Saturday, May 31, 2003
Edifier du Jour-Proverbs 31:30(NASB)
Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.I've gotten to see Eileen's seminary this week. There are good, godly people here, people earnestly seeking after the one true God, but there are others that have been sucked into the liberal theology that has come to pervade the PC-USA. It's a sad sign when you have to have an evangelical fellowship group at a seminary and the resource center she used to work for is plugging for environmentalism and living wage rather than revival. Getting through the swamps of universalism and the bogs of moral relativism and the wastelands of leftist politics, Eileen came out of her seminary with her faith intact. A year later, she would up moving over to a Vineyard church when the children's ministry director job she got at the big Presbyterian church in Midland didn't work out. Instead of getting bitter and angry at God, she found a place where her love of the Lord could be truly nutured, introducing her to the Holy Spirit that is but a bit player in most churches. Through it all, I wound up getting a godly, intelegent and loving young lady that God has given me as my wife. It's been an awkward week, as she gets to reacquaint herself with people-"and this is my husband, Mark." However, I'm learning more about how she got to where she is today in the process.
Friday, May 30, 2003
My FCAT Rant-Florida has implemented math and literacy standards for high school graduates; they now have to get a passing score of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in order to graduate. Students get six tries at the test during their high-school days. Of course, minority students are underperforming and the usual suspects on the black left are going postal over standardized testing; here's Fox's piece on the topic. I remember hearing an similar NPR piece on the way into work last week where a well-meaning black lady bemoaned the fact that a lot of kids who had good grades and had done their community service requirements won't graduate because they can't pass the FCAT. The problem with the lady's critique is that passing grades aren't a guarantee that people can read and write. There is a lot of grade inflation, where kids who do no work get D's anyway for teachers aren't allowed to give too many failing grades; teachers who give "too many" students Fs have frequent trips to the principals office justifying their grading. Such grade inflation leads to social promotion, passing kids along who haven't learned anything that year. Community service isn't graded; showing up and following directions is all that is required. There's next to nothing in community service projects that will show that a student can do the three Rs. We need to have some way to independently check how a student is doing away from the PC grade-inflation environment of many schools. Yes, standardized tests aren't perfect; schools tend to "teach to the test" and some ethnic groups doesn’t do as well, holding knowledge-level constant, on standardized tests. However, test like the FCAT give an objective view of how a student is doing on the material tested upon. You can question what's on the test and the format of the test, but it is the objective nature of the test that is the crucial factor; the principal can't tell the FCAT to give Johnny an extra 10 points because the class' score is too low. Parents in poorer-performing minority neighborhoods are the ones who need to hear an objective opinion on how their kids are doing. Instead of shooting the messenger of declaring state leaders to be demonic Hitlers, they might want to ask the harder questions of why Johnny's not doing well on this standardized test. They might want to spend more time checking their kid's homework and checking their friends to see if they are encouraging scholarship rather than gansta rappers. The FCAT and other standardized test around the country aren't perfect, but they are a needed corrective for a system that is afraid to challenge children and their parents to have them perform better. If teachers are "teaching to the test" then they are at least doing something constructive, assuming that the skills the test looks at are useful ones. Expect the FCATs of the world to continue and expect the usual suspects on the black left to continue to she-dog over them.
