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Saturday, July 20, 2002

Oh no, Mr. Jeff !! It’s Mr. Hand! –I received an e-mail from Jeffery Collins on this article by The Invisible Hand's Philip Murphy.If I’m reading Mr. Hand post correctly, he has two classes of people: the “Stirred” optimists who accept and work around our flawed human nature and the “Shaken” pessimists who see life as a zero-sum game and fight to maintain and expand their piece of the pie, using an anti-democratic streak when needed. A reader of Collins' sent this e-mail
>I read with surprise your link to the Invisible Hand, and his discussion of >his Martini theory of politics. It was a clever and amusing little post he >made, but hardly very Christian. Disclaimers for humorous intent to one >side, Mr. Murphy clearly prefers the view that it is human nature for people >to seek advantage for themselves, and that this is not bad, and that the >praiseworthy behavior is to jump into that game with both feet and profit >yourself. This is surely not a sentiment Christ would agree with. >In short I have no objection to your link to such a humorous article, but I >wonder that you had nothing editorial to say about it. Which of his two >camps do you think Christians should fit themselves into, or do we in fact >need a three martini lunch to make room for ourselves?
Collins followed with this observation
Now to some exent, my reader has a point. However, I read Murphy's post as primarily an endorsement of Adam Smiths' views on markets. In fact, the very name of his blog is an endorsement of Smith. The "Invisible Hand" doctrine of course pretty much does say that human beings naturally serve their self interest, but in doing so they serve others unintentionally. The reason for this e-mail was that I've always tacitly accepted Smith's views without ever giving much thought to how they reconcile with Christianity. My gut instinct says that Christians should particiapte in the market just like everyone else-By pursuing that which is best for them. (Albeit being much more aware of maintaining ethical behavior in the process.) My rationalle being that by pursuing their own interests in the market, they can prosper. That prosperity then gives them the opportunity to serve others. I guess this would be best stated as saying that Christians should pursue their own interests in the market, but to look out for others in ways that are outside the market. My views are still extremely tentative and I'm not sure I've really even identified the issues, which is why I haven't blogged on this yet. I'd appreciate your perspecitve if you get a chance.
First, I’d disagree with some of people on the list. Malcolm X would be in the Stirred category only after he returned from Mecca and distanced himself form Elijah Muhammad. The Beatles and LBJ are cheap shots and Tony Blair is Stirred only by comparison to the unrepentant statist Kinnock. As per the question of whether Christians should participate in a market economy, I don’t think there’s much of a choice. People receive a market-determined price for the fruits their labor whether they are farmers, carpenters or college professors. While we need to be fair with customers and employers to deliver quality goods and services, to take less than the market rate would be enriching the heathen. There aren’t too many people like Tiger rightfielder Al Kaline, who reportedly turned down a $100,000 salary (superstar money in the pre-free-agent 60s) because he wasn’t worth $100,000. If a modern Christian athlete were in the same shoes, knowing that he’s not worth the bongo-bucks he’s being paid, he could ask himself this question-“Would God’s kingdom be better advanced by me having the extra money to give to church endeavors or to invest for the future or to let the team’s owner spend it on his desires?” However, most of us aren’t going to have the luxury of turning down that kind of pay raise. Businesses provide services that people need, even if that service is buying stuff for others to buy at a higher price. Even being a merchant-middle-man is serving a function of saving the buyers from tracking down the suppliers by themselves. If we can’t honorably make a profit from those services, we would only be able to do them as a hobby and would need to find other ways to make a living. If we take less than the market rate, we are giving money to the organization that is buying from us or hiring us. That might be a good thing if the organization needs the money more than you do; working for less that full value for a church or some other worthy group would be admirable. When I ran a computer store, I would provide services for churches and other religious charities at cost. However, if I did that for everyone, I’d of run out of money a lot sooner. Paul mentioned in 1 Timothy that the worker deserves his wages. As a tentmaker, Paul wasn’t a stranger to the business world, working with Priscilla and Aquila as he made his missionary rounds. He didn’t do the tentmaking for free in every case, for he did so to support himself and not hit up the churches for money. Given that history, I think we can honorably participate in the market economy.

Edifier du Jour-1 Peter 3:8-13
Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, "Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil." Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?
Our modern culture prizes the quick comeback and the quick payback. "Don't get mad, get even" is the philosophy of the day. However, turn the other cheek trumps eye-for-an-eye. I'm just as guilty of this as the next guy, as my wit can get very cutting and sarcastic at times. When framed at outsiders, it can be a good rhetorical tool, but such destructive wit can be just as easily turned at your friends and family. The better route is to try hard to avoid the sarcasm and try to say something edifying. Is the aim of the comment to show your wit or to vent your frustration or is it to help the other person? Do we have to live by "if you can't say anything nice, don't say nothin' at all?" Almost. Let's try "if you can't say anything constructive, don't say nothin' at all." Remember, good humor that doesn't tear others down is constructive to the soul as well.

