Friday, September 28, 2007

More comments on pensions

Good comments all around. One thing I'd like to "flesh out", however, is how pension plans are inherently insolvent, no matter how well the actuaries design them.

No kidding. Let's take the Godzilla of all pensions, the unconstitutional Ponzi schemes, as an example. Why are Socialist Insecurity and Mediscare inherently unstable?

To understand, we need to understand that we (mostly) "eat this year's crop." You can save money, but unless somebody plants some corn and cuts some hay, you're going to go hungry, even if you have a room full of gold to pay for food. For this reason, the traditional retirement plan of most people around the world has been to have children--or if no children come, to cultivate friendships with others who can bear some of the burdens of being unable to work enough to support yourself.

Enter Godzilla, and what happens? Well, you've just told people that they don't have to have children to take care of retirement, because Uncle Sam is going to pick up the tab--or so they think. Unsurprisingly, the birth rate has gone down quite a bit since 1937.

The rub comes when you remember that "Godzilla" requires a rather robust birth rate to work--and thus it's no surprise that taxes to support it have been doubled twice already, with more increases on the horizon. She simply sows the seeds of her own destruction by her very nature.

So even apart from medical advances that cannot be predicted, the inherent lack of productivity of the government, and so on, Social Security and Medicare are bound to fail due to the most basic premise in these programs; "we will take care of you whether you bother to think about the future or not."

Not surprisingly, the future is rather bleak for those who don't take reasonable steps to deal with it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Watch out for those pension promises

It's been sad to watch the recent UAW-GM talks and strike; apparently, what kicked off the strike was the UAW's refusal to discuss the possibility of reducing medical benefits for retirees. Now, for starters, I think the UAW would have done well to talk to retired steelworkers about what happens when their former employers go bankrupt; that medical plan, and a lot of their pension, is gone after Chapter 13 reorganization. The choice is not "if" they will get reduced benefits, but rather "when" they will. Honda, Toyota, and others will see to that.

At a deeper level, this debacle speaks to the inherent insolvency of any pension plan. Yes, insolvency, and here's why; actuaries are hard pressed to predict future trends at all, and pension plans face a further difficulty because the very existence of any pension changes behavior.

In other words, the very existence of a retiree pension or medical plan invalidates the assumptions that were used to create it. If you want a reason to end Social Security, Medicare, and pensions, this is it. That, and the fact that the Bible tells us not to presume upon the future.

Monday, September 24, 2007

There is a reason,

besides the obvious fact that the United Nations is in Turtle Bay, that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (sp?) is going to New York City and not Iowa.

Columbia students, now THAT would be a way to greet the world's preeminent Holocaust denier!

How do you greet a Persian President?

My thoughts here are probably too late to help anyone at Columbia, as if anyone there is actually reading this humble site, but if any of my five overall readers has the chance to greet Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (sp?), here is a humble suggestion.

Put on your best burqa, grab that Cosco mongo-sized bag of fried pork rinds, and hit the streets. When you see the man, give him that modified Roman salute...except...modify it a bit more by flipping your hand over and....yup, just one finger will do the trick. Start yelling "Heil Schicklgruber", and (this is very important in Middle Eastern culture) use your LEFT hand to throw as many pork rinds into the path of his car/walk as possible. Bonus points if you bring some friends who drench him in a fusillade of "Milwaukee's Beast" or "Mad Dog."

He'll love it, I assure you.

Seriously, it astounds me that Columbia and others are attempting to "dialogue" with a man who cannot even bring himself to admit that the Holocaust was real. One would think that postmodernists like those you find at universities would be the first to realize that debating with someone who cannot accept basic facts is futile, but evidently not.

Friday, September 21, 2007

"No tolerance" policies and the "Jena Six"

You may have read about the sad case of Jena, Louisiana, where confrontations born of (we're told at least) who might sit under a particularly nice shade tree escalated into "humor" about lynch mobs, the burning of the local high school, escalating fights, and finally an incident where six young men beat another young man unconscious. Lots of folks on both sides of the issue desperately need their daddy to take them on a quick trip to the woodshed, and sadly, Daddy's not there for a lot of them.

Perhaps even more importantly, this incident illustrates what's wrong with school discipline; notably "no tolerance," where both aggressor and victim get the same punishment. When you do this, you cannot teach children that certain words are fighting words, that it's OK to defend yourself, and that it's not OK to continue to pummel someone who can no longer fight back--you've already established moral equivalence between aggression and defense, after all.

In other words, you have just devoted the full authority of the school to the destruction of a child's moral sense, and we then wonder why kids act as if their moral senses had been destroyed. What Dabney predicted around 1870, and Lewis predicted in the 1950s, is coming to fruition today. We have castrated, and bid the geldings be fruitful.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The reality of control?

Gene Edward Veith posted today about an interesting thing; evidently a Chicago hedge fund named "Citadel" has provided $110 million in loans to a Chinese company producing tools for surveillance--in other words, to prevent the Chinese (and other?) people from achieving a degree of freedom.

As Dr. Veith notes, it is shameful enough that American investors and companies have worked with Hitler, Stalin, and other dictators. Personally, I think it is even more shameful that it's a hedge fund.

Why? Well, only the rich and powerful can invest using hedge funds, and hence we must infer that at least some of the rich and powerful in our country--who should know better than most others the hazards of Chinese communo-fascism--investing to preserve that system.

I'm not a Bircher, but I must admit that this kind of thing doesn't exactly counter the idea that the rich and powerful of the world are conspiring to confine the rest of us to serfdom. Certainly some of them, through the Citadel hedge fund, are doing exactly this whether they intend to or not.

Neuroscience at work

If you heard about the "study" that "proved" that liberals "tolerate ambiguity and conflict better than conservatives," here's a quick rundown of how the study was conducted. More or less, college students were asked what their political views were, and then proceeded to a test of how well they could recognize the letters W and M on a screen. During the test, monitoring was done of their brain waves, and the (I'd suggest rather subjective) analysis determined that the liberals tolerated the ambiguity better than the conservatives.

Apparently, the alternative hypothesis that the conservatives recognized what a completely inane test this was was not considered. This is, for what it's worth, similar to the famous test that revealed brain waves in plants and (if I remember correctly) even rocks.

Your tax dollars at work.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The illusion of control

The recent publication of a book by Alan Greenspan has quite naturally gotten quite a bit of publicity, and for those of us who are of Scots heritage like myself, here's an interview where he gets to the crux of the matter; that the Fed really is powerless to do that much to intervene when a bubble, such as the subprime mortgage disasters currently playing out, bursts.

What troubles, or confuses, me is that he stated at least once that he didn't see the subprime bubble bursting until last year.

Really? We have people taking out ARMs with a debt repayment/income ratio of 0.35, and he doesn't see trouble on the horizon? He didn't think it worrisome that large portions of people were so clearly living beyond their means?

He's issued a clarification, but he makes one thing very clear; the idea that the Fed can navigate the economy around every shoal in the economic waters is simply untenable. When the Fed creates a bubble by lowering interest rates, that bubble will eventually burst, and there isn't anything the Fed can do to prevent it from doing so.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The real point of classical education

I believe that Lewis and I would agree that the real point of classical education is not to read Gallic War in the original, nor is it to upstage Latimore's Greek translations.

It is, rather, to learn to think--and then there is a very valid debate over what the place of the ancient languages ought to be. Does it require Latin and/or Greek specifically, or can logic and rhetoric be taught with modern languages?

There are two major reasons that I tend to come down on the side of Latin (and Greek & Hebrew too). The first one is one I haven't totally experienced yet--I'm a Latin neophyte--but I'm told that learning an inflected language is a great way to strengthen one's logic. But even so, Bauer tells us we can do the same by learning modern languages like Russian..

The second, and probably bigger, reason has to do with the adage "He who knows only his own generation remains always a child." Now how does this work with our age of excellent translators? Can't we simply read in translation?

Well, ask the Brothers Bayly about how modern translators treat the Bible and Martin Luther's commentary on Galatians. Take a look at older theological works, where many of the quotes are in the original Greek and Latin. Confused about Newton's Principia or Calvin's Institutes? You might do well to read it in the original.

Confused about the phrasing of Shakespeare, or virtually any older author? Want to understand a legal contract, or virtually any word of significance in the sciences or engineering? Want to learn a modern European language quickly and well? Break out your Latin & Greek--knowing the original makes it easy to memorize the modern cognates.

So is it essential to learn musty, dead languages? No--but it is a short cut to learning the subjects that interest us even today.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Make an even bigger impact

Read, and apply, Matthew 18:15-19 to the way you interact with those you believe have sinned against you. Why do I say this? (and probably not for the first time on this humble site?)

Well, I see too often how fellow believers run roughshod on the principles here; for this or that reason, they decide that they're somehow entitled to ignore these principles, especially the first and second; confrontation for sin ought to be done in private whenever possible. They might appeal to their authority, or position, or the fact that the sin was in public (aren't they all, in a way?). Therefore, they have a right to berate others in public.

And then they wonder why the fight gets out of hand, and the next thing you know, they get a chance to see whether they'll be faithful to 1 Cor. 6:1-11 (prohibition against going to law with believers), and then finally they are wondering why they fall into grievous sins.

So do something profound. The next time someone says something that offends you, approach them discreetly and say "what did you mean by that?" Interact with them in private--don't treat them like an unbeliever until they prove they want to be treated so.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Make an impact!

Teach the Trivium to your children, and work to see that it gets taught in the day schools and colleges where you might have influence. If even the NAS cannot implement a basic logical test to research before it misleads millions, how much worse off might the rest of us be?

Not quite sure how to start? Here are some sources that might give you some good places to start. As you do, consider this:

A few hundred years ago, a man was thought ready for college when he could translate "Tulley," or Cicero, from the Latin. He had mastered the grammar, logic, and rhetoric necessary to understand the great works of historic literature. Typical coursework before college might include Greek and Hebrew as well--the college bound 16 year old of the time was at no loss when asked to comment on the works of Aristotle, Cicero, or Solomon.

Today, if a man learns logic, Latin, Greek, or Hebrew at all, it's generally in graduate school. Somehow it seems that we've inverted or subverted education, and if a Bible college, high school, or home school educator wants to really make an impact, they can do little better than to teach the Trivium. Who knows--the kids might be able to figure out that speed dating might not be the best way to get to know someone.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Case # 5,342,576 for the study of Logic

You've probably read about the Indiana University/National Academy of Sciences study that "proved" that men select a mate based primarily on looks. It would seem, at first glance, that this "proves" that men are inherently shallow.

Not exactly true, to put it mildly. This study was conducted in the context of "speed dating," where a couple meets for an entire three to seven minutes. In other words, long enough to see whether they're cute or not.

On one level, it's sad to think that this kind of thing probably was funded with taxpayer dollars. On another, it's even sadder to think that someone, or maybe even a few people, probably got their Ph.D. for this. Look for them in a major research university in a few years.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Something remarkable

Went to a restaurant called "Wildfire" last night (professional meeting)--it's supposed to evoke memories of 1940s chop houses, and does so reasonably well--and one thing on the wall made me make a double take. There was a picture of a birthday party, circa late 1940s, at a table, and every one of the dozen or so people there was smiling well. Teeth, eyes, everything was done right, and this from an age before 800 speed film and monster aperture lenses.

Contrast that with today, when you're hard pressed to be able to get three adults to even do a half-smile at once. If you want a picture of the changes in our culture, you can do worse than to go here.

The food's OK, too, though a little bit bland and "half-hearted" at times.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Genre and the Decalogue

My favorite seminary president preached last night about the difficulty of applying the prohibition of using the Lord's name in vain. Difficult? You bet; it's not just the "true oaths," but also minced oaths ("gosh darn it" & such) and even....

....literary forms used in a wildly improper manner. No kidding; Dr. Bauder recited a number of limericks, and explained the form to the congregation. AABBA rhyme scheme, short lines, and an element of absurdity. Believe it or not, obscenity is NOT central to this form--I teased him, though, about reciting ALL of the clean limericks known to man. (He said there were even more.)

He then recited a number of poems with AABBA rhyme scheme talking about salvation, the goodness of God, and other Biblical topics--and made the claim that by using the inherently absurd genre for eminently serious topics, those who would use the limerick to talk of God's grace are using His name in vain.

Troubling, but true, I think; perhaps we need to confront ourselves in how we put Scripture to music and verse, and see if the form we've chosen is appropriate to our topic. If we do this, I dare suggest we'll be able to reach out to the lost more effectively, too.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The "Water Bug"

Yes, what is essentially a "miniature barge with oars" was drawing stares of admiration at the lake. It's a lot of fun, and it rows a lot easier than most rowboats (which are designed for a 5hp motor, not two arms), but....