Wednesday, November 30, 2011




OK, OK - I have already heard from a Newt fan, so in the tradition of fairness, here is another Newt-perspective that is a bit more flattering - from the American Spectator.

Entitlement Reform Revolution

Newt Gingrich has proposed the most cutting-edge solution to our fiscal crisis.
In New Hampshire on November 21, Newt Gingrich, who has just been endorsed by the Manchester Union Leader, unveiled sweeping entitlement reform proposals, discussed in a comprehensive, extensive campaign position paper now available at Those proposals reflect closely my own work over many years, discussed in detail in my recent book, America's Ticking Bankruptcy Bomb.

These reforms taken together would reduce federal spending over an extended period of years by half from what it would be otherwise, solving America's entitlement and fiscal crisis. Yet, these reforms are politically feasible, indeed even popularly appealing, because seniors and the poor would actually gain from them. In fact, they are all based on already enacted reforms, in the U.S. or elsewhere, that have been proven to work in the real world. Remember that even libertarian godfather Friedrich Hayek supported the concept of safety nets for the truly needy, as did Reagan.

The key is that the reforms are all based on modernizing our old fashioned, tax and redistribution entitlement programs to rely on 21st century modern capital, labor, and insurance markets instead. Through such fundamental structural reforms, changing the way the programs work and operate, we can achieve all of the social goals of these entitlement programs far more effectively, serving seniors and the poor far better, at just a fraction of the current cost of those programs. Consequently, we can actually achieve vastly greater reductions in spending than we could ever hope to achieve simply by trying to cut benefits.

These reforms all work more effectively to achieve their goals because they operate through market incentives, productive savings and investment, and competition, rather than simple tax and redistribution. They also all work to contribute to economic growth and prosperity today, rather than detracting from it.

Personal Account Prosperity to Replace the Payroll Tax

Gingrich proposes reforms that would empower workers with the freedom to choose to save and invest what they and their employers would otherwise pay into Social Security in personal savings, investment, and insurance accounts. My own studies with various colleagues over the years show that at standard, long-term, market investment returns, for an average income, two-earner couple over a career, the accounts would accumulate to close to a million dollars or more, depending on how big the account option is. Even lower income workers could regularly accumulate half a million over their careers.
Those accumulated funds would pay all workers of all income levels much higher benefits than Social Security even promises let alone what it could pay. That includes one earner couples with stay at home moms caring for the children. Retirees would each be free to choose to leave any portion of these funds to their children at death.

In retirement, benefits payable from the personal accounts would substitute for a portion of Social Security benefits based on the degree to which workers exercised the account option over their careers. This is where the spending savings come in. The personal accounts don't just reduce the growth of government spending. They shift vast swaths of such spending from the public sector altogether, to the private sector.

Gingrich proposes to start the accounts focused on younger workers first. But over time the accounts would be expanded to take over financing for all of the benefits financed by the payroll tax today. That would ultimately amount to the greatest reduction in government spending in world history.

Moreover, eventually replacing the payroll tax entirely with personal savings and investment directly owned by each worker and his family would provide the greatest reduction in taxes in world history.
In 1981, the South American nation of Chile, then with a Social Security system just like ours, with the same problems, adopted such a personal account option, with astounding success. Virtually all workers chose the accounts within 18 months, and for 30 years now they have paid half the taxes of the old system, in return for at least twice the benefits, while their economy boomed with all the increased savings and investment. Those reforms included a safety net guarantee of former Social Security benefits, which has never suffered a loss or cost due to failure of a personal account to beat the old system. That is also included in the Gingrich plan.

In America itself, such a system was tried in 1981 as well, for local government workers in Galveston, Texas, who still enjoyed an option under the law then to choose an alternative to the current system. Just as in Chile, for 30 years now they have paid much less into their personal account savings and investment system than required by Social Security, but receive much more in benefits. The similar Thrift Savings Plan retirement system for federal employees has similarly worked spectacularly well now for nearly 30 years.

