Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Holy Cow! That was Fast!

Wisconsin starts to get well in a hurry.

Claw-Back Liabiilty Hits Bank of America

Justice grinds slowly, but finely. The WSJ reports today that BofA has entered into a settlement agreement with certain other financial institutions that bought some of the mortgage syndication packages for which BofA was held responsible. The amount of the settlement is more than the profit that BofA has made since 2008, and the settlement is with only with a few of the buyers of these rotten financial products. So more is coming for BofA and its peers. (I should add that most of these rotten financial products were sold by Countrywide, which savings bank, in a spectacularly ill-timed decision, BofA purchased shortly before the crash.)

This explains, of course, why the big banks have been sitting on all of the money with which the government has infused them since the financial crisis arose. They knew it was coming.

This is deflationary. Watch the gold prices as this thing continues to unwind.

Good-bye, Blue Dogs?

So where do I go? The other Beltway party? Please.

(I note that the Politico article to which I link is written by Pete Sessions, a Republican member of the House from Texas. Give me a break, Pete.)

From Andy Kessler

His new book. His article on solving the the Greek financial crisis in the WSJ. Why do I think of the Babylonians and Judah, when I think of Germany and Greece? (Or China and the US?)

Speaking of the US, in case you think that Paul Ryan's plan is "extreme," read this, also from the WSJ.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Hey, Guys, Quit Playing Around. Get on with It!

[R]esearchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine reported that a man over 40 is almost six times as likely as a man under 30 to father an autistic child. Since then, research has shown that a man's chances of fathering offspring with schizophrenia double when he hits 40 and triple at age 50. The incidence of bipolarity, epilepsy, prostate cancer and breast cancer also increases in children born to men approaching 40.

-from an article in the 6/25/2011 WSJ entitled "What's That Ticking Sound? The Male Biological Clock"

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Steve Quinzi and the Quality Quartet

Steve, the keyboardist on the right, is our music director at church. He is also on the faculty at Miami-Dade College. This group of four faculty members gets together at the college twice a year to jam. But I get to see (and to hear) Steve at least once and sometimes twice a week. Yes, he brings liberty to our worship music. (By the way, "Quality" is the surname of the saxophonist.)

"The theological objections to macroevolution are literally crucial because they tell us whether the Cross was necessary . . . "

This is what Marvin Olasky says in the July 2011 issue of World, page 96.

Mr. Olasky, I look into my heart and can tell whether the Cross is necessary.

Irony in the Brave New World

Gay couples seeking the legal form of marriage, straight couples abandoning it. As to the latter, not just the kids, but the grown-ups, especially them, the ones who should know better.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Adam and Eve?

[M]ost theistic evolutionists have no room in their Darwinist theory for the special creation of Adam and Eve. They say either that Adam and Eve had "souls" inserted into their bodies while they were part of a herd of hominids, or that - as a BioLogos website article theorized - they "were not individual historical characters, but represented a larger population of first humans who bore the image of God."

-Marvin Olasky in his World Magazine review of Should Christians Embrace Evolution and a discussion of chapter 3, "Adam and Eve," written by Michale Reeves, theological head of Britain's Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship. (You can download all of that chapter on the link to Olasky's review. You just have to look for it.) Don't miss World's 2011 Book Issue, just out.

Does "theistic evolution" address an essential of the faith? Our Romans study takes us to Romans 14:1-8 this Sunday, the first part of a longer passage whose theme continues to Romans 15:13. Is this passage helpful in dealing with just what we are to do with the question of theistic evolution, or, to be more precise perhaps, with what we are to do with the brother or sister who is on the other side of that issue from us?

In dealing with our response to "weaker" Christians whose views are contrary to ours, Stott uses the "essentials" versus "non-essentials" dichotomy. He concludes

In fundamentals, then, faith is primary, and we may not appeal to love as an excuse to deny essential faith. In non-fundamentals, however, love is primary, and we may not appeal to zeal for the faith as an excuse for failures in love. Faith instructs our own conscience; love respects the conscience of others. Faith gives liberty; love limits its exercise. No-one has put it better than Rupert Meldenius, a name which some believe was a "nom de plume" used by Richard Baxter:

In essentials unity;
In non-essentials liberty;
In all things charity.

-Stott, The Message of Romans, God's Good News for the World, pp. 374-375.

(For further discussion on the matter of Adam at the BioLogos forum, go here.)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Government Employee Unions Sue Governor Scott

Florida legislature enacts a bill that requires government workers to pay in 3% of their salary to the pension plan. The governor signs the legislation. The Florida governor gets sued in class actions funded by the unions of the government workers. The case will be heard by government workers who wear robes. How will this turn out?

Hint: the Florida legislature and the governor are elected by the people. The government workers in question, their union bosses, and the folks in the robes, at least the ones who hear the appeals, are not elected by the people.

Union Lawyer Serves Up a Dish of Regional Bigotry

Arise, South Carolinians!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Helicopter Men, Grounded"

"Helicopter Men" is the label hung on those unelected persons who manipulate the financial markets of our world to make everything all right. Like Ben Bernake. This class of persons is referred to in a list-serve email I received last night from Fernando Crespo, a portfolio manager with J.P.Morgan. His email links to a JP Morgan newsletter written each month by Michael Cembalest, the Chief Investment Officer for that financial firm. The latest newsletter is full of disturbing graphs and other data, but I thought the following portion of Mr. Cembalest's introductory paragraph is particularly worth posting for those of us dealing with our household budgets:

Helicopter Men, Grounded. Over the last 2 years, it has been hard to disentangle how much of the global recovery was organic, and how much was a byproduct of stimulus (monetary and fiscal). We are now going to find out how fast the world can grow on its own, relying on the private sector. Political and economic factors are bringing the era of the Helicopter Men (and not just Helicopter Ben) to an end. Markets are likely to be in for a bumpy ride as this takes place, with reduced return expectations for financial assets. How to adapt? As I said to my wife when we were discussing investments recently, my highest conviction portfolio idea may be this: let’s spend less money. . .

Monday, June 20, 2011

Missing: 160 Million Girls

"Development was not supposed to look like this,” [Mara] Hvistendahl [author of Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men] writes. “For as long as they have speculated about the status of women, social scientists have taken for granted that women’s position improves as countries get richer.”

-Quoted in this Bloomberg review of Ms. Hvistendahl's book.

Why would you take such a thing for granted? You would, I suppose, if you excluded unborn girls from the definition of "women." Or if you had certain views about "progress" and were absent the day they talked about the 20th Century.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Last Night's Debate

I saw a good bit of it. It was worth watching. Here's how I rank the performances:

1. Romney
2. Paul
3. Cain
4. Santorem
5. Bachman
6. Pawlenty
7. Gingrich

I like the way that Romney refused to be lead around by the questions from the so-called moderator. Romney has really "grown up" as a Presidential candidate since four years ago. This is this first time I have seen him in action.

I thought Pawlenty was foolish in answering the Coke vs. Pepsi question straight up from CNN's pro-Obama moderator. And I thought Pawlenty was foolish in paying extended obeisance to the Navy veteran after Romney had already made that gambit. He could simply have said that he agreed with Romney and then went on. Pawlenty had some good things to say, but he lacks Romney's gravitas. I don't think he's a light-weight, but he somehow projects it.

Paul and Cain were simply fun to watch, and I appreciated their candor. They were both refreshing. Paul's views on our military adventures during the last decade now resonate with me in a way they have never done before.

Santorem surprised me positively. The moderator tried to bait him into criticizing Romney on Romney's change of views regarding abortion. Santorem didn't rise to the bait exactly. But if I had been him, I would have said that I would take Romney at his word and then would have gone on to describe my faithful political history of supporting the pro-life movement.

Bachman seems smart and attractive. (Really, the first six on my list are pretty close together. Maybe there is a little more space between Romney and the other 5 of the first six.) But Bachman's no Sarah Palin. Maybe that's good. Maybe it isn't. I'm not sure. Was everyone making that comparison, Bachman and Palin, as I was every time Bachman took the screen?

As to Gingrich, I was already biased against him. It controls my evaluation of his performance. He did quite well. But every time he made a good, articulate point - and he made several - I thought to myself, "What a shame; the guy is so good and so flawed."

(OK, Governor Perry, when are you jumping in?)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Added Risk with Non-US Stocks

At least 35 years ago, when I was an expert in stock market investments (generally speaking, I was much smarter then than I am now, not only about stocks but about most everything else), I invested in some publicly traded Canadian oil exploration company stocks. These stocks were somehow connected to William F. Buckley's family, and that gave me comfort. There was nothing wrong with these companies, except for one thing: they were Canadian companies about the time that Pierre Trudeau became the Prime Minister. He was the darling of the left, and one thing he did was semi-nationalize the oil companies, and the prices of my modest positions in those Canadian stocks dropped like a rock as a result.

My view of that investment is that it was money well spent, because it gave me an appreciation that I had never had before of the US stock market environment. This is not to run down Canada (we are blessed to have such a neighbor), but it is a foreign country and investment risks in foreign countries are different than the investment risks here in the US with US companies.

I was reminded of this today in reading reports in the WSJ of difficulties with stocks in Mainland Chinese companies that are traded publicly. One former "small gem," according to the WSJ, is China MediaExpress:

Boasting rapid growth and big profits from selling advertising on video screens in Chinese intercity buses, [Chinese MediaExpress] drew tens of millions of dollars from marquee investors. It listed its shares on the Nasdaq Stock Market, where its chief executive rang the opening bell last June.

Today, MediaExpress is in chaos, its shares no longer traded on NASDAQ after a turbulent few months marked by investors' concerns over the size of its business and questions over its accounting.

It is one of dozens of companies from China that have come under fire by investors and regulators for allegedly misleading investors, exposing a loophole that has U.S. regulators concerned.

This doesn't mean that one should not invest overseas. It simply requires a prudent approach. For the amateur, that means an advisor who prizes diversification, the right allocation, and low expenses, and makes a special effort to determine one's suitability to the investment recommendations he or she might make.

I can't help but observe, however, that it has always seemed the prudent approach to go easy on investments in the home of Tiananmen Square.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

We are So Cutting Edge

Ann does the stand-up desk.

Alpha has a New Look

Maybe this is old news to most everyone else, but it is new news to me.

Alpha's Regional Director, Florida South, Mike Fernandez, came by to see me yesterday and brought me up to date. Alpha has produced a fresh new set of videos for its church program and has introduced versions for college and other use.

We have some new, baby Christians at FPC Miami Springs. An Alpha course this fall sounds like just what we need.

(New, baby Christians often have more non-Christians in their immediate circle than us old hands: another reason for an Alpha course.)

(I made a pitch to Mike, who lives in Orlando with his wonderful family, to do parish ministry here Miami-Dade, his home town. I am shameless.)

Coffee Schadenfruede

And speaking of Schadenfruede, I note, however unChristianly, the following:

The WSJ reports today that "Smucker Profit Falls 21% on Higher Costs."

Weiner Schadenfreude

There is hardly a congruency between libertarians and their right-wing cousins, on the one hand, and Christianity, on the other. The delight in which many in the anti-Democrat portion of the media take in the situation of Anthony Weiner reminds me of this once again.

If we must think about this "scandal," and it appears that we must, what really is the issue presented by Congressman Weiner and Huma Abedin? In my view, it is about marriage and the nearly impossible way in which they seem to have begun that relationship. Both of them have jobs that make profound, burn-out level demands on each of them as individuals. As a married couple, the demands are impossible. What, exactly, were they thinking? Was this marriage simply a career move for both of them? Is their marriage simply a failing clone of the Clinton model? Or were they looking for something more personal and real. If the latter (and I would grant them the presumption that they were looking for something more than personal advancement), I have to say that I pity them and need to pray for them.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

More Lectionary: Of course, there's an APP for that.

Crushed Red Pepper: Their website. At iTunes. The price for the basic service is $.99. To get the "Daily Office" (daily Bible readings), you need to buy the $1.99 add-on. It's the Daily Office I was looking for. Because the scriptures are right there, the total cost seems very reasonable. The lectionary source is slightly different from the one on the PC(USA) website. I haven't quite sorted out the differences, but the app choices appear to me to be very satisfactory. (One has two lectionary source versions to choose from in the Crushed Red Pepper app.)

Second-Mortgage Misery

The WSJ today reports that 40% of homeowners who took a second mortgage during the last several years and had not paid it off when the economy went south are "underwater." This compares with 18% of other homeowners. Of course, it would be no surprise that the less equity one has in his home, the faster that equity disappears as housing prices go down. But the magnitude is striking.

The article is worth reading because it discusses the consequences both at the macro level ("the second mortgages are weighing on a fitful recovery") and at the micro level (its harder for a homeowner to get a credit card, etc. "There are all sorts of little, pernicious effects that you don't necessarily think about.")

The article also makes the point that while the first mortgages that the banks extended were "packaged" and sold into the syndication market, the banks kept the second mortgages. So those mortgages are presently a drag on the balances sheets of both the giants and the locals. (Not to say that the banks who sold the first mortgages are immune to claw-back liability. We haven't heard the last of that either.)

I have no special knowledge, of course, but it seems to me that we are not near the end of this unwinding.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

The PC(USA) Lectionary Resource

The website for the General Assembly Mission Council of the PC(USA) has a helpful lectionary section.

In my Southern Baptist upbringing, we had "daily Bible readings," and the Sunday School Board published booklets for home or personal use. Chief among these were the "quarterlies" issued to each active Sunday School member, young or old, and those publications were "graded" for each age group. The booklets would have our weekly Sunday School lessons for the calendar quarter and scripture to read each day. The SBC was a powerhouse of Christian Eduction then, and probably still is. What a blessing it was to me and my family. So we Baptists had lectionary resources.

However, I don't remember bumping into the word "lectionary" until college, when I began singing in the choir at St. Philip's Episcopal Church in Durham.

The PC(USA) lectionary section is worth exploring, especially the Frequently Asked Questions page, if the idea of church-wide lectionaries is an unfamiliar one.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

"The Search for the Historical Adam"

The cover story of the June 2011 issue of Christianity Today addresses the latest challenge to the historicity of Adam, one that emerges from "unnerving new genetic science" and argues that only a "tiny group of homonids . . . several thousand individuals at a minimum" and no single individual can account for the genetic diversity that we now see in humans.

The same magazine issue has an editorial entitled "No Adam, No Eve, No Gospel," which seems to suggest where CT stands on this question; but not so fast. The subtitle of the column states, "The historical Adam debate won't be resolved tomorrow, so stay engaged." A careful reading of the editorial suggests that at least someone on the editorial board wants to consider further the thesis that "Adam" may refer to a collective group. "Scripture often calls groups of people by the name of their historical head." That approach would reconcile "Adam" with the "complexity of the humane genome [a complexity which], we are told, requires an original population of around 10,000."

Pretty interesting.

But cuidado, CT.

Fraudulent Tricks of Some Investment "Promoters"

Beating the market is easy. Just understate its performance.

Various investment promoters are touting their stock-picking prowess by comparing their returns, including dividends, to the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index without dividends.

It is a lot easier to beat the market when you don't count its entire return. Over the past decade, according to Standard & Poor's, the S&P 500 benchmark gained an annual average of just 0.72% without dividends. But with dividends included, the S&P's total return reached 2.81% annually.

-from a WSJ article by Jason Zweig

There are Some Things Glenn Reynolds Just Doesn't Get

The matter of diet and health is one of them. Is he serious about citing the NYT as some sort of authority on this subject, where regarding politics he holds the newspaper in contempt? Or citing with approval a 6 month "weight-loss study" of 23 people when, for example, The China Study is sitting out there? When it comes to food, Glenn believes what he wants to believe. He is hardly alone.

Friday, June 03, 2011

The Moral Link to Economic Recession

Yesterday I spoke with my friend Gonzalo the banker, who lives in Hialeah and rides MetroRail. I have talked with Gonzalo about the banking side of the economic recession since it began in 2009. He continues to be appalled by the greed he sees on the micro level among bankers and borrowers, greed facilitated by government policy, and the connection of that greed to the problems we have on the macro level.

He told me yesterday of a friend of his who, during the real estate boom, moved from Hialeah to a Cocoplum mansion that the friend financed with very little down, a mansion that now is in a sort of frozen state of foreclosure. By that I mean, he pays no mortgage payments any more, because he can no longer afford it. However, because of a government program to "save" people's homes, he still is in possession of it and anticipates he will remain in possession for at least two more years before the bank can finally get it back. What is interesting about his situation is that Gonzalo's friend is not now actually living in his mansion. He has rented it and has moved back in Hialeah. Aided by the rental income, he continues his life-style as best he can. The family's educational plans include keeping their kids in private school. They are getting ready to send their oldest to NYU this fall, no doubt financed in large part by grants and loans, for which the family qualifies because of the sad balance sheet submitted by the parents.

Apparently, there is nothing illegal about Gonzalo's friend gaming the system this way. (Or would you say that these are reasonable survival tactics, under the circumstances?)

No amount of government regulation will make up for the lack of character among its citizens. When I was in law school, the sort of legal philosophy known as "positivism" reigned. That is the idea that one could change behaviors with a statute, that law was a sort of teaching tool and could civilize the heart. We see now that more laws only make the game more complicated - and that clever minds can rise to the challenge of any regulation. The problem is character, not economics.

I've read somewhere that law does not so much build character as expose it. Now where was that?

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

"The Egyptian Mummy Diet Paradox"

Dr. McDougall discusses and resolves this diet paradox, where an ancient population that one presumes is on a starchy, meatless diet, with plenty of vegetables, leaves behind mummies with obvious signs of arterial disease.