Just got word that some devotional-y type things I wrote way back in 2006 have finally been compiled with some other authors' devotional-y type things and been released as a book entitled Set Apart: Devotions of God's Steadfast Pursuit of You. Honestly, I'd forgotten I'd even done the project, but now it's here, and if you want to check it out, I'd be happy with that.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Just read a fascinating (but lengthy) article about one man's investigation into the American healthcare/health insurance system after his father died from an infection he contracted while in the hospital. It's by David Goldhill and it has the low-key and subtle title "How American Health Care Killed My Father." Not sure I agree with all his solutions in the end (the last thing Americans need is more credit), but he brought up several points I haven't heard in the whole healthcare debate. Of course, I'm listening to the debate from the other side of the world, so I'm not as immersed as my American readers.
Anyway, let me whet your appetite with this:
The average insured American and the average uninsured American spend very similar amounts of their own money on health care each year—$654 and $583, respectively. But they spend wildly different amounts of other people’s money—$3,809 and $1,103, respectively. Sometimes the uninsured do not get highly beneficial treatments because they cannot afford them at today’s prices—something any reform must address. But likewise, insured patients often get only marginally beneficial (or even outright unnecessary) care at mind-boggling cost. If it’s true that the insurance system leads us to focus on only our direct share of costs—rather than the total cost to society—it’s not surprising that insured families and uninsured ones would make similar decisions as to how much of their own money to spend on care, but very different decisions on the total amount to consume.
The unfortunate fact is, health-care demand has no natural limit. Our society will always keep creating new treatments to cure previously incurable problems. Some of these will save lives or add productive years to them; many will simply make us more comfortable. That’s all to the good. But the cost of this comfort, and whether it’s really worthwhile, is never calculated—by anyone. For almost all our health-care needs, the current system allows us as consumers to ask providers, “What’s my share?” instead of “How much does this cost?”—a question we ask before buying any other good or service. And the subtle difference between those two questions is costing us all a fortune.
Click here to read the whole thing.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Did you know my wife Michelle possesses a hidden talent? In addition to her amazing gifts as a mother and wife, as well as her God-given proclivities for music, she is also, quite secretly, living a double life as a puppet!
Take, for example, the cover of this new DVD, from the extremely creative and fun kids' show Pahappahooey Island. No, Michelle does not live a double life as Joyce Meyer. But she does look astonishingly like that little girl puppet, who goes by the name of Ali Merryweather. That's because Michelle provides Ali's voice on the show. Isn't that fun? [Note: Any coincidence between the look of the puppet and Michelle's actual features are purely coincidental, as the puppet was created well before Michelle was ever cast as her voice. End note.]
Why are we telling you this? Why are we suddenly spilling the beans and exposing Michelle's puppet secret? Because the latest DVD of Pahappahooey Island was just released in stores all over the United States, and we want you to buy it.
For starters, this DVD is currently available in Wal-Mart stores, which is a huge deal for the producers of the show. Landing your stuff in Wal-Mart with primo positioning is always a major coup. But it's a coup that comes with caveats, and this one is no different. Basically, they have to move 10% of the stock in the first week or Wal-Mart will yank the remaining stock and send it all back.
That would not be good.
Anyway, if you're so inclined, we would sure appreciate it if you made your way to a local retailer and purchased "What About Me?" the newest episode of Pahappahooey Island. Yes, we helped make it, but that's not the only reason you should get it. It's actually a fun, exciting, and memorable story your kids will love. Honest. And they'll learn a little something about the nature of selflessness along the way. What's not to like?
If you would like to purchase this fine DVD presentation online, you can do so via:
If you want to know more about the show, visit the following:
the official Pahappahooey Island website
A nifty video review of the show
A nifty written review of the show
[Extra note: I may or may not provide the voice for a character or two. You'll never know. Personally, I am not yet ready to give up my double life.]
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Since I started talking about my adoption a long, long time ago here on this site, I thought you'd appreciate an update, which is now available over at One Roof | Africa.
