Thursday, January 29, 2009

Catholicism vs. the Catholic Church

It's difficult not to write about the so-called Stimulus Bill that's passing like a quick kidney stone through Congress right now, but if collectivism is going to rule the day I guess it's not surprising that people are losing their collective minds and buying this tripe. I'll spin my wheels in another intractable direction instead.

I am a cradle Catholic. Not a very good one, either, but I know I'm not in the minority on that. I would venture to guess that a majority, if not a vast majority, of U.S. Catholics have ignored one teaching of the Church or another over the years, especially its strictures against birth control.

I am twice divorced. That pretty much makes me a two time loser with doctrine right there. If it's any redemption I have at least recognized that they were the two greatest failings of my life. I wish I had followed the Church's teachings in both cases.

I've got nothing in particular against any other Christian denominations. I've sat around a little in different churches' pews over the years. Some put on quite a good service and are obviously full of very good people doing good work. But anything other than the Catholic Mass is Diet Coke to me. Nothing replaces the Real Thing.

The word catholic means universal. That's what I especially love about Catholicism. It's world-wide. It stretches over the centuries. It has many languages and cultures and eras under its roof. And it is generally speaking a voice and force of light and goodness. I love the Mass, I love my local church, and I love the people in my little parish. That makes for a very comfortable cushion when I sit in the pew.

But... Churches are run by people, not by God. Catholicism is of God; the Catholic Church is of man. So by human nature, the Church is bound to get it wrong sometimes. That was clearest during the time of the Inquisition. The cracks in its human foundation have become quite obvious again in recent years through the ongoing scandal of predatory homosexual priests.

But there's another scandal of human folly brewing within the Church today. I believe it will be far more damaging on the human scale. Although quite different in nature, I think it's not unrelated to the sex abuse scandal.

It all boils down to this: There is a strong movement within the U.S. Catholic Church for "social justice". The social justice movement, like the Obama campaign, purports to act in the name of eliminating violence, poverty and racism. Many Catholics have bought into this, for who can be against such good ideals? There are whole programs such as "Just Faith" moving strongly through the ranks which push these notions and are being widely accepted.

The fact is that the social justice movement within the Catholic Church is nothing short of a political action movement for socialism. Nashville Bishop David Choby's recent involvement in the Progressives' anti-English campaign brought this into the spotlight locally. It is curious how liberals rail against church involvement in politics when it's a matter of the Moral Majority's supporting pro-life Republicans, citing the mythical concept of separation of church and state, but they have no problem rounding up left-wing (or naive) clerics to support their causes when useful.

I am ashamed of Bishop Choby for allowing himself to be used like this. He is, I think, a good man, but like many Catholics, he has confused politics with God's work. If he does not trust his parishioners to take his teaching from the pulpit about Christ's love and translate it into their civic life appropriately, he nevertheless does not have the commission to sell himself to a political campaign. Christ was very clear about keeping religious and civic duties separate. Bishop Choby's job is to tend the Catholic flock, not Caesar's.

Frankly I believe this taking a presumedly "moral" stance on political issues like illegal immigration or racial relations in general is a roundabout way of atoning in the public eye for the sins of the American priesthood.

That kind of thinking is how an abortion pusher like Barack Obama gets elected President with a large portion of the Catholic vote. That is how the Ted Kennedys, John Kerrys, and Nancy Pelosis of the world can go to office and vote for policies that directly contradict the basic tenets of their faith. They seem to find less a faith partner in the Catholic Church than a political ally. And Machiavelli, by the way, was not a pope. Just because he was Italian does not make him a good role model for Catholics.

Most of us Catholics sit by and let this happen. I think we should not. Or we stand to lose our church just as the Episcopalians have.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mining, Manufacturing, & Agriculture

A lot of the discussion of the financial crisis has centered on whether it was Wall Street or or the free market or deadbeat homeowners at fault.

Wall Street is just a barometer/thermometer. When the weather is right for clear sailing, it sails. When a storm is brewing, it folds. As a thermometer of the bailout/big government philosophy, it is registering decidedly cold and the barometric pressure is low. Stormy weather ahead.

To blame today's problems on the free market (i.e., not enough government control of the market) is analogous to blaming the losses of a football team on the game of football. The way to fix a losing football program is not to stop playing football, nor to demand more referees. It is to play better.

Deadbeats will never go away. Some are unintentional and some just don't care, like my friend's renters who just moved out in the middle of the night stiffing her for a month's rent. There's no question that banks shouldn't be offering mortgages to people like that. We shouldn't care whether they do it by zip code or any other way; banks basically use your and my money to make their loans and I think we can all agree the government has no business inducing them to make bad loans. To think that banks are going to discriminate racially is foolish. The only color they care about, rightfully, naturally, healthily, is green.

What's missed in all the debate is that America's political class on both the left and the right have abandoned the essence of our economy: mining, manufacturing, and agriculture. The thought has prevailed that we can survive on a service economy and that globalism serves us best in the long run. They have assumed that because we came up first with IBM and Microsoft and Google, we always will, so why persist in the dirty business of digging, building, and growing things? But they fail to note that these tranformative, tremendously profitable businesses came about in a business environment far freer than today's. And that we in the western world are not the only ones with impressive technical universities now, not to mention the fact that we have been educating literally millions of foreign students in our universities for generations now, Barack Obama's father being a handy example.

That was hard to disprove while we were living in the bubble, flush with money, but it's easy to see now how vulnerable we made ourselves by crafting "free trade" agreements that always handicapped us (seeing as how America tends to play by the rules whether its competition does or not), imposing environmental restrictions on energy exploration that the rest of the world ignored, and paying farmers not to grow things that could be exported to feed even more of the world at our profit.

The service sector is the first to go when consumers and businesses are economizing. We are left with an economy that is greatly indebted to the manufacturing world (e.g., China) and nothing to show for it when our 401K's go poof. At least when a mining company goes belly up, or a manufacturer, or a farm, somebody with a better idea and a few more bucks can still come along and make some good of it. When the asset itself vanishes--i.e., the value that was only on paper or in thin air--it's just gone when it goes away.

I would sure like to hear Big O and Congress talk about doing what it takes to cultive entrepreneurs who will exploit our natural and cultural resources to create wealth now rather than recycling dollars through make-work programs. It seems trite to repeat what some are out there saying, but it holds water: you cannot spend your way out of a recession... any more than you can wish yourself into being a better football team. You've got to make first downs and touchdowns, not just three and out every time. Somebody's actually got to carry the ball, not just talk about it.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Gran Torino

Green Hills Mall (oh, excuse me, the Mall at Green Hills) was jam-packed with people last night. Traffic was moving at a crawl from every direction through the parking lots. It was a quick decision to park in the garage by the movie theater, snaking bumper to bumper up level by level until I found a space. Wisely I let my chicadera out before descending to the garage so she could buy our tickets. I had to scan the long line at the ticket windows carefully to find her among the dozens of hooded, scarved, fluffy coated, and otherwise obscured women in line. They might as well have been wearing burkas.

(Note to self: Take note of what female companion is wearing next time.)

The crowd was impressive. Chica speculated that maybe all the people were going to the movies to forget about their troubles. I suppose there were other reasons for the crowd, but I think she got that mostly right. And hey, the kid behind the counter did not skimp on the butter. The popcorn was excellent.

One of the big draws--two theaters' worth--was Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino. The plot's pretty simple, almost hackneyed, the acting is not above average, and the story and camera work are just straightforward, textbook stuff. But Eastwood is genius and magnetic as the the polack spewer of racial and ethnic invective around whom the movie turns. But even that's not the point.

What I loved about this movie is that it very neatly separated the nitwits from the non-nitwits and those in between. The fence-sitters had to choose sides and the nitwits were outed and defeated. How refreshing in this period of Obama-worship where racism is used like an elixir and history and all things traditionally American are treated like coal sludge, that an apparent hate-speecher shows what real love, real humanity is. There's even a good priest in this movie, by God! No wonder it's so popular. People get tired of being told how awful they are all the time. And for not being allowed flaws, whether it be smoking or cursing or prejudices, the things that make them human. In everything from his tobacco habit to his strained family relations, Eastwood's character is all human.

Don't go see this movie if you are stuck in the sixties. You're probably happier there. But do go see it if you believe in the power of the individual. And would like a little affirmation.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The DTV Blues

In a recent Reader's Digest one of the contributors to the humor in uniform page described riding on a train to visit his military sibling in Germany. He related that when the conductor came to take his ticket, they ended up having a very animated conversation in German that he could not understand, but it was very friendly, leaving him feeling at one with the world afterward for connecting in some way with another person despite the language barrier. Some time later, a lady sitting in his compartment said, "You don't speak German at all, do you?" He responded that he spoke not a word. "Of course," she said. "That would explain why you didn't get off the train when the conductor told you your stop was next."

That reminded me of an experience of my own ten or twelve years ago when I was regularly traveling in Mexico for my business. My Spanish was functional yet malfunctional. I went to the airport and bought a ticket for a flight from Mexico City to Torreon. I thought it was nonstop. I had a little discussion about this with the ticket agent but did not completely understand her and there were others waiting behind me, so I just took my ticket, smiled, and proceeded to my gate.

I got off when the plane landed, found my bag on the belt, and proceeded to the car rental desk. "Odd," the man said, "I can't find your reservation, but I'll have you a car in no time." Sure enough, ten minutes later I was out in the still-crisp mid-morning sunshine putting my bags into the trunk of a Tsuru, the Mexican version of the Sentra. "How do I get to Gomez-Palacio from here?" I asked the attendant. Gomez-Palacio is the sister city to Torreon, much like Saint Paul is to Minneapolis. "Gomez-Palacio?" the attendant asked. "Si." Thus began another discussion, much of which I couldn't follow, but I did re-confirm with him that I took a right outside the airport and got on Highway 9 or whatever. I figured it should take about fifteen minutes to get there.

It took a while yet, but finally I realized that I had not landed in Torreon at all, but instead in Monterrey. It was not a nonstop flight. I'm sure that's what the ticket agent in Mexico City had been trying to tell me. Luckily I had no appointments that day and I already had the car so I settled in for a long ride, about like Nashville to Atlanta.

It was beautiful. Mountains to my left, desert with a crumbling mesa here and there to my right for miles and miles, and oddly enough, every so often somebody standing by the side of the highway selling ajo, garlic, in big bags. In the middle of all this desolation, my new cell phone rang. It was a call from home. I can still remember how surprised I was that the reception was so clear, just as if I'd taken the call on a land-line at the office.

All of which, like my journey to Torreon that day, is a long way around to relate that analog cell phone service was great. There was no text messaging, no file sharing, and the government certainly wasn't yet subsidizing cell phone service for "poor" people, but man oh man, simple voice communications were excellent and you could hold a signal for a long, long way.

Not today. I can't drive down Woodmont Boulevard without losing signal today. And even with a good signal, the voices are tinny. I can't even carry on a full conversation from my home in Brookmeade without saying "Can you hear me now?" That's all thanks to the cell phone industry going digital. They can pack a lot more into the same band width than they could with analog. It's more profitable.

For the same reasons we are all being forced to switch to digital television. I have three televisions which will be rendered useless as receivers in February, assuing President Obama doesn't delay the changeover. I got coupons three months ago and never used them. It was going to cost about twenty bucks for a converter even with the coupon and the converter was bigger than I expected and required using yet one more electrical outlet. I couldn't see doing that with my little 6" diagonal kitchen TV where I watch 95% of the TV I do watch. And I certainly am not going to waste the money on cable. So I figure I'm just going to buy a new little cheap TV to put in the kitchen.

I think I've already seen what's coming on DTV. Of course, the pictures are extry-sharp. But I believe NPT was using a digital feed for the election and with the sharp picture came lots of times that the sound wasn't in sync with the lips and there were flashes of static like a Max Headroom video.

I'm not impressed. You can't stop progress. But they really ought to come up with a new word for it. And by the way, whenever you travel make sure you speak the language of the natives well or take someone with you who does. That is, if you need to make an appointment. Otherwise, just enjoy the ride.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Random Epiphany

Any time a politician announces that he is going to make a major speech about something, you can bet that he's decided to try to fix the problem with words instead of action.

Readings

1. Thomas Sowell on ten myths about American health care:
http://townhall.com/columnists/ThomasSowell/2009/01/07/an_emergency_review

2. Shaka Mitchell on the TVA coal sludge spill:
http://search.tennessean.com/sp?aff=1100&skin=&keywords=shaka+mitchell

3. John Bolton on a three state solution in Palestine:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/04/AR2009010401434.html

4. Why vote for English First:
http://www.nashvilleenglishfirst.com/Media/tabid/110/Default.aspx

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

No bailout, please. Just back off.

I’ve been a small business owner for over twenty years. Although I’ve really only had one business all along, I’ve had one partner, three partners, and now, no partners. We’ve worked with at least five different banks and the SBA. We’ve marketed solely via direct mail, then with telephone and fax marketing, now with the internet. We’ve done trade shows here and abroad and opened and closed an office in a foreign country. We’ve employed a lot of different people over the years, trained them well on the basics for work in their further careers, sold a lot of vendors’ products, and helped a lot of customers get what they need to run their businesses. Although it’s just been one business, all these reinventions along the way are what make it an enterprise and what make my work, like most small business people’s work, entrepreneurial.

