Saturday, May 24, 2003

2004 Ain't 1984-Ben links to a David Yepsen piece on the 2004 Democratic field, trying to make them into 1984's field. His casting of Gephardt as Mondale is problematic on two counts. Mondale was Carter's VP, which gave him heir-apparent credentials; Gephardt doesn't have that emotional clout. With Gore out of the race, the closest analogy would be to Lieberman, the wronged VP candidate from 2000. Lieberman isn't the favorite of liberals, so Lieberman as Mondale falls flat real quick. The second problem is that the Mondale role is split in two between Gephardt and Kerry, with Gephardt being the institutional backer of labor and Kerry being the backer of the rest of the institutional left. Between the two of them, they've got Mondale's niche. We also don't have a good Gary Hart, the young outsider who challenges the interest-group status-quo. (Full disclosure-I was still a Democrat in 1984 [a youthful indiscretion] and voted for Hart in the Michigan caucus that year.) Yepsen wants to cast John Edwards in that role, who fits the young outsider part but whom caters to the same liberal groups as Gephardt and Kerry. As squirrelly as it sounds, Howard Dean makes a better Gary Hart than a Alan Cranston. This is an unique race, with five guys who could easily get the nomination, none of whom have a visible plurality of the party behind them. It's not 1984 redux.

Equality and Greed-Part I-Better Defining the Debate-Orrin Judd blogmate Paul Jaminet takes a whack at this Daniel Davies post. There's a lot there than neither Davies or Jaminet quite gets. Let's start with Davies piece
Think about it this way. In my post below, I suggested that the difference between the progressivity of the tax systems students suggested for income versus for their own grades "might serve as a useful index of the hypocrisy of leftist students". When I use the word "hypocrisy" here, what do we actually mean? Well, the combination of the following two qualities: 1. A moral belief that (some loosely defined concept of) equality is (an actual or instrumental) good. 2. A personal desire to accumulate more, even at the expense of others.
Here, you have an exagerated form of communism in #1 and an exagerated form of capitalism in #2. I don't think pure equality is achievable on this earth; if you think so, give Harrison Bergeron a read. The tension of modern political economy is ballancing the desires of equality and helping the needy with the realization that people are greedy. Davies will try to tackle that one, but not overly satisfactorly.
The first is simply a baseline definition of what it means to have left wing politics. The second ... well put it this way, Buddhist monks spend twenty years living ascetically and meditating for hours at a time before they presume to believe that they have conquered all selfish desires. If you're talking about "leftist hypocrisy", you're just talking about "leftists who have not been able to transcend history, biology and socialisation in order to develop an unparticularised love for all sentient things". In other words, you're just talking about "leftists who happen to be humans".
I think Mr. Davies just discovered our sinful, selfish nature without calling it such. We're greedy, selfish folks who prefer more than less. People work harder when they get payed more; that makes paying everyone the same problematic, for laziness will kick in.
Contrast with rightwing politics. As I've posted earlier, the single most sensible thing said in political philosophy in the twentieth century was JK Galbraith's aphorism that the quest of conservative thought throughout the ages has been "the search for a higher moral justification for selfishness". Some rightwingers are not hypocrites because they admit that their basic moral principle is "what I have, I keep". Some rightwingers are hypocrites because they pretend that "what I have, I keep" is always and everywhere the best way to express a general unparticularised love for all sentient things. Then there are the tricky cases where the rightwingers happen to be on the right side because we haven't yet discovered a better form of social organisation than private property for solving several important classes of optimisation problem. But at base, the test of someone's politics is simple; if their political aim is to advance all of humanity, they're on our side, while if they have an overriding constraint that the current owners of property must always be satisfied first, they're playing for the opposition. Hypocrisy doesn't really enter into the equation with rightwing politics; you don't (or shouldn't) get any extra points for being sincere about being selfish.
This is the paragraph that set Mr. Jaminet off; the part in italics is what Jaminet elipses around to create a better straw man. However, there's enough here to get most conservatives, or especially libertarians, into clobberin' mode. When you start favorably quoting Galbraith, you've got a conservative's dukes up. There are some libertarians who honestly think that free markets and minimalist government are the best way to run society, that even the poor's needs would be better met by a faster-growing economy and private-sector charity. Thus, Davies is slandering some good (but a bit Pollyannish) folks unfairly, even if most low-tax people are doing it out a combination of greed and wanting to expand the commonweal. In the italisized sentence, Davies seems to note, but discount, the possibility that property is helpful. There are two ways to avoid the Tragedy of the Commons; one is to have government regulate communal property and the other is to give the property to individuals to manage. You'll get more innovation out of private property than out of government management, and I see little hope of finding a government-based solution that will expand the commonweal for most property issues. Here is where I think Davies is setting up a straw man of his own, in this sentence.
But at base, the test of someone's politics is simple; if their political aim is to advance all of humanity, they're on our side, while if they have an overriding constraint that the current owners of property must always be satisfied first, they're playing for the opposition.
Most conservatives would not be in that second camp, for few would move to a system where there were no taxes or fees whatsoever. Walter Williams might be in that second camp, but not too many others. If we take Davies' rightist literally, we would have no taxes, for owners are never satified fully and would likely find other uses for their money than taxes. This "free-market utopia" would have all government functions done via donations, which I don't see happening. The question becomes not whether to have taxes or not, but what type, form and level should they take. Most conservatives are seeking to maximize the commonweal, even if they might not phrase it that way. There might be pockets of humanity that aren't going to advance, but we want to set up a system that looks after the needy while keeping a thriving economy going. That will give greater consideration of the desires of the wealthier people than a socialist would like, but the socialist would harm the economy by taking away a good chunk of the motovation of people to improve their own lives and by doing so harm everyone by creating a stagnant economy.

