Annual Thanksgiving Day Reflections – 2014

This should be one of the easiest Thanksgiving Day reflections I have ever written, for the very simple reason that I am staring at the handiwork of God as I type, and I have the added inspiration of that handiwork being my backyard view here at our house in the desert. I should just get this part out of the way now – I don’t mean to say, “I am thankful because I have a house in the desert”, or “look at me, our view is awesome”. I take the risk of it coming off that way in setting up my piece as I am, so I want to crush that to the best of my ability. Yes, I am thrilled to have this respite home in Rancho Mirage, and certainly the morning view is stunning. BUT I am mentioning it and sharing it NOT to say, “look what I have” – I swear. I am starting off this year’s reflections this way because I want to say , “look what God has done”. The double meaning here is that He created this, AND He has blessed me with the ability to see it. Seeing it as I draft these reflections requires me to share it. I hope that’s all clear enough.

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The truth is that the material blessings in my life are a very small part of what I most feel grateful for this particular Thanksgiving morning. I look at out at these mountains across the fairway and lake and so forth and can only see a God who is big, and it reminds me that I am small. Maybe I am getting old and maybe God has changed my priorities, but I cannot believe how many blessings exist in our lives that we do not have to pay for, that are readily available for us to enjoy, if we just open our eyes. Sure, my backyard looks out at this view, but I don’t own the view – anyone can see what I am seeing, and all of us have eyes on a world that is utterly remarkable for how it was made. Oceans, mountains, lakes, waterfalls – pick your poison – there is creative evidence of the creativity of God right in front of our faces, no matter where we live. I am thankful for this.

I spent years of my life not seeing what was in front of me. Dealing with my own issues or wrestling my own demons or just being too plain self-absorbed, I couldn’t see the mountains because I was too focused on affording the house. Today, if I could afford 100 more of these houses, but didn’t have open eyes to the awe and power of God, it wouldn’t be remotely worth it. I mean that. I am thankful for this perspective.

There has never been a moment I was not thankful for my kids since the day they were born. I don’t really like even thinking about what kind of person I would be if they had not been born. I have always thought they were precious, adorable, and utterly special. But today I am thankful for their unique, personal, total individuality. They think a certain way, act a certain way, dream a certain way, and will become a certain person, because God made them with souls, image-bearers of Him, for whom He has a plan. As a parent this reality has not been real enough to me, and over the last year it has become more real. For this, I am thankful.

Speaking of not wanting to think about what kind of person I would be, my wife and soulmate, Joleen, is the embodiment of my Thanksgiving in so many ways. She is her own person, with her own personality, driven by what she is driven for, and simultaneously she is my partner, at my side, a total part of my life. She is a model of sacrifice and love for others, and she is determined, industrious, productive, and amazing. We have passed 13 years of married life together, and I am grateful for all 8,087 days we have had together.

I worry that people think I talk too much about my career, my clients, my love of portfolio management, etc. So I won’t pile on here. I am thankful for this moment this year, which was a symbolic summary of gratitude felt up and down my professional life.

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There has been a lot that has happened in my life over the last 523 days, but there has been a lot that has happened in my life the last 6,930 days as well. The former number may seem random but the latter number is how long it has been since my father died. In a lot of ways adulthood started that day, though I had been pretty well prepped for it (by him) beforehand. I could never explain the nature of the journey I have been on since my dad died, both to find myself, to find God, to find peace, and to find success. That journey continues today, albeit with a lot of progress made and a lot of clarity. That progress and clarity I reference are things for which I am thankful.

2014 has enabled a long-time dream of mine to come to fruition, and that is the birth of a faith-based, rigorous private high school in my hometown of Newport Beach, CA. Fall 2015 will see doors open with the inaugural class, but the work we have done over the last year to make this dream a reality has been a blessing. I have incredible partners in this dream-actualizing – Keith, David, Mike, Scott, Matt, Luis, and Ben – and countless others who are joining the team to create a multi-generational institution for liberal arts learning, and more importantly, life preparation. For these men and this opportunity, I am thankful.

There is nothing I am more thankful for this year than the enhanced serenity God has given me, even when I have least deserved it. I live life at a fast pace, and i am at peace with the fact that that is who God made me. But people like me are at risk of a severe “miss” in their lives if they are not careful – missing the mountains in the backyard, missing the funny things their four-year old says, missing their wife’s smile when they head off to work, missing those “moments” in one’s life where the greatest joy and satisfaction can be found. I have a certain symbol of the success God has given me here at this house and in this backyard. But I swear to you this beautiful Thanksgiving morning, that what I most have, is a symbol of moments I never want to miss. And yes, for this, I am thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving.

