Mike Kueber's Blog

February 29, 2012

Honoring our parents

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 5:28 pm
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A Filipino friend recently posted something on her Facebook wall about honoring and obeying her parents.  Her sentiment is similar to that felt by two of my Indian friends toward their parents. 

Those of us who grew up in America circa 60s and 70s were taught to live our own lives and let others live theirs.  One of my favorite songs from that period was “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens.  In the song, the father advises the son to “just relax, take it easy… find a girl, settle down.”  But the son responds with, “From the moment I could talk, I was ordered to listen …. If they were right, I’d agree, but it’s them you know not me.”

This anecdotal evidence suggests to me that people who are new to America, especially Asians, are more disposed to believe that “honoring” and “obeying” go together.  By contrast, longstanding Americans believe that honoring and obeying are two different concepts.

February 28, 2012

Buffett’s wisdom – continued

Filed under: Investing — Mike Kueber @ 6:49 pm
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Yesterday I blogged about Warren Buffett’s most recent letter to the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders.  Compared to other editions of the shareholder letter, I thought this edition was relatively skimpy, and in my blog I noted only three significant Buffett insights – (1) a replacement CEO for Berkshire had been selected, (2) the economy in America would rebound vigorously as soon as the housing overstock was sold off, and (3) Berkshire Hathaway would continue buying back its stock because it was underpriced.

But no sooner had I posted the entry to my blog than I had a conversation on investing with an old USAA friend.  This friend has a seven-figure 401k, a beautiful house with no debt, and a sizable inheritance, yet he is concerned that his current cash flow will be stressed as his kids get to college.  Talk about looking far and wide to find something to be unnecessarily worried about.

My friend went on to express concern for preserving his estate for his kids.  Ever since the crash of 2008-2009, he has been too skittish to invest in the stock market.  He has inherited a sizable amount of agricultural real estate, but he is planning to sell that because he suspects that its current pricing is a bubble that is ready to burst.  The only safe investments probably would not keep up with inflation.  He was perplexed because he seemed to have no good choices. 

Following our conversation, I recalled that Warren Buffett’s most recent shareholder letter directly addressed my friend’s concerns.  In the letter, Buffett described three broad categories of investment – (1) currency-based investments, such as bonds and money-market funds (2) non-productive assets, such as gold, and (3) productive assets, such as businesses and real estate.

Buffett’s letter contained devastating critiques of currency-based investments and non-productive assets:

  • Currency-based investments.  Most of these currency-based investments are thought of as “safe.” In truth they are among the most dangerous of assets. Their beta may be zero, but their risk is huge. Over the past century these instruments have destroyed the purchasing power of investors in many countries, even as the holders continued to receive timely payments of interest and principal. This ugly result, moreover, will forever recur. Governments determine the ultimate value of money, and systemic forces will sometimes cause them to gravitate to policies that produce inflation. From time to time such policies spin out of control.  Even in the U.S., where the wish for a stable currency is strong, the dollar has fallen a staggering 86% in value since 1965, when I took over management of Berkshire. It takes no less than $7 today to buy what $1 did at that time. Consequently, a tax-free institution would have needed 4.3% interest annually from bond investments over that period to simply maintain its purchasing power. Its managers would have been kidding themselves if they thought of any portion of that interest as “income.”  Today, a wry comment that Wall Streeter Shelby Cullom Davis made long ago seems apt: “Bonds promoted as offering risk-free returns are now priced to deliver return-free risk.”

 

