Non-Profit of the Month: December 2010 - Orthopaedic Hospital

Who is responsible for helping the helpless?

We are ... those of us who can help.

I wonder how many hospitals were built on that simple idea?

One such hospital in Los Angeles is the Orthopaedic Hospital.

It was founded in 1911. Below is an excerpt from their story:
Orthopaedic Hospital was founded by Charles LeRoy Lowman in 1911, beginning as a clinic for children with crippling disorders. Ever since, it has provided this care regardless of the family's financial circumstances. To support this mission, the Los Angeles Orthopaedic Hospital Foundation was established in 1917. Following that, in 1922 the first hospital completed construction. It was replaced by the second in 1959, and today the third is under construction. This new state-of-the-art facility is a cooperative effort with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), as part of a Master Strategic Alliance to create the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital. Combined with the new Orthopaedic Hospital Outpatient Medical Center on our downtown Los Angeles campus and the Orthopaedic Hospital Research Center on the UCLA Westwood campus, these facilities have the capacity to lead advancements in musculoskeletal patient care, research, and education world-wide.
I wonder what would happen if more Americans with the same kind of vision as Charles LeRoy Lowman stepped up and got strong community support?

Would we need Washington DC to "reform" health care?

Please look around your community and see if there is a hospital or clinic or organization that helps provide health care to people in need and find a way to support their efforts!

Happy New Years and all the best in 2011!

Devotional Thoughts: Jesus is the Christ

Christmas is about Jesus born into this world to be the Christ.

The full meaning of that is far more than words can tell. But words are all we have!

You might wonder, what did the earliest believers believe about Jesus?

Below is perhaps one of the more notable statement of who Jesus was and is:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death -
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

For us in the USA, it is easy to forget. We get busy with shopping, office parties and family gatherings. All of those things are good. However, amidst the hub-bub, let's remember who Jesus was and is. If you already acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ and the Lord, be sure to spend some time in humble adoration of the grace, love and fellowship made possible by Jesus. And if you haven't trusted in Jesus, please give it some consideration. Don't allow people who dismiss this simple ancient faith to sway you. Think it through for yourself. Talk to someone who follows Jesus. Visit a church that takes Jesus' seriously.

G.F. Handel's Messiah, track 53
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.
Blessing, and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.

Merry Christmas where ever you are and have a great 2011!

Devotional Thoughts: The Messiah's Mission - take away the sins of the world

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

John the Baptist is described here. When he was in the womb, John "knew" there was something special about Jesus because when Mary, pregnant with Jesus visited Elizabeth, mother of John ... as soon as the sound of your (Mary) greeting reached my (Elizabeth) ears, the baby (John) in my womb leaped for joy.

However, in the intervening years, did John have his doubts?

After all, perhaps he encountered Jesus occasionally while growing up since their moms knew each other and he would have seen what probably was a fairly ordinary Jewish kid.

But then one day, Jesus came to John to receive baptism.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Upon seeing this sign from God, John knew once again, there was indeed something special about Jesus.

G.F. Handel's Messiah, track 22
Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world.

Merry Christmas where ever you are reading this blog from!

Devotional Thoughts: Waiting for the Messiah

Mary, Joseph and Jesus came to the Temple ...

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Let's do the math: if she married as a teenager of say 16 which would have been common in that culture, then had 7 years with her husband; thus, she became a widow at 23. If she was 84 when she met Jesus, then she had been a widow of 61 years!

And now, whom she had waited to see arrived!!

One wonders what she said when she "spoke about the child to all?"

Simeon had spoken moments earlier to whom to most eyes would have been a fairly mundane mom and dad with their son,

Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.

This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.

Perhaps Anna reiterated what Simeon said. Perhaps she explained further what Simeon meant. In any case, she could not be stopped nor contained as she spoke/preached/proclaimed "to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem!"

G.F. Handel's Messiah, track 9
O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, and be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!

Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.

Merry Christmas to you wherever you have mouse clicked from!

Devotional Thoughts: The Jesus Prayer

In the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition, there is a practice known as the Jesus Prayer.

I've heard that it can be as short as:

Lord, have mercy.

And as "long" as:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.

For classical music lovers, we hear the same thought in portions of liturgical music in the Kyrie. Here is an example in Gregorian Chant.

For a discussion of the history and practice of the Jesus Prayer, check out Frederica Mathewes-Green's essay on the topic.

I've taken to using the prayer at various times during a typical day.

Green put its benefit this way: Mostly, it gets rid of the clutter.

I definitely have my share of "squirrel moments" during a typical day!

And so the prayer helps me get settled.

More thoughts from Green ...
I think it is wise that the Prayer asks for mercy, to remind us of the necessity of humility, rather than the narcissism that can accompany the self-designation “spiritual.” So the Jesus Prayer is not an end in itself, but a way of training the mind to remain always in his presence, no matter what else life brings.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.

Life: Living donations are not without risk - surgery is never without risk

Interesting item at about living donation of organs.

In some cases organs come from those who died who indicated a willingness to be a donor. In some cases the organ comes from a living person who is compatible to the recipient.

It should be said that transplanting a part of a liver is probably a bigger challenge than transplanting other organs. However, the reality is that in any organ transplant it is surgery and surgery is NEVER without risk. Of course, in the case of Laura Fritz, the donation saved the life of her mother but resulted in Laura nearly dying due to complications of the surgery.

6 years ago I had emergency surgery for a small bowel obstruction (SBO). The risk benefit calculation was that if nothing was done, the SBO could get worse and lead to the type of infection described in the piece about Laura Fritz. By all accounts my surgery was uneventful.

However, since that surgery, I have been hospitalized three additional times for SBO. Fortunately, those episodes resolved without surgery. In a turn of medical irony, one side-effect of the surgical treatment for SBO is increased risk for future SBO.

My hat is off to those who willingly undergo surgery to donate an organ to someone. Having gone through surgery on an emergency basis, I'm not so sure I'd be willing to do so on a voluntary basis. I suppose knowing I might be saving the life of someone else would make the risk and pain worth it. I'd like to believe that is how I'd see it.

Economics: In defense of the drug companies

Who discovers the medicines that save people's lives?

Drug companies who hire armies of scientists who work their butts off to find something that works.

Medical innovation is hard work.

Life: Are we beginning to forget 9/11?

It is beginning to seem like ancient history in our 24/7 cyberspace linked fast paced world.

But it was only 9 years ago that 9/11 occurred.

The US held a day of prayer and remembrance after the attacks of 9/11. On that day, these words echoed in the National Cathedral and went out to all who watched and heard:

We are here in the middle hour of our grief. So many have suffered so great a loss, and today we express our nation's sorrow. We come before God to pray for the missing and the dead, and for those who loved them.
God's signs are not always the ones we look for. We learn in tragedy that His purposes are not always our own, yet the prayers of private suffering, whether in our homes or in this great cathedral are known and heard and understood. There are prayers that help us last through the day or endure the night. There are prayers of friends and strangers that give us strength for the journey, and there are prayers that yield our will to a Will greater than our own.

This world He created is of moral design. Grief and tragedy and hatred are only for a time. Goodness, remembrance and love have no end, and the Lord of life holds all who die and all who mourn.

Politics: One of the new voices of the GOP

Rep.-Elect Kristi Noem (R-SD) speaks on the priorities of the incoming House Republicans.

World: Terrorism in Stockholm

Not all bombings are performed by extreme Islamic individuals but many are.

Thus, eventually, the news reports confirmed such was likely the case in the bombing in a Stockholm shopping district this weekend.

Some people say that terrorism is driven by poverty. In some cases that is probably so. But time and again, we find out that the individuals often had what would be considered "normal lives" but turn out to be driven by extreme ideas.

