Monday, August 22, 2011

ron paul and michele bachmann are marginal candidates

Jon Stewart and others have wondered why the media is ignoring Ron Paul. It is easy. He is a very marginal candidate with little chance of being nominated. Michele Bachmann is only marginally better as a marginal candidate.

This is not my opinion. It is in the polls and it is what the smart money is saying.

Check the Real Clear Politics poll summary shown above (click image to enlarge). Even though Bachmann is getting all the press, she is way down in the polls at 9.6%, way behind Romney (20.2%) and Perry (18.4%) and even trailing non-candidate Sarah Palin (10.0%). Bachmann is barely ahead of non-candidate Rudy Giuliani (9.3) and the rightfully overlooked Ron Paul (8.8). Ron Paul's support has been in single digits, steady, and not growing. Not a good trend. These folks are the minor candidates with Bachmann at best being the pick of a bad litter.

I do not pay much attention to political polls. If I want a good gauge of what is likely to happen, I go to the prediction markets. These markets are forward looking, in that they show what people bet will happen rather than looking backward to what potential voters were thinking last week. In prediction markets, people are putting their money where their mouths are, rather than just answering the phone and giving their opinion. Prediction polls have a much better track record of predicting outcomes than public opinion polls.

The smart money has Bachmann and Paul as even bigger losers. The bets at Intrade.com predict Perry has a 35.3% chance of winning the nomination with Romney following closely at 31.0%. Sarah Palin is a very distant third at 7.6%. Jon Huntsman is fourth at 5.8% followed closely by Bachmann at 5.3% Where's Ron Paul? At a lowly 4.0% and in sixth place.

You think your know better? Then put your money where your mouth is. If you are so smart then you can make a profit, but only if you are right.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

integrity of the scripture: is what we have now, what they wrote then?

I love reasoning tested by evidence. I guess it is part of my training as an economist. That is why I love the following 48 min. video of a lecture by Daniel B. Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary. He is one of the world's leading experts on NT textual studies -- trying to figure which, if any, of the current NT writings are accurate.

This lecture was presented to a lay audience so even I could understand it!

Guest Speaker :: Daniel Wallace from Antioch Church on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

not nostalgic for jesus

If you could travel back through time and could visit one historical person, who would that person be? If you are a Christian, you would be expected to say Jesus. As a believer, what historical figure could be more important?

Personally, I would not want to go back in time to be with Jesus. I also think I have Scripture on my side in not wanting to go back to be with him.

[Okay. I think it would be really cool to go back and witness the Resurrection on that first Easter morning. But that would be merely a form of historical tourism. However, I would not want to stay there. I really don’t wish to go back to be with Jesus.]

Think of those who were with Jesus before the Accession, before he in his glorified physical body went to heaven (Mark 16:19; Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9). Those who were closest to him, those who walked with him, they celebrated. Even after they came down from the adrenaline rush of witnessing Jesus disappearing in the clouds, they never looked back.

Something I find interesting is that there is no record of Jesus’ disciplines pining for the time they spent with Jesus in the flesh. Not even a hint of it in any NT writings. In John’s first epistle he starts out by recounting that he heard, saw, and even touched Jesus in the flesh (1 John 1:1-3) but this is just a statement of fact. A witness to something experienced, not something yearned for. Yet John was the apostle closest to Jesus, “the one whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20). If anyone would have missed Jesus, it would have been John. Neither John nor anyone else seems to have been nostalgic about having been with Jesus.

Why didn’t they miss the good old days with Jesus? Because they had something better after Jesus ascended. At least they did after a ten-day wait for Pentecost (Acts 2:4). They had the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is better than physically being with Jesus? That is an idea that is very strange to most Christians. This is despite many having read of Jesus actually telling his disciples that it was to their benefit that he leave so that the Holy Spirit could come (John 16:7). What most folks now experience does not seem to come close to being better.

