Monday, February 28, 2005

 

Walking the Thin Line

"There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people ever imagine that they are guilty themselves." So says C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. He is speaking of what he calls the 'great sin' which is pride or arrogance.

The opposite of pride is humility and that is the focal point of all Christianity. It's what distinguishes Christian philosophy from all others. We don't get what we deserve. And thank God for that. That's what grace is all about. 'Blessed are the poor in spirit'. Why? Because it's down-and-out folks who have hit rock bottom that can admit they can't make it on their own.

The worst sin is the one to which we are all easily susceptible. It's the reason Christ warned so frequently of the treachery that riches pose. If you are comfortable and successful, it may be tempting to grow to appreciate your own virtues and achievements.

Hopefully, you can see that if you've got that mentality, you have already succumbed to pridefulness. Even if you are a humble person, it can be easy to begin congratulating yourself on your own humility and become prideful of it. To me, this is scary stuff the more I think of it. It makes me realize the line between Heaven and Hell is not all that clear to us.

Amazing grace saved a wretch like me. The first step it would seem is to admit being unworthy in the sight of a completely holy and pure God. Admit to being a wretch, if you will, and seeing the pride in ourselves. If you fancy yourself a swell person all on your own, you're not going to make it to that first step.

So how do you imagine a truly humble person? C.S. Lewis speculates that it's not a smarmy type that goes around calling himself a nobody. But rather, "Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him."

Sunday, February 27, 2005

 

Heated Rhetoric

It's good to see the left-wing has recuperated from its vitriolic ways and has toned down its criticism of opposing political leaders. I'm sorry - that was a cheap shot. Both sides have their wacko contingencies to deal with. The fair thing to do would be to look at the inroads a major leader of Democratic Party has recently taken to really open the dialogue.

In case you missed it, the key sentiment Howard Dean expressed in that article was "I hate Republicans and everything they stand for." When I mentioned the need for anger in a recent post, this is not what I had in mind. The fact is, however, Dean really does look at conservatives as the real "evil" that must be defeated. More here.

And, how exactly, is this ever going to help them win elections? Wisely, some Dems are beginning to distance themselves from the anti-war superstar phenom that is Howard Dean. In particular, that CNN article notes: "Aides to other Kansas Democrats, including state Sen. Janice Lee and Kansas City Mayor Carol Marinovich, also declined to comment on Dean's visit." There are others mentioned in the article as well.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

 

It's a "Stock Picker's Market"

Yeah and I'm Warren Buffet.

For those who don't already know, I'm a financial planner. And sometimes the self-serving investment cliches become too amusing not to share. First, a little primer for folks not hip to the Wall Street "insider" scene: the big brokerages stand to profit the most when investors trade often and buy actively managed mutual funds. The opposing strategy would be to buy and hold passive funds - those that essentially just try to duplicate the performance of a major index like the S&P 500.

Both have their merits and I'm not taking sides in that debate - only pointing out the obvious motives for Wall Street to push the "stock picker's market" theory. Basically, they say, in a flat or down market, the seasoned stock pickers have a much better chance of beating the overall market. These mutual fund sales guys come into our office all the time to push their products. Invariably, we'll get the stock picker's market line.

Of course, now that we know it's a stock picker's market (because this sales guy with an obvious agenda told us so), we then need to find the cream of the crop stock picker and invest in his fund. And, well, whaddaya know? All of this company's funds have wonderful long term track records. How did they do it? Well, long term track records - by definition - are available only to funds that have been able to survive a long while by performing well. The funds that suck disappear. They have either been liquidated or merged into other funds.

The bottom line is the investment world is mostly smoke and mirrors. There are plenty of ways to spruce up a portfolio to make it look sophisticated or add a certain cache, but over time all investment vehicles tend to revert to the mean. It's a boring concept to have to accept, but it's true according to most studies and a lot of objective people who are typically reliable.

In the end, it's the basic advice that will serve you well. Diversify, buy and hold, and become less aggressive as your time frame for needing the money shortens. You can attribute to luck most any hot stock that serves to provide for cocktail party boasting.

Friday, February 25, 2005

 

On the Lighter Side...