  • Non-productive assets.  Today the world’s gold stock is about 170,000 metric tons. If all of this gold were melded together, it would form a cube of about 68 feet per side. (Picture it fitting comfortably within a baseball infield.) At $1,750 per ounce – gold’s price as I write this – its value would be $9.6 trillion. Call this cube pile A. Let’s now create a pile B costing an equal amount. For that, we could buy all U.S. cropland (400 million acres with output of about $200 billion annually), plus 16 Exxon Mobils (the world’s most profitable company, one earning more than $40 billion annually). After these purchases, we would have about $1 trillion left over for walking-around money (no sense feeling strapped after this buying binge). Can you imagine an investor with $9.6 trillion selecting pile A over pile B? Beyond the staggering valuation given the existing stock of gold, current prices make today’s annual production of gold command about $160 billion. Buyers – whether jewelry and industrial users, frightened individuals, or speculators – must continually absorb this additional supply to merely maintain an equilibrium at present prices. A century from now the 400 million acres of farmland will have produced staggering amounts of corn, wheat, cotton, and other crops – and will continue to produce that valuable bounty, whatever the currency may be. Exxon Mobil will probably have delivered trillions of dollars in dividends to its owners and will also hold assets worth many more trillions (and, remember, you get 16 Exxons). The 170,000 tons of gold will be unchanged in size and still incapable of producing anything. You can fondle the cube, but it will not respond. Admittedly, when people a century from now are fearful, it’s likely many will still rush to gold. I’m confident, however, that the $9.6 trillion current valuation of pile A will compound over the century at a rate far inferior to that achieved by pile B.

 

Ultimately, Buffett concludes that the ownership of productive assets is not only the most profitable, but also “by far the safest”:

  • Our country’s businesses will continue to efficiently deliver goods and services wanted by our citizens. Metaphorically, these commercial “cows” will live for centuries and give ever greater quantities of “milk” to boot. Their value will be determined not by the medium of exchange but rather by their capacity to deliver milk. Proceeds from the sale of the milk will compound for the owners of the cows, just as they did during the 20th century when the Dow increased from 66 to 11,497 (and paid loads of dividends as well). Berkshire’s goal will be to increase its ownership of first-class businesses. Our first choice will be to own them in their entirety – but we will also be owners by way of holding sizable amounts of marketable stocks. I believe that over any extended period of time this category of investing will prove to be the runaway winner among the three we’ve examined. More important, it will be by far the safest.

Buffett concedes that Berkshire keeps between $10 and $20 billion in currency-based investments for business-purchasing purposes, and my USAA friend obviously has liquidity needs related to his kids’ college education.  But if I were in my friend’s financial position, I would put my assets to work and stop being concerned.

Philosophical advice from one generation to the next

Filed under: Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 12:35 pm
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I recently blogged about the philosophical advice that Barbara Bush gave to the Wellesley College graduates in a commencement address in 1990.  My dad never went to college, but he was a philosophical sort of guy.  In 1977, as his four boys were in their 20s, he handed them the following short note that contained his philosophy of life:

 

                                    1977

Dear Mark, Greg, Mike, and Kelly 

            I hope you have a good life.  Believe in God.  If you marry, to love and take good care of your wife.  If you have children, spend time with them because you only have them a little while.

            Make friends and try to keep them.  They are nice to have when you are down or have trouble.  Never think you are better than anyone and help people when they are down.

                                    Love and Prayers

                                    Dad

 

Dad’s note reflects his priorities in life.  He died of emphysema in 1996, and kept those priorities to the end.  He surely lived an examined life.

Coincidentally, I am at almost the same place in life as Dad was back in 1977 – i.e., my fourth and last son has just started college.  But I am not as settled as Dad was, so I am not ready to dispense any advice to my kids yet.  Maybe I’ll save it for the grandkids.

 

 

 

Buffett’s 2011 letter to his shareholders

Filed under: Investing — Mike Kueber @ 3:34 am
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Although the timing of my retirement (March 2009) was excellent for purposes of investing in the stock market (the market has doubled since then), my timing for investing in Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (April 2009) couldn’t have been worse.

In Warren Buffett’s annual letter to his shareholders, he always begins by comparing his company’s performance to the S&P 500.  In the past 48 years, Berkshire Hathaway has averaged a 19.8% gain as compared to 9.2% with the S&P, and Berkshire Hathaway has outperformed the S&P in 40 of those 48 years.  Unfortunately for me, two of those bad-performing years were 2009 and 2010.  According to Buffett’s most recent shareholder letter, Berkshire in 2011 finally returned to supremacy over the S&P, but just barely – 4.6% to 2.1%.  That’s better than nothing.