Model legislation providing for such accounts was introduced in 2004 and 2005 by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), now Chairman of the House Budget Committee. I worked closely with Ryan in developing that legislation. A similar proposal is now included in the Ryan Roadmap. On September 12 of this year, Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) introduced another model bill on which I worked closely as well.
Both bills were officially scored by the Chief Actuary of Social Security as eliminating all future Social Security deficits through the operation of the personal accounts alone, without benefit cuts or tax increases. Indeed, as discussed above, future retirees with personal accounts would enjoy higher not lower benefits. In the process, with full personal accounts the unfunded liabilities of Social Security, currently officially estimated at $15.1 trillion, would ultimately be eliminated entirely, as the personal accounts involve shifting to a fully funded retirement financing system. That would be the greatest reduction in effective government debt in world history. The Chief Actuary's scores for both bills are still available at the official Social Security Administration website.

Under both bills, as well as under the Gingrich plan, workers would be completely free to choose to stay in Social Security as is without exercising the personal account option at all. There would be no benefit cuts or tax increases for these workers either. That is possible because as the Chief Actuary explicitly recognized in scoring the bills, the personal accounts would so obviously be a better deal for workers and their families than the current program that he concluded that 100 percent of workers would ultimately choose the accounts. Of course, under the Gingrich plan, as under both bills, there would be no changes in Social Security of any sort for anyone currently in retirement, or anywhere near retirement.
No other reform would do so much to promote equality of wealth among the American people, not through the economically counterproductive redistribution of existing wealth, but through the creation of new wealth more equally owned. Indeed, based on studies by Harvard Professor Martin Feldstein, full personal accounts would reduce the concentration of wealth in America by one half.

The personal accounts would also funnel mighty rivers of savings and investment into the economy today, promoting economic growth and more jobs and higher wages for working people now. That would also promote more equality.

Block Grant Welfare Back to the States

Gingrich's entitlement reform proposals also include block granting all remaining federal means-tested entitlement programs back to the states, following the model of the enormously successful 1996 reforms of the old New Deal era AFDC program, spearheaded by Gingrich when he was Speaker of the House. These programs are estimated to cost taxpayers $10 trillion over the next 10 years alone.

If any liberal reform had been as wildly successful as those 1996 welfare reforms, every schoolchild in America would have been forced to memorize the details by now. Those reforms involved the ultimate welfare policy dream of President Reagan and his long time welfare guru Robert Carleson, as explained in Carleson's recent posthumously published book Government Is the Problem: Memoirs of Ronald Reagan's Welfare Reformer. I worked directly for Carleson in the Reagan White House.

The reform returned the share of federal spending on the program to each state in the form of a "block grant” to be used in a new welfare program redesigned by the state based on mandatory work for the able bodied. Federal funding for AFDC previously was based on a matching formula, with the federal government giving more to each state the more it spent on the program, effectively paying the states to spend more. The key to the 1996 reforms was that the new block grants to each state were finite, not matching, so the federal funding did not vary with the amount the state spent. If a state's new program cost more, the state had to pay the extra costs itself. If the program cost less, the state could keep the savings.

With these transformed incentives, the old AFDC rolls were reduced by two-thirds nationwide, even more in states that pushed work most aggressively. As a result, in real dollars total federal and state spending on the program by 2006 was down 31 percent from AFDC spending in 1995, and down by more than half of what it would have been under prior trends. Welfare spending could never be cut by 50 percent merely by trying to cut benefits.

At the same time, because of the resulting increased work by former welfare dependents, the poor benefitted as well. Child poverty declined every year, falling by 2000 to levels not seen since 1978, as Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution reports in his 2006 book evaluating the 1996 welfare reforms, Work Over Welfare. "[B]y 2000 the poverty rate of black children was the lowest it had ever been. The percentage of families in deep poverty, defined as half the poverty level…also declined until 2000, falling about 35% during the period,” Haskins adds. The incomes of the poor formerly dependent on AFDC rose by 25%, now paid by their private employers in the labor market, rather than taxpayers.