If you want to track back over all the adoptive past, please read my old Dregs posts about it or read my family's story over at One Roof.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Does it make me a dork that I laughed at this April Fool's joke, borrowed from the folks at NASA? It's the last sentence that did me in.
First, a new truss was added. Then, new solar panels were installed. Now, as part of the planned upgrade of the International Space Station, an Expedition 18 astronaut has upgraded her own head. The Human Extended Analog Device 9000 was attached with only minor delays, making the astronaut's remaining spacewalks over 40 percent more efficient. With the HEAD 9000 attached, an astronaut can now directly access 4 Gigabytes of computer flash memory with their own brain, perform complex mathematics by "directed thinking", and play a pre-installed game of Tetris at no additional charge. Happy April Fools' Day from the folks at APOD. In reality, the space shuttle Discovery's mission to upgrade the International Space Station ended Saturday after upgrading only the space station. The above image of astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper handling the box-like Nitrogen Tank Assembly was actually taken last November. For some reason, however, Astronaut Stefanyshyn-Piper can now factor 11 digit prime numbers in her head.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Since I now live in Africa, I have a lot of time for reading. Since I knew I'd have a lot of time for reading before I moved here, I brought a lot of really good books I'm hoping to revisit. Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco, for example. And my good translation of The Brothers Karamazov. And a couple of Michael Chabon books (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and The Yiddish Policemen's Union, if you must know).
But the one I've been itching to get back to is the best piece of modern fiction I've read in the last decade, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I'm halfway through, and finding it to be even better than the first time I read it. It's one of those books that benefits immensely from the reader having previous knowledge of how it will turn out, like when you go back and watch old episodes of "Lost." Susanna Clarke is dazzling in her use of foreshadowing and in the way she uses scenes way in advance to set up critical plot points.
All that to say, I know many people who started to read the book and then gave up on it. I don't blame them. It's daunting in its size (my first US edition hardcover is 782 pages), its scope (so many characters to keep track of), and its style (feels old-school Jane Austen-ish, complete with footnotes [which are critical to the story]). But with no risk, there is no reward, and I think if you're on this blog, you're the type of person who would enjoy reading a thorough, well-thought-out, enriching piece of fiction.
You can thank me later.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
[Breaking down the media I know the least about: television. My #1 and #5 shows are the only ones I watch with any sort of regularity--everything else is more based on a few episodes I've seen and reputation alone.]
TOP FIVE TELEVISION PROGRAMS
1) "Lost" [The jury's out, because there are still two seasons to go and it could suddenly suck, but this will likely go down as my favorite TV show ever. Episode 5, "The Constant," was the finest hour of scripted television in 2008.]
2) "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart"/"The Colbert Report" [All the news you need to know. Insightful, intelligent, and featuring guests who actually know what they're talking about.]
3) "30 Rock" [Manages to strike the fine balance between smart and dumb like no other show. Watch the episode where Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin go to her high school reunion and see what I mean.]
4) 2008 Summer Olympics [Loved the actual events; hated all the talk of Michael Phelps's crazy diet and the underage Chinese gymnasts.]
5) "Lost" [I don't have cable, and network TV is a cesspool of bad. It was either list "Lost" again or go with my other standby, "Seinfeld" reruns.]
The "Mark Wahlberg Talks to Animals" sketch on Saturday Night Live. This is even funnier if you mentally insert, say, "Hey, chicken. A lot of people wanna eat you, but I just wanna talk to you!" into the dialogue as you watch The Happening.
2008 Election coverage. The 24-hour cable news cycle is killing America, as evidenced by the dumber-than-dumb "stories" that came out of this election [many of which were brilliantly eviscerated by Stewart, Colbert, and their collective writing staffs].
"American Idol." [I have no words, only disdain. I lasted an entire season of this show without watching even a nanosecond of it, and I still can't stand it.]
[The media review rambles on into the all-digital musical fray.]