The Telegraph of UK has a profile on the Stockholm suicide bomber. Excerpt:

It emerged last night that Abdulwahab, who was due to turn 29 yesterday, is a former physical therapy student at Bedfordshire University in Luton, and that his wife and three young children still live in the town.
Tahir Hussain, 33, a taxi driver who lives nearby, said: “I used to see him around often. He didn’t say much but seemed nice. I used to see him walking with his kids.

“I was shocked when I heard what happened because I never thought he could do such a thing.”

Mr Hussain said that the couple had been living there for a year and that Abdulwahab used to go to Friday prayers at the Islamic Centre in Luton.

The BBC has an item on Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly.

"He had a bomb belt on him, he had a backpack with a bomb and he was carrying an object that has been compared to a pressure cooker. If it had all blown up at the same time, it would have been very powerful," he said.

A car containing gas canisters blew up first in a busy shopping street in the area of Drottninggatan at 1700 local time (1600 GMT) followed minutes later by a explosion in a street about 300m (985ft) away that killed the bomber.

Abdaly was named as the registered owner of the car.
Mr Lindstrand said Abdaly was completely unknown to Swedish security services before the blasts.

However, he pointed out: "He didn't live in Sweden; he lived in the UK. He left Sweden maybe 10 years ago."

The UK Guardian reported that the bomber clashed with some of the leaders of the Mosque he was attending.

Qadeer Baksh, chairman of Luton Islamic centre, said Abdaly showed up at the mosque during Ramadan in 2006 or 2007 and made an instant impression with his "very bubbly character" but they soon clashed over his views.

"We were challenging his philosophical attitude to jihad," said Baksh. "He got so angry that he left. He was just supporting and propagating these incorrect foundations [of Islam], so I stepped in."

He said Abdaly believed scholars of Islam were "in the pocket of the government" and proposed a "physical jihad".

Baksh said he thought he had talked Abdaly round to a more moderate position but the Iraqi-born Swede then came back with more arguments. "I had no idea it would escalate to where it escalated," said Abdaly. "I thought that when he stormed off he was just angry at me. I heard afterwards that he was criticising the mosque in general and me in particular at the university. He said we were working for the British government and that we were in the pocket of Saudi Arabia. He was trying to defame our honour."

Despite the clashes, Baksh said it was not for him to report Abdaly to the police or security services. "It's the police's job, the intelligence service's job to follow these people up, not ours," he said. "You can't just inform on any Muslim having extreme views. In the past many Muslims have had extreme views but have become good balance Muslims."

I have visited Stockholm on three occasions and on each of those trips, I walked around that shopping district where the bomber struck. And that is what terrorists want to do: to bring fear into day-to-day life and to kill the infidel (unbeliever).

In our interconnected world, it is getting harder and harder to think of the terrorist problem as being "somewhere else." All it takes is a motivated individual to strike. And at the same time, organized terrorists bands plot for dramatic attacks to maximize death and chaos.

They love death as much as we love life so they believe we will cower in fear.

We do love life but we will not cower in fear.

Politics: Tax and Spend - the numbers as percent GDP

Lots of data at

Here are two charts I generated at their site that shows Federal tax as a percentage of GDP and Federal spending as a percentage of GDP while I have been alive.

As you can see taxes have been around 17.5% of GDP.

As you can see spending has been around 20% of GDP. However, currently, and for the next five year, it is projected to be consistently above 20% while taxes consistently below 20%.

It isn't rocket science: we want more government services than we are willing to pay for with taxes leading to deficits. We have to either cut services or raise taxes or some combination of both.

And so what are the government services?

See the pie chart.

Est for 2011 (total = $3.8 trillion)
Defense $928.5 billion
Health Care $898 billion
Pensions $787.6 billion
Welfare $464.6 billion

Its nice to get tough on "earmarks" and "pork projects" but these four areas are where the pots of money are.

We either cut back on them, raise taxes or both.

We either decide we aren't going to be the policeman of the world or we raise taxes and start selling war bonds to explicitly link our global security commitments to our pocketbooks.

Health Care:
We either have to ask the senior citizens to pay more in premiums and co-pays in the Medicare program or raise taxes on everyone else to pay for it or both. Ditto for Medicaid. But since Medicaid is for the poor, we really can't ask them to pay more in premiums so we need to raise taxes to help fund it. I do wonder if "voucherizing" the program will make it more efficient?

We have to look at raising the retirement age another year or two. We have to look at lowering the cost-of-living increases going forward and maybe even reduce benefits. We have to look at raising taxes on current workers to sustain the solvency of the fund.

We either have to raise taxes to cover these costs or we cut back on the benefits.

As the saying goes, "there is no free lunch."

A family can't buy steak if they only have a budget for hamburgers.

The Democrats want to tax the rich to pay for these programs but in the end there isn't enough money there to pay for all the programs so we run deficits.

The Republicans talk about cutting budgets and holding the line on taxes but in the end they don't really cut budgets and thus saddle future tax payers with the deficits.

UPDATE: says the magic number is cuts of 3.6% per year which will bring things in line in 10 years. They use a pork tenderloin roast to illustrate.

Politics: Health insurance coverage matrix

One government study put the uninsured at 16 percent of the US population. This USA Today item puts the number at 46.3 million.

From this matrix, there are four groups of people:

Group 1
These people can afford insurance and buy it. It might be a strain on the budget but these people realize it is a good idea to have health insurance and thus try their best to buy it and do so.

Group 2
There are those who can't afford it but want to buy it. They want to be responsible but because of a combination of low income and high insurance premiums they are unable to buy. Some people in this category qualify for Medicaid and thus wind up in Group 1. But some don't qualify for Medicaid and can't afford health insurance.

Group 3
Some people actually earn enough money to buy health insurance but for whatever reason do not buy health insurance.

Group 4
Sadly, there are people who belong to this group who are unable and unwilling to buy health insurance.

Thus, the 46.3 million uninsured fall into one of the three categories of uninsured.

How does one help move people from the three other boxes into box one?

One idea of how to help the folks in the 3 uninsured boxes is to blow up the matrix and have the government run the whole thing. There are two ways the USA can do this:

(1) Nationalize health care providers
Just as the Federal government took over airport security in creating the TSA, the Federal government could directly hire and pay the salaries of health care professionals and run hospitals and clinics. An example of how this works in the USA is the VA medical system for the veterans.

(2) Nationalize health insurance
Under this approach, doctors and hospitals are paid from a government run insurance plan. We have some experience with this approach as Medicare is the USA nationalized health insurance for senior citizens. Also, Medicaid is a variant where Federal and States organize health insurance for the poor.

Thus, in the USA, some aspects of health care delivery and insurance are already nationalized and so some believe the nationalization should be extended so that all health care/health insurance be brought under one system.

However, for now, the question remains what will happen to health care as run by private entities. They are regulated at state and federal levels and the recent health bill expands those regulation.

I don't know how the regulatory climate compares to electrical utilities. One could make the comparison that both are essential services that should be heavily regulated and are. The debate is what degree of regulation.

If one retains private entities in the provision of health care, how does one address the 3 boxes of the matrix of uninsured?

One way is to provide vouchers to those who need help to buy insurance. Food stamps are essentially vouchers to buy food. Why not develop a program for the purchase of health insurance?

Instead of government agencies that run Medicare and Medicaid, why not trim their responsibilities to determining eligibility and issuing vouchers to those who qualify?

Of course to pay for those vouchers, the money committed to Medicare and Medicaid would have to be transferred to the voucher program and additional taxes might still be needed to cover people in group 2.

But what about group 3?