Friday, July 19, 2002

Bottom Fishing in the Marianas Trench?-Johnson and Johnson was caught doctoring the books at a Puerto Rico plant, helping the DJIA tank 390 points (J&J is one of the 30 DJIA stocks) to its lowest point in four years. Have we hit bottom, yet, Mommy?

Managing our Modest Abundance Part II-Wants and Needs
One thing to remember is that most of us have little problem meeting our basic needs. The typical Blogospherian can't say "Give us this day our daily bread" with a lot of meaning when he's got a fridge full of goodies at home. We buy food as much for taste as for nutrition. We buy clothes for style and comfort rather than warmth (yeah, like I need that with it 100° in the shade) and durability. Our houses give us separate places to eat, sleep and entertain rather than just give a roof over our heads and warmth on cold nights. This struck me as I taught Tuesday night, when the introductory chapter of the MIS textbook mentioned that most products sold today meet wants rather than needs. While the Size Ten Social Beast in the back row may insist that she needs her necklace and a sportscar, it is an acquired need, a want that has been raised up to the level of a need by our culture and modern marketing. If American poverty is having a very modest house or apartment, food to get fat on, TVs, boom boxes and often an older car, the average American will consider those cultural common denominators a need rather than a want. These acquired needs come into focus when immigrants from poorer countries come to the US. One of the students in the MIS class is from Kenya; she saw the difference between wants and needs a lot more clearly than STSB or her other classmates. I saw that at Kent State, where my Camaroonian friend Martin was supporting a wife, then a daughter and his mom as well, on a grad-assistant's salary while I struggled to support just myself (I don't think the Physics Ph.D. students were getting any more than the Business Ph.D. students). We need to be more careful in how we do our shopping and what we consider a need. I don't need a new computer when the one that I have is doing what it needs to do. I don't need a new car when the one I have works fine. I don't need a Diet Pepsi when a glass of water will do (although I did get one at the gas station on the way in). The things that are true needs are things you can spend money on with worry. The things that are wants need to be examined close as to whether we should be spending our money on them and whether the money would be better saved or donated.

Byron, the Early Weeks-Just for fun I went back to the archive of six months ago to see what was going on in the Blogosphere. Kevin Holtsburry was buying off my banner ad. I had a good post on the history of modern fundimentalism, predicted that the Enron scandal wouldn't stick to the GOP (so far-so good) and outed myself as a political junkie both domestically and up north. I also was starting some economic screeds, having a good post on free trade and on economic philospophy. Expect more on the Byron Curve next week. Six months ago this week:Steve "Antichrist" Spurrier was getting hired by the 'Skins. Tim Cavanaugh had the link-bait essay of the week, "Let Slip the Blogs of War." Gun-packing law students cut short a rampage in Virginia. (Hey, Fox links work after six months) Gunnies shot up a Bat Mitzvah in Israel (what else is new?)

The World Next Door-Interesting article here from Josh Claybourn on evangelizing foreign students in the US as a secret missions tool. An effort to befriend and bring to Christ foreign college students is an effective overseas evangelism tool. Many churches make a solid effort to do outreach to the international students at the local college; Midland E-Free had a good program working with internationals at Saginaw Valley State. Part of the trick of such outreach is to first befriend the student, then show Jesus to him in both word and deed. These programs aren't as sexy as sending someone to the Deep Dark Jungle, but they may deliver a better bang for the buck. Another area that can be effective as a missions alternative is what the missiologies call "tentmaking," using your secular skills to get a job (Paul supported himself as a tent-maker) in countries that are hostile to full-time missionaries. If I asked for a visa to the Saudi entity to be a missionary, it would get a good laugh before being rejected. However, if I got a job as a Finance professor at Sheik Yurbuti University, I could witness to students on the side while financial supporting myself from my SYU paycheck. There's a number of missionary efforts in China on this tentmaking front, where people go in as English teachers (or other professions) and share their faith through their work and in their off hours.

Morning Musings-Married life and a busy teaching schedule the next few days (7 hours of classroom time Saturday then four more Tuesday) might make the posting a bit light. Prayer support for Eileen to get adjusted to Florida and to find a good teaching job (or something else if God so leads) would be appreciated. Prayers for my squirrelly MBA class to behave themselves would be appreciated as well; at least the dean knows about it and is in my corner on classroom management. Louder Fenn's been AWOL for almost a month. He's either got blogger's block or is busy with his wetware life. Send some prayers his way as well. Without a e-mail address, it's hard to rattle his cage personally. Contrary to Bene Diction's statement, Modest Abundance II isn't up. I'm not sure if my Accounting Risk article or the Den Beste thing was what Bene was thinking of. However, I submit a small snack before the next course, a good Mere Madness essay on insurance, (scoot down to Thursday 18th once all the [expletive-deleted] ads boot up).

