Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Tehran Initiative by Joel Rosenberg

I've had The Tehran Initiative by Joel Rosenberg on my library "hold" list ever since I first heard it was coming out. I'd read the first book in this series, The Twelfth Imam when it first came out and as it ended in a cliff hanger, I eagerly looked forward to the next book!

I love Joel Rosenberg's books and I believe I've read them all. He's brilliant at taking Bible end-time prophecy and integrating it into a fictional account. Many have wondered how he can be so prescient and almost predict events before they occur. He repeatedly points to the Scriptures that inspire him. It is God, not him, that is providing the blueprint to future events!

This book jumps right in where the other left off, but makes it clear to the reader who may have forgotten details from the first book just who each character is. The book moves quickly and tightly integrates events as it switches back and forth between scenes. Having such a good grasp on actual current events, Joel Rosenberg is able to write very credible scenarios, making it easy to conceive that his stories could easily find their way to the front page of the NY Times.

I couldn't put it down and I look forward to the next installment. He left us with the Twelfth Imam in charge of Iran and Israel still facing an existential threat. David's true love is unaware of his real life and all that has changed in him since his boyhood. Is the Twelfth Imam the anti-Christ? Will America stand up for Israel or will Israel stand with God alone? When is Jesus returning for His Bride? Maybe the next book, The Damascus Countdown, will offer more answers! It's going on my hold list now!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Reckless Endangerment by Gretchen Morgenson & Joshua Rosner

Reckless Endangerment by Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner lays out the causes of the economic meltdown of 2008 in a clear and riveting manner.

Their story begins (and ends) with Jim Johnson, the head of Fannie Mae in the 90's. Faced with a hostile Congress, thinking of limiting the government's exposure to losses and considering privatization, Jim Johnson went to work rebranding Fannie Mae. He made the American Dream the cornerstone of his marketing campaign. He convinced lawmakers, lobbyists, do-gooders, and others with positions of influence that any threat to Fannie Mae was a direct threat to the American people and the dream of homeownership.

Of course this crock was concocted simply to protect the cash cow to which he had attached himself. Knowing he could make millions by growing Fannie Mae well beyond its initial mandate of purchasing mortgages to free up banks to lend again, Johnson was desperate for new sources of income. Fortunately he arrived at the helm during a perfect storm which would propel his ambitions and bank account into the stratosphere.

Favorable circumstances for Johnson began with a report that accused banks of discriminating against minority borrowers. Nevermind that the report was subsequently proved false, it provided the cover Johnson needed to demand changes in the lending requirements. Johnson had found his source of growth - new mortgages written to those previously unable to attain loans. It didn't matter at all to Johnson whether or not the people were indeed credit-worthy or could actually repay the loans. With Fannie Mae making it clear that they were desperate for these new loans, banks went into overdrive lending money to high-risk borrowers. They could use these loans to kill two birds with one stone - count them as "affordable-housing" outreach and minority loan outreach.

Everyone won, except the borrowers.

Although plenty of hints existed pointing to an eventual meltdown, sub-prime lending continued to escalate as investors looked to mortgage-backed securities as sources of risk-free income. Investors couldn't buy and  package the mortgages fast enough. Big investment houses gave the mortgage writers huge lines of credit to write new mortgages and then bought the loans. Traditionally, bad loans had to be bought back by the originators, but since the originators would be buying back the loans with the investment houses's own money, brokerage firms chose to look the other way when the loser loans began popping up.

When interest rates finally began to rise, the bottom began to fall out of the housing market. Homes, never truly within reach to begin with, moved even further away from the average borrower. Sub-prime lenders, desperate to continue to write loans, worked with agencies like Fannie Mae to reduce requirements even further. Zero down and negative amortization loans put people underwater in their house immediately. They were unable to refinance or sell their homes to get out from under the onerous, often fraud-riddled loans. The more unscrupulous of the lenders flat-out lied on the forms, often changing the information given to them by the borrower or they lied to the lender stating the borrower only qualified for the higher-fee, zero-down loans. In one particular mortgage security, 5% of the borrowers never made a single payment. Within months, 40% were in default.

Of course these loans could not have been securitized with out the help of the ratings agencies. Willfully blind to the new lending standards, these agencies rated the securities AAA. Even after the loans began to fail, the agencies, turned a blind eye, asking only for the barest of information on the borrowers. Since they were paid according to the value of the security, the watchdogs had every incentive to value them highly. Plus, if they downgraded the mortgage-backed securities, banks all over the country would begin to fail as most kept their required cash reserves tied up in the fraudulent investments. Eventually, the agencies realized that to downgrade the securities threaded to lock up the whole economy.

Desperate to keep the good times rolling and knowing the rating agencies would be complicit, investment houses began to develop new products to hide the rapidly failing loans. Investors were becoming wise to fact that the mortgage securities were filled with "liar loans" destined to fail. So brokerages sliced up the pools into risk categories. Unable to sell the riskiest slices, but required to sell those first, they put those bottom slices into another product called "collateralized debt obligations." These hid the bad mortgages from any prying eyes. Of course the investment brokers themselves were dumping all their own investments in mortgage backed securities while continuing to sell them to unsuspecting investors.

Jim Johnson got out before the whole thing crashed. He saw the writing on the wall when Fannie had to turn to criminal accounting to generate the numbers needed to guarantee his bonus.

Slowly the regulators and congress began to wake up to the coming Armageddon. By then it was too late. The house of cards built by Jim Johnson came crashing down and buried million of homeowners and investors. Trillions of dollars have evaporated thanks to his corrupt scheme.

Unfortunately, anyone with a pulse could see that giving half a million dollar mortgages to someone without a job was unsustainable. But with a very rare exception, the people who were supposed to be noticing were either blinded by immoral and corrupt greed or their own sense of do-gooderism. Of course it had to fail, but the corrupt Johnson knew just how to work the do-gooders (We're pushing the American Dream) and the corrupt (together we'll make millions if you just look the other way).

There is no happy ending.

Johnson still enjoys positions of power. No one has been indicted or gone to jail for their illegal acts. The Dodd-Frank regulation that was supposed to make sure this never happened again was written by the most duped and corrupted congressmen responsible for the original fiasco. Millions of Americans remain in homes underwater and in foreclosure. Johnson created a bubble, earned $100,000,000 in the process, and got away with it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Speaking of George Gilder by Frank Gregorsky

The book Speaking of George Gilder by Frank Gregorsky  contains quote after quote from George Gilder. I first heard of George Guilder when Dennis Prager praised him repeatedly for his wisdom and insight. I read this was a good book to get a sampling of that.

It is, but without the context, many of the statements went straight over my head. He is truly brilliant, visionary, and smart, but I think I'll have to try to get one of his books instead of this one.

I didn't finish it...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Secret Knowledge by David Mamet

To say that I LOVE this book is an understatement! David Mamet as a reformed liberal knows better than just about anyone else of whence he speaks. Having come out of the art world and being a rather successful writer, his book, with its metaphors and analogies and lyrical language, delights the reader.

Throughout the book, I wondered, "What is 'The Secret Knowledge'?" As I told others I was reading this book, I was at a loss to explain its title. He finally gives us the answer on the last page: There is no Secret Knowledge. Time and again, he paints the left as Utopian, seeking the elites who will finally unlock the door and lead us into nirvana using the vast resources of the government. With this one sentence, he bursts the bubble of their fantasy. There is no Secret Knowledge. No one has all the answers and can solve all our problems. The One we have been waiting for isn't coming. (Which is why we look to Christ and not man as our Savior!)

"The essence of Leftist thought. It is a devolution from reason to 'belief,' in an effort to stave off a feeling of powerlessness. And if Government is Good, it is a logical elaboration that more government power is Better." The left, despairing of ever solving complex, seemingly intractable problems, suffers a sort of Stockholm Syndrome, identifying with its captors and begging for answers at the hand of the benevolent and all-knowing Government.