The stick of an insurance mandate may or may not survive legal challenge. But even if the mandates are eventually upheld, how does one enforce them? At what level of monetary fines will someone in group 3 decide to buy insurance? In the end, the uncompensated care provided to group 3 individuals is cost shifted to group 1.

As for group 4, they will remain in the realm of uncompensated charity care no matter what is done and their costs shifted to group 1.

Ultimately, even in a nationalized system, there is "cost shifting" because those who pay higher taxes are subsidizing those who pay less taxes. Thus, in my mind "cost shifting" is something that will always exist no matter what system is devised.

The dream of equal access to high quality health care is nice to strive for but unrealistic. The rich could always find a way to buy better services. Thus, the practical goal should be to design a system that maximizes access to a reasonable level of quality. Alas, the definition of reasonable quality is hotly debated.

Politics: Unintended consequences of new health bill (a.k.a. Obamacare)

One of my friends who is an MD has taken a look at the health bill and points out some problems which I've tried to summarize below.

1. New mandates
Because there are additional requirements placed on health insurance policies being offered, the premiums have risen to pay for those new features. In the recent open enrollment at my work place, most plans showed a rise in monthly costs.

2. Dropped coverage
In some cases (mini-med plans), employers have had to drop coverage because those plans didn't measure up to the new regulations. Many companies have applied for waivers to keep offering these plans and have been granted temporary waivers by HHS. One wonders how many weren't granted waivers? Also, what will happen when the waivers expire?

3. Medical loss ratio
The new regulations require that insurance companies must spend 80-85 percent of their costs on patient care. He thinks this is a bad idea and explained it this way:

This "medical loss ratio" rule is like the government telling restaurant owners that 80 to 85 cents out of every dollar that the consumer pays must go to food that can "actually" be eaten by the consumer. That will, at least in theory, make sure that the restaurant owner will not overpay in his mortgages or spend money on unnecessarily expensive silverware. How much the owner pays the waitress or the electric company is also included in the "operation" side and not in the "food" side of the ratio. The business of serving food is food; hence it is entirely logical that 80-85% of what the consumer pays must go to actual food and not wasted on the "operation" of the business.

The unintended consequence of the "medical loss ratio" is that:
(A) the government decides what constitutes actual care increasing the regulatory power of the government; will explicit wage/price controls be next?
(B) some insurance companies will get out of the health insurance business leaving less choice for the consumer
(C) insurance companies will "overpay" for items that the government calls "actual care" so they can be in compliance with regulators.

Regulating the health insurance industry is a complicated thing. It may be well intentioned that insurance policies be required to cover more things but it costs money to do so and less robust but more affordable plans will get dropped. "Medical loss ratio" is one step removed from wage and price controls which is fools gold for "bending the cost curve."

Faith: Re-telling the Christmas Story

Amidst the busy schedules of our lives and the reality that the story of Christmas has been diluted in our society, it was refreshing to see this video that simply re-tells the Christmas story!

The story teller is Keira, a child who was helped by the work of Union Rescue Mission.

When we think of the Christmas story, we often think of "no place at the inn." But looked at another way, some individuals in the community of Bethlehem provided space (may not have been much but they opened it) for Mary and Joseph so that Jesus could be born. They may not be recorded in the Gospels but that good deed would be recorded by God.

And so please consider supporting Union Rescue Mission or a like-minded organization in your local community that is helping those in need! You would be standing in a long line of people who have helped like those who did in Bethlehem.

UPDATE: Came across this item that discusses the "no place at the inn" feature in most our thoughts of the Nativity. According to Ben Witherington, a Biblical Scholar, a more accurate reading of the story is as follows:
When it came time for Mary to deliver the baby, the Greek of Luke’s text says--- “she wrapped him in cloth and laid him in a corn crib, as there was no room in the guest room”. Yes, you heard me right. Luke does not say there was no room in the inn. Luke has a different Greek word for inn (pandeion) which he trots out in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The word he uses here (kataluma) is the very word he uses to describe the room in which Jesus shared the last supper with his disciples—the guest room of a house.

Archeology of the area shows that houses in Bethlehem and its vicinity often had caves as the back of the house where they would keep their prized ox, or beast of burden, lest it be stolen. The guest room was in the front of the house, the animal shelter in the back, and Joseph and Mary had come too late to get the guest room, so the relatives did the best they could by putting them in the back of the house. Bethlehem was indeed a one stoplight town off the beaten track, and we have not a shred of archaeological evidence there ever was a wayfarer's inn in that little village in Jesus' day.

In other words, all this silliness about ‘no room at the Holiday Inn’ for the Holy family, is not at all what Luke is talking about. This is not a story about ‘no room in the inn’ or about the world’s giving Jesus the cold shoulder. It's a story about no inn in the room! It’s a story about a family making do when more relatives than expected suddenly show up on the doorstep. It’s a story most of us can relate to in one way or another. Jesus was born in his relative’s home, in the place where they kept the most precious of their animals. One can well imagine the smell in that room, and probably the shock of the Magi when they saw where the King was born.

Non-Profit of the Month: November 2010 - Union Rescue Mission

Do you give money to the guy at the entrance to the store or at the corner of a busy intersection?

I've been told in many cases the money winds up on alcohol and drugs. As such, I generally don't give. But, sometimes I do.

I don't know what to do.

I think what gnaws at us is that it doesn't take too much to wind up as that guy on the street.

There are many worthy organizations in the LA area that tries to offer services to the down and out. I've tried to profile some in these "non-profit of the month" posts.

Today, I'll mention a group I've supported occasionally over the years: Union Rescue Mission.

Right now, in LA, there is some unseasonably cold weather and I'm sure the shelters are filling up with people trying to get out from the near freezing nights. Please consider supporting an organization in your area that is doing the work of compassion for those who have hit hard times for whatever reason.

Politics: States (like Alaska) with lots of per capita Federal Aid ... stats can be deceiving ...

Alaska has come under fire for receiving lots of Federal Aid.

Upon closer examination, the numbers are somewhat skewed by (1) the small population of Alaska and (2) some unique geographic and ethnic features of the state.

To see the amounts various agencies receive go to the Federal Aid to States page at the US Census.

No doubt, Senator Ted Stevens who died in a plane crash recently was effective at bringing Federal dollars to the state. Thus, that part of the story can't be denied.

But per capita statistics are tricky things.

A "pork project" going to a small state skews the numbers dramatically. Imagine a $70 million project's impact on per capita stats. For California, with over 35 million people, that project brings in a mere $2 per capita. But for Alaska with 700,000 people, that same project would bring in a whopping $100 per capita! California Senator Boxer would have to bring in 50 such projects to match the impact of just 1 such project brought to Alaska.

Thus, not surprisingly, at the top of the list of Federal Aid to the States are mostly small states. The 10 smallest states by population are all above the US average in per capita Federal aid.

However, are there other elements besides a low population that drives Alaska's per capita numbers?

There are three unique features to Alaska that appear to skew their stats: the high percentage of Native Alaskans in their population, the large area of wilderness and natural resources under Federal jurisdiction and the large land mass that impact transportation spending.

Native Alaskans

Alaska's native population (about 1 in 6 Alaskans) are assisted by three Federal programs: the Indian Health Service (IHS), Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and educational programs for native populations (Education).
IHS $867 million
BIA $101 million
Education $32.9 million

Thus, about $1 billion in assistance is in programs for the native peoples of Alaska or $1430 per capita.

Many states have little or no funding in these categories because they have little to no native Americans.