Edifier du jour -1 Peter 2:13-17
Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.
Just a reminder that government is something that God allows and is to be respected, barring direct opposition to our faith. The second half of Acts was a courtroom drama, as Paul was hauled from court to jail to court, yet Paul used the opportunity to witness to kings and high priests. He played within the system and didn't start a guerrila army to bring down the Romans. However, before we start to place too much emphasis on government, note the order of emphasis; God comes before the state. The only anti-state (as opposed to passive civil disobedience of preaching the Gospel) action I can think of was Jesus' clearing the temple of the merchants. However, Jesus had the right to clean his own house.

Thursday, July 18, 2002

Another Sinkhole in Florida-Reno's CampaignBen Domenech mused over Janet Reno's floundering gubernatorial run, noting the money flowing from teachers unions to Dem challenger Bill McBride.-"Do you think she's just too masculine to run statewide?" No, I think she's too stiff to run statewide. One of the intangible factors that a candidate has to have is the "BBQ factor": Is this someone you'd like to hang out with on the back porch, cold-beverage-of-choice in hand, shooting the bull with. Unless you are a hard-core liberal activist, I don't see Reno as a nice person to get to know. On the masculine front, it may be a factor but not much of one. For some reason, Molly Ivans comes to mind. She's as liberal and unfeminine as Reno, but Ivans would be an absolute hoot as a party guest. It might not boil down to a defined sense of charisma, but the ability to picture the candidate as a next-door-neighbor can swing elections.

Edifier du jour-1 Peter 1:23-25
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever." And this is the word that was preached to you.
I lost some sleep last night mulling over the den Beste article on religion and modernity and Collins' reply. This won't be my last salvo on the topic, but this verse points out one of the assets of our faith is the unchangingness of God. That's been something believers through the ages have relied upon; it's not just a modern thing. While the pace of change has went into warp drive the last century or so, things didn't start changing with the Industrial Revolution. The world is a dynamic place; looking for something of this world to stand immutable is a fool's errand. It's God that is the constant. I remember an old ditty my Dad called up from time to time, referring to the #2 auto maker's old slogan
There's a Ford in your future; there's a Ford in your past. Better get a Chevy 'cause a Ford won't last.
Better get with God, 'cause the world won't last. Houses fall apart, cars will turn to rust and loved ones will die, but God is the I AM. Whether it be Solomon's musings over the fleeting meaningless of life in Ecclesiastes three millennia ago or a modern believer's struggle to keep up with a changing world, God remains the stationary focal point.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Stereo Autoboomers?-The Palestinians are at it again, this time with a two-man autoboomer attack in Tel Aviv, taking six people with them. Oh, I should refrain from comments about double-dating 72 virgins. That's Rantburg's job. Oh, what the heck, I'm sure that they'll split the virgins between them, because getting 144 virgins would be gross.

Infectious Greed?-Just looked at some pieces on Greenspan's Senate testimony. If I'm reading it right, he just declared the era of "infectious greed" over. Is this the cure for "irrational exuberance?" I think Greenspan's theology's way off. Greed isn't caught, it's native to each human being's sin nature, and can be nurtured or surpressed. May I mix and match Greenspanisms and suggest we've just trashed exuberant greed. This exuberant greed encouraged people to think they were buying the next Netscape or Yahoo.

