Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Chesterton on agnosticism

It is very good for a man to talk about what he does not understand; as long as he understands that he does not understand it. Agnosticism (which has, I am sorry to say, almost entirely disappeared from the modern world) is always an admirable thing, so long as it admits that the thing which it does not understand may be much superior to the mind which does not understand it.

--A Handful of Authors, p.163; hat tip: ???

life in the home...

[We have] the misfortunate to live in an age of journalese, in which everything done inside a house is called ‘drudgery’ while anything done inside an office is called ‘enterprise.’

-- G.K. Chesterton

Rodman, Jesse James, and Trump

A poignant moment on the Apprentice the other night...

Tonia and I watched the series for a few seasons a few years back, but lost interest.

While playing Ticket to Ride the other night, we found Celebrity Apprentice and decided to keep an eye on it during our game. There were a few moments about Dennis throughout the episode-- in particular, Clint Black trying to reach out to him, but a variety of responses to the difficulties that Dennis presents.

At the end, in the boardroom, it reduced to an "intervention". It was tough but riveting and moving to watch.

Here's Hunter Baker with Acton on the episode with an application to the natural law:

Last night I watched the latest episode of The Apprentice: Celebrity Edition. I have been pulled into the series this year largely because of the compelling finishes where The Donald lectures celebrities about their work habits and managerial ineptness. Dennis Rodman has been a draw because of his incredibly bad behavior.

This was Dennis’ week. His teammates chose him to be the project manager because they hoped he would rise to the challenge if he was running things. It worked, for a short while, then he drank enough to go past caring...

The men’s team lost, which gave rise to the beautiful moment. Motorcycle entrepeneur and reality star Jesse James confronted Dennis Rodman with his drinking problem....Rodman said in frustration, “I . . . I could kick all y’all’s a**es. Everyone one here.”

Now, I’m not sure that is actually true. Jesse James, for example, was a professional bodyguard at one point. But James didn’t respond to Rodman’s provocation with a physical challenge. His actual reply was devastating:

Then why don’t you kick our a**es at being a good person?

Rodman sat silent.

I called this a beautiful moment for the natural law because Jesse James put the idea out there for millions of people whether he or they realized it. We know what a good person is. We expect people to aspire to that AND to achieve it.

At a minimum, we expect people to be honest, to keep their promises, to be reliable, and to moderate their own behavior out of respect for others. These are things Thomas Aquinas would say we can reason to from the premise of the social nature of man....

Monday, March 30, 2009

Chesterton on education and "women in the home"

People of the progressive sort are perpetually telling us that the hope of the world is in education. Education is everything…

They tell us this over and over again, with slight variations of the same formula, and never seem to see what it involves. For if there be any word of truth in all this talk about the education of the child, then there is certainly nothing but nonsense in nine-tenths of the talk about the emancipation of the woman. If education is the highest function in the State, why should anybody want to be emancipated from the highest function in the State?

It is as if we talked of commuting the sentence that condemned a man to be President of the
United States; or a reprieve coming in time to save him from being Pope. If education is the largest thing in the world, what is the sense of talking about a woman being liberated from the largest thing in the world? It is as if we were to rescue her from the cruel doom of being a poet like Shakespeare; or to pity the limitations of an all-round artist like Leonardo da Vinci...

In short, if education is really the larger matter, then certainly domestic life is the larger matter; and official or commercial life the lesser matter. It is a mere matter of arithmetic that anything taken from the larger matter will leave it less. It is a mere matter of simple subtraction that the mother must have less time for the family if she has more time for the factory...

We come back to the parent as the person in charge of education. If you exalt the education, you must exalt the parental power with it. If you exaggerate the education, you must exaggerate the parental power with it. If you depreciate the parental power, you must depreciate education with it…

--Fancies Versus Fads ~ Chapter XXVII: Turning Inside Out

my NCAA picks: from glory to dust

I started out 40-8 in the first two rounds, with 13 of the 16 in the Sweet Sixteen.

Then it got ugly...

4-4 in the Sweet 16-- and then, 0-4 in the Elite 8 (and thus, 0-3 the rest of the way).

So, I'm done!

Final record: 44-19.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Chesterton on wives/mothers

I have never understood myself how this superstition arose: the notion that a woman plays a lowly part in the home and a loftier part outside the home. There may be all sorts of excellent reasons for individuals doing or not doing either; but I cannot understand how the domestic thing can be considered inferior in the nature of the thing done. Most work done in the outer world is pretty mechanical work; some of it is decidedly dirty work. There seems no possible sense in which it is intrinsically superior to domestic work. Nine times out of ten, the only difference is that the one person is drudging for people she does care for and the other drudging for people she does not care for...

But, allowing for the element of drudgery in both cases, there is rather more element of distinction, and even dictatorship, in the domestic case. The most fully trusted official must very largely go by rules and regulations established by superiors. The mother of a family makes her own rules and regulations; and they are not merely mechanical rules, but often very fundamental moral rules. Nor are they merely monotonous in their application. Mr. Ford is reported, rightly or wrongly, as saying that the woman should not be in the business of the outer world, because business people have to make decisions. I should say that mothers have to make many more decisions. A great part of a big business goes by routine…

--hat tip: American Chesterton Society

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

“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good…Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is...A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it..."

-- Mere Christianity, book 3, ch. 11

Saturday, March 28, 2009

faith and superstition

Two funny/tragic combos: People who are critical of standard religious faith-- or who claim to be adherents to some form of monotheism while embracing various superstitions.

Here's a more provocative angle from David Gibson in the WSJ...

At a Mass on Saturday in Luanda, Angola, Pope Benedict tried to warn his listeners of the dangers of belief in witchcraft....The statement reflects a real and tragic problem in many parts of Africa, even among people who identify as Christians. Many still consult shamans and use talismans or potions for everything from fertility problems to exorcisms, while others take things a horrifying step further: Children, especially those with a physical deformity or afflicted with a disease like AIDS, are often brutalized or killed in the belief that they are possessed by evil spirits....

