Saturday, February 22, 2003

Afternoon Musings-I pulled up at 4:00 with my Managerial Econ class; after six hours of teaching, we had reached negative marginal utility of futher classtime for the day, as I tried to explain a cubic function to students who minds were fried from covering five chapters already. Chapter 11 will keep for Tuesday. However, the textbook had some awful puns, with a pizza store owner named Ann Chovie and a Terminator Pest Control run by one Arnold Schwartz. LA got rattled today with a 5.4 earthquake 90 miles to the west east. No big damage. There might be some fallout south of the border with the Iraq war; Mexico has one of the short-term seats on the UN Security Council and Presidente Fox doesn't like the way we're going. Spanish PM Aznar, one of our better European buddies, went over for some arm-twisting en espanol that didn't seem to work. The Bush administration started out with real good terms with Mexico; with Fox and Bush being free-market governors with business backgrounds, they hit it off well. However, lack of agreement on immigraton reforms and ongoing flak over execution of Mexicans who committed murders in the US has soured relations. This won't help. This isn't good. The nasties in Pakistan are going after fellow Muslims; a Shia mosque was shot up in Karachi. There's been a lot of Sunni-Shia violence in Pakistan in recent years. Somehow, I want to tweak that old joke from The Troubles-why can't Sunnis and Shias just be good Muslims and get along? The Klein-Dion scuffle gets even nastier-Klein replied directly to Chretien-"It's this kind of condescension that fuels frustration with your government -- frustration that could be quelled not by letters to Ottawa, but by a clear indication of a willingness to listen." That would be going against character, Ralph. Chretien's got the plaque on his desk- "Be Reasonable-Do it My Way."

Morning Musings-Apply the clue stick to former NDP Vermont premier Howard Dean-"What I want to know is why the Democratic Party leadership is supporting the president's unilateral war against Iraq?" They aren't, Howard. They're supporting president's multilateral war against Iraq. Oh, I forgot the liberal dictionary-"unilateral (adj)-Without France." The gal with the botched heart-lung transplant look like she's had brain damage as a result. I'm not buying into the attitide Anne Wilson's taking here (or at least Michelle Malkin whom she's citing) that the young lady should have been at the back of the line as an illegal alien. More on that later; I may riff on that and John Adams' piece yesterday. We might be extending the war on terror to the Phillipines, as the US has gotten the go-ahead to help actively fight Abu Sayyaf; the nationalists are squirming, but let 'em squirm.

Klein=Little, Dion=Belittle?-Interesting fallout from Ralph Klein's comments on seperatism.
Ralph Klein's repeated warnings that Alberta separatism is on the rise registered in Ottawa yesterday as the federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister said he would ask the Alberta Premier to clarify his remarks. "I think there is misunderstanding about what he said," Stéphane Dion told reporters outside the House of Commons. "I am sending a letter to be sure." He called Mr. Klein "a great Canadian" and said he was an unlikely advocate of Alberta seceding from Canada. "I'm sure he is not a separatist. I will send a letter to him to be sure there is no misunderstanding about this aspect."
Translantion-"Hey, Raplhie, I'll give you a chance to take that back. You really didn't mean what you said." Well, I don't think that went over well by the time it got west
Mr. Klein adopted a bemused expression when asked about Mr. Dion's proposed intervention. While he had not yet seen the letter, the Premier suggested the federal Minister knows too little about Alberta issues to engage himself constructively. He said Mr. Dion deserves credit for his vigourous offensive against Quebec separatism, but may not be attuned to the concerns of westerners. "Perhaps he failed to take notice of the Prime Minister's demeanour at the First Minister's Conference relative to health care." Mr. Chrétien reportedly made a take-it-or-leave it offer to the provinces at the meeting, then promptly walked out of the room. Mr. Klein then proceeded to read a laundry list of Alberta grievances, concluding by saying: "But I repeat, Albertans are committed Canadians. "I'm a committed Canadian ... and I want to operate in the context of being a Canadian, in the context of the Constitution of this country."
Translation-"Mr. Dion, it's amazing how clearly your voice comes through while you've got your head up your .... Give yourself a few whacks with the clue stick before you administer my treatment." A new blog to me, the "Canadian Loudmouth" opines "I can't wait for Kleins reply. It should be a real "humdinger"! The question will be how much of the reply is printable. This could be fun.

Edifier du Jour-Proberbs 14 :31(NASB)
He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, But he who is gracious to the needy honors Him.
I was going to go off on a political/economic tangent here, but that's not what's called for here. How do you treat the little guys and gals in your life: the grocery store clerks, the cleaning ladies and the janitors? Do you treat them with respect? Do you talk to them as equals? Do you say hello before they do? Beyond that, do you do things that help the needy beyond writing a small check to a charity now and then? I'm not great on that front; I've thought about helping with an after-school program for poor kids in Lake Wales, but haven't pulled the trigger yet. If your church doesn't have a good outreach to the poor you can help with, check your local help-the-poor parachurch outfit; most towns will have at least one. Your local crisis pregnancy center could need help; not all the women who come through are poor, but many of them are. Tutoring programs or mentoring programs are another avenue; not all the kids are poor, but a large chunk of them will be. I need to read this as much as you do. We've got a lot of ways we could help, but choose not to.

