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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Yogi Berra's Commencement Speech

"Thank you all for being here tonight. I know this is a busy time of year, and if you weren't here, you could probably be somewhere else. I especially want to thank the administration at St. Louis University for making this day necessary. It is an honor to receive this honorary degree.

It is wonderful to be here in St. Louis and to visit the old neighborhood. I haven't been back since the last time I was here. Everything looks the same, only different. Of course, things in the past are never as they used to be.

Before I speak, I have something I'd like to say. As you may know, I never went to college, or high school for that matter. To be honest, I'm not much of a public speaker, so I will try to keep this short as long as I can.

As I look out upon all of the young people here tonight, there are a number of words of wisdom I might depart. But I think the most irrelevant piece of advice I can pass along is this: "The most important things in life are the things that are least important.

I could have gone a number of directions in my life. Growing up on the Hill, I could have opened a restaurant or a bakery. But the more time I spent in places like that, the less time I wanted to spend there. I knew that if I wanted to play baseball, I was going to have to play baseball. My childhood friend, Joe Garagiola, also became a big-league ballpayer, as did my son, Dale. I think you'll find the similarities in our careers are quite different.

You're probably wondering, how does a kid from the Hill become a New York Yankee and get in the Hall of Fame? Well, let me tell you something, if it was easy nobody would do it. Nothing is impossible until you make it possible.

Of course, times were different. To be honest, I was born at an early age. Things are much more confiscated now. It seems like a nickel ain't worth a dime anymore. But let me tell you, if the world was perfect, it wouldn't be. Even Napoleon had his Watergate.

You'll make some wrong mistakes along the way, but only the wrong survive. Never put off until tomorrow what you can't do today. Denial isn't just a river in Europe.

Strive for success and remember you won't get what you want unless you want what you get. Some will choose a different path. If they don't want to come along, you can't stop them. Remember, none are so kind as those who will not see.

Keep the faith and follow the Commandments: Do not covet thy neighbor's wife, unless she has nothing else to wear. Treat others before you treat yourself. As Franklin Eleanor Roosevelt once said, 'The onl y thing you have to fear is beer itself.'

Hold on to your integrity, ladies and gentlemen. It's the one thing you really need to have; if you don't have it, that's why you need it. Work hard to reach your goals, and if you can't reach them, use a ladder. There may come a day when you get hurt and have to miss work. Don't worry, it won't hurt to miss work.

Over the years, I have realized that baseball is really just a menopause for life. We all have limitations, but we also know limitation is the greatest form of flattery. Beauty is in the eyes of Jim Holder.

Half the lies you hear won't be true, and half the things you say, you won't ever say.

As parents you'll want to give your children all the things you didn't have. But don't buy them an encyclopedia, make them walk to school like you did. Teach them to have respect for others, especially the police. They are not here to create disorder, they are here to preserve it.

Throughout my career, I found good things always came in pairs of three. There will be times when you are an overwhelming underdog. Give 100 percent to everything you do, and when that's not enough, give everything you have left. 'Winning isn't everything, but it's better than rheumatism.' I think Guy Lombardo said that.

Finally, dear graduates and friends, cherish this moment; it is a memory you will never forget. You have your entire future ahead of you.

"Good luck and Bob's speed."

Monday, June 28, 2010

God's Shadow

When you push a point, you get a line. When you push a line, you get a plane. When you push a plane, you get a solid. When you push a solid, you get a four-dimensional shape.

The shadow of a four-dimensional shape is a solid. The shadow of a solid is a plane. The shadow of a plane is a line. The shadow of a line is a point.

So, what is the shadow of a point?

We live in a world of shadows. This little game got me thinking about them. What is a shadow like?

First of all, a shadow tells me something about the object that casts it. For example, if I'm walking along I can usually tell what makes the shadow of a fence or building or person, even if I don't see the original object. I don't have ALL the information, though: I can't tell, for example, what the building might be made of, and I won't see the details like the windows or the doorframe. Furthermore, depending on the position of the sun the shadow's shape may be distorted. It's easiest to recognize the shadow if I already know what the object looks like; if I've never seen the particular object, I'll have a hard time imagining it from the shadow although I can take a guess.

