial, but deep inside and throughout the entire brain.  Given that the regions of damage include areas which control emotion, sexual drive, and breathing, it's clear that these injuries associated with physical sports can be debilitating and sometimes life-ending. Just last week there was a crushing hit on Ravens running back Willis McGahee in which people feared might have caused permanent spinal damage. The disabilities and subsequent neglect of hordes of NFL retirees is well documented, and I hope as a society we're addressing this even as the present players satisfy our bloodlust for crushing hits and bone-jarring sacks.

I have a bad sense that the situation is only going to get worse.  With the proliferation of performance-enhancing diets and drugs combined with technological advances which have led athletes to become faster and stronger, we're going to see more and more situations where 180 pound projectiles in the form of human beings are going to propel themselves at a high-rate of speed towards another 220 pound person running in the other direction.  I don't care what sort of padding and helmets they're wearing, the force and resulting damage is going to be immense.

Hopefully, the technology which protect athletes can keep pace with the rate at which our athletes are getting faster and stronger.  Or maybe we'll see fundamental rule changes in sports which protect players, such as a push to ban aluminum bats for high school baseball. Otherwise, I'm getting Daniel some goggles and he's going to join the swim team.

A Catholic Brother Goes Home

A recent article in Christianity Today discussed the future of evangelical-Roman Catholic relations after the death of Richard John Neuhaus, a key figure in the remarkable strides that have been made between two major groups which have traditionally had strained relations. I really do applaud the work that Neuhaus and Chuck Colson have done in this area, where there's been a healthy balance between finding and celebrating common ground while respectfully acknowledging differences which cannot be reconciled.

I had written in an earlier post about the balancing act between unity and conviction in the name of doctrinal purity. From what I've observed both in the Christianity Today article as well as past observations of the movement, is that there's a healthy respectful disagreement about things that clearly Protestants and Catholics disagree about, such as the place of Mary and the authority of the Pope. But what's helpful is that there is much to be gained in the partnership of the gospel. If we characterize the core of belief as consistent with the Nicene Creed - we're actually very much on the same page.

Many of my Protestant brethren are unable to cope with theological differences with the Roman Catholic Church, but somehow aren't bothered by churches that plot a specific day of Jesus' return, assert that the Pope or Barack Obama is the Antichrist, or that the work of atonement is somehow made complete through a human work of faith. For others, they point to what they perceive as rampant "cultural Christianity" practiced by many those who consider themselves Catholic but fail to have a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ". Again, somehow these anti-Catholic brothers are able to overlook the rampant cultural Christianity which is practiced in places like the Bible Belt where people talk about being "saved" but have little evidence of faith through the fruit of their lives. My point isn't that, let's say for example, Presbyterians are any closer or further theologically than Catholics as opposed to Southern Baptists. My point is that I would challenge people to consider whether standards are being held consistent.

I'm not a Catholic apologist and I stand strongly by Reformed doctrine, but if you look at the comments posted in regards to the article, it's clear that anti-Catholic bigotry is sadly alive and well. Perhaps the best comment is the (what I consider a rhetorical) question asked by a "Sam D": "What doctrinal disputes are worth rending the Body of Christ?" I'll take it a step further: "What doctrinal disputes are worth fighting brothers in the faith in lieu of fighting the true common enemy?"

Monday, January 26, 2009

I Guess This Means Obama Will Be a One-Term President

A recent article in the NY Post discusses the convergence of a number of predeictions that the Earth will meet its demise in December 21, 2012. The great thing is that this article doesn't simply give one doomsday scenario - there are many. I personally think the "Pole Shift" seems pretty cool.

I tend to take this with a grain of salt, as "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man." (Matthew 24:36-37) But just for kicks and giggles, I wonder what life might be like on December 21, 2012 in an alternative reality where the Mayans are correct.

December 21, 2012 is a Friday, which will likely be the day of our company holiday open house. Daniel will be seven years old going on eight and Sophia will have just celebrated her fifth birthday. Sophia would find interacting with all of the costumed friends like Santa Claus, Elmo, and Nemo far more interesting than Daniel, who might already be in his "too cool for this" stage. Daniel instead opts to stay in my office, log into my laptop and hack into our network increasingly influenced by a society where children can do no wrong, but are instead "expressing themselves". After grabbing a space-age freeze dried post-consumer recycled lunch, we walk back to the Penn Station monorail center while they both batter me with appeals around things they want for Christmas, after being bombarded with pervasive advertising from every possible source. The technology at the time will provide no shelter to media - customized advertising will be given to you while you brush your teeth and take a shower. My kids do not escape the overwhelming influence of an increasingly permissive society which holds no taboo on anything, but instead encourages rampant consumerism in the name of "individualism". Without any moral compass, they begin to experiment with drugs beyond the legalized marijuana they distribute at school.

I am really starting to feel my age as I hit the upper 30's. I've become obese due to a poor diet of Taco-flavored Doritos and Wise Onion Rings and my stagnant recreational softball career, having been demoralized at constant beatings of the Fightin' Reformers. Sarah and I go through the motions in a loveless marriage devastated by failed careers and her addiction to chocolate. Our moldy basement is mostly barren except a foosball table covered with cobwebs. Sarah spends her nights eating bowls of soggy Cap'n Crunch looking through an old high school yearbook pining for past years of happiness. I spend my evenings crouched next to the water heater obsessed with trying to find a mathematical proof which explains why it is impossible to divide by zero. Driven to insanity, we wonder aloud if God has abandoned us.

Yikes, this dreary story is more scary than the end of the world scenario when the planet Nibiru plows into Earth's orbit - and makes the trailer of "Revolutionary Road" look like a feel good story. I've suddenly turned this blog entry into an "A Christmas Carol" premise. That's all well and good, but I'm not giving up my Doritos.

Biting The Pinstriped Hands That Fed Him

It was with some irritation that I read of former Yankee manager Joe Torre's scathing remarks about the front office and players of the team that he led from 1996 through 2007 in an upcoming book.

To be fair, the reports highlight only parts of the book, so I'll reserve final judgment. But my initial reaction definitely isn't positive. I've always considered Joe Torre a good manager, but not a great one. He deserves some credit for the four World Series championships that were won under his watch, but let's be fair when we note that he wasn't exactly tasked with making chicken salad out of chicken feathers. The Yankees have had the highest payroll in the league since 1994, and Torre was able to roll out stellar starting pitching in most of those championship years. Number of World Series won since 2000 under Torre's watch? Zero. If you assess his leadership using a metric of wins per dollar, his record suddenly becomes a little less stellar.

But my point isn't to denegrate Joe Torre's managing record as opposed to his bitterness. Being consistently the highest paid manager in the league (by a large amount), there are going to be high expectations upon you. The bottom line is that in the second half of his tenure as Yankee manager, he didn't deliver, so he was given a pay cut. Brian Cashman, who Torre skewers in the book, is and will be held under the same standard and will be assessed accordingly. Torre doesn't seem to grasp this. The article states:

His Dodgers deal came two weeks after having walked away from the Yankees when they offered a one-year contract worth $5 million plus $3 million in performance incentives he termed "an insult.''

"I don't think incentives are necessary," he said then. "I've been here a long time and I've never needed to be motivated. Plus, in my [previous] contract, I get a million-dollar bonus if we do win the World Series, so that's always been there."

If we're going to skewer former basketball player Latrell Sprewell for his rejecting an apparently meager 3-year / $21 million contract, noting that "I've got a family to feed", doesn't Joe Torre deserve that same treatment for deeming a guaranteed $5 million contract with an upside to $8 million as being "an insult"? And his point of view of incentive compensation is completely misguided. The rationale of incentive compensation isn't a question of whether one is motivated or not, it's to provide greater alignment between "results" and "pay". The team does well, and Joe gets very rich. The team doesn't do well, and Joe gets a little less rich to the tune of $5 million.