Gingrich proposes to extend these same block grant reforms to all other 184 means tested federal welfare programs, including Medicaid, Food Stamps, 27 low income housing programs, 30 employment and training programs, 34 social services programs, another dozen food and nutrition programs, another 22 low income health programs, and 24 low income child care programs, among others. This would amount to sending welfare back to the states, achieving the complete dream of Reagan and Carleson in restoring the original federalism and state control over welfare. It also follows the spirit of the Tea Party movement in restoring power to the states and gaining control over government spending, deficits, and debt.

If the results are anything like those for the 1996 reforms, the total savings for taxpayers would be enormous, and the poor would be much better off. With the states experimenting and competing to put the able bodied to work, instead of taxpayers paying the bottom 20 percent of income earners not to work as today, private employers would be paying them to work, and contribute to the economy.

Repeal and Replace Obamacare

Gingrich's proposed entitlement reforms include as well repealing and replacing Obamacare with Patient Power, as long advanced by John Goodman of the National Center for Policy Analysis.

The classic example of such policy is Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), which were also first recognized in federal law when Gingrich was Speaker. The concept behind HSAs is to start with an insurance policy with a high annual deductible, which reduces the cost of the insurance substantially. The savings are then kept in the HSA to pay expenses below the deductible. Generally, after one healthy year with little or no medical expenses, the patient by the second year would have more than enough in the account to cover all expenses below the deductible.

This transforms the incentives of third party payment. For all but catastrophic health expenses, the patient is essentially using his own money for health care. Whatever he doesn't spend he can keep. So the patient will try to avoid unnecessary care, and look for less expensive care and alternatives for what he does need.

In turn, since patients would now be concerned about costs, doctors, hospitals and other providers would now compete to control costs, as well as maximize quality, as in all normal markets. This competition would become more intense and effective the more widespread HSAs and similar incentives become. These incentives would flow all the way through to the developers of new technologies. Since both patients and health providers are now concerned with costs, technology innovators would now have incentives to develop technologies that reduce costs, as well as improve quality.

Gingrich proposes to control health costs by expanding HSAs throughout the health care system. Workers would be empowered with the freedom to choose them in place of employer provided coverage, the poor would be empowered to choose them for their Medicaid coverage, seniors would be empowered to choose them for Medicare.

Gingrich supports extending similar Patient Power to the poor in Medicaid with designated sums for the purchase of private insurance coverage in competitive markets, resulting in incentives for cost saving choices among competing health insurance alternatives. That would greatly benefit the poor because Medicaid today is structurally an institution serving to deny the poor essential health care just when they are the sickest and most in need of such care. That is because Medicaid does not pay the doctors and hospitals enough to assure such care. But with the above reform, the poor would enjoy the same health care as the middle class because they would have the same private insurance as the middle class, paying market rates for care.

Gingrich supports doing the same for Medicare, with retirees free to choose premium support through the program for the purchase of the private health insurance of their choice, similar to Ryan's proposal. The same approach for the drug coverage of Medicare Part D has proved quite successful in controlling costs. A personal savings and investment account for the Medicare payroll tax during working years would provide additional funds that can be used in retirement for the purchase of private health insurance of the workers' choice, which would result from Gingrich's proposed ultimate expansion of personal accounts.

Gingrich further supports replacing Obamacare with a complete health care safety net assuring essential health care for all, achieved with no individual mandate and no employer mandate. That safety net focused on the truly needy would cost just a fraction of the cost of Obamacare, actually sharply reducing government in the process.

That starts with the provision already in federal law, stemming from the Kennedy-Kassebaum legislation of the 1990s also enacted when Gingrich was Speaker, providing for guaranteed renewability. That means if you already have health insurance, you cannot be terminated because you become sick. That is what health insurance insures against after all, so such termination would actually be fraud, as state law across the country recognized even before Kennedy-Kassebaum. Under this regulation, insurers also cannot discriminatorily raise rates for those who become sick while insured. This law ensures that if you have health insurance, you will be able to keep it as long as you continue to pay the premiums.

The next component involves block granting and reforming Medicaid as discussed above, assuring that no one would suffer without essential health care because they were too poor to buy insurance. The final component would be a high risk pool in each state for the uninsured who never get coverage and then become too sick with costly illnesses like cancer or heart disease to buy it. The uninsured in this case would be able to get coverage as a last resort from the high risk pool, paying what they can based on their income, with taxes subsidizing the pool to keep it afloat. Because only 1-2 percent ever become actually uninsurable like this, this is the most inexpensive option for assuring an essential safety net.