A shadow also can give a false impression. For example, if you ever played those shadow games with your hands when you were little, you know you could make all sorts of things that looked like they are there: A bird. An elephant. But really the shadows are just from contortions of your fingers, and you can even make your fingers look as if they are on top of each other when you hold your hands apart. The information conveyed in the shadow is sometimes misleading.

To summarize:

1. A shadow doesn't exist on its own, but must be derived from an object and a light source.

2. The shadow gives a hint about the nature of an object, although it's difficult to understand very much about the nature of the object from the shadow.

3. It's fairly easy to draw false conclusions about the casting object from its shadow.

4. Very different objects can cast a shadow that looks the same.

While thinking about shadows, I can't help taking this to a theological bent wondering if this world is a shadow of the next world, the "real" world where God dwells. If this is so, the shapes of Heaven we see cast onto the screen of this Earth are very limited, possibly distorted, bits of information of the real world.

In this world we have not seen the objects casting the shadow, although humans seem to have a universal understanding of some of these objects. I think this is because our souls are attached to the three-dimensional filter of our bodies in this world, but the soul is a "real" object, not of this Earth. An example of our understanding of an object without its being here is moral behavior or a sense of right and wrong. Every culture since the beginning of time has had a sense of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Furthermore, the same things are always present: it's wrong to murder. It's wrong to steal. It's wrong to sleep with your neighbor's spouse. Where does this moral sense come from? An atheist would say this sense has an evolutionary value. Maybe. But how is it evolutionarily advantageous for a fireman to sacrifice himself for strangers in a burning building? Richard Dawkins worked with this problem in The Selfish Gene, but somehow I never felt that he made a compelling evolutionary case for the advantages of sacrificial, moral behavior.

Another example of our understanding something that doesn't exist on this Earth is our sense of immortality. Death is the most natural and pervasive element on this world, is it not? So, why should people be surprised when they learn that someone they knew has died, or that they themselves have been diagnosed with a terminal illness? Where does this sense of "living forever" come from? Every culture seems to have or have had a sense of life beyond the grave.

Although there are many opportunities and an incredible variety of human lives, the human life cycle seems in some ways quite limited. We are born, we are children, we become adults, marry, have children, work to survive, grow old, grow sick, and die. The heights of human experience are fairly stereotyped: love between two individuals, or a great accomplishment in a field of endeavor. Thought of in this way, these high experiences could be like shadows, showing a simple edge but no detail and possibly distorted. In Heaven, there are probably multiple types of very different and great high experiences, all casting shadows that look similar here on Earth.

I don't know if I'm expressing this clearly, but I like the idea of thinking of this human life on Earth as a shadow. The single important task of this life for each individual is to recognize God, while He has drawn the curtain over Himself so that we are not coerced into responding to Him. He is so overwhelming that once this curtain is drawn back at the moment of death no one will be able to resist His presence. But He wishes for His creatures to follow Him of their own volition not force, to want to be with Him, the incomparably beautiful Being from whom all good things flow. This moment, now, is the only time we have to choose Him.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Lemon Meringue Cake

This cake worked out fabulously! It's perfect for summer.

Lemon Meringue Cake

Bake an angel food cake in a round tube pan and let it cool upside-down for a few hours. Remove the cake and put on an oven-proof plate (I used a pizza pan covered with foil). With a bread knife cut the cake into three horizontal layers.

Filling: combine 3/4 cup lemon juice, 3/4 cup sugar, and 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch in a pan. Heat to boiling, stirring often. Lemon sauce will thicken. Let it cool for half an hour or so, then spoon half the filling onto the bottom cake layer. Put on the second cake layer and spoon rest of sauce on that. Top with final cake layer.

Meringue: in metal or glass bowl, grease-free, combine four egg whites and 1/8 tsp cream of tartar (to stabilize). Beat at high speed until foamy. Keep beating on high and add 1 1/3 cups sugar a little at a time so that it dissolves. Beat meringue until stiff peaks form and it holds its shape (beat about ten minutes). Be careful not to overbeat, though.

Spread meringue over cake. Put cake in oven at 400F for about 10 minutes, until meringue is lightly browned.

That's it! Let the cake cool a bit, then eat and enjoy. You should probably refrigerate this puppy if you don't eat it right away.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Arthur Laffer's Scary Predictions

Arthur Laffer is an economist whose "supply side" theories guided Ronald Reagan's economic policies in the 80s. He wrote an editorial in The Wall Street Journal on Monday June 7th 2010 about the future of the American economy that is cautionary and worrisome.