Wilderness and natural resources

Alaska is well known for its natural wonders and resources which are administered by the Forest Service (FS), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Dept of Interior's Fish and Wildlife service (FWS), Bureau of Land Managment (BLM), Minerals Management Service (MMS) and National Park Service (NPS).
FS $24.6 million
NRCS $4.5 million
FWS $41 million
BLM $26.7 million
MMS $42.6 million
NPS $1.5 million

Total: $140.9 million
Per capita: $201

How does that compare to California?

California received $282 million through these six agencies. Thus, $7.62 per capita.


With a large land mass and corresponding airspace, Alaska received considerably funding through Dept of Transportation and in particular Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding.

Alaska received $720 million in DOT funds. $251 million of it through the FAA.

That comes out to $1029 per capita.

How does that compare with another small state?

Delaware, small in population (900,000) and land area, received $235 million in total DOT aid and $14.7 million in FAA funds. That comes out to $261 per capita.

How does Alaska's numbers compare to a big state in both land area and population like Texas (25 million)?

Texas received $3.6 billion in DOT funds with $281 million of it in FAA funds. Per capita: $144.

Thus, the greater than $5000 per capita in Federal Aid Alaska received which initially seems shockingly high becomes more understandable when one recognizes that Federal spending in the three areas described above ($2660 per capita) account for about one-half of the $5000 per capita figure.

One can debate whether those are Federal responsibilities or state ones. However, as it is, they are under Federal control. Thus, the news/opinion pieces highlighting the aggregate numbers which put Alaska in a bad light which upon further examination is not entirely justified.

Science: Contrarian views on Global Warming

Saw this item about Bjorn Lomborg who believes global warming is occurring and that humans cause at least part of it. However, he is doubtful of the worst case scenarios proposed by some climate change advocates and thinks the money used fighting global warming could be better spent on other things.


Lomborg believes that the world climate summits held in Rio, Kyoto, and Copenhagen over the last 18 years have been futile, because no country—especially such rising powerhouses as China and India, just now emerging into prosperity—will agree to cold-cock its economy in order to join the wispy Western global-warming crusade. And he claims that since the $250 billion the European Union spends every year to combat warming will ultimately reduce temperatures by only one-tenth of one percent, that money would be better channeled into worldwide battles against malaria and AIDS—diseases that are killing people right now—and into funding new climate technology.

Sports: Go LA Galaxy!

The Galaxy defeated the Sounders!

They now advance to the next round against Dallas.

Last year, the Galaxy got to the championship but lost in penalty kicks.

They started off the season strong had a stretch where they were dismal but finished up strong.

Some experts were picking against them because they do have some older players.

But their surprisingly easy win against Seattle might get them some renewed attention.

Go Galaxy!

Politics: California is Republican on the issues of the day?

If you use the ballot measures as an indicator of the perspective of California voters, they said ...

Yes: 20, 22, 25, 26
No: 19, 21, 23, 24, 27

Bold marks indicate matches between the party endorsement and how Californians voted.
The Libertarians
Yes: 19, 22, 23, 26
No: 21, 25
Undeclared: 20, 24, 27

The Greens
Yes: 19, 21, 24, 25
No: 23, 26
Undeclared: 20, 22, 27

The Democrats
Yes: 21, 24, 25, 27
No: 20, 22, 23, 26
Undeclared: 19

The Republicans
Yes: 20, 23, 26
No: 19, 21, 24, 25, 27
Undeclared: 22

Stunning isn't it?

Californians voted with the Republican recommended position in 5 of 9 races. Yet, no Republican won a statewide race in California last Tuesday.

Thus, it appears when you take away the "R" and "D" next to the item and vote purely on the issue like a ballot measure, California voters hold Republican views.

A ballot measure is about choosing yes or no about a given idea. In that situation, Californians were practical and voted very much in line with the Republican recommended positions.

But when one votes for a candidate, there are some feelings a voter has for "R" or "D" and for the specific candidate. In this situation, the California voter appears to be driven by something other than practicality.

What is the "meta-narrative" about voting "R" or "D."

What do you think?

Politics: Viral videos of the political mood and moment

Top viral political videos according to

Regarding the House ... there was a large swing to the GOP ...

Regarding the Senate ...

The Democrats lost ground but retain control.

Over the past few years, academics have criticized the Senate’s "un-democratic" character, attacking the filibuster and even bemoaning the body’s very existence. So here’s the safest prediction of all: As the academics realize that the Senate provides opportunities for fighting the Republican agenda, the institution will suddenly regain their favor.

- John J. Pitney Jr. is Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College

Politics: Nov 2, 2010 Predictions - 51-49 Dems hold Senate, 60 seat gain for GOP in House

No more political blog posts until after the election results come in!

So looking forward to being able to watch television or listen to the radio WITHOUT seeing or hearing political ADS!

Real Clear Politics probably has the best round-up around for all the races.

Senate races: I predict the Democrats hold on 51-49.
Sadly, it appears that California voters will be sending Boxer back to the Senate.

Call Me Senator from RightChange on Vimeo.

Hopefully, Nevada voters will indeed be wiser and send Reid into retirement.

As for the House, according to RCP, of the 435 House races only 44 are toss-ups. Thus, if RCP is correct, the Republicans will gain 45 House seats even if they lost every toss-up race. My guess is that in the end the Republicans will gain 60.

UPDATE: As of Wednesday afternoon: Senate 52-46 with 2 undecided. The Democrat leads in Washington and a Republican leads in Alaska. So the final will probably be 53-47. Meanwhile, in the House, the GOP gained 60 with 11 undecided.

UPDATE: Its a final, GOP gained 63 seats.

Politics: No on Prop 19

Do I think widespread pot smoking is good for society?


But the reality is that the medical marijuana law has resulted in almost de facto legalization.

Thus, from a governmental point of view, what is the proper regulation of the stuff?

Alcohol and tobacco are heavily regulated and taxed and proponents of prop 19 say that they want to see marijuana moved into the same category.

Did the drafters of Prop 19 do a good job?

I figured the newspaper that is most likely to support legalization of marijuana is the San Francisco Chronicle.

And guess what?

They came out against Prop 19. Excerpt:
Even Californians who support the legalization of marijuana should be extremely wary of Proposition 19. This is a seriously flawed initiative with contradictions and complications that would invite legal chaos and, more than likely, fail to deliver its promised economic benefits.
Among the specific problems:

Workplace: A nondiscrimination clause would prevent employers from firing or disciplining workers who used marijuana unless an employer could prove that job performance was impaired. Pre-employment testing would be banned. Conflicts with federal law abound. For example, the feds require operators of planes, trains, trucks and buses to be removed from their jobs if they test positive for any narcotic.

Tax and regulation: The measure establishes no state controls over distribution and product standards ... Prop. 19 allows the 58 counties and hundreds of cities to come up with their own taxation and regulatory schemes. In this critical element of legalization, Prop. 19 is more akin to the chaotic approach taken with medical marijuana than to the heavily taxed-and-regulated treatment of alcohol.

Cultivation: Property owners throughout the state would have a right to establish a 5-by-5-foot plot of cannabis plants for personal consumption - a right that could not be usurped by local ordinance. Anyone familiar with the stench and potential height of marijuana plants might pause at the thought of their proliferation in the neighborhood.

Transit: The proposition does not affect current laws against driving while impaired by cannabis, but it does allow passengers to smoke in a moving vehicle, proponents acknowledge. This is another element of 219 that that defies common sense.
I call for a NO vote on Prop 19.

Politics: No on Prop 23

Prop 23 is an effort to reverse AB32.

In brief, AB32 sets a target of lowering California's greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. It is estimated that will require a 25% reduction.

As such, California will need to have more Green Energy.