BEST ALBUM OF THE YEAR (AND BY "ALBUM" I MEAN "COLLECTION OF WORK" AND NOT "LONG-PLAYING VINYL RECORD." THOSE ARE CALLED "LPs")
5) Between Here & There, Brad Kahler [He took the old hymn "I Need Thee" and rearranged it perfectly. This is good singer/songwriter stuff, along the lines of Damien Rice, Vigilantes of Love/Bill Mallonee, or Elliott Smith.]
4) Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust, Sigur Ros [They managed to take the elfin mumble in a new direction. Way to go, you crazy Icelanders. Not so crazy about the cover.]
3) All I Intended to Be, Emmylou Harris [Contains the song of the year for me, "Gold," featuring, of all people, Dolly Parton. I hate country, but I love this. Emmylou's fragile voice is medicinal.]
2) Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes [The best music ever created by homeless loggers. Okay, maybe "Blue Ridge Mountains" is my song of the year.]
1) Revep, Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto [I should admit: I'm incredibly tired of regular ol' music. I'm seeing everyone else's top picks, and none of them excite me. Instead, I'm inexplicably hitting 'repeat' on my iTunes over this three-song EP by a couple of Japanese guys. One's a classical minimal pianist; one's an electronic genius. Sounds like a '50s sitcom setup, but instead, they create the most spacious, delicious music. It's only three bucks on iTunes. Buy it and thank me later.]
OTHER GOOD STUFF
Snow Angels, Over the Rhine [Typically great. I discovered it the day after Christmas, and, though it's a Christmas album, it's been in heavy rotation ever since. I can't wait to play it next Christmas.]
Volume One, She & Him [Zooey Deschanel's voice gets annoying after prolonged exposure, but it's fun for an occasional listen.]
'There Will Be Blood' Soundtrack, Jonny Greenwood [Some of the best orchestral stuff I've heard in years. Hands down. The movie is great already, but the soundtrack stands on its own strength as great music.]
'Slumdog Millionaire' Soundtrack, A.R. Rahman and a crapload of other people [I think I might like music from India. It's blatantly cheesy at times, but there's something about it that draws me in.]
"Wild International," One Day As A Lion [This band is best enjoyed in single form. I loved this song, but the novelty wears thin on the other songs.]
BEST VIDEO I SAW
"Pork & Beans," Weezer [Great video, great message in the song, great melody, and Rivers hugging the "leave Britney alone" guy. Hilarity.]
I have no time to discover terrible music. I heard plenty of it, but have no idea who it was. Didn't Britney Spears put out some crummy single this year?
Monday, January 26, 2009
[The Media Review continues with the celluloid arts. If you haven't seen the movie mentioned, the link will take you to a trailer for it. How fun!]
MY TOP FIVE MOTION PICTURES OF 2008
5) The Dark Knight [The script has far too many problems to make this a great, great movie, but it was still a fine and entertaining motion picture nonetheless. It certainly lived up to my expectations.]
4) Slumdog Millionaire [The coincidences tilted it into the realm of fable, but this movie has so many wonderful moments. I cannot stop imitating the host. "Who Wants to Be... a Millunaire."]
3) WALL-E [There's something about act three that gets on my nerves. I can't put my finger on it, but it's too small a thing to make me forget the sheer poetry of the first two acts. I can't believe Disney and Pixar put this much money behind an art film.]
2) Doubt [An incredible script, actors who know when to be subtle and when to chew scenery, and a director who didn't get in the way of his genius DP. Michelle and I are still arguing over what really happened. I love that type of ambiguity.]
1) The Fall [Visually stunning, complex and heartbreaking characters, cleverly and imaginatively written, and I'm the only person I know who's seen it, thanks to the studio's complete inability to market this movie. Someone please see this movie so I can discuss it!]
MIGHT'VE MADE THE LIST IF I'D SEEN IT
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
GOOD ENOUGH FOR TOP FIVE CONSIDERATION; WOULD'VE MADE THE LIST IF IT WAS A TOP TEN; PRESENTED IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
The Band's Visit [A marvelous fable from Israel. I wish I understood the simmering conflict between Israelis and Egyptians better, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the picture.]
