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Saturday, April 12, 2003

Edifier du Jour-John 11:47-53(NASB)
47 Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, "What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. 48 "If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation." 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all, 50 nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish." 51 Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they planned together to kill Him.
Here's a good example of God using bad things for our good. He had planned to have Jesus be served up as a sacrifice and the Jewish spiritual leaders wound up being used as the tool. Not that the Jews were seeing Jesus as the Messiah; they were merely trying to limit the competition. The first verses of this passage struck me. Jesus was performing many signs and this was eating away at Judaism’s market share. That's true even today; the churches where God is seen to be actively moving will take market share away from the places of worship where He isn't. Stagnant churches have two choices: look to see what they're not doing right or find a way to discount the signs that are manifesting elsewhere. Too often, churches choose the latter.

Friday, April 11, 2003

Answering Lee Anne-Lee Anne Millinger, the newest member of the Posse, asked some good questions in the comments of my War and Politics post of this morning. Do you think the Democrats will address the overall change in foreign policy initiated by the war in Iraq? First of all, it's helpful to try and figure out what that change is. It's a more muscular policy, to be sure, and one that isn't afraid to give the middle-digit salute to the UN. We got rid of a nasty regime with nasty weapons, but it cost a lot of American lives and American money. Yes, we "only" lost about a 100 US lives, but that's not going to be a figure we can justify for every garden-variety dictator. So, at least, we're willing to get rid of nasty regimes with nasty weapons. Right now, North Korea is about the only other country that meets those specs. We've got plenty of nasty regimes-the troops in Iraq can point northwest, east or south-southwest and find a few more. We've got a few governments with nasty weapons; Pakistan, India and Israel come to mind. However, only Kin Jung Il and his buddies go 2-for-2. We might also, if we can reconstruct Iraq, be willing to try such action in other places. Zimbabwe comes quickly to mind. However, Mad Bad Bob doesn't have any nukes, so we'd have to justify that on humanitarian grounds. A bit of racism and ethnocentrism might also keep us from helping in Africa; a lot of the "they aren't cut out for democracy" lines will be falsely applied. Given that as a policy tableau, the Democrats may either embrace this muscular Wilsonian policy or opt for the more traditional, wussier variety. If the early reports of nukes and chemical weapons and CNN keeping quiet about Iraqi atrocities in order to keep people there, the old UN-style multilateralism seems to be out of vogue for a while. However, that might not be enough to change the attitudes of a lot of the Democratic left who would prefer Jesse to Scoop. This might just blow up the Democratic party; if we get a nominee that embraces the Bush paradigm, we could see the Greens do very well picking up the Democratic peacenik left. How will they oppose a policy of pre-emptive strikes (when it worked in Iraq)?-By questioning the cost of such strikes and continuing to overestimate their cost. "Iraq may have fallen easily but [insert country here] is different." Democrats tend to be pessimists by nature, so they can overstate the strengths of the target country and overstate our weaknesses. They're probably going to be wrong, but that hasn't stopped them before. Will it depend on the fallout of the war as it affects Syria?- Syria knows that it's on double-secret probation and has one or two significant boo-boos before American troops are going be having a Road to Damascus experience. One boo-boo might get the offending facility bombed; two might get Bashir checking out six dozen raisins. I think Bashir is smart enough to not start something, but he might just be stoopid enough. I don't think Syria will seriously democratize, but if Bashir sees that as the alternative to Abrams tanks in Damascus, he might. How far do you think the Bush administration plans to push this policy?- Not too far. North Korea is a possibility, as is Syria. Iran is an outside possibility, but it's more likely that the US will let Iran stew in its own democratic juices and let the Iranians do the job. The benefits of a conflict need to be significantly greater than the costs and those benefits will need to be seen as humanitarian as well as make sense as realpolitic.