Never having spoke to or read from a Conservative for the first 60 years of his life, David Mamet sees Conservatism like a new-born baby sees the world and wonders. He brilliantly explains and dissects beliefs both liberals and conservatives take for granted. Diving into the thought processes (or lack thereof) of the left exposes a group motivated by fear and desperate to belong. Any belief or thought that goes against the accepted grain, qualifies one for expulsion. In their fear and anger, they react disproportionately harshly and unreasonably.

Put succinctly, the Right views mankind as flawed and the earth as fallen. This is the Tragic View. Perfection is impossible with an imperfect people. The only thing the government can do is offer to treat everyone equally under the law. It cannot equalize a group with disparate talents, abilities, drives, passions, influences, DNA, desires, and dreams. It can only clarify the rules and adjudicate when someone steps outside the boundaries. And it must do this IMPARTIALLY! Further, the Right recognizes there are no solutions, only trade-offs. Everything has a cost. If you spend all your money on A, you cannot buy B.

The Left believes not only that man is basically good, but perfectible. A Perfect Society can exist if the right people are available to lead it. Equality of outcome is achievable. Government's job is to do the impossible - create Utopia. The absolute subjectiveness of "utopia" does not give the Left pause, because the Left never stops to ask questions. Questions may get you disbarred. Whose utopia exactly are we to create? What of those that disagree? What of the consequences of the destruction of the individual and free will? "Fairness" is their rallying cry, despite the fact that any kind of "fairness" they advocate is inherently unfair. This "first-stage thinking," as Thomas Sowell calls it, leads to all manner of contradictions and no real plans (see "Occupy Wall Street"). To the Left, "there are not hard choices," (Obama says). Everything is possible. They "dream of things that never were and ask, 'Why not?'" according to Ted Kennedy.

To achieve this Utopia, the Left must necessarily devolve into Totalitarianism. They must achieve outside the law what cannot be achieved under it. They must undermine their own supposed ideals to achieve them. (i.e. race-blindness is the ideal and to achieve it, we will implement Affirmative Action.) They must destroy the culture to rid it of its evils. What it will be replaced with is one of those unasked questions. Mamet likens it to sleeping in a new house every night of your life. You are never sure if the noise you heard is an intruder or the settling of the house. You are constantly unsure, constantly offended, constantly in fear, constantly lashing out. The world is always in a constant state of flux if you are on the Left.

To the world, the Left is a scary place. To the Right, its a place full of individuals, each working together, laboring under millennium-old traditions, knowing what is expected of themselves and others. It's a place of freedom, ancient wisdom, comforting traditions,  chaos, and in the end, consensus is reached and beauty is produced.

In the notes at the end, he quotes his son's understanding of the Left and Right: Then, basically, it's the difference between the Heavenly Dream and the God-Awful Reality.

As good a summation as any.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War

I wanted to like this book, really I did. But I didn't make it far (pg 164 out of 608). I think it's probably a really good book and would appeal to someone interested in and knowledgeable about military history. But I got bogged down in the details. Sample sentence: The next day, as Verdun fell, Panzer Group Guderian and Colonel-General Friedrich Dollman's Seventh Army surrounded near the Swiss border 400,000 Frenchmen of the Third, Fifth and Eighth Armies, who surrendered en masse.

This book requires more background knowledge than I have, so, regrettably, I am putting it down.

I feel like a failure.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Living Life is better than Dying in College

I just read this post and I can't get it out of my head. James Altucher makes a lot of sense, but his revolutionary ideas take some thinking through. I'll repost it here:


I know I’ve been doing a lot on college lately. But I view it as a stepping stone for how the life we live now diverges from the life we could be living (and the life I hope my kids will live). I’m in the process of writing a book on this where I hope to give some more views not on just college but a better way to spend your entire life, every moment, being educated and learning from experience.  Here’s an interview I just gave to a newsaper which clarifies my views a bit more:
Q: When you say that parents should not send their kids to college, do you mean that they should not go to college indefinitely? Or come back to college later in life?
Kids at 18 have no idea what they want to do in life. The world is a very big place. Its bigger than five classes a day on philosophy or chemical engineering. Most kids at 18 don’t relish philosophy but they relish the experience of freedom and being out of their parents’ home for the first time in their lives. There is nothing wrong with this. Young adults have a lot of energy and should use it. But the problem is that college costs have risen 1000% in the past 30 years while healthcare has risen 700% and inflation has risen “only” 300%. Colleges have made use of the myth that you can’t get a job unless you have a college education. So young people feel a rush to get that college out of the way so they can get a job and “begin” their adult lives. I think kids should begin their adult lives at 18 by experiencing what else the world has to offer other (see my eight alternatives to college) than a classroom (which they’ve all just been locked in for the prior 18 years). A rose needs space to bloom.
Then, later, if they’ve thought about the debt burden they will place themselves and their parents in, they can choose to go to college. Right now student loan debt is greater than homeowner debt and credit card debt in this country. Thats a lot of debt. Whereas previously we’ve created generations of innovators and creators, now we are creating a generation of young people mired down in hopeless debt. When will they get to live life?
Q:  When did you come up with your theory? How did you come to think of your theory?
A lot of people say, “Oh, James Altucher went to college so he shouldn’t be talking about this”. Well, why not? I saw what people were doing in college. I know now how much I learned in college and how much I learned in other experiences in life and which is more relevant to me now at the age of 43. And, btw, it was much cheaper when I went to school than it is now. So when did I develop this theory? Almost immediately when I realized college had nothing to do with any successes or failures that I had in life (and I had A LOT of failure despite college). And also, it took my 8 years to pay back my student loan debt. Now it takes kids 30 years to pay down that debt. Its not fair to the youth of our country.
To summarize:
A) you learn very little that you use in real life
B) you are so burdened by debt that you can’t use your new-found
knowledge to create real freedom and joy for yourself
C) a young person can use their energy in many other ways than just college.

Q:  Do you think that nothing well worth learning is taught in college? Or is it the fact that students might not be willing to learn?
There are many things worth learning in college. And not every person in the world should avoid college. But the best colleges cost a lot of money and its a burden for young people. And most things that you can learn in college you can learn for free outside of college thanks to the Internet. For instance, computer programming is best learned on the job. English literature is best learned by reading the books you are passionate about. Writing is best learned by having real experiences, writing every day, and reading the great writers who inspire you. Philosophy is learned by having real experiences and reading the philosophers or religious practitioners who inspire you. Imagine learning all of these things because of real world experiences, and then not having any debt. Also, when learning is not force-fed to you you develop a real love and knowledge for how to learn on your own and thats something you keep for the rest of your life. Most young people don’t learn this.

Q:  Do you think you learned anything when you went to college? Or do you think you could have learned more if you chose not to go to college?
I went to college from 1986-1989. I was paying for it with debt so i graduated in 3 years. I took six courses a semester so Icould graduate early. And I took courses every summer. I also worked about 30-40 hours a week at jobs so I could afford my expenses outside of tuititon. Even then i graduated with enormous debt. I majored in
Computer Science and learned how to program.  I thought I was a very good programmer when I graduated college. I prided myself into thinking I was the best since I was sure I was better than any of my classmates. While I was in college I programmed computers to play chess, I wrote papers that were published in international conferences on artificial intelligence, I got As in every practical programming-related class (other than Fortran, ugh!), and then, by the way, I got a full scholarship to go to graduate school for two years. Then, when I finally had a job in the “real world” at HBO, the television network, my programming was so bad (awful!) I had to go to courses offered at AT&T for two months in order to get my programming in shape. And even then I was still nowhere near ready to do real programming in the real world. It probably took about another six months of daily effort to learn how to really program. I had the passion for computers and I’m sure if all I had done were those AT&T courses right from the beginning I would’ve been fine.
Sometimes you have to throw a kid in the water to teach them how to swim (or let them drown). Thats the way to learn. Not being force-fed from textbooks written twenty years ago and being taught by professors with little real world experience. Its a shame also that unless you have a PhD a college won’t let you teach (in most cases). PhDs are often the most intellectual but have the least real world experience. And for that great experience we have to go into massive debt now.

Q:  Do you have any advice for students who are in college right now and feel like they aren’t getting anything out of their education?
Yes, take a year or two off and try some of my eight alternatives. I’m writing a book now with over 40 alternatives and explaining my views in greater depth.