Friday, February 21, 2003

Evening Musings-This might be putting a defense attorney in too much of a box, but some of the slams that they make of the prosecutor's case often verge on slander. For instance, on the news this morning, I heard Sami Al-Arian's lawyer descibe the prosecution's case as a "work of fiction."If I remember by libel law, the libeler either needs to know he was lying or not care whether he was telling the truth or not. It sounds like a case to me, unless the rhetoric surrounding a trial is exempt from libel law. I was thinking about taking some grad classes at USF, but Orlando's UCF is looking more attractive by the day after the faculty union is backing Al-Arian. By the way, the spell checker wanted to spell it "Al-Aryan"; given his anti-Israeli line, that would be fiting. Two cuties-T-shirt I saw last weekend-"Jesus is my final answer and my lifeline." A bumper sticker seen last week- "My dogma got run over by my karma." I don't even want to start talking theology with that car's owner. [Official fact-checker Patrick Carver corrects the sticker-"My karma ran over my dogma."] Ben brings us a New Republic piece thinking that overturning Roe v Wade would be to the Democrat's benefit; Ben disagrees, and I agree with him. I've got some prepping to do for my class tomorrow, but I'll get back to this one later this weekend.

Public Blog Sighting-or at least blog-hearing. I was listening to NPR on my way home and a piece on WiFi comes on, where a tech guy named Dave Weinberg(sp?) was taking about a tech conference where people were taking notes and blogging on their WiFi-modemed laptops. First, he uses "weblog" without introduction and talks about them linking to each other's weblogs. After about three uses of "weblog", Weinberg slips into "blog" and "blogging" without introducing the term separately. As Papa Blog would say-"Heh."

Hot Nightclubs-Bad things seem to happen in bunches sometimes-we've had two mass-death nightclub fires in the past week. You had 60 people (at last count) killed in Rhode Island last night listening to a Great White concert; no, putting on the Jaws da-dum da-dum in the background would be overkill, Seymour. The band's guitarist is AWOL at the moment and might be one of the victims. The club didn't have to have sprinklers. There was a similar incident in Chicago on Monday where 21 people died; Jesse Jackson is blaming the police and fire inspectors for not being diligent enough. I wonder if they shut down the club due to code violations a month ago whether he'd cry about harassment of a black institution. [update 11:15-I've been behind in my reading-Suzanna properly eviscerated the good Rev-run earlier this morning.]

Edifier du jourJohn 17:14-18(NASB)
14 "I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 "I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16 "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 "As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.
You'll hear the phrase "in the world, but not of the world" as the catch phrase for many Christians. It's very easy to retreat into a Christian enclave, going to church two or three times a week, adding a weeknight Bible study or a Christian concert on the weekend, listen to Christian radio, watch Christian TV (if you're not allergic to name-it-and-claim-it Pentecostals) and even do your shopping at Christian establishments if you're in a big enough town to develop a Christian business network. Such folks are as isolated from the real world as the Amish and just about as effective in expanding God's kingdom. I'm not a shining example of avoiding the enclave, teaching at a Christian college and having no non-Christian friends in the area. We can be almost too much in fellowship with fellow believers to be an effective witness, being too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. If you're not naturally gregarious, it's hard to meet people outside of structured settings. I don't really know my neighbors in my apartment complex, not having the desire or inclination to knock on the door and seek out fellowship. I don't belong to any non-church group that would bring me into contact with non-believers. My blog seems to be the biggest opportunity I have to reach people outside of my church and the biggest opportunity to say that God turned my life around when I got to the point of saying "I'm not doing anything with my life; Jesus, you take it and run with it." It's primarily a orthodox Christian clientele, but I get quite a few more-secular folks coming for the politics and economics. I'd like to figure out how to reach those people who might be lonely or hurting or longing for something more in life. For what it's worth, here the basic Gospel in three steps God's perfect. He doesn't like sin, but created a world in which it exists. You're not. No kidding, Sherlock. None of us are. In Bible-speak, that makes us sinners. Not that we're all murderers or adulterers or thieves, but we're all doing stuff we shouldn't be doing, either big or small. Paradoxically, God wants to fellowship with us but can't stand it when we do things He doesn't want us to do; he wants some form of disinfectant from that selfishness. Without help, we're toast. Jesus died to bridge that gap. I'm going to add John 3:17 to the oft-quoted verse 16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him." It's that sacrifice to end all sacrifices that allows a perfect God to fellowship with yucky me.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Trade Deficits are a Complement-There was a lot of hand-writing in this WaPo piece on the latest economic numbers
The nation's trade deficit soared to a record $44.2 billion in December and to $435.2 billion for all of 2002, putting a significant damper on U.S. economic growth last year, the Commerce Department reported today.
It's not as bad as people think. One of the key points to remember is that a trade deficit is matched by an investment surplus. Given the choice between American goods and American investments, a lot of foreigners are choosing the investments, especially the Chinese.That trade deficit is possibly the greatest complement the world economy can pay the US; they like us so much, they want to buy the country (down, Pat, down!). The Chinese both have a more of a long-term perspective than Americans and have fewer reliable investment opportunities. Expect to see China have a trade surplus as long as the Communist government can change the rules of the game in mid-stream. Producer prices spiked up by 1.6 percent last month, but that was due to oil prices going up; in fact, the record trade deficit may very well have been set due to oil prices. If you take oil and food out of the mix, inflation was only at 0.5% for the year and 2.8% for 2002 even with the high oil prices. If you look at the bond markets, it looks like deflation is more of a threat than inflation. CNN should double-check its writing; they have a headline Inflation fears injure stocks right above Mortgage rates drop to record lows. With Treasury Bill rates just above 1%, you either have the markets setting a negative real interest rate (not logical) or they're predicting deflation for 2002. A quick interest rate primer: T-bill rates can be generally stated as a real rate of return (risk and inflation free, a "perfect world" interest rate, so to speak) plus expected inflation. Given that real rates of return are usually between 1 and 2%, that would indicate deflation on the horizon. On balance, this set of numbers is good news. Deflation will likely kick in for a bit once the Iraq thing is over and Venezuela returns to something resembling normal. The markets will get confidence once Iraq's over. 2003 should be a good year for the economy.