Edifier du Jour-Titus 1:5-9(NASB)
5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, 6 namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. 7 For the overseer must be above reproach as God's steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, 8 but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.
That's an interesting check list for us all to see where we stand in coming close to what God wants from a good leader. For the gals and single guys, ignore verse six for a moment; as a childless husband, I'm with you at the moment. How's your temper? Mine's not that good. I'm still prone to lose it, but I'm getting better, learning to walk away before I say or do anything stoopid. How's your self-control? Mind's not that great around food. I'm planning to get on a regular exercise program when I get back from our Richmond-Spartanburg trip, knowing that the spare tire I'm carrying around isn't good for me or my long-term ability to communicate the Gospel. Do you love what's good?-Do you cheer when the bad guys meet an untimely demise? Do you cheer when your kick-coverage maniac delivers a decleater ("OOOOHH! He'll feel that tomorrow.")? Do you root for Yogi to steal another pick-a-nick bask-kit? I'm guilty as charged on all three counts. We often wind up in this modern culture praising the bandit and having an unhealthy level of schadenfreude. How well do you hold fast to the Word?-Do you tweak the Gospel in order to be less confrontational and more PC? It's hard to stick to some parts of scripture and be polite in the modern world. However, we're not called to be PC, we're called to serve God. That isn't easy at times.

Friday, May 23, 2003

Ready For the Big Dance-Baggy-Slims has an interesting put-down on American Idol, compairing it to college basketball's NIT. I disagree, for most pop stars get there on as much luck as talent. I remember hearing some local choir members in Lakeland sing on Easter Sunday and noted that they had professional quality voices; I've said the same of the vocalists at my sister's church in Midland. There are pleanty of people out there who can sing as well as your top 40 stars, but lack the luck, looks or connections needed to become a star. If you want to make a basketball analogy, Bobby, American Idol would be akin to a mid-major conference, with Ruben being Central Michigan or Gonzaga. If you had a National Crooners and Artists Association (NCAA) Big Dance, where would Ruben be seeded? A 13-seed? Are there 50 better singers out there? There are a lot of people that have better reputations, but might not be as good as some no-names. "Here we are at the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA South Regionals, where we had to scrounge to find a glass slipper big enough to fit Ruben." "Yes, he's a real Cinderella story, as the #13 seed from Birmingham has knocked off #4 seed Shania Twain and #5 seed Christine Aguillara in the regionals last weekend to advance here to face #1 U2 here in Tampa. They had the reputation, but he had the voice." "What are Ruben's chances to advance today?" "Well, Bono stuggled to get past Toby Keith in the second round, so he still hasn't found what he's looking for in a good, all-around perfomance, avoiding a very bloody Sunday as they edged out a win. The crowd is definately in Ruben's corner, as the fans of the singers in our other matchup will be rooting for an upset."

Tax Cut Passes-The tax bill squeaked through the Senate 51-50 and the House 231-200. The dividend tax cut got the big news, but the other news was that the standard deduction and 15% tax bracket for married couples both got bigger and the upper-middle-class 27% bracket got lowered to 25%. Added money in paychecks from decreased withholding will kick in July 1. The hero of the piece is Ben Nelson; he and Zell Miller were the two Democrats to vote for the package, but you'd expect Miller to do so. The villian of the piece is the Bull Moose himself; one can see albino RINOs Snowe and Chaffee voting against, but I think this assures McCain a primary challenge next year. Congressman Hayworth, the Club for Growth's on line two. Conversely, a yes vote insures Voinovich a second term; he'll get a primary challenge from the right for cutting the number in the bill down, but he'll sneak in.

Basketball Neo?-Lebron James hit a double jackpot this week, getting a $90 million dollar shoe deal and getting Cleveland to win the draft lottery. Tom Brokaw's quip last night was cute, noting that Michael Jordan's first shoe contract was for $2.5 million and that his first shoe deal was for $2.50-he had to pay them. The other good long-term news is that Detroit got the #2 pick; if Memphis had got the #1 ball, Detroit couldn't have used the pick this year. Carmello Anthony would look good at blue and red if they don't go for a European big man. A month ago, I'd have had the Pistons lean towards Anthony, but with Tayshawn Prince coming on in the playoffs, the 3-spot might be filled. This mock draft has Chris Kaman going at #5. I knew Kaman was NBA material, but he didn't seem to be lottery-pick good. I'm thinking Mike Gminski, but this guy is thinking Robert Parish with a little time in the weight room. I haven't seen James play yet other than highlight clips, but the shoe companies seem to think he's worth more than anyone else in basketball. Is he Basketball Neo (as a commentator on NPR this morning suggested), the savior of the post-Jordan league? He's got more game that Kobe did at 18, is bigger, stronger and just as quick. I remember the mythical polymath Buckaroo Bonzai's backup band/posse were the Hong Kong Caviliers. Could this basketball polymath have the Cavs as his posse, too?