His thesis is that the tax hikes that will occur in 2011, due to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts (and many new taxes) will probably cause coporate profits to tumble and the stock market to "collapse." Some of the coming tax hikes that will hit us Americans include:

* the highest federal personal income tax rate will go from 35 to 39.6 percent;

* the highest federal dividend tax rate will increase from 15 to 39.6 percent;

* the capital gains tax rate will rise from 15 to 20 percent;

* the estate tax rate will soar from zero to 55 percent. (If you're dying, do it before December 31 2010 :-)

Laffer says that “Tax rate increases next year are everywhere.” He thinks that the coming hikes, along with the prospect of rising prices, higher interest rates and more regulations next year, are causing businesses to shift production and income from 2011 to 2010 to the greatest extent possible.

“As a result, income this year has already been inflated above where it otherwise should be and next year, 2011, income will be lower than it otherwise should be,” Laffer says.

Laffer is the originator of the "Laffer Curve" that theorizes that under certain circumstances decreases in tax rates can result in increased tax revenues.

"It shouldn't surprise anyone that the nine states without an income tax are growing far faster and attracting more people than are the nine states with the highest income tax rates,” he says.

Laffer observes that Reagan's delayed tax cuts, which were passed under the Economic Recovery Tax Act in 1981 but didn’t take effect until 1983, were the mirror image of President Barack Obama's delayed tax rate increases. In 1983, the economy took off like a rocket, with average real growth reaching 7.5 percent in 1983 and 5.5 percent in 1984. Mr. Obama's experience with deferred tax rate increases will be the reverse.

Laffer predicts that the USA economy if it continues along current policies will collapse in 2011.

"Incentives matter," Laffer says. “If you thought deficits and unemployment have been bad lately, you ain't seen nothing yet.” If the government taxes people who work and pays people not to work, the result will be that fewer people will work.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Satan's Apple

Have you ever been tempted? Not by something little, like whether you should eat that chocolate brownie, but a big thing that takes your breath away. A million dollars. Revenge. The leadership of your organization. The love of your life.

What do you do if you could take what you desire, but you know you shouldn't?

One of my favorite quotes about temptation is from CS Lewis' Mere Christianity: "No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because he was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means -- the only complete realist."

Fighting a temptation is hard work, and it can be a lasting fight: for days, months, occasionally a lifetime. So what keeps someone from succumbing to a temptation?

Let me suggest one remedy: Love. Of course there are different types of meaning for that word that we use: love of self, affection, friendship, eros (romantic/sexual), agape. I'm talking about the agape selfless love. As described by Lewis, "Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person's ultimate good as far as it can be obtained." (Answers to Questions on Christianity). It is the love that recognizes how your actions affect others for good or for ill, the decision to be willing to sacrifice for the other. The highest form of Love. While showing agape may seem unreasonable, don't we all admire this, for example in the man who goes back into a burning building to rescue a child? Let me suggest that aiming for this standard will inevitably lessen the temptation's bad effects, if not the pain of the battle.

If you haven't been greatly tempted yet, don't be like the man Shakespeare describes when he says, "He jests at scars that never felt a wound." (Romeo and Juliet, act 2 scene 2). The temptation may come to you in a way or form that you might not expect. Decide, now, that you are, that you must be, strong enough to overcome.

Since I'm sticking on CS Lewis today, let me tell one more story of his, from The Magician's Nephew (One of the Chronicles of Narnia). In the book, Aslan the great lion tells a little boy that he must go on a journey to fetch a magical apple that will protect Narnia. The little boy retrieves it, but then is tempted by a witch that the apple could instead restore his dying mother. He struggles but withstands the suggestion, his heart's desire, and instead brings the apple back to Aslan.

Aslan says, "Well done. For this fruit you have hungered and thirsted and wept. No hand but yours shall sow the seed of the Tree that is to be the protection of Narnia." The little boy plants the apple, and a tree quickly grows. Aslan then invites the little boy to take an apple back to his mother. "The stolen apple," Aslan explains, "would have healed her, but not to your joy or hers. The day would have come when both you and she would have looked back and said it would have been better to die in that illness...[but] it is not what will happen now. What I give you now will bring joy."