Knock on Wood-This post by Wood over at the Connexion has "Fisk Me" written all over it.
These are the reasons why I'm ambivalent. 1. Moral HighGrounding What upsets me is the attribution of a moral dimension to the motives of the US and UK governments. No one is toppling Saddam Hussein for altruistic reasons. Before you go, "Oh, here we go again, he's talking about oil," hear me out. It's not about oil. Fact: the UK and US supported and subsidized Saddam Hussein's government in the 80s.
Supported, to an extent. In the Iran-Iraq war, we were rooting for a tie, to drain the Soviet-leaning Iraqis and the Islamic theocracy in Iran. We "subsidized" Iraq only to the extent that we bought oil from them; it was the USSR and the French that were sending them arms. As far as the altruistic reasons, they did add into the mix. However, getting rid of a thug that has a track record of using whatever weapons he gets his hands on was the primary reason. Freeing the Iraqi people from the thug was a secondary effect.
Fact: Saddam has always been an evil mass-murdering dictator. Back in the 80s, he had torture chambers, right. He was killing Kurds right left and centre. He's not changed his ways. The UK and US governments seemed to do the getting-in-bed-with-evil-dictators thing a lot back in the day - Pinochet springs to mind, for example. The principle at play was "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". This principle is the primary reason for most of the messes the West is in, and the reason why other nations so cordially hate us. We're at war with Argentina, we join up with Chile's mad evil dictator.
Quick history lesson-Pinochet came to power in 1973 and the Falklands War was in 1982. That's not to excuse Pinochet, but Argentina wasn't the reason, fear of a ham-handed Marxist (yes, an elected Marxist) Allende government was the reason.
We're in a bad way with Iran, we join up with Iraq. We're not so keen on the USSR, we train the Taleban guerillas fighting them.
Once again the war with Iran wasn't the US or the UK's idea; as far as I can tell, it was Saddam's idea of a land grab at the expense of a Iran still consolidating its Islamic Revolution and without an American sugar daddy-I'm surprised Wood never mentioned the Shah in his list of bad guys. We did train the mujahideen in the 80s, the Islamic guerillas who hounded the Soviets for a decade. A number of Muslim fighters from around the Islamic world came in to help; one of them was a rich young Saudi named Osama bin Laden. We were in bed with the founder of al Qaeda in the 80s, but not to Taliban, who grew up out of the madrasas in the refugee camps in northern Pakistan, who came in advertised as upstanding students of Islam to clean up after corrupt warlords.
We are the two most hated nations on Earth. We are, respectively, seen by 95% of the people on Earth as The Evil Empire, and The Evil Empire's Prison [she-dog].
Blair is kinda cute, but I think Laura's cuter. If this joint is the Evil Empire, why are people flocking to get here? It may well be true that our nations are the most hated, but it's because our countries are thriving and many others aren't. As Derb put it the other day, we've got the BSD and other countries are jealous of our swagger, that hatred being more of covetousness than derision. The world hates us like baseball fans hate the New York Yankees, not because the Yankees are bad, but that they're so consistently good.
Sad but true. Part of the reason for this is that we are rightly perceived by (for example) Islamic nations as unprincipled in our choice of allies. We back a country up, then when it suits us, we stomp them. Sure, the Islamic states hate Saddam's guts... but they hate us more. Meanwhile, whatever you might think of states run by Sharia Law (and I wouldn't want to live in one), one thing is true: their alliances are made on principles... and they are kept.
I guess you didn't catch the Sura where Mohammed said that it's OK to double-cross an infidel and that any contract or treaty with an infidel can be morally broken. Granted, the US has backed up some ugly dudes in Saudi Arabia and other places, but I don't think that gives the Islamic world the moral high ground.
If we were really doing this because Saddam is a Bad Guy, we'd have sorted him out back in the 80s. Along with Pinochet and the nuts who run Indonesia, and all the other countries the unprincipled right-wing nuts who ran our respective countries in the 80s enlisted to be on our side.
Granted. If being a Bad Guy were cause #1, the tanks would have rolled into Harare first, or even Riyahd. However, Saddam is more the USSR's Bad Guy than ours. You can blame Pinochet and Suharto on the US, but Saddam's a socialist and got most of his help from the USSR in the 80s. Going into Iraq in the 80s might have triggered WWIII. Going to Baghdad in 1991 would have been proper in 20-20 hindsight, but I think the peacenik crowd would have screamed just as loud then.
There is no moral reason why we did what we did. No government ever goes to war if they do not consider it in their interests to do so (and yes, that even includes WWII - go read up on it if you don't believe me). We did not "suddenly see the error of our ways".
OK, if this isn't moral, it's immoral and of the devil. If I'm reading Wood right, God would prefer inspections to be tried and retried and retried. God would prefer Saddam in power killing his own people day by day rather than the short war we had. You can be working in the country's best interest and be moral at the same time. Dinner intervenes, I'll finish this piece off later. {update 10:15PM-On second thought, that's enough fisking for one day. Anyone who wants to deliver the coup de grace is welcome to it}

No More Cypress Gardens?-I didn't visit the park in the ten months I've been here, but the Cypress Gardens theme park in Winter Haven is closing Sunday; the news was just announced today. Attendance was down enough to finally do the park in. That's short notice; their employees have only three days before they're hitting the bricks. I remember seeing some waterskiing contests on ESPN (must of been a slow day) from Cypress Gardens years ago, which is about the limit of my remembrances of the place; a number of films were shot on location there. That's going to mean a change for Winter Haven. The two big draws for the local economy are CG and the Indians' spring training and the Indians are all but ready to head down to Fort Myers. The main drag on the east side of town, FL-540, is Cypress Gardens Boulevard and the road that drives past our apartment complex is Cypress Gardens Road. The road signs at the US-27 exit of I-4 point to Cypress Gardens and not Winter Haven. In a way, that's good news for me. Cypress Gardens isn't generating a big part of Warner Southern's clientele and the loss of jobs should depress the real estate market at a time when I'm looking to buy a house. Traffic on the Boulevard should be down a bit, which will make it easier for Eileen and I to commute. I'm almost about to say "I love the smell of a deteriorating local economy in the morning."

The Menu at Chez Liberaux-Mr. Ruffini has the details.

Bunnies and BurrowsTombs-Rachel Cunliffe (among others) commented on this Easter basket with military toys in it. I don't think this is mixing religion and politics, for Easter baskets have little to do with religion. The commercial side of Easter has next-to-nothing to do with the resurrection. It's a give-kids-goodies day that serves as an excuse to eat too much candy. If you had a Family Feud question on "words you associate with Easter," eggs and rabbits would skunk resurrection. It's tacky, but it's less tacky than it seems because it has absolutely nothing to do with religion. At the secular Christmas, the baby Jesus gets a cameo appearance among the Santa Claus stuff. At Easter, the empty tomb is nowhere to be found in the secular realm; only eggs and bunny-rabbits. Christmas was a mid-winter festival that got churchified by bogusly placing the birth of Christ on December 25th. Likewise, Easter is the Rite of Spring, with various fertility symbols (the egg and the rabbit) being the headliner. The baby Jesus isn't as threatening as the empty tomb. The idea the Jesus was born isn't that threatening. Jesus as an historical figure isn't threatening. Jesus as an is rather than a was is very, very threatening. If you take the story of his resurrection at face value, you have to make the decision of whether that means he is God incarnate or was merely a good teacher or a fable. That's a lot less cozy that the babe in the manger. That's why that tomb doesn't show up in the secular iconography of Easter.