Edifier du Jour-1 Corinthians 13:11-13
11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
This morning, I was reading a Corner post on sports as an escape from the world and their wives. I had opted not to tape last night's Pistons-Nets game (we have our home group on Thursday nights), for I wouldn't have an hour-and-a-half stretch to watch it at home without ignoring Eileen. Now, I have more important things to do than watch basketball. There are a lot of things I did as a single guy that I don't do as much while married, and most of those are either sports or game related. Sports are an escape from the world, but do we want to escape from the world? I haven't seen either of the Matrix movies, but if I understand the underlying premise, the world is a computer program that illuminated ones like Neo can escape from, giving a third-millennia spin on the Gnostic paradigm that the flesh is evil and needs to be escaped. We don't need to escape. It's not that we're not looking forward to Heaven, but God has us in the world for a reason. Whether it is Gnostics or hyper-Calvinists that sneer at a fallen and totally depraved creation, people who will look down their nose at creation influence us. As we move away from naturalism and hedonism, we can often move so far away into the spirit realm that we forget that God's given us bodies and lives to live here and now, being so heavenly-minded that we're no earthly good. The more we deal with God and with each other, the more we can polish off that dim mirror. The greatest gift is love, and you don't practice love much in sports. A sports invocation I've used in the past is "May God have mercy on you, 'cause I sure won't." Sports are good to keep a competitive edge to one's spirit and to keep in shape if you're actually doing the sport rather than just watching it, but unless it's coupled with teamwork and community, it doesn't do much for developing the fruits of the spirit. Praying and talking with your wife might not be as fun as a good basketball game, but it brings more joy in the long run.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Morning Musings-My blogspot days are numbered, folks. I am looking to move over to Movable type and the question right now is where to host it. Jatol seems to be the host of choice and I might just put my miser to bed and pay $20 for MT to install the thing for me. Thanks to all of you who quickly repsonded to my E-mail on the subject. Don't be surprised to be directed to markbyron.com in the not-too-distant future. Bush has signed off on a tax-cut package. He got dividends to be given roughly equal treatment with capital gains for now, a 15% tax rate for richer folks and a 5% rate for the rest of us; that's not what he asked for, but it was what could squeak through the Senate. This might wind up reducing your electric bill, folks; more on that later. The UN signed off on a Iraq rebuilding plan this morning 14-0, largely acknowledging US/British rule there for now. The UN gets some power over the Oil-for-Food program for now, but Bush and Blair didn't have to give up as much as we'd have thought. It isn't good news for the UN-bashers, but it keeps a wholesale meltdown of international affairs from happening, which is worth throwing Kofi a bone. Christine Whitman's heading back to Joisey- she wasn't the best fit, as she had a more liberal view on environmental issues than the administration. I think that here selection back in 2001 was a bone thrown to the moderate wing of the party, putting a vocal pro-choicer in a position where sexual issues weren't on her plate. Time for her to go. I haven't seen any of the show, but it's good to see the chocolate loveball win American Idol. Ruben's not the sleek heartthrob that sells videos on looks, but the guy can sing. I have seen clips of him on the entertainment news shows I occasionally surf into; it's good to get a portly singer get a chance to make it big. Jason Steffens didn't care for his choice of Imagine for the final round. I'll agree with Jason; for an aspiring gospel singer, it is a bit universalist at best. Well, well. Annika birdied the 4th to go to -1, putting her 14th at the moment. Not bad for a girl.