“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that [the gifts of God] should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow citizens… to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
– Abraham Lincoln

Weekly Musings – Cal Edition, UCLA Preview, and Much More

This has actually turned into a really great college football season, and that is not just because of the vastly superior system this season is using to name a title (even as it still needs improvement). It is quite clear that there is some decent parity in college football, and basic principles of all other sports are being forced to bear out in college football (“I know Florida State won but I just plain don’t think they’re REALLY one of the best teams”). That statement would not be embraced or mocked in any other sport, because everyone would just know that we will find out eventually. If FSU is lucky to have beaten Miami, Notre Dame, etc., surely they would be exposed in the postseason against Alabama, Oregon, etc., and it wouldn’t matter what our subjective opinions might be (and I do believe both Alabama and Oregon can and likely will beat Florida State, but I’m just using them as an example right now). If we think a team is better than they have played, the postseason solves it objectively. The inverse is equally true. This year we have one, though it doesn’t have enough teams. Eight is the number, not four. But I’ll take four over that old BCS system which forced us to endure inane comments from people who should have known better.

With that said, the top four teams are going to be tough to define. The wheels are off Auburn’s bus and LSU’s bus in a big way. Mississippi State will need to win out to stay in top four consideration. Frankly, they looked okay, but not really top four (certainly not #1) against Alabama. I do believe Alabama MIGHT prove to be the best in the pack, but I understand the skepticism around their barely having survived LSU and Arkansas (and that loss to Ole Miss). Ohio State is trying to make an argument, but everyone knows their conference is a laughingstock. Ohio State might want to count it a blessing that they’re probably going to be spared a game against Oregon in the postseason, if you know what I mean. I like this parity. I like the teams all in consideration. And I think this will be a very interesting 3 weeks of football.

The biggest flops of the year have to include Stanford and Auburn and now Notre Dame. I would’ve had Arizona State in the biggest upside surprises of the year until that devastating (and fantastic) loss to Oregon State the other night. UCLA cannot be called a flop this year because not a single person in their fan base ever thought they were really a top 5 team, nor did they ever care about anything other than the game coming up this Saturday. More on that below. It’s just been a surprising season in a lot of ways and an awesome one at that.

Sark and my beloved Trojans have a chance to really redeem what has had some extremely disappointing moments this season by running the table against their two rivals, possibly putting them in the Pac-12 championship game (would need Arizona to beat ASU), and ending at 9-3 with two losses coming from freak end of game tragedies (I recognize there are also two wins you could argue got handed to us as well, so it is what it is). I do not know if we will sweep UCLA and Notre Dame, but I know we can. UCLA barely beat Cal (it never should have happened), went double OT with Colorado, the worst team in football, and has struggled all year with bad football teams. On the other hand they have a good running QB, beat USC confidently last year, and play Troy in the Rose Bowl. UCLA never cares about anything but beating USC, the school which provides them all existential meaning. I believe they will have a tough time stopping the USC passing game, especially if USC successfully gets Buck Allen running. I also think our Defensive line has a chance to put a lot of pressure on Hundley as a ball thrower. Our linebackers, though, are vulnerable with Hundley as a ball runner, and our secondary is just plain vulnerable period. Sark needs this win to silence his critics (though his critics are being increasingly marginalized every week by the woeful performance of the other people they said were the saviors of the program). The jury is out on Sark, but nothing stacks votes like a win over your rivals.

I will not talk about the Notre Dame game until the UCLA game is behind us. I don’t look ahead.

Speaking of which, the Cal game was a lot of fun. Eleven wins in a row over a legitimate program is hard to do. Cal is not good, but they are not basement dwelling bad either. Nelson Agholar put in a beastly clinic in the Coliseum Thursday night, and I believe Adoree Jackson is really coming into his own as well. I believe Cody and the offense become categorically different when we see Buck Allen running downhill (bold claim, eh?), and if we can punch UCLA in the mouth on the line of scrimmage we will win this game. We cannot turn the ball over. AND, we MUST, MUST, MUST limit the turnovers. The referees will be good for a minimum of 10 points (net) for UCLA. We need to win by 11.

It is going to be a war in the Rose Bowl. May the best team win. And may the men and women of Troy dig deep into the Fight On spirit that frankly leaves Bruins not knowing what to do. They have never seen anything like it. Fight on, indeed.

