Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Murray, race and class...

In talking with someone this AM, I thought of an interesting irony about Charles Murray and accusations about racism in some of his work.

In Losing Ground and Coming Apart, Murray's explanations for the "breakdown of the family" (which are famously/highly disproportionate among African-Americans-- about 70% vs. 30%) are entirely class-based and connected to economic (dis)incentives inherent in policy changes since the 1960s. Rejecting or diminishing his arguments would almost certainly put more weight on (non-PC) racial explanations.

Monday, April 28, 2014

old-time environmental hysteria

A nice compilation of previous environmental hysteria from AEI's Alex Adrianson:

The folks who want you to believe the debate on climate change is over have a long history of predicting environmental apocalypses that never happen. Richard Rahn rounds up some of this history:
“The Arctic Ocean is warming up, icebergs are growing scarcer, and in some places the seals are finding the water too hot. Reports from fishermen, seal hunters, and explorers all point to a radical change in climate conditions and hitherto unheard-of temperatures in the Arctic zone. Exploration expeditions report that scarcely any ice has been met as far north as 81 degrees 29 minutes. Within a few years it is predicted that due to the ice melt the sea will rise and make most coastal cities uninhabitable.”—from an Associated Press report published in The Washington Post on Nov. 2, 1922.
You may have noticed that the predicted disaster 92 years ago did not happen, nor have other predicted catastrophes from the global-warming crowd.

On July 5, 1989, Noel Brown, then the director of the New York office of the United Nations Environment Program, warned of a “10-year window of opportunity to solve” global warming—“entire nations could be wiped off the face of Earth by rising sea levels if the global-warming trend is not reversed by the year 2000. Coastal flooding and crop failures would create an exodus of ‘eco-refugees,’ threatening political chaos.”

The U.N.-forecast disaster never occurred. However, thanks must be given to Mother Nature for the unexpected 17-year pause in global warming rather than the actions of mankind, which have continued to spew out carbon dioxide at record levels. This little error has not stopped the doomsayers at the U.N.

In 2007, the chief of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said, “If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.” It is now 2014 and nothing was done before 2012, so, since it is “too late,” why spend any more time and money fighting global warming?

On Jan. 19, 2009, James Hansen, climate expert who until last year was head of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, firmly declared that President Obama “has only four years to save the Earth”—which you might have noticed he failed to do. [Washington Times, April 21]
The business of predicting catastrophes has a way of outliving the predicted catastrophes. As Rahn points out, predictions of environmental apocalypse, unlike predictions of gradual climate change to which society can adapt, serve the interests of those who want to expand the power of government to command its citizens. And the scientists making those predictions probably imagine they will be the ones advising government how to use such power. That likely explains the appeal of getting in on the game of predicting apocalypse.

And there are more catastrophes to come! Marc Morano has compiled a list of the tipping points, windows of opportunity, and deadlines for action that environmentalists have identified over the decades. You can read “Earth ‘Serially Doomed’: UN Issues New 15 Year Climate Tipping Point – But UN Issued Tipping Points in 1982 & Another 10-Year Tipping Point in 1989!” at Climate Depot (April 16).

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Delighting in the Trinity

That's the title of Michael Reeves' wonderful little book on the Trinity.

As an aside, I had read an excerpt from the book in CT, put it in a folder, and bought the book. Kurt and I decided that we wanted to add something from Reeves in the next edition of Thoroughly Equipped: Developing Co-Laborers/Co-Leaders (DC). I contacted Reeves and he pointed me to his CT article. Having forgotten it, I went looking for it-- and realized it was perfect as an article for DC.

For those who have experience with Timothy Paul Jones' Christian History Made Easy (through DC or otherwise), it's a good way to compare/summarize its style and its approach to the substance. In a word, Reeves takes a relatively friendly, breezy angle on a usually thick subject. Beyond that, he makes clear why the Trinity is so key to Christian theology and practice. "Yes, the Trinity can be presented as a fusty and irrelevant dogma, but the truth is that God is love because God is a Trinity." (p. 9) Further, "the Trinity is not seen as a solution and a delight, but as an oddity and a problem." (10)

What does God's Trinitarian nature imply about his character? “The very nature of the Triune God is to be effusive, ebullient, and bountiful; the Father rejoices to have another beside Him, and He finds His very self in pouring out His love.  Creation is about the spreading, the diffusion, the outward explosion of that love. This God is the very opposite of the greedy, hungry, selfish emptiness; in his self-giving, he naturally pours out life and goodness. He is, then, the source of all that is good, and that means he is not the sort of God who would call people to himself away from happiness in good things. Goodness and ultimate happiness are to be found with him, not apart from him." (56)

On Jn 17:22's "that they may be one as we are one": ""That is not the sort of request one could put to a single-person God." (103b-104). Reeves also takes us back before "Creation" (24): "Perhaps the way to appreciate this best is to ask what God was doing before creation...Jesus tells us explicitly in John 17:24: 'Father, you loved me before the creation of the world.'...God could not be love if there were nobody to love...And yet it is not as if God created so that he could love someone...If there were once a time when the Son didn't exist, then there was once a time when the Father was not yet a Father." (21,26,27) If God is a single person...why should he speak?...who would he have spoken to?" (80)

Reeves spends a lot of time on the implications of this for Islam. In a word, "Allah exists and functions in a completely different way from the Father, Son and Spirit." (18) As for how we see God's revelation: "Allah's word is a book, not a true companion. And it is a book that is only about him...a deposit of information about himself and how he likes things. However, when the triune God give us his Word, he gives us his very self, for the Son is the Word of God." (80)

Likewise, how could Allah have the name "The Loving" and be loving from eternity? (40) As with the gods of the Babylonian creation myth Enuma Elish (39), "the single-person God...created merely to be rule and be served...'right' means nothing more than right behavior." (63) "Other gods might offer forgiveness, but this God welcomes and embraces us as children." (76) "Now imagine a God who is not Father, Son and Spirit: never in its wildest dreams could it muster us such a salvation. If God was not a Father, he could never give us a right to be his children. If he did not enjoy fellowship with his Son, one has to wonder if he would have any fellowship to share with us, or if he would even know what fellowship looks like." (77) "What kind of salvation can a [single-person God] offer me (even if he is prepared to offer such a thing)...the only salvation he can offer is to forgive me and treat me as if I had kept the rules [mercy]...I might feel grateful...but that is not the same thing as love." (20)

Likewise, Reeves notes that Martin Luther and his contemporaries would often pray to Mary instead of God for the same reason: "Not knowing God as a kind and willing Father, a God who brings us close, Luther found that he could not love Him. He and his fellow monks transferred their affections to Mary and various other saints; it was them they would love and to them they would pray." (78)

For those who are literalists/fundamentalists moreso (including atheists who are bothered by this doctrine), it's tempting to reduce all of this to simple arithmetic: 3 is not equal to 2 is not equal to 1. Reeves (13), citing Deuteronomy 6:4's "The Lord is one" says this "is not to teach that the Lord our God, the Lord is a mathematical singularity...[it] is about God's people having the Lord as the one object of their affections. He then notes that Genesis 2:24 uses the same word to say that the two (Adam and Eve) are one. Again, if you need a literal, wooden reading, you're going to get yourself in a lot of trouble.

A few other topics:

Beyond prayer (96, 98), it also affects Bible study and all of the spiritual disciplines (82-83)-- as well as evangelism (105). It impacts the way we see and interpret God's holiness, wrath and glory (114ff).

Why three persons (in the Trinity) vs. two? "If there were two persons, God might be loving, but in an excluding, ungenerous way...when the love between two persons is happy, healthy and secure, they rejoice to share it." (31)

Reeves also argues that the Trinity gives far more space for the existence of evil: "If God is not triune, it becomes very difficult, not only to account for the goodness of creation (as we have seen), but also to account for the existence of evil within it. If God is the supreme being, then evil cannot be some rival force, eternally existing beside God. Yet if God is absolutely solitary in his supremacy, then surely evil must originate in God himself...The triune God, however, is the sort of God who will make room for another to have real existence." 

Reeves wonders whether the Church's retreat on the Trinity parallels the advance of the popular/rabblerouser atheists. I'd guess this is at best a secondary cause, but it is an interesting question.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Voskamp's 1,000 gifts

From the last point of Sunday's sermon from Dave Ramsey and his daughter Rachel, we were reminded of the importance of contentment, which is related to gratitude, which is related to humility. If you're in good shape on that point (and his other two points: God owns it all; you're a steward and the value of work), your finances and your approach to finances will be sound.

A similar message resounds, for all of life, in Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. Her writing is a reminder about the importance of gratitude and understanding the blessings we've received: salvation (and "prevenient grace") available to all of us bozos; "common grace" available to all whether we accept the gift of salvation; providential grace as God works through people and events to accomplish His will. And "isn't one grace enough?" (p. 93)

Voskamp is particularly persuasive in finding grace in everyday moments. The book stems from a friend's challenge to write down 1,000 gifts (and by extension, to quit complaining).

Voskamp writes poetically; she is a pleasure to read. And she's good on doctrine as well, working in lessons about the original Greek. Throughout, she notes that the Greek word for eucharisteo, charis, char, chara are all related-- grace, gift, thanksgiving, gratitude. In particular, I had never connected the term Eucharist to gift and thanksgiving. Beautiful.

On the story of the 10 lepers in Luke 17, she relates that the 10th leper (the only who returns to Jesus) is told that his faith has made him "sozo"-- usually translated "saved" (p. 38). The term "saved", biblically, is must richer than mere justification or the usual narrow use of "salvation". It means to be saved to the point of wholeness and wellness; to be redeemed; and so on.

She points to Christ's response to "failure" in Mt 11:25-- to give thanks (p. 36-37) and in the midst of  difficult circumstances (p. 35). In both the case of the Eucharist and prior to the resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus gives thanks. "Eucharisteo-- thanksgiving-- always recedes the miracle."

Reading the book came at a good time for me-- a relatively dry period. Likewise, I strongly recommend the book if you're in a phase like that. But it's good stuff whenever! In particular, it contains a vital message for parents to pass along to their children-- negatively, that the world does not rotate around them; positively, that they have so many reasons to give thanks.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

advice on college: research and teaching; secular and Christian; on-line, hybrid and traditional

Of course, I should start with the caveat that the following comments are necessarily generalizations. And perhaps the generalizations are not as accurate as I imagine. But these are my observations and inferences, from my first-hand and second-hand experiences.

Let's start with a key distinction: smaller vs. larger colleges. Small schools typically provide better "customer service" and have smaller class sizes. (For example, at IU Southeast, we only have a handful of classes over 45 students-- with a max of 70, I think. Large schools typically have many sections with hundreds of students.) Therefore, students are less likely to "get lost" and it's easier to get around. Smaller schools tend to be more conservative and to have less variance in the student body.

On the flip side, larger schools will provide more diversity (of many sorts), more opportunities as a student, greater access to grad schools, and greater networking after graduation. I would imagine that the quality of smaller schools has more variance-- since key hires (for good or for ill) will make a bigger difference.

To me, this is a key and under-rated consideration for choosing a college. If you are (or have) a student who would thrive with a more personal environment, then a smaller college is closer to wisdom. If the student "won't get lost" in a less personal environment, then they may endure some bumps at a larger university as they adjust, but should be fine.

Related to school size, there are key distinctions between research schools vs. teaching schools vs. hybrids. At research schools, teaching will get at least lip service (hey, we teach at universities, right?)--but maybe not much beyond that. In some cases, good teaching may actually be a liability for a professor's career-- taken as a sign that one is not spending enough time on research. (I know of one example.)

Beyond the incentives put forward by administrators, there are presumably differences in the preferences of the teacher/researchers at research schools. They find teaching relatively less attractive-- if not absolutely so. (For one thing, they're only going to teach a class or two per semester-- and that, often, to a small set of grad students.)

Research schools will often use grad students as teachers. Their lack of experience may be trumped by passion and energy. (I'm confident that this was often the case when I was at Texas A-M.) Some schools do not allow this. But at least for native speakers, grad students would often be an improvement.

A hybrid school expects and supports research. But their research expectations will be lower: fewer articles, a broader sense of acceptable quality (including lower-tier peer-reviewed journals, editor-reviewed articles, practitioner-based research, books, etc.), and a greater range of acceptable topics. Teaching quality is vital: at least competence is required; and excellent teaching can offset modest/minimal research. The teaching load would generally be three sections per semester, allowing a lot of time in the classroom, but some time for research as well.

(Pure) teaching schools will have little or no role for research. The professors will teach four (or more) sections per semester. They're attracting profs who are more interested in teaching. Beyond that, these profs are not all that interested in research (unless they see this as a temporary job and are looking to "move up")-- or even, may not be all that competent to do research. Teaching prowess will typically be required; classrooms will have fewer students; and faculty will generally be more focused on mentoring.

One caveat to add here: the increased role of lecturers in many schools. Lecturers have a heavier teaching load (e.g., 4 sections per semester), typically focus on lower-level classes, have few if any ops for research, love teaching and are good at it. Many research-oriented tenure-track faculty have been concerned about this trend. But it makes complete sense to hire specialized, better, cheaper faculty to cover teaching, leaving research and higher-end teaching to those more qualified for those tasks.