Edifier du Jour-James 3:1-6(NASB)
1 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. 3 Now if we put the bits into the horses' mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. 4 Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. 5 So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.
It only takes a second to say something, but days or even a lifetime to repair the damage caused by a misstatement. This is especially true of teachers, who are affecting dozens of lives by what they teach. One of the odd sensations of teaching college classes is that students actually listen to what you say and will take notes; the ad-libbed statement comes back to you on essays. One short sequence of speech can alter people's opinions. I remember talking about the IMF to my Microeconomics students about how IMF austerity plans can cripple economies by raising taxes and cutting spending just when the economy often needs a boost; those plans are disliked by just about everyone but the big banks who want their loan money back. When the exams came back, the core message of "The wealthy don't like the tax increases and the poor don't like the cuts in spending" came back when I asked the question of why the IMF is so unpopular. They weren't quite getting Coase's Theorem, but they got this. Seeing that crop of answers was a wakeup call on the role of the teacher and how students will accept a decent argument from a professor; I just soured their opinion of the central banker's central bank and affected international economic debate in their lives and the lives of the people in their worlds. They aren't quite the "skulls full of mush" of Rush lore, but they will absorb some of what you teach them, often less critically than we'd like. That's why teachers are to be held to a higher standards. If you are teaching them things that are injurious to themselves or the commonweal, you should be called to account for that; feel free to put in your favorite ivory-tower "progressive" horror story here. When we assume the mantle of authority on a subject, we wind up influencing lives and need to be prayed up in order to assure that the influence is a good one.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Jesse versus the Big He-Part 1A-The Making of President Tsongas- Davie D takes apart my multiversal look at a Clintonless world here. I've decided to spend a bit more time looking at the dynamics of the 1992 race and its aftermath, thus a part 1A. I think 1992 it would have been a Bush-Tsongas race in the absence of Bill Clinton. Gephardt had trouble appealing outside of a labor base, and Tsongas was a bit more reliably liberal on social issues than Kerrey while both of them had neoliberal economic streaks. Next, the question becomes who Tsongas’ running mate would be, for his then-in-remission cancer killed him in 1997. One question that comes to mind is whether the extra rush of being president would have helped his immune system and helped keep the cancer in remission. If not, a feeble President Tsongas might have had to hand the reigns over to his VP in 1996. Davie D suggests Al Gore as a running mate, rerunning history. However, a pair of stiff technosavvy Senators might not have been the perfect combo. Tsongas would likely have looked to the south to offset the Massachusetts liberal label. Ann Richards might have been an interesting pick, a southern woman with some spunk to offset his dry persona and a more-traditional liberal streak to keep the natives from getting restless. However, Dukakis did the Austin-Boston thing four years before, making Richards a no-go. Sam Nunn would have been a good VP, but that ticket would have an overload of gravitas. A young Zell Miller might have been a sleeper pick, looking more like a liberal populist rather than a centrist populist a decade ago. However, having run four years before, Gore would have been a solid pick for Tsongas. How would the general election have gone? Ross Perot would have been the wild card, but would have been trumped by Tsongas on balancing the budget, taking away one of the two big guns in Perot’s holster. The Little General wouldn’t have gotten the chance to say “If your wife can’t trust you, why should I” about Tsongas. The goo-goo centrists that Perot got would have been more likely to gravitate towards Tsongas. That could actually been good for Bush, for once it became clear Perot couldn’t win and he was getting most of his traction from the paleoconservative vote, Perot would have dissolved down to a 4-5% candidate. The real 92 election was 43 Clinton-38 Bush-19 Perot. I’d posit that the Clintonless universe would have gone 49 Tsongas, 46 Bush and 5 Perot. The tax increase in 1993 would have been smaller and some incremental health insurance reform introduced, more along the lines of individual tax credits for insurance. The Republicans win back the Senate in ’94 but fail to take back the House. That shifts the politics from a center-left coalition needed to get things passed in 1993 and 1994 to a center-right coalition of Republicans and DLCers. Part 2 coming up-the 1996 primary season.

