Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Sarbanes-Oxley and corporate governance

I learned about an interesting business practice for stock options called "back-dating." Evidently, some executives have been historically allowed to choose the vesting date for their options--pretty much allowing them to gain a handsome profit without doing anything for the company. The article also noted (sorry no link, it was hard copy) that Sarbanes-Oxley regulations had effectively ended the practice--at least overtly. Lots of companies have done it--Altera, United Health, and others. Top execs have literally reaped billions of dollars from this practice.

What's really interesting, though, is that it took government action to end this practice. I can't imagine going to a meeting of the board of directors of a company with a message "I'm paying my executives millions of dollars to simply choose the vesting date of their stock options." I would have hoped that anyone who did that would have been fired, or at least reminded that pay is supposed to be given for actual work.

No such luck. Evidently it takes government action to even push this sort of thing under the table, which suggests to me that the measures government uses to "help" businesses (tax law, tax breaks, regulations, corporate welfare, etc..) are shielding business leaders from the markets.

Friday, May 26, 2006


One of the most important, but misunderstood, parts of life is barbeque. Far too many innocent pieces of meat have been ruined by cooking them on a gas grill over high heat with a thick spicy sauce, yielding a result that is charred on the outside, raw on the inside, and encourages the eaters to pine for tofu because of that lovely burnt sugar/capsacin taste. Let's correct some of these misconceptions.

For starters, not every person with a grill "barbeques" meat. True "Q" is meat which is salted and spiced (sometimes marinaded), but not slathered with sauce while cooking. It is cooked slowly over wood smoke in a smoker or grill like this one. You can easily get started for under $100. The sauce is a balanced, pourable sauce, and the best ones aren't thick, IMO. And the meat? Whatever has a bit of fat on it and is inexpensive. It doesn't need to be ribs.

So get yourself a nice kettle grill or other smoker, a big glass of lemonade or sweet tea, and enjoy an afternoon tending to some chicken, pork, or beef on the grill. Try various styles until you find the one you like best. I've been doing this for 13 years now, and I've yet to find my favorite style. Maybe after another 50, I'll figure it out.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

People used to work for a living....

Apparently, the book value of derivatives, as tracked by the BIS, is $285 trillion. Total world economy is about one sixth that size, I'd guess. The size of the U.S. economy is about $12 trillion currently, for comparison's sake, the official national debt is about $9 trillion, and the actual (GAAP) national debt is about $50 trillion.

So if you're wondering why you get three letters and four phone calls per day from investment and mortgage companies, but can't find a decent pastrami sandwich (or a pair of sweats that actually fit), this is why. The deli owner wisely figured out that the real money isn't in producing useful goods and services, but rather in shuffling around piles of worthless fiat money. You're stuck paying $7 for a sandwich that is a pale shadow of that elegant creation your granddad got for a dime or so as a result.

How to fix it? Pay off your debts and use the interest money you save to order some of the good stuff from New York. Open your own shop and offer two sandwiches for a dollar. This kind of dollar.

And of course, a decent pastrami sandwich is an excellent way to help keep your wife happy. If she likes pastrami, of course.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Yet another reason....

that hunting is a good thing. I bet that if these deer had been shot at more often, they'd be a little more reluctant to attack innocent students. Same thing goes for gators in Florida and cougars in California. Praise God for His good gift to Noah, repeated to Peter. Take, kill, and eat. Yum.

Make sure you do something to protect the carpet before you put the carcass in your minivan, though--or get another real man vehicle, a pickup.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Other things "tough" guys do....

...include cheerfully driving a minivan (eat your heart out, Mr. Lamborghini-Driver, I know you're jealous of my Venture!) and wearing an AWANA service pin.

The quarter million dollars for the supercar will, of course, buy a LOT of chicken to fry or barbeque, no? And yes, I actually did see a guy commuting yesterday in a banana yellow Lamborghini. I bet he wishes that he needed a car capable of carrying child seats.

Monday, May 22, 2006

What the world needs.... some good marriage counseling for all adults, no matter what their marital status. Or rather, a portion of it that I remember about "fighting fair." No, Mrs. Bike Bubba and I are doing great--thanks! :^)

What am I getting at? All too often, I see a dispute that is fairly innocuous in itself becoming cancerous as the participants refuse to apply Biblical reconciliation principles found in Matthew 18 and elsewhere. Particularly heartbreaking are cases when people ask for a meeting, are refused, and then think it's OK to air out their grievances in the media, believing that shaming someone in the Times or on CNN is going to solve the problem.

I know I'm always encouraged to reconcile when I get slammed in the mass media. You too?