A fairy tale? Maybe. But I believe Lewis tapped into a rich truth of the universe, that good and bad do exist, and that our actions do matter. Stand strong. You don't know what unseen forces may be set into play.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Today is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life

When I was very little, I remember my mom saying this to me. I didn't get it, but I'm older now, and now I'm understanding the deep wisdom of this saying. Missed opportunities and bad choices are heavy burdens to carry. Even when a decision is carefully weighed and wisely acted upon, events can occur to retroactively make that decision a bad one.

This weekend I was moping about Lever. I called a store last week to see if they'd carry it, and the woman I talked to was breezy, just said, "of course, we'll need to see it first." I figured out what bothered me was that she hadn't asked first what the book was about, only about the discount, before telling me to send it on. Yup, another book, ka-ching. I've done this route before -- calling stores and at least describing the book to fire up a little interest before sending it on. Even with this preparation, I've had zero success with this particular tactic (although I'm still convinced it's a good strategy).

I've hit the 400-books-sold mark, and my friend who owns a self-pubbing company gave me a high five and said this makes me a self-pubbed bestseller! It doesn't feel like it though. I've had to push hard for those sales -- book signings, and talks, and calling calling calling different venues. I've started receiving a few emails from people who read the book through word of mouth, but frankly I'm tired and my trick bag is empty. I've tried to get in stores, to get in catalogs, to get a print review. I pass out cards and leave them in restaurants and dentist offices. Despite the fact that I've got great endorsements and 4.5 star average on amazon, and hopefully a great book, no one wants to carry Lever. Heck, even a friend who attends a book club hadn't thought of suggesting my book although I have such great book club questions :-) -- and I still haven't been invited there, but hope springs eternal :-)

See what I mean about moping? I'm losing focus. This is God's book, and He will bring it to those who might benefit from the message, whether it's two or two-million people. Lord, please forgive me and help me keep my eyes on you.

So, this brings me back to the saying:


Like most people, I carry different burdens and regrets and "if-only's" but really, these are not glorifying to God. Doesn't He say that He will guide our steps? So, today, I'm going to look ahead and leave the past behind.

I want to write books, plural, before I die. For the past few years I haven't written anything new (for good reasons), but it's now time to begin. I started this year by entering Genesis with a brand new story idea, and while it didn't do as well as I wanted it to the criticisms were good, and after all this was first draft. I also am developing my story template algorithm into a book, and possibly a computer program. This takes a lot of work, but I break down tasks with a spreadsheet and find a schedule that I can live with to actually make this happen. Third, I'm beginning to write shorter pieces, articles and short stories, to start getting my name out there. I've decided I need a little positive reinforcement :-)

What does the rest of YOUR life look like?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Looking at People

The Twilight vampire series is still hot, probably because of the movies that are now coming out about this. I just saw an advertisement for the latest installment. When I read these books, I was struck by Bella's horror of aging and dying, and her great desire to be "immortal" as well as to be with Edward "forever." The gifts that the vampire receives include eternal youth, amazing physical abilities, and often a special sense or psychic talent. The vampire also receives a powerful desire to kill and drink blood. The Cullens deal with this by hunting animals rather than people.

I couldn't help feeling a strong antipathy towards this type of vampire existence, especially because it is portrayed so enticingly and mixed so liberally with powerful (unrealistic) romance. These books are popular with young girls who do not yet understand the negatives that might be inherent within this type of lifestyle. The vampire still operates on a flawed Earth, and is subject to many negative influences including anger and death (of others and potentially themselves). The vampire also has a sense that he or she is "special": he or she has been drawn out of the pool of mortals to live a special, charmed life.

Contrast this with the Christian view of life: all people are immortal. This existence on Earth, now, is a brief preliminary that allows each individual to decide whether he will turn to God or go his own way. This choice is cemented at death. Jesus talked more about hell than anyone else in the Bible, and also more than any other subject. Hell is eternal separation from God who is the source of all good things.

If true (and I believe it is) this means that every person should carefully consider what sort of person he is becoming, and furthermore what sort of person OTHERS are becoming. You should value each person, not act as if they are something disposable or dismissible. I love CS Lewis -- forty-some years after his death, his words still resonate powerfully. Here is something he writes about how to treat others, with these eternal destinies in mind:

"It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations, It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit -- immortal horrors or everlasting splendours."

from CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory