Saturday, May 30, 2009

Devotional Thoughts: He draws up the drops of water

Job 36 ...

Elihu continued:
Bear with me a little longer and I will show you
that there is more to be said in God's behalf.
I get my knowledge from afar;
I will ascribe justice to my Maker.
Be assured that my words are not false;
one perfect in knowledge is with you.

Hmmm ... Elihu self-described as "one perfect in knowledge" ... don't know about you that sounds a bit arrogant!

God is mighty, but does not despise men;
he is mighty, and firm in his purpose.
He does not keep the wicked alive
but gives the afflicted their rights.
He does not take his eyes off the righteous;
he enthrones them with kings
and exalts them forever.
But if men are bound in chains,
held fast by cords of affliction,
he tells them what they have done -
that they have sinned arrogantly.
He makes them listen to correction
and commands them to repent of their evil.
If they obey and serve him,
they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity
and their years in contentment.
But if they do not listen,
they will perish by the sword
and die without knowledge.
The godless in heart harbor resentment;
even when he fetters them, they do not cry for help.
They die in their youth,
among male prostitutes of the shrines.
But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering;
he speaks to them in their affliction.

This is the picture of God I think most people have: the unrepentant bad guys get punished and those who stumble but turn back to God when God prompts get restored.

And when we look around and don't see this, we wonder if God is really around.

This feeling that "this is the way it ought to be" is an interesting one.

In the natural world, the strong survive and the weak die. Yet, in the "soul" of the human being, there is a urge to protect the weak. Where does that urge come from?

Where does our sense of "this is the way it ought to be" come from?

He is wooing you from the jaws of distress
to a spacious place free from restriction,
to the comfort of your table laden with choice food.
But now you are laden with the judgment due the wicked;
judgment and justice have taken hold of you.
Be careful that no one entices you by riches;
do not let a large bribe turn you aside.
Would your wealth
or even all your mighty efforts
sustain you so you would not be in distress?
Do not long for the night,
to drag people away from their homes.
Beware of turning to evil,
which you seem to prefer to affliction.

And indeed, we have this sense of "ought-ness" and we then have to decide: do we trust in God who at times feels distant and unseen or do we trust money we can see?

And so Elihu then dove into a recitation of God's power especially displayed in the natural wonders of the world ...


image source: http://ed101.bu.edu/StudentDoc/Archives/fall05/ymaini/thunderstorm.htm

God is exalted in his power.
Who is a teacher like him?
Who has prescribed his ways for him,
or said to him, 'You have done wrong'?
Remember to extol his work,
which men have praised in song.
All mankind has seen it;
men gaze on it from afar.
How great is God - beyond our understanding!
The number of his years is past finding out.
He draws up the drops of water,
which distill as rain to the streams;
the clouds pour down their moisture
and abundant showers fall on mankind.
Who can understand how he spreads out the clouds,
how he thunders from his pavilion?
See how he scatters his lightning about him,
bathing the depths of the sea.
This is the way he governs the nations
and provides food in abundance.
He fills his hands with lightning
and commands it to strike its mark.
His thunder announces the coming storm;
even the cattle make known its approach.

God, the world is in chaos. Crazy dictators build bombs and missiles and starve their own people. Schools that should be places of learning are endangered by drugs and violence. There are many injustices and tragedies in this world. Lord, I trust that you will one day restore this lost and dying world. Until then, help us who call you Lord to work in your name to win what victories we can for justice and mercy. Amen.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Economics: Good news? Bad news?

Economists say recovery is around the corner.

Excerpt:
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The end of the recession is in sight, according to a new survey of leading economists.

While the economy is showing signs of stabilizing, the recovery will be more moderate than is typical following a severe downturn, said the National Association for Business Economics Outlook in a report released Wednesday.

The panel of 45 economists said it expects economic growth will rebound in the second half of 2009. However, the group still expects to see a decline in second-quarter economic activity.

But this item doesn't sound good.

Excerpt:
As the FDIC has had to step in to take over more and more insolvent banks, the fund has dwindled to dangerously low levels. At the same time, the number of problem banks continues to grow at a rapid pace.

At the end of the first quarter there were 305 'problem institutions' with a total of $220.0 billion in assets, up from 252 institutions and $159.4 billion in assets at the end of 2008. At the end of the quarter, the Deposit insurance fund was at just $13.0 billion, or 0.27% of insured deposits, a decline of 24.7% in the quarter alone.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Life: Memorial Day 2009

Images from Google search for memorial day ...


image source: http://www.sanfranciscosentinel.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/05/memorial-day-tombstones-2.jpg


image source: http://www.hyscience.com/archives/2007/05/memorial_day_tr.php



image source: http://www.coxandforkum.com/archives/001118.html

Thank you to all who have served and do serve.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Non-profit of the Month: May 2009 - Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett


image source: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/515%2BDz2rwiL._SL160_.jpg

Given that so many people in the USA hold some form of faith, it is rather surprising that media often ignores or ridicules people of faith.

One oasis is American Public Media's Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett.

Her topic selections are often timely in line with issues of the day. While others delve into the timeless questions of human existence.

Whether one agrees theologically with the guests she interviews, one will find it informative, thoughtful and respectful.

Devotional Thoughts: Waiting upon the Lord

Have recently been pondering the experience of waiting upon God.

I find myself thinking these two thoughts in regards to this:
(1) Uncertain expectations
(2) Exciting anticipation

Uncertain expectations.

Sometimes what we pray for might not get answered in the way we hope. Or in some cases, it might get answered and we might not even know it!

For instance, as someone who works with the youth group at church, parents and youth workers pray for kids that they would grow in faith. Well, sometimes it seems like they are grasping what following Jesus looks like. But sometimes, it isn't so clear! One wonders what their lives will look like 10 or 20 years later. Thus, there is uncertain expectations on how that prayer will be answered.

The prayer for their growth in faith leads to other prayers for our role in their lives and aspects of the young person's life besides what happens at church. We pray for how their life of faith will encompass all the other aspects of a busy young person's life in 21st century America.

Another area of my life where I face uncertain expectations is in regards to my predisposition to small bowel obstructions. I can pray for healing and God could heal me and I wouldn't even know it! In my life, so far almost 46 years, my intestines have worked normally with the exception of three occasions for about a grand total of three weeks.

I know that I will be healed for sure upon meeting my Lord Jesus. But until then, will I be healed?

My condition does not produce any daily sensations that indicate something is wrong. And so if I'm healed, I wouldn't know it.

But if I am not healed, I may at some point(s) in the future have a repeat of the obstruction sending me to the ER and to hospitalizations.

Does this prayer for healing lead to other prayers?

Indeed, there is gratitude for the God given human mind that explores medicine. Though we don't know how to reverse the condition that causes obstructions, we know enough about the body to have medical interventions that can sustain the body until the body restores itself. If I lived 150 of so years ago, there would not have been the medical knowledge to do anything about it. In parts of the world today where hospital care is not available, the condition would almost certainly be fatal.

And so, God help me to be grateful for each day and to live with enthusiasm as life is a gift from God.

Exciting anticipation.

Sometimes we pray for something and as we meditate on that thing, we wind up praying for a lot of other things. In the end, if we are willing to engage with God in conversation (or as some picture it, a dance), that initial prayer for one thing leads to placing the WHOLE of our life before Him.

Single folks pray for a spouse. And if we are giving that over to our Lord, that initial prayer should lead to prayers for a lot of other things around that one initial desire. For instance, a prayer for a spouse could lead to one to pray, Lord, teach me and help me to treat the people I date with honor, respect and grace. That person across the dinner table or in the chair in coffee shop also has hopes and dreams and desires. This relationship may or may not take off but regardless, I want the way I treat her to be pleasing to you.

The prayer for a spouse could lead one to pray for one's personal character development. I want to grow as a human being into greater Christ-likeness. Lord, this can happen in a special relationship but can it happen even without it? Indeed, help me to develop in godly virtue regardless of whether I'm single or married. If I want a wife who is a Jesus follower, then God help me to be a Jesus follower whether or not I have a wife. If I want to marry a woman who is good hearted and compassionate, then Holy Spirit, work in my heart to soften it and open it to give love so I will be a better human being and a happier one regardless of whether or not I get married.

And so as I now plan for a wedding (okay, she is doing most of the planning... I do help ... a little!) and await marriage, I have prayers of thanksgiving but also prayers for God's help. Scripture says, husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church. That is a high calling! And I need to be in prayer for help in how that is to be lived out. I need to be humbling myself before God and asking for growth in godly virtue to be the kind of man who will love in sickness and in health and be there for richer or poorer.

In the end, my experience of waiting upon our God is that it leads to placing not just the immediate concern and need before God but the committing of my entire life upon the altar.

Romans 12:1-2
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.


Lord, help me to bring the whole of my life to you. Help me to recognize you are my heavenly father who is good and desires for me to grow into goodness amidst a world that has darkness in it. Help me to recognize that your timing can be trusted and that even as I wait in uncertain expectation, I can find gratitude and growth. Amen.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Business: Run (mouse over) to Zappos.com

Was trying to buy some black dress shoes recently.

Unfortunately, I soon discovered the size that fits me in a jogging shoe doesn't fit me in a dress shoe! It is too big!

Turns out that dress shoe sizing is different and there is variability depending on the brand and where the shoe is made. I soon discovered that smallest shoe available in the Macys, Bloomingdales and Nordstroms were too large for me.

So I had to go to the internet.

I had heard of Zappos.com and decided it was time to give it a try.

I ordered up a pair that looked promising and received it by UPS ground.

They were slightly large!

I called the 800 customer service number and explained the situation and she said, I'll send you the next size down at no charge and with 2-day UPS shipping. Once you decide which pair you want to keep, just go to the web page and print out a UPS return label and send back the pair you don't want.

Wow!

And indeed, the other day, I got the next size down and it fit much better and I boxed up the too large pair and printed the return label.

Thumbs up to Zappos.Com!!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Life: Small Bowel Obstruction - a third time

In 2004, I had surgery for a small bowel obstruction. I was informed that I would be at increased risk for a repeat of the condition. Indeed, in 2005, I went to the hospital for the same condition.

Alas, on Friday 8 May, shortly around 2AM, my parents drove me to the ER with similar symptoms to the previous occasions. An x-ray was quickly taken and it was confirmed that I had a obstruction of the small intestine. The NG-tube went in and a couple hours later I was sent off to a CT-scan with oral and IV contrast. After that, I awaited official admission to a hospital room. It was an extremely busy day at the ER as many patients were piled on gurneys in the hallway and an inpatient room wasn't available in the main hospital until about 5pm.

Saturday included an x-ray to monitor the situation along with various IV change outs and physical exams.

Sunday included an x-ray to monitor the situation along with various IV change outs and physical exams.

The NG tube came out Sunday afternoon.

I was released from the hospital Monday afternoon after I was able to take three light meals (Sunday dinner of soup, Monday breakfast of french toast and Monday lunch of pasta) without ill effects.

Intestines are sensitive organs. Having had surgery in 2004 means that there are adhesions which means the risk of obstructions is increased.

We assume our intestines will function properly. And even in my case, they have worked 99.9999% of the time. But because of adhesions, I have to be alert to this problem.

Lord, help me to live life to the full with gratitude!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Economics: Reinventing Health Care

Just saw this program on KCET.

Very lively and heated discussion!

About 2/3rd into the program, moderator, law professor, Arthur Miller said the magic words: rationing.

After all the back and forth about the different systems each country uses and the scenarios of various individuals and the numerous statistics thrown around, it comes down to WHO decides WHAT should be covered?

And of course, there was many recitations of the famous triad of the health insurance problem: access, cost and quality.

Want to cut costs in health care?

"Someone" can decide that procedure X is deemed too expensive so it isn't covered.

Want to increase access?

A minimal package has to be identified and the rich taxed to help cover the poor.

Want quality?

The profit motive drives innovation but also inequity. How can we design a system that maximizes innovation but moves toward equity on some defined minimal coverage.

At the end of the show, there seemed to be some agreement that a basic insurance package should cover preventative primary care and catastrophic.

But the challenge is WHO decides what this package is? And on what basis will the decision on WHAT to cover be decided?

With a Democrat House and 60 votes in the Senate and a White House committed to health care reform, something might happen. Will it be an improvement or will it make things worse?

Economics: I guess banking isn't quite like other businesses

Everyone has an opinion about the banking crisis. So this pseudo-pundit in pajamas blogger should feel free to opine too!

I am not a fan of bailouts but in the case of the banks, I think there really wasn't any choice.

The reason people don't want to bail out the banks is that the high level executives got rich running the banks into the ground and they seem to be "getting away with it" and the people are angry.

The economic reason why bailouts as a rule are not good is "moral hazard." The idea is that if people don't bear the full responsibility for their actions then they take more risks, often too much risk.

The fact that banks have FDIC insurance means that the banks and the customers are partially shielded from the full weight of responsibility for poor decisions. But a full free market banking system with no FDIC insurance might be even more risky because a bank is like a power utility: too many people get hurt if the system fails.

I can buy a toaster by Company X. If that toaster breaks in 8 months, I know not to buy any more toasters from Company X. I'll probably not buy a blender or a microwave from them either. If lots of people have the same experience as me, Company X will go out of business. All I've lost is the dollars I paid for the toaster.

But what happens if Bank Y messes up?

Well, in this case, with FDIC, our deposits are protected. So WaMu becomes Chase and that is about it.

But did we "lose" any money in the transaction?

If only a few banks fail, the FDIC covers.

But what if a lot of banks fail?

I suspect that one reason why the US Government had to bailout the banks is that the FDIC insurance fund couldn't have covered all the deposits of all the dead banks.

Thus, we do lose money when too many banks fail because the bank bailout money comes from the taxpayers.

But what is the alternative?

A banking system with no FDIC?

The average customer looking at Bank A and Bank B would not be able to tell which one is in poor financial health. It is one thing to lose some money buying a lousy toaster its another thing to lose a portion of your life's savings when a bank goes under.

Thus, banks need regulation.

How about these possible changes?

(1) Bigger FDIC fund.

(2) Higher capital requirements for banks.

(3) Separate out retail banking where accounts are insured (lower risk and lower reward) from investment banking where accounts aren't insured (higher risk but higher reward).

(4) Reform and break up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They took excessive risks because they knew they would get bailed out (moral hazard) because they are government charted institutions.

(5) No more having the government "asking" banks to support more home loans which yielded sub-prime loans which are a big reason for the mess we are in now.

(6) Some of the weakest banks will have to be allowed to go under. Where to draw the line is a tough one though.

(7) The current government holdings in banks should be liquidated as soon as the crisis is over.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Sports: Dodger baseball on the day of the big news

Weisman cites what Vin Scully said to lead off tonight's broadcast.
"Hi, everybody, and a very pleasant Thursday evening to you, wherever you may be. The Dodgers and the city of Los Angeles and all of California and for that matter, all of baseball, still shocked and stunned over the suspension of Manny Ramirez. We'll have more to say about that a little bit later on -- but no one man stops baseball ..." -- Vin Scully
In case you have been living in a cave, Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games for testing positive for a banned substance. See here for ESPN's Jayson Stark's comments on the situation.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Economics: California by the numbers

Is California a rich state?

According to the census California's per capita income is
$41,571 which ranks #7 in the USA.

Who is #1?
Connecticut $54,117.

Who is in the middle at #25?
Wisconsin $36,047

Who is number 50?
Mississippi $28,845

How about per-capita taxation?

#1
Vermont $3,600.16
#10
California $2,724.31
#25
Nebraska $2,158.36
#50
South Dakota $1,430.46

Okay, now let's combine the numbers and see what is the per capita taxation versus per capita income. Simplistic I know and the data for one table is from 2007 and the other table is from 2005.

Suffice to say California is in the top part of the list but not in the top 10. So does this mean I should vote FOR tax increases in the special election this May 19?

UPDATE: Taxgirl gives a rundown on the California tax system.

UPDATE: All 5 tax increase or fund swapping measures were defeated by wide margins on May 19. I voted no on all 5.


StateIncomeTaxationRate
Vermont36,6703,600.169.82
Hawaii39,2393,477.938.86
West Virginia29,5372,367.178.01
Wyoming43,2263,417.777.91
Arkansas30,0602,352.907.83
Delaware40,6083,068.987.56
Minnesota41,0343,093.937.54
New Mexico31,4742,322.787.38
Maine33,7222,432.357.21
Kentucky31,1112,178.507.00
Alaska40,3522,798.666.94
Michigan35,0862,324.396.62
Wisconsin36,0472,375.776.59
Idaho31,1972,053.516.58
California41,5712,724.316.55
Mississippi28,8451,859.696.45
North Carolina33,6362,146.686.38
North Dakota34,8462,202.976.32
Rhode Island39,4632,443.076.19
Montana32,4582,003.796.17
Washington38,4142,359.996.14
Utah31,189 1,904.186.11
Connecticut54,1173,300.496.10
Indiana33,6162,049.42 6.10
Ohio34,8742,094.496.01
Nebraska36,4712,158.365.92
Nevada40,4802,347.905.80
Massachusetts49,0822,818.39 5.74
Oklahoma34,1531,933.215.66
Pennsylvania38,7882,193.325.65
New Jersey49,1942,781.335.65
New York47,3852,665.625.63
Arizona33,0291,853.585.61
Kansas36,7682,053.855.59
Iowa35,0231,948.205.56
South Carolina31,0131,719.955.55
Louisiana34,7561,909.525.49
Alabama32,4041,705.605.26
Maryland46,0212,386.955.19
Georgia33,4571,726.615.16
Oregon34,7841,791.455.15
Illinois40,3222,069.405.13
Virginia41,3472,103.725.09
Tennessee33,2801,678.235.04
Florida38,4441,905.284.96
Missouri34,3891,645.494.78
South Dakota33,9051,430.464.22
Colorado41,0421,639.543.99
Texas37,1871,434.163.86
New Hampshire41,5121,534.943.70

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Economics: UAW to own Chrysler? What the heck? Its complicated...

When the big 3 auto companies were on the edge of collapse last year, I figured there would be some bailouts. But I also thought, maybe, the government might let the weakest one go bankrupt. After all, in the end, maybe the USA can't really support three auto makers.

So when I heard the news that Chrysler was going to bankrupt, I thought, well, I guess they were the weakest one and going to the chopping block was necessary.

But then I read the "fine print" after hearing Congressman John Campbell (used to work in the auto business before going to the House) on the HH show say that the UAW will now own Chrysler!

What?

Didn't the unions help crash the auto business?

Excerpt from the CNN piece:
The UAW announced late Wednesday night that its membership at Chrysler had overwhelmingly ratified the agreement reached between the company and union leadership on Sunday night.

As a result of that deal, the UAW will own 55% of Chrysler. Fiat will own a 20% stake with the option of increasing it to 35%. The U.S. government will own 8% and Canada will have a 2% stake.
.............
In addition, GM faces a government-imposed deadline to restructure by the end of May or it too could be forced into bankruptcy.
Maybe there is a good reason for the arrangement but my first reaction to this detail is, what the heck?

Can someone please explain?

UPDATE: Its complicated! Looks like the initial 55% ownership is a capital raising measure only. The article says the UAW will get only 1 member on the board that will run Chrysler. Additionally, if the company recovers, it is likely that those shares would be sold to recover money to cover the cost of health care for the retirees.

Excerpt:
DETROIT – The United Auto Workers union would appear to be the big winner in the Chrysler bankruptcy saga, having exercised its considerable political muscle to win a 55 percent stake in the country's third-largest automaker. But when you consider the 55 percent is in a company that lost $16.8 billion last year and has seen its sales drop by half, the victory seems less impressive. Especially since the union's stock must necessarily be converted at some point to cash to pay billions of dollars in retiree health care bills over the next 25 years.
.......
Unions have in the past traded an ownership stake in a struggling company for wage cuts or other money-saving steps. For the most part the deals, such as an employee stock ownership plan at UAL Corp., parent of United Airlines, have worked well at first, only to fall apart when economic times grew tough, with labor and management fighting as profits declined.
.........
Fiat is a likely buyer for at least part of the UAW shares, should they gain value. Under its deal with Chrysler, the Italian automaker takes an initial 20 percent stake in exchange for small-car technology. That can rise to 35 percent as goals are met, and Fiat has options to bring its stake up to 51 percent.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Culture: Dennis Prager on What Makes America Special

Clear and to the point!

Bravo!



1. E Pluribus Unum (From Many, One)

2. In God We Trust (rights derived from God)

3. Liberty (equality of opportunity not of outcome)