Afternoon Musings-Is there anything going on with Don Cherry, the CBC hockey announcer? I'm getting multiple Google hits for him and he doesn't seem to be in the news. I just got a cute one "nader raiders for kucinich"-some of them might like Dennis the Menace. Interesting trade for the Magic, sending Mike Miller to Memphis for Drew Gooden and Gordan Giricek. That seems to be an upgrade for the Magic. Power forward isn't their strong suit and Gooden will help there. If Grant Hill gets healthy (big if) Orlando could do something. It looks like the Pistons are on a roll; they've moved into first place in the East after beating Toronto yesteday. No props, just wins. It wasn't just Sami al-Arian who was busted for helping terrorists; eight people were charged with helping finance the Islamic Jihad Palestinian group. Welcome to the Turkish bazzar and tough bargaining. $26 Billion? What's Jordan's going rate?

Alberta-The 51st State?-This is interesting. Alberta's Conservative party is actually concidering the idea of leaving Canada. Alberta premier Ralph Klein tried to downplay the idea, but acknowledged that it might be discussed at the provicial Conservative party convention next month.
The issue of separation arose this week during the government's Throne Speech in which it asserted that Alberta's ability to be a partner in Canada is compromised by the federal government. The Premier insisted he is not in favour of separation but said there is a small but growing number of Albertans who are. "Based on just the letters I get and so on? Yes, and it's scary," Mr. Klein said yesterday. "But I can understand the frustration of Albertans over Kyoto, health care, gun registration, the Canadian Wheat Board, Senate reform, the list goes on.
Alberta is a conservative (small c) state province that would fit in nicely in the US. They have much more of an American spirit than most of the rest of Canada; the conservative Alliance Party has its biggest roots in Alberta. The oil wealth would be a nice addition as well. The next question is whether Alberta would want independence or US statehood if they did jump ship. Alliance Leader Stephan Harper is trying to downplay the idea of seperation as well; he's looking replace Chretien, not Dennis Hastert.

Morning Musings-Am I the only one who is feeling a lack of charity on this one?
In the country's worst plane crash, the Russian-made Ilyushin operated by Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards crashed Wednesday evening en route from Zahedan, on the Pakistani border, to Kerman, about 500 miles southeast of Tehran. All aboard — 18 crew members and 284 passengers — were members of the Revolutionary Guards, an elite group under the direct control of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The guards protect Iran's borders and defend ruling hard-liners in this ultraconservative society.
Somehow I'm thinking of the Lord High Executioner from Mikado with that little list that never will be missed. Not too edifying. It looks like the US and the UK is going to put a hard-nosed proposal on Iraq before the UNSC, putting the UN between Chirac and a hard place. Meanwhile the paleoeuopeans who head up the Anglican church continue in anti-war mode-"The events of recent days show that doubts still persist about the moral legitimacy, as well as the unpredictable humanitarian and political consequences, of a war with Iraq." Well, those doubts will never go away entirely, but if the case for military action is strong enough, we'll go in anyway. This, however, is the distillation of paleoeuopean thinking on the issue
It is vital therefore that all sides in this crisis engage, through the United Nations - fully and urgently - in a process, including continued weapons inspections, that could and should render the trauma and tragedy of war unnecessary.
What's the old phrase-"wouldas, couldas and shouldas will take four to five strokes off your golf game." It could happen, but don't count on it.

Now This is a Bug-This is a story that has burbled around here that has hit the national headlines. University of South Florida prof Sami Al-Arian has finally been arrested, likely for aid given to Palestinian terrorist groups. He was let got from USF a year ago after his militant side was exposed and the local media has been covering his fight to get back into his old job. This is one of the things that is bothersome about how to deal with hard-core Islam. Here you have a seemingly respectable Computer Engineering professor in Tampa (I might have bumped into him had I taken classes at USF to upgrade my computer skills) who helps raise money for Hamas on the side. Not everyone who is against you wears fatigues and five-days growth of beard.

"Take This Job and Shove It" Money-Orrin Judd noted the passing of country singer Johnny Paycheck on Tuesday. I reference him in my personal finance classes when the topic comes to having the proper amount of liquid assets around in case of an emergency. Generally, you should have six to nine months worth of expenses in liquid assets (checking, savings, money-market account) on hand before you start doing big long-term investing. I'm not a great example, I'm closer to one month's worth at the moment. I remember a speaker to our InterVarsity group and MSU making this point on the need for that liquidity. If you're living from paycheck to paycheck, you don't have the luxury of leaving your present job if it becomes unethical. If you don't have savings to fall back on, you might be tempted to give into immoral activity at work in order to make ends meet. Thus, having that savings will allow you to echo the chorus of the Paycheck song-"Take this job and shove it; I ain't workin' here no more." The lyrics to the song aren't exactly edifying; the protagonist is POed over his wife leaving him and he's letting his frustrations rip. However, we need to be able to walk away from a job if we need to. Having that take-this-job-and-shove-it money will allow you to be more flexible and effective in your walk with the Lord.

