Daily Archives: August 20, 2007

Notable and Quotable

“Some hedge-fund managers have lost as much as a third of investors’ money amid the subprime debacle. But none of them are saying they’re sorry. Instead, in letters to clients, they point fingers at other funds, rare events and their own computer programs.”

The Wall Street Journal from this past weekend

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy

Tom Krattenmaker–Secularists, what happened to the open mind?

As the atheist writer and religion scholar Jacques Berlinerblau recently put it, “Can an atheist or agnostic commentator discuss any aspect of religion for more than 30 seconds without referring to religious people as imbeciles, extremists, mental deficients, fascists, enemies of the common good … conjure men (or) irrationalists?”

The behavior is unbecoming a school of thought that emphasizes rational complex thinking ”” and that has so much to offer if its practitioners can only live up to their own ideas about the value of an open mind.

The worst tendencies of atheists (who, by definition, believe God does not exist) and secularists (who are best described as “unreligious”) were framed for me during a recent e-mail exchange I had with a staff member of a humanist organization.

Discussing the relationship between science and religion, I had expressed my view that religion should leave scientific research to the scientists and devote itself, along with the fields of ethics and philosophy, to the mighty issues of the human condition: good and evil, the meaning of life, the nature of love and so forth. To which my correspondent replied: Why would something as inherently foolish as religion deserve a place at the table for discussions of that magnitude?

As someone who has studied religion and attended progressive churches, I was aghast. I had expected an articulate and intelligent advocate for the non-religious worldview to display a more nuanced understanding of that which she stood against.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture

Would your life be better without children?

“Open your eyes,” …[Corinne Maier] tells French women. “Your children will be baby-losers, destined for unemployment, insecure or low-grade work . . . They will have a life even less rigol-ote (fun) than yours, and that’s saying something. No, your marvellous babies have no future, as every baby born in a developed country is an ecological disaster for the whole planet.”

I’m only a few pages in and already I’ve clocked that this is war ”“ war with Europe’s most fecund country, which last year had a higher birthrate than any of its neighbours ”“ an announcement greeted like a sporting triumph by the country’s media.

“Why was this a victory?” asks Maier. “Perhaps because it is the only thing France has left to mount on a podium.” There’s no doubt about it. Maier, whose book has been at the top of the French bestseller lists all summer, is on a crusade to puncture France’s love affair with bébé.

“Children are there to stop you enjoying yourself. It’s a child’s hidden face. Believe me, he will be very inventive in this area. He will be ill when you (finally) arrange a night out, he will bug you when you celebrate your birthday with your friends, he will hate it if you bring someone he’s never met back for the night, and beyond that you won’t dare tread for fear of traumatising him for life.” She goes on to list the things you will almost certainly have to give up after having children. They include: a full night’s sleep, a lie-in, deciding to go to the cinema on the spur of the moment, staying out later than midnight (babysitters have to be relieved), visiting a museum or exhibition (children start mucking about after five mintues), taking your holiday anywhere other than destinations where there is a beach and a kids’ club, taking a holiday during term-time and smoking in front of your children, now deemed a “crime against humanity”.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, Children, Europe, Marriage & Family

Artificial Life Likely in 3 to 10 Years

Around the world, a handful of scientists are trying to create life from scratch and they’re getting closer.
Experts expect an announcement within three to 10 years from someone in the now little-known field of “wet artificial life.”

“It’s going to be a big deal and everybody’s going to know about it,” said Mark Bedau, chief operating officer of ProtoLife of Venice, Italy, one of those in the race. “We’re talking about a technology that could change our world in pretty fundamental ways””in fact, in ways that are impossible to predict.”

That first cell of synthetic life””made from the basic chemicals in DNA””may not seem like much to non-scientists. For one thing, you’ll have to look in a microscope to see it.

“Creating protocells has the potential to shed new light on our place in the universe,” Bedau said. “This will remove one of the few fundamental mysteries about creation in the universe and our role.”

And several scientists believe man-made life forms will one day offer the potential for solving a variety of problems, from fighting diseases to locking up greenhouse gases to eating toxic waste.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Science & Technology

David Broder: The Next Huckabee Surprise?

Buoyed by his surprise second-place finish in the Iowa Republican straw poll, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is plotting an even bigger coup against Mitt Romney in the first presidential primary, in New Hampshire.

His inspiration for the audacious plot comes from two unlikely people: Pat Buchanan and Bill Clinton.