Morning Musings-Could the G-8 go the way of the dodo as well as the UN and NATO? We'll see as Dubya makes a cameo appearance in Evian on his way to Jordan. This may well be a block that has outlived its usefullness. They don't agree on geopolitics. They don't agree on economics. You'll see a lot of "frank discussions" come out of future G-8s, but until the EU cures its recto-cranial inversion, the G-8 seems to be as useful as a screen door on a sub. Peter Sean Bradley points to this slam on the Libertarian Party platform. The party has had what could be charitably called a minimalist defence policy for decades; 9-11 shows such a defend-the-shores-and-let-the-world-fend-for-itself policy seriously short-sighted, driving small-l liberatians to the GOP. It's the paleolibertarians that tend to run the party and a Lew Rockwell party isn't going to sell overly well. Let's pray that the Greens don't implode quite as badly; they're thinking of backing the Democratif he is sufficiently leftist. However, since Dick Gephardt is insufficiently leftist in their eyes, it will be a good sign if they do back them, for such a nominee will be ready for a McGovernesque 'whuppin
Jews and the GOP-Davie D (oh, thanks for the love-i-ly weather here in Richmond) points out this Newsweek piece on Jewish-Evangelical political cooperation. Don't get your hopes up too high, folks. One problem with bringing Jews into the Republican tent is that Jews are more theologically liberal as a group when compaired to Christians, for the two largest branches of American Judiasm, Conservative and Reformed, are comperable to Methodists and Unitarians respectively. While the Christian vote is about 45% moral conservative when you take evangelicals, conservative Catholics and mainliners together, the Jewish figure is closer to 25%. Even a lot of liberal Jews aren't fans of aggressive Zionism. More secular Jews could be won over with a economic-libertarian platform, but it will take a Jewish Great Awakening before Jews become majority Republican voters. That doesn't mean that the gains the Republicans are making aren't real; taking an extra 10% of a Democratic-leaning bloc is important. However, what we're seeing is the Jewish community starting to get past some stereotypes about conservatives and finding common ground. You can make moral common ground with the Orthodox and play to the old-school side of a Conservative Jew, but Reformed will be a real hard nut to crack.
Edifier du Jour-John 18:3-11(NASB)
3 Judas then, having received the Roman cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, "Whom do you seek?" 5 They answered Him, "Jesus the Nazarene." He said to them, "I am He." And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them. 6 So when He said to them, "I am He," they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 Therefore He again asked them, "Whom do you seek?" And they said, "Jesus the Nazarene." 8 Jesus answered, "I told you that I am He; so if you seek Me, let these go their way," 9 to fulfill the word which He spoke, "Of those whom You have given Me I lost not one." 10 Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear; and the slave's name was Malchus. 11 So Jesus said to Peter, "Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?"Two things struck me as I read this passage last night. The first was that everyone reflexively got on their knees when Jesus spoke. For the Jews, you could chalk this up hearing "I am" and noting the presence of God, since I Am is how God referred to Himself to Moses. However, the Romans wouldn't have had that level of knowledge; given that they weren't part of that religion and were on a mission, the desire to mimic the Jews wasn't likely to be the driving force. I think that it was the presence of God that came with that "I am he" statement that floored the Romans. The other thing to remember from this passage is that Jesus could have avoided capture if He wanted to. He could have put a quadruple-whammy on the gaurds or teleported himself and his posse to the temple. He didn't. This was his time to become the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.
Thursday, May 29, 2003
Edifier du Jour-1 Thessalonians 4:9-12(NASB)
9 Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; 10 for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, 12 so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.While we are supposed to take care of the needy, we're not supposed to become needy if we can help it. While we don't have to go Mennonite in our modesty, we're not to be flashy; we're to do our jobs quietly. Why quietly? Because if we do our jobs with flash, it can develop an overly-large ego. Paul's not talking about not doing our jobs well, but to do so without forcing attention to be paid to us. A good worker will get the praises of his boss, while a good business will get the praises of its customers. I'm not sure about the "working with your hands" part, for about the only work my hands do is on a keyboard or a whiteboard. The one thing that hit me this morning when trying to apply that to today is the word your; if you've gotten so rich that only the hired hands work, you may be too rich for your own good. That implies that we need to keep working even if we can afford not to; that puts our talents to good use and keeps us from getting too snooty.
Wednesday, May 28, 2003
Zero-Inflation Dollar- In my Euro post yesterday, Larry Thompson requested commentary on Jack Kemp's latest Town Hall commentary. Kemp accurarly pegs the problems with the Euro in less-polite language that I used
Unfortunately, the threat facing the European economy stems not from deflation but from recession driven by bad governmental policies. Tax rates are far too high, inflexible labor laws are counterproductive and the welfare state is stifling. Europe's economy did not grow in the first quarter of this year, and there is little evidence of revived growth.Kemp then changes gears, getting out his gold-bug stick and bashes the up-and-down trip the dollar has made in recent years. His final paragraphs are a good starting point for discussion.