Green energy is useful in that it reduces air pollution and lesses our dependance on foreign sources of energy. Thus, one can make the argument for Green Energy on those basis without resorting to "end-of-the-world as we know it" global warming scenarios.

Prop 23 tries to "soften" its tone by saying it would only suspend AB32 until unemployment reaches 5.5% for one year. Unfortunately, that level of unemployment has been rarely reached. The drafters of Prop 23 should have been more honest in calling for an outright appeal.

Are the goals of AB32 too ambitious?


As the application of AB32 gets underway, we will begin to see its impact both positive and negative. It is quite possible that the target date and target reductions may need to be modified. Thus, I recommend a No vote on prop 23. Let's wait and see the impact of AB32 before we call for rescinding it or modifying it.

Politics: No on Prop 22

Prop 22 in the words of the Sacramento Bee tries to build a moat around local funding.

I have great sympathy for local governments tired of the California legislature raiding their funds to try to fix their budget messes but as is often the case, the measure over-reaches.

I like the part that protects transportation funding and allocations of property taxes. But not permitting state fuel taxes to help pay state transportation bonds? Protecting redevelopment agencies which are ripe for abuse?

The lefty Los Angeles Times and the righty Orange Country Register have also come out against Prop 22.

Politics: No on Prop 25

The budget situation in California is a mess.

Some say Prop 13 limits on property taxes are too strict. Others point to Prop 98 that requires education automatically getting the lion's share of budgetary dollars. Legislators complain about the 2/3 rule to pass taxes and the budget. Think tankers point to the wild fluctuations in revenue due to the capital gains/stock options taxation system. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Prop 25 calls for the end of the 2/3 rule for passing budgets and says it will dock legislator's pay for each day they miss the budget deadline. The Sacramento Bee calls it a partisan power play.

I think the "punishment" really has no teeth. The legislature could pass a "phony" budget to meet the deadline because there is a difference between passing a budget and enacting a budget (Governor signs it and Legislature appropriates money for it). So that part of the measure sounds good but probably is meaningless.

But what about the impact of the simply majority rule?

Under the current 2/3 rule, there are two scenarios:

(1A) If Mr. Brown wins as polls indicate and most Democrat state legislators hold their seats as is likely, the legislative majority party will also hold the governorship, thus, the only potential check on their power is the 2/3 rule in passing a budget. It should be noted that the Democrats hold nearly 2/3 of the seats in the State Assembly and State Senate in the latest legislative session.

(2A) The past few years with the Governator, the budget battle was a three-way fight between the majority party in the legislature, Governor Arnold and the minority party in the legislature.

If Prop 25 passes, a simple majority rule would be in effect for budgets. How would those two scenarios play out:

(1B) If Mr. Brown wins as polls indicate and most Democrat state legislators hold their seats as is likely, the legislative majority party will also hold the governorship. The minority party in the legislature could fall asleep and be stone silent at every committee meeting and the budget would pass.

(2B) If the Governor is of the opposing party to the legislative majority party, the check on the budget would be the governor's willingness to exercise a veto of the whole budget or line-item vetoes of specific sections.

The Sac Bee supports the idea of simple majority budgets but wants additional reforms which Prop 25 doesn't have. Thus, I join the Sac Bee in calling for a NO on Prop 25.

Politics: Yes on Prop 21

As a general rule, I don't like budgeting by ballot box.

But sometimes the Legislature just isn't doing its job.

The California State Parks are a treasure that needs support in order to preserve them for today and future generations.

Is adding a Vehicle License Fee of $18 the best way to fund California State Parks?

Probably not. But since the Legislature isn't getting the job done, this proposition does.

Yes on Prop 21.

Politics: No on Prop 24

The California Legislature made some changes in the business tax laws that lowered their taxes.

Prop 24 rescinds those changes.

California has gained a reputation for being business unfriendly and passing Prop 24 will further fuel that perception.

I'm recommending a NO on Prop 24.

Politics: No on Prop 26

What is a fee and what is a tax?

Generally, taxes are broad based (income, sales, property) and go to general revenue for services widely used (education, public safety, etc.). Fees are usually paid by a specific group and go to specific programs.

The lines do get blurred in some cases: the vehicle license fee for automobiles is pretty broad based and sounds more like a tax than a fee and there are some fees that wind up being used for things with wider benefit (i.e. environmental programs).

Legislatively, taxes can only be raised with a 2/3 vote while fees can be raised with a simple majority.

Prop 26 calls for some fees to be considered taxes and thus under the 2/3 vote rule for passage in the legislature.

There are situations where super-majorities make sense: you want broad consensus on a major policy issue.

I don't think fees crosses that threshold.

Politics: Is the LA Times/USC Poll On Target or an Outlier?

Polling .... sometimes they are right on and other times they miss.

LAT/USC released a poll showing Brown ahead of Whitman and Boxer ahead of Fiorina and by fairly wide margins. The Los Angeles Times is a well known lefty paper so it will tend to trumpet this kind of news. But the question is simply this: is the poll "correct?"

Perhaps, however, when compared to other polls, the LAT/USC Boxer lead is much larger (8 points) than other polls out there (average 2.5 points as of 10/25, 1pm). Likewise, the Brown/Whitman race shows less of a Brown lead in other polls (6.2 average vs 13 as of 10/25, 1pm).

Thus, the LAT/USC poll (show 2-3 times larger margins than other polls) is either picking up a trend not detected up by other polls or it is flawed in some aspect of its design.

Clearly, Whitman and Fiorina always had an uphill battle to win in a deep blue Democrat state like California and in the end it might be too much to overcome but this LAT/USC poll might be an outlier and Brown/Boxer supports shouldn't get cocky nor Whitman/Fiorina backers toss in the towel.

Politics: Nov 2010 ballot - LA Times and Orange County Register endorsements

The LAT is a well known lefty paper. The OCR is a well know righty paper.

Here are their views on the ballots for this Nov...

YES: 20,25
NO: 19,21,22,23,24,26,27

YES: 20,23,26
NO: 21,22,24,25,27

They share in common views on props 20,21,22,24,27 which is 5 of 9!

All the items this year are initiatives and are probably poorly written or bad ideas or both such that the newspaper editorial boards at the LAT and OCR which live at both ends of the political spectrum have issued the same endorsement for 20 and against 21,22,24 and 27.

Politics: Yes on 20, No on 27

Figure is from the Official Voter Information Guide.

Prop 20 and 27 are about how California does redistricting which is something that has to be done after each census.

In Nov 2008, Californians passed Prop 11 (I supported prop 11) to set up the Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Prop 20 extends their work to include drawing districts for House seats.

Prop 27 disbands the Citizens Redistricting Commission and returns that function to the State Legislature.

Suffice to say, since I supported prop 11, I don't want it reversed by supporting prop 27.

The liberal SF Chronicle says Yes on 20 and No on 27.

The conservative Orange County Register says Yes on 20 and No on 27.

They agree!

How often does that happen?

No brainer: Yes on 20 and No on 27.

Politics: 2010 November Cal Ballot Measures

Plan to blog through each proposition on the November 2010 California ballot.

But first, a round-up of the endorsements from the political parties.

Bold face marks where I agree with the respective party positions.
The Libertarians
Yes: 19, 22, 23, 26
No: 21, 25
Undeclared: 20, 24, 27

The Greens
Yes: 19, 21, 24, 25
No: 23, 26
Undeclared: 20, 22, 27

The Democrats
Yes: 21, 24, 25, 27
No: 20, 22, 23, 26
Undeclared: 19

The Republicans

Yes: 20, 23, 26
No: 19, 21, 24, 25, 27
Undeclared: 22

Rene's Recommendations:
19 NO
20 YES
21 YES
22 NO
23 NO
24 NO
25 NO
26 NO
27 NO

Religion: Who are the Metzger's and Ehrman's of Koranic Textual Scholarship?