The Radical Middle-Ben has an interesting piece proclaiming Howard Dean has the candidate that can appeal to both the left and centrist wing of the party. The Manchester Union-Leader piece that he links to points out his budget-hawk streak and his pro-second-amendment stances that counter his secular liberal persona. There are two questions voters often ask themselves: (1)How much does the candidate agree with me? and (2) How good of a chance does he have of winning. At this point, I see five candidates with a chance of getting the nomination; Kerry, Dean, Lieberman and Gephardt and Edwards. In a crowded field, 25% might win quite a number of primaries and each of the five has a chance of doing so. One of the things I look at in a primary candidate is the bumper-sticker test; who's going to have the candidate's bumper sticker on the back of their car? If that candidate doesn't have a constituency that will work for him, it's unlikely that they will succeed in the primary. Kerry is the classic generic liberal straight out of Central Casting with a fundraising edge of having his wife's bankroll to back him up; he is the New Left's establishment candidate. People within the interlocking liberal activist universe will gravitate towards Kerry. It's enough to get him to 20% but he'll need to get to 30% to win. Dean will get a lot of the Green Democratic vote of young (or young-at-heart hippie) activists, if they can forgive him his pro-gun stands. He can get into the mid teens on that demographic, but further moves will require grabbing some of the moderate vote away from Gephardt and Lieberman. Lieberman is running on a DLC centrist platform, pitching himself to moderates, soccer moms and Jews (not a trivial block in some key states like New York and Florida). His base is around 20% as well, but 30% is achievable if the rest of the candidates try to out-liberal each other. He'll also have the aura of being robbed of the Naval Observatory digs by Dick Cheney, thus being an outlet for angry Democrats who'd otherwise want a more liberal candidate. Gephardt is running as an Old Liberal. He has enough class warfare credentials to be palatable to liberals, but is enough of a tax and environmental free-thinker to be a harder sell. He'll have a shot at developing a Labor-DLC coalition if Lieberman falters; He'll have a 15% natural base that can double if things go well. I don't see Edwards having a natural base other than with trial lawyers and southerners or people who like spunky youngsters. Edwards may playing on the fact that it's been four decades since a Northern Democrat has won the White House. However, if his foes point out that he's being beat by Bush in North Carolina, that Southern strategy looks fairly hollow. He might be getting his trial lawyer buddies to max out for him, but he's likely to be the Phil Gramm of 2004, with a lot of ready money but not a lot of support. He's got about an 10% natural base that needs a lot of planets to be properly aligned to get to 30%. If Kerry implodes, Edwards might become the default value for some generic liberals, but don't count on it. Of the five, who has the best chance of grabbing away swing voters that voted for Bush in 2004? Of 2000's tossup, Bush has picked up about five to six percent of voters who respect his leadership and foreign policy touch; quite a few Gore voters are glad that Bush got elected as they found out that Dubya wasn't the doofus of the late-night-talk shows of 2000. That makes the race about 56-44 sans third parties. In order to win, the Democrats have to get about 6% of Bush voters back. Kerry doesn't do that. He might get one or two percent on economics, of people who felt that Bush was the better choice, only to see a stagnant economy lead them over to a bigger-government view. He's not going to get the Commander in Chief vote back, even with his Vietnam service record. Gephardt doesn't do that. He might get three or four percent by playing the blue-collar card, with a combination of protectionism and little-guy rhetoric, but would leave himself open to some devastating tax-and-spend rhetoric from the Republicans. If the economy stinks next winter, he'd be the place to go, but with lower oil prices, we're more likely to be in a recovery by then. Lieberman doesn't do that. He may pick up an extra three or four percent of the Old School Democrat vote, people who are leery of the libertine wing of the Democratic party but don't like the theocons much better. However, he'd be more likely to get a big Green vote; casting a protest vote than back a moderate Democrat. If he can keep the Green vote down, he'd have a shot, but so would have Gore. Edwards doesn't do that. His populist shtick will be a wash, for the anti-corporate rhetoric will be countered by anti-trial-lawyer rhetoric and cancel each other out. Now, how about Howard Dean? The two groups of Red State voters that are in play here are Old School Democrats and Nugent Democrats. Old School Democrats are blue-collar moral conservatives who lean to the left on economics and lean to the right on moral issues. Nugent Democrats (after hunting rocker Ted Nugent) are blue-collar civil libertarians who lean to the left on economics and sexual issues but are anti-regulation and pro-gun; this is big hunk of the Perot and Ventura demographic. Dean is well-positioned to pick off the Nugent Democrats, but Dean's militant secularism could scare off mainline churchgoers who aren't big Second Amendment people. This could bring some Bush states from 2000 into the Dean camp, but lose some Gore states. Let's look at the swing states from 2000; here's the FEC's state-by-state tally. Dean might pick up some votes in West Virginia, Nevada and New Hampshire, marginal red states where there are more Nugent Democrats than Old School Democrats, but might lose some in Iowa and Wisconsin, marginal Blue States that have more Old School Democrats than Nugent Democrats. The Iowa and Wisconsin calls are tough, for hunting is a big factor in both states as it is in my native Michigan, but the number of Lutheran and Catholic Democrats who might not be on Pat Robertson's mailing list but aren't going to be the least bit thrilled with gay marriage would seem to be larger than the secular blue-collar hunting demographic. If Dean presents a good government message, he might even hold the fort there. In a bad economy, Dean would seem to be the best choice to bring home a victory for the Democrats. As odd as it sounds, Dean seems to have the best chance of prying loose some red states to get into the White House. Ben closed his piece with "Man, it's only 2003, and this election is already getting all weird." It's the biggest free-for-all that I can remember. We may even have the political junkie's erotic fantasy, a brokered convention.

Jesse versus the Big He-Part 1-A world without Bill-the early years (1992-1994)Interesting essay from Matthew at A Fearful Symmetry agruing that Jesse Jackson has done more harm to the country than Bill Clinton. I'm not sure if I disagree with him or not. I'm thinking of what race relation would be like had not the Rev-run hit the national stage, if he merely became a respected pastor in Chicago, known well in black Baptist circles but not a playa nationally. Compare that to a alternate universe where Bill Clinton never ran for president and has the national impact of, say, Jim Blanchard (Who he?-Michigan Governor 83-91). In that universe, Bill is a law professor at Georgetown and Hillary is a liberal activist that only political geeks would have heard of. What would our world be like if Bill Clinton weren't in the 1992 primaries? We'd have never heard of Monica and not gone through an impeachment process. Who would have replaced him on the Democratic ticket? Either Paul Tsongas, Bob Kerrey or Dick Gephardt. I'd think Tsongas would have prevailed in the primary, but you could make a case for Kerrey. What would American politics have been like if we had a Tsongas-Bush 41 race? Would Perot have been as big a factor if a thoughtful economic neoliberal were in the race? Either way, if we had a President Tsongas or President Kerrey or a second Bush 41 term, we'd of had a lighter-taxing, more business friendly government in 1993. The big tax increase that Clinton pushed through would have been smaller to non-existant. The health-care plan that Clinton pushed through would either be non-existant under Bush or less klutzy and more business-freindly under Tsongas or Kerrey. Without the Clinton administration to run against, we might not have had the same revolt against the Democrats in 1994. No Contract with America. The Democrats might of hung onto the House and Senate in 1994 elections with only the House post office scandle to run against. I think a secular trend would have lead the Republicans to pick up seats, but not as many as in our 1994. If so, you'd have a Republican-Blue Dog coalition running the House and we'd be hearing less of Minority Leader Newt Gingrich. In our next installment, we'll look at the politics of 1995-2000.

