Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Economist Weighs In On Gold

So, who's not interested in gold and silver these days?  No-one, you say.  That's a bad sign, as the Economist points out.   But, would you feel any more secure if you were the only one you know who was buying the yellow metal?

There are a lot of reasons to like precious metals: inflation, debased currencies, American decline, wrongheaded government in a time of crisis, and financial uncertainty, for instance.  There are a lot of reasons to not like it as well: no yield, little intrinsic value, too high of a run for too long, too popular, etc.

The Economist concludes with the following observation:

Then there is the issue of higher commodity prices. Jeremy Grantham of GMO, a fund-management group, has compiled an equally weighted index of 33 commodities. This fell by 70% between 1902 and 2002 in real terms. It has regained all that ground in the past nine years. The rise of developing nations is generally deemed to explain this commodities boom. Since raw materials have greater weight in the inflation baskets of such countries, it makes sense for investors in China and India to buy gold as a hedge against this phenomenon.
If it turns out that China (rather than gold) is a bubble and that growth in developing nations disappoints, then you would expect commodity prices to fall sharply and gold to follow suit. But in the absence of such an event, gold’s strength is not entirely irrational. 
Are metals rising--for the past decade, especially since November of '08--because things are so bad here, or because things are so good in emerging countries.  Probably both, in Noman's estimation.  Regardless of your position on the phenomenon we can all agree that it makes for interesting speculation.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fiddling While America Burns

In case you can't read the fine print, President Obama released his long-form birth certificate this morning in order to quell growing buzz about his birthplace.  The US Constitution makes the requirement an issue; Article Two, Section One specifies that: 
No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
Donald Trump, a blowhard real estate tycoon with several towers in Manhattan, a reality TV show to his credit (The Apprentice), and Presidential aspirations has been talking trash about BO's birthplace, and rising in the public's estimation as a result.  When informed of the President's act, he claimed credit and repeatedly patted himself on the back for having accomplished what even the Clintons couldn't: getting the President to release his long form birth certificate.

All you need to know about the Pravda-like nature of American political coverage (Democrats good, non-Democrats reprobate), can be gleaned from the petulant and derisive tone of reporters' questioning (linked above) following Trump's statement.  The announcer even referred to Trump by his media nickname, "The Donald." Compare his grilling to the coverage of the teapot tempest by Clinton-flak George Stephanopoulos and ABC "reporters."

Journalistic water carrying for the President is so commonplace that a reporter actually made news last week for his "tough" questioning of the President in a sit-down interview--only the second such interview during Obama's tenure.  President Bush, by way of comparison, had to listen to haggish Helen Thomas berate him from the front row of the White House press corp on a regular basis.  You can imagine what this kind of skewed coverage does to the public psyche.  If sociologists and social psychologists weren't overwhelmingly liberal Democrats, we'd even have empirical studies to document the effect.

White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said that attention being given to the issue was "bad for the American people."

At a time of great consequence for this country -- when we should be debating how we win the future, reduce our deficit, deal with high gas prices, and bring stability to the Middle East, Washington, D.C., was once again distracted by a fake issue," Pfeiffer said on the blog. "The president's hope is that with this step, we can move on to debating the bigger issues that matter to the American people and the future of the country."
Noman finds this amusing because the President seems to be skating on thin ice with clown shoes on.  It is rather evident that we, as a country, are in decline.  Only government--as opposed to the people--is on the ascent.  And the fight to cut it's size and scope is not going well.  Punitive taxes to fund the French-like civil service lie on the horizon.  Our deficit has skyrocketed to $1.65 trillion dollars due to the President's noxious trough-larding policies, even before one considers the oncoming impact of the Obamacare freight train.  Who you know, rather than what you know, has become the passport to economic advancement.  Gas prices are high because he (like every greenie) wants them that way.  That higher gasoline prices are viewed as an essential means for making alternative energies price competitive became transparently clear during the run up to Copenhagen.  Just the other day, Obama's EPA forced Shell Oil to abandon an Arctic drilling project that it had already spent $4 billion on.  His administration used the Deepwater Horizon spill as an excuse to block drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.  With regard to stability in the Middle East, the White House seems to be unaware that the conflagration has really begun to flame out of control during this President's administration, especially since he turned his back on Hosni Mubarak in Egypt last February.

Noman is happy that the President has put the birth certificate issue behind him.  He wonders what took him so long, but is willing to let the matter go.  What he really can't wait for is for the electorate to put this President and his thieving party behind it, once and for all, while there's still time and opportunity to move forward.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Barack Obama Sings Jackie Wilson

Noman has always liked Jackie Wilson.  So, he had to laugh at this video that someone put together of the President "singing" Jackie's song, "Higher and Higher."  As an aside, the song's title gave new meaning to this picture of our President smoking gange as a younger man.

Noman wonders what the President is smoking these days.  Whatever it is, it must have hallucinogenic properties.

Mistaking Reputation For Integrity

Steven M. Davidoff, The DealBook Professor at the NY Times, decries that Wall Street firms' reputations are dying as they increase in size and sophistication.  He laments the dearth of prosecutions following the financial collapse of '08, and cites that as evidence that "People simply don't matter as much on Wall Street as they used to.  Instead size and technology carry the day." 

That's not the impression Noman gets from reading accounts of Lehman Brothers' demise, or Bear Stearns' collapse.  In those stories, Dick Fuld and Jimmy Cayne's personal foibles and prudential failures were directly responsible for their firm's downfalls.  To say that too few people have been prosecuted for the debacle, is not the same as to say that size and technology are more important than people.  Recent problems could have been averted had more Wall Street bankers (and D.C. politicians and regulators) had more character, virtues, and integrity.
All of this means that reputation is not much of a factor in corporate America.
This creates problems. In the absence of reputation, the government and regulators act as substitutes to ensure appropriate conduct. The government becomes the enforcer through civil and criminal actions for law-breaking. So what you get is more law to cover for lost reputation.
Those who criticize the Dodd-Frank Act for its 2,000-plus pages should realize that this is partly a consequence of the death of reputation on Wall Street.
There not only needs to be more law, but also a will to prosecute. As has been noted by many, financial crisis prosecutions are few.
But there may be no financial prosecutions because there is no law-breaking. It is here where reputation is still needed. Reputation is an important enforcement mechanism. Reputational sanctions ensure people act appropriately and fill the gap between poor or unethical conduct and law-breaking. It ensures that people are penalized for their mistakes and inappropriate behavior. It is the most important of oils that ensures that the capital markets work.
Law, or external control, grows as ethics, or internal control, recedes.  The former is a necessary corrective to problems that arise from the latter's absence.  Professor Davidoff has confused reputation for ethics--a frequent confusion in today's executive suites.

Which counts for more: looking good or being good?  It's an old debate that readers of Plato's Republic and Gorgias are familiar with.  Professor Davidoff has taken the worst side of it: Thrasymachus, Glaucon, Callicles and Polus's side.  Socrates won the Western mind, if not the day, by arguing that it is preferable to be good, rather than merely be thought good, and to suffer injustice rather than commit it, for the good of the soul. All things being equal, people of good soul will also be people of good reputation.  But, that is not necessarily the case.

The real problem with size (money) and technology is that reputation can be bought with a big enough budget, and sophisticated enough advertisements.  Companies, and people, can make themselves look good when they aren't.  Note that GE, a slimy chameleon of a company, is trumpeting its free-market bona fides--earned when Ronald Reagan was preaching capitalism's virtues as GE's corporate spokesman--at the same time that it's playing footsies with Mr. Obama's government.  The President himself assures us that CEO Immelt's proximity to his ear guarantees that D.C. will be market/business friendly, and not just GE friendly.  My guess is that more people will believe the advertisements and flattering media coverage than the corporatist money & power grab that GE/DC are performing before their very eyes.

Davidoff adresses a real problem: there are insufficient deterrents--mostly internal, interior to the person--to keep Wall Streeter's straight.  Unfortunately, he has misdiagnosed the cause.  What he seems to regret is the lack of stigma attached to reckless Wall Street misbehavior.  Rather than lament the decline of reputation's importance, he should denounce it's triumph over ethics: the only power capable in a free society of arresting abberant human behavior.  In other words, too many people in our image/media drenched milieu have chosen the Ring of Gyges (see the Republic, Bk 2, 2.359a–2.360d) instead of the way of self-control; Glaucon over Socrates.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Do You Know Where Your Children Are - 2

You won't believe what Noman did on the Saturday night before Palm Sunday, the evening following the final performance of  "Mystery At Shady Acres" (see Do You Know Where Your Children Are - 1, 4/18/11).  He served with a half-dozen other parents as a judge at an apologetics "trial" for roughly 20 teens (ages 14-18).   That's right.  A score of teens (and another dozen children of all ages who played or watched) got together on a Saturday night to debate the great apologetic themes of the past several centuries: e.g., veneration of Mary, the primacy of Peter, sola scriptura, the real presence, prayer to saints--not necessarily in that order.

Here's how it works.  Teens were split into three teams.  One team carried the burden of defending a dogma, e.g., the real presence.  It was given 15 minutes to caucus and confer on Church teaching using scripture, study guides, members of the judiciary or what have you.  One team "prosecuted" by challenging/attacking the dogma.  It also prepared its line of questioning for 15 minutes.  The third team served as a jury, which deliberated after the trial and came to a verdict as to how two points were to be divided between the two teams (2-0, 1-1, or 0-2).  The parents were the judges, who could intervene during questioning, preparation, etc.  If the defense was stumped during examination, it could call for a two minute recess to confer.  

Each team took a turn at each of the three tasks, defending, prosecuting and jurying.  One round took 45-60 minutes, and the team with the most points at the end of three rounds was declared the winner.  Noman was extremely impressed with the teens, who were into it, and great.  Altogether, it was a most enjoyable evening of family entertainment, and he is thankful to have been involved in such a wonderful event.  He is also thankful to have friends who initiate and participate in this sort of pastime.  This is the way things are supposed to work, especially for the teens, not the anomic and estranged life that passes for the fate of television and movie teens.  He heartily recommends your trying it with a group of friends in your community.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

He Is Risen, Indeed!

Peter proceeded to speak and said:
“You know what has happened all over Judea,
beginning in Galilee after the baptism
that John preached,
how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth
with the Holy Spirit and power.
He went about doing good
and healing all those oppressed by the devil,
for God was with him.
We are witnesses of all that he did
both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.
They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.
This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible,
not to all the people, but to us,
the witnesses chosen by God in advance,
who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
He commissioned us to preach to the people
and testify that he is the one appointed by God
as judge of the living and the dead.
To him all the prophets bear witness,
that everyone who believes in him
will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Friday, April 22, 2011

"It Is Finished"

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged.
And the soldiers wove a crown out of thorns and placed it on his head,
and clothed him in a purple cloak,
and they came to him and said,
“Hail, King of the Jews!”
And they struck him repeatedly.
Once more Pilate went out and said to them,
“Look, I am bringing him out to you,
so that you may know that I find no guilt in him.”
So Jesus came out,
wearing the crown of thorns and the purple cloak.
And he said to them, “Behold, the man!”
When the chief priests and the guards saw him they cried out,
“Crucify him, crucify him!”
Pilate said to them,
“Take him yourselves and crucify him.
I find no guilt in him.”
The Jews answered,
“We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die,
because he made himself the Son of God.”

Thursday, April 21, 2011

It Is Started

Brothers and sisters:
I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, 
that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, 
took bread, and, after he had given thanks,
broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, 
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, 
you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Happy Anniversary

Today marks the one year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon's explosion and the ensuing Gulf disaster off the coast of Louisiana.  You'll all have to agree with Noman that Louisiana is one unlucky state given the frequency of nature-related disasters occurring there.  Who can forget Hurricane Katrina, which overwhelmed the State's levees in 2005, and turned the glorious city of New Orleans into a deadly puddle.  

Perhaps you'll also agree that President Obama is one lucky Democrat.  (Lucky Republicans don't exist, especially those with the last name of "Bush.")  Of course, maybe it's not just luck that Horizon never turned into BO's Katrina, as conservatives wanting payback had hoped for.  Some things never change.  And one of them is that Democrats are not called to account by the media's wall of sound for their blunders, oversights, crimes, lies, slimy actions, etc.  Republicans would need control of some television & visual media to accomplish that, though talk radio, the internet and sections of the Wall Street Journal make up part of the deficiency.  But, for heavy propagandizing, visual media is a must, and Democrats dominate that field.

The standard media playbook goes as follows.  Democrats' misdeeds and mistakes are either studiously ignored, or lightly commented upon, while those seeking to bring truth to light have their teeth kicked in and skulls fractured.  When Democrats' incompetence persists, as to cry to the high heavens, then some organ of the prestige media will denounce the blunder in surly tones, and peremptorily drop it again (having fulfilled its watchdog duty).  Fellow travelers and the usual suspects provide the air cover.

Conversely, when Republicans are at the helm, regardless of how removed from the problem they are, or how many Democrats are more proximate to it, the debacle instantly becomes the direct responsibility of the Republican.  Hurricane Katrina, of course, is a paradigmatic case in point.  Noman's impression of the tragedy was that George Bush not only wanted black people to die, but that he caused the hurricane as well.   He didn't act quickly enough; he didn't care; he's evil and racist, etc.  Forget that the Mayor of New Orleans and the Governor of Louisiana were Democrats, or that federal subsidies for the city's levees had been diverted to pork barrel projects undertaken by local administrations.  It was George Bush's fault!!  The wall of sound blasted at high decibel, and the charge stuck.  His presidency was weakened in advance of the fateful 2006 elections.

It seemed to Noman that President Obama's response to the Deepwater Horizon explosion and gulf spill was inept, and dilatory in the extreme.  While 200,000 barrels per day spilled into the gulf, he tended to legislation to control financial markets along lefty lines; the Arizona law passed to address the problem of illegal immigration, which the federal government was ignoring; mobilizing minority voters to smite their Republican enemies; meeting with the press to enlist their support in achieving his political priorities, and even to meeting with preacher Billy Graham.  When he finally got around to looking at the Horizon's problem, his solution was to shut down drilling in the gulf.  His administration altered an official report to give the false impression that scientists supported his decision to impose a moratorium.  It looked as if his strategy all along was to let the disaster proliferate before lending government assistance, in order to halt deepwater oil drilling, a high priority for his constituents, but not for the nation.  All the while, the wall of sound held it's tongue.

The point of this post is not to highlight yet another perfidious aspect of President Obama's reign.  It is rather to highlight the double standard at work in the media, and to underscore how it is that people around the globe get the simplistic impression that Republicans are bad, and Democrats are good.  The slightest Republican indiscretion is blown up to look like a horrendous enormity; the most wretched Democratic excess is downplayed to look like a parking ticket.  There is a deception at work.

These are the thoughts that today's anniversary suggested to Noman.  The lack of noise and media vituperation indicate that the disaster occurred during the reign of a Democratic President.

There isn't a problem that this country couldn't surmount rather quickly if it only enjoyed a "free press," considered broadly to encompass all forms of media communication.   

Monday, April 18, 2011

The King of Rock & Roll

No-son #1 is posting on his top five Elvis songs.  
  1. Can't Help Falling in Love
  2. Return to Sender
  3. (Marie's the Name) His Latest Flame
  4. I Got Lucky
  5. Crying in the Chapel

That's not a bad list, and Noman salutes No-son #1 on his sterling taste in artists.  But Noman begs to differ.  At the risk of leaving off some great numbers, Noman's top five favorite Elvis songs are:

5. Return to Sender: 
(n.b. The beautiful blonde is Stella Stevens, the woman Elvis should have chosen in this movie.)

4. (Marie's the Name) His Latest Flame:

3. Little Sister:

2. All Shook Up:
(n.b. Though the song's incomplete, this video is great!)

1. Jailhouse Rock:

Honorable mention goes to:
  • Don't Be Cruel
  • (Let Me Be) Teddy Bear
  • Blue Suede Shoes
  • Don't Cry Daddy
  • Kentucky Rain
As long as Noman is on the topic, his absolute favorite Elvis movie is "Kid Gallahad," which opens with a scene that made an impression on small Noman (No-boy) and turned him into a lifelong Elvis nut: the king sitting on the back of a moving van singing "King of the Whole Wide World" 

It features "I Got Lucky," and one of Noman's favorite Elvis ballads, "Home is Where the Heart Is."  Both are on this clip.  Yes, that is Charles Bronson towards the end.  The movie features great performances by Charles Bronson, Gig Young, and Joan Blackman--the consummate Elvis girl.

This Elvis post wouldn't be complete without a link to "Pocketful of Rainbows," from "G.I Blues," which co-stars Juliet Prowse.  It's a corny movie, like all of them were, but Prowse dances, Elvis wins the girl, and everything ends up the way it's supposed to in a sane world.

Finally, check out the king singing "Mean Woman Blues."  The bad guy in this scene gets his block knocked off by Elvis, and also got it knocked off in a bar fight in G.I. Blues.  Can you imagine him describing his acting career to his grandchildren?

Well, enough is enough.  If all that isn't sufficient to whet your appetite, then Elvis is not for you.  On the other hand, if you like it, all his music and movies are readily available.  Long live the king.  And, thanks to No-Son #1 for getting Noman started.

Do You Know Where Your Children Are - 1

One of the nice things about having lots of No-children is that there's always something going on.  No-child number four (No-daughter number three) was in a play last weekend, Shady Acres.  Happily, it featured Beatles music.

Ah, "Eight Days A Week," one of Noman's Fab Four favorites.  He was happy to see a (much) younger generation waking up to music that thrilled him when he was not quite their age.  Aside from that, he is overjoyed to be living and raising children in a home-schooling community that puts on a variety of surprisingly good shows each year.  For further instance, No-children ## 2 & 3 will be performing next month in an elaborate production of "The Scarlet Pimpernel."  (The costumes were sewn by a dedicated mother!)

Back to Shady Acres, there was a relatively spontaneous cast party at Noman's house after the final performance on Friday night, and he encouraged his daughter to show the players "A Hard Day's Night."  Given that they'd been hearing the music for weeks of practice, he thought they might want to see what all the commotion was about.  Alas, No-daughter #3 likes neither the Beatles nor the movie, and the players settled in for a showing of Anastasia--the cartoon feature, not the Ingrid Bergman, Yul Brynner movie.  Generally, the sounds of laughter and gayety filled the house, and all was well and good, even without the Beatles.

No-son #1 (No-child #2), who graduates from high school this year, came home from work around 10pm, and we streamed the San Francisco Giants game, which was just beginning in Arizona.  What an amazing world this is, when one doesn't even need to live in the same city (or continent) as one's team to watch it play daily (if one has the time).  Eventually, parents came by to pick up their teeny-boppers.  One No-friend sat down to chat and enjoy a few minutes of the game.  On his way out the door he smiled and said.  "I count my blessings every night."  He pointed too my teenage son on the couch, noted that I was sitting at home on a Friday night with him watching a baseball game, and said that Noman had much to be thankful for.  He was right about that.  Noman is happy to be living life with No-family, surrounded by No-families of No-friends, and thanks his Father for the blessings.

Hosanna In The ... Crucify Him

Today's Palm Sunday readings cover from Jesus's triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the sealing of his tomb.  Noman's pastor pointed out in his homily that the triumphal cries of "hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" turned to angry shouts of "crucify him, crucify him" because the throngs' hopes were fixed on a political messiah, and Jesus dashed that hope.   The same crowd was bitterly disappointed, and acted to call for the death of the very person they praised just days before.  People are like that.  We're like that with God, too.  We ask Him to fulfill our hopes, and get spitting mad at Him when he doesn't do it in a way that we can recognize.  Noman can't disagree with his pastor's insight, and is thankful for consistent preaching that makes the word--The Word--very personal, and accessible.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

It Depends What You Mean By Guilty

A federal jury found Barry Bonds--the greatest player of this, and perhaps any, era--guilty of obstructing justice by being evasive during his 2003 grand jury testimony.  A mistrial was declared on the remaining three counts.  Nevertheless, pending appeal, he is now a felon.

One juror, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name, Jessica, said she believed Mr. Bonds was "intentionally evasive" when he answered yes-and-no questions about steroid use with long, rambling responses about his childhood and other tangential matters.
"The whole grand jury testimony was a series of evasive answers," said another juror who gave his name as Steve.
When questioned about using a substance that wasn't banned by baseball at the time, Bonds should have availed himself of tried-and-true, historically sanctioned forms of perjury, such as "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is,' is."

Barring that, he might have resorted to the defense that "everybody does it," which would have been truer in the case of baseball players taking steroids than it was of husbands committing adultery.  His wife (if she's still talking to him) could have gone on TV to blame the entire affair on a "vast right wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband from the day he announced his" intention to bulk up.  As an ultimate evasion, he could have blamed George Bush.

Noman realizes that steroid use among professional athletes is no laughing matter, unlike adultery and finger-wagging denials in the White House.  He also realizes that the world of sports, unlike the world of politics, requires the most punctilious honesty.  Barry should have accused himself on the witness stand.

Mr. Bonds may not be sentenced for a month or more. McGregor Scott, a former U.S. attorney in Sacramento who is now a criminal defense lawyer, said even though Mr. Bonds faces up to 10 years in prison, his sentence will likely be less than six months. "He could get probation," Mr. Scott said.
It was unclear how the verdict would affect the legacy of Mr. Bonds, who holds baseball's lifetime and single-season home-run records. He has already acknowledged taking a designer steroid and testosterone cream, though he said he didn't know what they were at the time he took them.

Barry can take solace from the knowledge that another professional athlete, linebacker Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor obstruction of justice charges (in return for having murder charges dropped) in a case involving the stabbing deaths of two men in a fight after a Super Bowl party in 2000. In the following year's Super Bowl, Lewis was named the most valuable player.  Noman is certain that the incident won't be mentioned at Lewis's football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.  The fate of Bond's candidacy to baseball's august institution is uncertain even though he stood head and shoulders above any and all of his contemporaries--or perhaps Noman should say, fellow juicers.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

There Is No Male-Female Wage Gap

Perform a Google image search on "Wage Gap," and you'll find many pictures and cartoons conveying this message: woman do the same work as men, for less than men's pay.  Having watched the hiring in business and law schools over the past two decades, from a professor's perch, Noman knows that this is a lot of hooey, at least within the professions.  If anything, the opposite is true, which is confirmed by Carrie Lukas in an op-ed today:
Perhaps feminists feel awkward protesting a liberal-dominated government—or perhaps they know that the recent economic downturn has exposed as ridiculous their claims that our economy is ruled by a sexist patriarchy.
The unemployment rate is consistently higher among men than among women. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 9.3% of men over the age of 16 are currently out of work. The figure for women is 8.3%. Unemployment fell for both sexes over the past year, but labor force participation (the percentage of working age people employed) also dropped. The participation rate fell more among men (to 70.4% today from 71.4% in March 2010) than women (to 58.3% from 58.8%). That means much of the improvement in unemployment numbers comes from discouraged workers—particularly male ones—giving up their job searches entirely.
Men and women tend to make different job choices, and full-time working men work an average of 9% longer each day than women.  In contrast to women, men tend to take riskier and more physically demanding work, during worse hours, which tends to pay more for the trouble.  Consequently, averages "reveal" a much highlighted wage gap between the sexes.  A more nuanced look at the data reveals another reality.

Recent studies have shown that the wage gap shrinks—or even reverses—when relevant factors are taken into account and comparisons are made between men and women in similar circumstances. In a 2010 study of single, childless urban workers between the ages of 22 and 30, the research firm Reach Advisors found that women earned an average of 8% more than their male counterparts. Given that women are outpacing men in educational attainment, and that our economy is increasingly geared toward knowledge-based jobs, it makes sense that women's earnings are going up compared to men's.
Should we celebrate the closing of the wage gap? Certainly it's good news that women are increasingly productive workers, but women whose husbands and sons are out of work or under-employed are likely to have a different perspective. After all, many American women wish they could work less, and that they weren't the primary earners for their families.
Propaganda gimmicks like "Equal Pay Day" make Noman sick because they bear all the earmarkings of leftist agitprop over fabricated problems.  This is how the left advances, and creates a captive, culpable constituency; it becomes complicit, and beholden, merely by being opportunistic, by taking advantage of leftist demagoguery.  The end result of this particular scam, and all lefty scams, is that more men are out of work; more women have work; women who want and seek men to be husbands, fathers, providers, protectors, are out of luck; and--here's the main point--the family suffers.  The pattern is invariable.  No-wife notes that the feminist caricature of home-making mothers--barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen--has been replaced by a new ideal: well-shod and sterile in the boardroom.

As far as Noman can tell, in recent years the best men in his classes don't stand a chance in job competition with less than the best women in his classes, and not because women are generally better.  Women are simply better organized at shaking down corporations via a myriad of social-psychology, guilt-trip tactics buttressed by relentless media indoctrination regarding "wage-gaps" and such.

A Timeless Management Insight

John Kay, former director of Oxford' Business School, has captured a crucial yet counter-intuitive insight in "Obliquity: Why Our Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly":
Mr. Kay begins with a provocative, profound and counterintuitive insight: When it comes to major goals, whether in life or in business, one can pursue them best by deliberately not pursuing them.
Happiness is one of those goals. Mr. Kay quotes John Stuart Mill, who framed what has come to be known as the happiness paradox: "Those only are happy . . . who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness." Or, as Hawthorne said: "Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you."...
Mr. Kay's innovation is to pair this age-old paradox with a newer one, which he calls the "profit-seeking paradox" and sees in cases like Merck and GE. The idea here is that the best way for a business to maximize profits is not to seek to maximize profits. Mr. Kay's argument, which owes much to the economist Robert Frank, goes as follows. Consumers will purchase from your business, or employees will go the extra mile to contribute to your success, only if they believe that you care about their interests. The best way to establish that you care is to show that you can place their interests ahead of your own. In a recession, for instance, you take the hit and avoid layoffs. Then your workers will go to bat for you, giving you a 110% effort.
But, as Mr. Kay notes, something more is required. Even if you know that keeping workers on the payroll will elicit their over-the-top effort, the hope of gaining their over-the-top effort cannot be your motive for keeping them on the payroll. If your employees think that you care not about them but rather about the 110%, they won't oblige you by working harder. Paradoxically, then, to gain the 110% you must demonstrably not care about it.
In a few short paragraphs, this reviewer (borrowing from John Kay) has summed up something that Noman has been laboring to teach MBA's and executive students for the past two decades.  He would only correct the reviewer by noting that a manger can never "not care" about getting more, say 110%.  Subordinates might trust a non-ambitious maanger's intentions, but they could never trust his competence.  What a manager must demonstrate is that s/he cares about other things besides 110%, including subordinates' well-being, and the satisfaction of customers' real needs.

Noman learned this, and more, from a Spanish business professor named Juan Antonio Perez-Lopez, whose masterful insights were presented in two books that were unfortunately never published in English: "The Theory of Human Action In Organizations" (RIALP, 1991), and "Foundations of Business Management" (RIALP 1993).