Clinton, the original man from Hope, Ark., Huckabee’s home town, was no better known to New Hampshire voters in the autumn of 1991 than Huckabee is today, while Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, leads the Granite State field. But, despite the Gennifer Flowers and draft-dodging scandals that plagued his campaign there, Clinton won enough friends to finish second in New Hampshire to 1992’s neighboring candidate, former Massachusetts senator Paul Tsongas.

Thanks to New Hampshire, Clinton proclaimed himself the “comeback kid” and went on to thrash Tsongas in the follow-up contests in Florida, Georgia and the rest of the South.

Huckabee figures that if he can just get past Romney in New Hampshire, he can do the same thing to him when the 2008 battle shifts south to Florida and South Carolina in January.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, US Presidential Election 2008

Christopher offers some Thoughts on Models of Anglicanism

An ecclesiology worth its Anglican salt must be capable of describing and dealing with this level of complexity (if not more) in terms of participation and comprehension before offering solutions to our present strains on communion. Otherwise, in my opinion, the solutions are likely to truncate not only within the Communion as a whole, but within parishes, dioceses, Churches/Provinces, and across varieties. 1662 cannot be posited as foundational without the au contraire of Scotland, for example. To suggest so is already the beginning of truncation.

This sort of comlexity requires that rather than responding to the insistence and anxieties of those who choose self-truncation or who would move us to ideological poles on one matter–homosexuality, we should be considering what will best keep our varieties reasonably intact and communing together by emphasizing and speaking to our overlapping interactions and sharing, especially our ethos of toleration and that which we hold in common in our Prayerbook discipline and our minimal but important theological summation in the C-L Quadrilateral. Any structures likely to arise out of this place are less likely to look Roman Catholic and any theology likely to arise out of this place is very less likely to look Genevan. Indeed, is more likely to reflect our hierarchy as distinction of gifts tendencies as Anglicans in terms of the episcopate.

I recognize our complexities present problems. Some would say my participation is beyond comprehension (illegitimate diversity) or would wish to limit my participation to the degree I live up to discipline. Hence, some dioceses, like that next door would refuse me communion in order to impose discipline. Other parishes might allow my reception while preaching I need to become celibate. Should I choose to continue going, I would bring my partner along and take my place in differing conscience. Some parishes do not call partnered gay or female priests, some (many) dioceses do not ordain them. The question is can I live with this level of comprehension? And vice versa.

For myself, the line is crossed not at the ordination level, but at the communion level when another inserts himself or herself into the equation to read into my soul as I stretch out my hands to receive.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Identity, Ecclesiology, Theology

Con artists' old tricks

Walter Kincherlow Sr., 69, never expected to retire a millionaire. But during his 29 years as a maintenance worker, he managed to sock away more than $80,000. He invested pretty well too, until an “estate planner” took a look at his portfolio while updating his living trust and clucked that Kincherlow’s investment returns were paltry.

Claiming that Kincherlow could earn 20% per year safely, he persuaded the widower to pour his life savings into real estate investments with an El Segundo investment firm called Jon W. James & Associates. Kincherlow said he was assured that his principal was safe. But signs of trouble emerged when he wanted to start spending some of his savings. Then, company managers either couldn’t be reached or talked him out of withdrawal, he said. Meanwhile, they tried to persuade him to secure a huge home equity loan to invest even more.

Securities regulators filed an emergency action last summer to shut down the firm, which they claimed was operating a $22-million fraud. James maintained in legal filings that the company’s investments simply had insufficient time to pan out. In any event, a court-appointed receiver says investors are owed about $13 million, but the company has less than $4 million in assets to repay investors.

“They’re telling me that I might end up with $6,000 or $7,000 out of all of the money I invested,” said Kincherlow, who now lives in Victorville. “I wish I never had done this.”

Read it all. Anyone know of a senior citizen’s ministry out there which tackles this head on? I would love to hear of one–KSH.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Theology

How Missed Signs Contributed to a Mortgage Meltdown

In December, the first subprime lenders started failing as more borrowers began falling behind on payments, often shortly after they received the loans. And in February, HSBC, the large British bank, set aside $1.76 billion because of problems in its American subprime lending business.

Over the last two weeks, this slowly building wave became a tsunami in the global financial markets.

On Friday, the Federal Reserve was forced into a surprise cut of the discount rate it charges banks to borrow money, a move that steadied shaky stock and credit markets and reassured investors, bankers and traders who were reeling from a month of market turmoil. And for the first time, the Fed bluntly acknowledged that the credit crisis posed a threat to economic growth.

“Until recently, there was a lot of denial, but this is a big deal,” said Byron R. Wien, a 40-year veteran of Wall Street who is now chief investment strategist at Pequot Capital. “Now the big question is: Will this spill over into the broader economy?”

