Because life is a series of edits

Archive for September, 2008|Monthly archive page

Bailing on the Bailout

In Humanity, Politics, Thought on September 30, 2008 at 7:30 pm

I haven’t written too much about the current financial crisis/bailout/circus of late, partly because I’m still trying to figure it all out, and partly because I’ve written before about the problem of big government handling anything. While I love being right, I hate being redundant.

I was not in favor of a bailout, yet assumed it was going to pass, only to be somewhat surprised it didn’t (at least as of Monday). My mentality and situation mirror those of my friend, Clay, with whom I’ve exchanged an email or two about all this. He writes:

“I don’t have a lot of capital in this game, so I can be pretty free and easy with my opinions. I could be labeled a constrained visionist (a la Sowell) and have a core belief, a faith, that the free market system (process belief) is better able to sort this out than Hank and Ben (unconstrained, result-oriented action).  If I have to bet my (lack of) wealth on anything, I’ll take the market over Bush any time.”

I’ve always thought of myself as a free-market guy, too, though Robert T. Miller’s A Conservative Case for the Paulson Plan gave me pause to think on it a few days back:

“Are you an economic conservative who thinks that the government should intervene in the market only when markets fail and it is efficient for the government to act? Then you should support the bailout plan because what we are seeing in the credit markets is probably the most serious market failure that will occur in our lifetimes. Are you an economic conservative who thinks the government spends too much and the national debt is too high? Then you should support the bailout plan because the government will likely make money in the long run and so reduce the deficit. The intelligent conservative position here is to support the bailout.”

Then this morning, I confess I almost drank the bailout Kool-Aid when my usual voice-of-reason hero, New York Times columnist David Brooks, criticized the Congress as being leaderless in their “no” decision regarding the proposed bailout:

“This generation of political leaders…have failed utterly and catastrophically to project any sense of authority, to give the world any reason to believe that this country is being governed. Instead, by rejecting the rescue package on Monday, they have made the psychological climate much worse….The only thing now is to try again – to rescue the rescue. There’s no time to find a brand-new package, so the Congressional plan should go up for another vote on Thursday, this time with additions that would change its political prospects.”

Hmmm.

Later this afternoon, however, I came across Jeffrey Miron, senior lecturer in economics at Harvard and one of 166 academic economists who signed a letter to congressional leaders last week opposing the bailout plan. In a special to CNN, he wrote a commentary titled “Bankruptcy, not bailout, is the right answer,” saying:

“The obvious alternative to a bailout is letting troubled financial institutions declare bankruptcy. Bankruptcy means that shareholders typically get wiped out and the creditors own the company. Bankruptcy does not mean the company disappears; it is just owned by someone new (as has occurred with several airlines). Bankruptcy punishes those who took excessive risks while preserving those aspects of a businesses that remain profitable.”

At the end of the piece, Miron gets practical as to where we go from here:

“So what should the government do? Eliminate those policies that generated the current mess. This means, at a general level, abandoning the goal of home ownership independent of ability to pay. This means, in particular, getting rid of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, along with policies like the Community Reinvestment Act that pressure banks into subprime lending…The right view of the financial mess is that an enormous fraction of subprime lending should never have occurred in the first place. Someone has to pay for that. That someone should not be, and does not need to be, the U.S. taxpayer.”

That resonated with my gut sense. Why bail out a bad system? This again from Clay:

“All I know with respect to handing this Administration vast discretionary power over something of immense national importance is, ‘Once bitten, twice shy…’ The market abuses that went on came from a lack of information and transparency and a lack of timely-targeted regulation to mitigate the worst of unregenerate human nature.”

In other words, we have met the enemy, and the enemy is us – now that’s a concept I get (and a biblical one, too). True, the system was bad, but who created the system? Government leaders pandering to a constituency demanding cheap loans with little to no accountability.

I remember reading an intriguing book a few years ago by Jane Jacobs called Dark Age Ahead. Jacobs, an urbanist, argued that North American civilization showed signs of spiral decline comparable to the collapse of the Roman empire. Her thesis focused on “five pillars of our culture that we depend on to stand firm” (see the last one especially):

  • the nuclear family
  • education
  • science
  • representational government and taxes
  • corporate and professional accountability

What do you think? Have we officially arrived at Jacobs’ “dark age” in America? Are you for or against a government bailout? From my perspective, It’s time to own our mistakes and, while it might will be hard, reap what we’ve sown in the way we’ve handled our economy; God, after all, will not be mocked (Galatians 6:7-8).

What say you and why?

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No Excuses

In Pop Culture, Westminster on September 29, 2008 at 10:58 am

I have no excuses for my lack of content the past week, so I’ll offer the same explanation one of my students gave this morning concerning a paper due today:

“I didn’t procrastinate until last night.”

There you have it. Keep reading: one day I’ll write something.

September’s Third Weekend

In Family, Places, Thought on September 21, 2008 at 2:00 am

Apple Festival Sign
For as long as I can remember, my hometown of Griggsville, IL (population 1,300 and self-proclaimed “Purple Martin Capital of the Nation“), has always hosted its annual Apple Festival on the third weekend of September.

Put briefly for my more urban readers, the Apple Festival is a semi-epic celebration of small town life, complete with more small town culture than you can shake a stick at…and I’ve got proof.

We knew it was going to be a great weekend right off the bat when, just ten minutes before arrival in Griggsville, we saw this on the way:
Joyriding Jesus

Yep, that’s Jesus joyriding in the back of a camouflage-trimmed Hemi. Megan and I saw it, turned to each other as we drove by, and knew we would be turning around to get a picture (or two). Nothing says “Bless me, Lord, as I blow away this deer” like a concrete statue of the Savior in the back of a camo pick-up. Here’s a closer look:

Joyriding Jesus (Close Up)

Friday evening at the Apple Festival is always magical, with the dark of night and generally inadequate lighting covering a multitude of aesthetic sins. The stage – the same one used for the past 25 years – is decorated in some random theme that has nothing to do with apples or the region, and this year, the theme had something to do with the Wild West (as illustrated by the Looney Tunes cactus and floating horseshoe):

Nice Cactus

Still, my favorite decoration theme remains the elephant background from 2005:

And the Winner Is...the Elephant

But I digress. Friday finished up with some good, greasy eats and two hours of questionable parenting (“What, you want to run around by yourself on the square among hundreds of people you don’t know? Okay, as long as you’re in pairs.”). Halfway through the Miss Apple Festival pageant, we decided it was time to go and herded everyone up and headed for the farm for some shut-eye.

Morning came early. In honor of my sister, Jamie’s, birthday (on Apple Festival weekend, no less!), we had a wonderful breakfast that my mom, Char, fixed. The girls and their four cousins then played outside for most of the morning as the weather was beautiful. Later that morning, Megan and I went for a nice walk and listened to the corn grow before heading into town for lunch. From there, it was parade time.

Back in the day, I marched in the marching band eight years in this parade (from 5th grade to senior year). Previous to that, our family always entered a float and threw a whole lot of candy out to scrambling kids along the side of the road. In more recent years (that is, since moving back to the Midwest in 2005), we “floated” with our kids, but last year the family retired from “floating” and let our kids scramble for the sweets this time around. They enjoyed it, as evidenced below:

Candy Booty

Here’s Grandpa (center) carrying the American flag in the local Legion’s color guard:

Grandpa in Color Guard

Here’s Barney Fife’s police car from The Andy Griffith Show (don’t ask me why or how):

Shazam!

Here’s one of Griggsville’s three fire trucks (complete with softball team riding on top):

Griggsville Fire Truck

Here’s one of seven marching bands (favorite band tune of the day: “Don’t Need Nothin’ But a Good Time” by Poison; yeah, that covers well with horns):

Marching Band

Here’s a blow-up Officer Friendly (a person was inside making the arms wave):

Officer Friendly

Here’s the “Mohawk Farmer” (as dubbed by Megan):

Mohawk Farmer

Here’s one of only a few floats (this one in the “apple-themed” category) in the parade:

Going Bananas

Here’s Grandpa again, hamming it up for the grandkids and driving an old-time tractor (he had a quick turnaround from the color guard – notice the American Legion pants):

Grandpa Tractoring

And here are some horses to signify that the parade is officially coming to an end:

Parade Horses

After the parade, we walked up to the square and watched high school band members excitedly win donated seed corn caps and T-shirts thrown from the stage, while adults who entered the hourly raffle won things like free 64 oz. sodas from the local convenience store (a $2 value!) and rabies/distemper shots from the local veterinarian (for their pets, presumably).

At this point, Megan and I looked at each other and agreed we’d had our fill and were ready to head home. With John Mellencamp singing “Little Pink Houses” on the iPod and four little girls delirious from all they had experienced (or as likely, consumed), we made the trip back to St. Louis grateful to have once again made this rural getaway.

“Oh, but ain’t that America – you and me
Ain’t that America – something to see, baby
Ain’t that America – home of the free, yeah
Little pink houses for you and me”

Parade Route

Getting Out of Dodge

In Family, Places, Thought on September 19, 2008 at 2:52 pm

Yesterday I asked my friend and bookstore boss, Nick, how he was doing. His response: “Life’s winning.” Seeing as how I feel the same way, we’re heading to the farm this weekend for the Griggsville Apple Festival (and a break).

Megan jokes that the Apple Festival should be renamed the “Corn Dog Festival,” as there’s nary an apple to be found (the town’s two orchards closed down years ago). We’ll leave the naming rights to someone in charge and instead enjoy some butterfly porkchops, funnel cake, and a bit of authentic rural Americana.

For a look at least year’s experience, click here.

How We Know What We Know

In Arts, Books, Humanity, Theologians on September 18, 2008 at 2:00 am

I've been reading some really good stuff of late on epistemology (that is, "how we know what we know"). With regard to truth, most people feel the pull of the Enlightenment's demand for proof, as well as postmodernism's questioning that truth can even exist. Many people (kids especially) feel caught in the middle between what they assume are their only too options – objectivity or subjectivity; that is, truth must either meet the requirements of science or it's time to check one's brain at the door in the name of faith.

What most folks fail to understand is that the supposed objective knowledge of science that they take for granted is really little different from the presumed subjective testimony of religion that they hold as suspect. Most helpful in thinking through this are some thoughts from the second chapter of A Biblical History of Israel by Iain Provan, V. Philips Long, and Tremper Longman, entitled "Knowing and Believing: Faith in the Past." They write:

"A general tendency in modern times…has been to downplay the importance of testimony about the past which has come down to us via a chain of human carriers of tradition, and in contrast, to emphasize the importance of empirical research in leading us into knowledge." (p. 36)

But:

"That the universe as a whole is rational and intelligible is a presupposition, not a scientific finding. Clearly, too, science of itself cannot properly tell us what to do with its findings. The ends to which science provides the means must be (and always are) chosen according to what is believed and valued by the people doing the choosing, which is a matter of religion, ethics, and politics, not a matter of science as such." (p. 39)

In other words, what we have received and pass on as science today is made up over time of just as much subjective interpretation as any religious oral tradition passed down. They continue, this time focusing more on historical studies:

"We are, in short, intellectually reliant upon what others tell us when it comes to what we call knowledge…As R.G. Collingwood once put it (albeit only to take issue with the statement), 'history is…the believing of someone else when he says that he remembers something. The believer is the historian; the person believed is called his authority." (p. 45-46)

Here's a good illustration of the idea involving the science (and art) of archaeology:

"Archaeological remains (when this phrase is taken to exclude written testimony from the past) are of themselves mute. They do not speak for themselves, they have no story to tell and no truth to communicate. It is archaeologists who speak about them, testifying to what they have found and placing the finds within an interpretive framework that bestows upon them meaning and significance." (p. 46)

"All knowledge of the past is in fact more accurately described as faith in the interpretion of the past offered by others, through which we make these interpretations (in part of as a whole) our own)…Modern historians, like their precursors, in fact depend on testimony, interpret the past, and possess just as much faith as their precursors, whether religious or not." (p. 49-50)

In sum, the idea that anything is "objective" – as if we could somehow sit in grandstands orbitting Earth and merely take notes – is a delusion. We cannot observe and pass on meaning (scientific, religious) without using subjective testimony to describe it. We are in the petri dish; we are not absent from it. The question then becomes, what testimony (again, scientific, religious – it doesn't matter) best explains reality, and what seems reasonable as truth?

Hurricane Ike Hits…St. Louis?

In Church, Friends, Nature, Places, Places & Spaces on September 15, 2008 at 2:00 am

The remains of Hurricane Ike blew through the Midwest late last night and early this morning, downing a tree limb in our backyard, taking out power at our church (we worshipped by candlelight), and flooding the basement of the building that houses the More Than Carpentry ministry our church helps support in Wellston (to answer the question of "why Wellston?," read this story published today in the Post-Dispatch).

While the rain was abundant and hard, the majority of the flooding came from a nearby stream that jumped its banks, leaving an unbelievable six-and-a-half feet of water standing in the basement of the building, which is about the size of a junior high school. I just got back from helping, but there were plenty of folks still working – draining water, salvaging what could be salvaged, and throwing away a lot of ruined materials. There's no worse feeling than walking away from a clean-up effort left undone, but it will literally be weeks before the mess is no longer (if anybody's got a picture from tonight, send it to me and I'll post it here to illustrate what I mean).

This is yet another set-back for the ministry (the building has already suffered break-ins and vandalism), and though people's spirits were upbeat tonight, the damage will surely inflict melancholy on more than we who are naturally gifted with it. As you pray for those in Houston, pray for those in St. Louis (and elsewhere) who, somehow, were affected by the same massive hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.

From my Bible reading tonight:

"The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters…The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever." Psalm 29:3,10 (ESV)

NKOTB

In Musicians, Places & Spaces on September 12, 2008 at 2:15 pm

They’re coming…and I’m as excited about their music as I was the first time around.

(That is, not very.)

So Maybe I Reacted a Bit

In Books on September 10, 2008 at 6:26 am

I came across this post from Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt twice this morning, so I thought I’d see why people were linking to it. The post (on modesty) is fine, but I may have let my better judgment slip in leaving my comment (normally I would just roll my eyes and move on). What do you think? Did I blow it? What am I missing?

Bedtime

In Young Ones on September 8, 2008 at 2:00 am

Daddy: (tucking in a six- and four-year-old) Good night.

Four-year-old: Daddy, can I have a drink of water?

Six-year-old: Me, too?

Daddy: (sighing) Girls, in the future, you need to get a drink of water when you brush your teeth.

Six-year-old: But we can't know the future.

Daddy: (getting the water) Good point.

Being the Minority in the Sorority

In Family, Young Ones on September 6, 2008 at 7:30 am

Similar to last Friday, I’m suffering from a campaign hangover after the Republican National Convention (I didn’t even watch Senator McCain last night – yawn). With 60 days to go, it’s time for a political break.

In trying to write about what I’ve been thinking of late, I confess I’m at a loss: I’ve not been thinking too much these days. I’m back in the groove teaching at Westminster, my bookstore job has been pretty busy, and I started class (Old Testament History) earlier this week at Covenant. The combined hours for all of the above have been long, and as the weeks have gone quickly, so has my energy.

This is unfortunate, as my four girls seem to be getting better at storing up and replenishing theirs. When we lived in Colorado, our friend, Shaunda, used to say that she never thought of her kids as sleeping; she always thought of them as recharging. I can relate: sometimes I find myself observing this four-headed, eight-armed-and-legged organism called Female, and the fact that I am the minority in the sorority becomes overwhelming. Even more so is the suspicion that I can’t really call this gaggle of little girls my children anymore; it’s instead as if they are becoming my kids, which is a really different and daunting realization.