The big story from the 2011 letter is that Buffett’s successor has been selected, although the successor’s identity was not disclosed:

  • Your Board is equally enthusiastic about my successor as CEO, an individual to whom they have had a great deal of exposure and whose managerial and human qualities they admire. (We have two superb back-up candidates as well.) When a transfer of responsibility is required, it will be seamless, and Berkshire’s prospects will remain bright. More than 98% of my net worth is in Berkshire stock, all of which will go to various philanthropies. Being so heavily concentrated in one stock defies conventional wisdom. But I’m fine with this arrangement, knowing both the quality and diversity of the businesses we own and the caliber of the people who manage them. With these assets, my successor will enjoy a running start. Do not, however, infer from this discussion that Charlie and I are going anywhere; we continue to be in excellent health, and we love what we do.

In the letter, Buffett also suggested that (a) the American economy will enjoy a vigorous rebound as soon as the excess supply of houses is inevitably exhausted, and (b) Berkshire will continue to buy back its shares because they are underpriced. 

I think I will hold onto my shares.

February 27, 2012

Retirement – three years later

Filed under: Philosophy,Retirement — Mike Kueber @ 12:33 pm
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Three years ago today, at the age of 55, I took early retirement from USAA after almost 22 years of devoted service.  In return for those years of service, USAA provided me with a pension and, almost as importantly, lifetime health insurance.  Without USAA-provided health insurance, retirement probably would not have been financially feasible for me. 

So what do I think about retirement, three years later?  Even without financial stresses (the stock market has almost doubled since March of 2009), the problems of life do not disappear.  (That reminds me of Lonesome Dove’s Gus McCrae telling Miss Lorena that life in her imaginary San Francisco is still just life.)  In fact, I sometimes think that the obligations of work keep a person distracted and preoccupied from personal-relationship issues, and those personal relationships are what make the world go round.  As Barbara Bush famously said in a 1990 commencement speech at Wellesley College:

  • And as you set off from Wellesley, I hope that many of you will consider making three very special choices.
    • The first is to believe in something larger than yourself, to get involved in some of the big ideas of our time. I chose literacy because I honestly believe that if more people could read, write, and comprehend, we would be that much closer to solving so many of the problems that plague our nation and our society.
    • And early on I made another choice, which I hope you’ll make as well. Whether you are talking about education, career, or service, you’re talking about life — and life really must have joy. It’s supposed to be fun.
    • The third choice that must not be missed is to cherish your human connections: your relationships with family and friends. For several years, you’ve had impressed upon you the importance to your career of dedication and hard work. And, of course, that’s true. But as important as your obligations as a doctor, a lawyer, a business leader will be, you are a human being first. And those human connections — with spouses, with children, with friends — are the most important investments you will ever make.  At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend, or a parent.”

All three of Bush’s choices are sterling solid separately, and when combined they form the basis of an excellent life.  And most importantly, they continue to operate throughout life.  They remain just as valid for someone retiring from a career as they do to someone graduating from college.

Recently, I have been thinking about the third choice – human connections – and I blogged about that as some of my New Year’s resolutions.  Emotional intelligence and personal relations have never been a forte of mine.  After high school, I focused on academics and then got married shortly after law school.  In 2007 I got divorced, and since then I have struggled to develop and maintain satisfying relationships.  Let’s hope that understanding the problem is the biggest step toward solving it.  

A final thought on the timing of retirement – NY Time columnist David Brooks recently wrote about a survey of retirees.  One of their biggest regrets was staying in their principal career too long.  From my perspective, that is exactly correct.  You only live once, so why spend so many years doing the same thing.  Although I enjoyed me time in the insurance industry and at USAA, I’m glad that I left as soon as I could afford it.  A life is enriched by variety.

Joe Klein on Rich Santorum’s inconvenient truths

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 12:40 am
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There has been a spate of articles and columns (and entries in my blog) suggesting that Rick Santorum’s extreme religiosity and his willingness to allow his religious beliefs inform his policy views will preclude him from becoming president of the United States.  This week in Time magazine’s Joe Klein penned a column that affirmed that basic thesis, but went on to commend Santorum for his willingness to give full-throated defenses of positions that careful pols avoid talking about.  As described in another way by a different pundit, Santorum is not afraid to engage a reporter’s question instead of resorting to canned responses.