Times are tough right now; the toughest I’ve ever seen. I noticed sales slowing down right after Easter (which you may recall was in March last year) and they never picked back up. In fact November and December were downright rotten. Orders still come in, but customers do not spend a penny extra.

I’ve discussed what I think are the reasons here before. In a nutshell, fear took over. Leading up to the election from the get-go last winter, there was a steady drumbeat of pessimism about the economy. I knew this was crazy because in January and February we had the two best months we’ve ever had, and our market, the sewing industry, is a bellwether for the health of the entire economy. We are normally first into a recession and first out of it. So recession was not inevitable. But as the presidential primaries rolled on, with the Democrats needing justification for all that change they were peddling, we got talked into it. Then for the final coup de grace, Hank Paulson convinced George Bush that the sky was falling. In October. Just before the November election.

The rest is mystery. I don’t know how such presumably smart people could be so stupid. Economies are mostly smoke and mirrors anyway. When you go around cracking the mirrors and blowing hard, it’s going to get pretty ugly.

And Obama in his Sphinx-like, passive-aggressive, newspeak way, is seizing in this mess an opportunity to enslave more voters on the government payroll. And companies. They’re lining up like Miley Cyrus fans at the ticket counter for government “assistance”. I read somewhere yesterday that anybody with a business license is looking for a bailout now.

Wrong.

Only the big corporations are lining up for bailouts. No surprise. I have little respect for them anyway, about as much as I do for unions. With few exceptions, big corporations are PC. They’re monopolistic not entrepreneurial. They adopt unwise labor practices that inhibit their competitiveness, like paying health benefits for homosexual partners of their employees and pushing the Family Leave Act, and then endorse them as law so they can compete against smaller, more efficient private companies. And I’ve noticed they do not seem to answer to their shareholders any more, or else the golden parachute phenomenon would not exist. I presume that’s because most stock ownership these days is via retirement accounts where the stock purchases are really made by cartels, not individuals.

Smaller, entrepreneurial companies like mine are not looking for bailouts. And we are the only way out of this mess. We are the only place in the economy where true job (i.e., wealth) creation occurs. Don’t make us tote the note for all the non-producers (big corporations, big government, big labor) by burdening us with the biggest part of the tax load. Don’t throw more regulatory idiocy at us (for a great example of this, read about CPSIA, a tremendously burdensome government mandate with little to no real benefit coming down on all U.S. manufacturers and retailers in February).

We millions of small business people don’t want to serve any master, least of all a bunch of special interests and politicians.We don’t want a bailout. We just want the government to back off and let us produce. If Obama were inclined to turn the tide on this recession, he would do nothing more than clearing the way for small business to succeed. Then, as Milton Friedman told us decades ago when we were faced with the similarly unfriendly Carter years, our businesses will be able to fulfill their true social responsibility: profit.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Tengo dos preguntas. O mas.

The stampede of politically-correct minor celebrities in Nashville to oppose the English-Only measure is truly amusing, following their leader the kleptomaniac Ronnie Steine whose only achievements in life as far as I can tell are being born well and marrying even better. Oh, and being a Metro councilman. Councilperson.

Now over the holidays the local college presidents have all come out signing a letter opposing the English-Only measure. This raises questions on a couple of fronts:

1. Are all those colleges now going to keep interpreters available at the expense of the entire student body for each student whose native language is not English? Are they going to provide all entrance tests in whatever the native language of the applicant is? Is the student health clinic going to provide medical personnel who can speak whatever language is needed by any student? Or better yet, to be truly welcoming, in any language ever possibly needed by a student? Or better yet, for anybody who happens in off the street, passing themselves off as a student? After all, how can Vanderbilt or Belmont be truly welcoming if they're so darn exclusive about everything?

2. Aren't all those colleges non-profit, tax exempt? It's my understanding that if a preacher becomes involved in an election from the church pulpit, the church stands to lose its tax exempt status. Shouldn't the same apply to college presidents?

I wonder how many Nashvillians are swayed by letters like the college presidents' or by the posturing of the Ronnie Steines, Karl Deans, and David Brileys of our little world. A little learning is a dangerous thing...