Undermining Confidence-I was talking yesterday about the fallout from the accounting scandals as well as the Harken Energy protoscandal being part of a liberal attack to discredit the free-market system. We need to pay close attention to this and make efforts to assure people that our financial system, while flawed, is still sound. If people continue to have added fears about the safety and relative honesty of the stock market, people will stop investing in stocks. If investors simply switch their investments to bonds, it will create more bankruptcy, not less, as companies will be more likely to borrow money to raise capital if selling stock becomes harder. The bigger debt burdens will cause more companies to go under in bad times under the added burden of extra debt. Also, companies that are deeper in debt will tend to play things closer to the vest, turning down some previously profitable investments, since a greater share of the rewards from risky investments will go to the bondholders and not the stockholders. Profits that come in scenarios when the company's bankrupt can be ignored from the shareholder's perspective, since they won't see a dime of it; a larger debt burden creates more bankruptcy scenarios and makes more and more projects unprofitable to the shareholder. Such a reliance on debt and the resulting corporate investors with tighter sphincters will not be good for the economy, as many new projects won't be done. However, if the decreased confidence gets people to stop investing altogether, then that will have even greater impact on the economy. You may have a rush of added consumer spending, as the money that would have been spend on stocks and bonds gets put into buying stuff. However, that will be offset by a decrease in business spending, as a larger number of new projects will go undone because of the higher cost of capital required to lure investors back into the capital markets. The GDP effects of this will be of a long-term nature, as the plants and stores that don't get started today won't be hiring new employees six months or a year from now. We're almost exactly two years away from the economic picture people will take to the polls with them in 2004; any changes after the conventions will get drowned out by the political rhetoric. Remember that the recession ended in the fall of '92, but the Clinton rhetoric silenced the improving economic news. If this Accounting Risk bear market continues, we will see the effects in decreased business spending and a decrease in the creation of new jobs in 2003 and 2004, as the plants that will be opening then are being planned for now. Right now, this market could be seen as overreacting to bad news and be more of a nasty correction than a true bear market. We haven't been in a market where pessimism was the overriding rule in two decades. Democrats have a vested interest in encouraging this trashing of the stock markets. If capitalism is taking it on the chin, statism starts to look good. Random Jottings pointed out that the Krugman was the main instigator of the Harken protoscandal, trying to make a decade-old lucky sell (if you want to counter with Hillary's pork bellies, prepare to be Fisked) into a liberal political issue. The Birkenstocked Burkean had this take in the Corner yesterday
I've been talking over the past few days to family members in Red America who have taken serious hits to their retirement funds because of the stock market. To a certain extent, that's life, and they know that, and they're surely not talking about voting Democratic because of it. But when I heard my dad on the phone last night light furiously into the "cheating bastards" running these companies, I thought: God help the GOP if President Bush is credibly presented to voters as one of the corporate elite who get rich and take care of each other, while ordinary folks who trust them to play fair are left holding the bag.
It's the statist's goal to make the CEOs look like SOBs. If Joe 401K becomes unduly fearful of the stock market, he will start to make a move away from being a dynamist and be listening to the siren song of the statist. It is Joe 401K, the middle-class working stiff who is a net provider of resources to the government, who is the swing vote on election day. If he can be made to be fearful of the markets and either reduce his investments or to shift his holdings into bonds, he will help create a recession. Then, when the Accounting Risk bear market turns into the Recession of 2004, the statist will blame the supply-siders for the whole-thing. We each have our jobs to do here. I may only have 100-150 weekday readers, but each of you has dozens of people you know. Let your coworkers and family and churchmates know that things aren't as bad as the headlines make them out to be and that long-term investment in the stock market is still a wise thing to do; even more so now that the speculative bubble of the turn-of-the-millenium has been pricked. The fans of a dynamic economy need to stand up and try their best to counter this statist offensive and see to it that the Recession of 2004 doesn't happen.

Edifier du jour-Job 1:13-22
One day when Job's sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother's house, a messenger came to Job and said, "The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, and the Sabeans attacked and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!" While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, "The fire of God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!" While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, "The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!" While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, "Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother's house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!" At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised." In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
Check out the last verse one more time. God didn't do anything wrong by allowing, even encouraging, Job's life to be ruined. I think a lot of the desire for Open Theism, for the idea that God doesn't fully know the future, is to give Him an out by saying "God couldn't have stopped it because He didn't see it coming." It this case, God allowed Satan to throw the book at Job, yet Job kept his faith. People want to have an easy way to explain Job, 9/11 and other "acts of God" to a more-loving but less-than-all-powerful God. Yesterday's Back to the Bible show gave Open Theism a good trashing. God is the source of all good things and any bad things are going down with his approval. "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; Blessed be the name of the Lord" has been a staple of the believer in tragic times. It's been said so many times that it has become cliche; even heathens can quote it to you. However, in bad times, it is comforting to know that God allowed the bad thing to happen for a reason rather than it being one of God's oversights.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Managing our Modest Abundance-Part I -My musing on wealth this morning begged for a longer look, so here’s the first installment at a longer look. God wants us to enjoy our lives here on Earth. While some may be called to poverty in some churchly endeavor and others may be placed in a situation of poverty, that need not be the norm for the average Christian. He came to give us life and to give it abundantly. There are two equally heretical paths you can take on the issue of a believer's material wealth. The main American heresy is the Prosperity Gospel, nicknamed "name-it-and-claim-it." It tends to prop up its head in Pentecostal-Charismatic circles, where the many verses that state that the faithful believer will get what he prays for are tweaked into making God Santa, filling our shopping list for goodies. Note that those verses are based on being in God's will; does God's will include that million-dollar house and the BMW? Another offshoot is giving to the church as an investment; Mark 10:29-31 is a good example.
"I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields--and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first."
Note that those returns are both here and in the hereafter. I don't see where a $50 bill is handed to me each time I put four bits into the offering plate. Many money-centric pastors will emphasize giving as a way to greater prosperity. If one is giving to help God's kingdom, he will be blessed in some way in the future, but giving as an here-and-now investment seems a perverted application of those scriptures. The other idea of an ascetic lifestyle isn't quite up to speed either. Jesus paid the ultimate price at Golgotha, we don't need to be beating ourselves to pay interest on that debt. Our battle is spiritual, not physical, and having pain due to self-induced poverty seems a distraction from our spiritual battle. Much Gnostic thought was based on the idea that the spirit is good and the body is bad. A masochistic world-view can be the result, as people will see poverty and pain as a badge of honor. The biggest Gnostic heresy was that Jesus wasn't really flesh, he just looked human, since a perfect God couldn't be a yucky flesh-bag. Like Jesus during His incarnation, we're part body and part spirit. Beating up on the body doesn't help the spirit. Somehow we have to skate a balanced path between the two. Most believers aren't realistically eyeing Bill Gates' mansion to buy it when he tires of it, nor do sleeping on a bed of nails appeal do us. We have the mundane dilemmas of whether to put an extra $20 in the plate for the visiting missionary or whether to buy the $2 regular or the $2.50 premium half-gallon of store-brand ice cream. In many ways, a life of modest abundance is more problematic than a vow of poverty, for we have many little decisions of financial stewardship on a day-to-day basis. I'm likely to be musing a lot in this area, since I'm teaching Personal Finance this fall, and need to come up with good ways to teaching the young students how to be good students of their modest abundance.