Chop Shop [Kids like Alejandro are the reason Michelle and I are adopting. This may have the best opening sequence from any film in 2008.]
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days [Heartbreaking. Absolutely heartbreaking. Though this movie's subject matter would suggest otherwise, I find it to be strongly pro-life. But it is a difficult, difficult film to watch.]
Cloverfield [No, really. It's really good.]
Transsiberian [Hitchcock is alive and well, and casting Woody Harrelson in roles where he doesn't get on my nerves.]
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
5) Young at Heart [Old people singing rock songs. What's not to love? Will make you rethink the way you listen to "Fix You." I dare you to watch the trailer and not immediately want to see this.]
4) Standard Operating Procedure [It's not about the Abu-Ghraib scandal--it's about the photographs of the Abu-Ghraib scandal. Errol Morris knows what he's doing, people. Can't believe this didn't get nominated for an Oscar. Not for kids.]
3) Encounters at the End of the World [Werner Herzog's documentary about the personalities that inhabit Antarctica is like a jazz musician riffing. Kind of pointless, kind of hard to follow, but still genius.]
2) War|Dance [Very much not the typical pity-the-poor-African-orphan documentary.]
1) Man on Wire [Exhilarating storytelling, even though you know how it's all going to pan out.]
BEST MOVIE FROM A PREVIOUS YEAR
Citizen Kane (1941) [Finally watched this for the first time, and now I understand what all the hype is about.]
BEST MOVIE WITH THE WORST TITLE
In Bruges [I watched this on a plane flying from London to Chicago, and it blew my socks off. Completely profane and entirely too bloody, but smack-you-on-the-head good in the plot/character department.]
FAR, FAR BETTER THAN THEY HAD ANY RIGHT TO BE
Kung Fu Panda
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
City of Ember
I thought about leaving Transformers on here, because it was bad enough to cover two years (certainly worse than Speed Racer or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), but then I remembered I watched The Happening, which really is as bad as they say. Especially when they get to that farmhouse with the old lady. "Why you eyein' my lemon drink?" will go down as one of the greatest bad lines ever written, spoken, or to have a spooky music cue afterward.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
[As you may have remembered from last year, some friends and I run down our personal favorites in media every year around this time. Last year's favorites can be found here, here, here, and here. And now, on to 2008's best, starting with my dearest love, the printed word:]
TOP 5 BOOKS OF 2008
5) Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America, Steven Waldman [Finally, an objective look at what the "founding fathers" really believed. Their religious beliefs often get tossed around as this unanimous thing, but, as you may have expected, it isn't quite that easy. For some reason, this book is now reissued as a paperback with a different subtitle: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty.]
4) Obsessive Branding Disorder: The Illusion of Business and the Business of Illusion, Lucas Conley [Fascinating and easy-to-digest treatise on the long and sticky fingers of modern advertising. Those in marketing would do well to check it out.]
3) Maps & Legends, Michael Chabon [Our generation's most lyrical writer tackles the non-fiction essay. The first paragraph of the first essay, "Trickster in a Suit of Lights" should be required reading for all aspiring authors.]
2) More Information Than You Require, John Hodgman [The delightfully bizarre follow-up to The Areas of My Expertise, a book which I also read in 2008. I will forever be indebted to Hodgman (aka "PC" on the Get A Mac commercials) for his extensive histories on hoboes, molemen, and the short essay, "When Writing, Avoid These Failed Palindromes."]
1) Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, N.T. Wright [This book completely changed the way I look at my faith. Probably the most influential thing I've read since The Ragamuffin Gospel. I cannot recommend this book enough--it is by far my #1 book of the year; maybe this decade.]
BEST BOOK FROM A PREVIOUS YEAR
Gates of Fire, Steven Pressfield (1998) [Forget the slick crapfest that was 300 (both the book and movie versions) and read this instead for a more visceral, more accurate account of the Battle of Thermopylae.]