War and Politics-Ben Domenech notes that Bob Graham seems to be finished as a presidential candidate. With the war a success, a strategy of criticizing the administration for mismanagement of the Defense Department won't work well. The big question on Democrats and Iraq is whether they ignore the issue as a loser and move on. If they do move on, will the move towards ignoring/downplaying foreign policy as their weak spot and focus on domestic matters or try to make a play for a more pro-UN pro-EU "multilateral" approach. The later might win votes in the primary while the former would be better general election strategy. Disadvantage Kerry, advantage Lieberman. Democrats in 2004 will want the American public to ignore Iraq and focus on whatever economic shortcomings they choose to highlight. They have some hope in that Bush 41 was achieving escape velocity in the polls in early 1991 and was home in Houston in early 1993. Will Dubya meet the same fate? Unlikely. The first Gulf War was only a partial success; by sticking to the UN mandate, we merely got Iraq out of Kuwait and had Saddam playing with ceasefire agreements for the next dozen years, including the year-and-a-half leading up to the 1992 election. A recession in 1991-92 allowed Clinton to run on domestic politics and make the Iraq success of the year before moot. If the early reports of chemical and nuclear weapons turn out, as well as stories of Baathist atrocities, Bush can point to the war as a full success and point to the Democrats as the people who always wanted more diplomacy and more inspections that didn't help matters. This time around, the Iraq win should give the economy a boost. Not only will falling oil prices give a push to the economy, it will be a anti-inflationary push. Uncertainty about the Iraq war helped drag the economy and stock markets down; a clean victory should give both a boost. If the economy is improving by the summer of '04, the Democrats will have little to run on. If it isn't improving, they have a shot.

Warblogger Boasting-There's been a lot of gloating from the pro-war camp as of late. The one that seems the most telling (thanks to Julie Neidlinger for the link) was Best of The Web's reminding Janeane Garafalo of her vow to "go to the White House on my knees on cut glass" if the Iraqis celebrated American liberation. The one that's gotten a bit of indignant blogfire was Josh Claybourn's apparently e-mailing some anti-war bloggers with "I’m looking forward to your commentary on Iraqis celebrating the fall of Saddam Hussein and his evil regime." Darrin over at the Living Room was a bit ticked-“I felt like I'd received an email from a child gloating after winning a game of snakes and ladders...." I recall 1 Corinthians 1:31 "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord;" I don't see a whole lot of boasting in the Lord from the warbloggers. Josh isn't as childish as Bene made him out to be in the comments on Darrin's post, but a lot of bloggers (including myself from time-to-time) will tend towards a more-combative form of prose that can be less-than-edifying. There is a lot of pent-up frustration over how various peacenik opinions almost scuttled this liberation and the urge to see payback is natural; sinful, but natural. Payback's a she-dog, to be sure. Let God have any vengeance he wants to inflict upon the anti-war crowd (or on the pro-war crowd if it turns out we're wrong) and let us move on to putting out money where our mouth is and start to rebuild Iraq.

Edifier du Jour-Romans 8:18-25(NIV)
18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Our sermon on Sunday, which we reviewed in our home group last night, was looking at this passage, focusing on the "Now and the Not Yet." A old hymn comes to mind; "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine." We get, via the Holy Spirit and via our siblings in Christ, a small sample of what Heaven will be like. However, it's not only future rewards that we receive. There is a peace that we can't get on our own. There is guidance that we can't get on our own. There is healing that we can't get on our own. Our investment in God is a growth-and-income stock. Unlike some investment, it pays dividends today. However, you have an even bigger payoff down the line in eternal life with God. When the "income" looks meager compared to the troubles you are facing, remember the capital gains you're racking up in Heaven.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Iraq Musings-This is looking to be almost too easy. The Kurds walked into Kirkuk, one of the big northern cities not part of the pre-war autonomous region. That doesn't make the Turks happy. The army forces in Mosul are negotiating surrender terms, according to CNN and the Command Post. There was a nuke facility with plutonium that the inspectors missed big-time. This peace might be more messy. Some scores might have been settled already, as a leading cleric that might have been too cozy with the old regime got hacked to death today. That sounds a bit too much like Afghanistan. What we need to aviod is the warlordism of Afghanistan. What the coalition will have to do is to slowly institute a democracy. However, it will take time to get people in place to run the country. What the US shouldn't do is find some seemingly honest and controlable Iraqi officer and put him in charge; it might take a while to set things up. What might make sence in the short term is to set up a US-run interim government in Baghdad and start to set up popularaly-elected local governments within a few months. In each town , the allies should appoint some respected members of the community with a minimum of Baathist ties to serve as town/county councils or until local elections can be held. Once the town/county councils are elected in (for instance) September, you can have each town send representatives to a constitutional convention/temporary legislature. They then can hash out a governmental structure that they can live with and set up elections to ratify the constitution and then to have regional and national elections. Such a constitution will need to have American-style checks and ballances and human rights as well as structures that would prevent it turning into a mullahocracy. There is an open question as to whether Iraq should be one country. The ethnic differences between the Kurds, Shia and Sunni factions would lend itself to a more-federal system of government. Each region could then have a local government style that would reflect local customs and desires while still abiding by basic notions of human rights. That's what should happen from this old Poli-Sci major. I'm not an expert in Iraqi sociology, but I don't think a theocracy will be the result of a free election; the Iraqi people seem a couple of notches too secular. I think a fairly free democracy can work; the big fight might well be on how Islamic the government should be and how open they will be to other religions and other world-views, with my fear being that there will be a pro-Islamic slant built into the legal system. I hope that US guidence can shoo them away from such actions; I hope that's thinking PoliSci and not Pollyanna. This process will take a year at minimum before we have an elected president or prime minister and elected national legislature. To make it work any faster will require the US to be appointing some sort of strong man.

Edifier du Jour-1 Peter 2:9-10(NIV)
9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
What a motley "people" we are. Just from my e-mail contacts, I've got siblings in Christ in Canada, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Haiti, the UK and Spain. That's just a small assortment of the people God has brought to Himself. It almost goes without saying that the Kingdom of God transcends nationality. Almost. Often, a mission emphasis wants to make converts into little Americans (or whatever the missionary's home country is). God made that collect of people of different languages and different skin tones into a holy nation. This might come a bit easy to Americans, who (even when they occasionally revert to Northern European biases) understand that being an American isn't a racial concept. The Kingdom doesn't have a preferred skin tone, either. All of us were called out the darkness. That might seem a bit dramatic, but none of our native cultures points directly at God. Whether you are an animist in the developing south or walk the skyscraper jungles of New York, your culture isn't going to bring you to Jesus. It's God who does the calling. However, as believers, we're part of God's voice, aiding Him in calling new people to Him. Declaring His praises is part of our ongoing task.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Liberation Day-The war isn't over yet, but it's clearly garbage time. Other people have written well on today's events; John Adams has a nice piece here and Ben Domenech has a good run down of the events and their significance. I'm not sure if we'll celebrate April 9th as the day Baghdad got liberated. The Baathist regime was like shaved ice in the US military pop and we lost trace of the fragments this morning. We still have a lot of work to do; rooting out the last of the Baathists in Tikrit, tidying up the north in Mosul, hunting down the WMDs and begining the process of giving the Iraqis their government back. Even NPR had to struggle to give a bad spin to today, having to note that the Sunni parts of town didn't receive the troops as well as the Shiite parts of town or spending ten minutes interviewing a brother of a human shield. As Ben noted, "Anyone want to start tabulating a list of people who need to eat their serving of crow?" It's a long muthah, and the price of crow just went way up. However, today is not the day to gloat, it's a day to count our blessings. Baghdad fell without massive losses of civilians; the biggest peacenik complaints was that a couple of journalists got killed when snipers fired from the hotel they were in and the US shot back. No massive US casualties, moderate Iraqi military casualties and no WMD launched. Shock and Awe didn't work up to specs, but the mundane power of the US grunts made up for it. Thank you, Lord.

Afternoon Musings-Warner Southern's in the middle of an once-a-decade accreditation review; lots of paperwork and double-checking of faculty credentials, among other things. You know you've been dealing with accredation reviews too long when you look at the pop machine and think that SACS will want it upgraded since it has only one beverage with a terminal degree. They're toppling statues, dancing and looting; I thought Michigan State got beat in the quarterfinals. Oh, that's Baghdad, not East Lansing. This proved to be almost too easy and without much bloodshed on the US side and a minimum of civilian Iraqi damage. This Derb piece puts new meaning to American cockiness. I might want to put this Rich Harden on my fantasy team once he gets called up by the As-13 perfect innings for their AA farm club this year. Next Monday is Quebec's provincial election, and the PQ is hanging on by the skin of its teeth, loosing support to the Liberals and the Francophone free-market Action Démocratique party. A result that would lead to either a Liberal win or a Liberal-ADQ coalition would be a step away from paleoeuropean politics.

Edifier du Jour-Revelations 2:1-5(NASB)
1 "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: 2 'I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; 3 and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary. 4 'But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 'Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place--unless you repent.
I'm a bit late in opening up the free ice cream stand today largely in part due to a bit of spiritual lethargy. I wasn't feeling particulary close to God in the morning and would rather reorganize my office or grade quizzes (good things) or catch up on articles at Tech Central or The Weekly Standard than focus on God. This section about the Ephesians hit home; I might be working for the Lord and doing all the proper doctrinal things, but the passion that is there when you first came to the Lord (or when you had a serious rededication) wasn't there this morning. We need to keep on rekindling that sense of joy that comes in the newly-saved. Someone gave me a Google hit looking for something on Kim Hill's When I Remember earlier this morning; my Yom Kippur Edifier quoted the chorus
When I remember what You've done; When I remember the shedding of Your blood; I can't help but worship You For all You've done.
Sometimes we take God's love and Jesus' sacrifice on the cross for granted and allow out love of God to get stale. We need to re-remember what God has done for us and celebrate it.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

In Defense of Price Fixing?-In this Tech Central pieceBritish libertarian Sean Gabb is bashing British anti-trust law in this case where two British retailers were fined for fixing minimum prices on Hasbro toys. Yes, people don't have to buy Hasbro toys, but the collusion takes purchasing power away from consumers and grants it to the colluding companies. Gabb is correct that real-world market are not perfect
Since the death of socialism, hardly anyone of importance now believes that economic planning will make the world a richer place. If only at the pragmatic level, markets are universally accepted as the most effective means of reconciling the fact of unlimited human wants and scarcity of the means to satisfy them. But, this being so, the standard economics textbooks provide an utterly unrealistic defense of the market. They begin with the claim that markets are efficient, and then define efficiency as it does not and cannot exist. A perfectly efficient market, they agree, is one in which there are many buyers and sellers, in which there are no barriers to entry or exit, in which all products are of the same quality, and in which all players know everything about prices, costs and production methods. The closer a market approaches this ideal, the more efficient it is said to be. The further away it is, the greater the case is said to exist for the government to intervene to bring it closer to the ideal.
That's a fair assessment of a perfectly competitive market, but it makes for a good straw-man as well
But the ideal is false. Real markets are never efficient in this sense. Most are dominated by a few buyers or sellers. Getting into or out of most involves significant and often huge costs. Branding and other marketing tools differentiate even those products that are, considered purely in themselves, identical. As for information, this is never freely available: no business knows what its demand curve really looks like, and hardly any is able to know its marginal costs of output in advance. Markets should not be analyzed in terms of static equilibrium. Undoubtedly, they have a tendency to productive and allocative efficiency. But changing wants and technology and other facts always ensure that the theoretical point of equilibrium in any market - even could it be known - shifts unpredictably from moment to moment.
My micro class has that covered; things like monopolistic competition and oligopoly are concepts my undergrads could spit back at Mr. Gabb. I've told then that the static model is only a snapshot in time and that markets head towards equilibrium but, due to changing parameters, never quite get there. We can still use economic models even if real life isn't as clean cut as the graphs on the board.
The real problem of economics is not to know what equilibrium looks like once it has emerged, but to understand the process by which it is continually approached, and the value of that process. This is the view taken by the Austrian school of economists - von Mises, Hayek, Rothbard, Israel Kirzner, among many others. They see the economic value of markets as a discovery process, in which particles of knowledge dispersed among billions of individuals - knowledge about wants and costs and techniques, knowledge that would otherwise remain dispersed - are brought together into a rational structure of opportunities for exchange. Markets allow people to blunder around, or make intelligent guesses, and every so often to light on some previously unimagined way of making the world a better place. Now, real market outcomes will not necessarily look anything like a perfectly competitive equilibrium. There may be a single supplier in a market, which may earn very high profits in the short and long term. Or there may be general collusion among suppliers to fix prices. But, so long as there is no use of government force to close the market - as is the case with the British Post Office - this must be taken as an efficient outcome for the time that it endures. If an outcome is not efficient - if there are ways for someone else to come into a market and cut prices or raise quality while still making a profit - any position, no matter how apparently dominant, will crumble.
However, if suppliers collude, there can be outcomes that are efficient to the industry but not efficient to the economy as a whole. Our villains of the piece were colluding to make the markets inefficient by artificially raising the price of Hasbro toys, taking utility away from their customers by their collusion. In the US and Britain, we've outlawed certain types of anti-competitive collusion, of which price-fixing is one of them. Hard-core libertarians might want the right to collude, but those of us with a slightly-more communitarian streak will want to have the free market serve society as a whole. If we're looking to maximize the overall utility of society, the transference of wealth from the consumer to the colluders isn't proper. Wealth should be generated by making a good product at a good price, not by collusion.
In the case of the two companies fined last month, they are not the only suppliers of toys in the British market. At the very least, there is the Internet - which allows far greater competition throughout the world than has ever existed before, and which does push all markets closer in potential towards equilibrium. Even otherwise, there are always substitutes for the products covered by the price fixing agreement. If consumers are willing to pay the higher prices, that is because they prefer not to buy substitutes, or because they cannot be bothered to incur the possibly high costs of seeking the same products elsewhere at prices unknowable in advance.
Yes, there are substitutes, but that still doesn't address the transference of wealth from the collusion. The "let them eat cake" responce is cold comfort. In this case, we're dealing with a luxury good, but other price-fixing cases aren't as benign.
The existence of bodies like the Office of Fair Trading illustrates the problem of what Frederic Bastiat called "what is seen and not seen" in economic policy. What we can see is that certain toys from certain suppliers have been made cheaper than would otherwise have been the case. What we do not see so well is that any regulation of markets impairs the discovery procedure that they embody. Firms may need to seek permission to do things that seem barely worth doing even without the cost of seeking. Or they may need to make disclosures that it is not in their interest to make. Or they may find the whole regulatory framework captured by some big competitor that then effectively closes the market. We cannot know the opportunity cost of any specific act of regulation. But we can be sure that the cost of a general course of regulation is new products not introduced to the market, or new ways of producing or marketing them. Consumers gain in the short term in ways that all can see. In the longer term, they lose, if in ways that no one at all can see.
Not necessary so. The regulation here will increase the supply of toys into the market by lowering their prices. The collusion profits aren't adding to market innovation, they're adding to underhanded behavior. I don’t see how price-fixing adds to the commonweal or the overall wealth of the country; maybe some more learned members of the Peanut Gallery can fill me in.

Midday Musings-Just got done with an lecture on options and had at least one line I hadn't used before in a class. The classic Black-Scholes formula was discussed in passing (the math would leave my undergrads in the dust) and I had to laugh when I talked about Dr. Scholes getting the Nobel Prize (Black died before the '97 prize; no posthumous Nobels); you could say he was a shoe-in. The other straight line that didn't get out alive was co-ed naked option writing; I wasn't raunchy, but I wasn't exactly maxing out on edification, either. Congratulations to Ben for getting a job as Sen. Cornyn's speechwriter. That's a position that he could have for quite a while, since Cornyn will have that seat as long as he isn't caught in bed with a dead girl or live boy (He's from Texas; in Massachusetts, only the first counts). Or, he could use that job as a stepping stone for something even better. Ben, you're developing a resume that makes 99% of people your age (and older) jealous. I'd like to get a better handle on what's happening on Iraq. We seem to be getting more and more control over Basra and Baghdad, but things aren't close to being fully over. We've yet to see whether any of the big bombs got Saddam and whether any of his inner circle is still alive other than the information minister who's watching a different war than we are. The good news out of the Belfast summit is that Bush seems to be telling the UN to do an unnatural act with itself. It might have some humanitarian role, but that the allies will do the political reconstruction. One thing that is now going to surface is that with reconstruction will come carpetbaggers. Look for the protestor types to focus on the firms that will help out with said reconstruction. The media's already covering the evangelical aid groups in a less-than-flattering light. We're getting some interesting poll numbers from north of the border. Canadians think that the government should have been more active in supporting the US. However, that support has an interesting split
At a meeting in Toronto last month, Mr. Cellucci [the US Ambassador to Canada] said the U.S. would help Canada in time of need but the Chretien government's opposition to its policy on Iraq showed the reverse was not true. In response to a question about Mr. Cellucci's position, 41% of Canadians believe the government should show more support for the U.S. However, a breakdown of the figure shows that 49% of English speakers wanted the government to show more support for the U.S. while only 14% of French speakers agreed with this position.
Do they monge fromage in Quebec as well? Separatist sentiment may be waning in Quebec, but that points to a cultural difference between Quebec and Anglophone Canada. Interesting essay on democratizing the Middle East from Josh Marshall-(it's from Sunday, but I'm just getting to it) it might be harder than "us neocons" might think. It's not the hyperspacial rocket science Josh's making it out to be, but it's not going to be a cake-walk. He's been erring on the side of pessimism for a while and one of these day's he'll be right; a stopped clock does tell the correct time twice a day.

This Week in Blog History-Your humble correspondant made his first trip to Lake Wales. Jim Trafficant got beamed into Club Fed. Venezuela had it's short-lived coup. The countercoup didn't get blogged on until the next week. The Catholic pedophilia scandal was in full bloom and comments about a culture of death from Cardinal Arinze were in play. Politically, Ron Kirk won the Democratic Senate runoff in Texas.

Edifier du Jour-Joshua 9:3-19
3: When the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, 4: they also acted craftily and set out as envoys, and took worn-out sacks on their donkeys, and wineskins worn-out and torn and mended, 5: and worn-out and patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes on themselves; and all the bread of their provision was dry and had become crumbled. 6: They went to Joshua to the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, "We have come from a far country; now therefore, make a covenant with us." 7: The men of Israel said to the Hivites, "Perhaps you are living within our land; how then shall we make a covenant with you?" 8: But they said to Joshua, "We are your servants." Then Joshua said to them, "Who are you and where do you come from?" 9: They said to him, "Your servants have come from a very far country because of the fame of the LORD your God; for we have heard the report of Him and all that He did in Egypt, 10: and all that He did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon king of Heshbon and to Og king of Bashan who was at Ashtaroth. 11: "So our elders and all the inhabitants of our country spoke to us, saying, 'Take provisions in your hand for the journey, and go to meet them and say to them, "We are your servants; now then, make a covenant with us."' 12: "This our bread was warm when we took it for our provisions out of our houses on the day that we left to come to you; but now behold, it is dry and has become crumbled. 13: "These wineskins which we filled were new, and behold, they are torn; and these our clothes and our sandals are worn out because of the very long journey." 14: So the men of Israel took some of their provisions, and did not ask for the counsel of the LORD. 15: Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live; and the leaders of the congregation swore an oath to them. 16: It came about at the end of three days after they had made a covenant with them, that they heard that they were neighbors and that they were living within their land. 17: Then the sons of Israel set out and came to their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon and Chephirah and Beeroth and Kiriath-jearim. 18: The sons of Israel did not strike them because the leaders of the congregation had sworn to them by the LORD the God of Israel. And the whole congregation grumbled against the leaders. 19: But all the leaders said to the whole congregation, "We have sworn to them by the LORD, the God of Israel, and now we cannot touch them.
The key verse in this mess was in verse 14-they "did not ask for the counsel of the LORD." Had they prayed through their decision, they would have seen where they were being conned. Many times, we will have a bad feeling about a purchase or a decision that will stem from our conscience. That's frequently the Holy Spirit giving us a heads-up. When we don't pray through a decision and ask for second opinions, we can be left open to being conned.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Defender of the Truth-An interesting food fight broke out in the comments of Thursday's Edifier while I was busy over the weekend. The holy trollee was Karl Thienes, who makes this synopsis of his Orthodox views on his blog
The common answer to this problem is one I keep hearing (and it was posted by someone in the comments section as well). It was the "if you just read your Bible on your own and pray for the Holy Spirit's guidance, everything will work itself out" answer. I have many problems with this answer, and I've posted about them before, but the foundational issue was summed up nicely by someone during a discussion at the Evangelical-Orthodox Group. This person said, "If someone expresses an interest in the Christian faith, the answer is invariably "read the Bible". Which, in my humble opinion, is like trying to teach people to sing by giving them a sheet of music." I love that! Analogy: If you want to learn out to play music well, you've got to join the orchestra. (And the best orchestra at that). But very rarely can you just sit at home, with a bunch of notes and books and become a world class musician. It could happen. But it would be the exception, and a huge one at that. It would not be the rule to follow. To become the best musician possible, one would need intense dedication, ascetic labors (like forgoing other activities and practicing for hours a day), as well as deep mentoring by someone who has already achieved some level of musical success etc.... That recipe sounds like the Orthodox way of life to me! Common liturgy, ascetical labors, sacraments, spiritual discipleship....*AND*, of course, the Bible. But it is a package deal.
One doesn't learn in a vacuum. You can learn better from other people than you can from the Bible alone. The Holy Spirit is capable of giving you that knowledge alone, but we’re not meant to be Lone Ranger believers. I'm not sure that I'm going to buy common liturgies and a whole list of sacraments, but the rest are part of good spiritual development. Fasting, prayer, giving and Bible study are all parts of a good spiritual diet. Don Batton had this starting point "What I find difficult about the Bible is that it tells you to do all kinds of things like this but it doesn't tell you how nor even exactly what it means." Fellow believers are helpful in giving it context. Here are two classic counterpoints-first, evangelical/charismatic John Adams
"The Church is the pillar and ground of truth, not the Bible!" Whoa, you're getting into dangerous territory there, Mr. Thienes. Unlike the Church's doctrine, the Bible never changes.
Thienes' rebuttal
Don's original question CAN'T be answered with the "just read your Bible and pray" answer. His question *begs* for a context. And that context is the Church.
Let me play the mugwump and say that they're both right. The Bible standing alone doesn't do much without believers to preach it's good news. However, the Protestant in me insists on making the Bible the Constitution; we can only have doctrine that passes Biblical muster. We scuffle over how to interpret the Constitution; just today, we had nine of our sharper judges split 6-3 on whether to validate a anti-cross-burning law. Likewise, we will agree on taking the Bible as our basic guide, but disagree on how to interpret it. We do a better job of making decisions collectively than we do individually. A few verses come to mind-Proverbs 12:15-"The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel." and 13:10-" Through insolence comes nothing but strife, But wisdom is with those who receive counsel." These might have been used in a personal finance context in our class yesterday, but they seem to apply to non-financial questions of doctrine. Individuals tend to be more heterodox in their theologies than churches, who have a longer track record of hacking theology. The Church (in the sense of the collection of all believers) can help guard the truth, but only to the extent that they are striving to do so. When a church isn't guarding the truth, believers may have to walk away from it, but that should be a last resort when a church has become clearly heterodox.