I don't doubt for a second that Torre went through a tough time as a Yankee employee, but the premium has already been paid. Much in the same way that investment bankers are paid vasts amount of money in lieu of having a work/life balance, Yankee employees are paid handsomely for the "win or out" workplace culture. To burn the bridges behind him by writing a book skewering many of the hands that paid him and won him games comes off as petulant and petty. Two sports columns in the NY Post agree: "REVOLTIN' JOE'S WHINE TURNS BITTER" says one; "YOU'VE MANAGED TO RUIN A LEGACY" says the other.

And that State Farm commercial where Torre talks about loving his new life surfing, writing screenplays, riding in a convertible while drinking wheatgrass and saying "I am so there"? It just seems like his oversized ego got too big even for New York, which he apparently isn't missing so much. I'd bet a lot of Yankee fans today are saying "Good riddance."

Friday, January 23, 2009

Family Movie Night Becomes a Theological Experience

Much to Daniel's joy, we had a family movie night tonight, watching the first 40 minutes of Horton Hears a Who featuring the voice talents of Jim Carrey and Steve Carell. I actually nodded off during major chunks of the movie, but I was blind-sided by all the theological undertones.

For those of you who haven't seen the movie (I'm assuming that 99% of you who don't have kids are in this category), Horton is a happy-go-lucky elephant who encounters a sub-atomic universe which cannot be seen by the naked eye or heard easily by the ear. His claims around this universe are met with skepticism from his friends, but outright disdain and anger from Sour Kangaroo, who calls Horton's beliefs "dangerous" for children and society and insists, "If you can't see, hear or feel something it doesn't exist."

Despite constant pressure and ridicule by Sour Kangaroo, who is ironically determined to destroy this universe she doesn't acknowledge exists, Horton presses on - loving his friends and the children he plays with while defending the universe that most others don't see.

Sour Kangaroo can be seen as a combination of Christopher "Religion poisons everything" Hitchens, Richard "Faith is one of the world's greatest evils" Dawkins and Bill "Religion is a form of mental defect" Maher - not simply content with their own perception that God does not exist, but finds that others' belief in God and the desire to spread that belief as fundamentally dangerous and thus makes it their personal mission to "destroy faith". Horton might represent any and every Christian who at the core believes in the God of the Bible, yet continues to wrestle to see Him more clearly and share Him to others each day despite the discouragement of the Sour Kangaroos of this world.

Hebrews 11:1 tells us: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Who would've thought we'd see this in the form of a modern day animated Christian parable?

My First Parent-Teacher Conference

I had the pleasure of attending my first parent-teacher conference yesterday, tagging along with Sarah as we visited Daniel's preschool and had good conversations with his teacher and the director of the school. Here are some highlights*:

Ms. S (Daniel's Teacher): Daniel is engaged when we do activities and actively participates.
Me: Look, lady. Engagement doesn't get you into top schools. Spare me the fluff - is my kid going to an Ivy League school or not? If not, you're just wasting his time.

Ms. S: Daniel gets along with the other kids very nicely.
Me: Play well? I don't want people to like Daniel as much as fear him, because you better be training him to win at all costs. Win! Win! Win! Win!

Ms. S: He doesn't always participate when we sing, even though I know he knows the words to the songs. Sometimes boys at his age are a little self-conscious.
Me: We're not here to turn the kid into Justin Timberlake. We're here so he gets sky-high SAT scores thirteen years from now.

Ms. S: Daniel colors well within the lines and his cutting skills are very good.
Me: So what percentile are we talking about? Top 50%? 10%? 5%? We're in a global economy, lady, if he's not coloring better than that 4-year old in Hydrabad, Daniel's going to grow to be a laid-off loser whining about outsourcing. That's completely unacceptable.

Ms. S: Daniel is good at expressing himself with words. Sometimes when there's a conflict, he'll tell me right away, but I'm trying to get him to try to work it out with his classmate first instead of running right to me.
Me: Good. As my homies in Flatbush would say, "Snitches get stitches."

Ms. S: Daniel is good at expressing himself with words. Sometimes when there's a conflict, he'll tell me right away, but I'm trying to get him to try to work it out with his classmate first instead of running right to me.
Me: I'm glad that you have no interest in doing your job. I'm taking Daniel to get taekwondo lessons and he'll "work it out" all right. Don't come crying to me when Daniel breaks some kid's arm.

Ms. S: Daniel is good at expressing himself with words. Sometimes when there's a conflict, he'll tell me right away, but I'm trying to get him to try to work it out with his classmate first instead of running right to me.
Me: Right. Maybe we should tell the U.N. to adopt that same attitude towards the genocide in Darfur: "Work it out yourselves." Oops, that didn't work out so well, now did it?

Ms. S: He's developing very nicely. Keep reading to him and encourage him to think creatively when you spend time with him.
Me: Whoa, there. In case you haven't noticed, we're paying you guys a fortune for this preschool education. Don't try to throw this back on us. We wash our hands of all responsibility. If he doesn't go to a top school, I'll point the finger at you.

Ms. S: Daniel's dong very well. I think he's progressing nicely and will be more than ready for his 4's class next year.
Me: He's obviously on track to be stellar gentleman. Just like his dad.

* dramatization in jest, may not have happened

Thursday, January 22, 2009

No Camelot Redux in New York

Caroline Kennedy has dropped her bid for Hilary Clinton's Senate seat, citing personal reasons, which some speculate revolve around the failing health of her uncle, Senator Ted Kennedy. The article goes on to say that Kennedy believed that the job was hers if she would accept the nomination from Governor David Patterson.

I'm not sure if I'm buying this competely. I suspect that while she does care deeply care about her uncle (and we should all be wishing and praying for his well-being), a growing tide of public disapproval of her ascension might be the prevailing factor. While I respect Ms. Kennedy's education and experience in working for a number of non-profits, I agree with a growing number of people in New York on both sides of the political fence who questioned her qualifications for the post, pointing out that she lacked legislative experience and her resume wouldn't have earned her a sniff of the post if not for her last name.

I'm actually seeing some interesting Sarah Palin parallels here, notwithstanding their strong differences in political beliefs:

1) Caroline Kennedy's gender played a large role in her consideration, as Governor Patterson notes the strong consideration of choosing a woman to replace an outgoing woman senator (on a side note, I wouldn't be surprised if Representative Carolyn Maloney is now the choice). Sarah Palin's gender played a large role in her consideration, with the Republican Party hoping to "expand the tent" represented in the presidential ticket in response to Barack Obama's nomination.

2) Caroline Kennedy was embraced by factions within her party due to her advocacy of education and women issues, but had a significant share of people within her own party who weren't thrilled with her. Sarah Palin was embraced by factions within her party due to her energy policy and evangelical Christian beliefs, but had a significant share of people within her own party who weren't thrilled with her.

3) Caroline Kennedy was criticized for her lack of political experience, having zero legislative experience, which she tried to spin as a positive citing the appeal of a 'non-establishment outsider'. Sarah Palin was criticized for her relative lack of political experience, having only served as the mayor of a town of 6000 people and as a governor for 20 months, which she tried to spin as a positive citing the appeal of a 'non-establishment outsider'.

4) Caroline Kennedy had a disasterous interview where utterances of "you know" and "umm" almost outweigh her actual responses; the public laughs and critics jump on this as proof of her lack of qualification for the post. Sarah Palin had a disasterous interview with Katie Couric where foreign policy questions made her look like a deer in headlights; the public laughs and critics jump on this as proof of her lack of qualification for the post.

5) Caroline Kennedy dropped out. Sarah Palin did not drop out, though many Republicans wish she had.


UPDATE: It looks like indeed, Caroline Kennedy's departure wasn't simply about Uncle Teddy, but about tax problems with a household employee. This has become a big mess and there's continued sniping between Governor Patterson and Kennedy's camp. In the midst of this mess, Representative Kirsten E. Gillibrand has been named Hilary Clinton's replacement. Not quite as ugly as Illinois politics, but not exactly a shining moment for New York, either.