Q:  Are there many people who disagree with your thoughts? Agree? How do people react when they first hear what you have to say?
I think many people agree and don’t say anything. But the people who disagree get very very upset. Its like I’m questioning their religion. I can go right now in the center of Times Square in NYC and shout, ”Jesus is Satan!” and people would just walk around me and think, “ok, its free speech”. But if I shouted, “don’t send your kids to college”, WHOAH!! Lock this guy up! Take away his kids!
I’ve even had death threats based on this opinion. People have a huge life attachment to the fact that college is a part of life, the same way that birth, marriage, parenting, and death are. Its not. Its a relatively modern invention (for the mainstream American, its about fifty years old the idea that most kids should go to college, after 6000 years of civilization). Unfortunately this modern invention has been so abused by college administrators that the next generation of kids we graduate will be mired down in debt, and STILL need to learn the skills required for basic jobs that they want to do. Lets not forget, nobody learns how to be a doctor in college. Thats pre med. They learn a little in one or two years of medical school, but then they really learn when they are a resident in an actual hospital. And then between debt, insurance, and the burdens government is now placing on doctors, how will they ever pay down their burdens? The entire system needs to change but the discussion has to happen somewhere. Hopefully it will be here.

Q:  Anything else you’d like to add?
I began my career at the age of 23, after I left graduate school. And then I began a career from scratch again when i was 26, and then 28, and a totally new career when i was 33. And then a completely new career when i was 36. And now I’m 43 and I’m still open to changing careers and doing new things in life. There’s no rush to start a career at the age of 22. Life changes as you go out in the world and experience things. Failures happen, seeds grow and take years to turn into a tree. Give yourself time to plant those seeds, to learn from your failures, to experience new things in life. The earlier you start to do this, the wiser, healthier, and more balanced you will be. You will be more capable of making decisions on career, family, and life in general.
Its also important that people stop using the statistic: people who went to college make more money. This is a very true statistic but anyone who takes Statistics 101 in college should know that correlation is not cause-and-effect. It could quite possibly be that over the past 30 years, people who are more achievement oriented (and hence more likely to make more money) were more likely to go to college. A better test would be if we take 2000 people who got accepted to Harvard today and divide them randomly into 2 groups: one that goes to college, the other that doesn’t, and see what they are earning 5, 10, 20, 30 years from now. (Some people will then say, “but money isn’t everything” and I strongly agree, but this is just to counterbalance that one statistic that seems to suggest money is everything)
Don’t discount the value of spending time experiencing the world before you make the enormous financial committment of going to college. It will teach you the beginnings (and JUST the beginnings) of what might be important to you. It will teach you how to survive, it will teach you about people other than from your own age group and socio-economic demographic, it will teach you about the 99% of opportunities that happen in the world that have nothing to do with college, it will teach you how to stretch your mind to learn how to sell and communicate, and finally it will show you at an early age that failure, choices, and life is a spectrum and not a ladder. Take advantage of that when still young and I can guarantee you all of life will bend down and support your endeavors.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Divinity of Doubt by Vincent Bugliosi part 3

Bugliosi next blasts Christians for their supreme calling to Love God. He belittles this as some kind of false choice between loving God or loving our fellows humans. He completely ignores John's admonition in 1 John 4: 20-21, "If anyone boasts, "I love God," and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won't love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can't see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You've got to love both."

Loving people IS loving God. There is no either/or or even an "and." Had he spent any time in a book like "In Defense of Faith" he might realize his ignorance as to the extent to which Christians actually DO love their neighbors!

As to the question of all the evil done by secular humanists like Stalin or Mao, he brushes their travesties off by saying none were done in the name of Atheism like Christians act in the name of God. Ummm... once again, this cringeworthy excuse falls short of convincing. I would argue it is precisely BECAUSE they were atheists that they were even able to commit such atrocities. Nothing held back their innate sinfulness.

Of course Christianity, while earning most of his venom, is not alone in his list of victims. Other world religions get a short write-up in a single chapter. It's surprisingly easy to sit on a fence and throw stones when you are ignorant.

Finally, he concludes his ridiculous diatribe with ridiculous tests for flushing out God. One involves a death row prisoner standing on a cliff daring God to strike him down. No comment. Another bemoans the fact that life ALWAYS seems against us: we get in the wrong line at the grocery store; every time you drop a pill, you can't find it; a searched-for paper is always in the bottom half of a stack. His idea is to get some sort of mathematician to discover how often we beat the odds, so to speak, and get the short end of the stick. He believes this will conclusively prove, with evidence, that if there is a God, he is mean. Ugh.

Bottom line, avoid this book if you want a serious critic of belief in God. He is just embarrassing. I thought his credentials would require him to be well-reasoned and logical, but I was wrong. Very wrong. I have a lingering thought that we might want to re-look at his criminal trials. There may be people convicted by a man with little grip on rational arguments and ignorance about his ignorance.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Divinity of Doubt by Vincent Bugliosi part 2

After saying one inane thing after another,  Divinity of Doubt by Vincent Bugliosi continues with the cleverly titled, "The Intelligence (or Lack Thereof) of Intelligent Design." While recognizing the incredible complexity of the known universe, he argues that could be due to complex natural laws. He kind of hints that God could be behind those laws, or they could just be self-sustaining laws having no origin. This tautology makes my head hurt. Incredible design indicates a designer or just brilliant design principles with no designer?!? What?

The sheer complexity and impossibility of the universe, however, seems to move him away from a belief in God. In an incredibly poor reasoned paragraph he states: In the first place, if God, per Christianity, is all-powerful and all-intelligent and can bring about whatever he pleases, why in the world would he create this incredibly complex system of 122 constants to provide life on earth? You mean that he couldn't create an earth that was self-sustaining and relied on none of these things. That do do so would be beyond his power? That he's not, after all all-powerful and without limitation?... The fact that there are 122 constants out there is, to me, very powerful circumstantial evidence not that it was God who created all these constants, but of the opposite, that no one of them has anything to do with the Christian God of people's imagination." What? If God is all-powerful, he would have created a simpler universe? The complexity argues that God is not powerful enough to create a simple earth. What? Later he argues that the vastness of the universe shows that God is similarly not powerful enough to make just the earth and leave it at that. In fact the sheer wastefulness of it offends his sensibilities.  For some reason, he contends, God is not capable of simplicity. Or... maybe God created something so wonderfully complex it has taken us thousands of years just to begin to discover and He has reasons for a vast, infinite universe we cannot even begin to understand but will someday begin to catch glimpses of.

He moves into an attack on the book of Genesis. Many things he blows off with a simple prima fascia argument, taking no time to actually exam the text (i.e. Jonah, Noah, Sampson, the whole Garden of Eden story). He shows not even a rudimentary understanding of the book, completely ignoring the thousands of years of scholarship seeking to explain and elucidate the Scriptures. He belittles an "all-knowing" God for not knowing where Adam was or that he ate the apple (apple? again no knowledge of the text!). (When making this point on Dennis Prager's radio show, Dennis replied, "Are you serious?") Yet strangely, he ends the chapter with praise for the Bible as a whole.

Of course he goes after Christians, belittling and mocking them, while claiming not to. He adamantly opposes the notion that you must be born again to be saved. He simply cannot imagine anything other than good works paving the way to heaven. He claims in back-to-back sentences that God has remained silent as to the path to salvation, but then quotes Jesus as saying, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the after except through me." He advocates God appearing in the clouds and spelling out His plan for salvation to humanity. Apparently that's a much better way to communicate then coming down to earth in the form of a human and actually talking  and interacting with us. How this cloud thing works, he doesn't elaborate. Does God have to appear to every person at some point in the clouds? Does He have to do it every 15 minutes or so, so as not to miss anyone? If I see Him in the clouds, would Vincent Bugliosi take my word for it? He even mocks Jesus' exchange with Nicodemus saying Jesus himself couldn't really explain the whole "born again" thing.