Edifier du Jour-Acts 28:25-29(NASB)
25 And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word, "The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, 26 saying, 'GO TO THIS PEOPLE AND SAY, "YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; AND YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE; 27 FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL, AND WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR, AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES; OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT SEE WITH THEIR EYES, AND HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN, AND I WOULD HEAL THEM."' 28 "Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen." 29 [When he had spoken these words, the Jews departed, having a great dispute among themselves.]
Even though we (unless you're of a Jewish background) are the Gentiles, verses 26 and 27 seems to describe modern-day America and especially modern-day Europe. The heirs of the people who helped spread the Gospel around the world are themselves asleep at the wheel, ignorant of God despite a rich heritage of faith. In the US and elsewhere, the heirs of Wesley, Knox and Mather have grown spiritually tepid as a group. However, God's not going to be without a witness. The Gospel went out to the Gentiles as the Jews collectively didn't want to accept that the Messiah had indeed come. Those Jews who did believe in Jesus then had to adapt their thinking to do cross-cultural ministry and spread the Word around the known world. Verse 29 is a chuckler; the Jews might well have been mad to hear how dense they collectively have been and that God had turned to the Gentiles. Today, God is turning to the south, to Africa and South America, as the north has turned its back on Him. The Anglican are seeing this the most vividly (I see them in verse 29) and the Catholics are beginning to see the north-south divide as well. It was an Argentinean charismatic preacher that inspired the Toronto renewal and Billy Graham's successor as chief revivalist may well be Argentinean-born Luis Palau (Franklin's coming into his own, but the crusade/festival isn't his strongest suit). If people won't praise him, the rocks will cry out. Don't let the rocks out praise you.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Midday Musings-Den Beste gets all of it here on French unilateralism in the EU and NATO (warning-one F-bomb). If Mr Simberg thought this Tony Blankley essay would hurt, the Den Beste one will make it hard for the French to get out of bed tomorrow. At this point, the majority of the EU and NATO is behind the US and it's the French who are off on their own. We might have started to stare down the bully, leaving him alone and helpless, like in some afterschool special. However, let's limit our French-bashing; to borrow from this Jon Barry quote-"An old friend told me never to get into a fight with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it." I'm not sure what to think about Carol Moseley-Braun's run. She stands no chance of winning and will have to fight Sharpton for the black vote. I can think of two reasons why it might be marginally successful. The first is that there is a lack of a really hard-core liberal in the race; she could get into the high single digits running a red-meat (or whatever a vegan would salivate over) liberal campaign. The second is that she would be a credible female minority candidate. People have focused on her presence stifling Sharpton, but she could also be a draw for leftist women as well. It's not enough to get the nomination, but enough to possibly get into double digits and a spot on a VP short list. She's got enough expense-account baggage from her Senate days to make that problematic, but she might get more of a hearing that I would have first thought. The guy who's candidacy suprises me is Dennis the Menace; sorry, after remembering him as a young mayor of Cleveland in the late 70s, I can't take Kucinich seriously as a politician. He has junked his pro-life stance in order to fit in as a liberal Democrat, and seems to be running as a take-no-prisoners leftist. With Dean, Sharpton and Mosley-Braun in the race, that niche is getting crowded. This could be like fellow Ohioan John Kasich's abortive run in 1999; if you're a possible presidential candidate, you get more press and more respect than if you're just a congressman (that's not quite fair of Kasich-he was much more of a playa than Kucinich) and you get to put "former presidential candidate" on your press releases in the future.

One More Party Switcher-As the years go by, you see more and more center-right Democrats switch over to the GOP. The flow of elected officials seems to mostly be towards the Republicans; rarely do you see RINOs jump ship and become Democrats. The latest case that crossed my eyeballs was the local state's attorney (prosecutor for a judicial circuit rather than a county in Florida's system) for our area, Jerry Hill, turning from donkey to elephant yesterday. The history professor that gave me a quick tutorial on the state's attorney office said that he was a good guy and that he was sad to seem him change parties (the prof being a rare Democrat in a Republican-leaning office wing). It might not be as high profile as Mississippi's Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck and two state legislators [correction-four per Mr. Carver] switching over to the GOP, but its a sign of continued realignment in the south as conservative Democrats find their populism more at home in the Republican party. Democrats who have respect for a market economy and basic moral values might see that the party of big government might not be the party of the little guy any more.

Cold War II-Item 9-Warsaw Pact 2.01 or Change the First A in NAFTA?-We might have an opportunity here in the fallout of the Iraq diplomatic scuffles. The Eastern Europeans are steaming at France right now
Several former Soviet bloc nations, including Romania, Poland, and Hungary, rounded on French President Jacques Chirac, who had suggested that their support for the United States might jeopardise their membership of the EU. Mr Chirac further riled potential EU newcomers with what was perceived as a snide observation that they had "missed a great opportunity to shut up" after they publicly supported the US position on Iraq. Diplomats and commentators likened Mr Chirac's comments to Soviet-era edicts to Warsaw Pact countries and warned they would have a lasting impact on France's standing and authority in Europe. Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said in a retort to Mr Chirac: "We are not joining the EU so we can sit and shut up."
These countries know what totalitarian government is and are willing to help end them elsewhere. They also don't like being told to be quiet. That's what the Communists would do with their public. They're willing to be junior partners in the EU; that's partners, not indentured servants. We might look at setting up a new economic structure that would expand NAFTA to Eastern Europe and anyone else in Europe willing to join. We don't even have to change the acronym; the new entity will be the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement. Such an entity wouldn't have any aims to be a world government. It would give the Eastern European countries access to a large economic market while not having to be part of the big government of the EU. Quite a few of the current EU members might want to switch sides as well, like Italy, Spain and Britain. We also might look to throw NATO out and look to have a ongoing "coalition of the willing" that will stand ready to oppose terrorism and military aggression around the world and provide for security for Eastern Europe from any possible move from Russia or other parts of the old USSR to try and rearrange the borders by force. For parts of Eastern Europe where post-Cold-War tensions are still close to the surface, the presence of a international military base might be helpful to regional stability as well as give the US a forward-posting ability to jump into the Middle East and Africa. France and Germany might not be interested, but Eastern Europe might well be. I'm toying with the idea of calling this the Warsaw Pact 2.01 (version 2.0 included Russia and was too buggy, if you wondered what happened to it). The combination of economic and military cooperation with Eastern Europe and other willing partners would give a larger hegemony to Anglospherian ideals and counter the statism that flows through the EU. Just some off-the-cuff musings after a long day-and-a-half of teaching.