This disconnect between the Word of God and our personal experience is something that should be quite disturbing. Was Jesus lying? Maybe he was hyping the coming of the Holy Spirit so that his leaving earth would be more palatable for his friends and disciples? Jesus isn't supposed to lie so maybe the whole thing is all a lie then?

Maybe these promises were for the first century only and have ceased? Some Christians cite 1 Corinthians 13:8 to support this explanation. However, this only makes sense if the verse is taken out of context. There is nothing in Scripture to indicate the promises of God concerning the Holy Spirit have expired and are not valid anymore.

Rather than something being wrong with Jesus, or that his promises had an expiration date, an alternative explanation may be that that we are missing out. If we are not experiencing what the Bible promises then maybe we are missing out on something God has for us that is really big and incredible? Maybe our expectations for God are much less than what He wants for us? Maybe we should start seeking His gifts?

There are numerous verses concerning the Holy Spirit in NT writings which promise joy, comfort, wisdom, knowledge, personal transformation and more. They are too numerous, or rather I am too lazy, to mention or even cite. There are examples in these writings of people realizing these promises. The historical record since is also replete with such examples.

Maybe we should search the Scriptures for those promises and to seek something better?

Maybe it is time to dump the nostalgia? The good-old days with Jesus may have indeed been good, but they are not supposed to be better. I am grateful for what I have, but if there is more, then I want it. Come Holy Spirit. Come.


Be Blessed!
RB

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

magic is no blowhard

The usual "analysis" on sports shows includes a lot of yelling and opinions, almost all of it negative. All heat and little light, analogous to blue flame of flatulence ignition.

I watched this ESPN post-game "analysis" of the Mavs winning the NBA championship. It has the usual blowhards looking for someone to blame and put down (as if that takes any analysis). However, Magic Johnson is not the usual ESPN, loud-mouthed blowhard. He actually analyzes what went wrong and offers constructive advice as to how the Heat and James can move forward.



BTW, the Dallas head coach is a North Country boy! Rick Carlisle hails from from Lisbon, New York.

Friday, June 10, 2011

make plans for shakespeare in october@slu

American Shakespeare Center

2011-2012 Almost Blasphemy Tour

SCHEDULE OF PERFORMANCES

All performances at 7:30 p.m. except where otherwise noted

VENUE: Eben Holden Hall @ SLU

Monday, October 24– The Winter’s Tale

Tuesday, October 25 – A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Wednesday, October 26 - ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore

(Thursday – day off)

Friday, October 28 – A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Friday, October 28/29 – ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore – MIDNIGHT

Saturday, October 29 – The Winter’s Tale

Sunday, October 30 – A Midsummer Night’s Dream – 1:30 p.m. Matinee

driving while female

Just just coincidence? From Wronging Rights:

Re-ignition of protests against the female driving ban in Saudia Arabia occurs right around the same time as the re-ignition of a certain Summer blockbuster series. Will the history books cite the Arab Spring or Diesel Summer as inspiration?
When viewing note the gender inclusiveness of vehicle operation:



The 20% female participation rate is radically high by Saudi standards!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

the economy sucks -- get used to it

The 2012 elections are on the way and the economy will be the big issue. Economics and politics do not mix very well. I take that back; they mix too well. However, what you usually get is a concoction sort of like bad bathtub gin. It feels good but rots your brain.


So what’s going on?
  1. The recession is over and the economy is recovering slowly;
  2. We’re still in a slump;
  3. There’s not much government can do right now to get positive results in the next year or so.
On Tuesday, Federal Reserve System (Fed) Chair Ben Bernanke made a speech stating the obvious and restating the above:
  1. “Overall, the economic recovery appears to be continuing at a moderate pace, albeit at a rate that is…frustratingly slow;”
  2. “the economy is still producing at levels well below its potential;”
  3. “In this context, monetary policy cannot be a panacea.”
Translation: Things still suck and the Fed can’t do anything about it.