I believe Treasury Secretary John Snow understands very well the necessity of replacing the so-called "strong-dollar policy" with a "stable-dollar policy." After all, we don't want a rising dollar or a falling dollar; we want a stable dollar. As Snow observed, we want the currency to be a good store of value and a currency people are willing to hold over time. In order to ensure a stable dollar of constant value, it has long been my view that the Fed should announce that it intends to maintain a fixed dollar price of gold, or if gold is politically incorrect, then announce that it will maintain a fixed dollar price of an index of price-sensitive commodities. Then the Fed can conduct monetary policy in such magnitude as necessary, to hit that price rule instead of always fighting the last monetary war.I'm not sold on the idea of pegging monetary policy to commodity prices. Gold isn't the one and only commodity to be pegging to, for it tends to fluxuate too much with financial survivalist types buying gold to escape the coming economic colapse that is sure to come next year. If you're going to peg the dollar to hard assets, using a broader basket of commodities makes sence, even if it isn' as pure as the gold standard. However, much of our economy revolves around services and intelectual property that doesn't translate well into a commodity-based system. How would the price of oil or tin affect the cost of creating the next software program? Not much. Overall inflation should be the primary concern, with commodity prices a key but not determining factor. Kemp's plan might have worked better in the 70s, when our economy was more industrial, but inflation in a post-industrial economy might not be well measured by a basket of commodities.
Living in the Past-Eileen and I got up to Charlottesville and Monticello yesterday. The tour of the house proper was interesting but unnerving; a spirit of loneliness seemed to be on the place, possibly stemming from Jefferson's long widdowerhood. The tour of the slave section of the place had about the right mix of cold facts and moral indignation with a minimum of PCness. For all the theory of the equality of man, Jefferson never did give up being a slave-holder. He was an idealist on paper; those ideas helped form the greatest country in the world (sorry, my international friends, but I've got to say that). However, he was human and couldn't easily escape the slave-based economy that big farms of the era were built around. Everyone's human; we just expect out leaders to be less so; we don't want to know that they had an eye for the ladies or were ruthless businessmen However, I'm not sure how much worse being a slave circa 1800 was versus being a hired hand of the same era; slaves had no freedom of mobility and a poor standard of living, but the average working stiff of that era wasn't a heck of a lot better off or better traveled. An interesting thing that came up were the incentive schemes that encouraged hard work that would fit right in to today’s management; the slaves were paid bonuses if they worked hard, either in cash or in time off to do cash-making endeavors. One of the realistically sad parts was mentioning the resale value of slave, especially the zero value of a post-menopausal slave woman. She couldn't have and more kids and her current work capability would be offset by having to take care of her in old age; such a person was a negative Net Present Value project and had no resale value. That's a sobering thought when we consider that many modern people will look at the elderly in the same light, justifying euthanasia on some of the cold financial calculations that would give a grandma a negative NPV. I can't quite put a finger on this feeling, but I think that history is weighting down this area. There seems to be a heavy feeling in the air, and it isn't the constant rain we've been having. People seem to be a bit edgier here, a bit more worried. I haven't been in the older east coast states since I was a kid, and I feel that part of the stagnation that the older part of the country has is that they are too focused on the past, while areas with less historic roots, such as the Great Lakes and Florida that I'm more familiar with, have more of a future-centered vision. It's not that we're talking about the residue of racism or confederate flags or the preservation of momuments; it's the historic nature of the area that might be holding things back. The more the past is a focal point of people's lives, the less time is spent on innovation and economic creativity. In towns like Richmond or Charlottesville, history is a growth industry as opposed to telecom, computers or pharmaceuticals; that doesn't help grow the economy in the long run, for it only diverts tourism money from non-historic vacationing. A good knowledge of history is important; I'm a son of two history majors and have a solid background in the area. Such knowledge is important, for knowing where we've been helps us where we should go next. However, an obsession with history can leave us with our eyes glued to the rearview mirror, reliving slights and defeats and victories that may have little to do with what is happening next. If we spend too much time focused on what happened in the 1950s or 1860s or 1770s, we might not have enough energy to focus on what the 2010s should look like. There's one smart young man at church who's both a history buff and a computer geek and wants to be a history professor down the line. He loves history, but I wonder if that's the most productive use of his talents. We need good historians to give perspective to the past and to debunk revisionist history, but we need smart people in other areas as well.