Klein’s column in available on-line only to Time subscribers, so I have attached the column in-full below for those interested in reading it.  Two passages are particularly interesting:

  1. “The right-to-life movement has been particularly clever and disciplined, changing public opinion about abortion over the past 20 years. It has gone after the most egregious and grisly outliers, like so-called partial-birth abortion. It has gotten a major boost from science, ironically, as sonograms have made it impossible to deny that from a very early stage, that thing in the womb is a human life.”  I am confused by this conclusion – i.e., what about sonograms conclusively shows the early-stage fetus is a human life?
  2. “But I also worry that we’ve become too averse to personal inconvenience as a society–that we’re less rigorous parents than we should be, that we’ve farmed out our responsibilities, especially for the disabled, to the state–and I’m grateful to Santorum for forcing on me the discomfort of having to think about the moral implications of his daughter’s smile.”  Klein raises the concern that American’s are becoming more selfish and less committed to treating each human life as something special.  

 

Rick Santorum’s inconvenient truths 

Bob Schieffer of CBS news is the gold standard for sane and solid in American TV journalism, and on the morning of Feb. 19, he was clearly nonplussed by extreme comments Rick Santorum had made about prenatal testing (“ends up in more abortions”), public schools (“anachronistic”) and the President’s position on the environment (a “phony theology”). “So, Senator,” Schieffer began, “I’ve got to ask you. What in the world were you talking about, sir?” At such a moment, the overwhelming majority of American politicians would go on the defensive, hem, haw and respond with “What I really meant to say was …” Not Santorum. He didn’t seem at all flustered. He vigorously restated the positions he had taken–in some cases, eloquently. He was especially vigorous on the subject of prenatal testing, citing studies that show that 90% of Down-syndrome babies are aborted. Schieffer asked whether Santorum wanted to turn back the clock on science and ban such testing. No, Santorum replied, but the federal government should not be promoting procedures like amniocentesis, which “are used for the purposes of identifying children who are disabled and in most cases end up [being eliminated by] abortions.”

Santorum has become an inconvenient candidate even for those who agree with him. These are delicate issues, to be handled delicately. The right-to-life movement has been particularly clever and disciplined, changing public opinion about abortion over the past 20 years. It has gone after the most egregious and grisly outliers, like so-called partial-birth abortion. It has gotten a major boost from science, ironically, as sonograms have made it impossible to deny that from a very early stage, that thing in the womb is a human life. As a result, the split on those who identify themselves as pro-choice vs. pro-life has gone from a 56%-33% pro-choice majority in 1995 to a 47%-47% tie now.

In the days after the Schieffer interview, audio was unearthed of a 2008 Santorum speech in which he seemed to argue the literal existence of Satan and a Mephistophelian intent to subvert the United States of America. He also seemed to compare the Obama Administration to Hitler, saying America now was like America in 1940, when some people thought Hitler wasn’t a threat. “It’s going to be harder for this generation to figure this out. There’s no cataclysmic event,” he said, just a slow creep toward state control of practically everything. These sorts of statements will probably stall the Santorum surge and hand the Republican nomination right back to Mitt Romney. Most Republicans aren’t going to want to battle Obama on contraception and prenatal testing.

And yet when you leave Hitler and Satan aside, there is something admirable about Santorum’s near Tourettic insistence on bringing up issues no one else wants to talk about. His position on education–that parents need to spend a lot more time supervising their children’s schooling–draws stifled groans from the overworked parents in his audiences, but he’s right: parents know best how their children learn. His emphasis on the importance of intact families is undoubtedly correct as well; every major study since the 1960s has shown the disaster that results from out-of-wedlock births. Even Santorum’s use of prenatal testing raises uncomfortable issues for many people. It was a sonogram that helped determine that the Santorums’ son Gabriel needed microsurgery in the womb to clear his bladder. Rick and Karen decided to fight for Gabriel’s life, which nearly cost Karen her own, and they passionately embraced the child during his two hours on earth. They have spent the past three years caring for their daughter Isabella, whose genetic defect, trisomy 18, is an early-death sentence. “Almost 100% of trisomy 18 children are encouraged to be aborted,” Santorum told Schieffer.

