Thursday, February 24, 2011

Economics 101

South Florida saw existing home sales hit stride in January, with more than 2,500 condos sold in the month. But the sales surge—the largest since 2005—came amid still-drooping prices.

-from the lead article on the front page of the Miami Herald this morning.

This is news? Sales go up when prices go down? The way those two sentences I quote are put together, especially with the second sentence beginning with the word "But" indicates that the Herald sees a correlation, but misses the connection.

But that's the Herald, and none of us is surprised.

Is China's Growth Rate Sustainable?

Other countries [than China] and companies understand that building product value through innovation is how long-term economic growth typically is sustained. Switzerland made almost 22 million watches in 2008, for example, roughly 4 percent of China’s sales of 559 million watches. China’s average price was a mere $2 per watch, whereas Switzerland’s price was $528. As a result, Switzerland received over ten times as much revenue as China, $11.5 billion versus $1.1 billion. The Swiss understand how to create value out of more than the sum of parts. Along with a reputation for high quality, they have established a brand by law for the entire country. Swiss Made appears on the face of every Swiss watch. Chinese watches, or other products for that matter, have no such identity.

-from "Is China's Growth Rate Sustainable?," a Research Report by Craig J. Richardson, PhD, Visiting Research Fellow at AIER.

His answer to the question the title poses is "probably not."

(Forget Chinese, teach your kids high German and French.)

Reducing Higher Education Costs

This post by a UT humanities professor discusses Governor Perry's idea that a college education can be designed so that it may be had for $10,000. Advances in technology and some common sense would be the key to a reformat.

One feature is to eliminate live lectures. Another is to reduce that the time required for an undergraduate degree from four to three years.

Mary tells me that many of her med school peers have stopped going to lectures, choosing to use the time for even more studying. The intense testing regime of med school would seem to discipline severely anyone who didn't use the time released from skipping lectures for personal study. It seems risky to me to skip the lectures, but maybe there is a good argument for it, especially if the economic costs of the lecture outweigh the benefit.

Assuming that there are important pedagogical benefits of a good lecture (note the qualifier), what would one loose if they were simply taped? What is the marginal pedagogical benefit of attending a live lecture? Run that question through a cost-benefit analysis.

My experience with law school tells me that it easily could be reduced to two years from three. What a good law school does best is teach one how to think and write like a lawyer. My observations were that the students at ChiLaw "got it" well within two years. If the summer after the first year were eliminated, one could get a good legal education within a year and a half. Tack on in place of that third year some sort of residency or internship requirement, and one has significantly reduced the cost of a legal education.

What about the "collegial" benefits of students coming together to discuss the issues raised by course content? I don't believe eliminating them is on the agenda. There would continue to be settings for small groups and, of course, the "social networking" features of the internet would be employed to supplement if not simply replace those meetings.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Chicago Law #1?

Malcolm Gladwell (of Blink fame) ranks the law schools.

He uses a "value" approach. But Michigan below Univ. of Puerto Rico?

Mary suggests reading the entire Gladwell article in the Atlantic, which is cited in the link. I did. Good article.

I think we are going to get more and more "value" thinking as far as higher education is concerned (as well as everything else). Our swinging to Davidson College from Duke years ago was, in part, informed by Davidson being less expensive. My partners are superb lawyers, each of them received their B.A.s from state schools (UF and FIU, respectively) and one of them her law degree from a state law school (again UF).

A friend of mine went to Miami-Dade his first two years, then to FSU for his B.A. and then to Michigan Law, which law school, in my humble opinion - price aside - is easily in the top 10, and he's another superb lawyer.

I know a guy with a 1998 4Runner who gets to work as quickly as this other guy who has a Porshe. On the other hand, the 4Runner guy exudes style in or out of an automobile.

How I Love Books!

Walter asked what I was reading when I saw him this weekend at Mary's:

Out of the Dark, sci-fi from David Weber (a loan from Macon)

Light on a Gray Area: American Public Policy on Aging, by Stephen Sapp (Steve, a classmate at Duke, Duke Divinity School grad, member of our Presbytery, is head of the Religion Department at the U)

The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology, N.T. Wright (We're using Wright's little books on Romans in our class)

The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture, by N.T. Wright.

How Cars Work: An Illustrated Guide to the 250 Most Important Car Parts, by Tom Newton (My liberal education has some serious gaps. This will help.)

Auto Upkeep: Basic Car Care, Maintenance, and Repair (2d Edition), Michael E. Gray and Linda E. Gray

Workbook for Auto Upkeep: Basic Car Care, Maintenance, and Repair (2d Edition), Michael E. Gray and Linda E. Gray (companion to the title immediately above)

Dragon Naturally Speaking End-User Workbook, Version 11, by Nuance. This technology is amazing and I'm into it at work.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey. Bill Stepp, the minister emeritus of Memorial PC in West Palm, is a "coach" who uses this book - from a Biblical perspective - to help people. Bill, a Marine, although retired from the pulpit, is not out to pasture. It's the second time around for me with this title. I read it first around 20 years ago. Having learned what Bill is doing, I wanted to refresh myself on Covey's approach.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dads and Faith

External factors may also hamper the natural awareness of God and contribute to a descent into atheism. In his book Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism, New York University psychologist Paul Vitz, a onetime atheist, examines the lives of the major atheists of the modern period, including Hobbes, Hume, Voltaire, Feuerbach, Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, Russell, and Freud. He found they had something in common: a broken relationship with their father. Whether by death, departure, abuse, or some other factor, the father relationships of all these well-known atheists were defective. Vitz also examined the lives of prominent theists during the same period (Pascal, Reid, Burke, Berkeley, Paley, Wilberforce, Kierkegaard, Schleiermacher, Newman, Chesterton, and Bonhoeffer, among others). In every case, he found a good relationship with the father or at least a strong father figure.