Microhistory and Macrohistory-Paul Musgrave, pinchblogging at Josh Claybourns, has an interesting piece on historiography
Language is a powerful tool. At the same time, it's a tremendously dangerous and misleading guide. Consider this paragraph:
Bankers’ cups of joy did not runneth over in the small towns of the 1920s. Their troubles stemmed from the unprecedented low prices for farmers’ produce, which persisted throughout the decade. Farm prices had fallen forty percent in 1920-1921; they never climbed back to wartime heights. With falling prices, loans taken out to expand production by buying new land, new tractors, and new barns and silos grew ever more onerous. The exceptionally stable prices of the 1920s made mortgages worth more in real terms; that is, even as mortgage payments remained the same in dollar terms, what farmers paid could buy a larger “basket” of goods and services. Trapped between high debt and low prices, many farmers went under. As they fell, the balance sheets of many rural banks began to look shaky, and the number of bank failures skyrocketed.
I can't begin to describe to you what the author of that paragraph left out. But I can hint at what he skipped over: the hard look that creeps into a man's eye when he realizes he can't feed his family, the crying softness of a mother returning a son's presents bought on credit, the worried nights of children staring at the ceiling and wondering if they'll be living on the farm they've known all their lives tomorrow, and the way the words "foreclosure," "mortgage," and "gone under" cut at people who daily watch the life their families have known for decades be torn apart by men with green eyeshades and little ledger books. All that, and more, repeated a million times over--that's an agricultural depression. An agricultural depression isn't just a coldly economic calculation of price indices and returns on investments; it's life, and death, and hunger, and submission and revolution all wrapped into one. But the author of that paragraph about deflation and balance sheets didn't share any of that with his readers.
Part of the problem with writing history is that it's traditionally written from a macro perspective-presidents, senators, generals, business leaders, wars and grand geopolitical and economic themes. Part of the movement of the last few decades is to make history look at the micro level as well. Such social history will look at how those grand themes played out on the small scale of everyday life. Such histories also bring women and minorities into the loop, for much of macrohistory (for lack of a better term) was mostly a white male thing until recently. Microhistory also tends to better focus on the humanity of the situation, and thus will often paint a more pessimistic view of things that macrohistory would. Military macrohistory looks better than military microhistory, for the strategic picture of campaigns and maneuvers are more appealing than the down-and-dirty life of the soldier on the front lines. Thus a good military microhistory piece can frequently be described as "anti-war" for it shows the personal carnage that war creates better than the view from division HQ. Likewise, civilian microhistory will look at the hard realities of lives in different eras, much as Musgrave alludes to above. Many liberal-leaning historians will gravitate towards that microhistory, both to earnestly give a more complete view of history than our standard macrohistory and to use the look at the lives of the commoners of the past to cast doubts about the modern socioeconomic order. Thus, this scuffle between classic macrohistory and modern microhistory/social history has merits on both sides. Macrohistory hides a lot of the social and economic pathologies behind cold statistics. Microhistory, if done with the wrong spin, wallows in those pathologies to make an ideological point. Both views are useful, just as macroeconomics and microeconomics are useful. However, both should be done accurately and try not to let the writer twist history in his ideological direction.

Price Gouging or Replacement Cost Pricing?-This is a stock piece anytime there's a significant price run up in the price of gas; the state AG will want to look into price gouging. Jennifer Granholm rode such 9-11 era investigations into the governor's mansion up in Michigan. Here in Florida, we've got newly elected AG Charlie Crist playing the game. I'd expect better economic savvy from a Republican, but it seems to be too populist an issue to pass up. The basic concept to remember is that businesses will price most goods baced on the replacement cost of the product; thus, they're not pricing the product baced on what they paid for it, but what they'll have to pay to restock the product. When oil prices go up at the wholesale level, retailers will raise prices now, rather than after they buy a batch of the higher-priced product. That will mean that when prices go up, retailers will make some extra profit on the current batch. On the flip side, that will also mean when prices go down, retailers will have to sell off more expensive gas at the new lower price, but state AGs don't get Brownie points for having compassion on retailers when prices go down. If retailers are merely raising prices in responce to changes in wholesale costs, that shouldn't be counted as price gouging. If they were jacking it up highter than what current wholesale costs would call for, then you might have a case. However, the higher prices are system-wide, as the problems in Venzuela, a cold winter and jitters over Iraq have raised the price of gas.

