Monday, October 16

James Baker on Civility


Bill King, the former Mayor of Kemah, Texas, and well regarded public policy expert shared this speech earlier today on his blog and through his email list. The speech is by for Secretary of State and of the Treasury, James (Jim) Baker. On a personal level, I disagree with Secretary Baker on plenty of things, and I have no use for his mention of so-called "global climate change" but the content of this speech for Christians and civilians is really quite good. I hope you will read this and think about it. Read it twice. And let me know what you think....civilly of course.



The Need for Civility in an Uncivil World


The following is a speech that Secretary Baker recently gave to a group at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church.  I pass it along to you without commentary other than a hearty “Amen.”

I have been asked to speak tonight about the need for civility in an uncivil world.
It is a complicated question, one that robustly challenges Christians because it puts us directly in the crosshairs of a critical theological question: How do we reconcile our Christian desire to confront what we consider wrongdoing in the world with Our Lord’s endorsement of tolerance toward others?
Further, it is a complicated question at a time when many of our values are being challenged by today’s culture.  Basic Judeo-Christian values that were generally accepted during the first two hundred years in America are now being questioned.  How do we deal with this situation?
As I consider my response, I want to make it clear that I’m no theologian and this question is probably above my paygrade!  But I am a former public servant, an attorney, a father, a grandfather and a great grandfather who is now in my 88th year. And I suspect that the some of the same things that have become apparent to me are also apparent to many of you here tonight.
The world, it seems is going through a tectonic transformation — one that brings tremendous opportunities. And with them, great risks.
In many ways, the future looks brighter than ever.  Technology and science are marching at the fastest paces connect us with one another around the world. Mankind will be heading to Mars by 2030. And long before then, most of us will have self-driving cars.  Our health is better than ever before. Globally, we are living twice as long today as we did less than century ago. And the average life expectancy continues to rise.
Wealth, meanwhile, is spreading around the globe as more and more countries adopt America’s successful paradigms of democratic governance and free-market economics. Last year, the World Bank announced that a smaller percentage of the world’s population lived below the extreme poverty line than at any other time in recorded history.
And if you can pull your attention away from the constant deluge of negative news, you might be surprised to learn that we are living in one of the most peaceful times during the past century. The annual global death rate due to war is down from an average of 22 deaths per 100,000 people during the Cold War years to 1.4 deaths per 100,000 in 2014, the latest year with complete numbers.
Yes, there are risks in the world today. Global climate change, nuclear proliferation and radical Islamic terrorism are three, to name just a few. And violence and economic disparity remain difficult challenges around the world.  On balance, however, more people may be living in relative peace, better health and greater prosperity than during any other time in world history.
At the same time, sadly, our own country is going through a period of great civil unrest, perhaps the most toxic I have experienced in my life. The tenor of our national discourse is tinged with an aggressive anger and a virulent rhetoric that threatens our society. We seem to prefer arguing over statues and other symbols of the past rather than building projects for our future.
When you open the newspapers or watch television, it’s sometimes hard not to cringe at the bankruptcy of our public debate. We hear shrill cries for the removal of the Jefferson Monument because that Founding Father owned slaves. We are scolded that “safe places” are needed on college campuses to protect our students from discussions they don’t agree with.
America’s national ideal of e pluribus unum-“out of many, one”-threatens to become a hollow slogan as jaded Americans constantly are confronted by tidal waves of animus from their televisions and smartphones.
The practice of identity politics increasingly divided us along lines of race, ethnicity, gender, religion and sexual identity. Countless demagogues stand ready to exploit those differences. When a sports reporter of Asian heritage is removed from his assignment because his name — Robert Lee — resembles the name of Robert E. Lee,  it shows the insanity of the principal of “political correctness.”
The one thing that has united us in the past has been love of country, patriotism and respect for our flag and our national anthem. Now, it seems, some believe it is ok to disrespect those symbols in order to call attention to grievances they hold.  Obviously, they have a constitutional right to do that. But doing so risks unraveling what in the past has unified us.
Symbolic of our national anger is the partisan animosity between Republicans and Democrats that has brought Washington to a standstill. We can’t seem to get anything done because our government isn’t working for us.
These divisions are real. In our national politics, and particularly in Washington maintaining lines of civil and constructive communication seems increasingly more difficult.
There are, of course, several reasons for our hyper-partisan political environment:
First, there is a redistricting process that pushes congressional districts to the fringes of the political spectrum. As result, the reasonable center is being squeezed out of our politics. The art of compromise is now missing from our polity.
Second, there is the simple fact that we live in a fairly evenly divided red-state, blue-state country, with the two sides seeing the world through vastly different prisms. The problems confronting a Democrat on Chicago’s South Side are different than the ones facing a Texas Panhandle Republican.
Third, our rapidly developing social media lowers our national debate into an angry brawl. Through social media, people throw the wildest allegations against the wall to see which ones stick. Further, the spreading of fake news via social media undermines real news, and creates a jaundiced society that doesn’t know who or what to believe.
And fourth and finally, the press no longer objectively reports facts but rather acts as an advocate and player in our political debate. If you watch FOX, you think you’re watching the house organ of the Republican Party. And if you watch MSNBC, you know you’re watching the house organ of the Democratic Party.
So what can we do to revive the type of bipartisanship that is necessary for our  government to accomplish anything for the American people?
In Washington, it will take leadership in both parties!  Republicans and Democrats will have to, once again, work together and compromise if they want to get things done.  But all Americans must also shoulder some of the responsibility. Each of us needs to look inside our own heart.
The harshness of our political debate has been matched  It is becoming uglier and more crass.  The norms dictating decent behavior are eroding; and it seems that we’ve lost sight of the basic regard we owe our fellow men and women.  Rather than blame others for our myriad of problems, we should recognize that in a democracy, no one side gets to make all of the rules.
Our country has survived and thrived for so long, in large part, because we have learned how to work together on important issues. Compromise in a democracy is essential.  Our Founding Fathers differed on many issues, but they worked out compromises to define our core principles that still hold today.
As followers of Jesus Christ, when thinking about our role in society today, it’s important to ask ourselves, “What Would Jesus Do?” How did Jesus respond to the chaos of the day and the lifestyles that were antithetical to his morals?  He looked at people with hope, whoever they were. And all were invited to follow him — the good Jew AND the hated Samaritan.  He says in the book of John, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Jesus didn’t focus on the political upheaval of the day, but on each individual’s heart. He calls us to love God with all of our heart and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan makes it clear that our neighbor is not just someone we agree with. Our neighbor is everyone with whom we have contact. He teaches us NOT to judge others, but to examine our own hearts and repent of our wrongdoing.
Jesus challenges us to love our enemies, to do good for them, and to forgive those who have wronged us. He cautions that if we aren’t willing to forgive others, God can’t forgive us.
In politics, compromise is essential. But being a practicing Christian requires us to be respectful of our neighbor even when compromise is not possible.  Working hard for our political beliefs and values is very important, but it is more important to never lose sight of walking in the light of Jesus.
Thankfully, we have been given the Good News that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us, and we have also been given prayer as the way to live. We are continually told to pray in both the Old and the New Testaments.  In II Chronicles it says, “If my people who are called by name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
We have work to do in the civic arena, but we also have much work to do in our hearts if our land is to be healed.  When we look at our world in the context of our faith, we could despair if we didn’t know about God’s grace and mercy. The bottom line for us Christians, however, is that we are called to show grace and mercy–even to our philosophical opponents–just as we ourselves are shown mercy.
And so, when someone makes a point, listen to it, regardless of how incorrect it may seem to you. Don’t discount people just because you don’t agree with what they say. Or the way they look. Or where they live.  Listening is an important part of learning about one another.  And in this country, we need to do more of that, and do less of the screeching that too many people today think passes as discourse.
During the six weeks since Hurricane Harvey hammered the area, Houston has demonstrated many of the attributes I’ve been talking about. In the midst of the biggest crisis our community has ever experienced, we stopped being Democrat or Republican . . . rich or poor  . . . black, white, or brown . . .  Christian, Muslim, or Jew.
Instead, we’ve all been Houstonians — first, and foremost. With the single focus of restoring and healing our community, we’ve prayed for one another, we’ve helped one another and we’ve looked out for one another.  This dynamic and broad-gauged response by Houstonians has been simply remarkable. And it is precisely what we need nationally.
Yes, we have many differences among us here in Houston — just as we do in Texas and across the nation.  But in the end, we are all Americans living in the very finest country in the world — the country everyone wants to come to, and no one wants to leave.  Realizing and respecting that phenomenon is what unifies us when times get tough.
It SHOULD unify us ALL the time.