A Quick Election Postmortem – A Wave by Any Other Name

There is a danger in two things the day after an election: Excessively mourning the results, and excessively celebrating the results. No election, ever, means nearly as much as we want to think it does. Culture trumps politics. For a conservative Republican to believe that America woke up Wednesday morning more personally responsible and interested in limited government than they were a few days ago is insane. Now, the good news there is that America was never as interested in a statist society as the doomsdayers portend either. At our core, we are a center right country, and I am quite confident we will remain such. Only professional fundraisers have a right to say that a given election means the end of the Republic, and only fools believe that with 54 Republican senators we can now get on to the business of fixing all that ails the world. In reality, some very, very good things took place Tuesday night, and a lot of work remains to be done.

I believe NBC, the WaPo, you, me, and anyone else knew that the GOP would take the Senate Tuesday night. I believe we were in danger of losing either KS or GA (probably not both), and that didn’t happen. I believe we could have lost one of CO, AK, or IA on the day of. But the polls were clear as can be (aggregate, composite polls like what RCP offers): Seven states were coming, and eight/nine were a possibility. We got nine. (I am counting Alaska and Louisiana and assuming the Dem, Warner, holds in VA if they recount). So really, the mere sending of Harry Reid to the irrelevant pile where that unpatriotic windbag belongs is not a surprise, though I concur it is a victory. But just like stock prices only respond to good news when it is a surprise, I want to focus on unexpected good news.

The Governor seats were simply extraordinary Tuesday night. Deep blue states going red, and deep blue states ALMOST going red, is a big deal. The wave of people who doubt the efficiency of government, if not its morality or legitimacy, must be converted from the state house to the White House. This election may not have been a rejection of nanny state government (I wish it were), but I do believe the failed ObamaCare website, the VA hospital debacle, the pension crisis countless states face, and the foreign policy miscalculations of this administration all serve up a highly skeptical omelette about the COMPETENCE of big government. I make a moral argument against big government (or rather, for individual freedom), but voters are content to ride along side me with an efficiency argument against big government (right now). The GOP would be wise to message this immutable law into 2016: Big government will always mess it up, always (when the task in question is outside the scope of their legitimate power).

I am mystified why so many on the right are skeptical about what this GOP majority will do. I challenge the haters to name one single malignant law that the post-2010 Republican House has allowed to enter the fray. I get that there are still pouty children in our party wondering why we can’t pound our fist and get everything we want, but from a checks and balances standpoint, this GOP has held the line. We did not elect bad Republican senators on Tuesday night. Gardner, Cotton, Sullivan, Cassidy, Ernst, and Tillis are conservative stars. They are grown-ups. They are ready for the task at hand. Unlike 2002, we scored in both quantity AND quality Tuesday night. For this we should be grateful.

Scott Walker’s re-election is a big deal. The public employee unions are losing their power in much of America (not in California). They are the demon of American politics and they have shown more contempt for the good of the American people than any other force or special interest in American history. This battle is not over but we are making incremental progress (not in California). We have more work to do.

The Virginia Senate seat is the biggest surprise of the election, and obviously us Monday Morning quarterbacks now wish we had supported Gillespie. I’d love to know who is polling that state so I could fire them (right, Eric Cantor?), but I suspect it reinforces the thesis that a lot of purples are just not happy being blue right now.

The Republicans will win the 2016 Presidential election if they nominate a likable and charismatic and competent candidate who can avoid being polarizing (sorry Cruz and Paul) and also hold the line of ideological solidity and political competence. We have folks on the bench who can do that. I’ll address this more as time goes by.

The GOP does not have a mandate now to start acting stupid. The American people want to see action, but they also want to see maturity, poise, and sobriety. We do not need to go along to get along, and we do not need to come off like radicals and flamethrowers jockeying for a plug from Rush Limbaugh. The GOP ought to rule for the next two years the way they got elected two days ago. They nominated sensible and impressive candidates, and they ran disciplined campaigns. Let’s go work for two years with sensibility and discipline. Good things will happen.

I agreed with leadership’s decision to not attempt a Contract with America II in advance of this election. This was a referendum on the failed Presidency of Barack Obama and the American people’s dissatisfaction with governmental incompetence. But now, it is imperative that we proactively lead with issues. We may not override Presidential vetoes, but corporate tax reform, the Keystone pipeline, energy export allowances, school choice, and a host of pro-growth, pro-jobs issues exist that we can and should push, promote, and fertilize. As Thatcher said to Bush Sr., now is not the time to get wobbly.

God’s Business

I heard a well-known Christian leader and author inform 250 successful Christian businesspeople and donors a few days ago that “your business is just a side business; you cannot ever lose track of the fact that your real business is God’s business”.