What Gingrich has now proposed is the most cutting edge, advanced, sweeping, entitlement reform, sufficient to solve America's long term fiscal crisis, while better providing for those in need, which is what makes it politically viable and so exciting.

About the Author

Peter Ferrara is Senior Fellow at the Carleson Center for Public Policy, Director of Entitlement and Budget Policy for the Heartland Institute, and General Counsel of the American Civil Rights Union. He served in the White House Office of Policy Development under President Reagan, and as Associate Deputy Attorney General of the United States under the first President Bush. He is the author of America’s Ticking Bankruptcy Bomb, now available from HarperCollins.

From this Author 

I still believe that Newt is among the elite of duplicitous, self-serving, megalomaniacal politicians.  


I preiously wrote about Newt Gingrich here and my hope that the Newt would run for President has come to pass.  Rather than having my own curmudgeontary on the shenanigans of the Newster, I will pass along this classic from Maureen Dowd:

By Maureen Dowd
Washington DC

In many ways, Newt is the perfect man.

He knows how to buy good jewelry. He puts his wife ahead of his campaign. He’s so in touch with his feelings that he would rather close the entire federal government than keep his emotions bottled up. He’s confident enough to include a steamy sex scene in a novel. He understands that Paul Revere was warning about the British.

Mitt Romney is a phony with gobs of hair gel. Newt Gingrich is a phony with gobs of historical grandiosity.

The 68-year-old has compared himself to Charles de Gaulle. He has noted nonchalantly: “People like me are what stand between us and Auschwitz.” As speaker, he liked to tell reporters he was a World Historical Transformational Figure.

What does it say about the cuckoo G.O.P. primary that Gingrich is the hot new thing? Still, his moment is now. And therein lies the rub.

As one commentator astutely noted, Gingrich is a historian and a futurist who can’t seem to handle the present. He has more exploding cigars in his pocket than the president with whom he had the volatile bromance: Bill Clinton.

But next to Romney, Gingrich seems authentic. Next to Herman Cain, Gingrich seems faithful. Next to Jon Huntsman, Gingrich seems conservative. Next to Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, Gingrich actually does look like an intellectual. Unlike the governor of Texas, he surely knows the voting age. To paraphrase Raymond Chandler, if brains were elastic, Perry wouldn’t have enough to make suspenders for a parakeet.

In presidential campaigns, it’s all relative.

Franker than ever as he announced plans to retire from Congress, Barney Frank told Abby Goodnough in The Times that Gingrich was “the single biggest factor” in destroying a Washington culture where the two parties respected each other’s differing views yet still worked together.

Newt is the progenitor of the modern politics of personal destruction.

“He got to Congress in ’78 and said, ‘We the Republicans are not going to be able to take over unless we demonize the Democrats,’ ” Frank said.

In the fiction he writes with William R. Forstchen, Gingrich specializes in alternative histories. What if America hadn’t gone to war with Germany in World War II? What if Gen. Robert E. Lee had won Gettysburg?

The Republican also weaves an alternative history of his own life, where he is saving civilization rather than ripping up the fabric of Congress, where he improves the moral climate of America rather than pollutes it.

Romney is a mundane opportunist who reverses himself on core issues. Gingrich is a megalomaniacal opportunist who brazenly indulges in the same sins that he rails about to tear down political rivals.

Republicans have a far greater talent for hypocrisy than easily cowed Democrats do — and no doubt appreciate that in a leader.

Gingrich led the putsch against Democratic Speaker Jim Wright in 1988, bludgeoning him for an ethically sketchy book deal. The following year, as he moved into the House Republican leadership, he himself got in trouble for an ethically sketchy book deal.

Gingrich was part of the House Republican mob trying to impeach Bill Clinton for hiding his affair with a young government staffer, even as Newt himself was hiding his affair with a young government staffer.