I am haunted by the smiling photos I’ve seen of Isabella with her father and mother, brothers and sisters. No doubt she struggles through many of her days–she nearly died a few weeks ago–but she has also been granted three years of unconditional love and the ability to smile and bring joy. Her tenuous survival has given her family a deeper sense of how precious even the frailest of lives are.

All right, I can hear you saying, the Santorum family’s course may be admirable, but shouldn’t we have the right to make our own choices? Yes, I suppose. But I also worry that we’ve become too averse to personal inconvenience as a society–that we’re less rigorous parents than we should be, that we’ve farmed out our responsibilities, especially for the disabled, to the state–and I’m grateful to Santorum for forcing on me the discomfort of having to think about the moral implications of his daughter’s smile. 

 

February 26, 2012

Sunday Book Review #64 – Suicide of a Superpower by Patrick J. Buchanan

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 7:36 pm
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My stack of books from the library is getting too high.  Last night, I checked my library account and learned that two of the books were already overdue, and one of them couldn’t be renewed because someone else has already reserved it.  Thus, today I will have to return unread Pat Buchanan’s Suicide of a Superpower.  That’s too bad because as I skimmed it last night and this morning, I found it to be highly readable and interesting.

Buchanan’s philosophy espoused in Suicide of a Superpower is similar to that of Newt Gingrich in his book, A Nation Like No Other.  Both think that Christianity is a major cornerstone of American exceptionalism and that banishing Christianity from the public square will result inevitably in the decline of America.  They also both believe strongly in economic nationalism as opposed to free trade.  Their major difference is that Buchanan is somewhat of an isolationist while Gingrich wants a muscular military and robust immigration. 

Buchanan’s chapter titles clearly reveal where his head it at:

  • Disintegrating Nation
  • The Passing of a Superpower
  • The Death of Christian America
  • The Crisis of Catholicism
  • The End of White America
  • Demographic Winter
  • Equality or Freedom
  • The Diversity Cult
  • The Triumph of Tribalism
  • The White Party
  • The Long Retreat

Despite all of Buchanan’s pessimism, he ends the book with a chapter titled “Last Chance.”  To stave off America’s decline, he suggests that we need to (a) get our fiscal house in order, (b) dismantle our global empire, (c) downsize government, (d) apply economic patriotism, (e) place a moratorium on immigration, and (f) end the culture war by getting conservative control of Congress and reining-in the courts.

I think Buchanan not only is going against the tide, but also is wrong (or at least I hope he is).  America may have been founded by Christians, but I don’t think Christianity in the public square is a sine qua non for our future success.

 

In vitro fertilization and the Catholic Church

Filed under: Medical,Religion — Mike Kueber @ 12:21 am
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Earlier today, Pope Benedict reiterated the Catholic Church’s ban of sperm or egg donation and in vitro fertilization.  According to an article in USA Today, the Pope urged its faithful to resist “the fascination of the technology of artificial fertility” and cautioned against “easy income, or even worse, the arrogance of taking the place of the Creator,” an attitude he indicated underlies the field of artificial procreation.  “The human and Christian dignity of procreation, in fact, doesn’t consist in a ‘product,’ but in its link to the conjugal act, an expression of the love of the spouses of their union, not only biological but also spiritual.” 

Although I have long been aware of the Church’s archaic opposition to many forms of birth control, I wasn’t aware of its opposition to in vitro fertilization until I asked my medical-student son for some in vitro information a couple of years ago and he told me that he didn’t know anything about it because his Catholic medical school refused to teach the subject.

I was interested in learning about in vitro fertilization because my oldest son and his wife were using the process to have the baby they had been unable to have naturally.  Today, because of in vitro fertilization, I am the grandfather of 10-month old twins – Katelynne and Hayden.  I am amazed that Pope Benedict places more importance on the “dignity of procreation” and “the conjugal act” than he does on the babies who needed a little help from science.