But seriously, I'd argue that a lot of the carnage we see in churches and schools could be avoided if we simply remembered that Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 6 to rather be wronged than take a debate before the "court" of public opinion. Or, as the pastor who did my wedding would say, you don't reconcile with your wife by shaming her in front of her friends.

Good advice for marriage, wisdom for life.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Bubba Fried Chicken

One of the most important distinctives of Baptist theology, IMO, is the fact that a Baptist preacher's belt is the fence on a graveyard for fried chicken. Moreover, since the Torah tells us that "the fat is the Lord's," I view it as my obligation to offer a recipe and some tips on how to do it well. This Vienna style recipe can also help you please your wife, especially if you're doing the cooking.

Ingredients; 1 frying chicken, 1-2 lbs lard, 1 cup cornmeal, 1 cup white flour, and 2 eggs.

Cut chicken into pieces (drumsticks, thighs, boneless breasts) and skin. Put skin into iron skillet on medium, salt lightly, and render your schmaltz while you cook your cracklings to a golden brown. Retain carcass (chest cavity, back & neck) and wings for soup or other uses; they just don't work too well in frying, IMO.

(and to remove breasts; using a sharp utility knife, start at the breastbone and allow the knife to follow the rib cage down towards the back)

Salt meat on both sides and sprinkle lightly with lemon juice and refridgerate for 1-3 hours. Get three cereal bowls and put cornmeal (or bread crumbs), white flour, and eggs in them. Beat eggs until they are well-scrambled.

When you're ready to cook, use your "cracklins" skillet and add enough lard to fill about 0.5" deep. Heat to "medium high", or until lard barely starts to get hazy and "smoke."

Dredge drumsticks in flour, then eggs, and then cornmeal, and place into skillet. Follow with thighs and breasts as space is available in the skillet. Cook a few minutes on each side until browned; meat is done when it's "firm" in your cooking tongs. Serve with salad, mashed potatoes, and cornbread....

....which can be made this way; mix the leftover flour, egg, and cornmeal, add ~1/2 tbsp baking powder and milk to make a pancake-like batter. Drain most of the oil from the skillet (filter and save it for next time) and cook your "hoe-cake" or "johnny-cake".

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

It's Just Fiction?

Tell that to the sorrowing family of a Trekkie sometime, or worse yet to the miserable family of a "Star Wars" afficionado. Or the families of the youths who affected that habits of Goethe's "Werther" character, some allegedly to the point of suicide. Thankfully, when I read Die Leiden des Jungen Werthers, I was not even tempted to put on yellow pants or a blue coat. I'm pretty sure I didn't shoot myself in the head over it, either.

Or most sadly, to the friends and relations of someone who takes "The DaVinci Code" so seriously that they go to Paris to do their own amateur archeology to decipher that code--even desecrating a cemetery doing so.

When someone tells you that fiction doesn't matter because "it's just make-believe," ask them why they bother with it. Ask them why those "make-believe" movies have strategic product placement (e.g. E.T. and Reese's Pieces) and those "make-believe" sitcoms have commercials.

Fiction matters. It speaks to our souls for good or ill. Just ask the grieving family of a 40 year old Trekkie, still living at home with 13 sets of Vulcan ears on his dresser, his closet filled with polyester and his phaser set on "stun."

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Legitimate reasons for immigration control

All too often, I've been seeing conservative pundits and thinkers treat immigration reform as if all we needed to do was put a division of Marines with shoot to kill orders on the Rio Grande, and all would be well with our country. One writer even compared the expulsion of illegal immigrants to the Holocaust. No, I am not making this up. It's really embarassing.

That said, however, there are legitimate reasons to want borders enforced that have everything to do with not only our own security and prosperity, but also that of those who wish to come here.

Specifically, illegal immigration (or even "guest worker" status) creates an inherently unequal playing field between employers and employees. Illegals are told to "do it or face the INS." Citizens are told "do it or be replaced by an illegal." And we wonder why there is a lot of resentment in the lower middle class and the poor! We need to control our borders if only to preserve the rights of lower income workers.

Moreover, when we depress the wages of the poor through uncontrolled immigration, we end up paying their living expenses through welfare programs. In other words, the middle class ends up subsidizing the labor pool for the upper classes--just like stadium bills force the middle class to fund entertainment for the rich. One doesn't need to be a populist to see the problems with this!

Then there is family life; when a man breaks the law to find a job, he often leaves his wife and children at home. That's generally not good for family life, to put it mildly, and according to some, it leads to the destruction of the economies and families the men leave behind.

Finally, there are the issues of immigrants dying in the desert, "other than Mexican" immigrants (e.g. terrorists) coming in, tropical diseases, and a general contempt for the law. The long and short of it is that illegal immigration hurts a lot of people on both sides of the border, and it's time for our government (and Mexico's) to admit that good fences make good neighbors.

Monday, May 15, 2006

On "kinism" and what it is

I've had the opportunity over the past year or so to interact from time to time with those who would separate the Church by race, ethnicity, or other factors, claiming that by worshipping exclusively with their own "kin," the world may somehow be more quickly won for Christ. While it's true that language and geography will tend to produce churches of somewhat homogeneous race or ethnicity, my basic response to the kinist argument is that Christ told a group of Jewish Christians that they were to go not just to Jerusalem, but to Samaria (bitter enemies) and the world--gentiles who were often despised.

Which is to note that there is simply not much room in Scripture for the kinist argument. When believers stayed in Jerusalem, God scattered that church via persecution. If only He were so merciful to today's "kinist" churches.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of them out there, and most of them aren't white supremacists. In addition to race and ethnicity, those of the "respectable" crowd also split due to age, social class, Bible translation used (not just the KJV-only, either), music format, and a host of other reasons.

There are certainly real theological reasons to split, such as failure to acknowledge the authority of the Scriptures and the Gospel. In splitting for 1000 other reasons, however, I suspect that a lot of us are going to find out that we missed out on an awful lot of His goodness.

Friday, May 12, 2006

What do tough guys wear?

Sometimes ten gallon hats, sometimes fatigues, but this tough guy is wearing a ten gallon pin today. Hooah! That's eighty donations to help around 240 people live longer and better when they needed plasma, red cells, or platelets to survive accidents, surgery, or chemotherapy.

Overcome your fear of needles and be a tough guy yourself. You may get a pin or two, or even a bumper sticker announcing the the world that you, too, have a big hand in helping the world to see another day. Hooah!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Politics; on "leaks"

Yet again, my day starts as I turn on the radio and find that yet another bureaucrat has violated his oath of confidentiality and provided classified information to the press. Now, I don't doubt that there are a lot of imbeciles in Washington, and that sometimes getting important truths out requires heroic measures.

That is why, of course, people can appeal to courts, ombudsmen, and other resources assigned to that purpose. When things get really bad, they can resign in protest.

But talking to the press? Have they forgotten that "loose lips sink ships"? Do they know what it's like to work in an environment without trust? (or do they simply not know what it's like to work in a trusting environment?)

My solution; someone leaks a secret, and they're immediately transferred to a combat infantry unit in Iraq or Afghanistan for a year. Let them learn up close and personal what happens when secrets are betrayed.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Calvinism vs. Arminianism

I've been asked to comment about the doctrinal and ecclesiological impacts of the teaching of Calvin and Arminius. Not having read any of their works, I'm at something of a disadvantage, but then again, I've heard a lot of others who have never read either debating the issues ad infinitum. It has something to do with divine sovereignty and human responsibility, I'm told.

So here goes. Does the Bible teach God's sovereignty? Yes. Does it teach human responsibility? Absolutely. Does it teach security in His care? You betcha. Does it teach about a sin which cannot be forgiven? Yup.

Do I understand completely how all of these Biblical doctrines are reconciled? Nope, and I'm under the impression that neither did Calvin nor Arminius. They do now, of course. I think I'll eagerly try to learn as much as I can until He straightens me out on the issues.

Side note: a friend tells me that one of Arminius' theological heroes was....Calvin, whose work he valued second only to the Bible. Interesting footnote to all of these debates, eh?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Iron sharpens iron,

but only when the blade is rubbed against the steel.

What am I getting at? Well, from time to time, I see people given the "right boot of fellowship" when they disagree with someone who claims authority over a ministry, a church, or so on. The response to the dissenter very often does not even address the content of the dissent, but centers around a few arguments: "you're welcome to leave," "I've got lots of friends who agree with me," and "you obviously don't understand this theology."

While sometimes separation is necessary, the ugly fact is that in all too many cases, the "right boot" is applied without the issue being debated.

In other words, iron is not coming into contact with iron, and hence the blade is becoming dull. As much as we dislike controversy, the reality is that friction is needed to sharpen us. You can see this, sad to say, in the tens of thousands of protestant denominations in the USA. Failing to debate and be corrected, we separate and become dull and useless for the Master's work.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Systematic Theology and the Layman

Very often, I've seen pastors and experienced laymen comment about how various arguments in theology are really just not their concern--that ministry will occur whether they understand and appreciate these things or not.

In a way, this is true. I don't understand the intricacies of Calvin by any means, and yet I've had the privilege of seeing three of my children come to Christ, and of leading them in evening devotions. So far, so good.

But that said, a basic appreciation of systematic theology ought to impact ministry, and I'd like to bring forth an example. On the one hand, dispensationalism is said to use the "normal" or "literal" meaning of the Scriptures, and covenant theology is said to use a more "metaphorical" or "allegorical" approach.

Now here's the rub; if your hermeneutic is in effect "WYSIWIG", then you'll tend to just read the text and apply it. If you view it as allegorical, then you need someone to help you with the allegories. In other words, you need the pastor to help you understand.

In other words, systematic theology affects the very basic acts of the layman and his view of his pastor. It's not just an academic matter.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Literature and food for liberty

One of the most striking things about life today is the prevalence of fake food and fake books. Going out to eat, one finds processed breads, foods fried in hydrogenated oils, pop sweetened with fake sugar, and the like. Or in the grocery store, try reading most labels on canned or otherwise processed food without a degree in chemistry. Good luck; the flavors that God gave these things are mostly gone.

Going to the bookstore, I find predominantly fake books. That is, books "edited" by someone or other, volumes with one part poetry and 100 parts commentary, and books about real books. The real books--classics written by eminent authors--are regrettably few and far between. Even at a recent homeschooling conference I attended, the new and used book sales had a disturbingly high proportion of "fake books".

One possible reason why, courtesy in part from John Gatto, is that those who rule today don't want us to find out how to get our own food and learn different ideas. We might get uppity then.

It extends even to which translation of those books that remain might be used. Even in the church, everything from Oswald Chambers to the Bible, "must" be read in a modern translation. But is it that hard to read Elizabethan English? If so, we dispense with Shakespeare, Bunyan, and most good hymns--not to mention most of the documents written by the Founding Fathers.

And thus I wonder if a key part of liberty is to eat real food and read real books. To become familiar on one hand with the physical evidence of God's creation, and on the other to get to know the mind of His image--thus to be better nourished in body and spirit.

Plus, real food and books are often pretty cheap, since most people don't know what to do with them. Yet.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Liberty is tough

Last night, my wife and I were discussing how tough it is to live freely, and we were somewhat embarassed to realize that it took us a few minutes to figure out how to remind our kids to clean their rooms or the bathroom.

The obvious answer, of course, is that stuff gets in the way and makes you physically sick, and we're thinking that years of government (school) indoctrination and mercantilism have something to do with it.

That is, the teacher and corporation take the place, roughly speaking, of the overseer and slaveowner. We are driven not by the opportunity for gain, but rather by the reality of punishment and manipulation.

Perhaps the best way to achieve liberty, then, is to start thinking like a free man. Calculate the profit of an action as you do it, and share it with others as you do. It won't cut your taxes (at least in the short run), but it might help you to whistle while you work.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Time for baseball

First of all, some definitions:

This is not baseball.

This is baseball, as is this. This is close.

This is how you take part for yourself, at least if you're in Minnesocold. And it's the more important part of baseball, whatever your skill level. Or, in my case, lack thereof.

It's not towering homers, cannonlike throws from deep center to home plate, or lightning speed. Rather, it's the patience and wisdom to learn how the game is played, and it has a lot to do with walking with Christ. It's the little things that count. Do you throw all the way to home (and miss by 30 feet?), or do you get it safely to the shortstop? Do you wait for your pitch, or do you swing at everything? Do you warm up?

Ephesians 6 has a similar picture of the Roman infantryman. Banish thoughts of the Germanic epics and Sargeant York from your minds here, because that's not how the Romans fought. Rather, his job was to stand, shove, and stab. His sword was short. He was only safe and effective if he stayed with his unit in formation.

Kinda like baseball. That glove is small, and it doesn't do any good if the pitcher ends up in right field. So play ball--just not in a dome!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Vehicle ROI vs. transit ROI

A poster desired the approximate vehicle ROI vs. transit ROI. Here goes for my commute from Chaska to Bloomington, MN.

To take the bus approximately 15 miles from downtown Chaska to Edina (about 2-3 miles from my workplace) costs $5.50 round trip. It adds about an hour each way to my commute, since the buses really only go to downtown Minneapolis and major shopping areas.

Worse, only about 1/3 of operating expenses are paid from fares--the rest are from taxes, and buses do far more damage to the roads than even the biggest passenger vehicle. So the total cost of my ride is $16.50, more or less, plus extra road damage that'll be taken out of gas, property, and other taxes related to roads.

In exchange, I save driving about 28 miles, which costs me about $5 in gas and a little in maintenance--not much, mind you, as I'd still need to get down to the bus stop, and most wear & tear occurs when an engine is started. Hence, there is little improvement in pollution, lots more potholes, and no money savings.

And the equation for light rail? It's an order of magnitude worse. So drive your car. It's the economically and ecologically sound choice.