Edifier du Jour-1 Samuel 17:40-50(NASB)
40: He took his stick in his hand and chose for himself five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in the shepherd's bag which he had, even in his pouch, and his sling was in his hand; and he approached the Philistine. 41: Then the Philistine came on and approached David, with the shield-bearer in front of him. 42: When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him; for he was but a youth, and ruddy, with a handsome appearance. 43: The Philistine said to David, "Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?" And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44: The Philistine also said to David, "Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the beasts of the field." 45: Then David said to the Philistine, "You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted. 46: "This day the LORD will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. And I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47: and that all this assembly may know that the LORD does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the LORD'S and He will give you into our hands." 48: Then it happened when the Philistine rose and came and drew near to meet David, that David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49: And David put his hand into his bag and took from it a stone and slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead. And the stone sank into his forehead, so that he fell on his face to the ground. 50: Thus David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and he struck the Philistine and killed him; but there was no sword in David's hand.
People sometimes forget the true message of this story, trying to change it to something like "It ain't the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog." No, this was a miracle. David got in a "lucky" shot to Goliath's brain, except "that when it matters, it ain't luck." God doesn't always do his miracles in overtly supernatural ways; a naturalist who took this story at face value could say that David just got a lucky shot in and that the Jews read supernatural overtones into it. Just because it's subtle doesn't mean it wasn't a miracle. However, you can also read this to praise David's skill as a slinger. If we don't get in trouble with God for chalking things up as dumb luck, we can get in trouble by putting too much confidence in our skills. David passed the glory onto God in advance. When we start giving ourselves compliments, remember to pass the praise on to God, for taking too much pride in our skills. I remember the line about the pastor who responded to a parishioner who told him what a good sermon he just gave; "The Devil was telling me that as I came down from the pulpit." When you're tempted to chalk it up to luck or skill, don't forget to give God his props.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

The Case for the Tax Cut-Part 1-Buffett, the Democratic Parrothead-Josh points out that Warren Buffet has come out against the tax cut bill heading through Congress. There are two reasons to ignore Buffet’s rejection of the dividend tax proposal. The first is that Buffet has been a consistent critic of tax cuts in the recent past and the second is that it is bad for his business. A little bit of financial history is an order. Buffet’s big claim to fame is his corporation, Berkshire Hathaway. One of the quirks of BH is that it never pays dividends. The second is that it never splits its stock. Thus, BH stock closed at $73,400 a share today. No, I didn't put a comma in there by mistake, that is seventy-three thousand and four hundered United States dollars a share. Not exactly appealing to the small investor. His paean to the small investor, the class B shares, which are 1/30th of a class A share, trade at $2446. Back when I was taking my first finance class in the fall of 1987, the stock was trading for $3800 and it was the stock with the highest price on the NYSE at the time. Since then, the stock has gone up nineteen-fold without a stock split. One thing the tax bill will do to Berkshire Hathaway is to both make its no-dividends policy passé. For a firm to plow profits back into a company that is in a high-dividend paying industry such as insurance will cause it to lose its value if dividends become tax free. It will also make the mature, dividend-paying companies that it likes to buy more expensive. Thus, Buffett is not only opposed to higher taxes on philsophical grounds, it's bad for his business, which explains some of the venom in his piece.

Afternoon Musings-Don't say that Presbyterians don't occasionally get something right-the Church of Scotland turned down 4-1 a proposal to merge with the Anglicans, Methodists and Reformed churches. How you square the theological circle on that one is beyond me, and beyond them, too. US and allied diplomats are leaving their targets embassies in the Saudi entity. This time, the Germans are bugging out with us, probably thinking that being against the Iraq war isn't enough to get a free pass, since the autoboomers went after Belgium's embassy in Casablanca. Being Western is enough reason for this bunch. Prince Bandar's gut is saying that "something big is going to happen here or in America," and I don't think he's had too many refried beans. It's not just the US that's back at Code Orange but the Big East as well, after terrorist from al Aycici struck targets in Miami, Syracuse and Boston. This from Big East commish Mike Tranghese-"At the end of the day, President Shalala is going to have to look at the issues we've talked about, have to look at financial obligations, have to look at integrity issues..." Financial obligations? Integrity? A Clintonite's going to start paying attention to those now, Mike?

