Wednesday, October 31, 2007

warming measurement bias at U.S. temperature stations?

An interesting piece by James Taylor in this month's Environment and Climate News...

New research suggests the temperature stations used to calculate statistics on temperatures in the United States are wrong and show more warming than has actually occurred...

Watts is the creator of, a project that gathers data about the temperature measurement stations used by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to compute yearly U.S. temperatures.

To qualify as a properly maintained temperature station, accurate temperature sensors must be placed in an elevated, slatted box on relatively flat ground surrounded by a clear surface on a slope below 19 degrees. Surrounding grass and low vegetation ground cover must be less than 10 centimeters high. Temperature sensors must be located at least 100 meters from artificial heating or reflecting surfaces, such as buildings, concrete surfaces, and parking lots.

The sensors must also be far from large bodies of water, unless it is representative of the area, and even then located at least 100 meters away. No shading of the temperature sensors should occur when the sun elevation is greater than 3 degrees.

Meeting the above specifications is important to ensure no artificial heating or cooling signal is reported in the data. For example, if a parking lot is built adjacent to a temperature sensor, the asphalt and running engines of automobiles will provide an artificial heat source that would skew the temperature data to report a warming that does not in fact exist.

Most Stations Fail Miserably

Concerned because a 1997 study by the U.S. National Research Council concluded the consistency and quality of temperature stations was "inadequate and deteriorating" and the U.S. Historical Climatological Network (USHCN), charged with maintaining the temperature stations, was doing nothing to address temperature station shortcomings, Watts decided to begin analyzing the temperature stations himself.

A quick survey of a few randomly chosen temperature stations revealed the stations frequently fell short of the rules established for proper maintenance. As a meteorologist concerned about the accuracy of climate data, Watts has made it his goal to collect photographs and site information for all 1,221 official weather stations maintained by the USHCN.

Through his own efforts and those of citizen volunteers who photograph weather stations and take meticulous notes on the sites, Watts is one-third of the way toward meeting his goal.

What he has discovered is that far more stations fail to meet prescribed standards than are properly maintained. Using a scale from 1 to 5, by which stations that are properly maintained receive a rating of 1 and stations that are severely compromised by artificial temperature signatures (being located adjacent to an artificial heating source, such as a building, rooftop, parking lot, or concrete surface, for example) receive a 5, Watts reports fully 70 percent of official temperature stations receive a 4 or 5 rating, and only 4 percent receive a 1.

Next to Trash Burners, BBQs

Some of the most egregious shortcomings include heat-emitting air conditioning compressors being located directly adjacent to a sensor; vehicles parked next to sensors head-in; heat-generating electronics, electrical components, and light bulbs being placed in the sensor shelters within inches of the sensor; barbeques and trash-burning barrels placed next to temperature sensors; sensors being located in the middle of large expanses of asphalt and concrete; and sensors in heat traps on roofs or next to buildings--all in violation of NOAA standards for temperature measurement. Each of these violations results in temperature sensors reporting warmer temperatures than are actually the case.

Another artificial warming signal discovered by Watts is that before 1970 temperature stations were housed in whitewashed, slatted boxes. Since 1970, however, temperature station boxes have been pained with semi-gloss latex. Latex paint absorbs more heat than whitewash, and the change to latex paint at official temperature stations may account for half of the U.S. warming reported since 1970.

Watts is far from finished with his work. His immediate goals are to assemble photographs and analysis of all 1,221 USHCN temperature stations, to add infrared images to the photographs he has assembled, and to launch a study of the urban heat island effect by directly measuring temperatures at varying distances from urban centers.

Gerald Ford speaks from the grave...

Just in time for Halloween, we have Gerald Ford, now speaking with tremendous courage from the grave (hat tip: Opening Arguments)

Even in death, the voice of Jerry Ford still reverberates in political circles. Bill Clinton was a sex addict in need of therapy. His former chief of staff, Dick Cheney, has not been the asset he could have been to George W. Bush. Ronald Reagan "had a helluva flair" but was "not up to the standards of either Democrat or Republican presidents." As for Jimmy Carter, "I think he's the weakest president I've ever seen in my lifetime," he said in 1999. And George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq was made for the wrong reasons, since it turned out Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction....

He never forgave Reagan for running against him in 1976, telling DeFrank that he could have defeated Jimmy Carter if Reagan had not challenged him. But Ford stopped criticizing Reagan in his interviews with DeFrank after Reagan came down with Alzheimer's Disease....

"Write It When I'm Gone," journalist Tom DeFrank's book on his interviews with the former president--interviews held until after his death by agreement--gives the world some juicy, posthumous candor. DeFrank, a former Newsweek reporter now with the New York Daily News, developed a close relationship with Ford and signs off his book with these words, "Thank you, Mr. President."

Yet it feels a little weird, perhaps even a bit unfair, to hear now what Ford knew would not be printed until his death. He never spoke this harshly in public as a major political leader of our time, and so it could be rationally concluded that he did not want to take the heat for these words and wanted to have it both ways. And how can those attacked in the book answer a dead man?...

President Ford will always be, to me, the man who pardoned Nixon, the president who got us through a tough time in American history, and a man who should have said it while he was alive or left it better unsaid. Oh yes, and a man whose finest tribute may have come in a field of corn.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

marriage mentors

An interesting story (with the video available) from ABC News on a marriage mentoring program-- and a community marriage policy-- in Clackamas County in Oregon.

In Clackamas County, Ore., tucked between the cafes and microbreweries of Portland and the misty peak of Mount Hood, more than 170 churches have banded together in defense of love and marriage.

The churches are doing things like organizing date nights for married couples, instituting very strict rules for couples getting married and encouraging older couples to act as marriage mentors.

Tom and Liz Dressel are the driving force behind this anti-divorce effort. The two started this mission because their marriage was once in danger....The Dressels say they came back from the brink through faith and a lot of hard work. "I never could dream that we would have the marriage that we have today," Tom said.

The couple are now marriage missionaries. Six years ago, they helped convince nearly every church in Clackamas County to sign onto something called a "community marriage policy," which requires every couple contemplating marriage to undergo four premarital mentoring sessions.

Priests and pastors now say they will no longer perform "quickie weddings."...As part of the policy, couples participate in counseling sessions and fill out a detailed premarital inventory on a wide range of subjects, including finances, parenting, religion and communication styles.

But the policy doesn't stop after the trip down the aisle. Churches also agree to promote programs to strengthen existing marriages, like date nights where couples drop off their kids, sit for a brief video and then head out for dinner. And if a couple gets in trouble down the line, support groups led by seasoned mentor couples like the Dressels are available.

The Dressel's plan seems to be working. The divorce rate in Clackamas County dropped by 15 percent in the first five years under the policy. While the Dressels admit they cannot prove their policy is what lowered the rates, the couple and religious leaders feel the community marriage policy is saving marriage and protecting children from the pain of divorce.

There are now more than 200 community marriage policies in place across the country.

My church, Southeast Christian in Louisville, has a 13-week premarital class for those who get married there-- and an active marriage mentoring program for pre-marital couples and those who are already married.

"a clump of cells"?

Also, from Richard John Neuhaus in the November issue of First Things...

On the use of certain images to downplay ethical concerns with embryonic stem-cell research, Neuhaus opens this blurb by quoting Jon Shields of Cornell University who notes that the language “that embryos are merely ‘clumps of cells' tends to obscure scientific truth itself."

Neuhaus then continues: "It is to imply erroneously that they lack coherence, integrity, and self-direction as organisms."

Neuhaus concludes with this observation: "Missing from the Left's embrace of these images if some account as to why it is acceptable to build an ethical case on pictures of 14-day old embryos, but not ones that are more developed."

a great Jerry Falwell story

From Richard John Neuhaus in the November issue of First Things...

William Willimon, former chaplain at Duke and now a United Methodist bishop, tells about the time he invited Jerry Falwell to speak. He did it on a dare, not expecting Falwell to accept. But Falwell showed up with bells on, so to speak. The Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgendered Alliance demanded Willimon be fired for inviting a man infamous for his “closed-minded, racist, homophobic, self-righteous, incendiary rhetoric.”