I am not saying his name or organization because I do not want what I say to be construed as me picking on him, for I am not. His viewpoint is typical of what is said today in American evangelical Christianity, and his viewpoint probably comes from good and decent motives. But what he said is ludicrous, dangerous, and in need of correction.

The notion that we have sort of two tiers to our lives – the extra-terrestrial level where all real spiritual work is done, and then the merely material where we do the “have to” stuff (you know, like run our businesses) – is unfounded in Scripture. I am happy to grant those who hold to this mentality that our business and marketplace efforts do not represent the entirety of our Kingdom identity. Indeed, God cares deeply for our families, our leisure, our church lives, our education, and our cultural endeavors (too). However, the notion that we have a “minor” business (the one we run for a paycheck) which is hugely inferior to the “big one (being God’s business)”, is simply untrue, or better, it is woefully stated.

What exactly, may I ask, IS God’s business? Is not God’s business the redemption of this world? Yes, it is. And does not the redemption of this world include our businesses, our families, our endeavors, our cultural efforts, our finances, etc.? It isn’t His side business, either. He is in the universe business, because after the Fall He covenanted to redeem the universe, and restore it to Himself. He is doing this in history, and in this glorious and eschatological process He has tasked us to work, maximize human dignity, chase our passions and dreams, provide for ourselves and our families, and grow the resources He has given us. The creation mandate is a mandate of growth, and few earthly venues provide more of a canvas for growth than our businesses.

The speaker doesn’t hate business. I know that. But his theology is either consciously wrong or poorly articulated. God’s business is our business, and our business is God’s business. We do not need to tier, prioritize, segment, or belittle anything. We need to work hard, live well, and in so doing, do the business of God.

Capo’s in Santa Monica

I think most people know that the greater Los Angeles area possesses its fair share of fantastic restaurants, but compared to true dining sensations like New York City, Miami, Chicago, and San Francisco it is, well, subpar. Because my wife and I live in Newport Beach, an hour south of Los Angeles, we find what we can to enjoy in Orange County, we travel a lot and always find dining loves where we go, but the “big city” to our north doesn’t excite us much. Many years ago we found the exception to that rule in Santa Monica, and have dined at Capo’s at least once a year ever since. Capo’s is a tiny little rustic place (15 tables) up the hill from Shutters on the Beach resort near Ocean and Pico in Santa Monica. It is tough to get a reservation, and walking in is an exercise in futility. But at the end of the day, it is well worth whatever effort you must exert to experience this dining treasure.

The menu at Capo’s is a work of art, and as they keep a large grill fire going in the back of the restaurant you can see and experience some of the culinary creations in real time. For appetizers last night we both went to the grill, Joleen with a shrimp scampi of sorts

IMG_0027.JPG and me with a simply unimprovable octopus

IMG_0025.JPG. The char was perfect, which is to say subtle but not too subtle, and the flavors were impactful.

Speaking of char, a little romaine lettuce on the grill with caesar dressing is the way salad ought to be served.

IMG_0024.JPG. Their salad menu is actually quite extensive (as is the appetizer menu), so don’t be limited to what we ordered last night.

Speaking of which, you do not want to ignore their pasta (or risotto) dishes when you order here, but they are a meat restaurant. Therefore, I heartily recommend adding a pasta main dish to your meat main dishes so as to not deprive yourself of all Capo’s has to offer. We have actually done a risotto most times we have been here as well but bypassed risotto last night for the linguini with clam sauce. No overpowering flavors here – just perfect ones.

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Speaking of meats, Joleen went with the Branzino which is coated in the perfect amount of salt and seasoning, giving me phenomenal variety in what I ate last evening.

IMG_0029.JPG It is a salty treasure but you really can’t imagine it being prepared much better. I went with the staple of the rack of lamb, and you will see that the exterior char with the perfectly lush medium rare middle made this as scrumptious as any lamb I have ever put in my mouth (that is saying something).

IMG_0023.JPG. Words fail to explain,. And if you don’t like lamb, the veal chop is insane.

Dessert is less important when you have had four or five courses, but when they say “homemade blackberry crisp”, I take it very seriously. The picture hopefully says it all.

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Would I drive from Newport Beach to Capo’s every single weekend for dinner? Maybe not, though if more places like The Ritz and Arches and Sage keep going away (or going downhill), I’ll do what I have to do. Capo’s is the best spot in LA County, and I would bet my rack of lamb on it …

(And if you want to get your money’s worth with the drive, feel free to stay overnight and enjoy some short rib tacos at their adjacent coffee shop, Cora’s, the next morning. ALSO worth the trip).

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