As for "Christian" schools, it's difficult to define what that means, really. You can find plenty of Christian students at any school, at least in the Midwest and South. If one is looking at full-time ministry, I would strongly consider a Christian school; otherwise, this narrows one's possibilities post-grad quite a bit. Even for "sheltering" a child from worldly influences (or concern about their academic performance or otherwise handling all that new freedom), I would encourage them to stay home for the first two years instead-- and then consider transferring after that.

Finally, a note about on-line and hybrid courses: I'll blog on this separately, later. But in a word:  I'd be really careful with these opportunities. First, they're new-- and I can tell you from experience that it requires tons of effort to work out the bugs and do this well. Second, beyond that, some profs will respond by reducing effort, "covering" material and testing in a convenient way that generally reduces student competence. Third, it takes a remarkable amount of discipline for students to complete these courses-- even if they learn nearly as much through the process. I would not enter into these (particularly the on-line courses) without a strong sense that one has the requisite self-motivation.

Thoughts? Questions? Your experiences and wisdom on this?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The 1040 Turns 100

As it appeared in the newspaper...

The 1040 Turns 100

Editors: Please note April 15 peg (731 words).

by Eric Schansberg, Ph.D.

The 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution brought us the 

federal income tax in 1913. A year later, the 1040 tax form was born.

The 1040 had a modest debut but has grown impressively since. 

The original was so compact it was published on the front page of 
the New York Times. Today, it has hundreds of supplemental forms 
and thousands of instruction pages. The supporting tax laws now 
total more than four million words on 74,000 pages.

The growth of the 1040 matches the spread of the income tax itself. 

The original Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had 4,000 employees; 
now, there are 90,000. Less than 1 percent of Americans filled out 
a tax form in its first year; now, there are about as many filed 
returns as there are workers.
The initial 1040 imposed a tax of 1 percent on taxable income above a standard deduction of $4,000 for married couples (almost $100,000 in today’s dollars). The 1 percent tax applied to income up to $20,000 ($470,000 today) and a top tax of 7 percent was applied to taxable income above $500,000 ($11.5 million today). The top tax bracket briefly reached 94 percent during World War II, before settling in at 91 percent after the war. JFK dropped the top rate to 70 percent (on income earned above $1.5 million in today’s dollars) before Reagan reduced the top rate to 28 percent (on income earned above $60,000 in today’s dollars).

Not surprisingly, the growth of the 1040 has matched the growth in the size and power of government. In its first year, the income tax raised about $10 billion (in today’s dollars) and now raises more than $1.3 trillion annually. Interest groups lobby for exemptions, deductions and credits — part of a lobbying industry that benefits politicians and “the organized” at the expense of the general public.

It turns out that federal “payroll” (FICA) taxes on income impose a larger burden on most workers since those taxes are applied to every dollar earned (no deductions, exemptions or credits). Amazingly, those in working-poor households at the poverty line pay no “income taxes” but lose $3,000 to payroll-FICA taxes each year.

Part of FICA’s burden is hidden because it looks like employers pay half of it for their employees. And its burden is more subtle since it is simply withheld from our paychecks. In this way, the 1040 is far worse. It’s rough enough to have the government take so much money from the half of the population who pay “income taxes.” On top of that, though, Americans spend more than a billion dollars and more than six billion hours on filing their 1040’s. If they’re going to take our money, can’t they do it more efficiently?

In the recent minimum-wage debate, one of the more reasonable arguments was that the policy hasn’t changed recently. If states or the federal government are going to insist on having a minimum wage, it should be updated regularly. Or better yet, it should be adjusted annually (“indexed”) to deal with the effects of inflation.

One could easily make the same argument about income taxes. We haven’t had substantive federal income-tax reforms since the 1980s under President Reagan and a bi-partisan Congress. The number of tax brackets was reduced from 16 to two; marginal tax rates were reduced for everyone; and the tax code was finally “indexed” for the effects of inflation. Since then, many of their improvements have been reversed: top marginal tax rates have increased (to nearly 40 percent); the number of tax brackets has creeped back up to seven; and the tax code has become more complex.

A “flat tax” on income could replace current income taxes and the flat FICA tax with a single marginal tax rate on all income earned above the poverty line (with the possible exception of charitable contributions). It could raise the same amount of money with far less cronyism, inequity and inefficiency.

Unfortunately, few of our current national political leaders seemingly have the courage for anything so bold. But talk of hope and change can rise again. As we enter electoral cycles in 2014 and 2016, perhaps the public will make it a priority to insist on more efficiency and equity in our federal income tax code.

Eric Schansberg, Ph.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, is a professor of economics at Indiana University Southeast.

Monday, April 14, 2014

book review of "Unbroken"

My friend Buddy recommended Hillenbrand's latest book, based on some of the book's themes and how much I enjoyed the movie Life of Pi. Both books feature long periods of survival on the open sea, as well as human courage, surprising turns of events, and wrestling with the extent to which Providence is at work in trying circumstances. (I have not yet read Martel's book and the movie based on Hillenbrand's book is due out later this year.)

Her biography of Louis Zamperini largely focuses on his time in military service during World War II. Before that, Hillenbrand highlights a few parts of his childhood and devotes most of her time to his career as a world-class distance runner. He held records in the mile; was an early threat to break the four-minute barrier; and is still the youngest American Olympic qualifier for the 5,000 meters.

As an Air Force pilot, Zamperini survived an attack where his plane took 594 bullets. One of his later flights would crash into the Pacific Ocean. He and two other men survived the impact and spent 47 days on a raft. (Two of the three survived the journey, breaking the old record of 34 days at sea.) They drifted to an island controlled by the Japanese. Zamperini credits God's providence and their efforts to remain mentally engaged, peppering each other with questions.

He spends the rest of the war in a number of brutal POW camps. My only complaint about the book is the amount of time spent on the torture he endured (30% of the text). The descriptions are gruesome-- but far worse, quite repetitive. (For an experience in a much more relaxed POW camp, King Rat.)

How they survived is somewhere between a mystery, Providence, and a sustained hope based on Allied victory, stealing and sabotaging the Japanese as possible, and living one day at a time. Along the lines of the last factor, Zamperini said he would kill himself if he knew he had to go through those experiences again (321).

It was also surprising that they did not rise up and kill their most vicious captor, Watanabe, "The Bird". I kept imagining that the foreshadowing would lead to his demise (or at least the attempt). But they only made one modest attempt at it, trying to poison him.

After the war, the book picks up considerable pace and seems like a breath of (very) fresh air: a quick marriage to a younger woman, a tumultuous marriage/life as he struggled with alcohol, and his conversion at the famous Billy Graham crusade in Los Angeles (369-376). His conversion story is paired with earnest wrestling about forgiveness (377-379, 389-397). Zamperini found that he had truly forgiven his captors-- testing it by seeing them in person. 

Hillenbrand purposes to contrast Zamperini's forgiveness and German POW treatment with Japanese POW treatment-- in terms of both torture and murder. Hillenbrand documents the differences in outcomes between German and Japanese POW's: 37% deaths vs. 1% (314-315, 346); thousands dying in forced marches and labor camps; "kill orders" to murder POW's when their positions were being over-run (272-273); and much higher hospitalization rates for those who did return home.

In part, Hillenbrand portrays this as due to the Japanese belief that surrender was shameful (291-292). One sees this in the kamikaze missions and their treatment of POW's. Beyond that, it gives credence to the belief that Japan would not have surrendered, without a full-scale invasion-- or the nuclear bombs that seemed to make resistance futile.

Two other thoughts here: 1.) Years ago, it struck me that many men would have died in an invasion of Japan. (I've read estimates of one million men.) And those men would not have been fathers for their children or their future children. It would have been a devastating loss for America. One of those men would have likely been my wife's grandpa. How sobering. 2.) On reading the book, it occurred to me why hatred of the Japanese would have been much greater than the Germans. In addition to racial differences, their prosecution of the war was despicable-- and outside supernatural forgiveness as experienced by people like Zamperini, would have naturally resulted in hatred of the Japanese.

-The man who designed the Olympic Village for Berlin in 1936 was a Wehrmacht captain and Jewish (31, 37). He committed suicide after learning he would be decommissioned after serving a role for propaganda.

-When the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor, they were worried about Japan advancing as far as Chicago (52-54). There were air-raid alerts in SF; trenches were dug along the California coast; and schools in Oakland were closed. Moreover, Japan conquered a bunch of territory that day and the next, running into trouble only at Wake.

-Not surprisingly, battles deaths were dwarfed by friendly fire, weather and especially accidents (61, 80).

-Again, as in other books on the war I've reviewed by Ambrose and Atkinson, soldiers were noted for their sexual immorality (63, 67, 317; see also: 218's fortune-teller).

-Hillenbrand details Paul Tibbetts dropping the first atomic bomb (299). Tibbetts had cyanide in case he was caught. The bomb was 12 feet long and weighed 9,000 pounds. After dropping the bomb, Tibbetts turned as hard as he could and dove to pick up more speed. They were not sure that 43 seconds was enough time to get far enough away from the explosion.