31 March 2010

Way of the iPad

The Wall Street Journal's tech guy, Walt Mossberg, has a very positive review of Apple's new iPad. I am a fan of Apple's products, having drunk the Kool-Aid 4 or 5 years ago. Even with that, I watched the video of the iPad that Apple had on it's site post-announcement and I thought it was a bit much.

It is a little hard to believe how the device could be as revolutionary as the hype makes it sound. The hype may be right. Read the article for more information.

28 March 2010

A Sunday Thought

I have very rarely used my blog to express my religious convictions. I feel like doing so today. This will be primarily a theological post.

I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Twice a year we listen to a broadcast of our Church's leaders called General Conference. During the Conference we hear instruction and reminders about how we can apply the principles of Christ's gospel to our lives.

Today we studied one of the discourses from the most recent Conference in a men's study class that I led. It is titled "Moral Discipline" and was given by Elder D. Todd Christofferson. He is a member of our Church's Quorum of Twelve Apostles, and I consider him a witness of Jesus Christ (this is also his official duty in the Church).

I thought this talk worth sharing because it touches on a few areas that are applicable to our day and time. Here is a quote:

The societies in which many of us live have for more than a generation failed to foster moral discipline. They have taught that truth is relative and that everyone decides for himself or herself what is right. Concepts such as sin and wrong have been condemned as “value judgments.” As the Lord describes it, “Every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god” (D&C 1:16).

As a consequence, self-discipline has eroded and societies are left to try to maintain order and civility by compulsion. The lack of internal control by individuals breeds external control by governments. One columnist observed that “gentlemanly behavior [for example, once] protected women from coarse behavior. Today, we expect sexual harassment laws to restrain coarse behavior. . . .

“Policemen and laws can never replace customs, traditions and moral values as a means for regulating human behavior. At best, the police and criminal justice system are the last desperate line of defense for a civilized society. Our increased reliance on laws to regulate behavior is a measure of how uncivilized we’ve become.”2

I believe in moral absolutes. I believe that each individual has the right to choose their own path, but mere selection of a moral path does not make that path correct. I don't walk around judging people who make different choices than I do- I don't have the time, inclination, or right to do so. But I try to make choices based on whether they conform to a moral constant.

I think many, many people do this as well. The unfortunate part is that we, as a society, have failed to maintain a core moral discipline that provides a framework for our behavior and treatment of others. We are afraid to declare societal norms to guide individual behavior. Elder Christofferson continues:

I have heard a few parents state that they don’t want to impose the gospel on their children but want them to make up their own minds about what they will believe and follow. They think that in this way they are allowing children to exercise their agency. What they forget is that the intelligent use of agency requires knowledge of the truth, of things as they really are (see D&C 93:24). Without that, young people can hardly be expected to understand and evaluate the alternatives that come before them. Parents should consider how the adversary approaches their children. He and his followers are not promoting objectivity but are vigorous, multimedia advocates of sin and selfishness.
As a a parent I am more than a little terrified about the possibility that my children will make bad choices. I don't plan to be ambiguous about what "bad" means. I'm frustrated that the world we live in will likely hinder, rather than aid, my efforts. I am grateful to have a framework that I think will help me in my efforts.

It's not the most popular ideology. It drives some people nuts. It has helped me live a simple and fulfilling life, and I am grateful for it.

27 March 2010

Awesome Video Saturday CXXVIII

Joseph has been requesting this story every night. I don't know if he gets the environmental message, because when I ask him what he likes about it he says "the grickle-grass and the old crow."

He has quite a bit of it memorized though.

23 March 2010

A Few Thoughts on the Health Care Bill

I wanted to say a few things about health care reform. I am not in favor of the legislation signed into law today. I think it was as partisan an outcome as possible, and will create significant problems with regard to the cost and availability of quality health care.

I do not think it is the end of the world, or the end of our country's remarkable ability to prosper. I do think those who created it have been at best naive and at worst sinister in their motivations.

The main issues are unintended consequences and unforeseen outcomes.

