Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What History Remembers...

"I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will for ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race."

- Abraham Lincoln

Obviously there are as many quotes which show his hatred for slavery and his belief that all men should have the freedom to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Furthermore, it should be noted that this quote comes from the context of his senatorial debates with Douglas, which he lost in part because of his 'radical' positions on slavery (e.g. the "House Divided" speech). Yet, he was also a member of the Colonization society for much of his political career. This society advocated both the emancipation and the transport of African Americans to a Caribbean island or to Africa. I posted this quote and these comments because I think it's important to remember historical figures as they were, not as we wish they would have been.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Leeds on Finance: Imaginary Trust Funds

For the past two weeks, I had been preparing a bombshell to drop on Jenny. I had spent a lot of time meeting with accountants to put the information together. On Friday, I finally worked up the nerve and I sat her down to break the news. As best as I remember it, I said, “Jenny, I’m not sure how to tell you this, so I’m just going to come out and say it. My imaginary trust fund is going to run out sooner than expected.” Needless to say, she didn’t take it that well.

Jenny wanted an explanation. So, I gave it to her. I told her what happened. For the past 15 years, we’ve been doing a good job of saving for retirement and for our healthcare when we retire. Each year, I had been saving $100K for retirement and healthcare. I had been putting it in my imaginary trust fund.

My imaginary trust fund is an envelope. You would probably imagine that my envelope is pretty big – since it has to hold all this cash. But, it’s not. You see, my envelope doesn’t really hold any cash. What happened was that while I’ve been doing a pretty good job saving for retirement and healthcare, I actually needed to use that money for some other things. I spent some of it on education for my kids. I also spent some of it on an alarm system for my house (I like to think of this as defense spending). I also spent some of it on some pet projects (there was some promising research that promised to allow me to grow my hair back, etc.).

Jenny started to get angry when she heard that I had spent all of this money. She’s not really as financially savvy as I am. As she started to get madder and madder, she looked like she was about to vote me out of the office of “husband.” I knew that I needed to calm her and regain her vote. I said, “Jenny, it’s not nearly as bad as it sounds. I don’t have the cash in our trust fund envelope. But look…I wrote myself some IOUs. All of these IOUs are in the envelope.”

Jenny saw the IOUs and started to calm down. Seeing my chance, I told her, “Jenny, it’s even better than you think. We’ve saved $100K for 15 years. You thought that we only had $1.5 million in our imaginary trust fund. But we don’t. We have more. We have $2.5 million. Each year, the IOUs that I put in the envelope paid imaginary interest. So I spent the imaginary interest (on other things) and put more IOUs in the envelope. Now, our envelope has $2.5 million of IOUs that I’ve written. I told her that my biggest regret was that interest rates were so low. If they were higher, I could have written myself some even bigger IOUs. She agreed that this was a shame.

Still financially challenged, Jenny asked a silly question. She said, “aren’t we going to need to start spending some of this $2.5 million soon? You seem to be working less and you’re not getting any younger.” I told her that this was an interesting observation. But, I said, “remember those nice bankers who have loaned us $10 million in the past, when we were spending more than we were earning? While I expect to continue to spend more than we earn, we’ll borrow that money. In addition, I’m also going to need the bankers to replace me as the lender of this $2.5 million. I’m sure they’ll be fine with it.”

Never satisfied, Jenny said, “but if we have been spending our retirement and healthcare money to fund our extravagant living, and now we’re not making enough to save for retirement and healthcare, where are we going to come up with the cash to fund our extravagant lifestyle?” Oh, sweet simple Jenny. “You’re so cute when you don’t understand high finance. Don’t you remember why I talked you into having three kids? They’ll pay for it for us. They’ll just spend less on themselves and send more of their money to us. And, if that doesn’t work, I’ll take it out of their imaginary college fund.”

By the end, Jenny had calmed down. She said, “you’re so smart. You should run this country.”

I’ll be writing two more blogs this week with the Social Security and Medicare numbers and the dismal outlook. But, if you understand today’s entry, you are officially disqualified from running for Congress.

Leeds on Finance

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Subtexts: The Social Network

The Social Network opens with one of the more memorable exchanges of dialogue that I’ve seen. The conversation—where Jesse Eisenberg (who plays Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg) obsesses to his girlfriend over his chances of getting into one of the elite final clubs at Harvard, blatantly insulting her in the meantime—sets up a subtext that runs throughout the entire film. Whereas the opening conversation makes the viewer want to cuff Zuckerberg upside the head, by the time we get to the climax of the film you find yourself rooting for him—whom his girlfriend rightfully calls an “asshole”—to beat those nasty, elitist Winklevoss twins.

The key quote in this changing of loyalties comes when Eisenberg responds to his lawyer’s suggestion that he must really hate the pair of establishment types who are suing him for all he’s worth. His response describes in a nutshell the major conflict running throughout the film:
"I don’t hate anybody. The “Winklevii” aren’t suing me for intellectual property theft. They’re suing me because for the first time in their lives, things didn’t go exactly the way they were supposed to for them."

The viewer has moved from a point where Zuckerberg is the “asshole” to a place where she is asked to sympathize with Zuckerberg against the seemingly invincible connections, wealth, success, and arrogance of the Winklevoss twins. Moreover, you’re asked to do so while dealing with the fact that Zuckerberg is still the same guy who acted like a child in the film’s first exchange.

Brian Dijkema at the Cardus Blog

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Lewis on Humility

Thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools...God wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. God wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbor's talents—or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognize all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things. He wants to kill their animal self-love as soon as possible; but it is His long-term policy, I fear, to restore to them a new kind of self-love—a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own.

C. S. Lewis (Screwtape Letters)

Statements of Value and the Arts

Questions such as, “What does this music communicate?” or “Is this picture in any sense immoral?” have been radically avoided. There exists a thought with regard to the arts, that if a question cannot be decided on the basis of scientific means, then it cannot and must not be decided. So strong is the prejudice against the old forms of knowing—where the subject himself was given the responsibility of holding, of deciding—that when an objective position cannot be achieved, then it is better to have no position at all. “Let’s not argue over that, because we bound to disagree” is the our creed. But what if we should argue over it? What if only approximate agreement is our goal? After all, if there is a truth of the matter with regard to these questions (as Christians should agree that there is), should not we strive to come nearer to it?

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Art and Nature

“It appears to me that pictures have been over-valued; held up by a blind admiration as ideal things, and almost as standards by which nature is to be judged rather than the reverse; and this false estimate has been sanctioned by the extravagant epithets that have been applied to painters, as ‘the divine,’ ‘the inspired,’ and so forth. Yet in reality, what are the most sublime productions of the pencil but selections of some of the forms of nature, and copies of a few of her evanescent effects; and this is the result, not of inspiration, but of long and patient study, under the direction of much good sense.”
John Constable, Discourses

Monday, May 02, 2011

A Thought Experiment Concerning bin Laden's Death

Imagine your spouse was brutally murdered by a hardened criminal. Imagine the day of his sentencing; he is given the death penalty by lethal injection. Years pass and the day of his death arrives. Given the option, you may even watch the event, perhaps to see justice completed in his cold and stiffening corpse. Would one think you loved your spouse little or much if you left the prison with cheers and celebrations?