He has no use for the original sin doctrine or patience to understand why Jesus death would redeem us. Being an extreme literalist, he cannot conceive of the concept of Jesus taking our punishment. Furthermore, he blames God for giving us a sin nature in the first place, with no acknowledgement that God also sent Himself as the remedy. I would think a prosecutor like Bugliosi would see that justice demands a punishment, and God is therefore demonstrating true justice in demanding a price paid, but demonstrating beautiful mercy in paying price himself. Then, conveniently forgetting the whole "born again" thing, he states obviously Jesus' death did not forgive ALL sin because some people will still be sent to hell. It's like he didn't even read his own last chapter.

He spends quite a bit of time doing what he accuses atheists of doing, denigrating religion and conflating it with denigrating God. He jumps on Christian beliefs to mock them with no consideration of the voluminous scholarship done to clarify them (i.e. the Trinity, Jesus being the Son of God, the virgin birth). It's embarrassing to read his pretentious, shallow analysis.

In a couple of strange chapters, he slams God for putting us all to death, eventually, and then argues Heaven cannot possibly be worth the pain and suffering of death. Hmmm... The fact that we all will die someday, definitionally means God is not good. How could a good God rob us of this beautiful thing called life with all its wonder and joy. Simultaneously, after we die, Heaven will be boring compared to life on earth. Somehow, God can create a wonderful material world, but is creatively-challenged when it comes to the eternal. Having no interest in sitting on a cloud and playing a harp for eternity, Heaven holds no attraction for Bugliosi. Ummmm, a three-year-old could explain a few things to this pompous know-it-all.

There's more! I'll have to rant in a later post!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Divinity of Doubt by Vincent Bugliosi

The book Divinity of Doubt by Vincent Bugliosi is without a doubt one of the worst books I have read! I say that having read some dreary books (see: Left Behind series).

Vincent Bugliosi is nothing if not absolutely sure of himself. His pride and arrogance blinds him to the fact that people have struggled over the questions he answers so blithely. He doesn't know what he doesn't know and he looks foolish when he wades into the deep waters of theology. He sets out to prove that one can never know definitively whether or not there is a God. On this point he may be correct. Both atheists and believers need to recognize there is a dimension of faith inherent in their beliefs, and they are beliefs, even in the case of atheists. But rather than wrestle with knowledge about God that is available to us, he'd rather dismiss the whole discussion and just say, "We don't know."

He begins by jumping right into a vat of ignorance. He completely dismisses the Bible and especially the gospels because the authors can't be called to testify in an actual court of law! Does he have no idea how ancient documents are tested for veracity? With his unmeetable standard, all ancient documents would be meaningless because their authors cannot testify at a modern day trial. Knowing as I do that the Scriptures pass every ancient document test with flying colors, it's embarrassing to see him begin with such an asinine assertion.

Bugliosi then launches in to cliched and faulty logical conclusion that God, if He does exist, cannot be what we think He is. Specifically, He cannot be simultaneously all-knowing, all-powerful, and good. A good God would not allow suffering. The question of how a good God can allow suffering has plagued humanity for eons and yet Bugliosi simply wipes away all the well-reasoned, agonized-over responses to say, "God is not good." He gives no quarter to the idea that to banish all suffering, God would have to abolish free will. In his childish and simplistic manner, he states that surely an all-powerful God can allow free will AND abolish all suffering. In doing so, he ascribes to God powers that even God does not ascribe to Himself. God is all-powerful, but that doesn't mean He can do contradictory things simultaneously. For example, God cannot love and not love the same thing at the same time. That doesn't take away from His power, it just makes Him rational.

He follows this argument with a complete destruction of the atheist argument of proof that there is no God. He rips them for going after religion and equating that with God. While I agree with his sentiments here, since he has already lost all credibility with me in the previous sections, I can't even bring myself to cheer his demolishment of the Big Three (Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris). He has already quoted random, unknown Christian philosophers to paint Christianity as completely unhinged, so how can I trust that he is accurately representing the words and arguments of these secular thinkers?

He continues by half-heartedly trying to debunk Darwinism. Here I could agree with him as well, but his arguments are silly and embarrassing. While he makes a great emotional point that he finds the leap from bacteria to Mozart too hard to fathom, he does not follow it up with any real questions about exactly how do scientists explain bacteria becoming sentient, developing the ability to be self-aware, thinking, and capable of altruism. He wonders why, if man evolved from monkeys, there are still monkeys. He makes much of the fact that he cannot see evolution happening, pointing to a few hundred or thousand years back and seeing no real changes. Somehow, he tries to make the argument that change is not necessary or even possible. We are finished. One statement showing his utter lack of awareness of his own arguments is this: Although I do not believe today everything I believed yesterday, and do wonder if I will believe tomorrow everything I believe today, this seems rather hard to imagine." Huh? Acknowledging that he, himself, has changed, he finds it hard to imagine he will change further. With his arrogance, he may be right. He acknowledges that man alone among all creatures has the ability to reason, and sees this as an argument against evolution, but does not take the next step to see it as a reason for God.

There's so much more! I'll have to continue in another post.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Economic Facts and Fallacies by Thomas Sowell

Economic Facts and Fallacies by Thomas Sowell largely summarizes his book, Basic Economics. The difference being that this book is shorter, and more concisely deals with the fallacies addressed in that seminal work.

He begins by addressing the power of fallacies and lists some of the most common right up front: The Zero-Sum Fallacy, The Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc Fallacy (after this, therefore because of this), The Chess Piece Fallacy, and the Open-ended Fallacy. Many of these fallacies enter the mainstream and stay there because vested interests arise and continue to propagate them. Despite the resulting "untended consequences," many continue to hold to a fallacy rather than discard it and be labeled "wrong."

By definition, a fallacy is a false understanding of basic underlying reality and therefore, usually finds a home in the reality-denying, utopia-promoting left. Although the fallacies are described as "Economic" they manage to work their way into many areas of life.

The first set of fallacies Sowell dives into are Urban Fallacies. Here he tackles such things as overcrowded cities, sprawl, mass transportation, and city planning. It's interesting how the left can decry overcrowding as well as urban sprawl. The fact is, Americans do have a lot of living space in urban settings and because of lowering costs of automobile transportation, can afford to move to suburbs as well. To fight these economic realities of people acting in their own best interests (staying the city for the benefits it affords or moving to the suburbs to escape the crowds), the left will often fall into the aforementioned Chess Piece Fallacy. They believe people can be moved about like chess pieces on a board. Therefore "public space" is created, driving up the cost of housing, public transportation is heavily subsidized, rent control is implemented. All have differing and possibly conflicting goals, and all result in boosting costs and therefore lowing the standard of living. Often these policies come from third-party observers who simply wish to impose their own particular vision of what life should look like on others and bear little risk of being harmed by the adverse consequences of their policies.

Unafraid to wade into dangerous waters, Thomas Sowell dissects Male/Female Fallacies. Noting the long-held belief that women make significantly less than men, he dives into the data and how it is collected. Often these kind of fallacies are a result of comparing unlike things. In this particular case, all women were compared to all men, with no regard for education level, number of hours worked, or seniority. Time and again, when like to like are compared, the numbers become much more equitable. Even so, disparities exist. Rather than go straight to the standard "sexist" explanation, he mines the data. Often, men are generally much more likely to work longer, study harder, eschew career interrupting breaks, take on more risky, therefore better paying, positions, and make career more of their focus than women. These differences in work-related behaviors usually account for differentials in pay, rather than sexism. Besides, sexism is hardly the best way to manage a for-profit business. If profit is the goal, a business will strive to hire the best people at the lowest cost. Even a sexist, if he is striving hard enough for personal gain or the competitiveness of his business, will hire a woman if that makes the most economic sense. When looking at the non-profit sector, it is there that sexism (and racism) is more likely to rear its ugly head.

Next, Sowell moves very close to home and battles Academic Fallacies. Here he discusses why college costs so much, what accreditation means, what actually goes on at college, and the problem of tenure. College costs are driven up by government subsidies, the desire to compete with other institutions, and prestige considerations. Many colleges have huge endowments. Rather than dip into these, they will solicit government funds and subsidies. Accreditation is often at the whim of the accreditor. They might make demands that increase the cost of education while conferring no educational benefits. These may include better health insurance for employees. Many colleges focus on research and the publications of papers in little-read journals. Although neither may have any impact on the quality of education or the educator, these practices continue to drive up costs. Finally tenure may require keeping an educator on the payroll long past his ability to produce educated students. Conversely, good educators may not be given time to prove themselves and may be let go rather than given a risky tenure proposal. Sowell knows education better than most and his opinions hold great weight.

Income fallacies abound and Sowell convincingly debunks many of them. A favorite politicians trot out is the fallacy of the rich vs. poor. While it is common sense, what is usually lost in the debate is the fact that the "rich" and "poor" are not static groups. Most people will move between several quintiles throughout their lifetime, some even moving from the bottom to the top and back again. Few people remain in one particular quintile for life. Most people start out at the bottom as poor students or newly married adults, move into their prime earning years after dedicating their lives to their career, then retire and find themselves back in the bottom group. To treat the poor and rich as static groups is to attack a problem that may not have a basis in reality.

Once more, unafraid to wade into controversial topics, Sowell takes on that most touchy of all subjects, Race. Although racial discrimination has a long history thoughout human existence, it can be difficult to use stats to prove a racial bias in America. Often, like Male/Female disparities, like and like are not being compared. He points to unstable family groups, crime, lack of good educational opportunities, and the obvious ability to tie all these disadvantages to a particular, easily noticed, skin color. While it is not fair to judge a person by a generality, employers make risky investments in employees. Unfortunately, some in the black community have handicapped other members by their actions. Once again, when like to like are compared, the "racism" seems to disappear.

When discussing Third World Fallacies, Sowell demonstrates the fallacies that crop up in this area. Like the income fallacy, rich and poor countries are often compared as if they were static entities. In fact, just as individuals move among income groups, countries move up and down the scale of wealth. Often policies designed to alleviate this notion of static poverty actually hurt wealth creation. Foreign aid will prop up a ruinous dictator and allow the corruption to continue. Also, as the aid given is considered "free" it will often be used in ways that are unproductive or inefficient, thereby continuing the harm to a nation. Property rights are the single biggest way to help an undeveloped nation achieve its potential, yet money is usually the proffered solution.

Another great book by Thomas Sowell. Read this if you don't want to tackle his voluminous Basic Economics.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Lively Art of Writing by Lucile Vaughan Payne

I bought The Lively Art of Writing on the recommendation of a fellow Speech mom. She lamented the fact that the speeches she judges lack a good thesis statement and the resultant cohesiveness. Being the good homeschool mom that I am, I instantly went to Amazon and bought it.

That doesn't mean, however, I read it.

It's a small book, but somehow, it didn't look appetizing. Besides, I had a bunch of library books to get to first.

I took it to Hawaii when my library books didn't come in on time and spent a good day or two absorbing it.

Now I want to teach a class on writing. The small, little, dare I say, lively book, captured me and entertained me to boot. It dovetails in with the writing program, IEW, that we have been using. Although she gives grace where IEW lays down the law, she has a few rules of her own: Ban the word "there." Never use first-person.

Payne begins by teaching the basics of a thesis statement and how to formulate an effective one. She moves onto outlining by using a simple pro and con list related to your previously stated opinion. The structure of an outline is discussed, beginning with the inverted triangle introduction, block body paragraphs, and a triangle conclusion. The graphic representation clearly depicts the "right" way to write any essay.

Interspersed between chapters are review questions and assignments. If used in a classroom setting, I have no doubt they would be very effective. The chapters themselves are short little nuggets of wisdom, easily digestible and fun to read.

To summarize:
* Remove the "I believe" and "I think" statements and forcefully state an opinion.

* Create mental pictures when writing, relating details to the five senses.

* Use transition words and hooks between paragraphs.

* ACTION! Eschew the passive voice!

* Pattern the written word after the spoken word by varying sentence length and styles.

* Vary sentences by "stringing along" additional descriptive information, adding "periodic" additions within the sentence itself, or in other descriptive ways, expand sentences beyond their most reduced state.

* Keep the structure within a sentence parallel.

* Use dictionaries, thesauruses, metaphors, similes, and descriptive details. (I just broke the last rule.)

* When you have mastered the rules, you can break them. (See the sentence above.)

As I read, I shuttered to reflect on my previous writings. I'm quite certain that I have broken every dictate laid down and a few poor Lucile Vaughan Payne has yet to encounter. Hopefully, I am the better writer for her words.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo

  Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo tells the story of a 3-year-old's experiences in heaven in a fascinating and completely believable way. Initially, I feared the story would be one of leading questions and ideas planted in a young child's head. This, however, was not the case.

After going through various physical trials and ready to relax with his family, Todd Burpo takes them on a vacation. Almost postponed by a particularly bad case of the flu in his son Colton, the well-rested, recovering boy, his sister and parents take off for a nice trip. Suddenly waylaid by a frightening recurrence, the family returns to their hometown and family doctor.

Days later, with an increasing look of death on the boy, Todd and Sonja make the call to remove Colton to a bigger hospital 90 minutes away. Immediately diagnosed with a burst appendix, the boy is whisked into surgery screaming for dad. Todd pours out his anger and fear to God in a small out-of-the-way room while his wife frantically calls friends and family for fervent prayers.

Once out of surgery, Colton immediately begins to scream for Dad again. After another horrific relapse the family is released and Colton celebrates his 4th birthday.

Not until several months later, while passing by the hospital, does Colton mention that the hospital was the place "the angels sang to him." After several of these kind of extemporaneous statements, including stating that he had seen Jesus, the Burpo's begin to believe that Colton had some kind of supernatural visitation in his hospital room. He also accurately described his father and mother's actions and location during the surgery, using details he could not possible have known.

Over the next year and beyond, the details slowing begin to come out that Colton had, in fact, visited Heaven. Even though he had never technically died, he vividly recalled meeting Jesus' cousin, John, his grandpa, Pop, who had passed away 25 years before his birth, seeing God's throne, and sitting by the God the Holy Spirit, whom he described as "blue." Committed to asking no leading questions or even supplying words to describe what Colton told them, his parents patiently waited for the story to come piece by piece from their pre-schooler.

Shock and true belief set in when Colton described his older sister greeting him in heaven. Unbeknownst to Colton, his mom had miscarried a baby at 2 months gestation between the birth of him and his older sister. They never knew the baby was a girl, and they had never named her. Colton quoted her as saying she couldn't wait for her parents to arrive so she could finally have a name!

Vivid details and knowing things he could not possibly have known convinced his parents that their son had in fact been to heaven. Later, Todd is convicted for yelling at God when Colton tells him the reason he screamed, "Dad" when coming out of surgery. God had told Colton that He was sending him back to answer the father's prayer. As Todd puts the pieces together, he realizes that while he was screaming to God about how unfair He was, his son was sitting on the lap of Jesus. God answered the prayer of a man who had no idea what he was talking about!

The biggest message Colton wanted to get out was the love of God. It ended every story, every detail, every new revelation. In describing the throne and size of God, Colton felt it necessary to add how big God's love is. He especially focused on the love Jesus has for children.

Although Colton sat on Jesus' lap and remembered Him vividly for his eyes, beard, and especially for His love, he could not exactly describe what He looked like. For the next several years, it became a game with the family, when in the presence of a "portrait" of Jesus, to ask, "What's wrong with this one?" Never did Colton find a picture that he believed accurately depicted the Prince of Peace.

Once day, after finally sharing the story publicly, someone mentioned a girl named, Akiane Kramarik. Raised in an atheist home without television, the girl had begun having visions of Jesus and heaven at the age of four. A prodigy painter by the age of six, she was finally able to communicate on canvas what she saw. Her picture of Christ caught the attention of the Burpos. In one glance, Colton knew exactly who it was. For the first time, here was an image that had nothing wrong with it. Jesus looked back at Colton with the eyes he knew so well.