The answer to that question will be revealed over the coming months. But the cast of characters who missed signals like the rise of delinquencies and foreclosures is becoming easier to identify. They include investment banks happy to sell risky but lucrative mortgage debt to hedge funds hungry for high interest payments, bond rating agencies willing to hope for the best in the housing market and provide sterling credit appraisals to debt issuers, and subprime mortgage brokers addicted to high sales volumes.

What is more, some of these players now find themselves in a dual role as both enabler and victim, like the legions of individual borrowers who were convinced that their homes could only keep rising in value and were confident that they could afford to stretch for the biggest mortgage possible.

“All of the old-timers knew that subprime mortgages were what we called neutron loans ”” they killed the people and left the houses,” said Louis S. Barnes, 58, a partner at Boulder West, a mortgage banking firm in Lafayette, Colo. “The deals made in 2005 and 2006 were going to run into trouble because the credit pendulum at the time was stuck at easy.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Economy

Bob Costas on Barry Bonds

[Wolf] BLITZER: Do you believe Barry Bonds used steroids?

[Bob] COSTAS: Absolutely. There is no conclusion other than that, that any reasonable person could possibly reach. If you gave him the benefit of every doubt, there is no longer any doubt to give him the benefit of. Absolutely he did.

BLITZER: Here’s a reasonable person who was on our show last week, Willie Brown, the former mayor of San Francisco, who said this. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIE BROWN, FMR. SAN FRANCISCO MAYOR: It’s difficult to disprove a lie. I believe he has not used steroids because, one, he says so, and number two, he has taken every possible test and he has passed every test.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you say to Willie Brown?

COSTAS: With all due respect to Willie Brown, who is a charming man, that is nonsensical. People who are guilty of things say they didn’t do it all the time. He has passed every possible test, baseball had no significant tests until 2003. And then they upped it in subsequent years. Most of the juicing that Barry Bonds did, which is specifically incredibly detailed in the book “Game of Shadows,” took place prior to that, as did his greatest seasons.

And he maintained some of the benefit into 2003 and 2004. So the fact that he took and passed tests later in his career, tests which still have holes in them, and there are no tests for HGH, and other possible designer steroids, proves very little.

BLITZER: What about the argument that he has made that, you know, he doesn’t know — he may have inadvertently taken some steroids, but he never deliberately steroids?

COSTAS: Yes. That’s what he told the grand jury. And even if you leave that aside, as has been detailed elsewhere, there were other performance-enhancing drugs that there is credible evidence that he used. Plus, it is incredible to believe that someone who was as meticulous as Barry Bonds is known to be about his workouts and about every aspect of nutrition would just blithely take something, put it under his tongue, rub it on his body, and not know what it was.

Read the whole transcript.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Ethics / Moral Theology, Sports, Theology

A Liberal Explains His Rejection of Same-Sex Marriage

The problem with that debate until now, as he sees it, is that “almost always, the main focus is ‘gay,’ not ‘marriage.’ ”

Mr. [David] Blankenhorn cites what he calls the “wafer-thin” definitions of marriage that increasingly turn up in court decisions and polemical articles about same-sex ties: “a unique expression of a private bond and profound love”; “a private arrangement between parties committed to love”; “the exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other.”

Some of this commitment talk sounds sweet, and some of it, like “committed, interdependent partnerships between consenting adults,” sounds more like a real estate transaction than a marriage. But for Mr. Blankenhorn, these definitions miss the point. He is amused, for instance, at their neo-Victorian avoidance of any mention of sex. Similarly, these definitions dodge any mention of children and parenthood. They emphasize marriage as private and too diverse (“unique”) to be pinned down.

On the contrary, Mr. Blankenhorn writes, marriage is a “social institution,” a set of shared understandings and public meanings that shape expectations and conduct. Marriage has evolved and, yes, may be “constantly evolving”; here Mr. Blankenhorn moves through biology, prehistory, history and anthropology, from ancient Mesopotamia to the Trobriand Islands. But marriage fundamentally involves sexual intercourse and the affiliation – emotionally, practically and legally – between any child created and both parents.

Read it all from the NY Times earlier in the summer, another in the hundreds of should-have-already-been-posted-but-haven’t-had-a-chance-to-get-to-it-yet posts–KSH.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, --Civil Unions & Partnerships, Marriage & Family, Sexuality

Peter Steinfels: In Praise of Scoops on Heaven, Hell and, Yes, God

The next time laments are heard and verdicts rendered about the media’s lack of attention to religion, will someone please remember Weekly World News?