Edifier du Jour-Acts 26:6-8
6 "And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; 7 the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews. 8 "Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?
Indeed, why is eternal life incredible? If we start out with the concept that God exists (otherwise it's a moot question), some being that created and interacts with the universe, it isn't that much of a leap to look at God as acting outside of the normal physical rules. It's also not that much of a leap that their might be a spiritual dimension that coexists concurrent with the space-time continuum. Basic Judaism (and many other religions as well) posits that we all have souls. If there is a God who created and designed the universe, there might just be a design to this spiritual dimension. He might, as best I can guess as a human with little brain, have created the universe so as to create spiritual companions for Himself. I'm recalling the Westminster Confession -"The chief end of man is to worship God and to enjoy Him forever." To enjoy him forever would require people to be able to live forever. It's sort of like seeing my name on the MBA schedule for the fall (cutting down on the courseload of that workaholic Dr. Staff); that sorta assumes I'll be here in the fall. If we're supposed to fellowship with God forever, we'll have to get tenure. We've got that in the blood of Jesus.

Proving God-Over at Josh's, guest blogger Andy from the World Wide Rant through down the atheist gauntlet asking believers to make a case for God's existence. A heated back-and-forth has flowed through the comment section, most of it focusing on a creation-evolution food fight. I'd take a different tact here for a moment. Evolution backers and Creationists are shouting past each other on this one. For the sake of argument, let's concede most of the point to the evolutionists and assume that God created the universe (the Big Bang points to a first actor of some sort) and used evolution as the primary tool. If we take that view Genesis 1-6 is allegory and we start to get into solid historical footing with Abraham. That doesn't take away to potency of the New Testament. You still have to explain away the historic figure of Jesus, for whom the best documentation of its day has him leaving an empty tomb behind. You have to explain away an early church willing to die for a man they claimed to be God incarnate. There's enough historic backup from non-Christian sources to give a better historical record of Jesus than of Julius Caesar. If the historical record isn't enough, I'll offer up secondary evidence of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. I won't tough faith healings per Andy's request. There is a placebo effect of a generic faith to mitigate some social pathologies, but a Christian faith seems to have more than just that placebo effect; it seems to have a greater transformative effect than that of other religions. While I don't have hard evidence on that front, strong antidotal evidence from substance-abuse treatment seems to point to evangelical-based programs having a lower recidivism rate than generic 12-step programs. Even if the first few books of Genesis are better read allegorically, it still doesn't take away the historical presence of Jesus nor the transformative power of people who see Him as Lord and Savior. A hard core atheist might retort that the resurrection was a hoax and the transformations I mention represent merely a strong psychological effect. It's a persistent meme (contagious idea) that can turn people's lives around. The operative question is whether it is merely a meme or the work of God. That depends on how you want to hedge your bets. If you believe there is no God, we all die and turn into worm food, end of story. If you believe that there is, or might be a God, it becomes important to check to see what God is like and what He wants. If God's not picky and lets everyone get to Heaven, then it's not important to check the details. However, if God does care what we believe, then being wrong about Him has a downside and it's best to check out which of the various faiths (and subsets of those faith) have the best claim of having the truth about God. It might be worth checking out the Christianity stuff; if following Jesus gets that good results in general (yes, we've got our failures and fruitcakes) , it might be something to believe in.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

One More Last Chance-Dubya's ticked; his version of my title is "another, another, another last chance." Even Kofi's delivering the good cop message; Iraq has to "move real fast." That reminds me of the line in Starman-Red means stop, green means go, yellow means go real fast. The light has more than turned yellow, it a deep orange heading towards the red zone.

Morning Musings-I'm not sure what to think of this South Korean incident where some middle-aged Korean started a fire onboard a train with a milk-carton concoction, killing 120 at last count. There's no link to organized terrorism so far, but you don't have to be organized to do a lot of damage. The mind flashes to Colin Ferguson train-shooting on Long Island or the Toyko nerve gas attack orchestrated by the apocalyptic Aum Shinrikyo sect. What made this guy go off the deep end remains to be seen. It's official-they are beginning to organize a recall petition to get rid of the Gray Gentleman; Davis' friends (all 19 of them) can point out that it's a anti-tax group that's spearheading the effort. However the good news is that group behind the recall has got a dozen referenda on the ballots in the past. The Weekly Standard had a piece on this with the too-apt title (given Schwarzenegger's status as a possible GOP replacement) "Total Recall." Mr. Davis pins the claudometer with this statement
Davis added that fiscally responsible individuals wouldn't support another election. "This petition being circulated calls for a brand new election this summer at the cost of $25 million to the taxpayers, according to the secretary of state," he said.
No, sir; $25 million's cheap compared to what bills you're ringing up on a daily basis. Davis will also be at a disadvantage in that he won't have anyone to run against. He only got 47% in November and the anti votes tend to be more prominent in a recall election. I don't remember the last time someone successfully recalled a statewide official. Evan Mecham was about to be recalled as Governor of Arizona in 1988 when he was impeached, rendering the recall moot. Back in 1983, a recall petition was seriously in play over Gov. Jim Blanchard's going back on a campaign pledge not to raise taxes; they failed to get enough signatures to force a recall on Blanchard, but two Democratic state senators were recalled and replaced with Republicans, swinging the state Senate into GOP control.

Edifier du Jour-Proverbs 13:4(NASB)
The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, But the soul of the diligent is made fat.
I'm thinking back to times were I've been spiritually lazy, where I've been disinterested in seeking God. If you're not looking for Him, you're a lot less likely to find Him. I can look back to the spiritually dry times in my life; it winds up becoming a viscous cycle, where you feel too spiritually slovenly to set foot in a church. The place where the sermon is trying to get you to go seems out of reach; the level of devotion the preacher is showing is so far above where you're at, you despair and don't even try. You're too guilty to crack open the Bible and have your sluggard state pointed out to you. It takes time to rehydrate from that spiritual dryness (yes, I'm mixing metaphors-the passage is using food, not water) and to gradually get back the desire to seek God. For me, down-to-earth pastors who show they humanity were helpful, as were fellow believers who are openly imperfect yet striving to drink from that eternal water. The trick for me is get past the discouraged worker phase, where you want to draw closer God but have given up trying; being in an encouraging crowd that helps you make slow steps back Getting into the Word on a daily basis is helpful; one of the reasons I've been doing these morning postings is to keep myself in the Bible every morning (or the occasional afternoon). Getting into a good church and a good small-group of some sort border on necessities. When you're short on water, other people can pull out their canteens and give you a slug of it.