In my work I often remind people that governmental involvement, from either party, has never been able to "wreck" our still-unique economic system. We have a special combination of institutional protections and culturally-based inventiveness that gives us an advantage over other nations. Still, I worry about those unintended consequences and unforeseen outcomes. Regarding the first:

1. Unintended consequences

It is incorrect to assume that governmental initiatives have no effect on supply and demand. EVERYTHING that changes incentives shifts either demand or supply, or both of those things.

Living in Florida, we have seen the impact of hurricanes on property insurance. This has made it difficult for some people to get insurance. Who are these people? Generally those near the coast, where there is greater likelihood that storms will affect them. These are people with pre-exisiting conditions. As a result the government has established a company that is meant to be an insurer of last resort, with manageable premiums. The kicker is that ALL Floridians subsidize this insurance company AND this insurance company will be instantly bankrupt if Florida experiences a bad storm season.

Insurance is only as good as the company that issues it. Because Citizen's (the government option) is a government-sponsored entity it can avoid the rules that a State Farm or Nationwide have to operate under. As a result, the best-run, most financially-sound companies, have left the State of Florida as a market. This has made coverage even harder to acquire, as the government has limited what companies can charge for coverage.

Health insurance uses different data and actuarial assumptions than property insurance, but the idea of unintended consequences works with the health care legislation. Government mandates on PRICING will force companies out of the business, as it has done in Florida's property insurance industry, or it will affect how they offer insurance.

It is naive to think that new laws will only have beneficial outcomes. Think of the 1990's relaxation of home-buying requirements or the deregulation of the airlines. We have ALL experienced the unintended consequences of those laws..

Furthermore the law has created an incentive for people to keep their incomes below a certain threshold in order to keep their government health care subsidy. This will not promote a system which pays for itself.

2. Unforeseen Outcomes

This means things that were not caused by a law or program or projection, but which have affected it's outcome. One example are the projected surpluses at the end of the Clinton administration. Bush is often accused of driving us into high deficits and squandering the surpluses of the Clinton years, but some of those surpluses, being projected, NEVER WOULD HAVE OCCURRED. They were based on projections of tax revenues that evaporated when the dot.coms crashed, we entered recession, and 9/11 occurred, in that order.

We have a 1 trillion dollar health care law that has been evaluated using assumptions of future earnings, tax revenues, and utilization that were out-of-date the minute they were created. Assumptions can be massaged to create exactly the outcome you were hoping to find.

I don't think Obama deliberately tried to use faulty assumptions, but I think his acceptance of these assumptions was politically expedient and intellectually naive. My point is that we cannot know what the next ten years holds for us as an economy or a country. If he wanted to make the case that the program was fiscally responsible, and he did, than he opened himself up to this kind of criticism.

3. Alternatives

We certainly need health care reform. There are other things that Congress could have done that would have been more impactful to costs and been fiscally neutral.

Obviously there is a huge political incentive in the creation of the health care entitlement. When FDR created Social Security, he took a group of people that were not united under party lines and made them into a single, new voting bloc. That is what has occurred with the health care law. Future attempts to change or modify the program will be met with similar reactions to efforts to reform Social Security (They're trying to take away your benefits!).

Health insurance is my single largest expense. It is more costly than rent for our offices or even my mortgage at home. I am fortunate to enjoy very good coverage, but it carries a high cost.

I believe that we need reform, but it could have been tackled differently, in a bipartisan manner, and it wasn't. Very simple solutions, such as those discussed in this post, might have been an excellent place to start. Their implementation would provide time for a more thorough and careful examination of the health-care system.

That didn't happen, Obama ignored key campaign pledges, and we will have to see how everything unfolds.

21 March 2010

First Bath

These are some pictures of Isaac's first bath at home.
Doing good so far!

Millie wanted to help with the washing.
The somewhat predictable, post-bath cry.

20 March 2010

Awesome Video Saturday CXXVII

This is a pretty funny spoof on those unintentionally ridiculous Brinks Security ads.