Accounting Risk and its Implications-I was looking at the overseas financial news; the international markets are down worse that the DJIA was yesterday. What has happened to the economy in the last few months to cause the US stock market to go down 15% in the last two months. It isn't 9/11, since we've adjusted to the terror threats. It appears to be a lack of confidence in the honesty of the financial markets; people don't trust the data they are getting on companies. Stock analysts will now have to add Accounting Risk to their bag of tricks, asking "How valid are these numbers? Are they significantly cooking the books?" While accounting scandals aren't new to Wall Street, two big ones in Enron and WorldCom will leave investors wondering how many other fraudulent ledgers are on the loose. I think the market is overreacting, as I don't think these two scandals make the market 15% less valuable. However, people aren't always 100% rational. This will lead to higher cost of capital and less business investment. While there aren't too many quick and easy ways to prevent another WorldCom other than increased regulatory oversight, something needs to be done by the administration to calm the fears of the market. Even if it is largely window dressing, they need to be seen by Joe 401K to be doing something about it and by the experts to be doing something small but effective. Democrats will not be interested in calming fears; they will be interested in using those fears to get to a Speaker Gephardt in 2003. I think any partial privatization of Social Security will have to keep until after the election, as that would be too easy for liberals to demagogue into the ground: "You're trusting your retirement to the people who gave us Enron and WorldCom?" Tax cuts will be harder to get, as statists will have some extra arrows in the rhetorical quivers as they try to play the class warfare card. Another issues Democrats might try to use is a protoscandal over some good timing Dubya had selling off shares of Harken Energy in 1990 two months before a big piece of bad earnings news hit. He got an internal memo of a small piece of bad earnings news two weeks before selling, but not (as far as we know) any heads up on the big bad news. There doesn't seem to be anything wrong there, but that won't stop the Democrats from using it. "What about Harken?" is all they have to ask. They don't need to prove he did anything wrong, just make a suggestion that their might be the appearance of impropriety that they can use for the rest of Bush’s political life. The fans of free markets and of our economic system will have to fight through this. The administration needs to pass laws and orders beefing up auditing standards to try (we can't stop 'em all) to catch future abuses. We need to point out that the current system does work as a whole to give investors a fair estimate of what is going on financially. We need to tell our friends, family and the Blogosphere that the system does work despite the occasional bad apple. It's going to be an ugly patch for Wall Street in public opinion; Enron, WorldCom, Martha Stewart's fighting off an insider-trading rap and other stuff being used by the statists (the spell-checker wants Satanists-tempting, but not quite) to give capitalism a black eye. We need to be there to give the free-marketeers some air cover.

Edifier du jour-Proverbs 15:15-17
All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast. Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil. Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.
Would you trade places with Bill Gates? Please note that you would have to include his spiritial wealth or lack thereof. While I don't know if Mr. Windows' name is written on the Lamb's Book of Life or not, he hasn't shown any outward signs of it. Most of us will not trade a life of love and joy provided by a walk with God for a troubled-but rich life. I remember an old First Call song, Poverty, where they are singing about Hatian believers who may be wearing hand-me-down shirts but have riches in Christ. The refrain was "That's not poverty." Would those dirt-poor Haitian believers swap their salvation for the wealth of Bill Gates? Not likely. Would we? [Update 10:35AM-Mr Collins' post reminds me to point out that you can have both worldly and spiritual wealth, but spiritual wealth is better. Not all rich people are bound for Hell, nor is poverty a virtue in and of itself. I smell a good, extended post coming]