Monday, February 17, 2003

Afternoon Musings-It was hot and humid here yesterday; this brings those heat index stats home. A Oriole training camper, Steve Bechler, died up in Fort Lauderdale today after fainting during a run. The "air you can wear" must have did him in. He's got a kid who'll never get to see his day, for his wife's due in April. He got a cup of coffee with Baltimore last September, so little Bechler can saw his dad was a major leaguer. Dead men tell no tales; Ed Martin, who had a number of UofM players on his "payroll" over the years, died Friday, and Chris Webber might beat a pergury rap as a result. Without the guy who gave him the money as a witness, it might be hard to prove how he lied about getting it. Capital punishment might be making a comeback in Mexico, where it's not used on the federal or state levela. Mexico state (surrounding but not including Mexico City) had a non-binding referendum yesterday, with 85% voting in favor of restoring the death penalty. I heard an NPR piece on the refferendum last week; people have had it with the high crime levels and the local PRI (can you say neo-liberal, boys and girls) bosses were out front pushing for a Si vote. This contrasts with the Mexican policy of vigorously protesting Mexicans on US Death Rows.

Edifier du Jour-Acts 19:1-6(NASB)
1 It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. 2 He said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said to him, "No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." 3 And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" And they said, "Into John's baptism." 4 Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus." 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.
No, I'm not going Pentecostal on you today, chill out and listen. There are quite a few people who are trying to follow God but only have a partial view of Him and what He wants for us. Like the disciples here who knew of John but not of Jesus, we've got a lot of people in Christian churches who only get a partial picture of Jesus. For instance, Eileen remarked in the past that she didn't get the concept of grace being part of our salvation, that salvation was a gift that we didn't have to earn; it was something that didn't come from the pulpit or Sunday School in the Presbyterian churches she grew up in. My Methodist church I grew up in didn't stress a personal knowledge of God or a saving faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Those concepts might have been in the church creeds, but they didn't get taught too well. I was talking with Eileen last night about a Presbyterian seminary buddy of hers who'll be graduating with her M.Div. in June; Eileen commented that her friend Ann used to be more comfortable with the Old Testament than the New but that Ann has begun to appreciate the New Testament more as her walk with Jesus deepens. The OT is more collective in its rhetoric, calling for Israel to do a 180, whereas the New Testament is very personal, calling for the individual to repent. While there are plenty of passages of personal piety, corporate piety is more prominent in the OT and easier to swallow for many people. If we're supposed to change, you can let the rest of the body respond to that while you stay in your old habits. If the church is supposed to help the poor, that's the job of the folks of the Samaritan Fund or whatever you call the poverty outreach. One of the speakers at the conference we went to this weekend mentioned that repent doesn't truly mean make a 180; it's better translated from the Greek as "think differently." Yes, we do need to turn away from sin, but we're doing more than giving up the bad things in our lives but changing our paradigm, changing the way we look at things. That might mean moving from a view of God that is collective to one that is individual. It might mean changing from a view of God as an aloof Creator who just watches His creation passively to one who's a hands-on God. If might mean changing from a view that miracles and the supernatural were just first century things to a view that they're twenty-first century things as well. Think differently. If you've gotten into a rut, ask God if you need to get out of it. Craig Biggerstaff mentions his Baptist upbringing and the rote alter calls they had; it isn't just his old Baptist church, the Southern Baptist church I went to in the late 80s had similar pro-forma alter calls even if the sermon wasn't overly evangelistic. The cold formality of the services might have helped make Biggerstaff an agonistic (or at least not an evangelical). Some tradition and structure is good, but others get in the way of what God wants to do.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Presidents Day Musings-Tomorrow is one of those semi-holidays that some people (mostly government employees) get off and others don't. Both Polk County and Warner Southern take King Day off and not Presidents Day; state workers will get the day off. Why? Ten thousand Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln fans won't march to the county courthouse demanding the holiday be a manditory day off or else be seen as unpatriotic.

Satan and the Trinity-Chris Burgwald had an interesting post Friday that I'm getting back to
In a bible study I lead, we recently discussed Matthew ch. 4 and the temptation narrative. Some time ago I came to the conclusion that satan must not know that Jesus was God. Why? First and most important, it is impossible for Jesus--being God--to sin; it is metaphysically impossible. If satan knew that Jesus was God, he would be aware of this, and wouldn't even have bothered. Also, the fact that satan refers to Jesus as "Son of God" does not indicate that he knows Jesus is the Son of God, in that the title was used on numerous occasions in the OT to refer to human beings, individually and collectively. Furthermore, there is no evidence that satan believed that Jesus was God, so why argue in favor of it?
Satan might not have had a handle on what in heck Jesus was. Since he's powerful but not omnipotent or omniscient, Satan could likely sense a "movement in the Force" but not quite be sure what this critter was. "It's human, but has a spiritual signature that stronger than any angel. It's the Messiah, but what does that actually mean?" Either Satan knew he was dealing with God incarnate and just played the role or he thought he might have an outside shot of turning Jesus over to the Dark Side. Given that a lot of smart people to this day can't get their hands around the idea of the Trinity, who's to say Satan didn't get it, either.