As everyone whose life experience has not been limited to upscale food stores or buying groceries online knows, Weekly World News was the supermarket tabloid printed only in black and white but carrying articles as colorful as the most fevered imaginations could produce.

When those articles did not feature a resurrected Elvis, the love life of Bigfoot or space aliens meeting secretly with leading politicians, they often dealt with religion: “Baby Born With Angel Wings” (accompanied by photo). “Quick Test Tells If You’re Going to Heaven or Hell!” “Adam & Eve’s Skeletons Found ”” in Colorado!”

Now Weekly World News is closing shop, although it will maintain an online presence. Circulation has dropped from what the paper claimed was almost a million in the late 1980s to under 100,000. In newspapers like this one, the flamboyant tabloid’s demise has been duly noted, with nostalgic tributes to its fondness for swamp monsters and its high moments of creativity (“Florida Man Screams From the Grave, My Brain Is Missing!”).

In The Washington Post on Aug. 7, Peter Carlson provided an unusually full and amusing account of the tabloid’s rise and fall, the cast of characters on its staff and its “unique philosophy of journalism: Don’t fact-check your way out of a good story.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Eschatology, Media, Religion & Culture, Theology

From CNN–Rejecting radical Islam — one man's journey

The path to faith often takes unexpected twists. In the case of Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, the road went through three of the world’s major religions — Judaism, Islam and Christianity — and ultimately brought him to the FBI.

Born to Jewish parents who call themselves mystics, he grew up in what he calls the “liberal hippie Mecca” of Ashland, Oregon, a town of about 20,000 near the California border. It was in this ultraliberal intellectual environment that a young Gartenstein-Ross experimented with a radical form of Islam that eventually led him to shun music, reject women’s rights and even refuse to touch dogs because he believed this was “according to God’s will.”

“I began to pray for the mujahedeen, for these stateless warriors who were trying to topple secular governments,” he said.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Islam, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture

City calls for calm as FTSE threatens to fall further

Anthony Bolton, the outgoing head of Fidelity’s Special Situations fund, and one of the most respected fund managers in the City, said investors “should not panic” despite steep falls in the FTSE index of blue-chip shares.

The three-week drop in the FTSE 100 was offset only on Friday after the US Federal Reserve cut the rate at which it lends to banks by 0.5 per cent ”“ a move that led to shares in London rising over 200 points in afternoon trading.

Mr Bolton said: “My advice is not to panic. But it is going to be a difficult few weeks for the market….

Other leading economic strategists echoed Mr Bolton’s comments that markets would remain extremely volatile.

Robert Talbut, chief investment officer at Royal London Asset Management said: “We still don’t know how serious the problem is. We have had no clear confessions from institutions.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Economy

Life at a funeral

The women came cloaked in black, wearing strings of pearls and floppy hats with thick bows. The men came in designer suits with silk handkerchiefs tucked into their breast pockets.

It was in some respects the ultimate A-list funeral, where high-society New York notables were ushered past cameras and crowds into St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue. They had come to honor Brooke Astor, the Manhattan philanthropist and socialite who died Monday of pneumonia at the age of 105.

Her funeral Friday, like her parties, brought out New York’s upper echelon of celebrities, politicians and dignitaries, including former opera star Jessye Norman, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and co-host of “The View” Whoopi Goldberg.

Astor began planning the ceremony more than a decade ago, updating her guest list of more than 400 names over the years. Known for impeccable style, Astor picked every hymn, Bible verse and prayer to send her spirit off spectacularly.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, Episcopal Church (TEC), Parish Ministry

South African Archbishop will pray with Bay Area Episcopalians

The archbishop of South Africa will teach, pray and talk with parishioners in Walnut Creek ”” and, it is hoped, return home with a renewed appreciation of diverse views.
He will visit St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Oct. 15 for a meditative Taiz service, a meal, a teaching, “and, I hope, some dialogue,” said the Rev. Sylvia Vasquez, spiritual leader of St. Paul’s.

The archbishop, the Most Rev. Njongonkulu Ndungane, will be in the Bay Area to participate in the Oct. 14-20 annual convention of the California diocese. Bishop Marc Andrus, head of the diocese, invited Ndungane while in Africa on a peace mission in March.

The invitation is in character for Andrus, who has matched California churches with sister churches in Africa in to strengthen the relationship between worshippers torn over such issues as women’s ordination and same-sex unions. “The African archbishops usually don’t respond well to our presence anywhere,” Vasquez said. “The only way we’ll be able to move forward is through dialogue.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Episcopal Church (TEC)