No wonder church leaders who praise the explosion of faith across Africa as the future of Christianity -- the Christian population has gone to 360 million today from eight million in 1900 -- also take pains to try to purge superstition and witchcraft from the continent. And they regularly fail, or offend....

In response to Pope Benedict and Bishop Spong, many would argue that religion itself is simply another form of superstition, albeit dressed up in Greek philosophy or Hebrew wisdom. And believers, even in the most well-heeled precincts of the world, are hardly in a position to criticize their African brethren. Polls show that at least half of Americans confess to being superstitious to one degree or another -- one-third believe in astrology...

But the problem is that one man's superstition is another man's religion, and vice versa....

The distance between "prosperity theology" -- the notion that following God's commands will make you rich -- for example, and sacrificing animals to appease the gods is perhaps not as great as we'd like to think.

On the other hand, the history of religion could be viewed as the process, however halting and incomplete, of shedding magical thinking to reveal truth and meaning, which are the hallmarks of genuine belief as opposed to superstition.

The difference between superstitions and religion is not only the difference between meaning and randomness, and between faith and anxiety, but also the difference between belief in a personal, benevolent God and fear of a pitiless Mother Nature, waiting to be appeased -- or exploited -- by mumbo jumbo. "Superstition" by definition "stands beyond" us, whereas religion is part of the human experience and interacts with it.

Superstition offers the illusion of control by manipulating nature or revealing her occult intent....Religion gives the promise, rather than the illusion, of hope....Accidental similarities between religion and magic should not lead anyone to confuse the difference in their content....

Friday, March 27, 2009

over-economizing: incentives and parenting

That's the gist of a tough review by Daniel Akst in the WSJ...

The plague of economists continues -- and I am not referring to the great minds now quarreling over how to rescue the nation's financial system. Ever since the wildfire success of "Freakonomics," we have been overrun by dismal scientists applying their dubious world-view to the problems of everyday life.

The latest entry in this increasingly threadbare genre is "Parentonomics," in which the Australian economist Joshua Gans sees parenthood as an effort to persuade children "to do various things, from sleeping, eating, toileting, and behaving to refraining from lying, cheating, stealing and the use of violence." The question, Mr. Gans says, is "whether economics -- which worries a lot about incentives -- could be of any use to parents."

It will not come as a surprise to any parent who has ever dangled the prospect of a nice cupcake as a reward for homework completed that the answer is: sometimes. Incentives may work, but they sometimes lead to unexpected consequences,...

Unfortunately, the bulk of "Parentonomics" concentrates less on bringing an economist's shrewd analysis to the relationship between parents and children than on recounting an economist's at-home experiences with his own kids. It's an age-old problem: The only children in the world that fascinate are one's own; everybody else's -- sorry, Mr. Gans -- are a bore....

Mr. Gans insists that "Parentonomics" is not a manual, yet much of it, when the gloss of economics-speak is scraped away, amounts to little more than parenting advice. On that ground alone it merits skepticism....

EU punked by an artist



From Michael Moynihan and Ronald Bailey in Reason...

The Czech government, who currently hold the rotating presidency of the European Union, selected artist David Cerny to produce an artwork symbolizing European unity and cooperation that would be displayed at the European Council's office building in Brussels. One could have expected that Cerny, who recently courted controversy with his Damien Hirst-inspired "Saddam Hussein in formaldehyde" (which was pulled from a Belgian museum when city officials worried it might "offend Muslims")...would have tried to piss a few people off with a piece on national stereotypes in EU member countries.

As Sarah Lyall writes in the Times, Cerny didn't disappoint, submitting a massive sculpture titled "Entropa":

But wait. Here is Bulgaria, represented as a series of crude, hole-in-the-floor toilets. Here is the Netherlands, subsumed by floods, with only a few minarets peeping out from the water. Luxembourg is depicted as a tiny lump of gold marked by a "for sale" sign, while five Lithuanian soldiers are apparently urinating on Russia. France? On strike. [In the print version, Moynihan noted that the Bulgarians were represented by a Turkish toilet]....

In the case of "Entropa," Mr. Cerny presented the piece as the work of 27 artists, one from each country. But it was all a huge hoax. After being challenged by reporters this week, Mr. Cerny admitted that he and two of his friends constructed the whole thing themselves, making up the names of artists, giving some of them Web sites and writing pretentious, absurd statements to go with their supposed contributions.

tired of U.S. News & World Report university rankings?

Here's Richard Vedder with a new-and-improved university ratings system, published by Forbes (hat tip: Shikha Dalmia in Reason)...

As an economist, he opens up with the line that U.S. News and World Report has monopolized this-- and that "competition is good".

The best school in the nation? Princeton University, followed closely by the California Institute of Technology, Harvard, Swarthmore and Williams. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point came in sixth on our rankings, spearheading a generally strong showing by all the service academies.

Top 50 U.S. Colleges
Top Private Colleges
Top Public Colleges
Complete College Rankings

Key questions?

How good will my professors be? Will the school help me achieve notable career success? If I have to borrow to pay for college, how deeply will I go into debt? What are the chances I will graduate in four years? Are students and faculty recognized nationally, or even globally?

Some of the results:

The data show that students strongly prefer smaller schools to big ones....Generally speaking, big state schools performed poorly...Small liberal arts schools shine in our rankings, probably due to both the quality of their faculty and the personal attention they can provide....

Several relatively unknown schools do surprisingly well in our rankings. Wabash College, a tiny, all-male school located in Crawfordsville, Ind., ranks 12th on our list, and Centre College, a highly regarded liberal arts school in Danville, Ky., ranks 13th....

even if they're correct, why don't they extend the same courtesy to capitalism

The C-J'ers attribute all sorts of things, falsely, to capitalism.
When it comes to socialism, they find a true believer to defend him from that charge.

Here's Billy Wharton, the editor of The Socialist, in the C-J...