EXTRA BONUS PICKS THAT WERE REALLY GOOD, BUT NOT GREAT
When You Are Engulfed in Flames, David Sedaris [He's still funny, but since he's famous, he's just not as insightful as he used to be. Still, there are some very interesting thoughts in here on mortality.]
Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life, Steve Martin [The rise and planned fall of Steve Martin's innovative stand-up routine. Hard to believe the star of the forthcoming The Pink Panther 2 is this good of a writer.]
Half-Life/Die Already: How I Died and Lived to Tell About It, Mark Steele [I'm not just saying this because he's my friend--it really is a good book.]
Secrets of the 2008 Campaign, The editors of Newsweek magazine [Not technically a book, but their extensive behind-the-scenes breakdown of the campaigns after-the-fact was exponentially more insightful than any of the "news" stories we saw during the actual campaign.]
MIGHT'VE MADE THE LIST IF I'D BEEN ABLE TO FINISH IT BEFORE IT WAS DUE AT THE LIBRARY
Jesus for President, Shane Claiborne
Out of Mao's Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China, Philip Pan
The Carbon Age: How Life's Core Element Has Become Civilization's Greatest Threat, Eric Roston
The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran, Hooman Majd
The Wordy Shipmates, Sarah Vowell
BOOK THAT SHOULD'VE BEEN ON EVERYONE ELSE'S LIST
The High School Survival Guide: Making the Most of the Best Time of Your Life (So Far), Adam Palmer [Unless something crazy happens, I won't have a book to put in this category next year. Sniffle.]
Me of Little Faith, Lewis Black and Why We Suck, Denis Leary [Both of these chaps purport to be "funny" and "observant," but neither of their books is either. Shallow, trite, and stupid, both of these guys beat comedic horses that died long, long ago. I swear I heard some of these jokes around the time Jay Leno took over for Johnny Carson. I gladly put both of these books down the library's return chute very early on, but at the rate the authors were going, I knew it would only be a matter of time before they cracked wise about John Wayne Bobbitt.]
The Shack, William P. Young [Throw aside the theological controversy: this thing is terribly written and is in major need of an editor. I read the third edition and caught typographical errors. In the third printing. But beyond that, the story is thin, manipulative, narcissistic, and indicative of the modern church's focus on self-help and utter disregard for historical perspective on faith.]
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
"Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back, nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."
Full text here.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
I found a piece in my favorite weekly column that addresses two of my big button-pushing cultural issues: excessive hyperbole and general government buffoonery. We all know the gummint do take a bite, but when we talk about it, can we please use perspective and context? Otherwise, we run the risk of running useful words into the ground, and then there will be no more words to take their places.
Barack Obama... said last week the recession may last "years and years" unless Congress votes him fantastic new spending power. The recession is unlikely to last "years and years" even if Congress does nothing: The late-1970s and early-1990s recessions ended on their own without dramatic legislation. But presidents love crises -- famously, Bill Clinton lamented that he never got to preside over a war. The economic situation is "a crisis unlike any we have seen in our lifetime," Obama declared at George Mason University. Really! Unlike Sept. 11, unlike the 1980s crime wave, unlike the 1960s civil-rights riots and murders? To me the current recession resembles the early 1990s recession, which was also triggered partly by mortgage-based financial fraud (in that case the S&L meltdown), which also caused credit and investment markets across the United States and European Union to seize up, which also was accompanied by a stock swoon (about 30 percent, only somewhat worse than the current swoon) and which also brought about deflation in the housing market. But who remembers 1991? That's ancient history. Wasn't Augustus the Emperor in 1991?