Sex and the Middle Schooler-Joshua Claybourn questions the NYT's statistic that 20% of kids are sexually active before they're 15. If what I heard from Eileen is any indication, I wouldn't be surprised if this is one the Grey Lady got right. There were more than one young mother amongst the 8th graders she taught last fall, and Lake Alfred was more a rural area than a big city, albeit with a multi-ethnic makeup. I had an Instalanche-inducing (alas, over Memorial Day weekend, so not the full effect) post on the economics of teen parents last year, but I can add a few things to that post. The further apart that physical maturation and economic maturation are, the more of a problem we have with premarital sex. When you add a culture that encourages sexual activity (or at least fails to discourage it), it's hard to keep those hormones in check. For a junior-high kid with raging hormones, "Let's wait a while" translates into "Let's wait a decade," which is hard to accept absent a strong, faith based abstinence message and a good dose of self-worth.

Morning Musings- Worldcom's forking over half-a-billion to settle its creative accounting case with the SEC. However, the people bringing suit want more; given a market cap of $35.5 billion today, a larger award might be warranted. Welcome to the Democratic Debate of the Month Club. If you don't like your monthly selection, you can send it back to C-SPAN within 30 days for a full refund. Anyone want to buy stud rights for Funny Cide? I'm selling my share, since they're not going to go up any further, even if he wins the Belmont. In all seriousness, this will be an unique opportunity to actually watch a sucessfull three-year-old run as an adult, for most of the sucessful horses are put out to stud after winning a couple of Triple Crown races, for they're more valuable having kids than risking being "put away" after a racing injury. As a gelding, stud duty's not an option for Funny Cide. The Supreme Court has upheld the right of a teenager to wear a shirt saying- "If our elementary school has a student parking lot, we might be rednecks." However, the more interesting case was for denying voting rights for families who send their kids to neighboring school districts. Many small school districts will farm their high schoolers (or lower levels) out to neighboring ones, but that puts the receiving district in the position of being a contractor. If the two districts formally merged, then voting rights would be an issue, but as long as it is one district contracting with another, voting rights aren't in the loop.

Edifier du Jour-Matthew 13:18-23(NASB)
18 "Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 "When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. 20 "The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 "And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 23 "And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty."
Eileen used this passage for an impromptu devotional yesterday at ECHO. However, my mind was thinking of another, slightly heterodox, analogy from this passage; do we need to change what we're planting or how we're planting in the rocky or weedy soil? Looking at yesterday's trip, we saw plants that did well in dry climates and others that thrived in a minimum of soil and others that were great for rooftop gardens. Not that we can change the Gospel itself in order for it to thrive, but we can change the manner in which it is presented. For instance, post-modern mindsets have been addressed around the Christian blogosphere as of late, people who place a premium on relationship, relevance and experience. For them, churches that are more cell-based, where one-on-one relationships are stressed, would work better. In addition, a pomo-friendly church would tend to have more application-based sermons with more stories and less scripture and lean more towards the charismatic emphasis of a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit. That doesn't change the basic message that God's perfect, we're not and that Jesus died to bridge that gap, but it changes how it is perceived. Another analogy that struck me was the irrigation system used in arid areas, where a slow drip of water was piped to the roots of the plant, minimizing evaporation of water. In spiritually-arid countries, friendship evangelism works well, applying an slow but steady drip of the Gospel rather than the water-bucket of a crusade that evaporates quickly. This also addresses the need to garden the crop, for new church plants will need a lot of watering and pruning. A third area that impressed me was appropriate technology, being able to use common throw-away items like tires or pop cans (our tour guide was from Minnesota originally, so he said it right) for containers rather than more expensive equipment. That would translate to using parts of local culture where it isn't in conflict with the Gospel. Music in the local popular form is helpful, as are examples from local culture in preaching/talking about the Gospel. Jesus used a lot of agricultural metaphors in his teaching, for most people of that day were farmers. Today, that isn't true, since only 2 or 3% of Americans are farmers. However, we can learn a lot from those metaphors in how to present the Gospel.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Musings From the HEART-We were out of computer contact today; Eileen and I went on a field trip down to ECHO, a Christian agricultural research organization, down in Fort Myers. Since south Florida has a semi-tropical climate, it's a good area to field-test crops that could be useful in various developing countries with warn climates. One crop that was interesting was the moringa tree, which grows like Topsy and has very nutritious leaves. We went down with a contingent from HEART institute that's on Warner Southern's campus. It's a Peace Corps boot camp for missionaries, where they learn sustainable-tech agriculture and public health as well as cross-cultural communications. One of their staffers, Mac Renfro, goes to the Lakeland Vineyard; he's their appropriate tech guy who has low-tech ways to solve many high-tech problems, like a Third World McGuyver. A couple of gizmos that caught my eye. One was a outhouse vent that worked as a fly motel-they checked in, but they didn't check out. Another was a pump that used no electricity yet moved water up 20 times the drop-off of where it was flowing from. Mac and his wife Darryl are moving to Colorado next month to look after Mac's mom. We got a chance to hang out with them for one more time and meet lot of neat missionaries, including a Filipina nurse who's a missionary in Nepal. That's been one of the fringe benefits of having them at our church and our home group; they've been bringing a lot of interesting missionaries and missions-minded youngsters and oldsters that pass through HEART. Both they and all the people they send our way will be missed.