Breaking Through After 51 Games

Congratulations to the New Jersey Intitute of Technology (N.J.I.T.) Highlanders, who last night broke an astounding 51-game losing streak with a victory over he Bryant University Bulldogs, the longest drought for a team playing a NCAA Division I schedule.

I couldn't help but think about the Fightin' Reformers', our church's softball team's victory over the summer, when we finally broke through and won a game after constant loss after loss after loss. And as with N.J.I.T., our team was getting absolutely crushed in many of those games.

There's something about the perseverence and joy of playing a game just because you love to play, not necessarily because you have any certainty of winning. I think the players on the Fightin' Reformers and the N.J.I.T. Highlanders had that in common. As N.J.I.T. center Dan Stonkus said, "It was obviously frustrating, but we honestly didn't think too much of the streak. We just kept trying to think about the next game and then the next one. It never came down to where we thought we'd never get one. This feels great."

Yup, I've been there.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Dawn of a New Era

With a handful of colleagues in a conference room, I watched the inauguration of Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States on a streaming video feed from MSNBC.  As I had mentioned in a posting the day after President Obama's election that while I appreciated the historical significance of his election, I had some misgivings of some of his policies and positions. I felt very much the same way today. As a citizen of the United States, I was grateful that despite me backing the "other guy", the transfer of power was done without a coup or bloodshed.  As a citizen, it was wonderful to behold the enthusiasm of so many people. As a ethnic minority, it was encouraging to see such a large mosaic of people celebrating the installation of a person of color in the highest office of the land.

I had some thoughts on President's Obama's speech, which is full text here.  I thought it was a good speech, but didn't quite live up to some of the lofty expectations as many had anticipated. Was it Martin Luther, Jr.-esque or as memorable as the greatest speech I've seen live, the speech that President Bush gave after September 11th? No.  But it was a speech that reflected well on the reality of our times and his intentions of making us a country which embraces collective cooperation, peace and hope. Naturally as is common with Barack Obama, details were lacking, but this clearly wasn't the time and place for them.

"Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered." Insomuch President Obama was truly assigning "collective" blame for our present economy, I applaud that.  Were many banks and mortgage lenders responsible for the meltdown? Absolutely. But so were legions of people who wished to purchase and own things beyond their means. The economy is not simply a result of a "Wall Street boogeyman", a lot of people from every part of the economic spectrum can be blamed.  As President Obama said, we're a people that doesn't make hard choices well. As he says:

"In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the fainthearted -- for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things -- some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor -- who have carried us up the long, rugged path toward prosperity and freedom."  Yup. We're a lazy society. Naturally, those who point out some of President Obama's socialist and "big government" leanings with plans to expand Social Security and Medicare probably tore their hair out listening to him talk about hard work.  Hey, he never said that people were going to individually accountable.

"As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals..." was clearly a thinly veiled shot at President Bush and his policies around fighting the war on terror.  I'm interested in seeing how President Obama navigates through the quagmire of what he's willing to do in order to save American lives.  Is it appropriate to "waterboard" an enemy combatant any circumstances?  One who has information about a bomb on a plane? One who refuses to disclose the disarm code for a nuclear device which is going to level New York City and kill 10 million people?  When does one's right to privacy, which might include a plan to kill thousands of people, conflict with the interests of national security? 

"For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace." I'm all for peace, but there's much in his language that screams "assimilation" and "uniformity" as opposed to "unity" and "diversity".  Do we want the lines of tribe to disappear? Do our differences need to be eradicated or (as I would argue), acknowledged, respected and self-valued?

On a final note, I'd reckon that in four years, certainly further out in the future, we'll see some moderation on views of Barack Obama and George W. Bush.  Obama will be judged no longer on his optimistic oratory and lofty ideas, but the imperfect ways that he brings them to life as well as decisions which are far more complex and controversial besides, "All who like hope, raise your hand." As for President Bush, he'll never escape the stigma of an economic meltdown, but the lack of an attack on American soil since 9/11 and perhaps a future stability in the Middle East might become a legacy which he'll never be appreciated for in the present time.  Godspeed to both of you - heavy is the burden on the shoulders of the President of the free world.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Super Bowl XLIII Preview and Two People To Know

Congratulations to the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who will be facing off at Super Bowl XLIII on Sunday, February 1st for NFL supremacy. Last year the Super Bowl matchup was personally juicy, with the scrappy New York Giants (who are my favorite team) facing off against the unbeaten and historically-good New England Patriots (who I despised). There was no ambiguity in terms of who I was rooting for, and my attention to the game exceeded mere "I'd like to see a good football game and catch some witty commercials." No, I clearly wanted the Giants to pull off an upset of monumental proportions - and they did exactly that.

This year I don't "have a horse in the race", as the saying goes. The Giants were beaten in the divisional round by the Eagles (with whom I have a secondary rooting interest given I went to school in Philly). The Eagles, in turn, were beaten by the Cardinals. Even though I don't have strong feelings of love or antipathy for either Arizona or Pittsburgh, there are two prominent members on opposing sides of this upcoming Super Bowl who I can't help but root for a little.

Kurt Warner, Quarterback, Arizona Cardinals

The story of Kurt Warner is a terrific story of redemption. Warner went from grocery clerk to Arena Football League player to Super Bowl-winning quarterback all while clinging to his strong Christian faith. I remember reading about Warner back in 1999 in an article in Sports Illustrated, and being challenged and humbled by his attitude and unwavering faith and thanksgiving.

Warner is a guy who met his wife, Brenda, while he was playing for the Iowa Barnstormers in the Arena League. Upon finding out that Brenda had two children from a previous marriage including one who was mentally-challenged, Warner (to Brenda's surprise) didn't give her a hearty handshake and wish her well. Instead, he bought her roses the next day and told Brenda that he wanted to meet her children.

In the article, Warner says of his success: "I've been doing all these interviews lately, and people are looking for the secret to my success. I tell them it's my faith in Jesus Christ, and they don't want to hear that. So they ask me the same question, again and again, even though they've already gotten the answer. The Lord has something special in mind for this team, and I'm really excited to be a part of it."

A few months later in January 2000, Warner and the St. Louis Rams won the Super Bowl.

Now it wouldn't be surprising, although disappointing, to find out that Warner's success and subsequent huge contract made him an arrogant blowhard with a massive sense of entitlement. It wouldn't be surprising to read that Warner ended up ditching his wife and adopted kids and shacking up with Carmen Electra or Pamela Anderson. It wouldn't be surprising to read that Warner's faith took a seat in the way, way, way back of the bus. Those things never happened.

In a recent article penned by Wayne Drehs of, we learn more of what has happened since Kurt Warner reached the top of the mountain on January 2000, and it's extremely encouraging. After a mediocre stint with the Giants, Warner found a home with the Arizona Cardinals and has continued living his faith out. And perhaps refreshingly, there's a lot that average Joe Christians can relate with in terms of what has been difficult.

Warner's fame and fortune doesn't seem to have taken his edge off. He selflessly gives his time to charities and donates Cardinals tickets to foster kids. He has not shied away from talking about his faith or acknowledging what he knows God has done for him. He tries to model biblical love with his family, which has a tradition of when eating out, choosing a family by random and anonymously paying for that family's meal.

But his faith has come at a "price" of his convictions and his willingness to speak frankly about them. The article details the awkwardness of being a saint in a womanizing, hard-living NFL culture:

Former Arizona teammate Josh McCown, now a quarterback with the Carolina Panthers, believes NFL players are split almost down the middle when it comes to Warner. There are players like McCown and Cardinals receiver and close friend Larry Fitzgerald who look up to Warner and are amazed by his faith-driven selfless ways. And there are others who simply aren't comfortable around the quarterback.

Even Kurt's attempts to "reach out" and "just be one of the guys" can be extremely discouraging because he's been labeled and tagged as a Bible-thumping weirdo.

This past summer, Warner invited his Cardinals teammates and their families to his home for a day of swimming and eating. Barely anyone showed up. Warner believes the perception, still after all these years, was partly to blame. The poor turnout disappointed Warner.

This all probably shouldn't be surprising when Jesus tells us in John 15:18-19 "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you." We understand that. I'm sure Kurt understands this. It doesn't mean that it doesn't hurt or feel terrible.

The article pretty much sums up that while Warner continues to press on for the Lord, he has his share of problems like everyone else. His teenage daughter is miffed at him because she feels he doesn't understand her or tries to do so. He's a lousy handyman. He struggles with what it means to be "in the world" but not "of the world". I feel you, brother. And I'll be rooting for you hard two weeks from now.

Hines Ward, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers

There's a funny scene from the movie Airplane! which goes like this:

Flight Attendant: Would you like something to read?
Old Lady: Do you have anything light?
Flight Attendant: How about this leaflet, "Famous Jewish Sports Legends?"

You can pretty much make the same joke about Asian football players, but Hines Ward is the exception to that generalization. Hines, who is the son of an African-American serviceman and a Korean mother, has spoken in some depth about upbringing. It was quite a journey, and he wasn't always proud of being half-Korean.

An article in Sports Illustrated outlined how being raised by Young Kim, his Korean mother was a turbulent and difficult time for both of them until he later grew up realizing how much he appreciated her. There's a particularly heartbreaking account of his shame for a mother who had done so much for him, taking up to three jobs at a time in order to provide as a single mother:

Kim showered her child with gifts and cooked American food for him, but Hines was impossibly cruel, not understanding why he was in this strange place. "I back-talked her something terrible," recalls Ward. "One day when she drove me to school in fourth grade, I ducked down in the seat so the other kids wouldn't see me, because I didn't want them to know she was my mom. I got out, and when I looked back at the car, she was crying."

But Kim has no regrets: "My life, I would say, has been a hard life and a sad life," she says. "But in my country, a mother cares for a child first."

The article ends with a more mature Hines Ward, then a junior quarterback for the University of Georgia Bulldogs, speaking of his love and appreciation for this mother, and how if he were to play in the NFL someday, Ward would buy his mother a new car and a new house, and he will take her home to Korea. That was in 1997.

After Ward won the Super Bowl with the Steelers in 2006, Ward visited Korea with his mother and was welcomed as a national hero of sorts. Ward told a crowd of Korean dignitaries in Seoul, "I'm proud to be a Korean, that's something when I was little as a kid, I was ashamed of." Ward wept as his apologized for his past resentment of his heritage, and clutched a certificate of honorary citzenship in Seoul, before then tearfully acknowledging the sacrifices of his mother.

Being ashamed or embarassed by one's heritage? Not fully appreciating the sacrifices of parents? I think I can relate. But what's awesome is that Ward was able to right those wrongs and appreciate what had previously gone unappreciated. He's a better and happier man for it, I'd bet.

Get well and rest that knee, Hines. 70 million people on the Korean peninsula are going to be big-time Steeler fans in two weeks.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Miracle on Ice (Cold Waters)

I received the CNN Breaking News alert on my Blackberry yesterday at around 3:57 in the afternoon:

"A US Airways plane has gone down in the Hudson River near Manhattan. Emergency responders are en route. Go to for further information on this developing story."

"This does not look good," I thought grimly. Perhaps due to my past constant flying as a management consultant, I have a casual interest in commercial aviation and accidents, and I wasn't aware of any commercial airliner which was able to successfully "ditch" into a body of water. It's said that given the speed of the airplane and speed of descent, hitting water is not that different than hitting concrete, which would compromise the integrity of the structure of the fuselage and the fuel tanks. Add to that the danger of drowning and hypothermia, and it was clear that commercial airplanes and water did not mix.

A few minutes later I received another message on my Blackberry, this time from our company's security office. It reiterated that a plane had gone down in the Hudson, and added:

"155 people on the US Airways Flight 1549 from New York - LaGuardia to Charlotte."
"No company employees are known to be on the flight."
"Casualties unknown at this time."
"Mass transit unaffected at this time."

I braced for the worst. With 155 people on board, this was a pretty packed flight, and the fact that it left from LaGuardia made the situation worse. This meant that the plane was full of fuel having just left it's departure point, meaning greater risk of fire and a heavier plane which theoretically would be more difficult to land safely. From my office in midtown Manhattan I could hear emergency vehicles with sirens blaring blazing eastward on 42nd Street.

But as news trickled in later on that evening, it was clear that that nothing short of a miracle had occurred aboard Flight 1549. Amazingly, there wasn't a single passenger seriously injured, let alone killed, in the accident. The pilot, Capt. C.B. "Sully" Sullenberger, had made an incredible landing, gliding perfectly on the surface of the Hudson with a heavy plane with no engines, and managed to keep the plane intact. Frankly, how could you not feel safe with a pilot named "Sully" Sullenberger?

Enhancing New Yorkers' reputation of great people in times of trial (see 9/11), an armada of passenger ferries, water taxis and other boats came to the rescue, bringing the airliners' passengers on board and throwing life jackets, while emergency responders and divers ensured the safety and health of all involved. And just like David Letterman said in his first monologue after 9/11: "If you didn't believe it before, and it's easy to understand how you might have been skeptical on this point, if you didn't believe it before, you can absolutely believe it now... New York City is the greatest city in the world."

It's a wonderful story and we can celebrate that everyone came out okay. Well, except those poor geese that got sucked into the engines which caused the engines to stall, of course.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

But Don't Nutritionists Say To Eat Fish Once a Week?

Men's Health just posted its 20 Worst Foods in America List and I'm very excited to say that Long John Silver's, my favorite restaurant, didn't make the list. The article did note that there are a whole bunch of deceptively unhealthy "healthy" foods, with dishonorable mention to a Blimpie Veggie Supreme. What a double whammy it must be for people who eat barely palatable "healthy" food, only to realize that they're actually killing themselves. Suckers! At least I when I poison myself I'm completely aware that I'm doing so.

But to be fair, I decided to run my favorite Long John Silver's Combination Platter #3 (yes, I actually know the number from the scores of times I've ordered it) which gives you:

• 2 Battered Fish (actually, let's make it 3 since I always add a piece of fish)
• 8 Battered Shrimp
• French Fries
• Cole Slaw

... against some of the meals which made the nutrition hall of shame for 2009. The Long John Silver's website has a handy nutrition calculator which makes this fairly easy. As an aside, I must be the first person in the history of the website to actually use this nutrition calculator. If you're eating in a place that specializes in deep-fried food, why would you even bother? It's like offering non-alcoholic beer at a frat party or having a urinal in the women's rest room.

Okay, so here are the results. Let's compare it against three foods listed in the article and see how it fared:

Suburban Family Guy's Choice
Long John Silvers Combination Platter #3
1640 calories (better than the burger and shake)
101 g fat (23 g saturated fat) (better than the burger and shake)
4,470 mg sodium (better than the burger and shake)
130 g carbohydates

Worst "Healthy" Sandwich
Blimpie Veggie Supreme (12")
1,106 calories
56 g fat (33 g saturated fat)
2,831 mg sodium
96 g carbohydrates

Worst Burger
Chili’s Smokehouse Bacon Triple-The-Cheese Big Mouth Burger with Jalapeno Ranch Dressing
2,040 calories
150 g fat (53 g saturated)
110 g protein
4,900 mg sodium

The Worst Food of 2009
Baskin Robbins Large Chocolate Oreo Shake
2,600 calories
135 g fat (59 g saturated fat, 2.5 g trans fats)
263 g sugars
1,700 mg sodium

Okay, a couple of conclusions:
  1. I'm doing a good job of watching my saturated fat.
  2. My diet is NutriSystem-rific compared to the poor saps who are eating the Chili’s Smokehouse Bacon Triple-The-Cheese Big Mouth Burger with Jalapeno Ranch Dressing or the Baskin Robbins Large Chocolate Oreo Shake.
  3. I now know why after eating at Long John Silver's I wake up twice at night desperate for a glass of water.
  4. I'm glad that I can get Lipitor for free.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Scoundrel Wears Kevlar

Notorious fraudster Bernard Madoff was back in court today as federal prosecutors again tried to convince a judge to revoke Madoff's bail and place him in jail in light of Madoff's recent attempts to mail jewelry and possibly other assets to relatives. Despite this, a judge ruled that Madoff would remain under house arrest in his Manhattan penthouse.

Naturally, the public is out for blood, not to mention the large number of people who have lost vast sums of money - investments, retirement accounts, life savings - from a man who stole nearly $50 billion in an elaborate Ponzi scheme. There has been a human cost beyond the finances, as at least one individual who had lost more than $1 billion in clients' money commit suicide, apparently despondent over the losses. A number of charities were also victims of the fraud. The utter hatred towards this man has gotten to the point that Madoff wore a bulletproof vest in court.

I wonder what's going through his mind now? Fear? Remorse? Defiance? Denial? Here's a man who was respected and adored by hordes of people and especially revered by fellow Jews who were moved by his generosity. Today he's wearing a bulletproof vest made of Kevlar to defend against the viable threat that one of the many people who despise him would riddle his chest with .45 caliber rounds. He is persona non grata in his neighborhood, his city, and the world.

An article in Newsweek tackled the social implications around the Madoff fraud, specifically in terms of society's view toward those who are Jewish, and even toward Jewish views towards fellow Jews. For those who are anti-semetic, Madoff's actions perpetuated the stereotype of the Jewish "shyster" - a money-hungry scumbag who preys on honest and hard-working men. The wrinkle was that Madoff's victim's were largely Jewish - the movie producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, Yeshiva University, the Elie Wiesel Foundation and charities set up by the publisher Mortimer Zuckerman and the Hollywood director Steven Spielberg were among those were were victims of the fraud. For the anti-semite, this might lessen the venom as the scenario seemed less of a situation of "the unethical Jew ripping-off hard-working Christian men." But for those who are Jewish, this might make Madoff's crime even more despicable, as he robbed from "his own family" or as the author, Joseph Epstien noted, "making Madoff a truly equal-opportunity son of a bitch." Personally I think Madoff's Jewish faith will be played down, and rightfully so. God knows that there's no shortage of Gentiles who are absolute scoundrels. Madoff just happened to have a better network of victims.

What I also found interesting was Epstein's words around how one sociologist viewed various Christian denominations and how Jews followed suit:

Many years ago the sociologist E. Digby Baltzel distinguished among the Protestant sects by noting that a Methodist was a Baptist with shoes, a Presbyterian a Methodist who has gone to college, and an Episcopalian a Presbyterian who lives on his investments. That portion of wealthy Jews who have come to live on their investments began more and more to model their leisure and financial lives on those of old-line Episcopalians, with the added benefit of having Sunday mornings free.

I think that's pretty hilarious. Well, unless you're a Baptist who can't afford shoes.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Salute to a Great Man on and Off the Field

Happy trails and godspeed to Tony Dungy, now former coach of the Indianapolis Colts who announced his retirement yesterday. Yes, he had a remarkable record of getting his team into the playoffs, including his remarkable turnaroud of a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team which was the laughing stock of the National Football League. Yes, he has a Super Bowl ring, winning it all with the Indianapolis Colts in 2007. Yes, he hold a number of coaching records, including:
  • Most consecutive playoff seasons (10)
  • Most consecutive 12-win seasons (6)
  • Highest average of regular-season victories of any coach in league history (10.7)
But what captures the attention of most people is that this perennial winner is a man of integrity and deep Christian faith. Even the most cynical sports reporters, who roll their eyes at fast-living womanizing athletes who open every interview with "First I'd like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ...", can't help but see that this is a man who seriously walks the talk. He treated players and people with love and respect, and his service record off the field is commendable.

Tony Dungy won't have any problems in his next season of life because he understands that being a football coach is not his identity; being a follower of Jesus is. He understands that the chief end of man is not to seize the glory that comes along with trophies and championships; it is to glorify God. He will now devote time to his family and his ministries away from the strain of months of football. He is a man who was and will continue to be a great role model of what it means to live faithfully and to be salt and light to those around you.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Did He Get the Idea from Krusty the Clown?

In a bizarre piece of news, Marcus Schrenker, a suburban Indianapolis financial manager under investigation for securities fraud apparently attempted to fake his own disappearance or death in an airplane crash as a means of subterfuge. When the news broke yesterday, the word was that a pilot had called in a distress call after which authorities found the wreckage of a plane but no body. Later, it was discovered that the pilot had been picked up by police officers unaware of the distress call, checked into a hotel under a false name, and then skipped out.

At one point, I thought this was a Johnny Knoxville-ish Jackass stunt pulled out of boredom gone terribly awry. Then word came of the investigation for securities fraud and the whole thing started to make a little more sense.

I wonder if Schrenker got this idea from a Simpsons episode "Bart the Fink", where Krusty the Clown, in an attempt to dodge tax-evasion charges, fakes his own death in a nightime plane crash. Just another case where life imitates art.

A Man and His Mission in Mars (Hill)

There's a great article in the New York Times about bad-boy pastor Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church in Seattle, which is apparently raising eyebrows both inside and outside the evangelical communities. I have to admit that I found the article fascinating and my reactions to Driscoll oscillated from "Yeah! That's what talking about!" to "Dude, is that really necessary?" to "Man, someone seriously needs to take you behind the woodshed" and back. Unsurprisingly, the article talks about paradox on a number of levels, whether referring to Calvinism or Driscoll's own practice of faith and approach of "doing church".

Driscoll is a pastor who when asked about masturbation answers, "I had one guy quote Ecclesiastes 9:10, which says, ‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might." Now to be fair, he doesn't say that he condones the practice, and immediately warns the congregation of the dangers of lust. He's a pastor who swears like a sailor but fiercely embraces what many would call "conservative" doctrine. To call him unorthodox in terms of his preaching style and delivery would be an understatement.

What I like about Mark Driscoll is that he preaches and seems to live out fervently a doctrine which I also embrace, one which stresses the sovereignity of God. As mentioned in the article, "...Driscoll's theology means that his congregants' salvation is not in his hands. It's not in their own hands, either - this is the heart of Calvinism." It doesn't take a theologan to deduce in Whose hands salvation lies. Ah, the joy of the assurance of salvation. And you can't but laud how God has used Driscoll to "right" his congregants' view of God: Traditional evangelical theology falls apart in the face of real tragedy, says the 20-year-old Brett Harris... Reducing God to a projection of our own wishes trivializes divine sovereignty and fails to explain how both good and evil have a place in the divine plan. “There are plenty of comfortable people who can say, ‘God’s on my side,’ ” Harris says. “But they couldn’t turn around and say, ‘God gave me cancer.’ ”

I also can relate to Driscoll's antipathy towards to "me-centered" or "slick, program-driven" churches. He has led a church which eschews "positive thinking" quick thinking, instead focusing on the work of Christ and man's chief end to glorify God. He clearly wants to move away from the Joel Osteen and all-style, no-substance model, and I couldn't applaud that more.

But if you take the article at face value, you have to wonder a little about what seems like a disconcerting lack of humility and grace. The shunning of an elder who protested the consolidation of Driscoll's power? The suspension of a member who complained on an online message board? Preaching "they are sinning by questioning"?

And don't even get me started on Mark hating on Richard Simmons. What's up with that?

Molly Worthen, the writer of the article closes with an astute observation: the doctrine of total human depravity has always had a funny way of emboldening, rather than humbling, its adherents. Let's just pray that for our brother Mark Driscoll, the Lord emboldens him to preach Christ and the gospel of grace; but that the Lord would also bring Mark humility so that Christ, not Mark nor Mars Hill, is magnified.

Infidelity is Apparently a Lagging Indicator

If you want to get a regain your faith in the human spirit and the good of humanity... well, maybe reading this blog entry isn't for you. An infidelity website, has seen an explosion in membership during the last couple of months, some attributing the surge due to a struggling economy. The reasoning is that the bad economy brings out women who are looking for sugar daddies and men who are otherwise depressed about their shattered dreams at work. Yup, there's no better way than to regain your sense of dignity than to throw yourself into an illicit sexual relationship. That's right up there with vodka-fueled cocaine binge.

What can you say? It's terribly sad and if you read some of quotes by men who are using the service in the article, you can almost sense the hollowness of their rationale. It's fair to say that there's an element of that despair and vain attempt to find pleasure in every one of us, but I find even more mind-boggling and despicable is the rationale of providing such a service from the CEO. "We believe we save more marriages than we end," according to CEO Noel Biderman.

What I'd actually think would be a great concept is to have a crossover television show - "Cheaters Takes On Ashley Madison". For those of you unfamiliar with the show, Cheaters was a syndicated television program where unfaithful spouses were baited, "outed" by a camera crew, and confronted by a sanctimonious host. As you watched the guy run from the cameras and the host towards his pickup truck screaming, "That was my evil twin brother! This is all a misunderstanding!" you'd almost feel sorry for the guy... until you realized that he was just caught red-handed having an affair. But to have the Cheaters crew inflitrate Ashley Madison with the sole purpose of outing unfaithful husbands would be intriguing. True, the concept misses some of the key lessons in the account in John 7:53-8:11 of the woman caught in adultery, but I still say it's intriguing.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Slippery Slope Gets More Slippery

An article in today lauds the birth of a 'cancer-free' baby in London. The baby hasn't been given an in-vitro cocktail of super-vaccines nor is there a guarantee that the child won't be inflicted by certain forms of cancer later in life. In this case, the baby, a female, was screened as an embryo in a lab days after conception to check for the BRCA-1 gene, linked to breast and ovarian cancer.

Obviously, it's great that this baby is BRCA-1-free, as there's no apparent advantage to having this gene. What is disconcerting is what the course of action would have been taken if the BRCA-1 was indeed found to be present. Many parents may very well bringing the baby to term, recognizing that 20 to 50% of those with the gene never actually develop breast or ovarian cancer. Some parents might rashly decide to abort the child. What a tragedy it would be if people such as Shirley Temple, Sheryl Crow, Dorthy Hamill, Sandra Day O'Connor and Julia Child (all who lived with breast cancer) never were given a chance to live their lives and make their mark upon society because of a test which led to their eradication.

To be clear, I don't think the tests themselves are unethical, per se. What concerns me is what parents, humans who are prone to sin and poor judgment, will do with the results. When Sarah was pregnant with our first child Daniel, the obstetrician told us about a standard serum test which we could take which would test for Down Syndrome. We asked, "Why should we take this test?" and the obstetrician told us (in a way which I felt was gracious and thoughtful at the time) that parents may decide whether they want to take the baby to term or to end the pregnancy. Sarah and I decided to have the test, with the rationale that even though abortion not an option for us, we could make emotional and logistical preparations for a special-needs child sooner than later if need be. As it happened, Daniel didn't have Down Syndrome but he does have an odd habit of pulling his shirt up when he pees.

The other concern that I have is how this will become a slippery slope for parents who want a baby to specification and will terminate the pregnancy if their baby isn't "made to order" as if he or she was an omelette in a Denny's. If and when a test becomes available to see if a child will have asthma, will parents who dream of an NBA superstar abort the child? Before soon, we'll have testing of later-term unborn children who will be aborted simply because they don't happen to be the gender of choice for the expecting parents. Well, sadly, that's already old news.

Congrats to the Gators and a Fine Young Man

Congratulations to the University of Florida Gators for securing their 2nd college football championship in three years with a 24-14 victory over the Oklahoma Sooners in the BCS Championship Game. Not being a huge fan of either team, what did grab my interest was Tim Tebow, the quarterback of the Florida Gators.

Tebow, who won the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore (and was the first underclassman to do so), is not only a monster of a college football player, but is also a devout Christian and son of missionary parents. He spends time during his vacations working in the evangelistic center and orphanage his parents run in the Phillipines, and takes time to visit Florida prisons to share the gospel. Pat Forde, a columnist from, reminds fans to appreciate the Tim Tebow experience, because there aren't many who carry themselves the way that he does.

The article also mentions Tebow's admiration for Danny Wuerffel, another devout Christian who starred with Florida, won himself a Heisman Trophy, and as many analysts predicted (and as some predict of Tebow, as well), didn't have a huge impact at the NFL-level. Wuerffel, after a cup of coffee in the NFL, quit the game and went to work for Desire Street Ministries, which focuses on the spiritual and community development of impoverished neigborhoods in New Orleans. Tebow has been wonderful in carrying his faith in the spotlight. Should the Lord take him out of that spotlight someday, he still has a good role model in Danny Wuerffel - who kept the faith even as the glory and fame of NFL became a memory.

A little trivia about Tim Tebow and his family. Lauren, a friend of mine from church, actually knew the Tebow family in her childhood, and wrote in her blog of a memory of a little Tim Tebow playing with racecars and blocks in his room. That's very cool. Should I have any childhood memories of people who someday become famous, I will try to avoid the mischievous temptation of making up stories, telling people "I remember the time they defacated in the sandbox", or something similarly unflattering.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Letdown of Monumental Proportions and Props to an Asian Christian Brother

In what has to be one of the most dramatic turnarounds in college basketball history, the Boston College Golden Eagles followed their victory on the road versus the nationally top-ranked North Carolina team with a loss at home three days later... to Harvard University.

If you believe in the transitive property in college sports, it gets even better. Harvard beat Boston College. Boston College beat North Carolina. Therefore, Harvard would beat North Carolina. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The great thing about college sports is that on any given day, any team can upset another. But nobody could have seen this coming.

Harvard was buoyed by an unstoppable Jeremy Lin, who torched the Eagles' defense for 27 points on 11 for 16 shooting. Wait... the same defense that held all-American and possible NBA lottery pick Tyler Hansborough to 21 points on 6 for 15 shooting got lit up by Jeremy Lin? Wow, how about some props for great yellow hope Lin, who according to his bio, lists his interests as "spending time with family and friends, listening to music and going to church." So we're talking about a Taiwanese family-oriented Harvard-educated Christian young man who has some serious hoops skills. Jeremy, would you like to marry my daughter?

And congratulations to Harvard coach Tommy Amaker. You broke the hearts of Seton Hall fans by leaving for greener (money) pastures; you broke the hearts of Michigan fans with your terrible job of leading a team that never made the NCAA Tournament; but now you have your moment of triumph, hopefully not due to your shifty recruiting (goodness Tommy, it's Ivy League athletics!). At least you're climbing up the U.S. News and World Report college rankings.

Way to represent the Ivy League, Harvard. Usually when our schools play against top BCS conference-level competition, we're usually getting blown out by 20 points and relegated to heckling the opposition in unison, "That's all right, that's okay, you'll be working for us someday!"

Of course that's not really true. As UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma once said regarding rival Duke: ''There are just as many Duke graduates waiting on tables as there is from any other school in the country. They may just be working at a better restaurant.''

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Time To Dust Off that Resignation Letter

Great news, everyone. I've been contacted by a gentleman in London and have been handed a "can't miss" opportunity to make EIGHT MILLION POUNDS. Naturally, I rushed to my currency converter and found out that this TWELVE MILLION DOLLARS! Naturally, I probably won't get the full $12 million. It looks like I'll have to hand over my bank account information to my new friend John and he'll pass along the proceeds to me from our partnership. I can't wait! I've always been a big believer in entrepeneurship.

Whew! And to think I was actually going to work in order to pay the mortgage and my kids' college tuition like a sucker.

What do you think? Should I write back and express my interest? I'd be stupid not to.

From: Mr. John Commet
Sent: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 6:05:20 AM
Subject: From John

Good Day,

It’s my pleasure to contact you over this transaction and I hope for your assistance on this matter.

I discovered a dormant account in my office as a group director with a bank here in London ; presently the account is in an escrow account It will be of my interest to transfer this money worth Eight Million Pounds in an account offshore. If you can assist me in getting this money transferred out of London then invest with it and also establish partnership.

Contact me if you think you can handle such amount and kindly remember that this is very confidential.

I wait to hear from you.


John Commet

At Least Hideki Matsui Can Wrestle Him for the ROY Trophy

A report has the Yankees signing Ángel Berroa to a minor league contract to compete for a utility infielder role which was vacated when former can't miss prospect Wilson Betemit was traded to the White Sox in the Nick Swisher trade. If you don't remember Berroa (and nobody would blame you because the dude's playing ability probably could be classified as "borderline major leaguer" and he plays in that competitive baseball Siberia known as Kansas City), he has some Yankee notoriety as the guy who won the 2003 American League Rookie of the Year award over Hideki Matsui due to a couple of rogue writers unfairly left Matsui off the ballot in a dispute over eligibility. If Matsui's still bitter about this, I say lock the two of 'em in the manager's office and let them duke it out. One of them comes out with the trophy. Somehow I doubt that'll play out.

While we're on the topic of Yankees news, I have admit that I'm disappointed to hear that Andy Pettitte has apparently rejected the one year / $10 million offer. For someone who talks a great deal about how much it means for him to be a Yankee, I'm not sure why he would turn his nose at what I think is an extremely generous offer given his poor performance in the second half of last season (in which he clearly didn't earn his $16 million contract) and the way the Yankees stood by him publicly despite being left in the dark around his admitted abuse of human growth hormone (HGH). Add to that Pettitte's carrying of his Christian faith juxtaposed with his posturing making him look like just another greedy athlete with a sense of entitlement. Aside from reconsidering and taking the offer, I'm not sure how this will end up good for Pettitte, especially since I can't see any team in it's right mind giving him a better offer (I think $10 million is still $2 million too much given his elbow problems). If he goes to another team for less money, he's going to swallow his pride and people will question all his "I love being a Yankee" rhetoric. Does he have a abrupt and unceremonious retirement, due to his pride outgrowing his abilities like Bernie Williams did? With a rotation that starts with C.C., A.J., Wang and Joba, the Yankees can afford to see what Phil Hughes or Ian Kennedy can bring to the table. It looks like Pettitte really overplayed his hand. It's a shame.

I didn't get a chance to speak about the Mark Teixeira signing. Well, I love it. He's a switch-hitter who hits for average and power on both sides of the plate and brings Gold-Glove caliber defense to first base. He's not a wild and crazy nut-job like Manny Ramirez or even a party animal like Jason "party like a rock star, hammer like a porn star, hit like an All-Star" Giambi - instead there's this vanilla professionalism. Okay, so you can argue that he has a predator of an agent (Scott Boras) with whom he's happy to milk every last penny. Besides that, what's not to like? In addition, this is a guy that the Red Sox really wanted and could use.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Luxury Box Seats to a Rally

My eighth floor office oversees 3rd Avenue at 42nd Street, so I have a pretty nice view of the Israeli consulate. Given the recent conflict in Gaza between the Israel Defense Force and Hamas militants, I also had luxury box seats to a large rally below my window, where hundreds of people waved Israeli flags, sang songs, and gave speeches in support of Israel.

A few days ago, I had asked a politically-aware friend what his take on the recent conflict was, and he sort of shrugged and said, "What else is new?" I think the apparent repetitiveness of the conflict disturbs me. (1) Palestinians fire rockets or commit some variation of terror towards Israel, (2) Israel goes into the (Gaza or West Bank) and wreaks havoc killing militants and some civilians as collateral damage, (3) an uneasy cease-fire is reached, (4) repeat and rinse. You almost (I stress almost) might wish for an all out knock-down drag out war to establish a victor and a clear end-state of stability as opposed to what seems like meaningless skirmishes where hundreds die and no progress is made. So the question is: what exactly is the end game at least from the Israeli perspective?

An article in Newsweek provides a pretty bleak analysis of this. The columnist, John Barry, points out that the end of a war by either negotiation or decisive victory hasn't be attempted by either side, using the Iraq insurgency as an example of a much "stronger" resistance which the Palestinians are capable of executing but have opted not to do so and arguing that Israel's past military responses as restrained compared to its full potential as a nuclear-armed juggernaut. He then points out that neither side has "really committed itself to the painful compromises that a negotiated outcome would entail."

What Barry never really addresses is what would happen if, for example, Israel decides to pursue a decisive military victory because of their conviction that the Palestinians will never live up to any negotiated settlement. Or in other words, why fight towards an accord (as opposed to destroying the enemy to the point of incapacitation) which is never taken seriously or cannot be enforced due to the inability of the Palestinian Authority to control radicals who will stop nothing short of the extermination of Israel?

If Israel's present end game (as stated by a senior Israeli defense advisor) is "a military effort to crush Palestinian resistance for a generation" you can't help but feel conflicted. Nobody is in favor of war, but nobody could be in favor of an illusion of peace which doesn't really exist.

Monday, January 5, 2009

I Think Daniel and I Will Stick With Hide & Seek

Recently, a father and son were charged with stealing gravestones from a monument company in suburban Albany, New York. I'm all for bonding experiences which cement the father-son bond, but committing felonies together is something that I'm probably going to pass on.

I have to admit that there's a certain rush and sense of bonding when you join someone in a bit of mischief. Come on, who won't admit that there was a little camaraderie developed in younger and wilder days when you played "ring and run" with your buddies or sat around making prank phone calls (in a pre-Caller ID world)? I'm sure there's a social experiment that vouches for this. I mean, not that I ever did such stupid things, of course.

So maybe Daniel and I aren't completely above an occasional brush with authority. On occassion, Daniel and I will be watching cartoons, I'll see Sarah pull into the driveway and I'll turn to Daniel and say, "Mommy's home! Hurry up and turn off the television or we'll both be in trouble!" at which point Daniel will jump off the couch, run over and turn off the television and jump back on the couch and open a book. Yes, a pair of wild and crazy rebels we are.

The Stigma of Political Conservatism

A recent article on detailed how conservatives in Hollywood are being encouraged to "come out of the closet". It's unfortunate that in our democracy that there's so much fear of repercussion to voice dissenting ideas, and it's pervasive in all environments. Progressives in conservative regions of the company likely feel that they need to silently smile uneasily when "liberal-bashing" arises in the same way that conservatives quietly shuffle their feet when a group of people make jokes about the idiocy and doom of conservative ideals.

In the article, Jerry Molen, the Oscar-winning producer of big Hollywood hits like "Schindler's List," "Jurassic Park" and "Rain Man" states "In too many cases, conservatives are immediately labeled racist, homophobic, bigoted, hateful, demonic, or even un-American without the benefit of debate, and are locked out of the hiring process, with a few exceptions."

I'm sympathetic. Try being a socially conservative Christian working in New York City and living in a nearby suburb. Even within the church, I suspect that there's fear of expressing or pressure to hold certain political ideologies, though I think my own church tends to be fairly diverse politically. I know this for a fact, as we've had political panel discussions in which I've strongly disagreed with one of our members - but importantly, there was some open dialogue and debate. As Voltaire said, "I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

We claim to be a country which embraces diversity of ideas, but in practice, even those who claim to value diversity seem to be selective in embracing certain diverse ideas over others.

But if perceived anti-conservative bias in Hollywood really bothers you, go out and rent "Team American: World Police" (unless you're easily offended) or "An American Carol". If you're on the other side of the political fence, cuddle up on the couch and catch "Lions for Lambs". As for me, I'll be happy watching "The Karate Kid" for the thirty-fourth time.

Pastors and Evangelists - Isn't Rick Warren Both?

There's an interesting article in Newsweek about how Pastor Rick Warren is not and will not be the next Billy Graham. Much of this is in the midst of hand-wringing from the political left around Pastor Warren's invitation to give the ivocation at Barack Obama's inauguration despite Warren's support of Proposition 8, the successful California initiative banning gay marriage and his strong words condemning both abortion and the "safe, legal and rare"-mantra which is often spewed by pro-choicers. I was impressed and surprised somewhat by Pastor Warren's courage and conviction to speak frankly about positions which may very well spend much of the "political capital" which was gained from his burgeoning reputation as a warm-and-fuzzy Christian nice guy which everyone on the political spectrum can love. Well, it was nice while it lasted.

Interestingly, the article draws a distinction between the role of a pastor and evangelist, drawing from a conversation between Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham: "There is no question that your role and mine are opposites," Falwell told Graham. "You are an evangelist, I am a pastor. I have prophetic responsibilities that you do not have." What seems to be implied, at least in the article, is that the evangelist is focused on saving souls for the afterlife while a pastor is primarily focused on engaging the culture in this world.

With due respect to Reverend Falwell and perhaps not completely understanding the context, I'm not sure sure I agree with such a distinction. I don't necessarily think Pastor Warren does either. His own chief of staff says: "His calling is as a paramedic—not a policeman—for the Kingdom of God, to preach the good news of grace, assist the poor and care for the sick." The role of a pastor requires him to be an evangelist. Does the role of an evangelist require him to be a pastor as well?

What does it mean when Jesus says, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel?" What does the coming of the Kingdom of God mean in terms of what needs to be preached? Repentence is certainly paramount, but there also are necessary implications that flow out of this. In other words, if the evangelist is to preach the coming of the Kingdom - does the charge to respond go beyond a matter of personal repentance and salvation?

Consider something my pastor once wrote in my Elder examination in response to one of my answers: "Actually the kingdom of God is not exclusively a spiritual realm—and this is pretty important for understanding the gospel in its fullest meaning. “Kingdom” is not a place but an action—which has led many theologians to describe the kdm of God as the “rule [not the realm] of God through his Messiah.” And since the Messiah is the second Adam who has come to reverse the fall in all of its aspects and manifestations, then the kingdom of God shows up wherever King Jesus manifests the values of his kingdom. It shows up in beautiful music, in acts of justice, in the decisions of a company to treat its employees well, in the acts of dependent prayer of God’s people, and so forth. The concept of the kingdom is why we are wholistic in our vision as a church. The rule of Christ at the moment is not always acknowledged as such—but we have the inside scoop and we know that he is at work, often despite people’s intentions. Look at the opening statement in the lesson on God’s judgment in the church and you will see how wide the concept of the kingdom is."

Finally, a word on the last paragraph on the article, which states that President Obama needs a Billy Graham-type who will pray for God's insight and compassion. That Pastor Warren holds views contrary to some in Obama's circle and Obama himself doesn't disqualify him for that role. I'd like to think that President Obama can count on Pastor Warren's prayer for both of those things - as well as the prayers of many others.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Playing Games with Family and Friends

I had a fantastic day of games and fun yesterday - first with my kids and then with some of my friends.

With Daniel was off on a playdate and Sarah doing some errands, I played an impromptu game of hide and seek with Sophia. Well, it wasn't really hide and seek, but rather a game in which I would run to one side of our first floor and hide in a corner while Sophia would waddle over and "find" me, laughing hysterically. Then I'd scamper away to the other end of the house and hide in another corner, Sophia would waddle over and "find" me, laughing hysterically, and we'd repeat the cycle over and over. We did about fifteen times, and Sophia never lost enthusiasm for our little game. Later on, Daniel came home and joined us and I made the game a little more advanced by throwing a blanket over my head while sitting on the couch (the kids gleefully found me anyway). As Sophia was getting a bath, I played a "memory" card game with Daniel. Fun stuff.

Later on that evening, I celebrated my birthday (a week after the fact) with some friends at Dave & Buster's in Times Square. It was a fun time of food, drink and a couple of rounds of games and trivia. A friend slapped me on the back and told me that in light of the turnout (we had around sixteen or so folks that showed up) that I was loved. I'm indeed blessed not so much by the number of people who I count as friends who also were kind enough to attend, but because of who the people who I am so honored to have as friends. And we also kicked tail in Super Trivia to boot.

Amazing Grace... Demonstrated by the NFL Establishment

I couldn't help but see that Matt Millen was in the NBC Sports studio along with Bob Costas and Jerome Bettis to provide commentary at halftime and postgame for the Falcolns vs. Cardinals playoff game. My goodness. Matt Millen? Are you kidding me?

For those of you who aren't sports fans, this is akin to having Bernard Madoff on as a guest commentator on a CNBC special on "investing to win", hiring Elizabeth Taylor as your marriage counselor or having Britney Spears as a parental advisor on Supernanny. It's absolutely mind-boggling.

There's a website developed by Detroit Lions fans dedicated to the removal of Millen which outlines his less-than-stellar record. Mark Schlereth, an ESPN analyst and one time teammate of Matt Millen said said of Millen's work for the Lions: "It may be the worst personnel job in the history of the National Football League," Schlereth said. "He was horrible. Matt was -- I mean, it was absolute garbage." NFL executives had privately conceded that Millen "has made more bad draft decisions than anyone else in two centuries." Millen was the 2nd highest paid general manager in the league, and led the Lions to the worst eight-year record in the NFL (31-97) since World War II, punctuated by an 0-16 season this year. Not exactly the sort of reputation and resume that screams "expert commentator".

But somehow he got a plush gig pontificating as a commentator on NBC. Wow - there are churches that show less forgiveness (or disregard) for past sins than the NFL, where coaches and players with terrible records on and off the field continue to be recycled for jobs. I'm not sure if that speaks to how ungracious Christians can be, or how stupid the league is. Maybe both.

A Tri-Generational Day Trip

With a couple more free days of vacation to burn before returning to work, I thought I'd spend a little quality time with Daniel and do a little day trip into the city. At the suggestion of my wife, I decided to also invite my father to tag along. I called my dad and extended the invitation, and he initially declined, telling me that he had to run some errands with my mother.

About five minutes later, I received a phone call from my mom telling me that she thought that it would be a great idea if my father went with Daniel and me (i.e. please get your father out of my hair). Lest I pick on my poor father, Sarah also encouraged us to stay in the city through dinner. Hmm... you think the women were interested in getting the men out of the house?

Our plan was to go to the MTA Transit Museum in Brooklyn, which seemed like a slam dunk for Daniel to enjoy. Three generation of Kuo men got onto the NJ Transit train in Millburn and made our way to the city in a train that was actually quite full of families who were presumably doing some holiday week city visiting as well. Daniel, as always, loved the train ride, and my father continued to rave about the convenience of the commuter train. We caught up on some small talk about family friends and such while Daniel stared out the window, thoroughly enjoying his train ride.

The museum wasn't bad. It detailed some history of the development of the New York City subway as well as tunnels and bridges in the area. The museum itself is actually a retired subway station, and on the tracks are vintage subway cars. We walked through multiple generations of subways cars, going back to 1906, and then had a chance to other exhibits around buses and reduced emission vehicles. Daniel, however, was quite disappointed as he had anticipated seeing more trains (not just subway cars) and working models as we had in our previous visit to a train museum in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. His disappointment was somewhat assuaged when we had an opportunity to ride on one of the new double-decker NJ Transit double-decker trains on the way home.

What I appreciated most was the chance to spend quality time with my son and my father. I think my relationship with my dad has actually improved a great deal (despite some typical first-generation Asian father foibles, one of which I related in a previous blog), and I think there's a number of reasons for this.

For one, being a father of a son has given me an appreciation for the difficulty for being a dad. I think my father also sees my parenting and things well of my efforts. By the grace of God, we're also both changing and I think our shared love and affection for Daniel, which was evident on this day trip, also has helped our relationship. Seeing my father's kindness and encouragement towards Daniel could tempt me to resentfully wonder why such tenderness was rarely given to me as a child, but it doesn't bother me in the least. I believe that (1) the relationship of a grandfather is much different than a dad and (2) my father might very well be a better grandfather than father, and that's okay to me. I'm extremely grateful and happy of his affinity towards my son, and I know that this has been a win-win-win for all of us.