Presidents love to proclaim things are worse than they seem, because this can be used to justify the awarding of extra presidential power. Just after George W. Bush took office, in the winter of 2001, he proclaimed an "energy crisis" and demanded sweeping new powers from Congress. Petroleum and electricity-generating capacity should have run out by now based on Dick Cheney's 2001 statements. In the spring of 2001, a U.S. military plane collided with a Chinese jet and crash-landed in China; this was declared a crisis and said to justify new White House powers. Sadly, on 9/11, an actual crisis occurred. Next, Bush declared a crisis of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and asked Congress for extraordinary powers to invade a nation that did not appear to pose any threat to the United States. Then terrorists within the country were said to be a crisis, said to justify board expansion of presidential powers including warrantless wiretapping of American citizens and the holding of prisoners without charges. When gas pump prices hit $4 a gallon in the winter of 2008, Bush called that a crisis and asked for additional powers. When financial markets froze in the autumn of 2008, Bush immediately asked for $700 billion to spend without congressional oversight. Presidents love to cry crisis and then ask for extra power and extra money outside normal channels of accountability.
Obama hasn't even been sworn in, and already seems susceptible to the desire to proclaim a crisis. "A bad situation could become dramatically worse," the president-elect said of the economy last week. This seems exactly what a president-elect should not be saying -- there's a lot of self-fulfilling prophecy in business. But such comments sync with the practice of presidents describing situations as much worse than they actually are, in order to justify more presidential authority. The moment the economy resumes ticking upward, expect President Obama to tell us there is a shocking super-ultra global warming crisis that justifies expanded presidential powers and extraordinary spending programs. (Climate change is a genuine problem, but no crisis.)
The news media like the sense of crisis, because it keeps viewers glued to TV news and nervously scanning newspapers. Part of the downward psychology of the recession is that journalists are using the most negative language possible -- "SALES PLUMMETED 2.2%" is an actual headline from last week's New York Times economic coverage -- while demonstrating no sense of history or proportion. The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show 7.2 percent unemployment. That is a serious concern, yet was presented by the media as an unprecedented calamity -- in 1991, unemployment was 11 percent. Even with 2.6 million jobs lost in 2008, obviously a disturbing number, there are more people employed right now than five years ago, since overall, employment grew in that period. The civilian labor force did not even decline in December -- read the fine print. Unemployment rose because jobs did not keep pace with population growth. This kind of perspective is utterly missing from media coverage, since news organizations perceive a self-interest in making the situation sound worse.
Members of Congress of both parties like the sense of crisis, whether real or imagined: it gives them excuses to take money away from average people and hand bags of gold to favorites and interest groups, who repay the representatives and senators with campaign donations. The extent to which members of Congress have a financial incentive to tax the average and confer money on political favorites would I think shock the Framers, who did not anticipate the corrupting impact of campaign donations, because campaigning in their time entailed giving speeches in town halls.
You might think: Washington is full of somber experts and urbane talking heads, why don't they warn presidents not to declare crises? Institutional Washington loves the sense of crisis, because this makes institutional Washington feel important. Lobbyists, think tank fellows, news-channel figures, government officials and Washington pundits all become more significant when there is a sense of national peril -- plus, they get to strut around projecting gravitas. If things are basically fine, why give extra attention, to say nothing of extra money, to institutional Washington?
Thursday, January 1, 2009
One of the many, many side benefits that comes from moving your entire family to Uganda to adopt a child (which I'm doing, if you didn't already know), is that Jinja's lack of light pollution (the entire town pretty much goes dark when the sun goes down) means I will be able to be free to pursue one of my favorite pastimes: stargazing.
I love space. In fact, I'm such a dork, I have NASA's "Astronomy Picture of the Day" website bookmarked, and I check it every day (Yes, my gmail account, CNN.com, and the APOD are my three daily stops on the internet). I don't understand a lot of the technical stuff about space, and I'm having difficulty reconciling scientific estimates of the age of the universe with my evangelical Christian upbringing, but there's just something about looking upward that causes me to look inward.
It's comforting, oddly enough, to think that all this crazy stuff is going on out there, far away from my travails and triumphs, and simultaneously realize that I'm both very, very small and very, very loved.
2009 is the International Year of Astronomy. Take some time over the next 365 nights to look up and wonder.