Spending and State Republicans-This USA Today piece on state spending growing faster in Republican-controlled legislatures;Josh and Kevin have comments.
State legislatures controlled by Republicans increased spending an average of 6.54% per year from 1997 to 2002, compared with 6.17% for legislatures run by Democrats. State spending rose slowest -- 6% annually -- when legislatures were split, and each party controlled one chamber. Inflation averaged 2.55% annually 1997-2002.I would have to do further study, but I think there is a reason other than Republican spendthriftness-welfare reform. There were a lot of federal programs that were block-granted over to the states stemming from reforms in the Clinton-Gingrich era. The CHPS program expanding Medicaid to modest-incomed children was started in 1997 and basic welfare was block-granted to the states in 1996. This meant an influx of federal money just as the study started. A second factor was the tobacco health-care settlement money states got. Few legistatures had the guts to save that money and cut taxes; instead, the money was used to fund a variety of projects. In smaller-spending states, the money would wind up making spending go up by a higher percentage than in bigger-spending states. If Republican states were doing a good job of controlling spending prior to these events, the increase in spending would mean that states with low spending levels would mean larger percentage increases in the GOP states. Let's say Blue State is spending $1000 a person and Red State is spending $800. Add a $100/person federal welfare block grant. Blue State just went up 10%(100/1000) while Red State went up 12.5% (100/800). Due to the lower spending levels, Red State legislators look like spendthrifts when things are stated on a percentage basis, even when they have been holding the line on spending. I have a hunch that those two factors will make up the lion share of the difference between Democratic and Republican legislatures.
Edifier du Jour-Romans 13:5-8(NASB)
5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. 8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.That is a hard verse to swallow for moderns. We've been inculcated with a anarachic streak that isn't helpful, the one that wants to run a red light when there's no traffic for blocks. God's put the rulers in place, and unless some law runs clearly counter to the Gospel, we're supposed to obey it. That's not fun, but it's proper. Our focus needs to be not on civil disobedience, but on love. There's room to show God's love within the confines of the law.
Tuesday, May 27, 2003
Euro Musings-The Euro hit record highs against the US dollar today; the record was set on its launch date and went downhill thereafter. My question is why? There are a few factors that come to mind. The rebuilding of Iraq will require an outflow of US dolars, increasing the supply of dollars. A decrease in the price of dollar-denominated oil will have decreased the demand for dollars. Short-term interest rates are higher in the Eurozone, for the Fed Fund rate is at 1.25% and its European equivilent is at 2.5%. That will mean short-term investment money will flow towards Europe. This would be a good time to short the Euro, if you were one to play the currency markets. The European economy will be hurting from the strong Euro, for exports will start to decline. A stagnant economy on the continant makes an Euro interest rate cut likely. As Eurozone interest rates drop, short-term money will flow back to the dollar and the underlying economic problems of the Eurozone will make it hard for the Euro to stay at this rarified level. The core of exchange rates is American demand for European stuff (goods, services and investments) that determines demand for the Euro vis-a-vis the dollar and European demand for American stuff that determines the supply. With a stagnant economy, there will be fewer and fewer goods to buy and a high exchange rate will increase their cost to American consumers. As a high-tax, high-regulation EU gets in the way of growth, investments in Eurozone companies would be hard to justify. That will lower the demand of the Euro; it will also increase the supply, as Eurozone investors look to a freer US economy as a better place to invest. The Eurocrats can have their bragging rights for the moment, but reality will sink in shortly. The long-term dynamics of the Eurozone economy will make the Euro very hard to keep at its current levels.