This chilling story tantalizes with the reality of heaven. I can't wait to go there!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Rawhide Down by Del Quentin Wilber

Chronicling the events surrounding the assassination attempt on the life of President Ronald Reagan, Rawhide Down by Del Quentin Wilber, is a quick and easy read. It's a fascinating behind-the-scenes look both into the events from the President's perspective and also the surrounding actors. He treats us to an inside look into the tormented mind of John Hinckley Jr. as well.

I love the picture of Reagan that Wilber paints. Here is a man who effortlessly steps into the role of his life. Reagan was the consummate actor and he knew he was born to play this role. Literally. He had been taught from an early age that God has a plan for our lives and he firmly believed this was God's plan for him. Because Ronald Reagan played the President as a role, he was able to keep his personal self private and still be gregarious and outgoing. It made him the "Teflon President." The ability to stick to a pre-determined script contributed greatly to his ability to weather and survive such a devastating attack.

Hoping to finally convince Jodi Foster of his love, John Hinckley Jr. believed shooting the President would do the trick. While he had contemplated and nearly shot at Carter, he lost his nerve. Now the new president would have to do. Standing outside the Hilton Hotel with the crowd of greeters, Hinckley opened fire on Reagan. Wounding three others instantly, it was unclear at first that the President had been hit. Shoved into the waiting limo by his alert and reactive Secret Service agent, it appeared that a broken rib caused the pain and inability to breath that Reagan experienced. Making a split decision to risk another shooter at the nearest hospital, Agent Jerry Parr ordered the limo to change course away from the White House.

Clearly hurt and fading rapidly, Reagan insisted that we walk on his own power into the hospital.

It's what a President, hoping to inspire his country would do. It's the way Hollywood would do it.

He collapsed immediately inside.

Although the hospital had had a few minutes of a heads up that the President and others were on their way, some of the personnel who went right to work on him didn't know who their famous patient was. Those who did trembled and prayed that he wouldn't die on their watch. Assuming it was a heart attack and knowing preventing shock was the most important first response, they pumped him full of fluids and blood.  Not recognizing the suit he had memorized earlier in the day on the bodies on the ground at the hotel, Reagan's personal doctor sped towards the hospital. He and the eventual supervising surgeon agreed. No VIP treatment. Treat the President of the United States as any other emergency room patient. Often the VIP treatment killed those to whom it was given.

Although Reagan tried to joke with those around him, as any good Hollywood President would do, it was obvious he was in a lot of pain. Draining blood from his lung was not easing his ability to breath and the blood kept flowing. Worse, it was warm, indicating it was coming from deeper within. Knowing he had just turned 70 and seeing his gray complexion, most at the scene thought he was at death's door.

Finally recognizing Reagan had not suffered from a heart attack or a broken rib, a small incision was found under his right arm. Those with experience knew: gunshot wound. There was no exit wound and it was unclear, even from x-rays where exactly the bullet was. Surgery became the only option to stop the bleeding and remove the bullet. Even though he had pledged no VIP treatment, the doctor could not bring himself to leave a bullet in the President. If it should ever cause future damage, he would never forgive himself. The harrowing surgery was almost a disaster as the bullet could not be found. Continuing to poke around for it was causing further damage. Finally in exasperation, the surgeon ordered another x-ray. Realizing how close he was, he went in again. The bullet and all the damaged tissue removed and after being sewn up, Reagan headed to recovery.

A desperate Nancy was there for him. Their special bond revived him and gave him hope. After she went back to the White House to sleep on his side of the bed, curled up in his t-shirt, Reagan regaled the nurses with one-liners and jokes. To a nurse who sat holding his hand all night, he wrote, "Does Nancy know about us?" (Being intubated, he couldn't speak.) As the actor that he was, playing his most important of roles, he knew it was important to keep their spirits up as well as his own. Finally an exasperated nurse put a warm cloth over his eyes and told him to get to sleep.

Meanwhile, Reagan's cabinet and the rest of the country struggled to keep up with the latest news. The VP, Bush, raced on a plane back to Washington DC from Texas and Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, took it upon himself to declare himself in charge. He wrongly assumed he followed the VP in the line of succession. Although they tried to put on a brave and under-control face to the country and the world, their most skilled PR man, James Brady, was lying on a gurney next to Reagan.

Reagan emerged weeks later looking whole and healthy. Knowing he had beat the odds and survived a gunshot, he governed with renewed confidence. He had played his part superbly, even asking those in the operating room if they were all Republicans! The country loved him, and his hotly contested economic planned passed. Years of economic growth followed.

I can't help but long for such a self-assured President. One who is comfortable in his own skin. Who knows who he is and what he believes. One who knows he sits in destiny's chair and must live up to the role he has been given to play. Reagan was such a man.

One day, I will meet him and shake his hand.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Demonic by Ann Coulter

Ann Coulter is very funny, very smart, very quick witted, and very sarcastic. She's a dish enjoyed in small bites. But, her 295-page book Demonic: How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America is almost too short. Her basic thesis is this: the left operates from a mob mentality and its leaders want nothing more than to get out in front and lead the mob.
Her somewhat off-putting title comes from Mark 5:2-9 in which Jesus asks a demon his name while casting him out of a man. The demon replies, "My name is Legion, for we are many." Mobs are demonic and their father is Satan, the father of lies. It sounds over-the-top until reading her book. She makes a powerful case for fearing and fighting the left when we see it through this prism.
Relying heavily on the book The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind written by Gustave Le Bon in 1896, Coulter repeatedly cites his description of a mob and then gives examples of today's left that perfectly match it. 
Mobs react to images, not words and carful reasoning. There is a reason that a good liberal's car can be covered in bumper stickers. That's how they think - in bumper stickers. Many instantly come to mind: War is not the answer, Meat is murder, Make love not war, Love your mother (earth), Save the planet. Yet conservatives are rarely able to boil down their carefully thought out and researched positions into a few catchy phrases. (Although I myself have a "The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen" sticker on my car and I want to submit "Liberals feel good, Conservatives do good" to Dennis Prager for his next offering.) The left offers images continually instead of reasoned positions. Bush drove the car into the ditch. How do you argue with that? No he didn't. What car? What ditch? Was it on the way to a Cash for Clunkers deal? Who dug the ditch? No discernible, arguable, facts are given, just easy to grasp images.
Another characteristic of the mob/left is its desire to create messiahs. Having rejected the real one, they worship Stalin, Mao, Castro, Obama. Democrats are "rock stars." Name one conservative "rock star." Even Reagan had his contemporaneous detractors, and even today, while praised, has never been elevated to god-like.
Mobs live comfortably with contradictions. Only the left can demonize the right as hating women because it takes a pro-life position, and yet rush to defend any Muslim terrorist, despite the fact that they actually DO hate women. It is the left that fights for free speech to the death, but implements Orwellian speech codes at colleges and disrupts conservative speakers. It is the left that bows to Al Gore's desire to radically curb energy consumption while caring not a whit that his home uses 20 times more energy than the average American home. It is the left that looks to the race-hustling, lying Al Sharpton as a voice of reason and sanity. 
Despite the fact that the worst examples of racism in this country were perpetuated by Democrats, the left has been able to champion itself as the defenders of Civil Rights. Democrats fought and died to protect slavery. Democrats implemented Jim Crow laws. Democrats stood at the schoolhouse doors and kept out black children. Democrats filled the sheets of the KKK. Yet when the people of the United States moved away from racism toward a more egalitarian society, Democrats switched on a dime and rewrote their history. It is to blacks enduring shame that they have bought this. Lyndon Johnson, himself a documented racist, signed the 1964 Civil Rights act, despite voting against all the previous acts, and in true narcissistic fashion promoted himself as a lover of blacks. And blacks have voted Democrat ever since.
Mobs easily swallow and believe myths. The left in America has no shortage of myths they promote in order to lead the mob straight to the voting booth. Black congressional leaders were spat on and called the n-word while walking through a group of Obamacare protestors. A $100,000 reward was offered for any kind of proof. Despite an overwhelming number of video cameras at the scene, no one collected the prize. Yet the myth endures. Referring to Obama, someone yelled "Kill him" at a Sarah Palin rally. After being thoroughly researched by the Secret Service and found incorrect, the myth lives. Coulter lists a page and a half of other myths promulgated by the left: Global warming, Global cooling, Tawana Brawley, Alar on apples causes cancer, the explosion of heterosexual AIDS. Since they never admit they were wrong, myths carry no risk and are one of the most powerful tools in the hands of the mob leaders.
Mobs run to conspiracies. Gas prices are high because of a conspiracy. JFK was killed in a conspiracy. Every Michael Moore movie. Reagan plotted with the Iranians not to release the hostages until after he took office. Despite conspiracy after conspiracy being debunked, the left clings to the lack of evidence of being evidence of how good the conspiracy is. The right has... birthers. Yet no serious and high positioned Republican has ever publicly subscribed to that. 
Coulter spends a considerable part of her book chronicling the mob-run French Revolution with the reasoned/God-based American Revolution. The left would like to run the two together as sister revolutions, yet the facts are quite different. The French Revolution was a horrific, blood-thirsty affair with no well-stated objectives. Even its leaders were executed when they did not appear to be loyal to the mob. It ended after a few years with a dictator. Americans reasoned their way to Revolution through pamphlets, sermons, documents, and long discussions. They produced the Declaration of Independence to carefully lay out their grievances and objectives to a watching world. All the founding fathers survived into old age unless succumbing to battle wounds or disease. It ended with a healthy, functioning republic going on 236 years old.
The left, like their French forebearors, turns to violence in order to reach its goals time and again. Riots are always leftist. Always. They defend violence and criminals repeatedly. They seek to destroy faith in our justice system so they can move us away from law and order. The mob enjoys enormous power when it is willing to get violent. Yet the left will loudly denounce the right for violence in the rare case when an abortion doctor has been shot. Despite being roundly condemned by every prominent person on the right, it is the right that is called violent. Yet the left screams, "No justice, no peace." That statement alone wraps up several characteristics of the left: myths, lack of reasoning, lack of consistency, resort to violence. 
Being in front of a mob brings instant popularity. Whether you are Chris Matthews and want the ratings or Obama and want the votes, getting a mob behind you is instant success. That mobs only destroy and operate to instill fear and disorder is irrelevant to those at the top. Mobs destroyed France. Mobs will destroy America.
The mob must be stopped.

Monday, August 29, 2011

God: The Evidence by Patrick Glynn

I LOVE this book! God: The Evidence. The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason in a Postsecular World by Patrick Glynn is exactly the kind of book I can devour in a few days.

To the extent it's possible, Patrick Glynn sets out to prove God's existence. If he doesn't quite provide absolute proof, he asks some tough questions that atheists are hard pressed to answer. He basically comes down to the conclusion that there HAS to be a God. No God, is not only devastating to our psyche and culture, but science itself is lost without some kind of Intelligent Designer.

He first jumps into the fray with the world of science. Of course this sucked me in right away. He begins with his religious upbringing, a turn towards atheism upon reaching college, a general disillusionment with a worldview devoid of ultimate justice, finally to a discovery that while he was divesting himself of God, serious scientists had begun to wrestle with the impossibility of a totally random universe.

In fact, in 1973, cosmologist Brandon Carter called attention to something he called "the anthropic principle." It basically states that from the very first nano seconds of the universe' formation, life was its destination. Everything had to have been planned and coordinated to arrive at where we are today. In effect, the universe "wanted" to create man. This shocking theory and the various unconvincing attempts to debunk it slowly led Glynn to a belief that something must have designed the universe for life - if not God as we understand Him, a god of some sort.

Psychology being an especially important idea to Glynn also led him to some disturbing insights. Although modern psychology had banished God and delved instead into the Id, the Ego, and the Super-Ego, subsequent studies showed those with faith, living faith-centered lives, were generally happier and healthier. He contrasts the lifestyles of believers with a value-free lifestyle and makes a powerful argument, not necessarily for God's existence, but for the need to believe there is a God. In fact,
"modern research tends to bear out the observation that sin breeds misery. It turns out that the Ten Commandments... are not just an arbitrary set of divinely ordained taboos or a path to a happy afterlife; they are also a very reliable guide to happiness and health in this world." Physicians are also beginning to understand the importance of a vibrant spiritual life to physical health, and while prayer is not "magic" and God is not a genie, the faithful tend to be physically healthier.

He dives into some fascinating stories when he explores Near Death Experiences (NDE). He describes researcher after researcher moving from intense skepticism to belief after interviewing people who experienced NDEs. Many times, they would attempt to debunk the accounts by attributing the details of the stories to previous knowledge, physical sensations, lack of oxygen, good guessing, wishful thinking, or some other scientifically explainable phenomena. Yet time and again the people would confound the skeptics with vivid details they could not have possibly known. All scientific attempts to replicate these experiences fell short with the exception of one. Patients were deprived of oxygen and given excess carbon dioxide. The NDE-type experiences they felt turned out to probably be actual NDEs!

A few stories in particular stood out. One man describes a defibrillator used on him when he was flatlining. He knew so many details of how the machine worked and how the workers used it, researchers were stumped as to how to provide any other explanation. One particular area of interest for a scientist was studying the NDEs of children in car crashes. The children have less prior knowledge of hospitals and medical procedures and are therefore less likely to embellish their stories with realistic-sounding details. Also, coming out of a car crash, they are rarely aware of the fates of the other passengers. After one horrific crash in which his mother was killed, a boy was thrown into a coma. He briefly awoke, as is not uncommon to other near death comatose patients, to state he was fine. His mother and Peter were waiting for him on the other side. The mother part was understandable if the boy had an inkling that his mother was dead, but Peter, though badly injured, had survived the crash. After exiting the boy's room, the researcher was told that Peter had just passed away moments before. These kind of details are chilling. Even the stories of those who did not experience the peace, light, love, and joy of eternity, but rather the sense of dread and horror were fascinating. One person stated that after sitting with Jesus and watching his life flash before his eyes, he condemned himself to hell.

Philosophy without God has fared no better than science, psychology, or physical health. The modern thinkers who championed the death of God led to a nihilism ultimately resulting in the horrific death statistics of the 20th century. No matter how hard moral philosophers tried to push a moral philosophy, devoid of a spiritual foundation they could not square the circle. They condemn an Auschwitz while recognizing they have no basis to do so. They attempt to promote the values of Christianity yet reject its core belief in Christ. Glynn discusses with true intellectual passion that religion has been trying rather successfully to accomplish what the post-modern philosophers can only dream of. While religion is a human institution and therefore vulnerable to human foibles, no other mindset has seen the tearing down of the tribalist/materialist bent as Christianity has and the introduction of a moral revolution.

I loved his discussion of the Enlightenment as he trace the "good" and "bad" paths taken by its adherents. The rejection of God, combined with enlightenment thinking led to the terrors of Robespierre, while a belief in God and reason created America. "Reason rediscovers and reconstructs in slow, cumbersome, linear and partial fashion what the Spirit already knows."Modern humanity is painstakingly discovering what Jesus already knew. Glynn states uncategorically that the worst horrors of the 20th century can be traced to reason devoid of God.

This final section is so uplifting and encouraging, it would be worth it to read the book for that chapter alone. Nevertheless, I found the whole book delightful and compelling. Loved it!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Righteous Indignation by Andrew Breitbart

I'm calling Righteous Indidnation by Andrew Breitbart a guilty read. It's a behind the scenes look into the life of Andrew Breitbart. He traces his journey from a "default liberal" living in L.A. through a liberal college experience, to a job where he finally felt like he was earning something and contributing, to the role talk radio played in his life. While it's interesting to hear about his life and his transformation, I usually enjoy books that teach something deeper.

That's why I was surprised when after reviewing his own history, he delved into the history of liberalism. Here's where my ears perked up.

His history lesson begins with, "The Founders' realistic view of human nature and call for limited government and individual liberty found its opponent in the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and, later, Karl Marx. Rousseau thought that people were naturally good and were corrupted only by the development of the surrounding society... He also thought that modern society, created as it was to protect property rights and life, had destroyed the natural communism that prevailed before the advent of society."

Marx picked up from Rousseau and combined it with Hegel's "might makes right" philosophy to envision a world of class struggles eventually won by the workers. Teddy Roosevelt combined these two views with "man is basically good" Rousseau and got Progressivism, "soft Marxism without the class struggle." In order to get to a perfect society, TR used an "ends justify the means" philosophy. The Constitution, however is all about the means... not the ends. Woodrow Wilson governed from this anti-Constitutional point of view and believing "great decisions should be made on high by men of high thought," paved the way for FDR.

When the Marxist worldview did not really catch on after the Communist Revolution, the view that first society must be destroyed before utopia could manifest itself caught on among some German philosophers. When exiled by Nazi Germany, they brought their desire to destroy traditional culture to America and eventually their Frankfurt School to our universities. Pushing the destruction of the Judeo-Christian worldview through what was called, Critical Theory, (a theory of criticizing everything, everywhere) these professors eventually ushered in the 60s, make love, not war, trust no one over 30, and a total rejection of the wisdom that has gone on before.

One professor, Marcuse, was its "most devious and effective marketer." He got a whole generation to reject their parents' values. He turned classes against others, pushed multi-culturism, and "diversity studies." He introduced "repressive tolerance" which basically said everything was tolerated except non-tolerance. Enter, Mao's phrase, "political correctness," and Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals, and you have universities today and everything that is wrong with America. Alinsky wrote the "Art of War" for the Progressives. His rules are very effective and eventually brought us Clinton and Obama.

The basic rules are as follows:
1. Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.
2. Never go outside the experience of your people.
3. Wherever possible go outside of the experience of the enemy.
4. Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules.
5. Ridicule is man's most potent weapon.
6. A good tactic is one that your people enjoy
7. A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.
8. Keep the pressure on.
9. The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.
10. The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.
11. If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its counter side.
12. The price of successful attack is a constructive alternative.
13. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize and polarize it.

However, Breitbart ends on a high note. Using some of the tactics of Alinsky, he believes we can win back the country. He is part of the New Media that is slowly but surely destroying the power of the Mainstream Media/Democratic Party forces that shape so much of modern American culture. He points to the story of James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, who brought down ACORN with Breitbart's help as an example of how to hit 'em where it hurts.

This is an easy read, the history of liberalism is engaging and well-researched, and the note of hope gives it a happy ending.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Economics in One Lesson

Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt simply MUST be read by anyone who wants to understand a very basic economic principle. What is the one lesson that rules them all? It is this: The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.

Imagine that! Tracing the consequences of economic policies all throughout an economy and not only focusing on its immediate, short-term effects! Every politician who actually cares about this country and wants to help it, needs to memorized that sentence and live it! They won't. It won't get them re-elected. Short-term benefits with long-term harms are what got us where we are today. The American people continue to keep themselves economically ignorant and re-elect whoever promises to bring home the bacon. Welcome to 14.4 Trillion in debt and unemployment through the roof. Can you say, "long-term harms are coming home to roost?"

After introducing the one lesson early on in the book, Hazlitt proceeds to give example after example of this principle in practice. Some of my favorites listed here:

The Broken Window - It has long been a fallacy popping up in one form or another that some act of destruction is actually an economic boom. If a window is broken, the glazier get business, who can then pass his business along and so on. But the fallacy lies in what is not seen. The person with the broken window is now poorer the cost of the window and has nothing to show for it. He also does not have and does not profit the business that would have provided what he really wanted to spend the money on.

Public Works Mean Taxes - When one looks at a public work, say a freeway or a bridge construction, one sees a tangible good, the bridge, and the jobs created for the workers. What one does not see is more important and harder to distinguish. What did NOT happen because taxes were taken from the taxpayers to fund the bridge? What jobs and capital were NOT created by the original owners of the money? It's a safe bet that what didn't happen would have been more efficient and more likely to raise the standard of living for the society as a whole than the public works project.

The Curse of Machinery - Even in 1946 people worried that technology threw people out of work and hurt the economy as a whole. President Obama himself lamented the rise of ATMs. By applying the one lesson of looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy, we can easily see that where production-increasing technology has been introduced, prices have fallen and the industry as a whole has grown. As Milton Friedman once commented when shown public workers digging with shovels instead of tractors in order to prolong the work and increase the number of jobs, "Why don't they use spoons?" We can see the obvious fallacy in being opposed to production-increasing devices.

Tariffs, "Parity" Pricing, and Saving X Industry - All attempts by government to artificially prop up a business or industry through the use of tariffs, price controls, or direct subsidies get the same results, "capital and labor are driven out of industries in which they are more efficiently employed  to be diverted to an industry in which they are less efficiently employed. Less wealth is created. The average standard of living is lowered compared with what it would be been." All these gimmicks forcibly transfer money from the one who earned it and can put it to efficient use to a government-favored recipient.

The Price System, Government Price-Fixing, and What Rent Control Does - The price system, as Thomas Sowell so eloquently states helps to allocate scarce resources that have alternative uses. Prices signal relative scarcity and thus lead to the most efficient use of a resource. When government attempts to stabilize a price or implement price controls, the results are the same: more scarcity. Prices kept artificially high reduces demand and therefore fewer products are produced. Prices kept artificially low result in greater demand and lower profit margins so less is produced and what is produced is quickly snapped up at the "cheap" price. Pricing housing below the market has the same effect. Housing becomes scarce and, as the profits weaken or disappear entirely, housing becomes even harder to come by. Ironically, rent control often leads to much higher prices elsewhere in the market. The lowered supply of any kind of housing always lead to higher demand. In addition, luxury housing is usually exempt and therefore attractive to investors, therefore only high-priced accommodations are built.

Minimum Wage Laws - Minimum wage laws are nothing more than price controls placed upon labor. Not only is the minimum price for labor fixed and therefore some who cannot produce at that minimum level excluded from the marketplace, but when combined with relief payments, unemployment is sure to rise. For a job must offer not only more than the welfare payment, but SIGNIFICANTLY more. If for example one receives an unemployment check for $300 a week, but can find a job for $400 a week, he is, in effect, asked to work 40 hours for only $100 extra. Many will choose to stay home and receive less than work for such a small differential. This creates an underclass of people perpetually caught in this cycle, never able to increase their production ability.

The Assault on Savings - Economies grow when people save. By putting aside money to be invested with someone who will increase production, wealth is created. Today many people have this backward. Even President Bush said the best thing we could do for our economy was to go shopping. Wrong. People not spending is not the cause of a bad economy, but rather a consequence. When economies are looking hopeful, we invest, new goods and services are produced at lower prices, capital is created, products are bought, the economy grows and everyone ends up with a higher standard of living. Spending alone simply leads to less resources as the money eventually runs out and without access to investment (savings) capital, businesses cannot grow.

Particularly relevant to our current economic crisis, when interest rates are kept artificially low, it appears that people have saved enough money that banks are almost giving it away. Yet the opposite is true. A too-low rate leads to less savings as it is not profitable. Better to spend and even borrow now and save later. Business make decisions to borrow at the low rate and expand. After all, it appears that people must have a lot of money in savings and will therefore be able to support this increase in production. But soon it becomes apparent that it was all a mirage. The money was never in the bank. Consumers are overspent, strapped with debt, and unable to support the newly created and expanded business. A bust is always the result.

Hazlitt concludes with, "The analysis of our illustrations has taught us another incidental lesson. This is that, when we study the effects of various proposals, not merely on special groups in the short run, but on all groups in the long run, the conclusions we arrive at usually correspond with those of unsophisticated common sense. It would not occur to anyone unacquainted with the prevailing economic half-literacy that it is good to have windows broken and cities destroyed; that it is anything but waste to create needless public projects; that it is dangerous to let idle hordes of men return to work; that machines which increase the production of wealth and economize human effort are to be dreaded; that obstructions to free production and free consumption increase wealth; that a nation grows richer by forcing other nations to take its goods for less than they cost to produce; that saving is stupid or wicked and that squandering brings prosperity." It's a breath of fresh air to see that this one lesson supports common sense in the study of economics.