Cool thing about being a blogger is that sometimes you post something that appears to have continuing interest. Around five years ago, I attended a lecture on Islam given by Jay Smith and I posted a summary and periodically someone will comment.

Some recent activity in the comments section and my recent reading of Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus and the 3rd Edition (borrowed from library) of Bruce Metzger's NT Text: Transmission, Corruption and Restoration (now in 4th edition) has caused me to do some googling about the topic of scholarship on textual criticism of the Koran.

Here are some items I found. I'll give the link and excerpt a few lines.

New York Times item from 2002.

Christoph Luxenberg, a scholar of ancient Semitic languages in Germany, argues that the Koran has been misread and mistranslated for centuries. His work, based on the earliest copies of the Koran, maintains that parts of Islam's holy book are derived from pre-existing Christian Aramaic texts that were misinterpreted by later Islamic scholars who prepared the editions of the Koran commonly read today.
Christoph Luxenberg, however, is a pseudonym, and his scholarly tome "The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran" had trouble finding a publisher, although it is considered a major new work by several leading scholars in the field. Verlag Das Arabische Buch in Berlin ultimately published the book.
The touchiness about questioning the Koran predates the latest rise of Islamic militancy. As long ago as 1977, John Wansbrough of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London wrote that subjecting the Koran to "analysis by the instruments and techniques of biblical criticism is virtually unknown."
In 1977 two other scholars from the School for Oriental and African Studies at London University -- Patricia Crone (a professor of history at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton) and Michael Cook (a professor of Near Eastern history at Princeton University) -- suggested a radically new approach in their book "Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World."
The idea that Jewish messianism animated the early followers of the Prophet is not widely accepted in the field, but "Hagarism" is credited with opening up the field. "Crone and Cook came up with some very interesting revisionist ideas," says Fred M. Donner of the University of Chicago and author of the recent book "Narratives of Islamic Origins: The Beginnings of Islamic Historical Writing." "I think in trying to reconstruct what happened, they went off the deep end, but they were asking the right questions."
Scholars like Mr. Luxenberg and Gerd-R. Puin, who teaches at Saarland University in Germany, have returned to the earliest known copies of the Koran in order to grasp what it says about the document's origins and composition.
Mr. Puin points out that in the early archaic copies of the Koran, it is impossible to distinguish between the words "to fight" and "to kill." In many cases, he said, Islamic exegetes added diacritical marks that yielded the harsher meaning, perhaps reflecting a period in which the Islamic Empire was often at war.

A return to the earliest Koran, Mr. Puin and others suggest, might lead to a more tolerant brand of Islam, as well as one that is more conscious of its close ties to both Judaism and Christianity.

"It is serious and exciting work," Ms. Crone said of Mr. Luxenberg's work. Jane McAuliffe, a professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University, has asked Mr. Luxenberg to contribute an essay to the Encyclopedia of the Koran, which she is editing.

Mr. Puin would love to see a "critical edition" of the Koran produced, one based on recent philological work, but, he says, "the word critical is misunderstood in the Islamic world -- it is seen as criticizing or attacking the text."

There was this item in the ...

Moncef Ben Abdeljelil is a small academic, presently pinned between two large journalists. Back to the wall, he is ruminating on alternative readings of the Koran.
"Details I will leave to future study," says Abdeljelil. "But I think some of the different readings we find will affect the female condition, tolerance vis-a-vis Jews and Christians. Another will effect legislation ... "
He reaches for his pipe, then puts it back in the ashtray.
"This is the exciting thing about these alternative readings. We need to rethink the whole legal aspect of what can be drawn from the Koran. I believe this critical edition will enlarge our thinking about women’s condition, religious tolerance, what we call human rights."
A professor of literature and human science at Sousse University in Tunis, Abdeljelil heads a team of scholars compiling a critical edition of the Koran. The book will publish a number of alternative readings found in a collection of Koranic mashaf (mas-Haf, or manuscripts) some dating from the first Islamic century that had been stockpiled in the Grand Mosque in Sanaa and uncovered three decades ago.
Abdeljelil speculates that, were his small team bolstered with more scholars, the edition could be published in as soon as 10 years. He is cautiously enthusiastic about the project. He has good reason to be cautious.
Since its revelation, the central scripture of the Muslim community has been kept outside history in a way that has no equivalent in the Christian tradition. The Old and New Testaments have been scrutinized by textual critics since the 19th century peeling back the several, often dissonant, voices from various eras that were cobbled together to form the Christian scripture.
For devout Muslims, treating the Koran in this manner is inconceivable. Where Christians generally concede that the Bible was written by men, the Koran is believed to have been handed down from God to the Prophet Mohammed, without human intervention, in Arabic perfect, immutable in message, language, style, and form. The oneness of the Koran stands as a metaphor for Islam’s conception of the oneness of God.
By applying the same techniques of textual criticism that have been used with the Bible, Abdeljelil and his colleagues are giving the Koran a history.
Abdeljelil is quick to note that this project is not the first of its kind European scholars have been looking at the Yemeni mashaf for years now. He would point out that within Islamic heritage there are different readings of the Koranic text. But the impact of the critical edition will be profound.
The Luxenberg thesis is quite separate from Abdeljelil’s critical work on the Koran. Luxenberg worked not with old mashaf but the 1923 Egyptian edition of the Koran. The Tunisians are skeptical of Luxenberg’s conclusions but they support his method.
"As an approach we are not bothered by what Luxenberg has proposed, nor with his premise that there are languages that had an impact upon Arabic. In fact we would go so far as to encourage it."
Abdeljelil and his colleagues have problems with Luxenberg drawing conclusions drawn from the 1923 text rather than the mashaf.
The scholars agree that their fiddling with the Koran will likely not be well received.
"The popular response will never be positive," says Abdeljelil. "Even if our project were done by true Muslims in a very Islamic country, people would never accept it because the popular imagination is manipulated by different trends. The massive number of population ... believe this text is a divine work that cannot be touched."
Abdeljelil advocates a sort of intellectual trickle-down theory of Koranic criticism.
"I think this project should first be initiated within academic circles. After that you could bring it to workshops, theses and dissertations. Then, after 10 or 15 years, you can bring it to a broader segment of society."

Here is a digest of The Origins of The Koran: Classic Essays on Islam's Holy Book, edited by Ibn Warraq (Prometheus Books: Amherst, New York. 1998)

That item is quite lengthy and I haven't yet plowed through it. There is more to be found with these items from Jay Smith with Muslim responses.

Thus, it would appear that there is the beginnings of scholarship investigating the Koran in a manner like Biblical text critical scholarship.

In the case of Biblical textual studies, the age of some of the Greek manuscripts, the number of them, their geographic distribution and remarkable consistency give text scholars the perspective that transmission though imperfect was pretty good. Also, encouraging was the comparison between the Hebrew Scriptures of the Dead Sea Scrolls (really ancient) and the Masoretic Texts (not as ancient) showing that the scribes were pretty good at their jobs.

It will be interesting to see to what extent Islamic scholarship is willing to put their documents through the same kind of analysis. This item from Rod Dreher reflects the uphill nature of such a quest.

P.J. Williams points to this item in the Boston Globe describing the work of producing the first ever critical edition of the Koran.

The work of text scholars is obscure and it takes some skill to make it accessible to the lay audience. Will there be that kind of effort made as the project continues? What will be the results of the project? What will be the reactions?

Non-profit of the month: October 2010 - Friends of the LA Phil

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Went to the LA Phil on Friday night for the season opener. Gustavo Dudamel was quite the showman as he led the band with his characteristic high energy.

Of Dudamel's conducting, LAT's Swed said...
Essentially what Dudamel did was invest each measure of Schumann’s symphony with a sense of swagger and hunger. He wanted every yearning phrase to yearn like it had never yearned before. He wanted big chords to imply some kind of untold meaning.

He was cocky on the podium with his conducting gestures. He jumped. He wiggled his hips. He could be hyperactive, and he could be still. He sometimes put his whole body into the desire for a certain expression; sometimes he needed only a finger.

Mainly, there was a sense that Dudamel was in love with every note in this score, and that he had the technique to show the orchestra and the audience why.

And there was Emanuel Ax in the first half of the show with white hair walking onto the stage with a Yoda-likes shuffle and you think how can he have the energy to play a frantic Beethoven Piano Concerto #4? But once those fingers hit the keyboard, it was like magic!

Again, LAT's Swed:
Dudamel is always feisty, but the performance belonged to Ax. His full tone, beautifully shaped phrasing and profoundly natural musicality gave the kind of Beethovenian authority the young conductor seemed not about to challenge. Still, Ax is a anything but sanctimonious, and in the Finale he appeared ready for a little fun, merrily egging on his conductor. Ax’s encore -– Schubert’s gorgeous Second Impromptu -– cast a spell.
This part of Dudamel and the LA Phil is its public rock-star life.

There is the behind-the-scenes work they are doing to bring music education to Los Angeles and it isn't just about music but improving lives as shown in the 60 Minutes pieces.

For this valuable work, I'm donating to the Friends of the LA Phil to support their educational efforts in Los Angeles. Please consider supporting them or your local ensemble that is giving to the community, getting kids off the street out of trouble and lifting up their lives.

LA Law: McCourt Trial

Being a Dodger fan who is watching this year's team fall into a black hole, I am beginning to think about next season. And, of course, with the McCourt case on trial, the next season is pretty much up in the air.

From the latest items over at Dodger Divorce ... it would appear that Frank McCourt is the owner of the Dodgers in regards to the team's relationship to Major League Baseball. However, the marital property rights agreement which addresses assets within the context of their marriage remains in question. It would appear the McCourt attorney who prepared it is claiming that Frank's claim is what was intended. However, Silverstein's mixing up the words exclusive and inclusive and then fixing it without explicitly informing both parties was made clear under Boies questioning.

Suffice to say that seems very fishy and at least poor legal/business practice.

I would suspect that having these facts come out in court is driving the parties to try to settle out of court.

I would guess Team Frank's lawyers fear that Judge Gordon will toss the MPA out because of lawyer incompetence in which case he would have to give up 50% of the team. While Team Jamie's lawyers would be telling her, you could get 50% or nothing if you let Judge Gordon decide or you can cut a deal for something in between 0 and 50%.

Technology: E-banking doesn't mean Error-free banking

In the old days, I would balance my checkbook. Invariably, I'd find a math error somewhere. Sometimes it would take quite some time to find the boo-boo.

Well, with e-banking, I don't balance my checkbook looking for every last penny.

BUT, I still take a look at the numbers and so far, as far as I know I haven't found any boo-boos... until ... yesterday!

A check was written for $49 but the account recorded the check as $549!

A quick online chat while browsing in the e-banking web page cleared it up quickly.

Thus, beware!

E-banking doesn't mean Error-free banking!!

World: The 2 Minute Guide to Swedish Politics

In the USA, the political left lauds the effectiveness of large government as practiced in Sweden. The USA right complains that the US shouldn't go the way of Sweden's big socialism.

Of course, the reality of today's Sweden is a bit more nuanced as revealed by the latest elections.

The left leaning Social Democrats, according to the article, has ruled 65 of the last 78 years. However, for the first time, a non-socialist government appeared headed for re-election.

The current government is a coalition known as the Alliance comprising of the Moderate Party, Center Party, Liberal People's Party and Christian Democrats which has been leading Sweden slowly away from its big government socialist past.

The Social Democrats head a coalition consisting of the Social Democrats, Left Party and Green Party.

The wild card in the mix is the Sweden Democrats that have made headway on an anti-immigrant platform and are not aligned with either side. As of the current vote count, neither coalition has the votes to have complete control over the Parliament though the Alliance has more seats.

Moderate Party (M) 30,0% 107 seats
Centre Party (C) 6,6% 22 seats
Liberal Party (FP) 7,1% 24 seats
Christian Democrats (KD) 5,6% 19 seats
Governing coalition 49.3% of the vote, 172 seats

Social Democrats (S) 30,9% 113 seats
Left Party (V) 5,6% 19 seats
Green Party (MP) 7,2% 25 seats
Opposition coaltion 43.7% of the vote, 157 seats

Sweden Democrats (SD) 5,7% of the vote, 20 seats

Stay tuned for how events will unfold!

Theology: Top 10 Theological Issues

Ed. note - this post is periodically updated with new material usually at the bottom.

Saw this item over at Laura's Writings where she highlights ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) as one of the top 10 items cited by Monday Morning Insight who was citing Brian Schulenburg who is writing a book about the subject. Excerpt:
1) Soteriology - I am so concerned as I read more and more people who would self identify as Christians who are saying that Jesus is not the only way to salvation. In a world that has become increasingly diverse, we are seeing more and more people, perhaps because they are afraid of offending, perhaps because they want to create God in their own image, who say that all religions essentially lead to the same place.

2) The Embrace of Open Theism - So many of the college students and young adults that I work with have bought into this doctrine, which among other things, teaches that God does not know the future. They would teach that God knows all of the possible futures, but not a specific future. This has a major impact on how we view the omniscience of God, what we believe about prayer, etc.

3) Homosexuality - How does the church respond to the homosexual community? How do you teach biblical principles regarding homosexuality and still love homosexuals?

4) Ecclesiology - House church? Emerging church? Traditional? Contemporary? Multi-ethnic? Homogeneous? Seeker sensitive? Seeker driven? Gather for edification, scatter for evangelism? Mega-church, bad? Mega-church, good?

5) The Bible - Absolute truth? Inerrant? Infallible? I belive it is with all of my heart. I'm in the minority.

6) Social Justice, Global Warming, etc. - Creation care has caused quite a stir in recent months. Younger Evangelicals are passionate about social justice. Jesus was passionate about social justice. What would Jesus do?

7) Red Letter Christians - Are Jesus' words the most important in all of Scripture? Do we pay as much attention to the teaching of Paul, Peter, John, etc.? What about the Old Testament?

8) Infighting in the Church - Satan is having a heyday here. When does God want us to go to the mat with other Christians? Emerging church vs. Traditional Church? Prayer styles? Worship styles? Theological issues? Urban vs. Suburban?

9) Jesus Junk - The consumerization of the American church. When is enough, enough? What is too much?

10) Friend or Foe? - Is the Gospel a friend to culture or a foe to culture?
What do you think?


I'll work my way through the list and give my take (worth every cent you are paying for it!) as someone who hasn't been to a theological school and thus don't have a "system" I like to follow. Obviously, I've been influenced by the churches I've been a part of and books I've read!

10) Friend or Foe? - Is the Gospel a friend to culture or a foe to culture?

A bit simplistic to make it an either/or situation don't you think? There are some parts that are good and some parts that aren't. I'd say the American ideal of re-invention and possibility are good things about life in the USA. God's grace in our lives is about possibilities and transformation and growth. From my Chinese culture, I see the strong honor your parents component as consistent with Biblical commands. On the downside, Asian culture stresses conformity which flies against the unity in diversity picture of the multi-racial worship of God the Gospel makes possible. America's keep-up-with-the-Jones mentality skates dangerously close if not into the realm of idolatry.