Bill Simmons, over at ESPN.com, is always worthwhile reading. Even if you’re not a big sports fan, you gotta like his wit. Here’s a nice take on the abundance of lackluster rap performances in general and, in particular, Nelly’s performance during NBA All-Star weekend in Denver:

If Nelly released a studio album called "Here are some new songs that I recorded with 10 people who aren't singers screaming in the background and overpowering my lyrics," would anyone buy it? Of course not. …why isn't this more of an outrage? …if you bought tickets to a U2 concert and Bono came out with nine buddies from Dublin who proceeded to ruin every song, wouldn't you ask for your money back? I don't get it.

Although I must take issue with him on this quote:

I think my favorite part about Denver was seeing some of the people who lived there -- you know, those laid-back guys you went to high school with, the ones who played hacky-sack, followed the Dead around, smoked tons of pot and took eight years to graduate from college. Now they're wandering around downtown wearing "Peace" T-shirts, sipping from a Jamba Juice and wondering how they can find the dude who stole their skis. I always liked these guys.

Whoa, hold on now! Number one, no one should ever associate Jamba Juice specifically with this crowd. And secondly, he’s clearly confusing Denverites with tree-huggers from Boulder who stumbled into town only to mistake the All-Star celebrity-fest with an acid flashback. As anyone here can attest to, Denver and Boulder are two very different worlds. (To be fair, he was very complimentary of the Mile High City otherwise.)

Thursday, February 24, 2005

 

You Say You Want a Revolution

Well you know...we all want to change the news. Or at least the way we get our news. Lots of people are still asking, "what's a blog?" If you really want a good explanation, you probably should ask this guy. Or better yet, read his book.

Blog - (n.) Short for Web log, a blog is a Web page that serves as a publicly accessible personal journal for an individual. Typically updated daily,blogs often reflect the personality of the author. (v.) To author a Web log.

It's cliche to say, but we are living in the age of information. It's everywhere, but who has the time or desire to sift through it all? You can stick with the nightly network newscasts, but do you really want the same old liberal "gate-keepers" determining for you what you do and don't get to hear? It's a bit outdated these days and the mainstream media establishment knows it and that's why they are getting ver-ry defensive these days.

That's where the "new media" comes in and blogs are a big part of it and getting bigger. The first blog appeared in around 1999 and now there are more than 4 million - discussing everything under the sun, from sports to politics to religion to business. The good ones are the ones you go back to everyday because they are reliable, trustworthy, and/or entertaining.

Blogs usually provide links to other websites so if you want to dig deeper into a story you can. Best of all, its all real time. No waiting until the paper comes out the next morning or the broadcast is aired on TV. And you can carefully select the handful that represent your own interests and that will provide you with the stories or views as you'd like them served up.

Even people that hate bloggers are now blogging to explain how much they dislike the whole thing. (hat tip: Jeff Jarvis)

Wanna start one up? Instapundit provides some links to help out.

Like it or not, this Revolution is spreading to all corners of the globe. Get in on the fun or risk getting left behind.

UPDATE: The Mudville Gazette has offers an instructional guide of sorts for new bloggers. It's a good summary of many essentials in starting a decent blog.

 

Bad News For Bush Haters

Even the most strident opponent of the war in Iraq should be able to admit that some undeniably good results have come of it. So then the question becomes was it all worth it? And that's a tough one.

My gut says yes, but my honest answer is I don't know. Ask me again in one or two, or ten years. At such a point, historical hindsight will have been able to provide us with a pretty good idea as to how our Iraqi invasion has altered the Middle Eastern landscape.

All I know is right now there is plenty of reason for optimism, in my opinion. Caution: If you are a Bush-hater, please look no further as you may get ill or go into shock.

Exhibit A: Pro-Bush parade in Germany. Yikes!

Exhibit B: Bush-Reagan comparisons. Okay, I'm not buying this one. Look, back in the early to mid- 80's, Reagan was considered aloof and not very intelligent. He was portrayed as an arrogant cowboy with utter disregard for the sensitivities of the European intelligensia. He went around making big, brash statements with seemingly no appreciation for the nuances of foreign affairs. Surely, the Europeans have wised up since then and would not make the exact same mistake again, right?

Exhibit C: This guy certainly thinks things are looking up as well.

Michael Moore, where are you now? Okay, the first one to figure out the evil conspiracy theory tying together all of the aforementioned links wins.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

 

Good News in the Middle East

The Washington Post ran an interesting story today. David Ignatius writes:

The leader of this Lebanese intifada [for independence from Syria] is Walid Jumblatt, the patriarch of the Druze Muslim community and, until recently, a man who accommodated Syria's occupation. But something snapped for Jumblatt last year, when the Syrians overruled the Lebanese constitution and forced the reelection of their front man in Lebanon, President Emile Lahoud. The old slogans about Arab nationalism turned to ashes in Jumblatt's mouth, and he and Hariri openly began to defy Damascus...

"It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq," explains Jumblatt. "I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world." Jumblatt says this spark of democratic revolt is spreading. "The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it." (hat tip Jim Geraghty)

Wow. This is very encouraging and we can only hope thoughts like it are, indeed, spreading rapidly throughout the region.

So what do all the America-hating Americans think of this? Is this the tipping point where bizarro world (mentioned below) begins to crumble? Afterall, how do you square 'Evil America' and its 'War-for-Oil' with outbreaks of hope, liberation, and prosperity in the Middle East as a direct result of our invasion? And Bush is a moron, right? This can't really be happening... Is it finally time for a new bumper sticker?

 

Bumper Sticker Ideology

War...what is it good for?

Well, quite a bit actually. For starters, it ended slavery in America and the Holocaust in Europe. But let's not let such pesky facts get it in the way of a good slogan. People that pose these sorts of questions are driven solely by feelings. And war is the ultimate evil for the feel-good crowd. For a more thorough dissertation on the subject, look here.

This is part of a larger demographic that I'll call bizarro world. This 'place' is not defined so much geographically as it is by a mindset. It starts out innocently and logically enough. The underlying premise is that there is no ultimate truth in nature. No inherent right and wrong. No clearly defined good and evil. The inhabitants of this world would have you believe that these are subjective, not objective terms. So what we are left with is not an innate moral code but, rather, our feelings. And this is to be the true driver of all decision making.

The problem this leads to is the lack of what has, for many thousands of years hence, been known as common sense. If we have no commonality in any sort of morality, it stands to reason that bizarro world would offer no such "common" sense as a result. There are countless examples of this phenomenon, but recently I would cite the whole Ward Churchill fiasco. (See this for an update on the new hero of free speech. Of course this isn't about free speech at all. The guy can spew whatever sort of hatred he wants, but he doesn't have to get paid by the taxpayers of Colorado to do it.)

In the end, this bizarro world creates a downworld spiral despite the well-intentioned feelings of its inhabitants. So how can you tell if you are living in it now or know someone who is? The quickest indicator is a bumper sticker which basically sums up an entire in-grained philosophy. Examples: Bush is mean, anti-American, a terrorist, an idiot, fill-in-the-blank expletive OR a renouncement of war as a scheme to get oil or kill innocent Iraqi children.

Unfortunately, there is no rational debate in bizarro world and any real fair-minded dissention is strictly prohibited. Paradoxically, these are most often the folks that speak so highly of "tolerance" as a guiding principle. You know, kinda like the abundance of tolerance for non left-wing views found on college campuses.

 

American-Euro Relations

There's some insightful commentary out there regarding the current state of relations with our comrades in Europe. Mark Steyn's most recent column is excellent as always, but I sure hope he's wrong. If he's right, it does not bode well at all for the future of our trans-atlantic relations. The following paragraph, though an amusing analogy, underlies a pretty dark message bourne out in the rest of his thoughts.

He states, "... in the broader sense vis-à-vis Europe, the administration is changing the tone precisely because it understands there can be no substance. And, if there's no substance that can be changed, what's to quarrel about? International relations are like ex-girlfriends: if you're still deluding yourself you can get her back, every encounter will perforce be fraught and turbulent; once you realise that's never gonna happen, you can meet for a quick decaf latte every six – make that 10 – months and do the whole hey-isn't-it-terrific-the-way-we're-able-to-be-such-great-friends routine because you couldn't care less. You can even make a few pleasant noises about her new romance (the so-called European Constitution) secure in the knowledge he's a total loser." (link via Instapundit)

Austin Bay disagrees here. He states that Steyn's argument only makes sense if you equate Europe with France. He cites the Ukraine and Poland as examples of countries that do not follow the Franco-German mold. He even goes so far as to suggest that France itself may be ripe for reform.

Not sure if I'm as hopeful about France. So then I wonder if the issue here is not one of semantics. If we distinguish 'Old (Western) Europe' from 'New (Eastern) Europe', do we then better understand the new paradigm of these relationships?

UPDATE: Here is some encouraging news, which may add some substance to my speculation above regarding the new paradigm in our European relations:

At last President George W Bush found some European fans yesterday. After three days of muted receptions, Mr Bush received a far cheerier welcome behind the old Iron Curtain as enthusiastic Slovaks applauded him for visiting them on the last stop of his tour across the continent.

Read the whole story.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

 

A Need For Anger

Thank God for C. S. Lewis. Were it not for his astounding insights and his remarkable ability to convey them, I (and countless other Christians) would be lost in the wilderness. One such example lies in the Psalms, a beautifully poetic Biblical book, but one that does present a formidable challenge to interpret and comprehend. I am referring specifically to the "angry" Psalms, and there are many of them. These are the verses that curse the enemy and convey a spirit of hatred. (think: "Wilt thou not slay the wicked oh Lord?")

If you assume all scripture is divinely inspired, how do square this type of sentiment with Christ's own words ("love thine enemies")? This is no easy task for small-minded gents like me. Here's where Lewis comes in. In the third chapter of "Reflections on the Psalms" he writes of the authors of the Psalms, "If the Jews cursed more bitterly than the Pagans this was, I think, at least in part because they took right and wrong more seriously." He also suggests, "the absence of anger, especially that sort of anger we call indignation, can...be a most alarming symptom. And the presence of indignation may be a good one."

Lewis does not absolve the Psalmists from their personal vindictiveness apparent in such writing. However, he does conclude - quite reasonably I believe - that these passages are useful in combating a wishy-washy mindset. "Against all this the ferocious parts of the Psalms serve as a reminder that there is in the world such a thing as wickedness and that it (if not its perpetrators) is hateful to God."

Now, more than ever in today's environment, I can see the importance of this message and the need to overcome apathy and take a stand.

Exhibit A: Hizballah: "Death to America"
Earlier today, top House Democrat Charles Rangel said it was bigotry to use the term “Islamic terrorism” to refer to groups like Hizballah, and questioned whether a worldwide Islamic terrorist movement even existed.
Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah would beg to differ, in speeches broadcast on Al Manar TV February 18 and 19: Death to America. (hattip: Charles Johnson)

Who, me, indignant? Angry? After reading that, you bet I am.

 

The Isolationist Dot Com Culture

When we observe the increasingly polarized political climate, it is striking how insulated we've become as a culture - or rather as a set of many, many subcultures. We enter into the cozy echo chambers of our choosing, therein comforted by like-minded opinions expressed through the mediums of cable tv shows, blogs, radio shows, etc.

This is part of an unhealthy and growing trend, which is being further enabled and exacerbated by technological advances. And it extends beyond the scope of politics. Whether we are considering the internet or the iPod, we find ourselves in search of constant diversion and escape from "society" in the traditional sense. Our thought life is diminished when we fill our minds with selected diversions which comprise our very own customized worlds filled with only those views, interests, and people of our choosing.

In an illuminating article in the Times of London, Andrew Sullivan explains how "Americans are beginning to narrow their lives." As Sullivan puts it, "Technology has given us a universe entirely for ourselves - where the serendipity of meeting a new stranger, hearing a piece of music we would never choose for ourselves or an opinion that might force us to change our mind about something are all effectively banished. Atomisation by little white boxes and cell phones. Society without the social. Others who are chosen - not met at random. Human beings have never lived like this before."

So it is with acute sensitivity to the irony involved that I begin my own blogging adventure, or shall I call it my own little internet world. The goal here and what I hope to share with readers is the following: Attempt to delve into all types of thought out there, with the ultimate goal of extracting and assimilating nuggets of truth wherever they may be found.

The only requirement for consideration in the world of PlaidBerry is intellectual honesty. This is an attempt to open the dialogue and rebuild a small segment of an increasingly detached and isolated community, if you will. And so the journey begins.

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