Tuesday, October 10

Correcting a Nobel Prize Winner

Richard Thaler won the Nobel Prize in Economics yesterday.

Earlier this year I was at Barnes & Noble and I happened to pick up the paperback edition of his 2015 work, Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics. I do not know if I ever formed an opinion of the book, it was a good read and the prose was nice and readable, but I just never knew what to make of the name-dropping and the semi-questionable methods he used at reaching conclusions. Scenarios such as "I have a college kid ten one dollar bills to see how much he would be willing to pay for a cup of coffee" are just too controlled for me. By the way, I made up that example, but it is not far off from the examples throughout the book. People like the book, so be it.

Anyway, while I was at it, as I always do, I point out errors in books, whether a library book or a book in a bookstore. Here are five errors that I caught. Further, I was surprised these errors did not get corrected after the hardback edition, for a book that sold so well. You're welcome.

p. 99 - "starting" should be "started"

p. 211 there needs to be an "a" in there

p. 232 "be" should be "been"

p. 314 "to issue" is only needed once
(lower right, pencil circle is thin and light)

p. 385 the year is wrong on that reference, it was written in 1985, not 1996

Tuesday, September 5

More of us Need to Walk Away From the Pointless

I saw this on Instagram today and I thought it was perfect. More often than not, walking away is the right thing to do. If more of us did this, we could make the internet, and social media by extension, a more meaningful place for debate, discussion, and dialogue.

Sunday, September 3

Great Points Made in Hurricane Harvey Rescue Image

There are probably few who have not seen the iconic image of the man carrying the women and her baby through knee-deep waters in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston. Some themes developed in the wake of this image going world wide, and of course some great points are made.
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A post shared by @nohollysjustamexiqueen on
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A post shared by Ann Kennedy (@american_exceptionalism) on
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Tuesday, August 22

Eclipse!

I am not one of those people that was overly enamored with the eclipse. What did amaze me about the eclipse, and did actually surprise me, was the amount of attention given to the eclipse, especially by schools and students.

There was plenty of social media attention given to the eclipse, which can be good and bad and often irrelevant. Part of this coverage included kids and schools that were making special effort to see the eclipse and to teach about it, and to also protect young eyes from staring right at the eclipse without proper eye wear.

If this eclipse got these kids, any kids, to give thought to big ideas in their world, then that is awesome. These might be the kids that go on to study medicine or science or just attempt discovery. Again, this is a great thing. Maybe these kids reach for the stars and are behind the next great idea is space travel, maybe these kids develop medicines that alleviate certain pains or maybe these kids cure a disease or illness in their lifetimes.

It is a lot to ask of an event like an eclipse, but this is what dreaming and discovery and learning is really all about. And maybe this eclipse, an event we cannot control, change or alter, affected a fraction of a percent of the millions of children that observed it with awe and wonder. That is a great thing, and I am even more intrigued by this than I was about the eclipse itself.

I recently read a book by Ben Sasse called The Vanishing American Adult. I sincerely commend it to you. I mention that book here because the need to develop better, more capable adults in our society is an ultimate outcome of getting our kids to read and discover and wonder and dream...and even to venture outside their tiny circles, be they personal or online, and reach beyond their comfort zones.

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I might deflate my entire point now, but this Instagram post made me laugh and I am still laughing over this one.

A post shared by The Meme King (@laughsfromthe6) on

Sunday, July 30

Adrian Beltre’s Journey to 3,000

I have posted some thoughts at Medium about Adrian Beltre reaching the 3,000 hit mark earlier today. I invite you to take a look.

Adrian Beltre’s Journey to 3,000


Wednesday, July 5

Interview on The Price of Business 7-5-17

I joined Kevin Price on The Price of Business for two segments to talk about a variety of political things, including these early days of the Trump presidency. Both segments can be easily streamed right on the page.
 

