Monday, January 28, 2008

scholars pursue happiness

Happiness has become a serious academic pursuit but this is not the usual pursuit of happiness. Rather, social scientists are trying to figure out what makes people happy. According to an article in last week's issue of THE ECONOMIST, married religious Republicans who are sexually-active extroverted optimists with short commutes to work are generally happier than pessimistic introverts who have long commutes, are single, agnostic, vote Democrat, and aren't getting any.

Having more wealth has positive impacts on measures of happiness but these impacts are surprisingly small.

I guess I am happy enough. Chasing after financial riches doesn't have much of a payoff in joy. Optimism I can work up if I really try but being extroverted is something I don't know how to do.

Be blessed.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

preview on wednesday night

Financial Peace University
Preview Session: Wednesday January 30th at 7 p.m.
Classes: Wednesdays, 7 to 9 p.m., starting February 6th
57 Market, Potsdam (College LIFE Center)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

the worry gene

From a recent WALL STREET JOURNAL (17 January 2008, p.D1):

Researchers at Yale have identified a gene mutation for "rumination" -- the kind of chronic worry in which people obsess over negative thoughts. It's a variation of a gene known as BDNF that's active in the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in thinking and memory. In a study of 200 mothers and daughters published in the journal Neuroscience Letters last month, the Yale scientists found that those who had been depressed in their youth were more likely to be ruminators and to have this particular variation of BDNF.

The discovery adds to a growing body of evidence that depression involves an inability to control negative thoughts, not just excess emotion, says psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, one of the Yale investigators. And just because rumination has genetic roots doesn't mean it's inescapable, she says. "People can learn to stop these thought processes and have better emotional health."

People can be trained to control or manage these negative thoughts. "Renewing the mind" (Romans 12:2) is not easy and isn't perfect, but it can help. Yeah, I've written here or there about this before.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Seven semi-random things about RB:

#1 I eat Cheetos with a fork. (This is a great embarrassment to my family.) I love cheese puffs but I hate yellowish orange-stained fingers.

#2 I grew up in Southern Cal and had a snow-deprived childhood. I love NNY and do not want to live anywhere else.

#3 I worked my way through college (Cal Poly Pomona) and I am the first one in my family to earn a bachelors degree. (At least the first in over 200 years -- I have a couple of 18th Century New England ancestors who were ministers so they may have been to college.) Not only were fees extremely low at Cal Poly, but I met her at freshman orientation. What a deal!

#4. My favorite ice cream topping? Cheerios. I love Cheerios. Yes, I even pour Cheerios on top of ice cream. If there is no ice cream, I sometimes have just Cheerios for dessert. If I want to get fancy I add raisins and a few chocolate chips.

#5. I love teaching but I absolutely hate grading tests. I have a policy of giving a late penalty if I take too long getting tests back. That is, I add points to the tests. I think this is only fair since I assign late penalties (negative points) to student work handed in late. Although my students and colleagues laugh at me when I do this, sometimes it is the only way I can get myself to grade the blasted things. Avoidance of public humiliation is a motivator.

#6. I have been a legally ordained minister since I was 18 or 19. I was ordained by the Universal Life Church, Inc. of Modesto, California (doctrinal statement: "We believe in what is right.") I did it as a lark and now I am not proud of this. However, I was ordained without mailing in the customary one dollar. In case you are wondering, I can legally officiate at weddings. My fee is $20,000 (cash upfront).

#7. This may be obvious but at #7 I'm running out of things. I am shy and socially awkward. I am lousy at making small talk. As a result I am uncomfortable at many social gatherings. I wish I was more sociable but I lack the skills and have a steep learning curve.

Another way of looking at a Blackbird
design notes

Sunday, January 20, 2008

"i'm normal, right?"

Financial Peace University

Preview Session: Wednesday January 30th at 7 p.m.
Classes: Wednesdays, 7 to 9 p.m., starting February 6th
57 Market, Potsdam (College LIFE Center)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

odds of a recession

Last month I had a number of people ask me if there was going to be a recession this year. I answered that I thought there was a 40% chance. I’m no economic forecaster, but I later found out this was not too bad a guess. (And a guess it was.) The Wall Street Journal has a monthly survey of 54 real economic forecasters. As to the odds of a recession in the next 12 months, the December average was a 38% chance and the average in the first week of January was 42%.

That puts me right in the middle of the pack. Why is that good? Because the track record of this survey shows that the average forecast is a pretty good predictor, much better than any individual forecast.

I have revised my odds of a recession in 2008 to 50%. However, unlike the 54 pros surveyed, I was able to cheat by looking at their results. In December only about 10 of 54 thought the odds were 50% or more. In January, there was a large shift, actually a skew, in the distribution of forecasts with 20 of 54 at 50% or more. So I’m going with 50%.

If we have a recession it is likely to be a relatively mild one with no sharp downturn in economic activity. In fact the last two recessions were also mild (1990-91, 2001). We haven’t had a serious recession in over a quarter of a century. The consensus forecast is an unemployment rate for 2008 of a little over 5%. What is really strange that only five of the 54 forecasters predict any fall in GDP during any quarter (three-month period) in 2008. Recessions don’t happen unless GDP falls.

Heard anyone claim they “know” we’re already in a recession? If so, automatically dismiss him or her. We don’t know about recessions until after the fact because even the most current economic data is dated, collected at some point in the past. It is history. Also, don’t go by one month’s worth of data. Monthly data is notoriously volatile with frequent ups and downs. It is dumb to determine a trend from a one month change.

That said, there are some indicators that may hint of a recession. When the monthly unemployment statistics are released, I ignore the unemployment rate and look at the whether “payroll employment” went up or down. If this happens for two, or better yet, three months in a row, then we’re probably in a recession.

The unemployment rate is problematic. It is the number unemployed divided by the number in the labor force. The problem is that both the numerator and denominator in this ratio can change from month to month and yield funny results.

The stock market is considered a leading indicator. The track record? It has “predicted” 16 of the past 10 recessions. (Yes, I meant to write 16 of 10.) This is not the best of indicators. Since the end of WWII we have had 10 recessions and the stock market failed to decline prior to only one (1953). However, declines in the stock market also indicated seven recessions that never occurred. The most notorious example was on October 19, 1987, the biggest one-day absolute drop in the stock market. Overall stock values fell 22.6%. Outside of BMW and luxury condo sales in the south end of Manhattan, it didn’t even cause a blip in any important economic statistics.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

financial peace university (fpu)

Christian Fellowship Center is again sponsoring Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. This semester it will be at Potsdam's 57 Market Street (College LIFE Center), Wednesdays 7 to 9 p.m. beginning February 6th.

A free preview class is offered on Wednesday January 30th at 7 p.m. at 57 Market.

FPU materials cost $89 per kit. Previous students in the course may attend free.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

ain’t waiting for god no more

I was in a time of corporate worship one evening a little while ago, singing a Jason Upton song,

I will wait for you, Jesus
You’re the sun in my horizon
All my hope’s in you, Jesus
I can see you now arising

A beautiful song, wonderfully expressing the hearts of many believers. I’ve heard it, I’ve sung it, many times. [Warning: If you like this song you may not want to read further.]

That evening it hit me as we sung together and I thought to myself, “Wow. ‘You’re the sun in my horizon.’ What an absolutely lovely word picture.”

A fraction of a second later the words came to me, “Yes, but not realistic.”

Instantly, my quick-as-thunder mind responded with keen insight, “Huh?”

Where is the horizon?
Far away.

Who are you waiting for?

So where is Jesus in this picture?
The horizon. Far away.

In reality, where is Jesus and where are you? I am seated in the heavenly realms with Christ Jesus (Eph 2:6). Jesus lives in me (Rom 8:9-11; 1 Cor 3:16; Col 1:27). Jesus will never leave me nor forsake me (Heb 13:5).

Then what's with the waiting?
I’m not waiting for Jesus. I’m waiting with Jesus.

That is a big idea in a simple sentence: I am waiting with Jesus. If I’m waiting for anything worthwhile to happen, then so is God, and we’re doing it together. That revelation just turns around my attitude toward God, increases my faith level, and changes my prayer life. I do not have to wait for God to show up. He is here already. He is with me. If God is willing to wait, then so should I. I just need to listen to what he wants me to say or do, then if need be, God and I can wait together.

I'll never wait alone.

Be blessed!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

violence in kenya: former student inteviewed on npr today

About ten years ago I had a certain Kenyan student in one of my principles classes. Unlike most of our foreign students who are middle or more typically upper-middle class, Ken Okoth grew up in the Nairobi slum of Kibara, the largest slum in Africa.

To listen to the interview click the "Listen Now" button after going HERE.

Ken also runs an orphanage in Kibera: The Red Rose Nursery and Children's Centre.

The following is from SLU's bio of Ken:

Kenneth O. Okoth '01, of Washington, D.C., has been elected a McCurdy-Sprague Trustee. McCurdy-Sprague Trustees must have graduated from St. Lawrence between two and 10 years prior to their election, and serve four-year terms. A native of Nairobi, Kenya, Okoth is an Upper School history teacher at the Potomac School, a K-12 independent school in McLean, Virginia. The first African to serve on the University's Board of Trustees, he has also been an adjunct instructor at Georgetown University and a teacher at the Friends School of Baltimore. Okoth earned his St. Lawrence degree in German, and was elected to the national academic honorary society Phi Beta Kappa; he holds a master's degree from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

it is officially over

As a follow-up to the previous post:

Our LT's trip from Kuwait to Colorado was about 40 hours long, with two refueling stops (Germany and Bangor, ME) and 14 hours to go through U.S. Customs (where I don't know). His plane was delayed in Bangor due to snow and ice. The welcoming ceremony was then pushed back to 5:30 p.m. MST on New Year's Eve. We were told the speeches by a two-star general and a colonel (the Brigade Commander?) were refreshingly short.

I believe our LT has a pass this week but needs to report next week for four days of "reintegration training." Starting the 12th, the entire 3-61st Cavalry gets thirty days block leave. Our LT and his lovely wife plan on taking a two-week trip traveling up the west coast to visit family and friends.
No plans to visit NNY. :(

Be blessed.