This should not have been a surprise to anyone who remembers a little undergraduate macroeconomics and who has been paying attention. Monetary policy works by lowering interest rates to stimulate spending. The problem is that interest rates cannot be pushed much lower by monetary policy. Interest rates do not go below zero. (Like a banker is going to offer to lend $100 and only want to be repaid $98?) There is nothing the Fed can do to stimulate the economy.

(BTW, I found it interesting that the stock market declined Tuesday afternoon on news of Bernanke stating the obvious. The market has since gone back up. In the meantime, some traders needed only a little bit of knowledge to make a quick buck.)

Okay, monetary policy is out and the Fed is benched. Should we try fiscal policy? Time to bring in the President and Congress and see what they can do?

The usual principles-of-economics fiscal policy prescription is to cut taxes to increase household and business spending and/or increase government spending. Economists disagree on the efficacy of this policy and it is controversial. However, let's assume for the sake of argument that the theory behind the policy is correct. Go with me on this.

We've been there, tried that, screwed it up, and don't have another shot at it.

The Obama fiscal stimulus plan of 2009 attempted to implement the policy noted above. Martin Feldstein, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan administration, is also an adherent to the basic model underlying the fiscal policy prescription. In yesterday's Wall Street Journal (June 8, 2011, p. A15), Feldstein outlined how the 2009 stimulus plan mucked the whole thing up:
The administration's most obvious failure was its misguided fiscal policies: the cash-for-clunkers subsidy for car buyers, the tax credit for first-time home buyers, and the $830 billion "stimulus" package. Cash-for-clunkers gave a temporary boost to motor-vehicle production but had no lasting impact on the economy. The home-buyer credit stimulated the demand for homes only temporarily.

As for the "stimulus" package, both its size and structure were inadequate to offset the enormous decline in aggregate demand. The fall in household wealth by the end of 2008 reduced the annual level of consumer spending by more than $500 billion. The drop in home building subtracted another $200 billion from GDP. The total GDP shortfall was therefore more than $700 billion. The Obama stimulus package that started at less than $300 billion in 2009 and reached a maximum of $400 billion in 2010 wouldn't have been big enough to fill the $700 billion annual GDP gap even if every dollar of the stimulus raised GDP by a dollar.

In fact, each dollar of extra deficit added much less than a dollar to GDP. Experience shows that the most cost-effective form of temporary fiscal stimulus is direct government spending. The most obvious way to achieve that in 2009 was to repair and replace the military equipment used in Iraq and Afghanistan that would otherwise have to be done in the future. But the Obama stimulus had nothing for the Defense Department. Instead, President Obama allowed the Democratic leadership in Congress to design a hodgepodge package of transfers to state and local governments, increased transfers to individuals, temporary tax cuts for lower-income taxpayers, etc. So we got a bigger deficit without economic growth.

If I may add to this critique, Obama had no real plan for spending. He handed over the spending decisions to Speaker Pelosi and Congress went on a spending orgy, targeting pet projects rather than targeting those things most likely to stimulate the economy. We could have had more bang for the buck.

2009 was our one big chance to use expansionary fiscal policy. Any further tax cuts or increases in government spending will increase the deficit. "The national debt has jumped to 69% of GDP this year, from 40% in 2008. It is projected by the Congressional Budget Office to reach more than 85% by the end of the decade, and to keep rising after that" (ibid.). Expansionary fiscal policy was mucked up. Now with the national debt levels so high with S&P and Moody's threatening to downgrade the ratings for U.S. government bonds, we can't do it again.

What is needed is a credible plan to reduce government deficits. This would reduce uncertainty about the future and help economic growth over the long haul. However, despite a reduction in uncertainty, these polices will still reduce spending in the aggregate and won't help the economy recover in 2012. They are needed over the long haul but they are no quick fix.

There will be the usual snake-oil-salesman politicians and pundits who will promise a quick fix. Even if the policy is good, don't be conned into expecting good results immediately.