Blogger and Google-Via Bene Diction, I get this piece on Blogger parent company Pyra Labs being bought out by Google. There's a weird synergy here, where blogs alter the Google listing by having well-linked blogs jumping up in importance on their listings. I've seen this in person, where I've been higher up on Google than the news article I'm referencing. The issue that might come into play is whether Google might have a conflict of interest. Google might be unwilling to jiggle its algorithms to lower the weighting of blogs, since it would have a vested interest in promoting blogs. One interesting synergy might be something that would merge Google News with Blogdex-type link-tracking ratings. One could go to a subset of Google News and track what articles are being talked about.

The New New World Order-Honest, when I saw the hyperlink subtitle of this Tom Friedman article-"China's Passivity," I thought "They don't got a dog in this fight." First paragraph of the article-
After a recent UN session on the Iraq crisis, I asked a Bush aide how China was behaving. "The Chinese?" the official said. "They don't think they have a dog in this fight."
He's seeing this as a First World-Third World fight, or Worlds of Order and Disorder, with the US, Europe and China in the former. That's so tres 1990s. He's thinking of the general coalition that functioned after the Cold War, the New World Order of Bush 41 and the early Clinton years. We're now looking at a fight between Old Europe and its friends and the Anglosphere and their friends. China would prefer mugwumping on this one and Tommy Boy doesn't like it. However, he doesn't like it for the wrong reasons, thinking that all civilized free-market countries are on the same side. I remember Friedman's McDonald's Hypothesis; that two countries with McDonald's are too much a part of the international marketplace that they stand to lose too much to go to war. IIRC, our Kosovo scuffle was the first violation of the McDonald's Hypothesis. I don't think the New World Order paradigm is working anymore, Tom. The Golden Arches might not serve as a shield anymore.

Evening Musings-With exam graded and wife on phone with Grandma, I haveth time to blog. My condolences to all y'all up in the northeast (and Midwest) who are getting/got nailed by this storm. This looks like a real honest-to-goodness nasty storm and not the two inches in NYC and Washington that gets the press corps in a tizzy. I won't talk about going to church in shorts and having to put up with the 85-degree humidity today. NATO finally gave in and allowed troops to be moved to Turkey. The French were out of the military loop, but the part-French speaking Belgiums were just as jerky; almost a Flem fatale to the coalition. This is an interesting line from the head UN nuclear inspector, Mohamed ElBaradei
ElBaradei, who heads the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, said council sentiment could swing toward Washington unless Baghdad convincingly demonstrates its eagerness to reveal all evidence of past and present nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs. "It is clear that the Security Council would like to give the inspections more time," ElBaradei said flying to Vienna from New York. "Having said that, Iraq should not get the wrong message."
ElBaradei has been the really good cop to Blix's good cop. Now, he's telling the Iraqis as the good cop, "these guys are going to clean your clock if you don't start to cooperate, and I'm not going to be able to save you if don't."

Sunday Funnies-I'm presently grading a Microeconomics exam. One of the questions was "What are some of the non-price factors affecting demand?" Someone's penmenship left a little bit to be desired (that's the pot calling the kettle black) and I momentarily read "# of buyers" (a valid factor) as "# of lawyers." No, number of lawyers would be a non-price factor for supply and a negative one at that. One of the reasons for a lack of blogging, other than the aformentioned exam, was a financial planning class I'm helping teach at our church; we had our second class this afternoon. We were discussing the time for a class social outing, when lead teacher Jim asked Pastor Dave "What's your preference?" "Loreal" "You're worth it, Pastor." Another straight line came later when the concept of high church came up in conversation. Straight lines don't get out alive, as I said that "high church" takes on a whole new meaning in California. Dave, without skipping a beat, took a drag on a imaginary doobie.

Give War A Chance-I don't have too much origional to add to the anti-peace protestors, except that it seems to be more of a standard leftist group that will assemble on a regular basis for an approriate protestable cause. One of the groups that has been listed in the anti-war pack is moveon.com; weren't they formed to protest the Clinton impeachment? They are more anti-conservative then they are liberal. I'm not sure how much righteous indignation I'm supposed to have over this. Señorita Galt gives a verbal two-by-four (while looking for a lower-impact weapon to use in real life) to the pack of violent "pacifists." Meanwhile, Rod Dreher has this keeper-"Just to see them walking the street is to put oneself in touch with one's inner Teamster." Papa Blog has kept up his link list on today's protest; looks like the usual suspects; you'd expect the anti-IMF crowd to be with Bush on this one?

Edifier du jour-Luke 16:10-11(NASB)
10 "He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. 11 "Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you?
I'm trying to do a faithful job in a number of different things, including being first a follower of God, then a good husband, a good member of my church and the Church, a good professor and a good blogger. I'm struggling to make sure to not cut corners so that all of those jobs get done in that order. I've found myself blogging too much and not preparing my classes as well as I should, or having blogging take away from prayer time or time with my wife. No, this isn't a "I'm giving up blogging" or "I'm cutting way back" post. I have something of a ministry here, as I get at least a hundred sets of eyeballs here each weekday wanting to read what I've said; it's not quite just a hobby. However, I might be cutting down a little in the time spent on the Web. I might read a few less blogs, saving some time to write. I might read a bit less news. I might write a bit less, as has been the case in the last three days. I'm also taking a good look at some of the other little things, like taking lunch to work rather than spending money at the cafeteria or drinking less pop and more water. God does care about the little things; He's not anal retentive, but He does appreciate when we ask for His advice on the small stuff as well as the big monumental decisions.

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