Tuesday, May 23

My Letter to the Editor

Someone named Ed Hirs wrote an editorial in the Houston Chronicle that I happened to see. Mr. Hirs seemed to be talking about a subject that he is not familiar with. I wrote the following letter to the editor. I would assume it will not be published, so in order for it to see the light of day, I'm posting it here. I am also including the offending editorial for you to enjoy.
Dear Editor,

Professor Ed Hirs in his May 23 editorial "Trump 'trickle-down' tax plan would be a failure for Texas" makes several glaring assertions that just are not true. Prof. Hirs says that President Reagan's plan did not work in the 1980s, while every available policy metric solidly refutes that. And to go further, the same tax cut plan worked under President Coolidge in the 1920s and under President Kennedy via Lyndon Johnson (the tax plan had been pushed by Kennedy, after his death, Johnson got the bill passed). Tax rates came down, the economy grew and people went back to work, every time.

Professor Hirs would do well to look at the writing of fellow Houstonian, Professor Brian Domitrovic, who has chronicled the history of not only supply-side economics, but also a recent detailed history of the successful supply-side tax cuts of JFK in 1963-1964.



Saturday, May 20

Good Baseball Coaching

I like this video that I saw on Instagram. The ball may not have landed yet, and it was clearly a homerun the split second it left the bat. Pay close attention as it is tempting to try to see where the ball might land, to the first base coach. His way of motioning to the hitter to pick up his pace and get around the bases is laudable, and proper.

A post shared by Ultimate Baseball Training (@ultimatebaseballtraining) on

Sunday, February 19

Golden Girls Cafe, a Facebook Post and Social Media

Earlier today, one of my Facebook "friends" posted this article about a cafe themed around the 1980s television show Golden Girls. (see the screen capture below)

Her post included a link to an ABC News affiliate where the story was posted. As you can see, for some reason the first person to comment did not want to actually click on the link and learn anything, and instead opted to just ask the person who posted the link to the story where the cafe is located.

The person who shared the story with Facebook replies "Not sure."

I am amazed by this.

Why would you post something to Facebook without knowing the details of the story? Was this person simply posting things based on catchy headlines? I clicked the link, and the opening sentence appears as such: "Time to grab the girls and head to New York for a cheesecake roundtable."

So, "New York" is the proper answer to the question.

If we fall victim to "fake news," well, it is out own fault. This is a minor, yet important example of the problem we have in this country (and the world) with the quality of news, complete with biases and mistakes. Social media has turned into a funnel for fake and inaccurate news, and sharing links which you have not yourself read, is as bad as the original garbage content in the first place.


I tried my best to hide the details of who said what here, the who is not important (you can tell by the few details I did include that the person who posted it initially is the same person who responded to the first comment).

Wednesday, January 18

Ditch the Man Cave; Bring Back the Study

I saw this online and it registered with me because I could not agree more. Ditch the man cave with jerseys and junk and video game consoles. Bring back the study with bookshelves and books and good music.


Sunday, January 15

Has Anyone Seen Hillary?

Saturday, January 7

Nat Hentoff Dies; Listening to Billie Holiday Until the End

Saw earlier tonight that Nat Hentoff had died. I never met him, and unfortunately I was very late to his work, having not discovered him until the late 90s thanks to Drudge and the internet. Hentoff was a great writer, even when I did not agree with his point of view, I liked the way he wrote.

Anyway, I saw this tweet from Nat's son Nick just now and thought it worthy of posting. Listening to Billie Holiday...that's not a bad way to leave.

Thursday, January 5

Former Professor of Mine Pens Editorial

I was about to leave San Antonio today after a long holiday visit. I flip to the editorial page of the San Antonio Express-News, and there before me an editorial by my "old" (maybe that should be "former") economics professor Cyril (Cy) Morong from my San Antonio College days. Aside from it just being kinda cool to see a former professor write in the newspaper, it also happens to be a good editorial.

Cy was a very interesting teacher, and I recall taking his class over a summer period, which means the class moved quickly, and many times did not lend itself to the thoughtful discussion that economics classes used to be about. We had a textbook for Cy's class, but we also had a supplemental reader, and I still own my copy and I still read it. In fact, the opening of the book will be featured as part of something else I am working on this year...more on that later.

Here is the editorial from this mornings paper: