Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008

Thus ends 2008. The final "event" has passed, with UNC leaving Lawlor Events Center still undefeated. All that is left is to await the dawn of the new year, and reflect on the old. As with every year 2008 had its share of joys and sorrows. Of the latter, I don't care to elaborate, because that's rarely as cathartic as I think it will be when I'm logging my diatribe. But this post is to reflect on the former.

  • Coram Deo moved into an elementary school. I admit, I had enjoyed having Sunday mornings off, but I could see no great reason that we had to do one or the other. Since others wanted to move, I accepted. It is still exciting to see a church of over a hundered, and remember the first time we met, and had only 12 or 13 people.
  • Several friends and family members had new children. For some, like Steve & Becky, it was their first. For others, it wasn't. But always, it's exciting to see new, young people adding to the ever-changing portrait of what "in the image of God" looks like.
  • I got promoted at work. It's still not worn off - the fact that somehow I'm now a supervisor. It's a continuous novelty to see statistics that come out of our unit in the news. I'm used to having opinions. It's strange to see what they look like with the weight of authority.
  • Some good friends moved away, while others moved back to town. I'm terrible at keeping in touch with people who move away, so I'm glad to have some good friends back in town.
  • After beginning the process in late 2007, I paid off my credit card. It feels wonderful not to have that burden of debt hanging around my neck constantly.
  • The circle of friends I hang out with regularly has expanded. Of my Friday night friends, two got married this year, and I was able to enjoy watching my favorite NBC Monday Night shows with some guys from church.
  • No grief I experienced overcame me. Even though we who are "more than conquerors" sometimes feel like merely survivors - be it conquest of survival, here I am. For all the times I have declared that I am at the end of my rope, when I find those last threads slipping out of my grasp, I fall into grace.
  • The finances at Coram Deo, while slim, have sustained us. We had no church branching off to send members to us. We had a small loan from our denomination. And we had some generous gifts, from people with and without much to spare. From gifts of several thousand dollars to gifts that weren't even a single dollar, people gave. Given the current economy, I would regularly see gifts form people who I knew had lost ther jobs. For them, each gift was an act of faith. And each time, it was an encouragement to me to see that faith put into action.
What does 2009 hold? I don't know. But here it comes: 365 days to use. Once gone, they will never return. The economy will probably be lousy. People won't have jobs, and there will be real hurting in the world. Children will starve in foregin countries, and be beaten by their parents here at home. There will be abuse, rape, and murder. Terrible, unspeakable things will happen. And in the midst of it all, the gospel will spread. People will find hope where it was not expected. Love that never makes the news will spread from person to person. The church will be built, and the gates of hell itself still won't be able to withstand it. In the midst of darkness, there will be light.

That is what I expect in 2009. The ambush of love, popping up where it is least expected and most needed.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Obama: I'm imprressed so far

And this story is just part of the reason why.

That he'd invite Mr. Warren is a minor surprise. That the backlash against him for doing so would be so swift is, in retrospect, not so surprising - it's the "you owe us for electing you, now walk the line we tell you to walk."

Obama's reply can be summarized, simply, as "no."

I like that. Part of politics is reaching out to the people you disagree with on some issues because you have other things in common. It is possible for good men to disagree, and politics recently seems to be heading the opposite direction - a self reinforcing ever-harsher circle of animosity and distrust.

Read the criticisms of Obama's choice; their idea is that allowing a man like Mr. Warren a place of honor at Obama's historic moment suggests that they will then have no place at Obama's table. Clearly, Obama disagrees with Warren about this, but that logic has no place in the rhetoric.

That Obama is rejecting such rhetoric is a good sign. That he is doing so early, and asserting his indepencence immediately is a good sign that this is something that will feature prominently in his administration, and I find that very encouraging.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Endless Road

100_5100 by you.

This sight soon awaits us again. Myself, my sister, and a friend are heading up to Boise to watch Nevada play in the 2008 Humanitarian Bowl. We're making it a road trip, as gas is cheap and round trip tickets start at $210 EACH.

This is what a painfully long part of the drive looks like. Just endless highway. It has its scenic moments, but crawling through Oregon at 55 mph leaves you wishing that it would pass just a little quicker.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Charity - Vitamins for Children

Do you ever feel reluctant to give to charity because you don't know how effective your small donation can be? Allow me to introduce you to Vitamin Angel. This charity provides nutrition supplements to children in various parts of the globe. From their website:

Why Give Children Vitamin A Supplements?

Vitamin A deficiency also does its worst damage during childhood and is a major contributor to child mortality and illness. The most commonly known effect of vitamin A deficiency is blindness. Less well known is that vitamin A is also essential for functioning of the immune system. Even before blindness occurs, vitamin A-deficient children are at risk of dying from infectious diseases such as measles, diarrhea and malaria. As a result, vitamin A supplementation of vitamin A-deficient populations can reduce child mortality by as much as 23-24%.

---

And, $1 - just $1 is enough to provide four years' worth of antiparisitic and vitamin A to a child, when they are most vulnerable to parisites and to blindness. So I encourage you, in this season of giving, make sure to remember those whose lives can be changed for the price of something that's a mere trifle to you or me. And what's more, this charity is rated as a 5-star charity by Charity Navigator, based on the share of its donations - something like 99% - which actually are directed to the cause in question.

Read more, or donate, at VitaminAngels.org

The Other Vegas

Of course, there's many sides to Las Vegas... but this is one I knew nothing about. From NPR:

It would be easy to go a whole weekend on the Las Vegas Strip without spotting a sign of a crisis. Never mind that more than 14,000 people are living on the streets — and that Nevada ranks second in the nation in homeless population per capita.

Seeing evidence of this is a matter of knowing — or perhaps choosing — where to look.

One might begin with the slot machines on a busy casino floor — tourists, blackjack tables, cocktail waitresses in impossibly tiny outfits. And if one were willing to pay the price of admission, an elevator could transport the seeker to more vice and excess upstairs — rooftop pools and lavish suites. But the homeless still wouldn't be found.

But what if there were an elevator that went downward? Let's say that you could descend below the sunken lounges, past kitchens and utility closets, through layers of concrete. It is here that Las Vegas' truly gritty underbelly can be found; a hidden matrix of tunnels beneath the strip, another version of the city born out of storm drains.

More at the source...

Unions

One of the things I have been thinking about recently is unions. By nature, my gut reaction is anti-union. I realize, though, that I ought to moderate my view because the basic idea of a union - particularly that of defending the rights of those who are less able to speak for themselves - is not a bad thing. Instead of giving in to a "Unions BAD" reaction, I need to consider whether in each situation a union is doing what is best for its workers or not.

Consider the UAW. I am not a fan of this union, because the unionized benefits that it has won for its workers render the companies that pay the workers hopelessly uncompetitive. Consider this blurb from a New York Times article about the concessions that the UAW has expressed a willingness to consider:

"Currently, the average U.A.W. member costs G.M. about $74 an hour in a combination of wages, health care and the value of future benefits, like pensions."

Assuming a full-time work schedule (2,080 paid hours per year), this is an average per-employee annual cost to GM of almost $154,000. That should scream "Unsustainable!" But the power to command this level of benefits is the power of this union. [Sidebar: read with a very large grain of salt any argument that says "Productivity has soared this decade, but wages are stagnant." Be wary, because a large part of this is not greedy executives stealing bread from the mouths of the workers, but because of the cost of non-wage employee compensation. When employer-paid health care costs are added to such macro considerations, employee compensation has stayed roughly in line with productivity growth.]

It is a good thing that the UAW is willing to make concessions, because it will eliminate the companies where it has its power if it doesn't. Workers at non-union companies don't have as sweet a deal as the UAW workers, but $25 an hour at Toyota is not what I'd call exploitation.

I think the truth is that bankruptcy would hurt the unions more than it would hurt the companies. Factories don't instantly vanish in bankruptcy, nor does everything immediately close - as the airlines who had to declare bankruptcy for restructuring discovered. But the power of a judge to alter the union's contracts means that there is a strong incentive for the UAW to do everything it can to keep the Big Three out of that court.

But in the end - I don't think that there are enough changes that can be made in time to prevent it. They are burning through a LOT of cash, and there were only 236,000 domestic light car sales in the US last month. The auto market is getting beat up, and even companies that weren't on the brink are hurting. For a company like GM...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Update

I haven't posted much recently, but I've been keeping pretty busy. I've been thinking about things like unions, bankruptcy, recessions, Christmas, consumerism, defecits, debt, Pakistan, Obama, poverty, and what it means to follow Christ in dealing with all of the above, but I haven't had the time to sit down and do justice to the thoughts.

I am thankful for this, however: the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas used to be the incredibly hectic preparing-for-the-Christmas-play/musical/services season. There would be times when I'd be at the church more often than not, and be absolutely frazzled by the end of it. I'm thankful that we don't do that at Coram Deo, because the holiday season should not be something you have to recover from.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Technical support

What to do when your Guitar Hero Drums aren't registering hits properly.

Food Miles

Or, Why You Can't Always Believe the Hype.

Sometimes, eating an apple flown to you from across the globe is better for the environment than eating one grown down the street. And you'd make a much bigger impact by not driving to buy local, but by walking or biking to a nearby store, even if it's Raleys and not Whole Foods.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Phrase You'll Hate by January

"Yes We Can"

I predict that Republicans and Democrats alike will be utterly sick of this phrase by January. Last night, I heard it on the ESPN broadcast of a NBA basketball game... "Right now, Denver needs to take a page from Barrack Obama's book and ask themselves 'Can we get a stop? Yes we can!'" (Note... they didn't).

Today, I read it in a story that mentioned a press release from a San Jose Animal Shelter, after the Obamas said they'd adopt a dog from a rescue shelter:

"We are very pleased to hear that President-elect Obama has decided to adopt a puppy from an animal shelter," said Jon Cicirelli, deputy director of the San Jose Animal Care Center. "Our residents can follow his lead and ask themselves if they, too, can make a difference in the life of a homeless animal. We say, 'Yes, you can!' "

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Rational Response

Several months ago, I noted that the rational response to daily increases in the gas price is to fill up every day. This is because the goal is to have the cheapest gas possible in your tank, and when prices are going up, that gas is what you can buy today - not tomorrow.

Now prices are plummeting, to a degree I find pretty shocking. But I wanted to let you know - when gas prices are falling, the rational response is to go as long as possible between fill-ups. The goal is to let prices drop as far as possible before filling up again. If gas stations change their prices in the afternoon, fill up in the evening. Try to avoid driving if it will let you stretch the time between fill ups for even a day or two.

You still want the cheapest gas possible in your tank, but with prices falling that is the gas you can buy tomorrow, not today.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Hypothetical

If I should ever get married, and if I should have a child, and if it should be a boy... then I imagine I'd have a strong preference to name him Isaac. I know when I was a kid, I heard the story about Sarah laughing when Abraham was told that she'd have a son at their age, and as a kid I always imagined it as a jovial sort of laugh. But being 30 and just as single as always, I think I understand the laugh better as the sort of cynical laugh you use to try and mask your deep disappointment when dreams go unmet, and someone suggests that after countless years of living with that disappointment that everything will change. I know if someone told me that the scenario above were going to happen within a year, I'd laugh too - in just the way I expect Sarah laughed.

And so, should it ever actually happen, I like the name Isaac as a reminder that sometimes God can make the laughably impossible possible. For now, though, all I have is the laugh.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Warning!

Do you have a lead-lined tape-dispenser? Maybe you should.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Freedom and Purpose

It is for freedom that Christ set us free. You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.

-Paul

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Comedic Gold

Flaming Squirrel Blamed for Northern California Wildfire

REDDING, Calif. — With southern California fighting wind-driven flames and spot fires breaking out across northern California, firefighters have fingered at least one arsonist: an unlucky squirrel.

Redding firefighters say the squirrel set off the blaze when it shorted out a power line, caught fire and dropped into dry vegetation.

Battalion Chief Gerry Gray says it took 18 firefighters and six fire engines to fight the fire that started behind a Redding restaurant.

The fire briefly threatened a home before it was contained Monday.

Redding Electric Utility spokesman Pat Keener says about 200 customers might have noticed their electricity flicker when the squirrel shorted out the high-voltage power line. But the incident did not cause a power outage.

Insanity

I've probably gotten at least 1 call every other day for at least 3 years proclaiming "This is the second notice that the factory warranty on your car is about to expire, or may have already expired..."

By my estimate, then, I have gotten around 500 such "second notices." I usually swing from being irritated by the interruption posed by such calls, to being amused at just how many second notices I've gotten, and back again.

Today, the response is amusement.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Novelty

It is still a novel thing for me to have my opinions regarded seriously, whether at church or at work. I suppose when you end up becoming a leader, that's what happens... but I'm rather cemented in the idea that "Hey, it's just me talking here."

How did it happen?

In short - neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have a good answer. In longer form, here's the most accessible, reasonable, data-based explanation I have seen yet. It takes the form of an imaginary testimony and a written statement before Congress.

From the imaginary testimony:

I reject the two main partisan narratives of this crisis. The Left wants to blame deregulation motivated by free-market ideology. It is true that poorly-conceived regulation was a major factor. However, the blindness of key regulators reflected not ideology but ordinary bureaucratic information loss. The knowledge that existed inside Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Treasury, and the Federal Reserve did not flow up to the leaders of those organizations.

The Right wants to blame overly-aggressive lending to minorities and low-quality borrowers, promoted by Congress and regulators. While it is true that many loans were made that should not have been made, the problem was not the color of the borrowers' skins or the content of their credit reports. The problem was low down payments and a large proportion of mortgages for what the industry calls non-owner-occupied homes or investor loans, and what ordinary people would think of as speculators.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Reflection

The last week is probably a good time to reinforce the message "Store up for yourself treasure in heaven..." with the modern caveat "where no plunge in the stock market, however deep, can in any way diminish it."

November

I wouldn't be surprised if Senator Obama gets 400 electoral votes in November. The shame is, I have yet to hear him put forward a convincing explanation for the economic crisis that will shove him into the Presidency, as his only line that I've heard is "it's because of deregulation," which the more I read looks both true and woefully false. The truth is that a lack of transperency (which regulation could have addressed) is a part of the problem, but another problem was misguided regulation - that is, the specific initiatives pushed by both parties to increase homeownership among people that couldn't afford homes the traditional way.

That push spawned (1) the subprime loans and (2) the rapid surge in home values that were key elements in the precipitation of this crisis.

Misguided regulation remains, for me, a huge part of the cause of the crisis. So please, forgive me if I feel a sense of dread about what could follow in the next 4 years as someone who is crying for more as-yet-undefined regulation gets enough political capital to do just about anything his heart desires.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Dean Heller's "Nay" Vote

Representative Dean Heller, whose Congressional District includes Reno, voted against the Bailout Bill in the House both times he had the chance. I heard him on the radio today saying it was because the bill won't address what went wrong, and it won't fix the problem.

That is a valid opinion, if he knows what went/is going wrong... and what it would take to fix it. I'd like to hear his opinion on those points - if you know that this won't address the root cause, then I'm assuming you also know what the root cause is. And if the answer is "the government telling banks to lend to more minorities," then I'll know he listens to too much talk radio.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Bailout?

My take, in short:

1) Is this bailout plan ideal? No. Cf. Wooden Arrows.

2) Should we reject it? No. The risk of a multi-year Depression is real, because there is a serious problem in the markets right now.

3) Credit. That's the story. The state of California can't get short-term loans. Businesses who use commercial notes to even out cash flows between large projects can't get loans. Without credit, the economy grinds to a halt like a gasoline engine with sand instead of motor oil.

4) The Credit crunch is the result of a lack of trust and transperency in the business community right now. Banks are under-capitalized, because no one knows if any of their mortgage-backed securities are worth anything. Banks then are more unable to make loans, which limits the ability of other under-capitalized banks to get short term loans when they need to come up with more capital.

5) The point of the bailout is twofold - Restoring some confidence to the market, and providing more capital so that there isn't a self-reinforcing chain of failures by a number of banks.

6) The Bailout was not perfect - probably far from it. But freezing credit kills companies on the edge - and not just huge financial giants that deserve what they get, but small local companies just trying to make it from one project to another. One reason I desperately loathe the now-commonplace Wall/Main street description of the issues is that it creates an illusion of isolation, where the two really are intimately aquainted. Anyone wanting to punish those smarmy scoundrels will, in the end, be stabbing the blue collar guys whose jobs rely on those scoundrels indirectly in the back.

7) Big thing to fear: the floodgates are open. How can any politician reject $7 billion in deficit spending in the wake of something like this? If in times of tight credit people are busy investing like crazy in US Treasuries to the exclusion of other forms of reliable debt, we're going to see the treble effects of crowding out (with the wave of new deficit spending), an increasing debt burden (national debt: now over $3,000 for every man woman and child in the US), and a depreciating dollar all at once. Blarg.

The State of the Economy

From the Las Vegas Review-Journal:


CARSON CITY -- Unemployment in Nevada will jump to an average monthly rate of 8.6 percent next year and remain at that rate in 2010, state economists told the Employment Security Council on Thursday.

"This is sobering news," Employment Security Division Administrator Cindy Jones said after economists on her staff made the prediction.

The forecast came on the same day an economic analyst told another state panel that Nevada is in a recession and the outlook won't improve in the short term.

"The recession is already here, in our opinion," James Diffley, director of the U.S. Regional Services Group of Global Insight, told a the Economic Forum. "We have been arguing all year Nevada is in a recession."

The Economic Forum, made up of five private citizens, must tell Gov. Jim Gibbons by Dec. 1 how much money he can spend on the 2009-11 state budget. Thursday's meeting was the first for the panel to start preparing those projections.

If Nevada's unemployment reaches 8.6 percent in 2009, it would be the highest rate since 9.7 percent in 1983. The state's jobless rate in August was 7.1 percent, the highest in 23 years.
Bill Anderson, the state's chief economist, made the jobs predictions as he pointed out that Nevada two years ago had unemployment rates of just over 4.0 percent and led the nation in job creation.

Anderson and economist David Schmidt said the state economy has been sputtering because of the crash of the real estate market, the decline in home values and the reluctance of residents to spend what money they have.

Anderson said that in the past, employment jumped dramatically after the opening of each megaresort in Las Vegas, but this isn't happening anymore. The City Center project on the Strip is expected to employ 12,700 people when it opens in November 2009, but the state's jobless rate will increase even with this project, he said.

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More at the link...

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Only In Washington

The Bailout... for toy arrows?

From the Senate Bailout Bill... by way of Calculated Risk.

SEC. 503. EXEMPTION FROM EXCISE TAX FOR CERTAIN WOODEN ARROWS DESIGNED FOR USE BY CHILDREN.

(a) IN GENERAL.—Paragraph (2) of section 4161(b) is amended by redesignating subparagraph (B) as sub301 paragraph (C) and by inserting after subparagraph (A) the following new subparagraph:

"(B) EXEMPTION FOR CERTAIN WOODEN ARROW SHAFTS.—Subparagraph (A) shall not apply to any shaft consisting of all natural wood with no laminations or artificial means of enhancing the spine of such shaft (whether sold separately or incorporated as part of a finished or unfinished product) of a type used in the manufacture of any arrow which after its assembly—
‘‘(i) measures 5⁄16 of an inch or less in diameter, and‘‘(ii) is not suitable for use with a bow described in paragraph (1)(A).’’.

(b) EFFECTIVE DATE.—The amendments made by this section shall apply to shafts first sold after the date of enactment of this Act.

Friday, September 26, 2008

About Censoring

The following is a disclaimer that popped up as I was looking at a FoxSports blog about the USC-Oregon State game:

About Censoring

FOXSports.com encourages our users to express themselves on their blogs, story comments, or message boards. We don't want to slow down your game when you're dishing on your favorite teams and players.

At the same time, we recognize that not everyone out there loves a potty mouth. So if there's an obvious bad word on a blog, story comment, or message board post, we'll try to censor it.
Feeling brave, mature, and adult-ish? Or just want to get in touch with your inner sailor? You can choose to have FOX Sports do nothing, and leave all those R-rated words alone. If you do, you may see some coarse language from time to time in the community. Don't say we didn't warn you!

Would you like FOXSports.com to automatically censor content you view?

------------------------------------

What, you might ask, was the offending phrase? Dong. As in "Ding, dong." That's right - a doorbell sound.

When I saw the censor-blips, I admit... I imagined it might be something more comical. I immediately though of Jeff's comment on another installment of "Autoreplace: It's not everything it's cracked up to be."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Serving

On one front, Coram Deo is doing well. Attendance at the Sunday morning service is growing, and the number of faces I don't recognize as long-timers is growing. But I have to admit, there's one trend that I'm not really encouraged by.

It seems like participation in our servant evangelism/service projects/community service (however you care to call it) events seems to be declining... and I don't know why. Could it be that people are burned out? That they are unaware of the events? That the idea doesn't resonate with them? I don't really know.

I do know that it's hard to get up and participate. Every time I go, I usually start off the day not wanting to - with a desire to just play a game, or sleep some more, or do just about anything but going out to serve. But at the same time, by the end of the day I'm usually much more rejuvenated, and glad that I got up to do it.

It could be that many people are involved in serving in other ways that I simply don't know about. But I wonder if it's a casualty of the growth we have experienced - as we get larger, it feels less like the small group of friends going out to serve and more like an "event."

I believe that serving is absolutely vital to our health as a church. If we lose heart in serving others, the church will fall gradually into something I don't want to see - a complacent group of people that talks a lot about serving... but doesn't get beyond talk. That holds no attraction to me whatsoever.

Not knowing from where the decline has come (despite the best efforts on the part of our Service Pastor, I am sure), it's hard to know how to address it. But I do know what I can do to try, beyond simply participating. I can try and encourage others to join me in it. It is one thing for the Talking Head to say "we're serving and you should join us." It is, I hope, another for me to say "I am serving, and I hope you will join me." In the former, it is an impersonal invitation. In the latter, it is an expression of a sincere desire on my part to be able to enjoy serving alongside the people in our church, and to be encouraged by their presence serving alongside me.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Yar Har!

Avast, ye scurvy scallywags! It be International Talk Like a Priate Day, so be clenching yer teeth, squinting with one eye, and giving a hearty "Yo Ho!" to anyone ye be meeting. In honor of this auspicious occasion:

Thursday, September 18, 2008

To Be Fair...

I agree with Senator Obama 99% on this:

Obama addressed the latest news from Wall Street -- the federal bailout of the insurer American International Group -- insisting that the solution should not reward those who reaped benefits from the company’s investments when times were good.

“We don’t know all the details of the arrangement with AIG,” he said. “The Federal Reserve must ensure that plans protect the families that count on insurance and it should bolster our economy’s ability to create good paying jobs and help working Americans pay their bills and save money. It must not bail out the shareholders, or management of AIG that were making big profits when times were good. They shouldn’t be bailed out when times are bad.”

The Federal Government should not be in the business of backing off when profits are high and saving the day when they are low. My 1% disagreement would be that to the extent that the shareholders in question are other banks whose reliance on AIG or other failing institutions in their portfolios to remain solvent, we must - to a degree - not just tell them to go Bork themselves. One issue where I see the repeated Main Streel / Wall Street dichotomy as a very dangerous storyline is that it disregards the interconnectedness of the US economy. As the failures of these huge institutions show, when Wall Street collapses it has significant, and harsher, effects on Main Street. To the extent that Obama desires to motivate Main Street at the expense of Wall Street, I think he'll find that the long term consequences are similar to trying to scratch your back with a chainsaw.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Housing Bubble

Did you know that in 2003, the Bush Administration tried to institute reforms that would have intreased the capitalization requirements for "Fannie Mae" and "Freddie Mac," which would have addressed what has become the root issue of the present crisis?

Do you want to know what ranking Democrats thought of these reform proposals? Thanks to a poster at SilverandBlueSports.com... now you can know.

The last three lines in the article should be considered damning evidence against the Democrats in all the present "reform and oversight" talk.

Truth in Advertising

I've seen the quote in a lot of Senator Obama's campaign ads - deriding Senator McCain for saying he doesn't know much about the economy. And it caused me to stop and think: the implication, then, is that Obama does. That's a pretty broad statement, and it gives me pause, because I don't know that the best economists out there would make that sort of claim.

From what I can gather, Obama's main plan to fix the current problem is "leadership," which is about as perplexing an answer as I can imagine. What it sounds like is Obama saying that he will manage the American (and even Global, because it is so interconnected) Economy to prevent anything from ever getting out of hand.

It is possible, but not without a draconian shift in how the nation operates. If we're voting for a President who intends to be the captain of the economic ship, then I'd rather one who recognizes and admits his limits than one who derides the other for admitting as much.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Abortion

I can't help but think that this should be a powerful ad.

According to Nancy Pelosi, whether or not this woman was alive when her mother's abortion proved unsuccessful should have had no bearing on the fact that the mother's desire to have her unborn child killed completely trumps the woman's right to life.

And for Barack Obama to have voted against a measure to give the right to life to women like her when they are "born" is sickening. What might he have to say to her were they to meet? Like some Republican talk about GDP growth doesn't offest the personal impact on working families when defecit-driven inflation drives down the wages of working families... I can't see how Democratic talk about the right to choice can overcome the fact that their policies would have seen this woman discarded as "medical waste" when she was a living baby.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Shame

There are two types of shame born of sin. One says "I have sinned." It is properly aware of the nature of sin, and can drive a man to seek mercy and forgiveness - "Lord, have mercy on me the sinner." The other says "I have sinned." It is rooted in pride - at falling short of the standard we hold ourself to. It is dangerous, because what is really threatened by it is only our opinion of ourselves... and it can motivate us to hide sin, and actually thwart repentance and healing if the damage to our self-image of confession seems to great to seek healing.

Righteous shame seeks to restore broken relationships to man and God because of the realization of what sin has wrought. Selfish shame seeks to hide and cover the sin, lest we let slip that we don't have it all together after all.

It is fine to embrace the former, but we should cast aside the latter, because it is the fruit of pride, and serves to mask that most caustic sin.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Road Rage

Do you want to see men at their most raw, angry moments? Then take a drive through rush-hour traffic. Sure, it might exist elsewhere, but nowhere is it so convinient. At such times, people morph into impersonal vehicles... and tempers can flare.

It's easy to get frustrated - you just want to get home at the end of a long day, and there's SO MANY people in your way. I've gotten frustrated any number of times, so I know how it feels. But such anger is usually full of hypocristy and unrighteous indignation, so I have been working for some self control on such drives.

I'm gald, too, because it gave me an interesting perspective when an erratically driving woman who had been in front of me for a few miles made sure to stick her arm as far as she could out the window to flip me the bird as she was slowing down to exit the freeway, with her face contorted by what looked like pure fury as she screamed somethign inaudible at me from a couple lanes away.

For the life of me, I don't know what I did to make her so angry at me. My best guess is that I either was following her too close for her comfort on the freeway, or that I moved to the right to try and speed up at the same time that she intended to.

Being able to see it from the outside, but in a frame of mind where I wasn't affected by it gave me a chance to see just what it looks like when people get furious at each other on the road, and often over the most minor inconviniences to us. It was sobering, because the expression she wore on her face I've worn in my heart plenty of times as I'm driving.

So I asked for forgiveness for my own anger when I'm driving, I prayed for the woman that she was able to find release for her anger so that it wouldn't ruin her day, and asked that I might become more considerate when driving, so that if there was anything I had done to earn such a response that I would not do so again.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Irony

Because there's nothing partisan or divisive about guilt by association:

"The speech that Gov. Palin gave was well delivered, but it was written by George Bush’s speechwriter and sounds exactly like the same divisive, partisan attacks we’ve heard from George Bush for the last eight years, a campaign spokesman said."

--From the Obama campaign concerning the GOP VP nominee's speech last night.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Photography

I've updated the photos at my Flickr page. If you haven't checked in a while, there's finally something new to see!
"If we continue to follow this slippery, oil-slicked, downward-winding path, our citizens will shiver in darkness as our resources hemorrhage to Third World thugs whose only virtue is their control of petroleum-based energy," Reid said.

I thought that Republicans were supposed to be the"fear-mongers" - that's a regular accusation against them from Democrats. This is fiction, and either fantastically ignorant or frighteningly deceptive. It is on a level with racists who see any hint of Spanish as part of a plot by Mexico to annex the USA.

The very counter-argument to Reid's tale was evident in the first half of this year. What happens when the price of oil gets too high? People change. We, with our choices, have the power. The thought, then, that we would sit "shivering in the dark" as we throw money at the oil tyrants is laughable. Or, it would be if it weren't such a base attempt to prey on people's fears.

I am, as I have often been in the past - moreso since he became the majority leader, ashamed that this man represents my state in the Senate.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Pelosi: When does life begin? Doesn't matter.

Inane: adj, "One that lacks sense or substance"

Nancy Pelosi has stated that "The point is, is that it [when life begins] shouldn’t have an impact on the woman’s right to choose.” That is inane, and ridiculous. If you believe that a fetus is a living human made in God's image and yet think this fact should have no impact on whether it's permissible to kill it in the most inhuman ways imaginable, then we have a very serious failure to communicate.

When preserving abortion is more important than preserving life, there is something seriously wrong with your priorities.

On a side note, I find it perverse that abortion is always - cleverly, I admit - framed in terms like "family planning," "women's health," and "women's reproductive health." As I said during a discussion with some other Coram Deoites at the Reno AIDS Walk, I don't support abortion. I do support family planning, women's health, and women's reproductive health. These are not incompatible statements. Childbirth is a dangerous activity, and I want women to be healthy through the whole process, as I want them and other human beings to be healthy. But such terms relegate the child to the realm of a cancer, tumor, or other undesireable growth that must be eliminated for the woman to be made healthy.

It is dehumanizing, both for the child and for those that promote such manipulations of the truth.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Alternate Headline

An alternate headline for this story:

States Sue Because Gas is Too Cheap

Restrictions on refineries, after all, come with a price on the end product. Ask anyone who's had to pay for a catalytic converter about the hidden cost of efficiency regulations.

Public Domain Audiobooks

I've recently taken an interest in listening to audiobooks on my iPod. It is, then, a great resource to find a compendium of public domain books recorded by volunteers for free.

From Augustine to Mark Twain to Shakespeare, this is an interesting resource. Currently, I'm enjoying "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court."

Check out LibriVox.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Update

I finally updated the Service Sites map I maintain for both my own use and the church's, too. The latest events were June's "Alex's Lemonade Stand" event at Butcher Boy Prime, and July's "Otter Pop Giveaway" in downtown Reno.

The map is here.

On the Edge

It is a curious feeling to be utterly dependent. My church is relatively poor, in that we don't have the money to go and spend a lot on what many churches would consider "the essentials." We can't support a web of ministries to every age/race/sex/marital status group there is. We can, on the best of months, pay our staff and our rent and be able to help out people in need without hitting our savings. On an average month, we don't even do that.

And so, in a very real sense, our church is depending on God for our long-term survival. This provides an interesting sense of mingled fear and excitement. Fear, because I want to be able to provide for our staff. Excitement, because we've been on the receiving end of the provisions we need plenty of times.

I'm confident we are on the right course. We see sinners repenting, marriages being saved, and a love for Christ being worked out in practical service to the community. And I can only hope that as we continue to press ahead with this that God will provide what we need to continue.

We are depending on God's provision. It means that we can't see from where it will come, but that we simply ask God to provide, and trust that He will.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Doppleganger's Political Debate

Ben, he who is very much like me except that he is ardently liberal while I am ardently conservative, would like to have a debate with me about the merits of our views. Especially, I think, as regards our mutual faith in Christ.

I think an important framework for such a discussion has to start with what is agreed upon. I suspect, as I think I've stated soemwhere before, that I believe we probably agree on many things. We agree, broadly, in our theology - in who we regard Jesus to be, on the call on each of us as Christ-followers to obey him in all areas of our lives, and on the authority of the Bible. We agree that as Christians, we are not to give perference to rich and powerful people who we intend to use to leverage ourselves into greater positions of power, but to care in particular for the poor, lowly, forgotten people of the world. We agree that the simplest acts of compassion for these people are acts so incalculably valuable as if they had been rendered to God Himself.

I think, though this is a more general pronouncement, that we both want to see the greatest "good" done for the greatest number of people. We both want to maximise people's welfare across both material and immaterieal dimensions. We want to see justice, freedom, faith, love, and the other great things spread among all people.

The great divergence, I think, is in how we see this best accomplished. To what degree should we attempt to wield the power of government towarsd these ends? To what degree can/should we use the power of government to tax and seize resources to give them to others? Why? Why not?

I will, then, invite Ben to give his opinion on this question: To what degree should we as Christians support or cause our government to take resources from those we deem to have enough, and give it to those we deem as not having enough - both domestically and internationally. If possible, I'd like some bounds on when we should and should not. At what point should we abstain from, or even oppose, the government using its power in that way. Staking out our positions will help set a groundwork for the rest of the discussion.

New Template

I don't know what broke, but I've transitioned to a default layout for the time being. At least now I have a stylesheet again, as my old one appeared to have gone on a holiday.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sacrifice

It's worth it to sacrifice your immediate interests and desires when the clear choice exists between doing what is right, and doing what you desire. It's worth it even when the perceived gap between the path you wanted to take and the path you chose seems to be all there is to the story.

It's something we have to accept, and hold on to, by faith. Especially at times when the path beyond the other choice seems like it would have been so much smoother.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Cause and Effect

Democrats in Congress will have you believe (and according to an opinion poll, their story is widely believed) that profits earned by Exxon (and other large oil companies) is a leading cause of high gas prices. The wailing and gnashing of teeth by Democrats over this is easy enough to find.

What you might not hear is that, while Exxon earned $11.68 billion in net profit in the second quarter of 2008, they paid $32.36 billion in taxes during the same quarter.

If, then, $11 billion in profit is an unconscionable drain on the American people... what is the effect of nearly 3 times as much being paid in taxes? For every dollar in profit Exxon earned, it paid three dollars to the government. And given a roughly 10% profit margin, that means it spent another six dollars on neither taxes nor profit, but simply in the expense of doing business.

So, of costs, taxes, and profit... the smallest share of all (and, therefore, the smallest contributor to high prices of the three broad categories listed) goes to profit.

Total Revenues: $138 billion
Total Costs (including sales and "other" taxes): $116 billion
Total Income Taxes: $10.5 billion
Total Profit: $11.7 billion

For the government that extracts 3 times as much in taxes to wag its finger over the profit that gives Exxon a reason to be in business to begin with... I find it hypocritical, shallow, and alas - all too convincing to the American public.

Why Obama Could Spell Disaster

As intelligent as he may be, Senator Obama has turned back to the basest form of vote-buying: elect me and I'll take their money and give it to you.

For him to toss around words like "windfall" without bothering to define what that means is dangerous. The Wall Street Journal puts it much better than I can:

The point is that what constitutes an abnormal profit is entirely arbitrary. It is in the eye of the political beholder, who is usually looking to soak some unpopular business. In other words, a windfall is nothing more than a profit earned by a business that some politician dislikes. And a tax on that profit is merely a form of politically motivated expropriation.

It's what politicians do in Venezuela, not in a free country.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Nevada's Republican Party

Seriously? You thought you could just call an executive meeting and pick whatever delegates you like, without any regard to the delegates actually elected with much fanfare earlier this year?

As I understand it, the delegates we elected have to choose the national delegates according to state law. That's not something you can ignore when it's inconvenient. Better to have no delegates than to be "represented" by those chosen with no more than a farcical nod to democracy.

"Disarry" has been used often of the Republicans this election cycle. I think it's totally apt. And I hope the lawsuit against the state Republican party manages to uphold the rule of law, not the rule of whims.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Strange Weather

I always thought Nevada was too mountainous for the threat of tornados to be taken seriously. Evidently, the National Weather Service disagrees.

"THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN RENO HAS ISSUED A* TORNADO WARNING FOR SOUTH CENTRAL CHURCHILL COUNTY IN WEST CENTRAL NEVADA...

EXTREME EAST CENTRAL LYON COUNTY IN WESTERN NEVADA... NORTHWESTERN MINERAL COUNTY IN WESTERN NEVADA...

* UNTIL 315 PM PDT* AT 238 PM PDT...NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM CAPABLE OF PRODUCING A TORNADO NEAR US 95 AT MINERAL-LYON CO LINE...OR 32 MILES SOUTH OF FALLON...

MOVING NORTHEAST AT 13 MPH.* THE TORNADO WILL BE NEAR... US 95 AT MINERAL-LYON CO LINE BY 305 PM PDT...

US 95 AT LYON-CHURCHILL CO LINE BY 315 PM PDT...THE STRONGEST ROTATION WAS LOCATED JUST NORTH OF SCHURZ AT 238 PM PDT. IN ADDITION TO THE TORNADO...

THIS STORM IS CAPABLE OF PRODUCING QUARTER SIZE HAIL AND DESTRUCTIVE STRAIGHT LINE WINDS. TRAVELERS ON US 95 ARE IN THE DIRECT PATH OF THIS STORM.THE SAFEST PLACE TO BE DURING A TORNADO IS IN A BASEMENT. GET UNDER A WORKBENCH OR OTHER PIECE OF STURDY FURNITURE. IF NO BASEMENT IS AVAILABLE..

.SEEK SHELTER ON THE LOWEST FLOOR OF THE BUILDING IN AN INTERIOR HALLWAY OR ROOM SUCH AS A CLOSET. USE BLANKETS OR PILLOWS TO COVER YOUR BODY AND ALWAYS STAY AWAY FROM WINDOWS.IF IN MOBILE HOMES OR VEHICLES...

EVACUATE THEM AND GET INSIDE A SUBSTANTIAL SHELTER. IF NO SHELTER IS AVAILABLE...

LIE FLAT IN THE NEAREST DITCH OR OTHER LOW SPOT AND COVER YOUR HEAD WITH YOUR HANDS. "

Friday, July 18, 2008

I Double-Dog Dare You!

Yes, it's a breach in protocol to skip right to the Double-Dog Dare, but I beg your forgiveness.

I double-dog dare you to watch this video without smiling.

Busy, Busy

I haven't blogged much, I know. Over 2 weeks since my last post. But life's been busy, and I haven't been particularly motivated to post anything.

But for an amusing distraction, enjoy the humor of auto-replace:

"It's hard for me to tell states that they can't impose whatever standards they decide to impose," McCain said. "I want to see Rick (Wagoner, GM’s CEO) sit down with the governor's and ask them what they need."

Wagoner said after the meeting that the company would prefer a national standard rather than state-by-state standards.

“We think the current CAFÉ standards are challenging and we’d like to focus on working on them,” he said.

Wagoner, of course, is refering to the CAFE (something, something fuel efficiency) standards, not Café (a place to enjoy a nice beverage and maybe a sandwich). Why did I find that funny? Perhaps it's a mark of how tired I am.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Let no one think

That ranting about the dangers of appointing [insert opposing ideology here] judges to the Supreme Court is something limited to conservatives. My initial reaction upon reading such editorials is to think that the paper tends to laud and defend the judgement of the court when it agrees with their decisions, and simply asserts that the court gets it wrong whenever it disagrees.

I think that shows a brash lack of humility when talking about people who, frankly, know much more about Constitutional Law than the NYT's editorial board.

And it reminds me that I need to have that same humility when talking about experts on a subject that I happen to disagree with. Because a brash lack of humility and being rather opinionated often go hand in hand.

So perhaps a court that manages to upset people on both sides of the political spectrum is actually one that gets it mostly right.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Remaining Balance

$0.00

(though I'll still have to pay off the interest for the current period when it gets applied)

Friday, June 27, 2008

I think I'm in love

You know that giddy, breathless feeling? Silmultaneously hopeful and frightened, with the tantalizing unknown devouring your mind? I'm awash in it. Wall-E looks just that good. Gotcha?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Speedy Gas

How much time do you save by going faster? How much money do you save by driving slower?

Figure it all out here. Roughly, of course.

But let's say you're driving to Vegas and back. Let's say you're planning on going 75 - a trite 5 mph over the speed limit. If you get 25mpg normally, but are willing to cut your speed to just 70mph, it will take 45 minutes longer, and you'll save about $10. This is roughly equivalent to making $13.80 an hour with your extra travel time. Cut your speed to 65 and you'll lose 90 minutes, and save about $21, for an hourly savings wage of about $13.00 an hour.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Quicksilver

CFLs contain mercury. Specifically, they send electricity through a mercury vapor to generate UV light, which then reacts with the flourescent coating on the inside of the bulb to produce visible light.

The fact that CFLs contain mercury has been a recurring theme on the afternoon talk show on KOH recently, parroting a member of Congress who paraded this fact around as though light bulb makers want to poison the country.

Yes, there is mercury in CFLs. But guess what - if you use a regular incandescent light bulb, powered by the most common source of electricity in the country - coal (a fuel source, ironically, the host praised in the same breath as the denouncing of MERCURY!!!!!!!) - you release more merurcy into the environment then if you were to toss your CFL in a landfill.

And you not only release more, you release about 3.5 times as much overall, and 14 tiems as much as is likely to be released by the bulb itself (0.4 mg, or about 11% of the mercury inside). Using incandescent light bulbs instead of a CFL over the life of the bulb will release 5.6mg of mercury into the air at coal-fired power plants. The power for the CFL would release 1.2 mg. Even if ever miligram of mercury in the bulb (4mg) were released while somehow still running a full 8,000 hours of power, in a contrary-to-physics worst-case scenario, the CFL still beats the incandescent bulb in mercury emissions, 5.2 to 5.6. But all of this neglects to mention that airborne mercury (mostly from coal plants, which then rains into the seas and accumulates in fish where it is ingested by humans) is the leading cause of human mercury poisoning.

Even this host can answer the following question: what's more mercury? 5.6 mg or 0.4 mg?

And, in related news, Home Depot is launching a CFL recycling program, to minimize the already lower-than-incandescent release of mercury into the environment (rather, to attract people into its stores. That other stuff is, of course, a nice side-effect).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Leadership

Nevada's budget picture is ugly. On top of an accepted $900 million shortfall in the budget, there's some question how much more will need to be cut out. And it appears that a high ranking Democrat in the legislature is dealing with this question by planning on just sticking to the sunnier projection (presumably, so votes on even more drastic cuts can be avoided).

This might be illustrated in the legislative handbook with an ostritch in its classical pose of defense. You don't deal with frightening projections by hoping they just go away.

"CARSON CITY, Nev.—No Nevada law requires lawmakers to accept a panel's finding that the state faces a nearly $1.2 billion revenue shortfall—and a key Democratic legislator said Monday that's a good thing because the finding appears questionable. "

The proper plan is surprisingly obvious - plan for both contingencies. Approve a conditional budget that says "if $X needs to be cut, do A, B, C. If $Y needs to be cut, also do D, E, F." If dealing with uncertain forecasts, acknowledge your uncertainty and make conditional plans so you aren't caught with your pants down in a few months.

If you don't need to cut the extra money, great! If you do, at least you prepared for it in advance.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Template 2

Looking at the two noted photos:

Banner2

Banner1

In each photo I have an idea for a tagline, something the photo is evocative of for me. In either case, the blog itself will probably be a more simple text layout.

Thoughts, again?

Template

Perhaps it was inspired by Abby's fantabulous template tweaking on her own blog, or perhaps because my current template was never meant to be more than a stopgap after white font suddenly became a no-no in Blogger. Whatever the cause, I'm looking to change up my color scheme. I have a couple photos I really like:

IMGP1625

100_3957

100_3427

100_2586

Thoughts? What makes for a good banner?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Kung Fu Panda

You should really see this movie. It's light-hearted, family-friendly, and has a number of great gems quote-wise. My personal favorite happens in the opening sequence of the movie: a dream sequence wherein Po imagines himself as a warrior whose "enemies were struck blind by overexposure to pure awesome!" (or something like that. It might reference the "blinding light of pure awesomeness." Whatever the case, it's classic).

Friday, June 13, 2008

What?

I considered not linking to the column that the following excerpt appears in. It is one of the most vile columns I have ever read, and I'm still feeling a mixture of anger and sadness as I consider it. I honestly have no desire to drive any traffic to the article, but linked it simply for reference.

Judith Warner of the New York Times writes:

"And there is even greater danger to the fact that this particular aspect of the nationwide “abstinence movement” has not been broadly denounced as the form of emotional violence against girls that it indisputably is."

What is Ms. Warner writing about? It's something that she says after writing about her internal connection between a daddy-daughter dance and the barbaric acts of an Austrian man who imprisoned and repeatedly raped his daughter (and then saying "I don't mean to imply that there's any equivalency..." though she most certainly wants to imply a connection).

She's talking about fathers taking a vow “before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity.”

INDISPUTABLE emotional violence against girls? This?

I'm honestly speechless.

Linked: Here

Thursday, June 12, 2008

He said it again

Senator Reid had a press release ready to go when the Republicans blocked a Senate bill that would have put ever-higher costs on fossil fuels. A number of thoughts on this painfully partisan release, and the underlying legislation:

"Senate Republicans blocked the Consumer-First Energy Act and the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008."
  • Calling it Consumer-First doesn't make it so. I really, really hate such pandering legislation names. It's meaningless fluff.
  • You don't magically create jobs anywhere, ever. The money has to come from somewhere. If the money isn't coming from voluntary transactions among willing parties in the market, then it ahs to be forcibly taken from somewhere - the future if it's fueled by deficits, or from taxpayers it it's through taxes. The "Job Creation" that ever renewable energy advocate likes to tout is a cost that comes out of soemone's pockets. And if those pockets are currently employing other people... my guess is that Creating Jobs in Column A by taking them away from Column B is no creation at all. Personally, my feeling is that such an attmpt at "Job Creation" would have the real economy-wide effect of Job Destruction, because such energy has a higher cost - and that cost has to be borne soemwhere.
"Bush-McCain Republicans have spent the last two weeks feigning interest in addressing the rising the costs of energy. This morning, we gave them two more opportunities to actually address it, and again they ran away from the debate and real solutions."
  • Not increasing the supply of oil will lead to higher energy prices. Taxing oil companies will lead to higher energy prices. Forcing energy companies to pay for more inefficient means of producing energy willl... lead to higher energy prices. Cap-and-trade carbon restrictions? Do I really need to keep repeating myself?
  • "Bush-McCain Republicans" Bush ain't McCain. Gore wasn't Clinton, either... but at least those two had a measurable relationship. I really dislike the politican season. Such a news release is more about name-calling than finding solutions, and the smug finger-pointing throughout really bothers me.

"We gave them another opportunity to invest in renewable energy rather than line the pockets of Big Oil billionaires. And we gave them the chance to create millions of good-paying green-collar jobs right here at home to combat a Bush-McCain economy that has lost jobs every month of 2008. But once again, Bush-McCain Republicans have refused to govern, squandering these opportunities the same way they have blocked so many other chances to help struggling Americans.

  • Class warfare. My cynicism senses are on overload.
  • See above for where money for "millions of good paying jobs" comes from. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is the perfect cliché here.
  • Reid doesn't seem to like the filibuster very much any more, does he? Rather a different tune from 2005-2006. Then it was a way of "cooling the passions" in the Senate to engage in substantive debate. With a bill like this one, that's exactly what was needed.

"They just don't get it: We can't drill our way out of this crisis and we can't ignore it. Each day Republicans wait to act costs American taxpayers billions of dollars and the opportunity to create millions of good-paying jobs."

  • Saying we can't drill our way out of the problem may be true long term, but it ignores the fact that if we had been drilling for the past 10 years, the current high cost of oil and gas probably would not have materialized.
  • It's a lie. A bold-faced, obvious, insulting lie. Trying to hold out both "saving money" and "creating jobs" as the ends to be realized in a bill like this is something that belongs on the candied lips of a snake-oil salesman.
  • Democrat's policies (broadly) have two possible ends - higher energy prices, or rationing of energy supplies. Be honest about it, please.
  • You don't save money by increasing costs.
  • You don't "create millions of jobs" by getting other people fired. You just shift around who has to bear the burden.

The nation needs a serious debate and long-term plan for our energy future. This is so far removed from such a debate that it doesn't belong in the same galaxy cluster. This is petty bittering and pure political machination. It is vomitous refuse that should not be allowed within sight of real political discourse. It gets me rather angry, quite sad, and makes it hard to imagine voting for Senator Reid, despite my preference for a Republican President and not-Republican Congress.

Treason

I've heard some conservative talk-show-call-in folks throw around that word concerning Democrats who "undermined" the Iraq war.

That's a serious charge, if you really mean it. And for a revealling outside look at what it means to invoke that term in a political context, take a look at Zimbabwe.

Breaking with the Party

I'm glad to hear that both of Nevada's Republican Congressmen voted against the President on the issue of extending unemployment benefits. That's the sort of stimulus we should have had starting back in February, and the situation has not improved for Nevada workers since then.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

La la, la-la-la-la, la la-la la la

It sounds like somebody is going to smurf a movie about little blue creatures.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Thought, Haikuized

Approaching thirty
Lesson number one: Single
Need not mean Alone

Taxing Exxon

"He also singled out Exxon Mobil Corp., the world's biggest oil refiner. Obama said he would seek to tax oil companies such as Irving, Texas-based Exxon on their record profits." --Bloomberg

A couple points:

1) We're already taxing Exxon on their record profits. It's called the corporate income tax. Perhaps this is just semantics, but you ought to say tax them more on their record profits.

2) Inelastic demand means said tax will pass right on through to the consumer.

3) Imagine a simple thought experiment. To simplify things, let's say Exxon earns 10% profit (it's a skooch higher, but this gives us a round number we can imagine easily). Let's say that we want to completely eliminate the profit they are making, ignoring the fact that this would means simply shutting down and providing no gas at all is a better decision. Let's further say that this will realize a complete pass-through to the price of gasoline, lopping 10% off of our gas bill.

In this ridiculous scenario, $4.00 per gallon gas would fall to... (drum roll please) $3.60 a gallon. This is a price well above the level of the "horribly high" gas prices of 2006 and it's a level that, in our thought experiment, gives ABSOLUTELY NO PROFIT to the oil companies.

The oil companies are not the (insert gratuitous swear for emphasis here) problem. Supply being outpaced by demand growth is the problem. Eliminating the oil companies' profit won't do a single (insert gratuitous swear for emphasis here) thing to ease the pain we are feeling, but it will hurt domestic oil producers compared to foreign producers... shifting the balance of production even more in favor of foreign producers, just like when windfall profit taxing was all the rage in the 70's. To the degree that you consider sending money to petro-dictators a bad thing, you should oppose punitive taxation of domestic oil companies.

Supply is the problem that we can address - oil company profits are a tiny drop in a much bigger bucket, and every argument that focuses on the oil companies is a red herring. To address supply problems, we need (1) substitutes or (2) more supply. Substitutes are alternative energy sources, but they are several years off at least. More proven supplies are available in ANWR and on the outer continental shelf, but these are opposed by Democrats. Whether the reasons for opposition are good or bad, they have the direct, predictable result of limiting supply.

And it's a lack of global supply that has driven the no-profit price of gas above $3.50 a gallon (and rising). Harry Reid has said for years "we can't drill our way out of this problem." But if we were drilling then, we'd be much more effectively mitigating the problem now - to a degree that far outstrips the "unconscionable profits" of the Evil Oil Companies.

4) I thought you'd think a wholesale shift in the American consumer from gas-hogging SUVs to light, efficient cars (reducing greenhouse gas emissions nationwide) was a good thing. Cheap gas, if you could snap your fingers and provide it, would immediately reverse these changes.

Entrenched Deficits

The Bush Administration has paid for the war in Iraq with pure, unadulterated and unmitigated deficit spending. This is bad. One reason this is bad is evident in a series of programs that Obama is laying out. This is a broad series of economic giveaways. But he intends to fund this in two ways. Taxing the rich, and winding down the war in Iraq.

But wait! Ending the Iraq War today will not free up a single dime in revenue. As stated in the first line above, that war is funded with pure deficit spending. To say that ending that war will allow him to "fund" these other programs then, is farce at best and a bold-faced lie at worst.

And that's why Bush deserves just condemnation for things like funding the war with supplemental appopriaations bills (to try and fudge the headline deficit numbers in his "budgets" that he submits to Congress). Once that deficit is in place it requires cutting programs without replacing the spending elsewhere, or raising taxes without providing any additional services with that money. Neither of these is popular, which leads to deficits being built into the system.

Obama and McCain are proving to be just as irresponsible, though. Based on their campaign rhetoric thus far, neither one deserves a vote on their economic platforms. Bush got us here, but they will keep us here.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Zimbabwe

We should be glad that, contentious as it may become, America has a long history of peaceful transitions of power.

Not in Zimbabwe:

From a 70-page report put together by Human Rights Watch:

The ZANU-PF youths and supporters would bring forward three or four people at a time. They tied the legs of the victims and handcuffed their hands, before forcing them to lie prone on their stomachs. Three ZANU-PF youths with thick sticks would stand on either side of the victim and take turns beating the victims on the back, back of the legs and buttocks. The ZANU-PF youths and supporters either stripped the women naked or down to their underwear before beating them. In some incidents the perpetrators tied barbed wire around the genitals of the men and tied the other end of the wire around logs. The perpetrators then forced the men to use their genitals to pull the logs as they continued to beat them. Several men sustained serious injuries to their genitals as a result.

The beatings continued all that afternoon and evening. More than 70 people were beaten, of which 30 were hospitalized at Howard and Concession hospitals in Mashonaland Central, while others were transferred to Avenues clinic in Harare. The beatings only ended that evening when five police officers arrived. The 300 assailants dispersed but police caught and beat one of the assailants before releasing him. To date no arrests have been made.

Extraordinary Rendition

This is why I can't support the U.S. intelligence process of extraordinary rendition.

Economics 101

"A procedural showdown is set for Tuesday, and Democrats are likely to run into opposition from Republicans who have resisted any effort to increase taxes on oil companies despite record profits. But with gas now averaging $4 per gallon, Democrats say they can make it tougher on Republicans who stand by the oil industry." -- New York Times

I admit outright that I have no problem with ending special tax breaks for oil companies in light of healthy profits. This is not the same as saying I want to "increase taxes on oil companies," because of a semantic difference in the two phrases. I want oil companies to be on par with other comparably sized companies if their profits are stable and sustainable (which in the current market they are). I don't want special benefits or special punishments.

But for the Democrats to find $4 a gallon gas as a rallying point for eliminating these tax subsidies is baffling to me. The demand for gasoline has been shown to be rather inelastic - an increase in the price by about 100% has only cut demand by less than 5%. This means as price goes up, most people will continue to buy. This means that price increases can more easily be passed on to consumers, because it won't cause a huge drop in demand.

When demand is inelastic, taxes on the suppliers get passed straight through to consumers. The all-but-inevitable result of ending the oil tax subsidies will not be to reduce the profits the oil companies make. It will be to make oil, gas, etc more expensive.

The rallying cry "gas is expensive, so let's tax the people that make it" is silly. I'm in favor of eliminating special benefits the oil companies may receive for the same reason that I'm in favor of slashing and burning agricultural subsidies - I consider it a wasteful use of limited government funds, and bad policy in a time of record deficits.

Concerning the related "we have to invest more money in renewable energy!" suggestions: no, we don't. The beauty of higher, rising prices for oil is that if there is a more economical alternative, there's a lot of profit waiting for the person or company that can develop it. The "but big energy companies will just sit on their ideas to draw higher profit from oil" argument ignores the principle that if company A sits on the idea, it leaves room for company B to jump in.

As soon as a plug-in vehicle - like the upcoming Chevy Volt - can be sold for a price that makes it more efficient than buying a gasoline-powered car, the shift will be on in full force. The novel idea in the Volt is that it has only a 40-mile range on an overnight charge... but it has a gasoline engine which is tied straight to the battery to extend that range. Unlike current dual-drive hybrids, which use a gasoline engine to move the car and an electric engine to move the car (much more complex), the Volt uses the gas engine - running at a constant speed - to charge the battery, driving the electric motor. This eliminates the two-engine design, and achieves great fuel efficiency with the gas, just like driving at a stable speed (instead of constantly accelerating and decelerating) will increase your efficiency.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Mugabe Must Go

This article says it all. Robert Mugabe must go, by any means necessary.

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- The opposition said Friday that its rallies had been banned indefinitely three weeks before the presidential runoff, while the U.S. ambassador accused President Robert Mugabe's regime of using food as a weapon to stay in power.

U.S. Ambassador James McGee said the regime is distributing food mostly to its supporters and that those backing the opposition are offered food only if they hand in identification that would allow them to vote.

If the situation continues, "massive, massive starvation" will result, McGee told reporters in Washington by video conference from Harare.

The Case for War

The report on the prewar statements found that on some important issues, most notably on what was believed to be Iraq’s nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs, the public statements from Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and other senior officials were generally “substantiated” by the best estimates at the time from American intelligence agencies.

-New York Times

But that's not the lead in the story. The lead is:

But it found that the administration officials’ statements usually did not reflect the intelligence agencies’ uncertainties about the evidence or the disputes among them.

So my question is this: is it improper for officials to make public statements that rely on the best evidence and assesments available but which do not reflect the underlying uncertainty? And if that is the goal - calling out unequivocal statements, then why focus on one branch, and one party?

In a detailed minority report, four of those Republicans accused Democrats of hypocrisy and of cherry picking, namely by refusing to include misleading public statements by top Democrats like Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mr. Rockefeller.

As an example, they pointed to an October 2002 speech by Mr. Rockefeller, who declared to his Senate colleagues that he had arrived at the “inescapable conclusion that the threat posed to America by Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction is so serious that despite the risks, and we should not minimize the risks, we must authorize the president to take the necessary steps to deal with the threat.”

Wow

What does this say about our society?

Zimbabwe and America: A common problem

A general in Zimbabwe's army said something pretty revealing ahead of the run-off "elections" coming later this month:

“Soldiers are not apolitical,” General Chedondo was quoted as saying. “Only mercenaries are apolitical. We have signed up and agreed to fight and protect the ruling party’s principles of defending the revolution. If you have other thoughts, then you should remove that uniform.”

In this man's mind, soldiers are an arm of the President, so it is their duty to vote for him. Granted, the Zimbabwe army is a corrupt tool of ZANU-PF, the ruling party that has destroyed the country. But the problem is one of identifying witthe the party or the individual at the clear expense of the state.

I remember hearing similar remarks about Bill Clinton and George Bush - He might be the commander-in-chief, but he's not my commander-in-chief. One of the just criticisms of the Bush administration is the ever-closer ties between politics and administration - like the dust-up over whether US Attourneys were fired to make room for favored appointees. In Congress, there is a common desire to hold on to power, to promote the party's business, and to grease the wheels for your side against the other side.

These are similar, if lesser, examples of the same phenomenon. It's starkly apparent when a general tells people int he military to resign if they are going to support the opposition. But they are differences with the political machinations described above of degree, not of kind.

Reasonable people may hold differing opinions. We shouldn't, therefore, expect our elected officials to always agree - two minds may have a very different idea of what's "Best for America." But the moment that loyalty is first run through the filter of loyalty to party, or to a cult of personality - that's the moment when we are in the same boat as Zimbabwe. The moment that voting for the other guy because you feel it to be the best choice is a sign of disloyalty, that's the moment you know you need to reexamine what really matters - country or party.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Debt Update

Pennies over $780, and falling.

I'm under $1,000 (started noticeably above $4,000), and I have the cash in my checking account to pay it off now (though I have some upcoming expenses, like vehicle registration, that those funds are set aside for). I should, however, easily meet my goal of having the balance sitting at $0 when I turn 30.

Monday, June 02, 2008

In Defense of Sweatshops

I've been having an interesting conversation with Kenny and Ben on Kenn'y blog recently. The subject was (1) whether there is such a thing as Objective Reality (we all agree that there is), and (2) the degree to which we can know it.

The practical application of such philisophical musings is seen in things like how, precisely, we can act on known biblical mandates (such as "love your neighbor as yourself") in specific instances. One such instance would be a beggar asking for money - if we have money and nothing else practical to give, is it better to give the beggar money (which may be used to unsavory and harmful ends, like drugs), or to withhold money so as not to enable the feared behavior (which might cause the man to not eat today).

Another application is in such things as politics, social consciousness, and our attitude towards the world. Take "sweatshops" as an example - labor in foreign countries where the pay can be pennies per hour. Are they a bad thing? On the one hand, we have people who are receiving pay far below the American standards we have set. On the other hand, assuming people are working voluntarily, it's reasonable to believe they want to work there.

Following that last thread, there is an interesting article I ran across today defending sweatshops. It may yet be proper for America as a society to refuse to buy sweatshop labor. But such decisions should be fully informed, as much as possible, about the consequences:

---

Economists across the political spectrum have pointed out that for many sweatshop workers the alternatives are much, much worse.1 In one famous 1993 case U.S. senator Tom Harkin proposed banning imports from countries that employed children in sweatshops. In response a factory in Bangladesh laid off 50,000 children. What was their next best alternative? According to the British charity Oxfam a large number of them became prostitutes.2

1 Walter Williams, "Sweatshop Exploitation." January 27, 2004. Paul Krugman, "In Praise of Cheap Labor, Bad Jobs at Bad Wages are Better Than No Jobs at All." Slate, March 20, 1997.

2 Paul Krugman, New York Times. April 22, 2001.

---

When arguing policy - be it over oil prices, price gouging, public schools, or sweatshop labor - it's important to make sure you are comparing real policies to real alternatives, not real policies to utopian alternatives. If America forces a minimum wage on "sweatshops" in other countries, then to the extent that the wage is higher than the value of their labor, people will be forced out of work.

Is it better to allow a fortunate few to claim high wages, and force others to even deeper levels of abject squalor? Or is it better to embrace sweatshops, despite the large gap between those working conditions and those we enjoy in America?

This is a hard question. But we should not be allowed to avoid it, and engage instead in fantasy:

---

"Once passed, this legislation will reward decent U.S. companies which are striving to adhere to the law. Worker rights standards in China, Bangladesh and other countries across the world will be raised, improving conditions for tens of millions of working people. Your legislation will for the first time also create a level playing field for American workers to compete fairly in the global economy.9"

9 Testimonies at the Senate Subcommittee on Interstate Commerce, Trade and Tourism Hearing. Statement of Charles Kernaghan. February 14, 2007

Friday, May 30, 2008

Primaries

I hereby place my vote for the Ugly Evangelical Democratic Primary for Cookie Monster. Having made my vote, with the candidate I chose winning 100% of the vote, I demand that it be fully counted and given a delegation at the Democratic National Convention. I know it's probably against party rules to give a delegation to a registered Republican, representing only himself and not a state, and voting for a fictional character... but evidently the rules don't matter - at least, that will be apparent if any delegates from Florida or Michigan are seated at the convention.

Seating delegates from Florida, where both Clinton and Obama were on the ballot is a lesser abandoning of the rules, but to count Michigan - where Clinton was the only major candidate to remain on the ballot, and where scores of would-be voters went to the Republican primary just to cast a meaningful vote - is absurd.

The rules were well-established going into the primaries. The rules were flagrantly violated. The penalty for violating the rules was clearly laid out. If the rules are now changed it is remarkably unfair - and if the reason for doing so is making sure every voice is heard (no matter what the rules are), then I demand that my vote for Cookie Monster be recognized with delegates.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Special Kind of Frustrating

Once upon a time, there was a girl I was great friends with. I wanted something more out of the relationship, she - not so much. But for years I nursed the hope that one day things would work out. And I knew that if I got the chance, I wanted to take her to a good Chinese food restaurant for a first date because I knew she really loved Chinese food.

So when I found out that a guy she was interested in was taking her to a Chinese food place for dinner one night, I was profoundly jealous - not only because he got the girl I wanted, but because he used my great idea (disclosure: this is coincidence, because I never really knew the guy)... but for him, it worked. And it must have worked well, because not long after that, they were getting married (disclosure: yes, I know that it probably took more than a single genius idea to accomplish that. This just makes it sound more dramatic, I reckon).

To watch someone else use the plan you had on a girl you liked, but successfully - to watch the intended effect play out in her life, but with another guy in your place... that's a special kind of frustrating.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Better Regulation

From the RGJ:
---
Before the town hall meeting, Obama stopped briefly at the Las Vegas residence of Felicitas Rosel and Francisco Cano, who are worried they might lose the home they bought three years ago with an adjustable-rate mortgage. “At the beginning it was OK, but all of a sudden, it started going up and up,” Rosel told Obama.

Tighter regulation of lenders could have prevented their plight, Obama said. “A lot of this wouldn’t have happened if we had done a better job of regulating the banks and the mortgages. Nobody was watching them,” he said.
---

Wha's left unsaid: tighter regulation may have prevented the problem. It would likely have prevented it by prohibiting them from buying a home in the first place. There are probably some people who didn't need fancy mortgages but got them anyway. But there were many more (I am guessing) that needed fancy mortgages to be able to "afford" what they purchased.

So we have the quandry - in hindsight, we wag our fingers at the banks - "shame on your for your loose credit!" As it was going on, we cheered the increase in home ownership rates - "More people are living the American Dream!" We need clarity when people talk about the implications about their calls for more regulation. There is no middle ground - we have to be able to admit directly that we should have prevented the Canos from owning a home. Better lending standards squeeze out those on the low end of the ladder. Even if the government takes the (in my opinion) wrong-headed tack of propping up overvalued homes, it will only discourage home ownership by keeping homes unaffordable; unless we want the government to be in the business of buying overpriced homes for people, we can't have it both ways.

I am therefore curious about the significance of Obama making a photo-op stop at this couple's house. The implied message - "it's the bank's fault you might lose your home" is a half-truth. Obama's solution, implemented retroactively (as he seems to suggest the problem was in the past) means they never get the house they stand to lose in the first place. The truest message would be "it's the banks fault you were ever allowed to purchase this house to begin with." That is, however, much less people-friendly, and I doubt the Canos would want the photo-op at their house if that message were clearly understood.

Edit: Another source for the story confirms my suspicion - the Canos are not big wage-earners. They are a maid and a porter at the Bellagio. There is, I'm sorry to say, probably no reason they should ever have been allowed to purchase in the first place.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

In Local News

Prices continue to work.

(CNN) -- At a time when gas prices are at an all-time high, Americans have curtailed their driving at a historic rate.

The Department of Transportation said figures from March show the steepest decrease in driving ever recorded.

Compared with March a year earlier, Americans drove an estimated 4.3 percent less -- that's 11 billion fewer miles, the DOT's Federal Highway Administration said Monday, calling it "the sharpest yearly drop for any month in FHWA history." Records have been kept since 1942.

If you can't beat them, starve them

If you want to be shocked at what the international community will allow to happen without intervention, Zimbabwe is a good candidate to look at. A country once considered the bread-basket of Africa, it has been hard hit by famine ever since white land-owners were forcibly driven out of the country and their land handed over to political favorites who knew nothing about farming. Switching from being a net exporter of food to a subsistence level of farming was but one of the many problems Robert Mugabe has given his country.

Now, in the grip of this famine and in the wake of a less-than-favorable election, somply beating, burning and torturing the rural citizens who were accused of voting for the opposition is not enough. With power over the centralized distribution of food comes the ability to distribute food to your supporters, but not the opposition.

The upcoming election will almost certainly fall to Mugabe, not the opposition. It will be a farce, an outcome determined by force, torture, rape, and starvation. But will the international community have the courage to denounce it as such... or will it "accept the will of the people" and treat Mugabe as a legitimate winner?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Behold the Spud

Both I and my roommate had seen at least one commercial for a restaurant in Reno with an interesting premise. The meals are all centered on the potato - normally, the baked potato. The restaurant name - Spudistro - gives you the basic premise, all in a name.

What I didn't know was that this is a completely original restaurant. Owned by a mother and her daughter, with a vaguely Minnesotan accent, they work one shift - 11-7, closed on Sundays. We didn't know their hours, or really anything about them when we went out for our normal Friday night dinner. We arrived at about 7:05 pm, the door propped open with a "Closed" sign clearly visible. I walked up to at least take a good look at the menu, when the owner came to the door. I Asked if they were really closed, and she said yes. But she may have read the disappointment on my face, because she mentioned she still had some potatoes and asked if we wanted to just place an order to go.

I ordered the "Slide Mountain" - a baked potato, covered in pulled pork, barbeque sauce and sour cream. Some other combinations were a beef and broccoli potato, a potato with pulled pork, jalapeños and onions, and a potato smothered in cheese, chili, and onions. One of us also got a sourdough bowl of potato cheddar soup, also evidently quite tasty. They were all delicious, filling, and cooked perfectly - soft but firm, and tasty through and through.

I like to support local businesses. I like to support original ideas. And I like to support friendly people that go out of their way to offer service. All of these things are true of Spudistro. You should check it out.

To find it, the website doesn't look too informative. But it's at 624 Prater in Sparks, in the shopping center on the north-west corner of Prater and McCarran, in the Longs Drugs center, right behind the McDonalds.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Abuse of Power

I heard on the radio this morning that oil executives are once more being called into the Senate to testify. That's perhaps more obscene than the Farm Bill, if it's possible, because at this point it's the Senate of the United States simply using its power and authority to bully individual US citizens.

I can't help but suspect that there are only 2 reasons for doing this yet again. Reason 1: A parade of oil executives distracts people from the fact that while stopping 77,000 barrels per day of oil from going to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is a nice symbolic move, it pales in comparison to the 1 million barrels per day that we could be getting from ANWR, and that a de facto ban on new exploration contributes to the plateau of the oil supply which is the actual cause of rising prices. Reason 2: They are hoping to catch some executive perjuring himself in a misstatement, so they can throw the book at him. Just like the embarassing baseball steroid investigations, they just want people punished - for their statements about whats going on if they can't manage to find anything substantial to punish.

Seriously - I didn't mind when the Republicans lost control of the Senate in 2006. But surely this is simply farce. Evidently, we elect 100 people from around the country to wag their fingers at people. They'd better be careful though - I don't want to have to pay them disability for the case of carpal tunnel syndrome they are simply begging for.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

On Farms, Expensive Subsidies, and Cheap Talk

Given Senator Obama's support for the recent travesty of a Farm Bill, (which I am assuming is true, with a later switch to "no vote" once it was clearly going to pass, though the final vote tallies show all the candidates not voting on the final bill - cowardly for all concerned, in my book) there are two possible explanations I see.

1) He really does want to change but considers support for the Farm Bill a necessary evil to get elected president, from which place change may come.

2) He's just talk, and nothing more.

If option #1 is true, then he has nothing but good intentions, but that and $4.00 will get you a gallon of gas. Personally, I suspect #2 is true. This farm bill is so embarassing that no one who supported it should deserve reelection, on the basis of being unfit for the office (disclosure: I typed that before deciding to look up who voted how from Nevada).

Representing Nevada, voting to approve the final bill:
Senate:
Ensign: Nay
Reid: Yea

House of Representatives:
Berkley: Yea
Heller: Nay
Porter: Nay

At least Nevada's Republicans were on the right side of this travesty.

Friday, May 16, 2008

It's A Busy Summer, Movie-Wise

But the movie I'm most looking forward to isn't Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It's not Narnia: Prince Caspian. It's not The Incredible Hulk. It wasn't Iron Man. It's Kung Fu Panda.