18 March 2010

A New Arrival

At 3:08 PM on March 17th we welcomed our new son, Isaac Rafael Lowry. As has been the case when Joseph and Millie were born, Lacy was amazing.

Lacy has always liked the name Isaac, and Rafael was the middle name of my grandfather (Abuelito). I wanted him to have a link to his ancestry. Fortunately Lacy agreed.

Isaac is a big boy- 10 lbs 14 oz at birth! I have included some photos below. I'm sorry that they are a little out of order.

Childbirth is a miracle. This is the third time I have seen a birth, each time for one of my kids. It is an extraordinary spiritual and emotional experience. To see my wife pushed to such an extreme, and to see the life that comes from her body, a perfect, new person, demonstrates to me the grandeur of God's creation.

I am a blessed man.

Here is Millie with her little brother.

Joseph is very excited to have a new baby in the house. He asked if Mommy could have a little baby girl...today! We told him she needed a break.
He is a happy big bro!
The proof-
Papa and Mima with their new grandkid (#7).
Nana arrived from San Diego right on time! Isaac is her 19th grandchild, her 13th grandson!
Here is Isaac about 3 hours after his birth.
Joseph gets to listen to Isaac's heartbeat. "Sounds good!"
Isaac's first visitors- Papa, Uncle Chris, Joseph III, Mima, Nana, and Millie.

15 March 2010

Taking a stand! (Go Cougs!)

As for me and my house, we support the Cougars!


14 March 2010

Tourney Time

The SPOTD Blog tourney group is now open.

The password is "spotd" and the group is the SPOTD Champions League.

13 March 2010

Awesome Video Saturday CXXVI

This is an extremely impressive and inventive creation-

This group, OK GO, has had clever videos in the past- such as this one.

12 March 2010

Where Credit is Due (Part 2)

The New York Times Thomas Friedman had a piece in today's edition on the Iraq elections. He also credits George Bush for seeing the potential for democracy in the Middle East and Iraq in particular. The photos below are from the New York Times website.

Friedman is more reserved about Iraq's future, which is far from certain, but does see the potential for democratic institutions taking hold in the country. He also mentions the potential impact this will have on the legitimacy of the regime in Iran, which can only be a good thing in my mind.

11 March 2010

Looking Good

The latest trailer for Robin Hood is a winner.

Hoodilolly, hoodilolly.

Where Credit is Due

There has been a lot written about the recent parliamentary elections in Iraq and what it means for the Middle East and the future of the country. Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe has a piece where he gives credit where it is due- to George W. Bush.

You can debate, with good reason, the rationale for entering the war. Apart from the origins of the war the key is that, at a critical time, Bush selected the course of action that has produced a fairly stable country. None of the opposing plans to pull out or "redeploy" would have led to a more secure Iraq.

Key figures in the Obama administration, Obama and Biden among them, promoted the wrong ideas for Iraq. If they continue to claim that the economy they entered office with is the fault of the previous administration, they cannot take credit for Iraq's successes, except insofar as they have continued those beneficial policies for the last 13 months.

08 March 2010

Rotten at the Top

In a sad (and unsurprising) development, corruption has continued to be an issue in Latin America. It is suspected that El Salvador's former president may have used state funds inappropriately. In the absence of adequate state insitutions, O'Grady proposes that the World Bank audit the nation's books.

It's not going to happen, but it should.

Changing Sides

This was a very interesting interview with the son of one of Hamas' founders. After being captured by Israel in the 1990's he became an agent of the Shin Bet, an Israeli intelligence service.

During that time he supplied information to Israel and eventually converted to Christianity. He now lives in the United States and has published a book about his experience.

It's an interesting story.

06 March 2010

Awesome Video Saturday CXXV

Do you remember the 1985 Alice in Wonderland miniseries? It was one of those star-studded specials that used to come on periodically. I remember being riveted by it when I was younger, and I thought the Jabberwocky was terrifying.

In honor of the release of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, Entertainment Weekly has posted some scenes from the 1985 movie.