Monday, July 15, 2002

Bottom-Feeding on Wall Street-A Corner post noted that the market had tanked 400 points. However, went back up to a -45 on the DJIA for the day. At least some people decided that the market had tanked enough for now. The other financial news cited by Ms. Lopez in the NRO Blog was the dollar going back to parity with the Euro. The Euro had been trading at about 82 cents two years ago, giving all the EUnuchs a case of the vapors. However, the Euro is now worth $1.007. That's good for exports, bad for imports and American conservative bragging rights and may signal a possible inflationary stretch down the line. Hey, my 403B starts rolling at the end of next month. Count me in with the carp and the catfish.

Complements and Goodbyes-It looks like Emily Stimpson's hanging up the mouse over at Fool's Folly at the end of the month, as a tighter grad school load will allow here only some guest blogging at HMS Blog. Somehow I don't remember seeing this site before, but its contributors included Catholic blog heavyweights Amy Wellborn and Mark Shea; darn good company, Emily. It's been going since May and looks like a candidate for a permalink. I got many well-wishes for my marriage, both via post and e-mail (thank you all), but the topper came from Mark Butterworth last week. Here, he's talking about yours truly: "He has faith, integrity, intellectual honesty, devotion, and humility - all the qualities a man needs to make a life for himself and a family. He seems to be the kind of man whose fairness and goodness make all the radical feminist assertions about males look absurd." I hope and pray it to be so, sir. [update 6PM-While we're in the brown-nose department, Peter Sean Bradley has this sweetie
Mark Byron reads like well-aged Scotch Whiskey - smooth and mellow. Dave Heddle on the other hand reads like a shot of tequila - pure unadulterated Calvinism. Both write elegantly and reason cogently, but Heddle is more likely to get a visceral emotional reaction.
I'll take that as a complement, although it's been the better part of two decades since I've tried either of the hooches.]

Biblical Cults?- David Heddle has an interesitng post on cults, and cited a definition of a cult from Lawson’s New Book of the Cults
(1)A centralized authority that keeps tight reigns on both philosophy and lifestyle. (2)A “we” versus “them” attitude that emphasizes the battle between the superior insights of the group and the unenlightened philosophy of the outsiders. (3)A commitment of the members to proselytize vigorously. (4)An entrenched isolationism that divorces the devotee from the realities of the world at large.
Heddle then goes on to wonder "Could a truly Christian group be a cult?" Unfortunately, some churches come close. I remember in my MSU days in '89-90 a campus-centric Pentecostal "movement" called Maranatha was verging on the cultic, being overly controlling of its members, and was warned to steer clear of them. Here's a quick look at the Lawson standards and how a Biblically sound church could head in the cultic direction. Indicator #1- Plenty of churches are pastor-led. Even if they are on paper led by the member, the pastor will run things. If the church is big on accountability, that could be an excuse to run people's lives; where to live and work and who to marry. Indicator #2- Many churches will take pride in that they have a proper understanding of God and other churches fall short. If carried to an extreme, this will lead to separatism, where even small difference of doctrine (mid-trib versus pre-trib rapture, baptizing "in Jesus name" versus "in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost") can cause differences to look blasphemous. Indicator #3- That's supposed to be the mark of a good Christian. However, if it is obsessed upon, it could become unhealthy. I think the vast majority of believers, including myself, err on the side of not evangelizing enough. Indicator #4- If you're in church-related stuff three or four nights a week and on retreats and church outings many weekends, you might encounter "the world" only at work or at the grocery store, and if you work in a church-centered endeavor, you might stay in a de-facto Christian cloister. A good, active church life could look like a cult to the outsider. The difference would be the believer's ability to think about things independently of the pastor and the church leadership. Good, well-read laity could help prevent a nurturing, accountability-oriented church from veering off into cultland.

Choose Life-Patrick Ruffini's has an excelent post on cloning, defending from an intelectual perspective the concept of life begining at conception. You go, boy! I'm about to put my money where my mouth is on this issue, as I'm going to talk to Eileen about going with the Choose Life licence plates that Florida has. It cost an extra $20/year, with the additional cost going to "Not-for-profit agencies within the county which services are limited to counseling and meeting the physical needs of pregnant women who are committed to placing their children for adoption."