Christians In Culture-It is often hard for me to be a reasonably-devout Christian and be able to popular culture without gagging. I can remember a decade ago coming back from a two-week stay helping work at a Christian conference center and going out to see Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade with some of my Midland friends. Not only did the violence and sex bother me, but the underlying theme of people more interested in finding the Holy Grail than the man who gave the first Communion from it. Saturday, Eileen and I went to Disney World with my parents. I commented earlier today on how Main Street has no churches. God is only mentioned in passing at the Hall of Presidents, while magic and ghosts permeate the place. Later in the day, I bumped into the genie from Aladdin trying to "get away" from his master; I play-acted helping him get over a rope fence for a moment. Think about that for a moment(I didn't until just now); I'm play-helping a confined demon. That's the problem with a lot of popular culture; it's steeped in sexuality and the occult and lawlessness, but in ways that are entertaining. In Smokey and the Bandit, you're rooting for the speed-demon bootlegger to escape the bad guys, approving of their "total dis-re-spect of the laaaaaw." In Aladdin and Beetlejuice, you're rooting for the demons/ghosts. Even if we disaprove of a hero's actions, we often root for him anyways. Davie D points out this piece (thank Josh for the link) on Christians and popular culture. There are quite a few "Christians Who Drink Beer"-my very charismatic Dad's been known to down the occasional brew on a warm day and contentedly watch a Dirty Harry movie. I don't do either, yet I'm a sucker for good sci-fi or a good geopolitical thriller or a good clean comedy. The piece from William Romanowski points out how little Christian media is consumed compared with the percentage of Christians in the US. The first thing that comes to mind is that we should expect a majority of nominal Christians to be partakers in the broader culture. Most people who will check off "Christian" on a census form don't have a working relationship with Jesus and those who do are often products of our culture and are slow to leave the seedier elements behind. If a third of the population is evangelical and half of those are still watching regular TV and movies, that leaves about 16% of the market to the Christian artists. Let's break down the genres. Music-Josh stated that "'Christian music,' however, hasn't done all that bad." I'd put modern CCM toe-to-toe with the general Top 40 for quality of music. There's also a fairly broad variety of music available; not everything is sweet adult contemporary, although that seems to be CCM's strongest suit. You do have a solid rock and alternative-styled scene as well as a thriving black contemporary scene with people like Kirk Franklin. However, as the old saying goes, it's hard to bring the Cross over when you cross-over. An evangelistic message that we're sinners in need of Jesus will scare off a lot of non-believers. When CCM people have crossed-over, it's been either with clean love songs (Every Heartbeat, Kiss Me, Picture Perfect) songs that are generically theistic (Place in This World, Find a Way) or so mildly Christian to be unobjectionable (Butterfly Kisses'-"...she talks to Jesus..."). I'd put Steven Curtis Chapman toe-to-toe with modern male stars for quality, but there's too much Christian content for him to cross over. Chapman's Go There With You would be a good love song for a pop artist to cover, as would Phillips, Craig and Dean's Strong Determination or the old Michael English song Take The Time (I somehow can hear Gloria Estefan covering that one). Another problem is that the devotion express by singers can shame a less-devout believer into changing the channel. I can gauge my spiritual walk by whether I can listen to Twila Paris without cringing. If you can't, it's easier to make yourself feel superior to the lust machines on the Top 40 rather than feel inferior to the modern psalmists on the Christian station. Yet another problem is giving up the music that you liked in the past; the less-than-edifying lyrics that you overlook before can be hidden by a good melody, singing and musicianship. I can remember hearing Time of My Life on at the dentist office a while back; it's a catchy tune that glorifies an illicit romance. Eileen had to chuck a lot of videos that she had bought in the past; a lot of stuff that fit the "it may have ________, but it's still a good movie" found its way into a donation pile. Television-For now, Christian TV is a vast wasteland. The primary evangelical presence is from name-it-and-claim-it folks that have good showmanship and questionable theology. Baptists, who have a face made for radio, have largely ceded the field, with the exception of Jerry Falwell and Charles Stanley. Pax may have family-friendly fare, but largely have clean secular fair; there isn't a whole lot evangelical about Diagnosis: Murder or Dr. Quinn or even Touched by an Angel, even if they are clean and entertaining. There's a market for entertaining Christian-flavored television, but Trinity Broadcasting isn't the answer nor is Pax. Movies-Given that many churches frown upon people going to even clean movies, this will be an uphill fight. About the only Christian media that has significant appeal outside the evangelical subculture are the Veggie Tales videos. Most of the Christian movies that have been made in the recent past have been a bit too preachily scripted and had limited appeal to a broader audience. That leaves Christian consumers to look towards the secular offerings at the video store or the multiplex. It's hard to come home at night and pass on the offerings on prime-time TV. We're not used to spending our evenings talking, reading, playing games, playing sports or visiting friends or checking out your favorite blogs. However, those options might well be more edifying.