February 24, 2012

Sunday Book Review #63 – A Nation Like No Other, by Newt Gingrich

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 12:39 pm
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Newt’s new book is subtitled “Why American Exceptionalism Matters.”   I’ve blogged occasionally about American exceptionalism, usually to defend the position and to suggest that President Obama is not a true believer.     Over the course of debating the issue with liberal readers of my blog, I have moved a bit to the left and have come to believe that the issue is just one on a long list of so-called wedge issues that hyper-partisans waste time and energy bloviating about.  (“Bloviating” is one of Bill O’Reilly’s catch phrases.) 

Recently, while enjoying a Happy Hour with my great friend Robert in Austin, we compared the argument over American exceptionalism with the contentions (Franklin Graham) that President Obama may or may not be a Christian.  Although Robert and I took the typical red-blue positions, I believe these positions are genuine, not knee-jerk.

My position that President Obama is not a genuine Christian is based on the premise a genuine Christian thinks that the only way to heaven is through Jesus.  And a person with a worldly perspective like President Obama (he famously said that he believes in American exceptionalism, just as the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism) is not going to believe that the billions of human beings around the world who are not exposed to Christianity are doomed.  That is not in Obama’s essence. 

Robert’s position (I think) is that perhaps my premise is wrong – i.e., President Obama truly believes in Jesus, but doesn’t accept the “fire & brimstone” preaching.  (See my earlier posting regarding the nascent movement amongst Evangelicals asking, “What if there is no hell?”)  Who says that friends should avoid discussions of religion and politics?  Robert and I had an enjoyable, enriching discussion, and left his bar Icenhauer’s as good of friends as ever.

But my point is that arguing over American exceptionalism or whether Obama is a true Christian does not move us in a positive direction or help us find common ground.  All it does is divide us.  It reminds me of Bill Bennett’s classic response when asked to comment on the validity of studies that show IQ differences between blacks, whites, and Asians.  Bennett said that he doesn’t waste his time trying to evaluate those studies because the answer is irrelevant.  Public or personal policy does not need to know whether races have different IQs.  Similarly, President Obama should be judged on his public policies, not on whether he genuinely believes in the concept of American exceptionalism or strict Christian orthodoxy. 

In addition to Newt’s new book, there have been a couple of other developments to put the issue of American exceptionalism back in the news.  First, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg opined during an Egyptian TV interview that Egypt might do better to emulate the up-to-date South African constitution rather than America’s 223-year-old model: 

  • You should certainly be aided by all the constitution-writing that has gone one since the end of World War II. I would not look to the US constitution, if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012. I might look at the constitution of South Africa. That was a deliberate attempt to have a fundamental instrument of government that embraced basic human rights, had an independent judiciary… It really is, I think, a great piece of work that was done. Much more recent than the US constitution – Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It dates from 1982. You would almost certainly look at the European Convention on Human Rights. Yes, why not take advantage of what there is elsewhere in the world?”

Then, a few days later an op-ed piece in the NT Times explained “Why China’s Political Model is Superior.”      

  • Many have characterized the competition between these two giants as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism. But this is false. America and China view their political systems in fundamentally different ways: whereas America sees democratic government as an end in itself, China sees its current form of government, or any political system for that matter, merely as a means to achieving larger national ends….  The fundamental difference between Washington’s view and Beijing’s is whether political rights are considered God-given and therefore absolute or whether they should be seen as privileges to be negotiated based on the needs and conditions of the nation.  The West seems incapable of becoming less democratic even when its survival may depend on such a shift. In this sense, America today is similar to the old Soviet Union, which also viewed its political system as the ultimate end.  History does not bode well for the American way. Indeed, faith-based ideological hubris may soon drive democracy over the cliff.”

Gingrich’s book A Nation Like No Other provides a more comprehensive description of American exceptionalism than is typically given by pundits in columns or sound bites.  Conservative pundits typically use glowing terms like liberty, equality, and a republican form of government whereas liberal pundits use disparaging terms like nationalism, xenophobia, and superiority complex.         

Gingrich begins his book by describing the American Creed in the glowing terms used by conservative pundits, but he adds a heavy dose of religion and God.  He also asserts that continued immigration plays an important role in American exceptionalism, and suggests that assimilation of these people is not a problem because most of them come to America already with the values that are consistent with the American way of life.