9) Jesus Junk - The consumerization of the American church. When is enough, enough? What is too much?

No question one of the struggles of life in the United States is being too fond of our "stuff." Our life isn't in stuff yet somehow in the USA, we often feel that we need more stuff to be happy. I don't have a hard rule on how much money should one spend on say a car. However, in my neighborhood there are a lot of very nice cars which I couldn't afford and I'd feel uncomfortable spending that much if I had the money to spend on such a car. Living in Los Angeles it is pretty hard to get by without one. But as a follower of Jesus, how much money is appropriate to spend on a car?

8) Infighting in the Church - Satan is having a heyday here. When does God want us to go to the mat with other Christians? Emerging church vs. Traditional Church? Prayer styles? Worship styles? Theological issues? Urban vs. Suburban?

There is a difference between form and substance. Forms can be influenced by lots of factors like demographics and culture. If you have a ministry to restaurant workers you probably can't schedule activities on weekends for them because they are all at work! If you are in the suburbs and your church has lots of families with young kids then you should plan things to account for that. Likewise, if your congregation is mostly retired people, do what you got to do.

It is really tough when you have a mixture of all of the above under one roof and you don't have the resources to do all things for all people. That is where we really need to learn to be much more charitable with each other and somehow work together!

As for substance, we just need to be honest if we have a difference of opinion. Absolutely, welcome anyone in need who comes through the church doors... atheist, Mormon, Hindu, pagan, confused, whatever... The Good Samaritan didn't check the id of the guy beaten on the roadside in the famous parable and likewise the church must be a place that is an open and safe place for anyone who is in need.

However, for positions of leadership and responsibility then some "theological correctness" in addition to evidence of good character are fair game and just simply the right thing to do. I don't think it is unreasonably for denomination X to expect their pastors to subscribe to the vast majority of their distinctives. Even non-denominational churches have some (or should) doctrinal statements rooted in the historic Christian faith. Clearly there is a lot of debate within the Christian community as to what constitutes the bare essentials. But as one of my old pastors use to say, unity on the essentials and charity on everything else.

7) Red Letter Christians - Are Jesus' words the most important in all of Scripture? Do we pay as much attention to the teaching of Paul, Peter, John, etc.? What about the Old Testament?

I've heard a little bit about this. Seems to me there are two aspects to this movement: political and theological.

The political movement appears to be a reaction to the conservative evangelical support of the Republican party. It is simplistic to say but it is generally true that this new group is composed of Christians who are politically left of center.

The picture of American political views is actually quite a bit more complicated than secular vs. religious and conservative vs. liberal. If those were the only options, there would only be four "tribes" in the American electorate. Instead, it is suggested that there are Twelve Tribes in American politics!

As a theological enterprise, are the Words of Jesus more important than the rest of the Bible?

There is precedent for this kind of thought in the Jewish religion where the Torah, the 5 books of Moses, are held as the highest Scriptures followed by the Prophets and the Writings.

Though in theory many Christians hold all of Scriptures as equally inspired and thus valuable, in practice, most sermons come from the New Testament. And depending on the church, some will be preaching more from the Gospels about Jesus and others from the Letters of the Apostle Paul. It is also probably true that when the Bible is being translated into a new language, the first books to be translated would be the Gospels.

Thus, as a matter of establishing a framework to define the faith, one would naturally go first to the Words and Deeds of Jesus.

However, the temptation of the Red Letter movement would be to discard everything from Romans onward. That would be problematic.

6) Social Justice, Global Warming, etc. - Creation care has caused quite a stir in recent months. Younger Evangelicals are passionate about social justice. Jesus was passionate about social justice. What would Jesus do?

I think Social Justice is a time honored part of Christian spiritual expression. Wilberforce and the fight against slavery would be a part of this tradition. American Christians were at the front of fighting slavery. Religious motivations were behind part of the Civil Rights Movement.

What troubles me today though is that Christians who have strong social justice instincts can wind up somewhat captive to either political party.

For instance, some Christians who are very pro-environment and are very concerned about the global warming issue can become stuck with other things the Democrats support which they really don't like.

Likewise, Christians who see the pro-life issue as a social justice issue get stuck with stuff in the Republican party they don't like.

The Global Warming issue has gotten a lot of press lately. However, I'm concerned that it has taken a life of its own apart from good solid science. Statements like "there are no serious questions about the reality of global warming" is troubling to me. There are scientists who have concerns about the data. Additionally, there is a dollars and sense question of priorities of what to fight: if you have $1 billion to spend, do you spend it on fighting global warming or on malaria in Africa?

Besides global warming, the social justice train is concerned with issues of economics. This can get tricky because economics is tied to questions of political power. It may sound nice in the abstract to redistribute wealth as advocated by socialists and communists but that comes with totalitarian governments and when you give government the power to take people's money and property, they can take other things to.

Likewise, a total free market system can lead to a law of the jungle kind of trouble.

As I see it, I do lean toward the free market because I'd rather have power diffused rather than concentrated in the government. However, I do have to trust that enough people have compassion to ensure that we don't fall into a social Darwinism where a certain segment of the population gets trampled.

5) The Bible - Absolute truth? Inerrant? Infallible?

There is a huge inter-mural debate about which of the above terms best applies to Scripture. Absolute truth? Indeed, about the spiritual condition of man and God's plan of reconciliation!

Inerrant/infallible? Theologians can slug that one out until the cows come home. My bottom line is summarized in this blog post where my I view the Bible as God's message to us.
I recognize the following statements are articles of faith.
(1) I believe that God desires to communicate to humanity certain things.
(2) I believe God interacted with human authors to produce a body of text.
(3) I believe that God guided the church to properly identify which body of text to hold as authoritative.
(4) I believe that God has blessed the community of faith with scribes who have copied the text reliably, scholars who apply textual criticism to remove the boo-boos and translators who bring the text into the many languages of the world accurately.

The Bible I hold in my hands (#4) is a reliable reflection of #1.

4) Ecclesiology - House church? Emerging church? Traditional? Contemporary? Multi-ethnic? Homogeneous? Seeker sensitive? Seeker driven? Gather for edification, scatter for evangelism? Mega-church, bad? Mega-church, good?

I attended a youth workers conference a few years back. The speaker had us gather into groups based on our age by decade. Lots of groups with 20s. Many 30s, a few 40s, and indeed there were groups with 50s and 60s!

The speaker offered this encouragement: look around and see how many different types of people are working with youth; because there are so many different kinds of kids we need all kinds of youth volunteers to serve in youth groups!

So my view on churches styles is simple: unity on the essentials of the faith and diversity of forms to reach people!

Non-profit of the month: September 2010 - AIDS Healthcare Foundation

The good book says, "Love your neighbor."

In the early 1990s, my laboratory research projects involved trying to understand some of the details of how HIV survives. At that time, there were few medical options.

Today, there are medications that help keep the virus in check, but the disease remains a major problem here and around the world. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is on the front-lines of fighting HIV/AIDS with education, testing and medical care. One of my friends at my church works with AHF in clinical care of patients. A number of us at my church will be participating in the Cal AIDS Walk as a way to stand with those who face life with HIV/AIDS.

When a neighbor is in need, we must help and I hope you will consider supporting the work of AHF as one way to do so.

Please consider making a contribution at my Cal AIDS Walk pledge page. The funds will go to AHF and other organizations addressing the needs of individuals with HIV/AIDS.

Thank you and God bless!

Heading into the October international break

LA Galaxy have dropped two in a row and in both cases their defense was the culprit. As a result, they go into the MLS playoffs in fifth pla...