Edifier du jour-Psalm 14:1
The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.
Eileen and I have been doing the Psalm and Proverb of the day as of late, and Proverbs 14:26-27 has a good counterpoint
He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death.
There are any number of areas where the world will lead us astray into fatal thoughts and actions. Without the influence of the Holy Spirit, believers would lead shorter, poorer lives, let alone the ultimate death of a eternity separated from God. While we can and will argue the how and when of creation, the who is settled in the polls; the vast majority of people has a loose understanding that God created the universe. Most of those don't really know Him, but the long-shot nature of the universe coming out "just right" to produce intelligent life will convince many intelligent scientists to think that some intelligence force was behind it. However, some continue to hold dear to the denial of God. In many scientific and intellectual circles, the mocking of the idea of God is a art-form. Bashing Genesis 1 and the idea that a supposedly good God would create a flawed universe full of evil are the two points that mark the modern intellectual skeptic. However, the idea of the Big Bang and the Anthropic Principle (the "just right" idea listed above) makes a First Cause (a.k.a. a generic God) the easiest answer to swallow. Secular scientist have to work at some very funky cosmologies with infinite numbers of Big Bangs and contractions. However, Joe Citizen can just claim that God did it and let the scientists fight over the details. The second problem, what the theologians call theodicy, is why God allows sin and evil to exist. Here's my take from March. The agnostic/atheist wonders why such a loving God would allow all people to suffer some and some to be condemned to Hell. The flip side to the questions is that He does want fellowship with us, at least some of us. The number of extra-natural actions that can not be explained (a.k.a. miracles) help to point to the fact that God exists and that he does take sides. The ultimate miracle was the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, a life better documented than that of any Caesar. You can try to make infinite numbers of universes and make Jesus just a good teacher, but that is a fool's errand.

Sunday, July 14, 2002

Some Education Thoughts-Eileen's taking a Sunday Afternoon nap, so I've been catching up on my reading. Isabel Lyman (July 10) had linked to a Fiskworthy piece by Charlotte Iserbyt proclaiming that vouchers allow the liberal camel's nose under the private school tent. Only if we let them. Daryl Cobranchi supplies the proper vivisection. It's true that we need to be on guard for any strings that are attached to vouchers. However, if we keep the strings to a minimum, we can pull this off. Here might be a few strings that could get in the way. (1) Student Testing- If the state requires testing and the test includes a secular bias, religious schools would be in some trouble. If the history exam has a secular liberal view of history and the science exam has a evolutionary and pro-environmentalist slant, schools would be forced to either teach to the secular test or to put up with lower scores for their kids when they give the "wrong" answers. (2) Special Needs Kids-Small schools might not have the resources to teach bilingual or special ed students. For instance, David Heddle has his autistic son Luke in a public school due to the fact that private schools don't have the capacity to handle kids like Luke. If they are forced to take all comers, even if they have to hire a teacher solely for a single kid, it could do in many small private schools. (3) Discipline-Will schools be allowed to maintain religious values when they are not PC? Will the occasional swat on the behind be allowed? Can kids be kicked out for drinking, sexual immorality or repeated profanity? There will be some troublemaking kids who will not be welcome in religious schools, for their behavior will be disruptive to the overall mandate of the school. Such kids will be "dumped" on the public schools. This will be a touchy issue, but it can be handled if schools are allowed to say "this is our standards of behavior; if you go to school here, you abide them." (4) Teacher Training-The liberals can stick their nose in if teachers are required to get a Liberal (big-L) education. The news a while back of the withholding of accreditation for Patrick Henry College based on their teaching of creationism in the biology department could be a pattern used by liberals to cut off the supply of teachers to religious schools. If teachers are required to get a public-school Education degree steeped in a secular world-view, there will be less Christians willing to run that gauntlet in order to teach. However, all four of those fights are winnable. Lyman points out what happened back in 1994, when a education bill would have required homeschooling parents to be certified was about to pass; the Capital switchboards were swamped and the provision was quickly pulled. Dobson and Public Schools-Cobranchi also broke down a two-day screed by James Dobson asking all Christians to pull their kids out of public schools and all Christian teachers to quit schools with NEA-based unions. There are a number of good public schools where things are taught ethically if not Christianly and Christian teachers are salt and light to the community. I remember what I was hearing from Christian teachers and parents in Kent, OH, where despite being in a college town, the schools were open and accommodating to a Christian viewpoint. My dad taught in a public high school for six years after coming to the Lord; he had more of a uphill fight in reading his Bible in his off time and avoiding a caustic environment in the teacher's lounge. Before pulling your kids out of public schools, you need to see if you would be improving things by either homeschooling or sending them to a private school. My sister Kathy had a quandary when my niece Jessica hit school age. The two Christian schools nearby didn't work for her. One had a rep for being too lax on discipline and the other was a bit too Baptist for my AoG sister's taste. She was all set to home-school Jessica when she got accepted into a good charter school where classic ethics are academics are emphasized. Kathy has the luxury of having a husband who pulls down a very nice paycheck as an electrical engineer, so she can stay home and teach Jessica and Little Boy due 9/2002 if she wants to. Not every mom has that luxury, either due to needing a second income or not having a husband in the first place. Then, parents will have to choose between private and public schooling; a good public school might be a better option than a poor private school. [Update 7/15: Spudlets rightly pointed out that another key thing on the checkist should be to ask yourself if you're up to the challange of teaching your kids. Not everyone is. Thought about it, but forgot to mention it.]