Looks pretty lame by today's standards. As they mention in the post:
Watching this as an adult is so weird. So many questions. Was every scene of this thing shot in the same big room? Why was the caterpillar dressed as a Revolutionary War general while Alice got to crossover into a local stage production of Peter and the Wolf?
YouTube has many more clips. Good for a funny nostalgia trip.

05 March 2010

A Few Things

Just a few things I've read lately, mostly in the WSJ-
Good night.

03 March 2010

Nickel & Dime

If you have stayed in a resort at any time in the recent past you may have noticed a "resort fee" being added to your bill. It was either compulsory, or something charged if you wanted to use facilities like the gym. You also probably had to pay for a beach chair or some other heretofore complimentary service.

This trend seems worst at higher-end hotels. It may or may not be disclosed when a room is booked. While on a recent business trip my father discovered that the highly-rated resort hotel assessed a five dollar fee on drop-off and receipt of overnight mail.

As seen in this Chicago Tribune article (found on Drudge), hidden fees have begun to crop up in restaurants in San Francisco. The author decries the trend as in poor taste, and I agree. I would rather see a restaurant raise their prices than impose a fee that may not have been disclosed beforehand.

San Francisco has long been a focal point for culinary trends. I hope this is a movement that remains Bay-bound.

02 March 2010

More praise for Uribe

Max Boot at Commentary Magazine also has praise for Alvaro Uribe. He mentions Uribe's worthiness for the Nobel Peace Prize. Wouldn't it be nice for it to actually be given to someone who has accomplished something in that area?

As we've discussed before, the prize is mostly political and largely meaningless, and I think Uribe is much happier about the peace actually enjoyed in his country.

01 March 2010

Acting against Self-Interest

I re-watched the movie Miracle the other day. It's one of my all-time favorites. I enjoyed this article by SI.com's Joe Posnanski on some lesser-known facts from that game.

I am not really a hockey fan. I enjoy watching it on occasion but never make an effort to do so. I was riveted by the Olympic tournament, and hearing that the NHL is weighing whether to participate in 2014 seems crazy. As mentioned in the article, the Olympics make hockey, for once every four years, nationally relevant. To abandon the Olympics would be foolish, but it wouldn't be the first bad decision the hockey powers that be have made.

Here's hoping they don't give up on a good thing.

A Bad Day for Mexico

I heard about the death of Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata last week. His hunger strike, helped along by mistreatment at the hands of the Cuban government, led to his death.

There is a sad history of apathy toward the crimes of the Castro regime. The trend continued last week and Mr. Calderon had the misfortune of having Zapato, a longtime non-violent protester, die during Castro's visit. He should have known better and demonstrates that he is no statesman by his actions.

A Good Day for Colombia

The presidency of Alvaro Uribe has been a successful one. During his tenure Colombia has enjoyed improvements in almost every aspect of life. Among his successes has been the weakening of the FARC, once one of the most powerful terrorist and criminal organizations in the country. While still a major force, they have not been able to diminish the free-market economic success that Colombia has enjoyed, despite help from neighbor governments unfriendly to the right-leaning Uribe.

Uribe was considering running for a third term as president. He is popular, and may have been successful. The Colombian Constitutional Court has declared that such a move would be unconstitutional, and Mr. Uribe will abide by its decision.

This is in stark contrast to the actions of Hugo Chavez, who has successfully extended his time as president of Venezuela, and Honduras' Zelaya, who would have violated his country's constitution in pursuit of the same.

Colombia will benefit from the institutional discipline required by the Court to issue this decision, and by the actions of the president to honor it.

Consensus is not Science

This is science. It is a report on a study which finds little connection between global warming and more severe hurricanes. According to their findings, global warming may actually contribute to milder storms. This is, of

Now it does not by any means disprove Climate Change. I'm not of the belief that Climate Change is NOT happening. I just don't know:

  • How bad it is
  • How much can be attributed to man
  • What we CAN do about it
  • What we SHOULD do about it
  • Whether there are other things which are MORE important, and therefore more worthy of finite resources.

This is a healthy debate to be having. Crisis talk and fearmongering are used for demagoguery, not good policy.