Edifier du Jour-Joshua 6:12-21(NASB)
12 Now Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the LORD. 13 The seven priests carrying the seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark of the LORD went on continually, and blew the trumpets; and the armed men went before them and the rear guard came after the ark of the LORD, while they continued to blow the trumpets. 14 Thus the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp; they did so for six days. 15 Then on the seventh day they rose early at the dawning of the day and marched around the city in the same manner seven times; only on that day they marched around the city seven times. 16 At the seventh time, when the priests blew the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, "Shout! For the LORD has given you the city. 17 "The city shall be under the ban, it and all that is in it belongs to the LORD; only Rahab the harlot and all who are with her in the house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent. 18 "But as for you, only keep yourselves from the things under the ban, so that you do not covet them and take some of the things under the ban, and make the camp of Israel accursed and bring trouble on it. 19 "But all the silver and gold and articles of bronze and iron are holy to the LORD; they shall go into the treasury of the LORD." 20 So the people shouted, and priests blew the trumpets; and when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted with a great shout and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight ahead, and they took the city. 21 They utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword.If you wondered what note the trumpet played that day at Jericho, it was B-flat1. Sometimes God asks us to do stoopid things. However, God has a plan in how He does things. Here, the people know that it's God who did the job and not the military might of the Hebrews. I can imagine on the fifth or sixth trip of the day that some people wondered why they were going around and around. However, when God tells you to do something, He'll deliver. 1 Groaner supplied by Eileen's freind Ann.
Monday, May 26, 2003
Evening Musings-I'm blogging from Richmond, VA, where Eileen and I are vacationing, seeing Eileen's seminary buddy Ann graduate from her alma mater, Union Theological Seminary-Presbyterian School of Christian Education and to help Ann pack up and move to Spartanburg next week. Union's A Presebyterian Church-USA school, and there's bad news for the good guys out of the General Assembly being held in Denver this week. The new moderator (denomination CEO), Susan Andrews, is in the liberal camp, in favor of openly-homosexual pastors. She beat a more conservative ex-missionary 53%-36%. This does not bode well for the future of the denomination. At best, they'll continue to bleed membership as more conservative members leave for more evangelical-oriented churches and more liberal ones stay at home. A schism within the PC-USA is hard, given the top-down nature of the denomination. Our soon-to-be-minted MDiv gave us a quick polity lesson; the denomination owns the individual churches and their financial asssets, so any congregation that wanted to leave would have to start from scratch; if the local presberty were kind, they might let them buy the building with money raised from the schismatics (doesn't The Schismatics sound like a good punk band?). While I was gone, the Pistons got swept by the Nets. Well, with a #2 pick next year, the '03-04 version will be even better.
Edifier du Jour Philippians 4:11-13(NASB)
11 Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.That last verse is often quoted by people going through a tough stretch. A more secular person might quote Goethe’s “Whatever doesn’t destroy me, makes me stronger,” but here, we know where our strength begins. This isn’t designed as a peaches-and-cream faith, for Paul didn’t get his big house and Lexus after the Road to Damascus. If we were in Paul’s sandals, we’d be saying something like this-“Hey, what’s with this ‘abundant life’ crap? I’ve been in prison more times than I can count, been whipped, beaten up and left for dead, run out of towns by mobs and have to make tents just to make ends meet.” However, if we were truly in Paul’s sandals, we’d have seen Jesus face to face and have a far-closer walk with the Holy Spirit than we do now. That kind of faith can take the tough times and know that God’s got something greater in mind for our modest existence or our times of trouble. It will turn those so-frustrated-you’re-pounding-the-walls days into days of unspeakable joy. This is a verse that the name-it-and-claim-it folks don’t like. The abundant life that God promises is of the Spirit; some of us may have some goodies to go along with it, but those are the fringe benefits of a life in the Kingdom, not the main pay. Be content with what you have; if your reading this, you’ve got access to a computer, and are thus better off than most people. You’re likely a college grad or college student and have the prospect of earning good money in the near future. You’ve likely got above-average intelligence. Also, if you’ve read this far, you’re probably at least seeking God if not born-again already, which is the greatest of the gifts I’ve mentioned. Things should be looking up for you even if you’re unemployed, underemployed or living on student loans and scholarships. Drawing closer to God will allow you to enjoy your modest wealth more and enjoy things that are free a lot more. The Holy Spirit is Life Helper, making your physical wealth go further.
Sunday, May 25, 2003
Vacation-posting will be spotty for the next week as Eileen and I head up to Virginia. The Edifier's taking the day off, for we're running late and need to pack.