Gingrich has excoriated Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae for dragging the country into a financial spiral and now demands that Freddie Mac be broken up. But it turns out that he was on contract with Freddie for six years and paid $1.6 million to $1.8 million (yacht trips and Tiffany’s bling for everyone!) to help the company strategize about how to soften up critical conservatives and stay alive.

At a Republican debate in New Hampshire last month before this lucrative deal became public, Gingrich suggested that Barney Frank and Chris Dodd should be put in jail. “All I’m saying is, everybody in the media who wants to go after the business community ought to start by going after the politicians who were at the heart of the sickness that is weakening this country,” he said.

Another transcendent moment in Gingrich hypocrisy. He risibly rationalized his deal, saying he was giving the mortgage company advice as a prestigious historian rather than a hired gun.

Gingrich boasts that he’s full of fresh ideas, but it always seems to essentially be the same old one: Let’s turn the clock back to the ’50s. Just as Newt, who dodged service in Vietnam, once cast the Clintons as hippie “McGovernicks,” now he limns the Occupy Wall Street protesters as hippies who need to take a bath and get a job.

Maybe the ideal man to fix Washington’s dysfunction is the one who made it dysfunctional. He broke it so he should own it. And Newt has the best reason to long for the presidency: He’d never be banished to the back of Air Force One again.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Back in 1965 whilst taking Fine Arts at Goshen College with Professor Mary Oyer, I became fascinated by Petrushka by Igor Stravinsky.  I had a vinyl recording of the orchestral version, and for the class, I undertook an analysis of the score.  Later I heard a piano version and learned about the adaptation to piano.    It is considered by many to be one of the most difficult pieces to play, and here is a clip of a portion of the piano version played by Yuja Wang:

Here is the complete multipart youtube compilation of the orchestra/ballet version.  For me, one of the most intriguing parts of the score occurs precisely at 1:11 in Part IV - listen for the brass counter run - it repeats three more times and then the ensemble enlarges for the next four runs.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


The recent kerfuffle about the Fairleigh Dickinson poll demonstrating that folks who watch Fox News [aka Faux News] are less informed than folks who watch no news at all reminded me of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.  Quoting the Wiki:

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled people make poor decisions and reach erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to recognize their mistakes. The unskilled therefore suffer from illusory superiority, rating their ability as above average, much higher than it actually is, while the highly skilled underrate their own abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority.  Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding. As Kruger and Dunning conclude, "the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others".  The effect is about paradoxical defects in cognitive ability, both in oneself and as one compares oneself to others.

Psychology Today sums it up - Ignorance Begets Confidence , and Bertrand Russell provides a corollary “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.” But who can top Jon Stewart's versus Faux News!


Wow - Liars and Biased!!


And this one is a must see!

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Just west of our place:

From the CU Connections publication:

For five days in September 2010, the Fourmile Canyon Fire raged over ridges and down gullies, leaving long fingers of destruction over more than 6,000 acres. In all, 168 homes were destroyed. Perhaps no other area was as affected as the community of Sunshine, which is surrounded by the ruin: 63 homes burned to the ground, 67 remain mostly intact.

Devastation isn’t the only story to come out of Colorado’s costliest blaze: There were heroes who saved homes and valuables with little more than dirt and shovels and a mighty dose of determination.

The events of those days are told in a new documentary from Michelle Bauer Carpenter, an assistant professor in digital design at the University of Colorado Denver College of Arts and Media. Her home was one of those saved by men in the community who refused to heed official evacuation orders.

“Above the Ashes” will air at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29, on Colorado Public Television, Channel 12.

“It’s about normal people doing extraordinary things and doing what you can do to help out your community,” said Carpenter, who directed, produced and edited the half-hour film.

Immediately after the fire, she began video-documenting the devastation and seeking out other footage and photographs. With a faculty development grant, she was able to shoot video of the area during a helicopter flyover. She accessed dispatcher calls and began talking with neighbors.

“For me, it was my way of processing the fire. I just wanted to understand what happened. It was my way of dealing with it.”

As she began collecting stories, however, she said she was amazed “by what these folks did. And their stories began to intertwine.”

In one instance, as four men worked to save a house, flames began eating away at the deck. When Sean McCollum, Charles Doersch, Matt Holmes and Chris Corl realized they could not save the building — the home of artists — they went inside and grabbed as much of the artwork as they could and carried it to safety. The residents, Steve and Dee Spencer, and the four rescuers only met one another when Carpenter recently held a screening party for the film.

“Above the Ashes” includes an original score by Brandon Vacarro and a song, “Smoke and Tears,” composed by singer/songwriter Rebecca Folsom, a longtime Sunshine resident.

The ache of loss still is prevalent in the community and the entire burn area. Many residents who lost homes decided not to rebuild. Although 168 homes were destroyed, Carpenter said, only about 45 building permits have been issued for the area.

There is hope in Sunshine, however. Residents are more tight-knit than ever, offering to help one another in any way possible. Wildflowers and grasses from re-seeding efforts have poked through the ashes in many areas. And last weekend, Carpenter and her neighbors attended a housewarming party in honor of the first home to be rebuilt in the little community. Inside, the new walls of the Spencer home will showcase paintings and other artwork saved from Fourmile’s flames.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I've been meaing to write about our niece Anna for some time, but the recent release of the song and video embedded below prompted me to get busy.  I previously wrote a bit about Anna's dad Gary Montgomery and his 1960's band, The Colours, and promise that some day I will write about Anna's mother, my sister Kay Montgomery.

You can check out information about Anna's teaching here, read about her award-winning CD Lyin' In the Face of Love here, and read more and listen on MySpace.  But here I want to highlight Anna's musical presence in Poland!  Turn Me On, a Wet Finger video featuring Anna's singing, now has over 2.5 million views, and the 3R video of Black Cherry also features Anna.  The latest music video featuring Anna is the DJ Kuba & Neltan official video of the song Take It To The Top.  Anna writes "Take It To The Top debuted on EKSA Radio at #1.  We now hope that it will get into the top 20 chart of overall plays.  It is being pitched to be the theme song for the EuroCup 2012 that is being held in Poland/Ukraine this coming year."

We wish Anna the best in the wacky world of pop music!!

Monday, November 14, 2011


Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael König on Vimeo.

h/t to Harris Miller

Here are a few tidbits taken from Jerry Coyne's blog:

The shooting locations in order of appearance in the video:

1. Aurora Borealis Pass over the United States at Night
2. Aurora Borealis and eastern United States at Night
3. Aurora Australis from Madagascar to southwest of Australia
4. Aurora Australis south of Australia
5. Northwest coast of United States to Central South America at Night
6. Aurora Australis from the Southern to the Northern Pacific Ocean
7. Halfway around the World
8. Night Pass over Central Africa and the Middle East
9. Evening Pass over the Sahara Desert and the Middle East
10. Pass over Canada and Central United States at Night
11. Pass over Southern California to Hudson Bay
12. Islands in the Philippine Sea at Night
13. Pass over Eastern Asia to Philippine Sea and Guam
14. Views of the Mideast at Night
15. Night Pass over Mediterranean Sea
16. Aurora Borealis and the United States at Night
17. Aurora Australis over Indian Ocean

Friday, November 11, 2011


When I read stuff like this, I don't know whether to laugh or cry, be happy or sad, be thankful or disgusted, and so on.  I think that I will go with disgusted.  It is not common for anyone, including religious folks, to acknowledge their dark side, and Luther and his contemporary followers certainly had plenty to acknowledge [more on that soon].  Five hundred years seems like an awful lot of "fullness of time" to fess up, especially to folks who would be claimed as sisters and brothers.  So, read this and choose your own reaction:
Wittenberg, Germany--Mennonites planted two trees in the "Luthergarten" in Wittenberg, Germany in early October to mark the deepening of Mennonite-Lutheran relations.

The garden project, initiated by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), is being developed in anticipation of the 2017 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's posting of his 95 theses on a church door in Wittenberg. Churches from around the world are being invited to sponsor a tree and also to plant a corresponding tree in a significant place for their own church.

Larry Miller, general secretary of Mennonite World Conference, planted a red maple next to a tree planted nearly two years ago by the Lutheran World Federation, when it invited a number of other global  church communions (Anglican Communion, World Methodist Council, World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Catholic Church) to participate in the garden project.

In his remarks, Miller recalled that when the Lutheran planners for this earlier event asked whether Mennonites should be invited, they said "no, not yet." He added: "The 'fullness of time' in Lutheran- Mennonite reconciliation was drawing near but had not yet come in power, as it did in Stuttgart less than one year later" in July 2010 when Lutherans issued an official apology for the historical persecution of Anabaptists and discrimination against Mennonites.

A second tree was planted in the Luthergarten by Frieder Boller, president of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Mennonitischer Gemeinden (AMG) in Germany. The AMG and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany have engaged in ecumenical dialogue and joint communion for the past 15 years.

The tree plantings in Wittenberg preceded a German Lutheran/Mennonite symposium on the topic of "Healing of Memories--Reconciliation in Christ," which both celebrated recent advances in Lutheran/Mennonite relationships and discussed new possibilities for their future.

In keeping with the commitment to plant corresponding trees in Mennonite soil, MWC and the Dutch Mennonites planted a tree at the Mennorode conference center in connection with recent Dutch Mennonite 200th anniversary celebrations. And the AMG is planning to plant a tree at Menno Simons' house in North Germany.

At the Mennorode ceremony, Fernando Enns, AMG Vice-President and professor of Peace Theology and Ethics at the University of Amsterdam, described the tree as both a gift and a vocation--"a reminder of our common gift of reconciliation of the Holy Spirit" and "the calling to live and grow into reconciliation" so that the gift does not become an experience of "cheap grace."

At the same event, Kathryn Johnson, LWF Assistant General Secretary for Ecumenical Affairs, commented: "For us Lutherans, our 'Mennonite action' has been both a grace-filled moment and a step in a process still unfolding." She added that Lutherans do not want to celebrate their 500th anniversary by themselves but together with other Christians. "We will see our gifts and our sins and shortcomings more clearly in the company of others."

Monday, November 07, 2011




Dr. James Miller
Dear alumni,
We in the Biological Sciences Department are grieving as we come to terms with the death of long-time Professor of Biology Dr. Jim Miller who was tragically killed on Sunday morning, October 9th.
It has been a dark week, filled with uncertainty and confusion. But there is light. We have received strength through emails, phone calls, and offers of help. Students and faculty are caring for one another in genuine and tender ways. This tragedy has shown us the deep impact one life can have.
In order to offer encouragement to current students and Dr. Miller's family, we extend a special invitation to email your memories and stories of having Dr. Miller as a professor. We will post your memories on Dr. Miller's bulletin board across from his office. Later they will be given to Jim's wife Linda.
This week the halls of biology have felt like hallowed space - yet we realize anew that Jim had been working tirelessly to bring hope, wholeness, even holiness to his daily interactions with his many students - a hallowed space 30 years in the making.
Ryan Sensenig, Jody Saylor, & Andy Ammons
Department of Biological Sciences

Dealing with Jim Miller’s death

Author: Sara Alvarez • Oct 26th, 2011 

Time and community will heal the wounds inflicted on the Goshen College community after Jim Miller’s death on Oct. 9. But the sadness and new awareness of safety will not disappear quickly.

When Miller, a biology professor, was murdered in his home close to the campus, not only did students and faculty lose a member of their community, they were also made aware of their own vulnerability.

“On the same day that we heard about Jim’s death, we decided we needed to get a dog,” said Niles Graber-Miller, a sophomore whose father, Keith Graber-Miller, is a professor. “It seemed so random, and it was directed to someone who was too familiar, too close … A dog is an effective way of keeping people away and is a non-lethal alternative.”

Lizzy Diaz, a senior in one of Miller’s classes this semester, said that she tries not to be scared for her safety but can’t help worrying sometimes.  “I have had moments when I am at the computer lab really late, and then I have to walk back to my apartment by myself and I feel fear,” said Diaz. “I keep telling myself, I will not let this scare me, [but] it is hard to imagine that this happened so close to campus … in what I thought was a “safe” neighborhood.”