The question "Is Obama a socialist?" spread rapidly through a network of right-wing blogs, conservative television outlets and alarmist radio talk shows and quickly moved into the mainstream. "We Are All Socialists Now," declared a Newsweek cover last month. A New York Times reporter recently pinned Obama down with the question, "Are you a socialist, as some people have suggested?" The normally unflappable politician stumbled through a response so unconvincing that it required a follow-up call in which Obama claimed impeccable free-market credentials....

The funny thing is, of course, that socialists know that Barack Obama is not one of us. Not only is he not a socialist, he may in fact not even be a liberal. Socialists understand him more as a hedge-fund Democrat -- one of a generation of neoliberal politicians firmly committed to free-market policies....

This guy is correct in that Obama is not (the most traditional form of) liberal in terms of foreign policy. He is certainly not committed to free market policies. Billy's claim about this is ridiculous-- and he doesn't bother to back it up.

The first clear indication that Obama is not, in fact, a socialist, is the way his administration is avoiding structural changes to the financial system.

Yep, but not exactly "free market", huh?

incentives matter to the rich-- at least those in Congress

From the editorialists in the WSJ...

On the same day the House whooped through a 90% surtax on some bonuses, Bloomberg News reported that Democratic Rep. Pete Stark, a House eminento from California, may have been improperly claiming residency in Maryland to get a tax break. As you might guess, Maryland's tax bite isn't as deep as wonderful California's. This follows on news reports last week that Democratic New York Congressman Eliot Engel has been told by Maryland authorities he too may not claim his suburban Maryland home as his primary residence for tax purposes....No doubt millions of average Joes living in such tax hells as New York and California would love to work on the taxpayers' dime in Washington and live in a low-tax jurisdiction nearby.

Bush and especially Obama turn us into a "sub-prime nation": the credit rating of the federal govt

From Matt Welch in Reason...

According to the FICO-score calculators over at the Credit Loan blog: If Uncle Sam wanted to buy a house, he would get a rate of 7.836% for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage since "the government owes almost four times its yearly take".

March Monopsony Madness: the exploitation of NCAA athletes

From Richard Vedder and Matthew Denhart in the WSJ...

Whether student-athletes should be paid, it is clear that they are compensated at a level far less than what they produce. In most cases, people find that sort of thing quite troubling. In fact, you'd expect to see labor unions rise up against an employer that clearly has tons of monopoly power over a labor force (the technical term is "monopsony").

Behind all the hoopla [of March Madness], however, is the reality that the players who entertain us receive compensation that amounts to only a very small percentage of what they would have earned if they sold their services in a competitive market.

Take Kevin Durant, for instance....agreed to a contract paying $3.5 million in the first year. By contrast, his yearly compensation (in the form of room, board, books and tuition fees at Texas) amounted to about $33,120, less than 1% of what was offered by the Supersonics. Football is the other major revenue generating sport. In 2006, Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush skipped his senior year...

Top-level college sports is big business, but very little of this flows to the student-athletes. Ohio State, for example, receives about $110 million in revenue each year from ticket sales, television rights, concessions, parking, logo sales, etc. -- over one-fifth of what it receives in tuition revenue from its more than 50,000 students. And its basketball players are paid about $29,500 each.

In a competitive market, companies cannot exploit workers in this way for long, as rival firms will hire them away at higher salaries. In basketball, however, the NCAA cartel prevents that, dictating limits on pay (essentially college costs) and even penalizing transfers to other schools. Strict rules also prevent college athletes from signing lucrative endorsement deals or accepting gifts beyond a certain amount. Soon after entering the NBA, Mr. Durant further augmented his earnings by signing a $72 million deal with Nike; he inked other endorsement contracts with Gatorade, EA Sports and Upper Deck.

If all of that money from ticket sales and television rights isn't going to student-athletes, where does it end up? In 2006, salaries for coaches and administrators accounted for nearly 32% of total athletic-department expenses. Many head football coaches at top universities earn five times the salary of their university president....

So why haven't players unionized already? First, the "workers" are around for only three or at most four playing seasons, making it hard to build up much of a movement. Second, coaches control playing time and enormously influence career success, so it is the rare college kid who will incur the coach's wrath to form any kind of insurrection. Finally, most players don't have a lot of contact with the members of other teams. But if you see them whispering before the tipoffs this weekend, you'll know why.

evangelicals and politics

Joel Carpenter with a review of three books in Books & Culture...

After a long (and fruitful) opening, Carpenter discusses seven "general trends" about evangelical roles in public affairs-- as found by the authors:

1. All over the world, evangelicals are now engaging civic life and public affairs.

2. Evangelicals can mobilize quickly and powerfully when a “kairos moment” emerges,
but they rarely succeed in sustaining a public presence.

This could be a function of fatigue where perseverance is required-- or in many cases, a fading of passion at what turns out to be the impractical and/or unbiblical
pursuit of government for godly ends.

3. Evangelical groups often enter public affairs for group-serving purposes, and they are not immune to bribery, cronyism, and influence-peddling.

Fire, like govt, is powerful. But this is one of the practical consequences of playing with fire.

4. Evangelical competition and proliferation nullify any idea of “evangelical blocs” or “new Christendoms.”

5. There are some signs of political maturation and principled approaches among evangelical

Maturation often means leaving the arena or moderating one's views. The only, real answer is a biblical worldview of government.

6. Lausanne and evangelical students promote democracy.

7. Evangelicals are much better at social action than at electoral politics.

Yep. Not surprisingly. Fortunately, that's a higher calling most of the time.

Christianity and homosexuality

Cross-posting this from my response to a request to comment on this topic at Masson's Blog...

Homosexual conduct is one of many potential sins and temptations within Christian sexual ethics.

Homosexual conduct within the Church is to be dealt with as any other pre-meditated or repeated sins-- through various forms of accountability and "church discipline". The strongest of the latter is "ex-communication" until the sin has been dealt with.

Homosexual conduct in the world cannot be condoned, but is simply one of the many ways in which "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God".

The injunction of Christ with "the woman caught in adultery" applies nicely here: don't throw stones (to her accusers), but (to her) "go and leave your life of sin".