Mugsy Bogues Can Post Up the Arab Street-Den Beste wants to send Shaq and Bill Walton over to Iraq as news reporters.
We need Walton, with an angry red beard, and we need Shaq, black as the ace of spades with his head shaved and his thin moustache. And we need them both doing stand-up interviews in post-war Baghdad with Arabs there. Shaq stands 7'1" (2.16 m) and weighs 338 lbs (153 kg) and Walton ain't a lot smaller than that. No matter what was actually said by them or the Arabs they interviewed, the image of them as Americans standing beside and towering over the Arabs they interviewed would leave a lasting impression. And both men would put Arab moustaches to shame.
First of all, Walton has lost his beard since that old Blazer shot from a quarter-century ago. While Walton seems to have mellowed with age, but as a younger player in the 70s, he was a 7-foot-tall hippie, arguably Dead Head #1 and hung out with SLA members. I'm not sure I'd trust him with a politically-sensitive topic, unless his politics have done an 180. We don't need seven-footers to stand head and shoulders about Arabs. I'm 6'5" and can do that job, but we can send Jason Alexander to be a reporter and still tower above the Arab world. We're the home of Democracy Whiskey Sexy not to mention free markets, freedom of religion and freedom of speech. We run circles around the world in most areas and when we're hated it is often because of jealousy as much as for our loose morals. It ain't the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog. China's has more people and Russia has more natural resources, but it's the inventive, individualist spirit that makes the US great and helps countries that adopt our paradigm grow as well. We're also a empire that's not interested in having colonies; note the stress of not planting US flags, since we're there to free Iraq, not conquer it. That's what's going to impress the world, not some big jocks.

The Money Primary-I haven't seen this piece elsewhere other than this AP report in the Lakeland Ledger, but Lieberman is getting skunked 2-1 in the Money Primary. Both Edwards and Kerry are up around $7m while Gephardt and Lieberman are down in the $3m range. Gephardt might do well with non-monetary union support and Lieberman will benefit from the free media of being Gore's VP and his centrist persona. However, they'll have to counter twice as many ads from the two outhouses Johns. The headliner in this piece was Bob Graham's $1m in the bank without campaigning. However, I think Graham's positioning as a hawkish critic of the military might not play well with the war going about as well as could have been expected. A messy win could have helped Graham, but I don't see him getting any traction

When I Survey the Hateful Cross-The Supreme Court ruled a Virginia law against cross-burning constitutional on a 6-3 vote. It was an odd coalition, with Suter, Ginsberg and Kennedy voting against, Thomas voting for in a concurring opinion, with the remaining five stating that it didn't violate free speech. Free speech cases seem to be ones that can bust apart the classic right-left coalition; when's the last time Kennedy was on the short-end of a 6-3? I'm not sure I like the precedent of being able to single out types of speech, but there doesn't seem to be too many cases where cross-burning would not have an intimidation effect. If I remember my tort law, assault technically means the threat of violence; a cross burned in the presence of a group targeted by the Klan is an implied threat of violence against said group. This isn't a mere bonfire. Threatening speech can be held illegal, and the court did just that. There isn't a good way to write this into law, but the idea that the symbol of God's sacrificial love for us can be turned into a symbol of evil incarnate turns my stomach. It's one thing to make fun of iconography, like Serrano's infamous piece, it's yet another thing to turn it into a force for evil.

Midday Musings-I'm not the first to blog on this, but Derb has a "modest proposal" on terminating Kim Jong Il with extreme prejudice. Or would that "with swift prejudice", given his title? His sophmoric yet learned musings on Lee Bum Suk are the icing on a well-thought out policy cake. Reuters needs a better editor-NPR is now a "news station" reporting on chemical weapons in Iraq. Network is more like it. At least if we have a combination of NPR and Reuters reporting on it, it can't be written-off as Foxesque warmongering. However, there isn't an international Clue Police to take Reuters in for being too stoopid to live. Every so often, servers hose a big player-Patrick Ruffini's MIA for the moment. However, those changes can prove positive, as in the case of John Adams' new digs.

Six Flags over Baghdad?-Things seem to be perking along, with the population turning in Saddam's good squads and the main presidential palace in US hands. Chemical Ali has gotten his 72 raisins, assuming that Paradise hasn't run out due to an increase in demand the last few weeks. This piece confirms what I heard at lunch; we may well have found some chemical warheads ready to go. Emphasis on may, another WMD story two weeks ago proved to be false.

Edifier du Jour-James 4:1-4(NASB)
1: What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2: You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3: You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4: You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
Many people have noted that Disney's Main Street has no churches. It doesn't have any county courthouse or United Way offices either, just stores, stores and more stores looking to separate visitors from their cash on their way to (or more likely from) the rest of the "Magic Kingdom." It is a world of materialism and hedonism where God is mentioned only in passing at the Hall of Presidents. Such a world sets up people for pain. I remember the Buddhist diagnosis of life-Life is full of suffering and suffering is caused by improper wants. However, the ultimate remedy to suffering isn't the Eight-Fold Path, but a relationship with Jesus that allows the Holy Spirit to gradually focus those desires upon doing God's will. Our material desires will never be met, for we always want more and will never be satisfied. Also, those desires will often lead to covetousness and other sinful behaviors. The trick to avoiding such problems is to get your life to line up with what God wants for you; easier said than done. However, most of us are called to be in the world and can't escape to a monastery to retreat from the world and it's temptations. This means that we're going to have to make a conscious effort to keep ourselves focused on God's kingdom when we're in a world that isn't focused on it.

Sunday, April 06, 2003

Daylight Savings Time starts today in most of the US (the non-NW part of Indiana and Arizona are exceptions)-If you haven't done so, set your clocks ahead a hour-"spring forward and fall back." Edifier du Jour-Psalm 13(NASB)
1 O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? 2 He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart. 3 He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor takes up a reproach against his friend; 4 In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, But who honors those who fear the LORD; He swears to his own hurt and does not change; 5 He does not put out his money at interest, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.
The biblical finance course we're going through on Sunday mornings is on honesty week and offered up this passage among others. A couple non-boilerplate things come up. We're promice that the honest God-fearing man won't be shaken. Also, the person "swears to his own hurt" ; that will me that the stoic approach isn't a godly one. I'm still wondering how to apply "put out his money at interest" for it would transform how you would advise about investment strategy; taken at face value, that would mean no bonds, money-market funds or any debt in one's investment portfolio.

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