Bob Yoder, the campus pastor, noted that the effects of Miller’s murder extend beyond the campus and into the Goshen community.  “I’ve noticed a lot more lights on in the street, and we’re paying much more attention that our doors are locked,” said Yoder.

However, some students say that they don’t feel like the murder has made them less safe. Ted Maust, a senior, said that even though he lives off-campus, he doesn’t feel like his safety has been compromised.
“[The murder] doesn’t seem systematic, it seems more random,” said Maust.

While many students have fallen back into the routine of school, Miller’s name and the murder are topics of discussion that arise between friends and with people outside of the campus.  “I think the broader community is still conscious of it all, so it keeps the campus conscious as well and puts it on the table for discussion,” said Maust.

To make sure that Goshen takes time to remember Miller, Yoder has tried to be attentive to the spiritual needs of the grieving campus. A formal memorial service is being planned for November 7 and a group of faculty and students will put together the memorial which will celebrate Miller’s life on campus.  The strongest emotions felt by the Goshen College community are from those who knew Miller best. Miller was a professor at the college for 31 years and taught higher-level biology classes. He taught two classes and mentored 10 students in research this semester.

Ryan Sensenig, the biology department chair, said that faculty and students are aware of each other’s grief and try to help one another along in the mourning process.  “The differences between professors and students dissolved as we tried to navigate something that wasn’t on the syllabus,” said Sensenig.  When Miller’s students gathered for class for the first time after his absence, Sensenig said they spent most of the class telling jokes–something that Miller integrated into every lesson.  At another point in a class, students were given photocopies of Miller’s notes to study with.  “There were jokes in the margins, whiteout marks and hand-written additions to the notes,” said Sensenig. “I think the students enjoyed the tangible representation of his repertoire of teaching.”

A key to the healing process has been to let each person decide how they want to mourn. For example, the students researching with Miller were given the option of having a new faculty mentor who would help them continue with their research or leaving it on hold until a later date.  “We’re trying to be as transparent and open and honest with the each other as possible,” said Sensenig. “We’re working with the students to give feedback.”

For Sensenig, the support offered from outside Goshen College campus has been helpful. Alumni and colleagues have emailed their sympathy and offered to help the college in different ways.  “I’ve received emails from all over and offers by professionals to Skype-in lessons for his classes,” said Sensenig.  To cover Miller’s two classes, the college has hired Rich Manalis, a close colleague of Miller’s and a former professor, and Douglas Swartzendruber, a biology alumnus from Colo. who is also a former professor. Manalis will cover the physiology research lab and Swartzendruber will teach Human Pathophysiology. “The two candidates are closely connected to the college and voluntarily offered assistance,” said Sensenig.

“The community at the college, which includes alumni, is connected to each other and those things help us to heal and realize the connection that we have with others,” said Sensenig.  This network of connections embraces those most affected by the loss and helps them to pick up the pieces. For one student who was working with Miller to prepare for an upcoming medical school interview, Sensenig said that a retired medical doctor volunteered to work with her and prepare her for the experience.

All the help offered by the community has helped the science department deal logistically with the loss, and allowed the department to focus more energy on grieving Miller’s death.

“I think that the thing that has most helped me in coping is talking with others who share my pain,” said Diaz. “So many emotions have taken over me and I still have trouble dealing with it. But talking about it, it makes it real. Only by accepting what happened can I begin to cope. It’s a process and it’s going to take time.”

Thursday, November 03, 2011


Ever since the airlines started to charge for checked baggage, I have preached that they have it backwards - they should be charging for carry-on.  This would discourage the folks who believe that the carry-on rules apply to everyone but themselves [which unfortunately is most of the folks] and diminish the major cause of the great increase in the time that it takes to board a plane.  The New York Times recently had an article about this problem and noted that there are some mathematical solutions to optimize the boarding sequence.  Although it seems that everyone and their sibling now has "priority boarding status", it is clear that the carry-on barrage is the main contributor to the craziness.

Only one airline thus far has figured out that they should follow my recommendation.  Spirit Airlines now charges $20 - $40 per carry-on bag, which is more than they charge for checked baggage [which I still believe should be free.]  And as predicted, with less carry-on, the boarding times have dropped dramatically.