On the appointed evening, the student crowd was baited for bear. One of the first questions was, “How many African Americans do you have at your Liberty University?” “Young lady,” said Falwell, you could not have asked a question that hurts me more deeply.” He went on about how hard he had worked over the years to recruit minority students and how he regularly discussed the matter with Coretta Scott King. “She told me not to be so consumed with this problem. But I can’t help myself.” He finally allowed that only 12 percent of the students at Liberty are African Americans.

Then he asked, “Do you know, by the way, how many African Americans are enrolled at Duke?” No response. Falwell said, “I’ll tell you. Six percent. Six percent! Your endowment is 50 times bigger than ours. You have had years to work on this issue (though admittedly you spent half of your life as a racially segregated school). In fact, I struggled with whether the Lord wanted me to come here tonight to a school that, though you have been given great gifts, has such a poor record of minority enrollment. I pray that you will let the Lord help you do better in this area.”

Willimon writes of the students, “They were putty in this Baptist’s hands. When Jerry finally finished his avuncular banter, he received a warm ovation. ‘This man’s no fool,’ I thought to myself.”

when will he explore the connection with farm subsidies?

From this AM's C-J, "Mellencamp reflects, rocks" by Jeffrey Lee Puckett...

John Mellencamp has been a thinking man's rock singer since he traded his self-absorption for a broader viewpoint in the mid-1980s. He never abandoned looking inward, but few artists have so consistently explored the connection between personal and world politics -- for Mellencamp, it's not that long a walk from treating your neighbor poorly to starting a war.

Unfortunately, for Mellencamp, it's still a long a walk from taking the money of average taxpayers and giving it to wealthy farmers-- especially those with his last name. I'm still waiting for him to "explore that connection"-- and to "reflect" on the ways in which he "rocks" taxpayers.

Monday, October 29, 2007

wanna see something crazy?

From Division III play this weekend, the AP story and then an amazing video of a 61-yard, 15-lateral play to win a game between Trinity (TX) and Millsaps.

The only thing, perhaps, that was crazier in college football is "the play" from the Cal/Stanford game in 1982.

it's elementary, my dear Watson...

I just finished reading the Barnes & Noble's edition of The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume 1. It includes "A Study in Scarlet", "The Sign of Four", "The Hound of the Baskervilles", and an assortment of shorter cases that I could knock out before getting too sleepy at night. (The title of my posting is a famous misquotation of Holmes who only once said "Elementary" to Dr. Watson-- in "The Crooked Man". One other ironic surprise: Doyle's most famous story, "The Hound of the Baskervilles" features Dr. Watson much more prominently than Holmes.)

The anthology was a light but pleasant read. I enjoyed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's writing style, with its long but readable sentences.

Doyle also had quite a vocabulary. I had to hit the dictionary a few times, for such words as minatory, portmanteau, and atavism. And it was fun to read obscure words/phrases that I knew but rarely see in print-- such as "Parthian shot" (from my studies of Revelation). Other times, he used foreign phrases and the B&N edition was kind to provide the translation in a footnote (e.g., "Un sot trouve toujours un plus sot qui l'admire." is French for the proverb that a "A fool can always find a bigger fool to admire him.") On occasion, he made surprising cultural references-- for example, the key role of Mormonism in "A Study in Scarlet".

The overarching premise is the power of observation-- not just seeing but absorbing the information around us. At one point, Holmes tells Watson, "You see, but you do not observe." And beyond observation, Holmes and Watson point to the value of thorough thought-- in critical and creative thinking, forming theories and drawing inferences from facts and studies of human behavior.

Sometimes, the resulting observations are trivial. (For example, looking in the mirror in the midst of reading the book, I realized that Holmes would infer that I'm left-handed by observing what was left of my mustache after I shaved.) Other times, the observations are more profound. (For example, in politics, how can we tell the difference between what people say and what they believe?)

It was interesting that Holmes was a drug fiend who enjoyed his cocaine as a diversion from boredom. Holmes was also a sexist ("women are never to be entirely trusted") who saw women as a distraction to the more glorious pursuit of knowledge.

In addition to the importance of observation and despite his dalliance with recreational drugs, Doyle emphasized the frenetic pace by which Holmes worked. This is most obvious in the contrast Doyle draws with Holmes' nearly-anonymous older brother Mycroft in "The Greek Interpreter". Mycroft was even more brilliant than Sherlock, but much lazier and thus nearly a non-entity. In Doyle's account, Holmes is blessed with a great mind, but it is a resource that he develops with discipline and exercises with passion and justice.

Playboy advertising in the C-J?!

I always get a kick out of things like these:

Kentucky Wildcats End Table
Kentucky Wildcats End Table

A unique hardwood and glass end table featuring a beautiful rendering of your favorite team's stadium! At the bottom of the table the team logo appears on a removable shelf and the table itself includes a felt-lined drawer for storage. Minimum assembly required. Actual size is 21 3/4" in height and 21" in diameter. $149 (plus $15 s&s)-- available from the Danbury Mint.

Then, on the back of that sheet was a special subscription offer from Playboy: 12 issues for $12-- an 84% savings. Given their political bent and what I thought would be an effort to uphold "community values/norms", I was shocked to see the C-J accept this advertising.

township assessors don't like Daniels' plan: surprise!

From the AP in Sunday's C-J...

The Indiana Assessors Association said its property tax streamlining plan would replace Indiana's 92 elected county assessors with 10 appointed regional administrators.

Daniels' property-tax reform package would eliminate Indiana's 1,008 elected township and county assessors and appoint one assessor in each county. Those assessors would be named by city councils rather than elected by voters.

But the assessors group thinks its approach would lead to greater consistency in the assessment process and also would help improve the bad image of their line of work created by this year's assessment problems....

This is a nice example of a key principle in economics and politics: those who have the best information are often the least credible in dispensing that information, because they stand to gain so much from how the information is used.

The governor's plan was prompted by flaws in assessments that led Daniels to order them redone in several counties this year.

While his plan would appoint one assessor in each county, the assessors association's plan would replace elected county assessors with a system headed by the 10 regional assessor supervisors, who would report to the state Department of Revenue. It would also replace elected township assessors with an experienced, certified assessor picked by the regional supervisor.

Daniels contends that Indiana has too many people involved in the assessment system, and that leads to assessments that, in terms of accuracy, are inconsistent from one jurisdiction to another. He also thinks too few of the people doing the work have the education and training they need and that the job is too political.

A 2001 report by the National Association of Counties indicates 24 states have elected county assessors and nine have appointed county assessors. An additional 15 states do not have county-level assessors, leaving the work to be done at the state level.

In addition to the intuitive thought that so much bureaucracy is unlikely to be effective, we're told here that the norm is county-level or state-level assessment.

George Geib, a professor of history at Butler University, said the township assessors' connection to the voters at the local level may be their ace in the hole.

"The biggest problem the governor will have getting this whole thing through is getting past this engine of political activity," he said of township politics. "These offices do involve a number of people who are very politically active and assertive, and they are likely to dig in their heels and make it hard."

Dr. Geib is pointing to another key principle from "Public Choice economics"-- an interest group is likely to carry the day, even though their preferred policy is inequitable and inefficient. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out in the coming months.

the cranberry cartel: it's not just for breakfast anymore

In a piece in today's C-J about foreigners acquiring a taste for American cranberries, we read some interesting details about this native fruit.

Cranberries aren't found in just beverages and Thanksgiving side dishes. Papadellis said Ocean Spray has cranberries in more than 1,000 products.

Some of the newest items include ice cream topping, crackers, pancake mix, soap and lotions, said Tom Lochner, executive director of the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association.

Wisconsin, the nation's top cranberry-producing state, expects to harvest 3.9 million barrels of the tart fruit this year, more than half the crop produced nationwide

That's followed by Massachusetts at 1.8 million, New Jersey at 520,000, Oregon at 500,000 and Washington state at 180,000.

The cranberry is one of only three fruits native to North America, along with the blueberry and the Concord grape.

And then there are a few tangents related to economics and politics...

The Cranberry Marketing Committee began promoting the product outside the country in earnest in 1999, said Michael Rucier, the committee's export promotion manager. Foreign sales represented 14 percent of the market that year, at nearly 898,000 barrels. That increased to 27% of the market last year, with more than 1.67 million barrels shipped overseas.

OK, so far, so good: a group agreeing to coordinate its efforts to promote their product.

The committee was created in 1962 to maintain a balance between supply and demand in the U.S. cranberry industry. It was changed in 1992 to allow the committee to promote the sale and use of cranberries and cranberry products.

Whoa! "Maintain a balance between supply and demand"? The market takes care of that, nicely, by itself! Translation? They wanted to control/restrict/reduce supply to keep prices artificially high. According to this story, the strategy changed in 1992, but the Ocean Spray co-op has been sued for anti-trust violations since then.

"The bottom fell out of the market" in 1999, and prices plummeted, Rucier said. "We had a lot of inventory and no place to sell it."

Translation: The cartel fell apart. In economics, it's common to note that voluntary cartels are difficult to establish and maintain. That's why they typically rely on the government to mandate higher prices and lock out their competitors.

Generic marketing of cranberries overseas is financed primarily through assessments collected from growers by the Cranberry Marketing Committee on each barrel produced and through grants provided by the Agriculture Department, Rucier said.

Again, there's a big difference between a voluntary agreement to share advertising costs-- and a coercive arrangement with the government where politicians take the average taxpayer's money and give it to generally wealthy cranberry farmers. I hope this doesn't ruin your Thanksgiving meal, but it's probably better to know that cranberry farmers are eating "pork"-- not just for T-day but all year round.

Diego Morales-- a good man

Today's C-J has a piece on Diego Morales-- Guatemalan immigrant, graduate of IUS, campaign worker for Mike Sodrel, and a great guy.

On the campaign trail, I ran into him at least a dozen times. And we've bumped into each other a few times since.

My favorite story about Diego: We had been talking about life and politics off-and-on during the campaign. At the Clark County 4-H Fair, he joined me in the Libertarian tent to talk for awhile. A fellow volunteer walked by, saw him, and accusingly asked him "What are you doing?" His reply: "Talking with a friend."

the catch-22's associated with Gov. Fletcher's best policy

a stream of consciousness based on the C-J's five-part series (cover stories) on the policy differences (or lack thereof) between Gov. Ernie Fletcher and his challenger, Steve Beshear...

What has been most noteworthy: how little these two seem to disagree on the issues. Of course, this is smart politically for Beshear-- at least for the short-term, to gain the office. If Beshear looks like Fletcher and doesn't have Fletcher's baggage, then he should win easily. Of course, this sets up Beshear to be just another Kentucky governor. But maybe that's all he would be anyway.

An odd thing to me (and maybe I missed it), but I haven't seen anything on, arguably, the most important policy move of the Fletcher administration-- the tax reform that dramatically reduced the number of the working poor who were impacted by the state's income tax. Prior to Fletcher's reform, Kentucky was #1 in the nation in taxing the working poor. (I used to use that as a laugh line all the time: it's good to see Kentucky #1 at something!)

Why isn't this getting more "press"?

First, you'd think that the C-J would be praising him left and right for this reform. But would put them in the awkward position of praising someone they oppose.

Second, you'd think that Fletcher would make a big deal out of this. But unfortunately, few Republicans-- and most people in general-- don't care much if at all about issues like this.

Third, special interests typically carry the day, leading the candidates and the media to focus on "hot-button" but more trivial issues like gambling and coal.

It looks like an uninspired candidate will win the governor's race in Kentucky and the state will tread water (or sink further below the surface) for the next four years.

Strobel's sermon at Southeast

As I had announced, Lee Strobel was the guest preacher this weekend at Southeast. He preached on the four primary evidences for the Gospels which had led to his conversion fom atheism (available until next Monday or so on-line).

1.) The execution of Jesus, leading to a resurrection not a resuscitation. Both the Bible and extra-biblical sources agree here. Moreover, the extent of the pre-Cross beating and the wounds inflicted on the Cross makes it beyond incredible that Christ could have survived.

2.) The early accounts came far earlier than would be plausible for legends to develop about Christ. The gospels are plenty early to make this point, but the extra-biblical record is again quite clear. It would be historically unprecedented for legend to develop that quickly; again, it takes far less faith to believe in the historical accuracy of the traditional account of the Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.

3.) The empty tomb. Strobel made two points here. First, he noted the "criterion of embarrassment"-- where some details in a fictional account would likely be omitted since they cause embarrassment. One example is women finding the empty tomb and acting as witnesses (a no-no in that culture). Second, he noted that no one disputed the empty tomb, they merely wrestled with how it could have happened. The Romans and Jews didn't want it empty-- and it is incredible to imagine that the disciples were able to recover and pull off that feat in the face of such strong opposition.

4.) Eyewitnesses-- more than 515 in at least 12 different encounters with the risen Jesus. Strobel asked us to imagine 15 minutes of testimony and cross-examination (more than five 24-hour days)-- and then saying "I don't believe that". Moreover, it is again incredible to imagine that the disciples would have been willingly persecuted, tortured, and willing to die for a lie.

If you are not yet a disciple of Jesus Christ, consider the testimony-- whether the evidence of Strobel, the logic of Geisler, the argument from conscience of Lewis, the paradoxes of life and Christianity from Chesterton, or the confession of Tolstoy.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

can't we just agree to disagree?

In Numbers 13, the 12 spies come back with the same report but two different conclusions. All 12 saw the tremendous fruit of the land, but recognized the tremendous fight that might be required. Although Caleb and Joshua had faith that God would empower them to do what He had promised, the other 10 spies lacked faith and were frightened by the prospects. They had the same data, but their different worldviews and theology led to different conclusions.

Coming into Numbers 14, it's an open question-- how the people would respond to the report and the different inferences about the data. Up to this point in the narrative, their record has not been impressive. But at times, the Israelites were surprisingly solid, so one could hold out hope. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out so well...

14:1-4 is a brutal start to the story-- as the Israelites combine their penchant for grumbling with some "crazy talk". In 14:6-9, Joshua and Caleb still try to persuade them-- with remarkable courage, passion and tact. The people's response in 14:10a is one of the saddest and funniest moments in all of Scripture: let's kill them! It's interesting (and pathetic) when people go from agreeing to disagree-- to shouting down their opponents, oppressing them, or threatening them.

After that, God intervenes and threatens to destroy them. Moses intercedes and the punishment is reduced. But after this debacle, this generation would die in the Wilderness and not be able to go into the Promised Land-- one of the key moments in Israel's history.

It's interesting to consider whether God punishes them so severely because they had treated Him with such contempt "one too many times"-- or whether this particular episode was just that egregious. In any case, whenever a prophet (teller of truth) is shouted down, they can know that they're in the good company of the courageous men of God, Joshua and Caleb.

C.S. Lewis quote-of-the-week

"The perfect submission, the perfect suffering, the perfect death were not only easier to Jesus because he was God. But surely that is a very odd reason for not accepting them?...To what will you look for help if you will not look to that which is stronger than yourself?"
--Mere Christianity, book 2, chapter 4

I had a good friend who wouldn't "accept Jesus" because he only thought about it when times weren't going good. He thought that was a cop-out. On one hand, he was correct. But in a larger sense, he was not.

To be more accurate, he was only clear-headed enough to accept Jesus when life had his attention. And, of course, accepting Jesus' death on the cross to pay for one's sin is always a cop-out. That's the point. Why shouldn't we "cop out" in the face of our sin and God's holiness?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Rockies on the Rock

With the Rockies down 2-0 in the World Series and losing big again tonight, I had better blog on this before it's too late!

An interesting story on religious faith, personal character, and the productivity of a baseball team--from Ben Shpigel in the New York Times...

As a Jewish player who attended a Catholic high school and a Lutheran university, Jason Hirsh knows what being a religious minority feels like. So last December, when he was traded to the Colorado Rockies, Hirsh wondered if what he had heard about his new organization was true. Now, Hirsh said not once during the season had he felt uncomfortable with the place Christianity occupies within the organization.

“There are guys who are religious, sure, but they don’t impress it upon anybody,” Hirsh said. “It’s not like they hung a cross in my locker or anything. They’ve accepted me for who I am and what I believe in.”

The role of religion within the Rockies’ organization first entered the public sphere in May 2006, when an article published in USA Today described the organization as adhering to a “Christian-based code of conduct” and the clubhouse as a place where Bibles were read and men’s magazines, like Maxim or Playboy, were banned.

The article included interviews with several players and front office members, but team players and officials interviewed this week said it unfairly implied that the Rockies were intent on constructing a roster consisting in large part of players with a strong Christian faith. Asked how his own Christian faith affected his decision-making, General Manager Dan O’Dowd acknowledged it came into play, but not in a religious way. He said it guided him to find players with integrity and strong moral values, regardless of their religious preference.

“Do we like players with character? There is absolutely no doubt about that,” O’Dowd said during a recent interview in his Coors Field office. “If people want to interpret character as a religious-based issue because it appears many times in the Bible, that’s their decision. I believe that character is an innate part of developing an organization, and to me, it is nothing more than doing the right thing at the right time when nobody’s looking. Nothing more complicated than that.

“You don’t have to be a Christian to make that decision.”

Even if the Rockies are not consciously doing it, reliever Matt Herges, playing for his seventh organization, said the team had the highest concentration of devout Christians he had seen during his nine major league seasons.

Every Sunday, about 10 people gather for chapel, according to reliever Jeremy Affeldt, and Tuesday afternoon Bible study sessions usually attract seven or eight players. Affeldt said players discussed life and their families as well as scripture.

“Certain guys attend chapel, certain guys don’t,” outfielder Cory Sullivan said. “I don’t think that’s any different from how it is in any other major league clubhouse. Nothing’s shoved down your throats.”...

Like many sports franchises, the Rockies look for more than just talent and potential, and finding the right combination of ability and character took several years. Based on the franchise’s win-loss record early in his tenure, O’Dowd acknowledged that if he worked for another organization, “in 99 percent of other cases, I would not be here.”

In steering the Rockies toward contention, O’Dowd, who became general manager in 1999, credits ownership for supporting his plan of allotting additional resources to player development and for giving the organization’s top prospects a chance to play. He also points to his own faith for giving him the strength and patience to handle the lean years.

Only once before this season — at 82-80 in 2000 — had the Rockies finished with a winning record since O’Dowd became general manager. But one of the most embarrassing moments for the franchise came early on a December morning in 2004 when Denny Neagle, a pitcher with a $51.5 million long-term contract, was arrested here for soliciting a prostitute. It was his second scrape with the law in 14 months and it cost him his job. The Rockies terminated his contract three days later, eventually choosing to pay him $16 million to never again pitch in a Colorado uniform.

Worried that the incident would jeopardize the public trust, the Rockies redoubled their effort to emphasize responsibility and accountability. The team’s chairman and chief executive, Charlie Monfort, has said he rediscovered religion after serving 18 months’ probation for driving while impaired. The manager, Clint Hurdle, said he strengthened his faith several years ago after he quit drinking.

The team brought in free agents for face-to-face meetings and made sure their scouts were not seduced by talent without character. Along the way, the Rockies have decided not to pursue certain players, O’Dowd said. But he said no one was ever questioned about their religious affiliation.

“You can get to a point where that player’s talent is intoxicating to the point where you can make a choice to compromise,” O’Dowd said. “You begin to make yourself believe that those other things are there when they’re not. When you make character an important part of the criteria of making that decision, you have to slow yourself down because it takes time to find that out. I have a heck of a lot of an easier time accepting that than trying to win without that philosophy.”

Peyton and Tom competing again!

Tomorrow, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning both have the opportunity to become the first quarterbacks to defeat 31 NFL teams (every team except their own). Brady will try to beat the Redskins and Manning will try to defeat Carolina.

At present, they are tied with Brett Favre who will have his own opportunity a week later when the Packers play the Chiefs.

The Colts and Patriots have both gotten off to an incredible start. If the season continues at this pace, they may well have the opportunities to end an unbeaten season and to knock the other out of the playoffs.

game ball to UConn cheater

From the Journal-Inquirer (of Northern Connecticut), commenting on last Saturday's game between the University of CT and the University of Louisville.

Not only did the refs blow a key call, allowing UConn a free touchdown.

Not only did the player cheat, calling a pseudo-fair catch and then running as if he didn't.

Now we learn that the coach not only found no fault in the refs and defended his player, but also awarded him the special teams game ball.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Daniels takes grief from businesses on property taxes

As I pointed out in a posting yesterday, the differential caps between homeowners, investors, and businesses were arbitrary. Aside from any efficiency issues, this approach almost necessarily invites charges of inequity.

So, it's no surprise that, today, John Ketzenberger in the Indy Star reports that...

Hours before Gov. Mitch Daniels unveiled his sweeping property tax relief plan Tuesday, two business leaders told him it wouldn't fly. The governor didn't heed their warning. So Daniels faces static from a business community that is often among his staunchest supporters and now feels it's being taken for granted....

Critics [have] quickly emerged. School administrators hate the proposed referendums. Local government officials aren't keen to eliminate township assessors. Still, the strong reaction by business leaders was surprising. Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar called the different property tax caps for homeowners and businesses "deal breakers."

"We emphasized that point with the governor," Brinegar said. "We sent over our board-approved opposition to the circuit breakers to show that it wasn't just staff opposing this."

Daniels' decision doesn't sit well with the two most influential business lobbyists who also represent a wide swath of the state's industry. Kiely and Brinegar find it hard to fathom how Daniels, an ex-Lilly executive with strong business ties, would put it to them this way.

That Daniels knew of their displeasure makes it worse.

Darwinism: Science and Fantasy

From Marvin Olasky on

New York Times columnist John Tierney recently offered a materialist version of "intelligent design": All of us are actually characters in a computer simulation devised by some technologically advanced future civilization.

Fanciful to the extreme, sure, but the growing number of such theories -- life comes from the past (Mars, when it was theoretically livable) or future (Tierney) -- is one more indication that Darwinism no longer satisfies. Reporters pretending to referee the origin debate used to have it easy: slick evolutionists vs. hick creationists, progress vs. regress. Now, Darwinism is looking fuddy-duddy, and sophisticated critiques of it are becoming more diverse.

My favorite theory is an old one from Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick-- that the first life came here sent by aliens.

From there, Olasky turns to an interview he did with Dr. Michael Behe...

I interviewed Michael Behe, author of "Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution" and a new book, "The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism." This Lehigh University biology professor points out that "Darwin and his contemporaries knew very little about the cell, which is the foundation of life. Microscopes of that era were too crude to see many critical details. So 19th-century scientists thought the cell was simple protoplasm, like a piece of microscopic Jell-O."

Behe explained what has changed: "Now we know that the cell is chock-full of sophisticated nanotechnology, literally machines made from molecules. The same goes for the universe. In Darwin's era, the universe was thought to be pretty simple. Now we know its basic laws are balanced on a razor's edge to allow for life and that our planet may be the only one in the universe that could support intelligent life. The more we know about nature, the more design we see."

We also have data now from a half-century of careful malaria-watching, which -- because malaria reproduce so quickly -- lets us see what happens to thousands of generations of parasites that are under constant attack from man-made drugs. Darwin predicted that random mutation and natural selection would lead to the development of new species, but no new kinds of malaria have emerged, just tiny changes in existing strains.

The mass killer HIV also has provided evidence to disprove Darwin. Behe points out that HIV, like malaria, "is a microbe that occurs in astronomical numbers. What's more, its mutation rate is 10,000 times greater than that of most other organisms. So in just the past few decades, HIV has actually undergone more of certain kinds of mutations than all cells have endured since the beginning of the world. Yet all those mutations, while medically important, have changed the functioning virus very little."

Behe's summary of HIV: "It still has the same number of genes that work in the same way. There is no new molecular machinery. If we see that Darwin's mechanism can only do so little even when given its best opportunities, we can decisively conclude that random mutation did not build the machinery of life."

It's important to remember that Behe and other "intelligent design" believers are talking about macroevolution, a change from one kind of creature to another, and not the microevolution of longer beaks, different-colored wings and so forth; no one doubts that microevolution happens. Behe sees development as an incredibly difficult maze that an intelligent agent could navigate but an utterly blind process could not -- and Darwin's most radical claim was that evolution is utterly blind.

One more analogy: Some Darwinists have portrayed evolution as a walk up the stairs of a building, but it's hard to keep going higher if many of the steps are missing. Behe says Darwin did not know that "there are many biological steps, called amino acids, between biological floors, and many are missing. Even plentiful microbes have great difficulty jumping missing biological stairs to go from floor to floor. So we can conclude that life did not ascend by Darwinian evolution."

pro-lifers go after Planned Parenthood funding...finally!

From Robert Novak at

National anti-abortion leaders Wednesday put finishing touches on a letter to be sent to all members of Congress urging suspension of more than $300 million in federal funding of Planned Parenthood until a massive criminal case brought in Kansas against the abortion rights organization is settled. That launches an attack against the nation's largest purveyor of "reproductive health care" -- including abortions.

For the details of the "Kansas strategy", go to Novak's article...

This opens a new front in the endless abortion wars. No change in the status quo had seemed possible for the pro-lifers. The 5 to 4 Supreme Court advantage for abortion is frozen, and a Democratic-controlled Congress will not pass new anti-abortion legislation, much less a constitutional amendment. The offensive against abortion now takes dead aim at Planned Parenthood and attempts to expand a Kansas criminal prosecution into a nationwide assault.

Whether or not enough prosecutors can be found to seek Kline-type indictments around the country, anti-abortion strategists are aiming at Planned Parenthood and its 860 facilities nationwide. Concerned Women for America and other pro-life organizations signed this week's letter to members of Congress asking for suspension of federal funding that amounts to about one-third of the organization's budget: "We urge you to act to ensure that our tax dollars are not subsidizing abortion clinics that perform possibly illegal abortions."

While the Democratic-controlled Congress surely will not defund Planned Parenthood, it will be pressed to fulfill its oversight mission with congressional hearings. The socially conservative Family Research Council Wednesday called for a Justice Department investigation. And Republican presidential candidates -- who proceed gingerly on abortion -- will be called to combat in this war.

This is a welcome move-- but it is 12 years later than it should have been. Republicans should have sacked taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood when they took over the Congress in 1995-96.

I'm not sure why this funding has continued to stay on the books.

The cynic in me says that all of this is just one more political tool and an opportunity for pro-life groups to do fund-raising.

The political philosopher in me notes that even Republicans don't mind spending taxpayer monies for all sorts of things. So their ability to stand principally against govt spending is greatly reduced. And we've seen other conversions of a similar sort-- for example, in President Bush and the Republicans in Congress finding quite a few more fiscally conservative bones in their body.

In any case, here it is. In many ways, the Republicans seem to behave more effectively as the Minority Party. Maybe they should stay that way for awhile?

the curse of Curtis...

At least if you're a baseball fan, here's a funny essay from The Onion on "the curse of Curtis Leskanic". The author spoofs the so-called "curse of the Bambino" which was said to keep the RedSox from winning the World Series for about 85 years after they traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

science, journalism and political-correctness

From Chris Kenning in this morning's C-J...

Nobel Prize-winning scientist James Watson has canceled his appearance at next month's Kentucky Author Forum in Louisville, one week after worldwide condemnation for suggesting black people are less intelligent than whites.

Watson, 79, who shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for discovering the double-helix structure of DNA, was scheduled to be interviewed Nov. 12 by NPR host Neal Conan to promote his new memoir, "Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science."

But he told forum officials Monday it would be in the best interest to cancel after an Oct. 14 Times of London Magazine article in which he said he was "inherently gloomy" about Africa because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours -- whereas all the testing says not really."

So, is this politically-incorrect Science or a scientist who's a nut and over-reaching beyond his areas of expertise? Either option is rather interesting...

Noted social scientist, Charles Murray, got into similar (very) hot water with a book on the same set of topics in the 1990s, The Bell Curve.

Raoul Cunningham, president of the Louisville NAACP, said it was a "wise decision on his part" to cancel on the heels of his "racist remarks."

Cunningham said, however, that it would have been a dangerous precedent for any organization to cancel a talk because of controversial or disagreeable remarks....

An interesting combo from Raoul. Watson made racist remarks but Cunningham supports free speech, so he's glad that Watson succumbed to media/public pressure and bowed out.

He has said previously that the published comments did not reflect his views -- but he has not claimed to have been misquoted.

In an Oct. 19 opinion piece in a British newspaper, Watson wrote: "To those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologize unreservedly. That is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief."

I suppose it's possible that Watson was misquoted. I've never had much trouble with that in my work with the media. But I've certainly heard a lot of stories. In any case, one has to wonder whether the interviewee was not being careful enough, especially with such a delicate topic.

on Daniels' property tax plans

From Lesley Stedman Weidenbener in today's C-J...

Hoosiers would see the state sales tax rise by one percentage point and property-tax bills drop by about one-third next year under a complicated plan that Gov. Mitch Daniels proposed yesterday.

The sales tax rate would increase to 7 percent, moving it higher than Kentucky's rate of 6 percent. But the plan would give Hoosier homeowners the ninth-lowest property-tax bills in the country, the governor's office said.

If approved by the legislature during its 2008 session, Daniels' plan would clamp down on local spending, give voters a say on government construction projects and cap property-tax bills for owner-occupied homes at no more than 1 percent of their assessed values....That would reduce bills for an estimated 55 percent of all Hoosier homeowners.

Daniels said he wants to put the cap into the Indiana Constitution...."Our steps must be fair, far-reaching and final," the governor said in his brief speech....He also proposed a cap for residential property that is not owner occupied — including rental and vacation housing — of 2 percent of assessed value. He proposed a 3 percent cap on commercial and industrial property.

A few thoughts:

-It's odd to brag about trying to have the 9th-lowest property tax bills in the country. For one thing, one could argue that it's property tax rates that are the more relevant measure. More broadly, it's overall tax burdens and rates that are more important than any particular tax.

-Daniels' proposed caps are set at round but arbitrary levels-- arbitrary in the choice and arbitrary in distinguishing between homeowners vs. investment and vacation homes vs. industrial property. That said, caps of some sort would limit the shenanigans that have previously plagued the Indiana property tax system.

-It's a nice addition that local spending increases would be restricted. This has been a significant proportion of the current woes. This also presumably foreshadows Daniels' continued efforts to address perceived inefficiencies in local governance.

-The need to increase other taxes to compensate for lost property tax revenue illustrates a point often ignored by novice proponents of repealing the property tax altogether. If the government continues to spend so much money-- the true, underlying problem-- then we're merely shifting the burden from one set of activities to another. As bothersome as the property tax is-- ethically, practically, and politically-- one must make sure that the alternative will be an equitable and efficient improvement.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

marriage as covenant vs. contract

A cute (but provocative) story (that reads like a parable) from the October 22 "Breakpoint" from Chuck Colson's ministry... (hat tip: Linda Christiansen)

You have to give the girl credit for honesty—if nothing else. On a website called Craig's List, a young woman wrote: "I'm a spectacularly beautiful 25-year-old girl. I'm articulate and classy. I'm looking to [marry] a guy who makes at least half a million a year. Where do you single rich men hang out?"

She also wanted to know how men decided between "marriage versus just a girlfriend. I am looking for MARRIAGE ONLY," she said.

In response, a man who claimed to meet her financial requirements said that from his perspective, her offer was a lousy business deal. "What you suggest is a simple trade: you bring your looks to the party, and I bring my money," he wrote. "But here's the rub: Your looks will fade and my money will" continue to grow. "So in economic terms you are a depreciating asset and I am an earning asset." (Ouch!)

This is why, the man explained, "It doesn't make good business sense to 'buy you' (which is what you're asking), so I'd rather lease. So a deal that makes sense [to me] is dating, not marriage. If you want to enter into some sort of lease [agreement]," he finished up, "let me know."

Well, that was pretty harsh! But plenty of readers thought she deserved it. She was turning marriage into an economic transaction—reducing what should be a sacred relationship into nothing more than a contract—and that's a dangerous mistake.

Economist Jennifer Roback Morse, author of the excellent book Love and Economics, puts it well. When it comes to marriage, she says, "the language of contract is . . . misleading because it undermines the basis of generosity and self-giving that is so important in married life."

Morse is right. Contractual arrangements are a calculated effort to get what you want on the best terms you can get it. But marriage is about unreserved giving and sharing.

Contracts are limited and renewable; marriage is a permanent, life-long commitment. It is about self-sacrifice, not self-satisfaction.

The Scriptures back this up. Christians have always seen marriage as a covenant with God as a party to it. Couples are to put aside their own selfish desires and focus on the needs of the loved one. But the values of the marketplace, applied to marriage, teach a totally different message: that is, that we are entitled to a good "return on our investment." They turn would-be brides and grooms into marital consumers, looking for the best deal they can get.

Tragically, people who think this way often end up in a kind of unholy wedlock—one in which men abandon wives the moment their looks begin to fade, and women drop husbands if they run out of money.

That so-called "classy" woman who hoped to marry money should read the Song of Solomon, chapter 8. In this chapter, a bride tells her bridegroom: "If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned."

These verses offer a beautiful glimpse of love and courtship as God intended them. They make clear that true love cannot be bought and sold—or leased, as the case may be.

When it comes to finding a mate, we should seek a faithful, faith-filled spouse whose "love is better than wine," as Solomon put it. That is worth more than all the money—or spectacular looks—in the world.

Romney over Huckabee and Paul among the "Values Voters"

In last weekend's first-ever "Values Voters Straw Poll" at the Family Research Council Action's 2nd Annual Washington Briefing, it's noteworthy that...

-Romney edged out Huckabee for first place-- the 1st-tier Mormon beating out the favorite non-Mormon, 2nd-tier social conservative

-Brownback had not backed out soon enough to come off the ballot, probably costing Huckabee the win

-Paul finished third-- when social conservatives have often, mysteriously, seemed to overlook him

-all three smoked the other front-runners, including Fred Thompson, who many imagined to take conservatives (social and other) by this point, Thompson is looking more like a drizzle

Candidate Votes Percentage
1. Mitt Romney 1,595 27.6%
2. Mike Huckabee 1,565 27.1%
3. Ron Paul 865 15.0%
4. Fred Thompson 564 9.8%
5. Sam Brownback 297 5.1%
6. Duncan Hunter 140 2.4%
7. Tom Tancredo 133 2.3%
8. Rudy Giuliani 107 1.9%
9. John McCain 81 1.4%

housing and income in the Louisville MSA

I blogged on the subprime mortgage "crisis" quite a bit ten days ago, including some of the data (including local numbers), the moral/ethical angles, the racial angle, and policy possibilities.

Now, some more interesting local and racial numbers on housing and income from Business First on the Metropolitan Housing Corporation and its 2007 State of Metropolitan Housing Report (hat tip: Chris Thomas)...
  • The 2007 Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom unit in the Louisville MSA is $584 a month, up 16% from the 2000 FMR. To afford this, a family would need to have an annual income of $23,360, or $11.45 an hour. To afford the FMR on a three-bedroom unit ($816 a month), annual income would have to be $32,640, or $16 an hour.

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than a third of workers in the Louisville MSA make less than $12 an hour.
  • The 2006 median household income for Jefferson County was $43,335. The median for the Louisville MSA was $45,115.

    The median household income for African-American households in Jefferson County was $25,991. The median for Hispanic/Latino households was much closer to the overall median at $40,737.
  • Foreclosure rates have jumped in every Louisville MSA county except for Meade County, which saw foreclosures drop 13%. The foreclosure rate in Jefferson County rose 8% from 2005 to 2006. Trimble County's rate shot up 52% during the same period. Rates increased 13% in Oldham County, 25% in Nelson County, 24% in Henry County, and 17% in Shelby County.

    Rates also rose in Indiana counties from 2005 to 2006, increasing 84% in Washington County, 36% in Clark County, 25% in Floyd County and 5% in Harrison County.
  • From 2000 to 2006, the rate of homeownership for both the Louisville MSA and Jefferson County grew 1%. The homeownership rate for Jefferson County is 65%.

    While 82% of the Louisville MSA is white and 13% is black, 90% of homeowners in the area are white and 8% are black.

Monday, October 22, 2007

C.S. Lewis quote-of-the-week

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”

--Mere Christianity, book 3, ch. 10

This beautiful passage speaks to the reality of God, heaven, conscience, grace, and the leading of God in constructing a world that points us to Him...


My lesson yesterday was on Numbers 13-- along with the next chapter, one of the most important passages in Old Testament history.

The narrative starts with Moses sending 12 spies into Canaan as preparation for their "invasion". (In Deuteronomy 1:21-24, we learn the context: that Moses had said it was time to go in, but the people wanted to send in spies; Moses agreed and apparently God was ok with the idea.)

Sending in spies was not necessarily a problem: although God had promised them victory, leaving out appropriate preparation could be seen as testing God. In Luke, Jesus instructs his disciples to "count the costs" of following Him. So too with the people of Israel as they prepared for battle.

After the spies return, 13:26-29 details their report-- 26-27's fruit, but 28-29's fight. (G. Campbell Morgan spends an entire page on the word "but" in this passage!) Like any solid analysis, they focused on the expected benefits and costs of their actions. And to this point, no one draws any inferences about the future. There's just excitement about the land but sobriety in assessing its defenses.

But in 13:30-33, the spies give their conclusions. Caleb weighs in first. (Although Joshua agreed with him, Caleb would have been seen as more objective than Moses' right-hand man.) Caleb acknowledged the costs but expressed a confidence that God would do as He had said and that Israel would be victorious. The ten spies were of a different mindset. Their objective facade fades and is replaced by a set of exaggerations meant to tilt the debate in their direction.

The funny thing was that the 2 spies saw the same thing as the 10 spies-- but their faith and thus, their assessment varied widely.

In chapter 14 (next week), we learn about how the people respond...

the disease of discontentment

An excellent sermon on Philippians 4:10-19 this week from Kyle...

He opened by pointing to some of the symptoms of the disease-- comparing spouses and houses; most credit card debt; and the use of alcohol, food, spending, and entertainment to briefly satisfy or dull greater longings.

In the text, Kyle noted Paul use of "learned" twice (11, 12) and inferred that contentment (or not) is a state of mind. Moreover, Paul presents five principles that help us reach that mindset.

-10a's "rejoice greatly in the Lord"-- all blessings (and there are so many) graciously come from God

-10b's often, the experience of giving and receiving in community

-11a's defining "needs" properly-- ironically, Paul was "in need" by any standard criteria, but he didn't see it that way; too often, we compare our situations to others or to utopia

-11b-12's understanding that's its character much more than circumstance; it's spiritual much more than material/physical; it's about joy rather than happiness/happenstance

-13's classic verse on "Jesus is all you need"-- both an amazingly trite answer and THE answer

On this last point, Paul wraps up the passage with 19's "God meets all you needs" and 20's "living for God's glory"-- two cousins of the same thought. Or to bring in the last member of the Trinity: as Paul puts it in Galatians 5:16, "Live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature."

All of this reminds me of the old hymn, "Turn your eyes upon Jesus...and the things of this world will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace." Amen!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Lee Strobel to speak at Southeast next weekend

From the Southeast promotional material/info...

Lee Strobel, one of the country’s leading Christian apologists, will be in our pulpit as guest speaker October 27/28. He’ll share his story with us as well as details from his new book, The Case for the Real Jesus, which tackles some recent attacks on the Christian faith.

And I assume this is from Strobel's biography and reproduced by Southeast:

Atheist-turned-Christian Lee Strobel, the former award-winning legal editor of The Chicago Tribune, is a New York Times best-selling author of nearly twenty books and has been interviewed on numerous national television programs, including ABC's 20/20, Fox News, and CNN. After a nearly two-year investigation of the evidence for Jesus, Lee received Christ as his forgiver and leader in 1981. He joined the staff of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL, in 1987, and later became a teaching pastor there. He joined Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, CA, as a teaching pastor in 2000. He left Saddleback's staff in mid-2002 to focus on writing. He is also a contributing editor and columnist for Outreach magazine.

His books The Case for Faith and The Case for Christ are also excellent!

Joel Osteen's audience

In week 6 of the first semester of DC (our 21-month discipleship curriculum), we have a question about the audiences which Christ addressed in Matthew 11:28-30 and Matthew 16:24. Recognizing the different audiences helps to explain the markedly different style and substance of Christ's comments in those contexts. (This allows us to make the broader point about the importance of understanding audience and context in order to interpret the Bible properly.)

While looking in on a DC group this week, someone mentioned Joel Osteen's recent interview on 60 Minutes-- and it got me thinking further about Joel's primary audience. Although Joel should also minister to the believers in his church (in the style of Mt 16), his primary ministry is to non-believers (a la Mt 11), especially to those who don't imagine that they are welcome in the Kingdom of Heaven (as in the Beatitudes of Mt 5.)

Again, my data set on Joel Osteen is quite limited-- just the book review I wrote and a few anecdotes here and there...


An interesting article from Arnold Kling on George Mason University (my alma mater) and economics...

In 1962, few people knew that the future of popular music was to be found in Liverpool, England and Hamburg, Germany. In the early 1970's, few people knew that the future of information processing was to be found at the Homebrew Computer Club. In 1993, few people knew that the future of online software was in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. Years from now, perhaps people will be saying that something big got started recently at the George Mason University department of economics....

The excitement at Mason is in blogs and books. The three most well-known blogs are Marginal Revolution (Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok), Econlib (Bryan Caplan and myself), and Cafe Hayek (Russ Roberts and Don Boudreaux). Robin Hanson (Overcoming Bias) is one of many other Mason faculty and graduate students who blog. This year, both Caplan and Cowen produced influential books, Myth of the Rational Voter and Discover Your Inner Economist, respectively.

Why do Masonomists blog so avidly? I think it is because there is a sense that we are onto something, and we want to ramp up the conversation among ourselves as well as communicate with a wider audience.

Lose the we

Most economists favor the free market, with reservations. Masonomics rejects the reservations. If John and Mary are free individuals, and John trades with Mary, then John and Mary both are better off. End of story.

Most other economists believe in the need for government intervention. Like many non-economists, they talk about government policy in terms of we. We must, we have to, we need, we should, etc.

Once upon a time, "We, the people" was the preamble to a charter that reminded those in government of the limitations on the power granted to them. In today's political discourse, "we" is more often the preamble to something like a call for an involuntary collective health system.

If you want to be a Masonomist, you have to lose the we. When people use we in today's politics, they are doing two things.

  1. Appealing to a moral entity that stands apart from and above John, Mary, or any other individual

  2. Treating government as the embodiment of that higher moral entity

You can be a Masonomist and believe (1). It is a good thing to have a conscience and moral standards. It is a good thing to engage in volunteer work, to form organizations that address the needs of others, and to act unselfishly toward family and others in your community.

Masonomists encourage our noble impulses. Tyler Cowen's book is a cross between a self-help manual and an essay on moral philosophy. In one section, he suggests ways that one can modify one's behavior in order to give enough to charity and to ensure that one's charitable contributions are made wisely.

However, Masonomics is unrelenting in its rejection of (2). For many years, George Mason has been the home of Public Choice Theory, which says that instead of imagining what a wise, omniscient, benevolent government might do, one should pay attention to how government operates in practice. Nobel Laureate James Buchanan, founder (with Gordon Tullock) of Public Choice, is the gray eminence of Masonomics.

In practice, the impetus for stopping John and Mary from trading typically comes not from a higher moral entity, but from Mary's competitor Sam. For example, Boudreaux has studied the history of anti-trust. In theory, anti-trust laws are designed to protect consumers from high-priced monopoly. In practice, anti-trust laws are used by competitors to punish low-price competition. For example, when Microsoft was hit with anti-trust action, the "crime" was giving away a web browser for free! You can learn more by listening to this conversation between Boudreaux and Roberts...

trade deficits are (highly) over-rated

A friend emailed me about the trade deficit and killing two birds with one stone, I decided to post my response:

The problem with the trade deficit is that only describes one category: goods and services. Since our activity with foreign countries must be involve a "balance of payments", we should look at the other category (investments) as well. If we run a TD in G&S, we necessarily run an investment surplus-- ironically, probably a sign of strength!

For example, if we purchase $200 billion in G&S from country X and they purchase $150 billion from us, they still have $50 billion green pieces of paper to buy stuff. If they're not buying G&S, the other option is investments-- a common and reasonable decision given the rate-of-return/risk combos available within our economy (compared to elsewhere).

We've run a TD in G&S for most of our country's history.

The trade deficit is most useful for promoting trade protectionism-- to make it seem like we need to limit imports of G&S to deal with this "problem". Of course, this benefits certain interest groups (at the expense of the country as a whole).

Thursday, October 18, 2007

baseball is 90% mental? we'll find out tonight!

For tonight's playoff game between Cleveland and Boston, the singer of the National Anthem will be the former girlfriend of the Red Sox's starting pitcher, staff ace Josh Beckett. Hilarious!

From Michael McIntyre of the (Cleveland) Plain-Dealer...

Country music artist Danielle Peck will sing the national anthem and "God Bless America" at tonight's Indians game. She will not sing, "Stand by Your Man."

Peck, it turns out, dated Red Sox pitching ace Josh Beckett, who is starting tonight's do-or-die game against the Tribe and who handed them their only loss in the American League Championship Series. They met last summer. They're not an item anymore.

The Indians claim they had no idea of the love connection when they announced Tuesday that Peck would replace Taylor Swift as tonight's vocalist.

"It's an incredible coincidence. Honestly," said Indians spokesman Bob DiBiasio. "This isn't another bug thing."

DiBiasio said when Swift couldn't do the game, a country music booker recommended Peck, a rising star in the industry. She's from Coshocton and has a hit single, "I Don't."

"She's from Ohio. Her entire family are Indians fans. We did not know anything about her connections to Beckett. The next day, we find out the rest of the story," said DiBiasio. "How are we supposed to know who Josh Beckett dates?"

We'll take the Indians at their word. But it's no secret that Beckett also has dated actress Alyssa Milano and model Leeann Tweeden. If Tweeden models "Mrs. Sizemore" shirts on the scoreboard and Milano throws out the first pitch, we'll know the games aren't just on the field.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

John Fund blows up Huckabee

OUCH! (hat tip: Chuck Muth)

"Asked if he would support President Bush's veto of the budget-busting increase in the children's health care program SCHIP, (GOP presidential candidate Mike) Huckabee declined to say he would have issued a similar veto 'because there are going to be so many issues we've got to fight. And the political loss of that is going to be enormous.' Translation: When it comes to tough political fights on spending, don't look for a President Huckabee to be there."

"Mike Huckabee continues to demonstrate his populist, anti-free market bent. Fresh from a debate in Michigan where he showed skepticism about free trade and President Bush's veto of a budget-busting health care bill, the former Arkansas governor has now embraced a mandatory cap on global-warming emissions."

- John Fund of Political Diary, 10/16/07

Coulter blows up Thompson and Huckabee


"Conservatives unhappy with our Republican presidential candidates seem to be drifting aimlessly toward Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee in the misguided belief that these candidates are more conservative than Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. This is like breaking up with Bobby Brown so you can date Phil Spector."

- Columnist Ann Coulter

(hat tip: Chuck Muth)

the "silver tsunami"

From Stephen Ohlemacher with the AP (hat tip: C-J)... on the first baby-boomer to file for Social Security. What a cool term for this current and future policy fiasco!

The baby boomers' stampede for Social Security benefits has begun.

The nation's first baby boomer, a retired teacher from New Jersey, applied for Social Security benefits Monday, signaling the start of an expected avalanche of applications from the post-World War II war generation.

Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue called it "America's silver tsunami."

Kathleen Casey-Kirschling applied for benefits over the Internet at an event hosted by Astrue. Casey-Kirschling was born one second after midnight Jan. 1, 1946, making her the first baby boomer -- a generation of nearly 80 million born from 1946 to 1964, Astrue said.

Affirmative Action, liberals, hypocrisy, and Clarence Thomas

OK, it's 2-1 at the C-J now: not one, but two outside op-eds against Clarence Thomas (on the occasion of his autobiography) and now one reprinted today from the LA Times from a supporter...

With the release of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' memoir, "My Grandfather's Son," all of the old smears directed against him since his confirmation hearings 16 years ago are once again being trotted out.

That he's "incompetent." That he's "not qualified." That the only reason he was appointed is because he's black. In other words, that he's a product of affirmative action or, more precisely, an "affirmative action hire."...

How can you support a policy of racial preferences and then attack one of its supposed beneficiaries as undeserving? This, ultimately, is the intrinsic hypocrisy of the Thomas bashers. They allege that he's not competent and that the only reason he became a Supreme Court justice was because he's black. And in so doing, they level the exact same arguments against Thomas that they castigate conservatives for making about affirmative action itself. But let's face facts: A program that gives people with a certain skin color an advantage will invariably reward some who would otherwise not qualify...

But as Thomas reveals in "My Grandfather's Son," his opposition to racial preferences is based on personal conscience and a genuine concern for its effects on black Americans, not selfish disregard for his racial brethren born out of self-loathing, as affirmative action advocates would have it. He writes that he keeps his Yale diploma tucked away in his basement with a 15-cent cigar sticker affixed to its frame. Why? In a "60 Minutes" interview, Thomas said "that degree meant one thing for whites and another thing for blacks. . . . It was discounted."

This is one of the tragic legacies of racial preferences -- that the achievements of black people in the professional world will always be suspect, and not just to blacks who benefit from such preferences. In the minds even of liberals, blacks will always be thought of as "affirmative action hires" no matter how bright or qualified they are. It may be difficult for well-intentioned white liberals to understand the personal insecurity that affirmative action causes, and as a white person, I can only take someone like Thomas at his word when he writes about the shame he feels because of racial preferences. But as a gay man, I can certainly empathize, as I imagine I would feel exactly the same way if sexual orientation became a "plus factor" in a law school or employment application process. Factoring in a person's immutable traits demeans them and robs them of their individuality.

Whether or not Thomas is qualified to be a Supreme Court justice, who are affirmative action advocates to smear him as an affirmative action hire? (Can you imagine a left-wing magazine like The American Prospect saying that about a liberal black judge? It would never happen.) But if they honestly believe Thomas is one, then they only have themselves to blame for a rotten system that privileges some people over others because of skin pigmentation...

very good news from Iraq

From the AP, a report that U.S. troop reductions will soon begin in Iraq.

Commanders in Iraq have decided to begin the drawdown of U.S. forces in volatile Diyala province, marking a turning point in the U.S. military mission, The Associated Press has learned.

Instead of replacing the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division, which is returning to its home base at Fort Hood, Texas, in December, soldiers from another brigade in Salahuddin province next door will expand into Diyala, thereby broadening its area of responsibility, several officials said Tuesday.

In this way, the number of Army ground combat brigades in Iraq will fall from 20 to 19. This reflects President Bush's bid to begin reducing the American military force and shifting its role away from fighting the insurgency toward more support functions like training and advising Iraqi security forces...

The idea is to avoid vacating a contested area, like Diyala, which is northeast of Baghdad, while beginning Bush's announced reduction of at least 21,500 troops, of which 17,000 were sent to the Baghdad area last spring.

The shift in Diyala in December could be a model for follow-on reductions next year, with a redrawing of the U.S. lines of responsibility so that a departing brigade has its battle space consumed by a remaining brigade. At the same time, Iraqi security forces would assume greater responsibility...

It is not yet clear how the rest of the five-brigade reduction will be carried out; the cuts are to be completed by July 2008, under a plan recommended by Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, and announced by Bush in September. It probably will include some fresh reductions in the western province of Anbar, where insurgent violence has declined substantially this year...

Democrats start the newest round of mud-slinging at Sodrel

From Lesley Stedman-Weidenbener in yesterday's C-J...

In a statement, state Democratic Chairman Dan Parker said..."With limited Republican funds at the national level, Sodrel may be forced to buy his own way back into the race once he realizes people are tired of his antics," Parker said.

How classy...and so focused on the issues!

"Buy his way into the race" is an indirect reference to the "Millionaire Mike" label they like to pin on him.

As for Sodrel's "antics", this implies that Hill is pure as the driven snow. At least in the past, Hill has been up to as many antics as the Sodrel campaign.

If one hopes for a better congressional campaign, this is not a good start...

will Democrats (eventually) lead the charge on school choice

As Jim Waters at BIPPS points out in his op-ed piece, Democrats are more natural constituents of school choice, since it speaks to personal freedoms on social issues, and especially, the plight of the (inner-city) poor. (A similar argument can be made with respect to abortion, but that's a different post.) And it's questionable whether Republicans really care all that much. If we're waiting on Republican politicians to push choice, it may be a long time in coming!

The problem for Democratic politicians is that most of them are largely captive to interest groups, including those who benefit from the status quo in education. This is a relatively common problem for them. For example, they sacrifice the working poor and middle classes to demagogue Social Security reform and ignore the staggering burden of payroll taxes. But some day, maybe they'll overlook the political benefits to embrace economic reform and justice.

Don’t be surprised if Democrats wind up leading the charge for school choice in Kentucky.

They have done it in other states.

• In Arizona, under Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, four new school-choice programs started in 2006, which allow disadvantaged children to attend private schools.

• In Iowa, Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, signed into law a new corporate scholarship tax-credit bill allowing businesses to fund tuition scholarships for needy children.

• In Wisconsin, Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, signed into law a bill expanding by 50 percent the highly successful, court-tested – and court-approved – Milwaukee voucher program.

And here in Kentucky?

A recent Bluegrass Institute survey showed that 79 percent of Democrats responding support giving parents more options in determining their children’s education.

While a majority of Democrats responding to the survey said they believe every form of school choice “would be good for Kentucky education,” they favored scholarship tax credits the most (71 percent) among options that would allow children to attend nonpublic schools.

In fact, a Democrat first proposed the idea of tax credits in America. The late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York nearly succeeded in getting an education tax-credit bill passed in the early 1970s. Moynihan later chastised his party for allowing political considerations to remain an obstacle to greater educational freedom for America’s needy students.

“I do not think that the prospect of change in (education) is enhanced by the abandonment of pluralism and choice as liberal ideas and liberal values,” he said.

Indeed, it makes sense for Democrats to lead the charge for educational liberty. While known for their loyalty to teacher unions and education bureaucracies, Democrats also remain fiercely proud of their role as advocates of the poor, especially minorities in urban areas.

However, they face difficulty maintaining that signature if they ignore the pleas of these constituents who want more choices.