God, Man and the GOP-Josh linked to this NYT piece of President Bush and religious conservatives; the last two paragraphs aren't quite on task
At the same time, noted Mr. Green, who has studied the Christian right, many local activists have gravitated into the Republican Party as county chairmen and campaign consultants. Once an independent force hammering at the president and Congress, they are now an institutional part of the party base. They must be kept mollified — but in balance with other parts of the coalition, like business, and within the bounds of what a majority of voters will accept. Karl Rove, the White House political genius, has a master plan for enlarging that ecumenical array of believers — churchgoing Catholics, Mormons and Jews as well as the evangelicals — and welding them permanently into the Republican mainstream. The interesting story, then, is not that Mr. Bush is a captive of the religious right, but that his people are striving to make the religious right a captive of the Republican Party.
The last paragraph gets two things wrong. First, Dubya's not a "captive of the religious right," he's by-and-large a member. He might be a little bit squishy on a few issues of concern, but he is not a captive. That would indicate that he is being held against his will by the theocons, which doesn't seem to be the case. Bush is a conservative/evangelical Methodist and fits in with other religious conservatives; no Stockholm Syndrome here. The second false premise is that the theocons are a captive of the GOP. It is a marriage of convenience, not a slave-master relationship. If anything, we're very close to the GOP being the captive and theocons being the master. With the Democratic party becoming the party of libertine values on sex, drugs and the lack of sanctity of life, the GOP has become the alternative for religious conservatives. If the Republican party decides to echo the Democratic standpoint, an alternative third party of theocons will spring up, leaving the Republicans a northeastern rump of its former self. Religious conservatives aren't Republicans because of some conniving Karl Rove scheme, but because the Democrats have become the party of abortion-rights, of gay-rights, of amoral sex-ed and of euthanasia. Before those issues were put on the table in the 70s, evangelicals and devout Catholics were a jump ball. Not anymore.

Morning Musings-How many people are suprised that the new round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks was aborted? How many people are surprised that Hamas supplied the morning-after pill? Both of you, report to the Clue Police station for questioning. There are two sad things about this Santorum graduation speech at St. Joseph's. The first is that an eight of a Catholic school's grads walked out. The second is that Catholic colleges, especially the Jesuit ones, have grown so liberal that it's not a bit surprising that an eight of the students walked out. Some good news from Tallahassee-they're finally hammering out a state budget, getting to a House-Senate conference committee. Eileen's teaching job hunting's on hold until the districts know what rules they'll be under for next year, so the sooner they hash things out, the better. The Pistons lost game one; the near-miracle was that they were tied in the last seconds after not being able to hit the barn side of a broad for most of the 4th quarter.

Edifier du Jour-1 Samuel 13:8-14(NASB)
8: Now he waited seven days, according to the appointed time set by Samuel, but Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattering from him. 9: So Saul said, "Bring to me the burnt offering and the peace offerings." And he offered the burnt offering. 10: As soon as he finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him and to greet him. 11: But Samuel said, "What have you done?" And Saul said, "Because I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the appointed days, and that the Philistines were assembling at Michmash, 12: therefore I said, 'Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not asked the favor of the LORD.' So I forced myself and offered the burnt offering." 13: Samuel said to Saul, "You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you, for now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14: "But now your kingdom shall not endure. The LORD has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you."
Saul's a lot like some of us, very impatient. Instead of waiting for Samuel, the judge and priest, he went and gave the sacrifice himself. Not only did he lack patience, but he acted outside of his annointing. Being a high priest wasn't in the job description of king. While very few of the audience here are kings, most of us are guilty of front-running on God, being tired of waiting for God's timing and making things happen ourselves. Being a self-starter's OK if you haven't been told to wait. If you're supposed to wait, keep waiting. God will have something good at the end of the line.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

Edifier du Jour-Proverbs 26:9(NASB)
9: Like a thorn which falls into the hand of a drunkard, So is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
Anyone who has an IQ near room temperature or above and functioning vocal cords can quote scripture, but not everyone can understand scripture. Remember at the end of Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness, Satan quoted scripture at him, which Jesus batted back at him like a hanging curve. Today, you'll see vapid peaceniks who haven't darkened the door of a church in a decade quoting "Blessed are the peacemakers." You'll get libertines citing "Judge not, lest ye be judged" in order to get out of criticism. You'll get libertarians citing "The poor will always be with you" in order to gain support for gutting welfare. Even fairly devout Christians can fall prey to "proof-texting," where the context of a verse can be removed in order to better support one's case. Just because someone is quoting Scripture at you doesn't mean that they're right. To apply the Bible properly, you have to figure out what the verse means in context, what the author was trying to say at the time (exegesis) and how that applies to today (hermeneutics). Many people will try for isogesis, where the take their view and shoe-horn it into the Bible text. That only works if your view is their in the first place.

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