Be blessed.
RB

Sunday, May 29, 2011

reviewing books

After clearing out my files and storing records, I ended my spring semester. This past week I have determined to do nothing productive. That is, take a vacation of sorts. What I like to do when doing nothing is read. I have quite a backlog of titles, mostly gifts, that I haven't had time for in the past year.

I started with Niall Ferguson's The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World. Despite its grandiose title, it is accessible to the general reader and written in an interesting fashion. If you could read only one book on the financial/banking crisis, this would be the one. It takes the reader by the hand from the beginning of modern financial markets less than four hundred years ago to the present, explaining how financial markets are inherently unstable. By the end you are not too surprised but still impressed by what happened in the past few years.

After this I purposed to stay away from anything having to do with economics. After all, I am on vacation. I started a recommended Indian (South Asian) novel, which will remain nameless. I read one hundred pages before I gave up. If it hasn't got you by then it is unlikely to ever do so. My wife also had a similar reaction. However if you want a real page-turner of an Indian novel, try Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance (an Oprah's Book Club selection).

On Thursday I grabbed off the shelf an unread book given as a gift, Robert Moore's On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery. A great read and I didn't even realize when I started that I'd be finishing it over the Memorial Day weekend!

I'm about to pick up another given-some-time-ago-as-a-gift-but-still-unread book. I'll let you know how it goes.

Be blessed!
RB

P.S. Tired of reading, last night we watched a very good film, End of the Spear. It is available on Netflix, DVD and on hulu.com.

Friday, May 13, 2011

shuck and tyler: give us your huddled masses of engineers - wsj.com

This argument not only applies to engineers but to any foreign student studying in the USA.

Wall Street Journal, 13 May 2011.

Give Us Your Huddled Masses of Engineers:
Why are we educating the best and the brightest, only to turn them down for visas?


By PETER H. SCHUCK AND JOHN TYLER

President Obama devoted almost all of Tuesday's speech in El Paso to the problems raised by illegal immigration: border and workplace enforcement, the need for a fair legalization process, and, almost apologetically, deportation. Only briefly did he mention our interest in attracting more high-skilled immigrants to work in the upper reaches of our economy.

"Today, we provide students from around the world with visas to get engineering and computer science degrees at our top universities. But then our laws discourage them from using those skills to start a business or a new industry here in the United States," Mr. Obama said. This "makes no sense," he added. The president is right.

The critical question is what to do about it. Finding an answer is urgent because the market for these workers is increasingly competitive—and the U.S. is no longer the only powerful magnet. Indeed, new studies from the American Enterprise Institute and the Kauffman Foundation find that we are losing ground in this competition.

Our current policy is plain stupid. Of the more than one million permanent admissions to the U.S. in 2010, fewer than 15% were admitted specifically for their employment skills. And most of those spots weren't going to the high-skilled immigrants themselves, but to their dependents.

The H-1B program that allows high-skilled immigrants to work here on renewable three-year visas, which can possibly lead to permanent status, is tiny. The current number of available visas is only one-third what it was in 2003. Plus, the program is hemmed in with foolish limitations: Visa-holders can't change jobs, and they must return home while awaiting permanent status.

Thus, many employers find the H-1B program useless. Many high-skilled workers prefer to go to more welcoming countries, like Canada and Australia, or to stay home where their economies are now often growing faster than ours. The U.S. does have a program to attract job-creating investors, but it is more limited than some of our competitors' investor programs. In 2010, we granted fewer than 2,500 such visas, down from the 2009 total although higher than in earlier years.

We're shooting ourselves in the foot. Research shows that high-skilled immigrants, particularly those in the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, enrich American society in many ways. These workers are notably innovative at a time when the U.S. is in some danger of losing its competitive edge. Not only do they apply for patents at a disproportionate rate, but the government grants their applications two to three times as often as with comparably educated Americans. Even if we limit the comparison to scientists and engineers, high-skilled immigrants in those fields still receive 20% more patents than their American counterparts.

In addition to being more innovative, high-skilled immigrants tend to be more entrepreneurial. They start and grow the kinds of new firms, such as Google, that account for the bulk of job creation. Research consistently shows that they start at least 25% of the STEM companies, which is double the percentage of all legal and illegal immigrants in the U.S. population.

So what can be done? Even without increasing the total number of permanent visas, we can redress the imbalance between admission categories to increase the proportion of those that are highly skilled. Two existing allotments merit low priority and should be granted instead to high-skilled workers: the 50,000 "diversity" visas granted at random to applicants who need only have a high-school education, and the 65,000 visas given to siblings of U.S. citizens. A lottery for the low-skilled is an absurd way to select future Americans, and sibling relationships today are readily sustainable through tourist visas and Skype.

A second reform would move to a point system for most would-be immigrants except for immediate family members, in which skills, entrepreneurship, English fluency, and other factors would count as well as close family ties. Third, we should grant permanent visas to any foreigner who receives a graduate degree from a qualified U.S. university. Finally, we should liberalize the H-1B program, perhaps moving from the current bureaucratic approach to an auction of the visas to employers who would bid for the skills they need, but also allowing for more job mobility for workers after a certain period.

Attracting more of the world's best talent should be a no-brainer. It should not be held hostage to the much harder problem of illegal migration.

Mr. Schuck, a professor at Yale Law School, is visiting at NYU Law School. Mr. Tyler is general counsel of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article wrongly stated that India is subject to the same H-IB visa ceiling as Iceland. India is in fact subject to the same permanent visa ceiling as Iceland.

Friday, April 15, 2011

wanna see my great nephew?

My sister's grandson is graduating from Shiloh Christian and he played Saints football for three years there and they won three state championships. Troy is #58 (6'3" 270#) and his best friends are Sam Harvill #53 and Kiehl Frazier #15. They are all great kids from good families. All three and one more received Division 1 football scholarships. Not bad for a school of 300 with 40 boys on the football team. This is Troy's highlight video:



An hour-long FRONTLINE show about H.S. football and head injuries aired earlier this week. Sure it had its slant, but I got to see my nephew. A shorter segment on QB Kiehl Frazier is below:

Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.



Here is the complete hour-long show is HERE.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

the magic washing machine

This explains in an interesting manner what economic development is about:



[ht: him]

Sunday, March 20, 2011

no-fly zone buzz kill

I find it hard to see how the no-fly zone over Libya is going to drive Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi from power. Maybe a couple of weeks ago it would have made sense, but since then pro-Gaddafi forces have recaptured most of the rebel-held cities. The no-fly zones won't help those folks. Even if Benghazi is not retaken, Gaffafi has control over most of the country and will stay in power.

This military strike does not seem to have been thought through. No wonder DOD Secretary Gates opposed the no-fly zone. Most military people do not relish the thought of putting their people in harm's way, to spend hundreds of millions on armaments that kill, to merely send a message.

Think I'm wrong about the no-fly zone? Well you can put your money where your mouth is. At Intrade.com, a prediction market (i.e., an Irish betting site), you can buy "stock" in Muammar al-Gaddafi to no longer be leader of Libya before midnight ET 31 Dec 2011. The current price is $6.67 to get $10 if Gaddafi is gone. If you are correct then you would make a 50% profit!

As you can see from the chart below (red marks price), a week ago the price was $4, but after yesterday's hoopla over tomahawks being fired, the price soared up to $8. Of course, the smart money is moving in and the price is falling. I suspect it will be back to $4 or less in a week or so.


Will I put my money where my blog is? Nah. It is illegal and therefore too much trouble to get money to and from Intrade.com.

Be blessed.
RB

Saturday, March 19, 2011

spring break

RB spent seven weeks getting caught up at work. Then Spring Break! Problem: RB gave tests in all his classes just before break. Why not? It is the halfway point in the semester. A logical time for evaluating learning. More on that later.

Nine days of break. The first three days began with the #1 grandson visiting us. Oh yeah, his parents were here as well. The next three days was spent traveling to and from Boston with a day and half in between looking at apartments for my #3 offspring (#1 daughter).