Separate chapters in the book elaborate on liberty, faith and family, work, civil society (a thousand points of light), rule of law, and safety and peace.

Gingrich concludes by prescribing ten steps to restore American exceptionalism:

  1. Learn America’s history;
  2. Speak out;
  3. Question governmental authority at every turn;
  4. Teach the children around you;
  5. Insist that schools teach responsibility and the fundamentals of American citizenship;
  6. Defeat and replace bad judges;
  7. Reestablish the work ethic;
  8. Celebrate American holidays;
  9. Volunteer in your community; and
  10. Run for office.

Having recently read Ameritopia by Mark Levin, I found Newt’s book to have a similar subject-matter, but Newt presented the material in a more accessible, less abstract manner.  He makes a powerful, cogent argument in favor of American exceptionalism that goes beyond the jingoistic, nostalgic calls for nationalistic superiority.

February 23, 2012

Performance-enhancing drugs

Filed under: Fitness — Mike Kueber @ 2:49 pm
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For several years of riding bike and lifting weights, I have worked at a maintenance level (i.e., not trying to get better).  Although I had long aspired to ride a bike 20 miles in an hour, I eventually realized that I could accomplish that goal only by training harder or losing weight, and I didn’t have the discipline to do either.

Then a couple of months ago, I decided to take my conditioning to another level.  Maybe this changed mindset was prompted my enforced layoff following knee-replacement surgery in November.  Or perhaps I was motivated by my friend Rebecca’s decision to start training for a marathon.

Whatever the prompt was, I started.  On the bike, I tried to take advantage of the ten pounds that I had lost since the surgery.  With the weights, I started lifting two sets a day instead of one.  Obviously, I was applying old-fashioned strategy of working harder, not necessarily smarter. 

Then one day, a group of friendly weightlifters who regularly lift at 10am at Lifetime Fitness decided to socialize at StoneWerks for a Happy Hour.  The time was exceedingly well spend, because in addition to getting to better know some wonderful people, I learned an important weightlifting insight – i.e., everyone at the table used a post-workout protein supplement, even the women who weren’t obsessed about building muscle mass.

Although I am not a lemming who always follows the crowd, I decided to try a protein supplement, and loved it.  Not only does it taste great (like a low-calorie vanilla shake) when mixed with a clear soda, but it works – to help avoid getting run down from your day-to-day workouts.  That has been especially helpful with my daily bike rides.  Caveat – some studies report that protein supplements are not as effective with senior citizens, but I’ll worry about that when I get there.

The danger with supplement usage, however, is that it can be a slippery slope.  In addition to a protein supplement, half the people at the StoneWerks happy hour used a pre-workout supplement, which usually creatine, caffeine, etc.  So naturally, because the protein supplement worked so well, I decided to give a pre-workout supplement at try by picking up some samples this past weekend at a local supplement store.  All I can say is “wow!”  I immediately could life more weight and ride a stationary bike much faster. 

But not all is good.  Recently there was an article in the NY Times reporting that the U.S. Army had removed several pre-workout supplements from their bases pending an investigation of the heart-attack deaths of two soldiers potentially related to their supplement usage.  This is a bit disconcerting because I have noticed on a stationary bike at Lifetime I can get my heart rate to 160 in ten hard minutes of riding after using the supplement, but my rate goes to only 150 if I didn’t use the supplement.  Of course, I am pedaling much faster with the supplement because I have so much more energy.

I think I will discuss this with my internist when I see him about another matter next month.

Incidentally, Wikipedia defines performance enhancing drugs as “substances used by people to improve their performance in the sports in which they engage. The term may also refer to drugs used by military personnel to enhance combat performance.”  I wonder why the term hasn’t been extended to include “enhancing academic performance.”  There have been a plethora of news articles in the past few years reporting on college kids taking Ritalin or Adderall to sharpen their focus prior to taking exams.  Apparently, those drugs are so effective that the non-abusers taking the same exams believe they are at a distinct disadvantage.

A key difference is that Ritalin and Adderall are FDA-approved drugs, whereas the supplements are able to evade much scientific scrutiny.

 

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