Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sowing and Reaping

Sow a thought, and you reap an act;
Sow an act, and you reap a habit;
Sow a habit, and you reap a character;
Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.

This is variously attributed.

John Stott quotes it without attribution in his The Message of Galatians, specifically in the chapter on Galatians 6: 6-10.  In that scripture passage, Paul writes, "Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap," also without attribution.  But the truth of sowing and reaping is often expressed in the Old Testament  (e.g. Gen 8:22), and Paul, being an OT scholar, would of course have been familiar with the saying.  He reminds the Galatians reader of a truth that was so embedded in the culture of Paul's time that even then it was an ancient epigram.  The scripture passage has both specific and general applications of that truth to the churches at Galacia to whom Paul was writing and to the Christian church at large for all time.

The proverb applies to all aspects of life and culture, however.  It seems to me that much of the frustration and disappointment we encounter is because we disregard this principal.  We will attempt to game the system, seeking the harvest of the love of a woman, of money, or of power without earning it, without preparing for it, without being ready, should we appear to harvest it, to keep and husband it.  In the same passage, Paul asks, "Will a man mock God?"  Paul asks whether a man will "fool" God or trick him in respect to the principal of sowing and reaping.  The question, of course, is a rhetorical one and has an easy answer.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Iron Deficiency, Athletes, and Vegans

This topic has become interesting to me recently.  Here are some links.

What Every Vegetarian Needs to  Know about Iron, at the No Meat Athlete website.

Iron in the Vegan Diet, at the Vegetarian Resource Group website.  "Both calcium and tannins (found in tea and coffee) reduce iron absorption. Tea, coffee, and calcium supplements should be used several hours before a meal that is high in iron."

Iron Status and Exercise, at the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition website.

What Every Vegetarian Needs to Know About Iron
What Every Vegetarian Needs to Know About Iron
What Every Vegetarian Needs to Know About Iron
What Every Vegetarian Needs to Know About Iron

Mouser Carries Arduino Related Products

This is serious stuff.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Unrefining the Church Fathers

Working with the famous ten-volume translations of The Ante -Nicene Fathers, edited by Roberts and Donaldson, made me appreciate fully my debt to multiple translations.  This was especially true as I wrote about abortion, birth control, and sexual norms in chapter 5; whenever the church fathers wrote candidly on these matters, the Roberts and Donaldson version translated the original Greek into Latin rather than into English.  Reading Clement of Alexandria, for example, one encounters frequent blocks of type in Latin.  From Jeroslav Pelikan (1987:38) I discovered that this was a very old tradition.  Hence Edward Gibbon reported in his Autobiography that “my English text is chaste, all licentious passages are left in the obscurity of a learned language” (1961:198).  Fortunately for those of us for whom learned languages are obscure, there exist more recent translations, written by scholars having less refined sensibilities than Gibbon or the Victorian gentlemen from Edinburgh.  In all, it was a most instructive experience.

- From Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscurity, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in A Few Centuries (HarperCollins Paperback edition 1997), "Preface" at pages xiii through xiv.

Another reason to major in Classics?

It took me a few minutes to figure out Stark's use of citations, examples of which are in the quote.  If the work of the cited author from which Stark takes his quote is listed in the bibliography, then the bibliography gives a complete description of the work.  The first number in the citation appears to be the year of publication of the work and the second appears to be the page number.  For example, the Pelikan reference is apparently to:

Pelikan, Joseph. 1987.  The Excellent Empire: The Fall of Rome and the Triumph of the Church.  San Francisco: Harper and Row.

 If the reference is not in the bibliography, for example the ten-volume work edited by Roberts and Donaldson, then Stark's practice, apparently, is to give the full title.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Handel and the artist Goupy (Fixed the Link)

The Charming Brute
According to one story, Handel invited an old friend, famed painter George [Joseph?] Goupy to dine at his home. Handel apologized for the meager meal, blaming it on financial woes. Later, though, Guopy (sic) found Handel stuffing himself with expensive delicacies. Goupy left angry, and later painted a now famous caricature of Handel as an overweight, organ-playing pig surrounded by the objects of his gluttony.

- from a post at Medical Discovery News.  But read the rest of the story about Handel's probable lead poisoning that may have been connected to his outrageous conduct.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Erasmus worked at a stand-up desk.

Both Holbein and every other of the portraitists made the error of having Erasmus pose seated.  He worked habitually standing.

-Bainton, Erasmus of Christendom (Crossroad Publishing Co. 1982), p. 237

Friday, May 16, 2014

Kimberly L. Smith's Piece in Time Magazine; Mary, the Dinka Woman

Time Magazine, of all news and opinion sources, has published an essay by Kimberly L. Smith, of Make-Way Partners.  The essay discusses the dreadful way in which women are treated in the Sudan.  In the article, Mrs. Smith mentions Mary the Dinka woman, whom Carol, Mary, and I met at the Kijabe Hospital in Kenya in 2006.

We are on Mrs. Smith's email list, and the photo is of Mrs. Smith, Mary, and one of the little ones at an orphanage that Make-Way Partners established and supports in the Sudan.  Mary the Dinka woman must work there.

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid

T. Rowe Price blocked approximately 1,300 American Airlines employees from trading into their retirement plan mutual funds over the past three years due to excessive activity, according to Money Magazine. Some of the airline’s employees received lifetime bans. Southwest Airlines employees have also been warned by Vanguard to end their trading, according to Money.

Those of you who subscribe to Money may have seen the article. It’s not the first one on the subject and likely won’t be last. Though most mutual funds reserve the right to ban an investor from buying and selling its funds, it is rarely used. Investors who do get banned have frequently traded in and out of mutual funds, commonly on the guidance of a newsletter or an adviser.

It is my understanding that in order to get banned, or even to get a warning letter, a large amount of short-term trading has to occur. What prompts the warnings and the bans can often be a group of investors acting in unison, often on the recommendation of a central party (e.g., an advisory service). If enough shareholders move to buy or sell at the same time, the mutual fund could end up with more cash inflows or outflows then it is prepared to handle.

-from an AAII Investor Update email I received last evening.

This investor behavior is nuts.  Do these employees think they can game the market?  What an argument for having the government invest our pension savings - except that the government plays much larger and much more lethal games with the market.  

Kudos to T. Rowe Price and Vanguard for stopping this sort of thing.  They do so, not because they are investor-nannies, but because, among other things, it drives up costs for those financial institutions, costs which they, in turn, must pass on to the rest of us. 

I get solicitations all the time for financial newsletters and advisers such as the ones mentioned in the quote.   If the publishers and advisers are so good, why do they have to do their mass mailing solicitations in the first place and offer to sell their "best ideas?"  If they are so smart, then  .  .  .   Of course we know why: there is a sucker born every minute, and they count on it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Erasmus and Bible Study. Walter and Koine.

Erasmus is known for the first publication of a New Testament in Greek, the first edition in 1516.  (This followed, of course, the invention of the printing press around 1439.)  Bainton writes, however, that “we are not to exaggerate the significance of mere publication.  .  .  .  The contribution of Erasmus to Biblical studies lies even more in the questions which he raised, the controversies which he precipitated, and the awareness which he created as to the problems of text, translation, and interpretation.”  Bainton, Erasmus of Christendom, (Crossroads Paperback 1982) at page 134.

After Erasmus put together the Greek text, he translated the text into Latin.  Bainton writes about the translation task in part as follows:

At this point Erasmus noted that Greek was not the mother tongue of the evangelists and their use of it was affected by their native idioms.  They did not write the Greek of Demosthenes.  “Do you mean to say,” demanded John Eck in Germany [later one of Luther’s adversaries], “that the best Greek was not written by the apostles on whom the Holy Spirit conferred the gift of tongues?”  “My dear fellow,” answered Erasmus, “if you will look at the list of languages of which the Holy Spirit gave command to the apostles on the day of Pentecost you will discover that Greek was not one of them.  Besides the gift lasted for only one day.”  Ibid., p. 139. 

When Walter was a freshman at Davidson College, he decided to major in Classics so that he could study Greek.  He wanted to be able to read the New Testament in the original text.  First Davidson required him to take Classical Greek, and only then “New Testament Greek," known as Koine.  Finally, he got to the New Testament.  He told me that he was surprised to see the variation in the quality of the Greek, especially among the four Gospels (I recall that he said that the Gospel of Mark was the roughest and John the most elegant).

(Bainton, in his notes to his chapter on Erasmus' "publication, translation, and elucidation" of the NT cites Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament (Oxford, 1964).  That title is also in Bainton's bibliography.  As I have mentioned several times, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Metzger during the 1970s when he visited our church to give a series of lectures on the Sermon on the Mount. They were splendid lectures.)  

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Hello, Jeremy Blum!

Jeremy has a series of Arduino tutorials on YouTube.  Here's the first one, and its a good one.  His series is associated with Element14. an engineering website

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Discovering Arduino at the Downtown Radio Shack

At the corner of West Flagler and NE 1st Street sits a Radio Shack on the ground floor of the old Dade Federal Building.  (Dade Federal held our first mortgage.)  Once there were two Radio Shacks downtown and they were busy, but we are down to one, mostly staffed by people trying to sell cell-phones, and the staff turn-over there seems to be daily.  A few years ago there were several places Downtown into which I could wander for a break: Downtown Camera, Raquel's Downtown Bookshop, the two Radio Shack stores, Sports Authority, Office Depot, and even la Epoca, the Latin department store transplanted from Havana.  La Epoca is still here, but now it sells internationally famous brands for the South American Trade, and the owner that I liked so much has passed away.  The others have all closed, except for the one Radio Shack store.  Downtown is less interesting, pieces are gone, their function generally taken over by the internet, but totally absent in the way that they functioned for me.

However, I do browse through the Radio Shack store now and then - to see what's new back there in the back, where the hobbyists go.  The other day I discovered Arduino, a microprocessor-centered line of products for very young minds (and less and less younger minds), that would lead them into the computer world in a way that encourages tinkering (original thinking) as it teaches.  The founders are two Italians, and so they bring a perspective that is fresh and articulate.   And it has style.

Radio Shack developed a series of YouTube tutorials in which it introduces Massimo Banzi, one of the co-founders of Arduino.  The first video displays the engaging approach of the Arduino way of learning micro-processing.  Banzi starts at the very beginning of what one needs to know, with the idea of the electrical circuit.  Although English is obviously his second language, his use of it is very, very careful and efficient and, at least to me, very attractive.

As I looked at the Arduino display at the Flagler Radio Shack,  I asked a clerk to come over and help me.  The clerk more or less shrugged when I asked him how the store did with the Arduino line.  He said that no one ever asked about it.  (I did, of course.  Maybe a pro-active rather than a reactive sales approach might work a little better.  "Sir, do you have grandchildren?  After we finish with this purchase I would like to show you a line of educational products that would introduce them to micro-processing - you know there's a microprocessor in this cell phone you just bought.")  Looking around the display area, I found a book, Banzi's Getting Started with Arduino, 2nd Edition and bought it.  After a few pages, Banzi engages the reader quickly, using the same careful teaching approach on display in the tutorial.

Radio Shack has obviously put a lot of time, effort, and money into developing the Arduino line.  But the physical actuator (as Banzi might say) fails at the physical retail level.  Whoever owns the Flagler Street store is content with whatever he can make from the phone business, keeping his staff costs very, very low in the process.  What a waste of an opportunity for such a great location and a fascinating line of products.  However, I'm hanging in there with Arduino and will go back to the Flagler Street store and get started.  Maybe I can interest one of the young clerks in Arduino.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Bailing from a Bear Market

One of the biggest risks to investors’ net worth is the portfolio decisions they make.
Failing to adhere to an appropriate long-term strategy has a significant damaging impact on wealth. Since wealth is generated from the compounding of returns, actions that severely reduce an investor’s portfolio balance can have a long-term impact.

A common dangerous action is panicking and pulling out of stocks during a bear market. Such an action limits the immediate damage to a portfolio, but can cause an investor to miss out on the big rebound that follows a large drop by not jumping back into stocks soon enough. Even being out of the market for just one or two years can cause a considerable amount of wealth to be forfeited.

-from Charles Rotblut, CFA, in his article in the AAII Journal, The Danger of Getting Out of Stocks During Bear Markets.

(The gurus are getting us ready for a big drop in the market, methinks.  See my earlier post concerning a recent WSJ article.)

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Erasmus, Thomas á Kempis, and the Brethren of the Common Life

            Deventer [a town in the Dutch province of Overijssel, an intellectual center when Erasmus lived and in which he attended school as a child] was impregnated by the spirit of the Devotio Moderna, the “modern piety” of the Brethren of the Common Life.  The movement originated two hundred years before the time of Erasmus under the impact of Gerard Groote (died 1340) of Deventer, who gathered a following dedicated both to the contemplative and to the active life.  They lived in a community under a regimen like that of the monks, calling for fasts, vigils, reading, and prayer, privately and in common, interspersed by long periods of silence unrelieved by boisterous levity.  The Brethren went out into the world to care for the sick and the poor and, above all, to teach children.  Sometimes they established schools of their own, sometimes planted their members here and there as teachers in existing institutions.  Their support came not from alms, but from labor, whether manual or literary, in particular from the copying of manuscripts, which continued to be in demand for some time after the invention of printing.  This was work also in which the Sisters could engage, for there were houses also of a branch for women.

          The movement called itself modern, but the modernity lay rather in the area of zeal than of dogma.  The teaching of the Church was accepted and discussion of her tenants deprecated.  Thomas á Kempis, the best-known of the Brethren, in his Imitation of Christ declared that the “Trinity is better pleased by adoration than by speculation” and he looked askance upon addiction to study.  There was thus an anti-intellectualistic strain in the movement.  The stress was placed upon piety and deportment.  The piety was marked by a heartfelt, lyrical devotion to Jesus, with undeviating endeavor to follow in his steps rather than to merge the self in the abyss of the Godhead.  The Brethren were consequently fond of the Latin mystics, Bernard and Bonaventura, rather than of the German mystics, Eckhart, Suso, and Tauler.  Nor did they conceive of piety as consisting in tearful dissolution before the wounds of Christ.  The following prayer to Jesus by Thomas á Kempis turns upon the teaching and example of the Master.

Lord Jesus Christ, who art the light, true, eternal and unchanging, who didst deign to descend to the prison of this world to dispel the shadows of human ignorance and show us the way to the land of eternal brightness, hear the prayers of my humility, and by Thine immense mercy instill into me that divine light which Thou hast promised to the world and ordered to be preached to all peoples, that I may know Thy way throughout my earthly pilgrimage.  Thou art the mirror of life, the torch of all holiness.  .   .  . Thou hast set Thyself before me as an example for living.  .  .  . Be Thou my joy, the sweetness of my soul. Dwell Thou with me and I with Thee, with all the world shut out.  Be Thou my teacher, my Master, and may Thy teaching be my wisdom.One observes that there is no reference to Christ as the propitiator.  He is the enlightener, the exemplar, the beloved companion, and the Lord.

          One of the most persistent notes in the piety of the Brethren was inwardness.  “Learn to despise the outward.  Direct thyself to the inward and thou shalt see the kingdom of God come within thee.” “Strive to withdraw thy heart from all love of the visible and transfer it to the invisible.”  Inwardness admits of no compulsion and objection to constraint militates against lifelong vows which constrain the monk to go through exercises in which the mind perchance no longer believes and to which the heart no longer responds.  To go on repeating by rote is the utter stultification of piety.  The movement at the outset dispensed with lifelong vows, but such was the pressure from the older orders, who feared lest the more flexible rule would undercut their own recruiting, that one branch of the Brethren yielded and joined the Augustinian Canons Regular.  Others, however, stoutly held out for their freedom.

          The ethical concern of the Brethren made some of them hospitable to the writings of classical antiquity.  Gerard Groote in his writings cited nineteen classical authors as over against twenty-one Christian.  He was particularly attracted to the moralists Seneca and Cicero.  The disposition to draw upon the pagan preparation for the gospel received a great impetus from the Italian Renaissance.  Rudolph Agricola, trained at Groningen in the atmosphere of the Brethren, went to Italy and was there imbued with Plutarch’s ideal of elegant diction, to be employed, however, only in the service of religion.  For Agricola the cultivation of the soul, man’s immortal component, was to be undertaken by way of erudition leading to the tranquil and unshakable seat of wisdom.  To this end he acquired proficiency not only in Latin, of course, but also in Greek and Hebrew.  Erasmus, when twelve years old, heard him speak at Deventer.  A younger man than Agricola was his friend Alexander Hegius of like aspirations.  While Agricola wrote about education, Hegius practiced it as head of the school at Deventer.  Erasmus, in his last year there as a scholar, heard him lecture on special days.  For both men Erasmus entertained a high regard and found in their example a tremendous confirmation for his own later battle on behalf of the broader study of the humanities, the more so because these men could not be reproached with any deviation from the faith, from the Church, or even from the Brethren.  Agricola was buried in the cowl of a Franciscan.

          One observes thus two strands in the tradition of the Brethren.  The one represented by á Kempis was fearful lest any sort of learning might wither the spirit.  The other, stemming from Groote and flowering in Agricola and Hegius, could appropriate the classical heritage.  The two attitudes were to conflict.  Erasmus was to champion the liberal wing while retaining essentially the piety of á Kempis. 

-from Bainton, Erasmus of Christendom, (Crossroad 1982), pp. 8-10.

Friday, May 02, 2014

What? No Blood in the Streets? None of My Blood? Maybe We Should be Selling.

The Wall Street Journal Today headlines an article “Retirement Investors Flock Back to Stocks: Equities Account for Highest Percentage of new Contributions into 401(k) Plans Since Crisis.”   The article reports in part: 

Individual investors, notorious for mistiming the market, didn't fare well in the financial downturn. At the stock market's peak in October 2007, investors put 69% of new 401(k) contributions into stocks, according to Aon Hewitt. The S&P 500 went on to lose 57% of its value by March 2009.

Some financial advisers now worry that retirement investors could be late to the game, pouring into stocks after much of the easy gains have already been had. This year, the S&P 500 is 1.9% higher, but it is 0.4% off its record high hit at the beginning of April. By comparison, in the first four months of last year, the S&P 500 was 11% higher. 

A friend of mine and I had our portfolios in a 55% equity and 45% fixed-income mix as the crash approached.  When it occurred, he sold his equities in large part because of fear that the market would never recover.  Under the discipline that Investor Solutions applies (our representative is Rob Gordon), we bought equities to restore our 55/45 allocation.   We rode back up when the market improved.  My friend’s portfolio did not.  Our overall return since the crash is about 4.2%, after all fees.

Russia’s stock market is down.  Everyone is getting out of Russia.  We have a very small allocation to Russia through one of the index mutual funds in which Investor Solutions has us invest.  As to the very small allocation, we are buying Russia.

This quote from the Investopedia website gives you the flavor of that investment approach:

Baron Rothschild, an 18th century British nobleman and member of the Rothschild banking family, is credited with saying that "The time to buy is when there's blood in the streets."

He should know. Rothschild made a fortune buying in the panic that followed the Battle of Waterloo against Napoleon. But that's not the whole story. The original quote is believed to be "Buy when there's blood in the streets,
even if the blood is your own."

This is contrarian investing at its heart - the strongly-held belief that the worse things seem in the market, the better the opportunities are for profit.

Most people only want winners in their portfolios, but as Warren Buffett warned, "You pay a very high price in the stock market for a cheery consensus." In other words, if everyone agrees with your investment decision, then it's probably not a good one.