After visiting potential apartments, mostly overpriced, very old, flats with were once chopped up from 100+ year old housing, we made an offer on the first apartment we saw.

It was the biggest, nicest apartment we visited and at a rent below what we expected. That is, just exorbitantly expensive rather than outlandishly exorbitantly expensive.

No undergrads, a quiet, well-maintained, well-built building, an outstanding management company on the premises, on a safe street, with a T-station (Boston trolley) at the corner. Near stores and other businesses. No need for a car but parking if you have one. In short, a real, big-time blessing.

Friday, the seventh day of break, I slept in and then watched an NCIS marathon. Georgetown later lost big time in the NCAAs.

The highlight of this weekend, the last two days of break, is a visit by our #1 granddaughter.

However, I must spend all tomorrow afternoon, and well into the evening, grading tests. Last day of break will not be the best of the nine days.

Be blessed!
RB

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Saturday, February 26, 2011

international security threat levels

Below is a compendium of security threat levels from various countries. Although RB received a forwarded email attributing this to John Cleese, a careful scholarly inquiry (i.e., searched "clesse terrortist therat" before Google automatically corrected for misspellings, but RB did not use Wikipedia), indicates that John Humberstone seems to be the primary original author, with useful additions provided by various reader comments.

Here are the threat levels with minor editing:

The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent terrorist threats and have therefore raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved." Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross." The English have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to "A Bloody Nuisance."

The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.

The Scots have raised their threat level from "Pissed Off" to "Let's get the Bastards." They don't have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.

The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide." The only two higher levels in France are "Collaborate" and "Surrender." The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France's white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country's military capability.

Italy has increased the alert level from "Shout Loudly and Excitedly" to "Elaborate Military Posturing." Two more levels remain: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides."

The Germans have increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs." They also have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbor" and "Lose."

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual; the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels.

Canada has also raised its threat level from "No problem, eh?" to "That's not nice and please stop." They may still raise the level further to "Apologize to terrorists we offended by asking them to stop." Of course the top level is painting signs on rooftops with arrows pointing south saying "U.S. THAT WAY."

The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.

Australia, meanwhile, has raised its security level from "No worries" to "She'll be alright, Mate." Two more escalation levels remain: "Crikey! I think we'll need to cancel the barbie this weekend!" and "The barbie is canceled." So far no situation has ever warranted use of the final escalation level.

Friday, February 4, 2011

testing communist cars

In this morning's introductory economics class we discussed the practical, inherent problems with centrally planned socialist economies -- like the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the bad old days before the Berlin Wall fell.

A colleague told me about the following video and now I'm having my students watch it. It is from the British TV show Top Gear. I do find it a bit ironic that these two smart-alecks make fun of Communist cars, given that the Brits during the 1960's made some of the free world's worst cars. You probably have never heard of most of the British car models mentioned. They were all bad, very bad, and these guys know it; their viewers know it. However, that is part of the humor. So this clip could be titled "Best of Communism v. the Free World's Worst."

(Vocab lesson: biro is a British term for a ball-point pen.) BTW, my favorite part is the drag race.

Monday, January 17, 2011

william on the lunar rover

We spent the weekend in NH. A good time to visit since Friday was William's six-month birthday. The kid has more stuff than I ever had. It is also way cooler. Among his impressive equipment, as pictured here, is what I call his lunar rover.

William's mom is a lecturer at Dartmouth this semester. Her office is in a wing off the Baker Library and is in the nicest office suite I have ever seen. Picture 80-year old real-wood paneled offices with 14-foot high, or more, ceilings, off a room filled with books, leather uphostered chairs, and a gorgeous conference table.

Come to think of it, don't try to picture it. It is nicer than you can imagine. I told William's dad that no matter how high he climbs the corporate ladder, he will never have as nice an office as his wife now has.

Be blessed!
RB