Homosexual orientation or "identity" is one of many potential pre-Christian identities-- as opposed to Christians who might struggle with homosexual urges.

This passage is not meant to provide a complete list of such identities, but is still instructive:

"Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."

Bottom line: Whatever your sins, have you accepted the washing or not?

And then, from later in the thread-- on getting rid of Paul:

X and Y are saying, in essence, “I don’t use Paul…” This means you take yourself as a greater authority than the Bible, picking and choosing what you like. OK… Good luck with that.

Since you both seem to respect the moral teachings of Jesus Christ, where do we find Him re-labeling homosexual conduct as righteous?

And then in response to this reply:

since eric decries “picking and choosing what you like” from the bible, i take that to mean that he regards eating shellfish to be an abomination, avoids spending time with women who are menstruating, and so on.

if not… good luck with that.

I had this response:

St. Allio, most dietary restrictions and the ceremonial laws were done away with in the New Testament. The moral laws were not. It's apples and oranges-- or more like apples and rocks.

I wish more people (Christian or not) understood the distinction. If they do, we could dispense with what turns out to be a lame argument.

a practical consequence of taxing AIG bonuses

When trying to implement public policy, one must consider both the ethical and the practical...

Here's Jonathan Clement in the WSJ (hat tip: Linda Christiansen)...

Like Bernie Madoff, I've got the government coming after my money. Unlike Madoff, I didn't do anything wrong.

The House of Representatives, alas, thinks otherwise. Last Thursday, 328 members voted for a bill that would slap a 90% surtax on my bonus...

All of this might come as a surprise to those of you who recognize my byline. Until a year ago, I was The Wall Street Journal's personal-finance columnist -- and widely considered to be a friend of the ordinary investor.

But that was then. In April 2008, I left to join a new Citi venture. (What follows are my views -- not those of Citigroup Inc.) For the past year, I thought I was involved in building a wonderful, customer-friendly business that minimizes conflicts of interest, favors index funds, and helps everyday Americans with their entire financial lives.

It seems that I was sadly mistaken. If the rebuke from Washington is any guide, I have apparently played an integral part in the collapse of the global economy and the financial markets -- and I must be punished....

In fact, many of the Wall Street executives responsible for today's mess have long since moved on -- and, unless they receive a bonus in 2009, will escape the 90% surtax. Unfair? Indeed, it is. The House bill is akin to, say, penalizing the earnings of today's politicians because their predecessors failed to save us from the current economic debacle.

I realize readers won't be shedding tears -- $250,000 is a decent chunk of change (though, trust me, it doesn't buy that great a lifestyle in New York). Still, the bill could cause financial headaches....

Not buying the hardship angle? Not persuaded that this tax is unfair? Consider this truly searing indictment: A 90% tax is downright stupid, creating bizarre disincentives. Exhibit A? That would be me. Once my total income hits $250,000 for the current calendar year, I will have no incentive to work a single day more in 2009. After all, for every extra dollar of income I earn above $250,000, I will lose 90 cents of the bonus I received earlier this year....

the road tolls for thee-- or it probably won't be built

Maybe that's the idea?

Here's Marcus Green and Tom Loftus in the C-J on Kentucky's inability to prioritize-- and Baron Hill's refusal to consider user fees-- to pay for the fourth Ohio River bridge near Louisville...

House and Senate leaders were divided yesterday over how to resolve differences on a funding bill for the Ohio River Bridges Project. House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Okolona, said it's unlikely that lawmakers will consider the bill in a conference committee as the General Assembly heads into its final two days....

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Baron Hill, D-Ind., said federal transportation officials told him this week that considering tolls to help fund the project would cause work to stop for 18 months to conduct additional studies because tolls would be a change to the plan....

Hill is opposed to tolls for the project, and said he gave U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood an alternate proposal to help Kentucky pay for its $2.9 billion share of the project's cost. That plan includes bonds to be repaid by Kentucky's future federal highway funds. In all, Hill said his plan would pledge one-third of Kentucky's federal dollars over a 35-year repayment period....

Indiana would cover most of its portion of the bridges project's cost -- $1.1 billion -- from money it receives from leasing a toll road near the Michigan border to a venture between Australian and Spanish companies.

a government monopoly losing money...go figure!

From the AP's Randolph Schmid in the C-J...

The post office will run out of money this year unless it gets help, Postmaster General John Potter told Congress yesterday as he sought permission to cut delivery to five days a week....

I thought that the USPS still received direct subsidies, but I can't find evidence of that on-line. In any case, ain't it interesting to see a government monopoly that loses money.

The agency lost $2.8 billion last year and is looking at much larger losses this year. Reducing mail delivery from six days to five days a week could save $3.5 billion annually, Potter said....


Officials said the recession has contributed to a mail volume drop of 5.2 billion pieces compared to the same period last year. If there is no economic recovery, the USPS projects volume for the year will be down by 12 billion to 15 billion pieces of mail....

The USPS is an interesting example of government monopoly power which is undermined by the market and technological advance. Aside from the recession, without changing the way the do business, they will require massive subsidies or will go under.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"really in need"

That phrase (repeated in 5:3,5,16) is probably the biggest take-away from my lesson in I Timothy 5:1-16 last weekend.

The passage speaks to a big problem/deal-- biblically and historically. Women married relatively early and men had shorter lifespans. No Social Security, no pensions, etc. The topic is addressed in the Law-- most notably through the fascinating provision of "levirate marriage", but also the repeated emphasis on protecting the most vulnerable in Jewish society, including widows. The prophets spoke to this when widows were mistreated. Jesus talked about this-- and it is a key feature in the development of the early church (Acts 6; Jas 1:27).

But how to do it? The local church must balance its responsibility to be good stewards along with the need to be generous as appropriate. Or combining the two, by identifying those "really in need", the church would be better able to assist the truly needy.

What is true for charity also holds for welfare. Marvin Olasky, in his seminal
The Tragedy of American Compassion, lays out the history of American charity and welfare efforts-- and then advocates the use of "categorization and discernment" in dealing with the needy.

Finally, note the strength of Paul's words in I Timothy 5:8. You can dismiss some of the weight as hyperbole, but the fact is that such hypocrisy and failure to care for the needy reflects poorly on the supposed faith of the self-proclaimed believer as well as the church and the Church.

fan vs. follower of Jesus

Here's Kyle's awesome sermon from Sunday...

He's usually outstanding, but this one was particularly stellar and hard-hitting in terms of substance.

Kyle noted that Christ was more interested in a high level of commitment, rather than the size of the crowd. In the passage on which the sermon was based, Luke 14:25-27, Christ has gained a significant following-- and breaks out some difficult teaching to discern commitment from not-so-much.

Kyle's questions for (self-proclaimed) believers:
-Are you a fan or a follower of Jesus Christ?
-Are you "traveling" (14:25) as a spectator or a band-wagon believer-- or a disciple?

How can you tell?
-Do you have some form of cafeteria Christianity-- it's fine as long as it doesn't interfere with how I want to live life? For example, general morality and regular church attendance are fine, but don't talk to me about sex, money and anger.
-Do you see worship as something that should entertain? Is a provocative sermon seen as something that interferes with your life?

Here's a follow-up video that Kyle shot...

Kelo v. City of New London

A new video by Austin Bragg and my former colleague/acquaintance Caleb Brown-- with CATO...


What does one TRILLION dollars look like?

From PageTutor.com

(hat tip: Shawn Loy)...

All this talk about "stimulus packages" and "bailouts"...

One TRILLION dollars...

What does that look like? I mean, these various numbers are tossed around like so many doggie treats, so I thought I'd take Google Sketchup out for a test drive and try to get a sense of what exactly a trillion dollars looks like.

We'll start with a $100 dollar bill. Currently the largest U.S. denomination in general circulation. Most everyone has seen them, slighty fewer have owned them. Guaranteed to make friends wherever they go.


A packet of one hundred $100 bills is less than 1/2" thick and contains $10,000. Fits in your pocket easily and is more than enough for week or two of shamefully decadent fun.


Believe it or not, this next little pile is $1 million dollars (100 packets of $10,000). You could stuff that into a grocery bag and walk around with it.

$1,000,000 (one million dollars)

While a measly $1 million looked a little unimpressive, $100 million is a little more respectable. It fits neatly on a standard pallet...

$100,000,000 (one hundred million dollars)

And $1 BILLION dollars... now we're really getting somewhere...

$1,000,000,000 (one billion dollars)

Next we'll look at ONE TRILLION dollars. This is that number we've been hearing so much about. What is a trillion dollars? Well, it's a million million. It's a thousand billion. It's a one followed by 12 zeros.

Ladies and gentlemen... I give you $1 trillion dollars...

$1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion dollars)

Notice those pallets are double stacked.
...and remember those are $100 bills.

So the next time you hear someone toss around the phrase "trillion dollars"... that's what they're talking about.

urban poverty and the Democratic party

There's Thomas Frank's Kansas thesis-- why do poorer states tend to vote Republican.

Now, we have the same thing flipped around-- why do poorer cities vote Democratic?

Here's a little ditty from Jefferson Review...

What do the top ten cities (over 250,000) with the highest poverty rate all have in common?

Detroit, MI (1st on the poverty rate list) hasn't elected a Republican mayor since 1961;

Buffalo, NY (2nd) hasn't elected one since 1954;

Cincinnati, OH (3rd)....since 1984;

Cleveland, OH (4th)...since 1989;

Miami, FL (5th) has never had a Republican mayor;

St. Louis, MO (6th).....since 1949;

El Paso, TX (7th) has never had a Republican mayor;

Milwaukee, WI (8th)...since 1908;

Philadelphia, PA (9th)....since 1952;

Newark, NJ (10th)...since 1907.

City, State, % of People Below the Poverty Level

1. Detroit, MI 32.5%

2. Buffalo, NY 29.9%

3. Cincinnati, OH 27.8%

4. Cleveland, OH 27.0%

5. Miami, FL 26.9%

5. St. Louis, MO 26.8%

7. El Paso, TX 26.4%

8. Milwaukee, WI 26.2%

9. Philadelphia, PA 25.1%

10. Newark, NJ 24.2%

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2006 American Community Survey, August 2007

(mass) secession?

In recent months, I've thought more about the possibility of mass secession from the United States.

Of course, you have the red state vs. blue state distinction. In recent elections, the country has often reduced to a narrow 50-50 divide. Beyond the politics, there seem to be clear social and cultural factors in play. In such a situation, majority politics means that the majority will win, but a large minority of people will be really unhappy with the outcome. Secession is one way to fix that.

One other variable has popped up in recent months: the increasing financial crisis and the profound difference in desire for government spending. The national debt may lead to bankruptcy or non-negotiable differences in how to handle spending, taxes, and debt.

What would this look like? Probably a West-Coast nation. A range of possibilities to the East: the East Coast from North Carolina or Viriginia or Maryland to the north-- and stretching as far east as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Here's Walter Williams from TownHall.com on "10th Amendments"...

Our Colonial ancestors petitioned and pleaded with King George III to get his boot off their necks. He ignored their pleas, and in 1776, they rightfully declared unilateral independence and went to war. Today it's the same story except Congress is the one usurping the rights of the people and the states, making King George's actions look mild in comparison....There are rumblings of a long overdue re-emergence of Americans' characteristic spirit of rebellion.

Eight state legislatures have introduced resolutions declaring state sovereignty under the Ninth and 10th amendments to the U.S. Constitution; they include Arizona, Hawaii, Montana, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington. There's speculation that they will be joined by Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Nevada, Maine and Pennsylvania....

State legislatures must take measures that put some teeth into their 10th Amendment resolutions. Congress will simply threaten a state, for example, with a cutoff of highway construction funds if it doesn't obey a congressional mandate, such as those that require seat belt laws or that lower the legal blood-alcohol level to .08 for drivers. States might take a lead explored by Colorado.

In 1994, the Colorado Legislature passed a 10th Amendment resolution and later introduced a bill titled "State Sovereignty Act." Had the State Sovereignty Act passed both houses of the legislature, it would have required all people liable for any federal tax that's a component of the highway users fund, such as a gasoline tax, to remit those taxes directly to the Colorado Department of Revenue. The money would have been deposited in an escrow account called the "Federal Tax Fund" and remitted monthly to the IRS, along with a list of payees and respective amounts paid. If Congress imposed sanctions on Colorado for failure to obey an unconstitutional mandate and penalized the state by withholding funds due, say $5 million for highway construction, the State Sovereignty Act would have prohibited the state treasurer from remitting any funds in the escrow account to the IRS. Instead, Colorado would have imposed a $5 million surcharge on the Federal Tax Fund account to continue the highway construction....

NCAA #'s: 40-8, 8-0 and 21

That's my record in the NCAA tournament so far this year.

I usually do OK, but this has been a strong year for prognostication.

The funny/sad thing, very few people are in the groups I usually join (at church, The Kings College, and IUS), so my success is mostly in a vacuum. HA!

In the next round, I could lose a lot of ground or step it up another notch-- in particular, with my upset pick of Gonzaga over UNC.

One other stat for you (from today's C-J):

Rick Pitino is 8-0 in the Sweet Sixteen-- with an average margin of victory of 21 points.

1993KentuckyWake Forest103-69
1995KentuckyArizona State97-73
1997KentuckySaint Joseph's83-68

Monday, March 23, 2009

"the conclusion of the matter"

Last weekend, Dave had an effective sermon to wrap up Southeast's series on Ecclesiastes...

A few nuggets:

1.) It's interesting that the ending is so abrupt/succinct: 2 verses after 220 verses on Solomon's failures and the vanities of life.

2.) Dave told a story about Dwight L. Moody who told his wife one night that there had been "three and a half decisions for the Lord". His wife asked if this meant three adults and one child. Paraphrasing, Moody replied: "No, three children and one adult. The adult only has half of a life left." Dave referred to Eccl 12:1 and exhorted the audience to "remember their Creator in the days of their youth".

3.) Dave's summary of the text:
Live life for the right person; fear God (Mt 10:28).
Live life by the right standards; keep His commands (Ps 119:129, 1:2).
Live life with the right focus; He will judge all (Rom 8:1, 14:11-12).

Providence, creeds, gnosticism, gratitude, and youth

From last week's Sunday School lesson, a few nuggets from I Timothy 3:14-4:16...

1.) It's a small thing, but from I Timothy 3:14-15, it's cool that Paul's delay in visiting Timothy led to the book of I Timothy. Often, the distractions and delays of life are meant for some greater Providence.

2.) I Timothy 3:16 is probably a quote of an early creed &/or hymn. Aside from my early years (half Catholic schooling and some time in mainline Protestant churches), my Christian background has been in a-creedal settings. Creeds can be a useful a-biblical tool. They are indispensable in any context where access to the Word is limited.

3.) Paul confronts "false teachers" and exhorts Timothy to confront where necessary and defend the Gospel and his flock. In this context, the false teachings stemmed from one form of Gnosticism and resulted in rules related to food and sex-- two basic drives which can be perverted, but are at the heart of who we are as physical/spiritual beings and point to the goodness of God's creation. So too today-- from various legalisms within the Church to the ascetic call of various secular religions (e.g, environmentalism).

4.) An antidote to such gnosticism is a proper focus on God's creation, His greatness, and our gratitude. As Matthew Henry put it: "We must not refuse the gift of God's bounty, nor be scrupulous in making differences where God has made none."

5.) Finally, there's the terrific/classic I Timothy 4:12. We can only speculate in our inferences about the cause of the problems here: was it Timothy's insecurity or some older, ornery people in his flock? In any case, one can sum up the verse by saying that Timothy should not let them look down on him and he should have a life where people look up to him.

variation on an old theme

There's an old joke among those who are prone to see government as more of a problem than a solution. We like "gridlock" because this means that the government is not doing stuff to us and to others.

Here's a new application: There has been a lot of focus on Obama's portrayal of himself as Everyman and Superman-- interested in the things of the common man and able to master or at least dabble in an amazingly wide array of activities. In recent days, we've seen his focus on NCAA basketball, pop culture (through Jay Leno), and gardening. In the realm of public policy, he seems to daily flit with ease from one topic to another.

I admire both the Common man and Renaissance man in Obama. I'll take that combo over a president who doesn't know the price of a loaf of bread or has narrow interests. Beyond that, given scarce resources, it must mean that he's devoting less energy to governance. On net, that's probably a very good thing.

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

“Though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.”

--Mere Christianity, book 3, ch. 9

Saturday, March 21, 2009

how vs. why

Here's the provocative and widely-applicable opening to Nicholas Wolterstorff's recent essay in Books & Culture...

I was reading
The Craftsman, by the distinguished sociologist Richard Sennett, when then President-elect Barack Obama was selecting persons for his cabinet. The universal response of the media to the cabinet appointments was that Obama was selecting pragmatists rather than ideologues. Sennett's book led me to see that Obama was picking craftsmen—people who believe that there is such a thing as governing well and who are both capable of doing so and committed. Whatever the philosophy of governance of the preceding administration, certainly it was not this...

Sennett opens his book with a little story explaining his motivation in writing it. Just after the Cuban missile crisis he ran into his teacher, the German philosopher Hannah Arendt...making sure her student drew the right lesson...that "people who make things usually don't understand what they are doing."

This was by no means a momentary and isolated conviction on Arendt's part; it was the application to the topic at hand of her philosophical framework. Animal laborans is the laboring human being, engaged in the task of making something; he shuts out everything that does not pertain to the task as hand. Homo faber is men and women making a life together. Animal laborans is fixated on the question "How?" Homo faber asks "Why?" Thus homo faber is not the colleague of animal laborans but its superior, standing above as guide and critic. For Arendt, thinking comes after making, politics transcends labor....

the Devil went to Chicago...

Here's something I blogged one once previously-- when Olasky compared it to the excellent Will Smith film, I Am Legend. Here's a story from Mark Moring in CT on Max McLean bringing C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters to life and to the theater...

Several times a week, Max McLean does something that most would want to avoid—forever.

He goes to hell. On purpose. And he has a devil of a good time doing it.

McLean, you see, is the eponymous star of The Screwtape Letters, a stage adaptation of C. S. Lewis's classic that has played to sold-out audiences over the last year and wowed critics in New York, Washington, D.C., and, most recently, Chicago.

For the part, McLean slicks back his silvery hair, dons a colorful smoking jacket, and—from a stage short on props but clearly representing a corner of the underworld—becomes a demon. Specifically, as Lewis put it, "His Abysmal Sublimity Screwtape, Under Secretary of the Satanic Lowerarchy." For 90 minutes, McLean dictates—with precise articulation to his wordless assistant, Toadpipe—those infamous instructional letters addressed to his nephew, Wormwood, a junior demon who is trying to lead his "patient," a new Christian, into temptation.

Lewis wrote that composing Screwtape had been a daunting task: "I never wrote with less enjoyment...The strain produced a sort of spiritual cramp. The world into which I had to project myself while I spoke through Screwtape was all dust, grit, thirst, and itch. Every trace of beauty, freshness, and geniality had to be excluded. It almost smothered me before I was done."

McLean understands why Lewis, as the author, would feel that way. But as an actor, McLean feels nothing of the sort when he morphs into the character....

King David on NBC

From Megan Basham in World, a (disappointed) review of the NBC series Kings about King David-- and an interview with the producer...

There's virtually no probability that I would catch a scintilla of this show. We only watch 24 and a little bit of Idol from prime-time TV. But for those of you who might have too much spare time (!) or would be otherwise interested...

Hopefully, Christians will let this die an easy and quick death. If they respond to form, they'll respond the reinterpretation of Jonathan as a homosexual. Like Father Daniel from NBC a few years ago, the better response is to ignore it and focus on more matters-- like divorce, Darfur, and discipleship.

First, the review...

It's easy to see why Christians might be excited about the new series Kings, premiering on NBC March 15. Since the golden age of the silver screen, Old Testament stories, with their sin, intrigue, supernaturalism, and redemption, have been the stuff of epic moviemaking. And a modern reimagining of the lives of Saul and David could hardly offer better fodder for the long format of the television drama. But like many other occasions when Hollywood has taken up the Bible, the producers of Kings appear to have missed the point....

Updating ancient Israel obviously requires a major overhaul of the source material, and there's nothing wrong with the way creator Michael Green has gone about that....If the place and a few of the names are different, the plot points are basically the same....Some of the revisions are obvious....Other alterations are more subtle....

[David] displays no particular love for the Lord....Equally disappointing is what the story does to the image of the warrior king. The producers play current events with the heaviest of hands to make barely veiled political points....Even when he defeats Goliath, he doesn't do it for the Lord's honor and he doesn't do it with a sense of conviction; rather, like Forrest Gump, he stumbles into victory accidentally. A postmodern poster-child, there is no assuredness in David of his God or anything else....a sad, pale imitation of the heroism of the actual David...

Then, the interview...


From World, the story of a gas station purchase gone bad...

...used his PayPal debit card to pay for $26 worth of gas for his Camaro. But when he arrived home, he had a message on his answering machine from PayPal asking him to verify a gas purchase of $81,400,836,908....PayPal [also] pegged him with a $90 overdraft fee, and he had to explain the error to two separate corporate representatives before convincing anyone that his Camaro doesn't hold $81 billion worth of gasoline...

why foreign aid often brings harm...

This is easy to see in terms of economic theory: the provision of aid becomes more problematic in the long-term as the length and amount of the provision increases. We see this with charity and welfare. And the problems are extended with foreign aid-- to include distance, lack of personal contact, two governments instead of one, and the prevalence of corruption in recipient countries.

From Dambisa Moyo in the WSJ...

A month ago I visited Kibera, the largest slum in Africa. This suburb of Nairobi...is home to more than one million people, who eke out a living in an area of about one square mile...

What is incredibly disappointing is the fact that just a few yards from Kibera stands the headquarters of the United Nations' agency for human settlements which, with an annual budget of millions of dollars...

Giving alms to Africa remains one of the biggest ideas of our time -- millions march for it, governments are judged by it, celebrities proselytize the need for it. Calls for more aid to Africa are growing louder, with advocates pushing for doubling the roughly $50 billion of international assistance that already goes to Africa each year.

Yet evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that aid to Africa has made the poor poorer, and the growth slower. The insidious aid culture has left African countries more debt-laden, more inflation-prone, more vulnerable to the vagaries of the currency markets and more unattractive to higher-quality investment. It's increased the risk of civil conflict and unrest (the fact that over 60% of sub-Saharan Africa's population is under the age of 24 with few economic prospects is a cause for worry). Aid is an unmitigated political, economic and humanitarian disaster....

choice for cheaper (or anti-choice for more money)?

A great idea from Joel Belz in World...

...how absurd it is to fret about the possibility of nationalized banks, nationalized auto manufacturers, nationalized health care...when we long ago nationalized the educational systems that shape the worldview of 90 percent of all Americans.

Why should anyone be even the tiniest bit surprised if people who have been taught [within a statist system] should end up with statist ideas and values?...

What if we could demonstrate that saying goodbye to statist education would save the public profound amounts of money—and produce a more educated public at the same time?...

A $500 billion budget item is no trifling matter. It offers huge possibilities for savings. A measly 1 percent cut amounts to $5 billion!

So why not make an offer to 10 percent of America's publicly educated students—that's 4.5 million children—to take a $6,000 annual buyout to choose a non-public school that they like?...Or, to make it really palatable to the bureaucracy, offer just $5,000 to the student—and a $1,000 bonus to the public school that now has no obligation to spend a single penny on said student!...

Obama flip-flops as a hypocrite-- into a tough political position-- but finds the best economic answer!

Wow...what should I root for here?

I'll root for his new-found embrace of the best position!

From the New York Times via The Weekly Standard (hat tip: Hoosier Pundit), we learn that the Obama administration is considering a tax on health care benefits.

By far, the #1 problem in health care and health insurance is the subsidy of health insurance by the federal government. (It is subsidized since it is an untaxed form of compensation for workers.) The result is "too much insurance" and a problematic connection of health insurance to one's place of employment.

The best solution, in terms of economics, is to remove the subsidy-- to treat all forms of compensation the same in terms of tax liability. But this a very difficult position politically. On top of that, Obama attacked McCain for the very same position during the 2008 campaign.

Here's one of the several health care ads Obama put up during the campaign lambasting the idea of taxing health care benefits. Note the quotes from Joe Klein, who will no doubt soon charge in to criticize Obama's audacious reversal. Another ad, featuring Obama attacking the issue in his own voice, can be found here.

Then, there's this from the editorialists of the WSJ. They point to Obama's underlying motive-- to raise tax revenues. But a far more important by-product would be achieved by his avarice for your money.

The worst-kept secret on Capitol Hill is that Democrats have always planned to tax health benefits to pay for their "universal" health-care plans. Now White House aides are whispering that they're also open to the idea. Maybe they will all now apologize to John McCain for trashing his proposal to do the same thing in the Presidential campaign.

Democrats are desperately searching for the $1.2 trillion and more they'll need to subsidize middle-class health coverage. With deficits already at epic levels, more spending is politically a harder sell. So they're now circling the tax deduction that employers receive to offer insurance to their workers for the same reason that Willie Sutton robbed banks, because that's where the money is.

Most likely, Democrats will cap the exclusion by income or cost of the health plan, so that those with the most gold-plated benefits pay more for the privilege....

can he sponsor (as legislator) and then sign for (as president) an earmark?

From World...

There was a surprise name included in the House of Representatives version of a spending bill that was passed...on Feb. 25. Listed as a cosponsor for a $7.7 million earmark? President Barack Obama, who, while a senator from Illinois, pushed for the earmark despite a campaign pledge to cut pork out of the Washington diet....

four missionary plants

Last week, I saw Doug Darnowski, a biology professor at IUS, give a talk on four plants that have been (or could be) used by missionaries to explain the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people.

-Passion Flower
-Glastonbury Thorn
-Flowers in the Shroud of Turin

St. Patrick, famously, used the three leaves of this clover-like plant to describe the Trinity.

The Passion Flower has various features that make it conducive to aspects of the crucifixion.

The Glastonbury Thorn is perhaps the only living relic-- and a tree that stems from a traditional story about the missionary work of Joseph of Arimithea in England. (I had never heard of that before!) For more on the GT, click here.

The flowers in the Shroud are particularly interesting in that 29 of the 30 types of pollen grains are indigenous to Jerusalem in March/April.

no pun in ten did

A few groaners, selectively chosen from a set of 20 (hat tip: Buddy Dowdy)...

1.) Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love and got married. The
ceremony wasn't much, but the reception was excellent.

6. Two cannibals are eating a clown. One says to the other: 'Does this taste funny to you?'

16. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in
the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can't
have your kayak and heat it too.

17. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were
standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories.
After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. 'But why,' they asked, as they moved off. 'Because', he said, 'I can't stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer.'

19. Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little which made him rather frail and with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him a super-calloused, fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.

Friday, March 20, 2009

trickle-down econ-- Dem-style (revisited)

Nice...or not-so-nice!

Hat tip: We the People


Thursday, March 19, 2009

physics 101 and public policy 201

From William Tucker in the WSJ...

Tucker opens with the Obama decision not to store nuclear waste at Yucca in Nevada.

So is this really the death knell for nuclear power? Not at all. The repository at Yucca Mountain was only made necessary by our failure to understand a fundamental fact about nuclear power: There is no such thing as nuclear waste.

Click here to see the scientific part of his argument...

And here's the political piece...

The supposed problem of "nuclear waste" is entirely the result of a the decision in 1976 by President Gerald Ford to suspend reprocessing, which President Jimmy Carter made permanent in 1977. The fear was that agents of foreign powers or terrorists groups would steal plutonium from American plants to manufacture bombs.

That fear has proved to be misguided. If foreign powers want a bomb, they will build their own reactors or enrichment facilities, as North Korea and Iran have done. The task of extracting plutonium from highly radioactive material and fashioning it into a bomb is far beyond the capacities of any terrorist organization.

So shed no tears for Yucca Mountain. Instead of ending the nuclear revival, it gives us the chance to correct a historical mistake and follow France's lead in developing complete reprocessing for nuclear material.

continuing education-- in micro-brewing

From Roger Baylor in LEO...

How’s this for a college course listing?

Once upon a time, beer was just beer, but no longer. Beginning with an overview of the brewing process and the history of beer, we’ll learn how to distinguish Pale Ale from Imperial Stout through words and samples.

The class begins Wednesday, and much to my delight, I’m the teacher. The Division of Continuing Studies at Indiana University Southeast contacted me a while back about Beer-Ed as a non-credit offering, and after a quick calendar check and 10 minutes sipping from one of the required texts, I agreed to take my turn at the lectern....

Click here to read the rest of the article...

Neil Diamond, ticket scalper

Not only is his music bad, but horror of all horrors, he's a ticket scalper! Ooohhhh....

From Ethan Smith in the WSJ...

Less than a minute after tickets for last August's Neil Diamond concerts at New York's Madison Square Garden went on sale, more than 100 seats were available for hundreds of dollars more than their normal face value on premium-ticket site TicketExchange.com. The seller? Neil Diamond.

Ticket reselling -- also known as scalping -- is an estimated $3 billion-a-year business in which professional brokers buy seats with the hope of flipping them to the public at a hefty markup.

In the case of the Neil Diamond concerts, however, the source of the higher-priced tickets was the singer, working with Ticketmaster Entertainment, Inc., which owns TicketExchange...