Bankruptcy 101-I was over at Barrabas when I came across this post from Wednesday (no permalinks)
Okay, this is huge. Drudge has a link to this story saying WorldCom has giving three weeks warning before filing for bankruptcy, unless something can be done. Something will probably be done, because WorldCom supplies communication to the military. If WorldCom just folds, it is serius blow to the economy. If other companies rumored to have this problem start falling, our economy will be hit hard.
It's worth remembering that most companies that go into bankruptcy still go about their day-to-day business. Many company are profitable if not for the big load of debt they are under. If they are bringing in money from their day-to-day operations, then it's better to keep them going while the creditors and stockholders figure out how to divvy up the company. That's Chapter 11 bankruptcy, where the company keeps doing its day-to-day thing while the creditors figure out who gets what. Sometimes, even day-to-day operations don't make money; then, it's better to sell off the assets and pay off the creditors as best they can. That liquidation is Chapter 8 bankruptcy. Most bankruptcies of noteworthy corporations are Chapter 11. Sometimes, it's a lawsuit that forces a company into Chapter 11, like Manville and Dow Corning. In other cases, it's too much debt or a reversal of fortunes that forces a company to need some relief from creditors. In the case of WorldCom, it was the collapse of the telecom bubble, when too much cable was laid compared for the market for bandwidth, coupled with dishonest accounting that caused the current crisis. However, the day-to-day operations of WorldCom will continue. Sprint will hang in there as a long-distance provider and the bulk cables will still have traffic flowing over them while the creditors fight over the carcass. Pieces of the company may be sold off to other telecom companies and creditors may have to settle for a fraction of the money they lent in stock in a less-leveraged WorldCom. If the Pentagon's worried about WorldCom going under, they could buy some bandwidth dirt cheap or just hang on and use the wires their using now from whomever has them.

Politics by Other Means-A French guy with "neo-Nazi" ties took a shot at President Chirac at the Bastille Day parade, doing no damage except to his cause. Maybe he didn't like how Chirac got out his can of whup-derriere on Le Pen. The fact that Chirac is moving to the right on immigration issues makes it curious why this guy would want to take out Chirac. However, it is often a coherent policy of extreme groups to want to create chaos, then moving in to take power when the old political system can't hold together. It the game isn't going your way, kick over the table .

Not-So-Eminent Domain-They're trying to build a new airport in Mexico City, and the campesinos who are getting evicted to make way for the airport are getting nasty, taking hostages. This will be a big test for the Fox administration. If they give into this batch of disgruntled locals, they will have trashed the rule of law and given anti-development yahoos the world over a new batch of heroes. Fox will look bad if he sends the storm troopers in ("Oh, the horror, killing innocent peasants in order to get make it easier for multinational businessmen to get in and out of Mexico City"), but he'll look worse if he doesn't. This one's been building over the months, as I remember hearing an NPR piece months back where the would-be evictees were taking trash about not being kicked off the land. Sometimes people can walk the walk, too.

Edifier du jour-1 Peter 1:17-20
Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.
It's often said that we are ambassadors for Christ, but the other implication of being an ambassador is that we are in a foreign land. One of the dangers of being an ambassador is that you will start to "go native" and start to accept the world-view of the host country. While a good ambassador will learn how the host country functions and become fluent in the language and culture, he doesn't want to become part of the host culture. An ambassador who's gone past understanding and into acceptance will start to side with the host country over his own and will need to be replaced. We are "in the world, but not of the world" as the old evangelical saying goes. However, if I may stretch the ambassador analogy a bit, we are as naturalized1 citizens of the Kingdom of God, and in many ways are more used to our native culture than the culture of God's Kingdom. We're now God's rep here in our native lands, representing Him. We are to remember that our new citizenship and allegiance is in heaven, not to our old country. We are strangers in our own home towns, if we are acting in the flow of the Holy Spirit. We're also to be acting as strangers in reverent fear. We know the pitfalls that this world has to offer, and need to stay on guard for them. This should not be a earthly fear, but a fear that is instilled by the Holy Spirit to serve as a guide to keep us from "going native." 1 A little poetic license. You could make a better case that we have dual citizenship from birth, as the redeemed were so since the beginning of the world. It took some of us longer to come to that saving knowledge of and faith in Christ. From a theological perspective, we're dual citizens, but most of us had no clue of it until we came to the Lord, thus we act like we're naturalized citizens. We've adopted the customs and mores of our earthly home; the mores of the Kingdom are foreign to us at first.

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