-from "Unreasonable Doubt" by Jim Spiegel in the January 2011 issue of Christianity Today.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dying on the Job

Drudge linked to this odd story.

Early in my career at Smathers & Thompson, I was working late on a Friday. All the lawyers but I had gone home. One of the staff who had been working late came in and told me, "Mr. Stokes, Millie is in Betty's office, and I think she's dead." We went to Betty's office (Betty was the office manager), and there was Millie, sitting in a chair in front of Betty's desk, with her head slung back and her eyes closed.

I thought to myself, "Do I want to undertake the mouth-to-mouth procedure? . . . She does look quite dead. Maybe I won't."

We called 911, and the EMT people arrived in a few minutes with the police, confirmed Millie's death, and took her away. I felt bad about not doing anything to try to revive Millie. I asked one of the EMT's about it, and he reassured me that she had been dead for at least an hour or two.

When I spoke to Betty about the matter, she told me that she had fired Millie at the end of the work day that Friday. Betty had terminated (no pun intended) Millie in Betty's own office, and then Betty left Millie there and went home. Millie had been let go for her alcoholism, and she had continuously been discovered drinking on the job. Finally, after several warnings, she was let go.

(Betty had a crusty exterior but a very soft heart. She seemed hardly ever to fire anyone. She was adept at moving incompetent secretaries down the leader to the new associates. I had several of them during my first couple of years at the firm. Not too long after that incident, the firm fired a partner for drinking on the job, again after a number of warnings. He survived.)

No Gun Brought to this Knife Fight: But it is NYC.

Here's a report on a man in Brooklyn "accused of going on a 28 hour stabbing rampage."

I would estimate that if he had done this in Texas or Miami-Dade it would have been a 28 second stabbing rampage.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Dead Critters in the House

Dave Barry writes about rats in his house in Coral Gables.

Our last dead creature was an opossum, but its stinking carcass was marginally accessible by way of the crawl-space under our Miami Springs house. Unfortunately, one of the differences between Miami Springs and Coral Gables is that it is dishonorable in Miami Springs to call a guy with a truck for such things if you are a guy.

Another dead opossum and we're moving to the Gables.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Pathfinder to 4Runner? Well, No, I'm not Treading Water

Carol is still trying to figure out what got in me to buy a 98 4Runner (that would be a "third generation" T4R, ladies and gentlemen) and to give to the Miami Rescue Mission our (Mary's former) 98 Pathfinder, where the 4Runner has even more mileage on it. (The people who came by from the Rescue Mission loved the Pathfinder.) With the 4Runner, however, I got Don. Don is the former owner of my 4Runner.

Last weekend, Don and I changed the spark plugs, the oil, and the oil filter in my "new" car. This morning we flushed the radiator. I'm learning all kinds of things I have always wanted to learn how to do, and getting a kick out of Don in the process (or should I say "in the bargain"). He is in his early 50s, a retired Miami-Dade policeman, single (divorced), lives in Virginia Gardens, is a motor-cycle enthusiast, has a modest Mullet, and is a Toyota fanatic. He bought a spanking-new 4Runner. I met Don when he started coming to my Sunday School class several months ago.

I have discovered that there are all sorts of Toyota 4Runner and related websites out there. In the process at looking at them, I came across this one. Here the owner has an FJ, but he initially had a 4Runner. The photos of the camping adaptation of his rig makes me want to hitch up the camper and head to Western NC with the first breath of spring.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Who Needs Marriage?

Citing a much-publicized Pew study, Time reports that 40 percent of Americans believe that marriage is obsolete. But if marriage is obsolete, then such things as healthy societies soon will be obsolete as well.

In fact, the economic and social costs of marital breakdown in America are simply staggering.

-Chuck Colson here. The entire post is worth reading.

More Character Issues at the U?

The 'Canes signed a former Michigan quarterback this week, Tate Forcier, according to the Herald yesterday.

Mike Forcier believes his son will be a perfect fit with the Hurricanes.

“Some of the criticism he got in the past are from people who misunderstand him as ‘cocky,’” Mike Forcier said. “Really all he has is a lot swagger. I know the players at Miami are all about that. He’s just misunderstood. He’s confident he knows he can play. He’s played since he was a little baby. This is his dream.”

* * *

Mike Forcier said his son was not taking classes at Michigan this semester and was living with his girlfriend in Grand Rapids while completing those online courses.

I guess he'll get along great with Coach Kehoe.

(Todd Forcier is apparently pretty controversial up north. See, for example, this post. The post includes this disturbing comment about Todd: "he exudes very little credibility." He's a young person, of course, and maybe he learned something up there. Hope so.)

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

"We just wasted so much money for a . . . girl," she said angrily. "If I had known, I would have let it die. A girl is worthless. Worthless!"

Quoted in an article in the February 12, 2011, issue of World magazine. The speaker is a young woman whose baby had just been delivered on an emergency basis by C-Section at Emmanuel Hospital Association in northern India's Uttar Pradesh province. The mother, who had neglected the advice of the hospital to come by for regular checkups after she become pregnant, had been rushed there when she began having seizures. The title of the Article is "Worthless!," the subtitle "In India, the birth of a baby girl often brings grief and shame - and murder."

The article also includes this passage:

India is scheduled to complete its 2011 census this month and the results - due in spring - are likely to reflect the effects of abortion and female infanticide on that country's culture. Studies suggest that up to 50 million girls and women are missing from India's population, according to UNICEF.

Matthew 19:13-15 (King James Version)

13Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them.

14But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

15And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.

One of the important reasons to be faithful to the text when dealing with gender is that this passage does not appear to refer to little boys alone, but to all children. Compare Ps. 127 and 128, where the references are to sons. (We miss this contrast when we have a "gender neutral" Bible.) It is good to be under the New Covenant.

They're Doing Something Right in Texas

No Texas counties in the left column, several in the right.

And note in which column the Florida and Neveda counties are. Yet the new Florida, GOP governor may have cast a wistflul eye at expanding legalized gambling last month. Give. me. a. break.

For a governor trade with Texas, Florida will throw in, for everyone with a Texas drivers license - and their families - Florida resident discounts for admission to Disney World and all other Florida attractions, statewide.

Speaking of Governor Perry, I like what he is reported to have said here and the audio clip of other remarks of his here. (Thanks to Instapundit for the Perry links.)

The Health-National Productivity Link

Among the public policy steps to be taken to improve national productivity, Michael Milken suggests the following in the WSJ:

• Support prevention. There's great concern with rising health-care costs, yet too often we overlook that the single best way to contain them is to keep people from getting sick in the first place. That starts with recognizing that lifestyles, not genes, are the biggest contributors to disease. Public and corporate programs aimed at even slight reductions in obesity, tobacco use and other damaging behaviors pay large social and economic dividends.

But there's more, especially concerning how US policy has discouraged pharmaceutical research in the last 20 years. The column is worth reading in its entirety.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Certainty and Truth

I speak the truth in Christ - I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit -

Romans 9:1

In our adult Sunday School class yesterday, our scripture was Romans 9:1-5. But the idea that Paul expresses in the first verse of this passage arrested me. We did not get very far beyond it during our discussion. Oh, to have such certitude, to know the "truth in Christ" on matters of great importance in our lives.

I asked whether this sort of certitude belonged to Paul alone because he was special, someone "called to be an apostle and set apart for the Gospel of God," as Paul describes himself in the very first verse of Romans. A mature man in our class, long a Presbyterian, a Fuller seminary graduate in fact, said that because of this special call of Paul to be an Apostle, it was given to him to have such certainty. This man's implication was that it was not so much for the rest of us, except perhaps (he hinted) for the clergy.

A younger man, not given to contention, someone who asks questions not to make a point but to learn, a man raised a Roman Catholic, spoke right up and asked, "Aren't we all called? If so, why should we not also aspire to the certainty of God's truth that Paul describes?"

Why not indeed?

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Greetings from the Twilight Zone!

The Career Twilight Zone, that is. In fact, I've been living there for 15 years, according to a NYT columnist. (What would we do without the NYT? Look at the woman in the photo. Does one wonder that she remains unemployed?)

Yesterday we had a visit from David Bridgman, who is going mighty, mighty strong at age 78. (He left our church after some hard feelings about whether we should leave the PCUSA after serving as our pastor 16 or so years ago. We were on the other side of his view that we should stay in, which we did by a few votes. He was right, and we've told him so.) He would have been about 61 or 62 at that point.

Carol started her outside-the-home career at age 50. My firm let me go when I was age 53, and we had two children still in college.

Glenn Reynolds linked to the NYT article that I cite above. I like the comment of a Greg Joyce to Glenn's post, which Glenn hoisted into his post:

And reader Greg Joyce emails: “I’m guessing your tongue is in cheek when you say more age discrimination suits are needed to help the unemployed over 50. I’m on the wrong side of 50 and was recently laid off when our hi-tech company closed shop. If someone doesn’t want to hire me because of my age, that should be their right. Whatever, I started my own company. Job security is a myth anyway.

(Now to get preachy, and, of course, I never do that.) I would add, finally, that in God's economy at whatever age those among his people might be, we are all on the right side of 50. God has a full employment plan. My dad, stricken with heart disease and a virtual shut in for the last three years of his life, remained in service. He told me he spent his days reading the Bible, praying for his family and others, and talking to my mother (who said that the last three years with him were among the happiest of their marriage.) This was not how Dad had lived the first 80 years of his life - from about age 14 he was always, always working very hard "outside the home."