The ladies are so alike in resemblance, shape, and proportion, and yet they are all so uniquely “them” that I wonder how in the world this is all going to work in 8-10 years. Will our house be big enough for the multiple personalities in residence? I think of Philip the evangelist, about whom the Bible says “had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied.” Having enough bathrooms was not that guy’s problem; having enough platforms was. I’m wondering if my future may involve a need for both.

We’ve been told that the girls are all a pretty good mix of Megan and me: though physically they have more resemblance to each other than to us as their parents, we’re “in” there if you look hard enough; intellectually, they love to read, have learned to be curious about life, and tend to be excited about what they learn; emotionally, they have strong but gentle temperaments we hope will serve them, others, and God well. Of course, all of them have their fair share of our sin nature, a reality we hope God uses to bring them humbly and repeatedly to Jesus’s feet (which is quickly becoming our most necessary family-friendly destination).

Megan’s working the bookstore shift, so I’m looking forward to some Saturday hangtime with the ladies today. We’re heading to The Heights this morning for some exercise (a concept), then we’ll check out the St. Louis Art Fair in Clayton this afternoon. Tonight we’re all going to a big cookout at a teacher friend’s house in Ballwin, so the girls should be pretty tuckered out by the end of the day.

Or more likely, that will probably be me.

IMG_0280.JPG

Don and the Dems

In Books, Politics on September 3, 2008 at 3:28 pm

Author Donald Miller has a new website and blog. Miller gave the benediction on the first night of the Democratic National Convention in Denver and, though I’m always a little leery when evangelicals cozy up to the Left (for the same reasons I get leery when evangelicals cozy up to the Right), I liked his prayer.

What I really liked, though, was Miller’s email exchange with Barack Obama.

A Funeral I’d Rather Miss

In Politics on September 1, 2008 at 7:48 am

In a comment on my previous post, Ed points out that, “Everything you’ve blogged about the political process has been ambivalent, indifferent, or mildly disgusted.”

I’ll own up to the observations. I’m weary of enduring two years of campaigning to get what we get in the end (and don’t even get me started on the millions and millions of dollars wasted in the process of running for a job that pays $200K). Regardless of who gets in, my overarching concern is that, as the size of government has grown, we are never going to get it under control, let alone cut it back. It’s the toothpaste-out-of-the-tube scenario – once it’s out, it’s out; there’s no putting it back where it belongs. From my perspective, we in America are standing in front of a sink covered in toothpaste.

I’ve yet to hear either candidate talk about cutting spending; taxes, yes, but spending, no. Even then, I wouldn’t mind spending as much if it were accompanied by head-on-the-chopping-block accountability, but that’s not inherent to the size and ethos of our government (and really hasn’t been for decades). We are drowning in debt and bureaucracy of our own making, and no one seems too intent on un-making it; we just add to it with each administration, regardless of which party is in power. At some point, however, it’s going to be time to pay the piper (and that piper’s name is China).

We are fast-approaching nanny-statedom in almost every area of our existence – international relations, national security, domestic affairs, state and local government. Why did we go into Iraq? Why are we putting up video cameras everywhere and wire-tapping anything that moves? Why is the federal government bailing out for-profit banks and businesses? Why is Congress investigating steroids in baseball? Why won’t the city of Maplewood get their inspector out of our house so we can actually live here? Because government (Democrat or Republican – it makes no difference) has become too big and too important for its own good, and we citizens are the ones who have allowed it to become so, administration after administration after administration.

John Adams wrote in 1814:

“Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”

If we don’t use our democracy to humbly preserve itself in the name of governmental limits, we’ll all be attending the grandest of funerals in the name of the State. Color me “ambivalent, indifferent, and mildly disgusted,” but that’s a funeral I’d rather miss.