Victor Frankl expressed a related point in "Man's Search For Meaning," first published in German in 1946.  Students invariably thank Noman for directing them to Frankl's book, which documents his work in logotherapy with fellow prisoners in Nazi death camps.  In fact, the book's original title in English was "From Death-Camp To Existentialism." (Beacon Press, 1959)
Apparently, man must have an aim toward which he can constantly direct his life.  he must accomplish concrete, personal tasks and fulfill concrete, personal demands; he must realize that unique meaning which each of us has to fulfill.  Therefore, I consider it misleading to speak of "self-fulfillment" and "self-realization."  For what is demanded of man is not primarily fulfillment and realization of himself, but, the actualization of specific tasks in his world - and only to the degree to which he accomplishes this actualization will he also fulfill himself; not per intentionem but per effectum.
 It is a joy for Noman that Kay has delved into profound truths and expressed them so clearly and convincingly.  He looks forward to reading the book, and hopes that many in business will, too.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Who's the Extremist Now?

William McGurn is fast becoming Noman's favorite columnist.  He comments today on liberal ideologues' ploy to blame last week's impending government shutdown on tea-party ideologues, when it was they who were willing to shut it down in order to defend (rather than defund) Planned Parenthood's place at the federal government's liberal feeding trough.
[O]n Planned Parenthood funding, [John Boehner] has secured something that those concerned about restoring these contentious issues to the people should appreciate: an agreement that the Senate will vote on a separate measure to defund Planned Parenthood.

Surely it tells you something about who the real extremists are that an up or down vote is deemed a concession. In an appearance at a rally before the deal, Mr. Schumer vowed that any bill taking taxpayer dollars from Planned Parenthood would "never, never, never" pass the Senate. In the normal way of doing things, it wouldn't even have come up for a vote.
Most Americans, it is probably safe to say, have no idea that we are talking about an organization that performed 332,278 abortions in 2009—one abortion every 95 seconds. Planned Parenthood counters that no federal dollars go to abortion, but Americans are not stupid. They know money is fungible.
As for serving pregnant women, that would be worth some congressional attention too. Planned Parenthood's own numbers show that more than 97% of pregnant women it treated were given abortions—against fewer than 3% who received nonabortion services such as adoption or prenatal care.
Think about it.  In 2009, this taxpayer funded organization ended 332,278 human lives in the womb.  97% of the women who went to it for "counseling" prevented their own developing children from ever seeing the light of day.  Try explaining, without sounding imbecilic, casuistic or disingenuous, why defending this practice is mainstream, and fighting to merely stop funding it with taxpayer dollars is extreme.  (Keep in mind that the public never voted to decriminalize abortion in the first place.  That was done by a 7-2 vote of the Supreme Court.)

If you can, congratulations of a sort are in order. You are certainly made of the right stuff to become a politician, lawyer, or community organizer.  And all those jobs pay very well.

Fiscal Conservatism Alone?

The Wall Street Journal editorializes about the tea party's "success" in last Friday's budget resolution.
This is getting to be a habit. President Obama ferociously resists tax cuts, trade agreements and spending cuts—right up to the moment he strikes a deal with Republicans and hails the tax cuts, trade agreements and spending cuts as his idea. What a difference an election makes.
This is the larger political meaning of Friday's last minute budget deal for fiscal 2011 that averted a government shutdown. Mr. Obama has now agreed to a pair of tax cut and spending deals that repudiate his core economic philosophy and his agenda of the last two years—and has then hailed both as great achievements. Republicans in Washington have reversed the nation's fiscal debate and are slowly repairing the harm done since the Nancy Pelosi Congress began to set the direction of government in 2007.
Noman can't argue with that.  President Obama is an adept politician, meaning, unfortunately, that he is a great liar and a consummate phony.  Noman does take issue with the following, though.

Yes, we know, $39 billion in spending cuts for 2011 is less than the $61 billion passed by the House and shrinks the overall federal budget by only a little more than 1%. The compromise also doesn't repeal ObamaCare, kill the EPA's anticarbon rules, defund Planned Parenthood, reform the entitlement state, or part the Red Sea...
Now the battle moves to the debt ceiling increase and Paul Ryan's new 2012 budget later this year, and there are lessons from this fight to keep in mind. One is to focus on spending and budget issues, not extraneous policy fights. Republicans have the advantage when they are talking about the overall level of spending and ways to control it. They lose that edge when the debate veers off into a battle over social issues.
We certainly agree that, amid a $1.5 trillion deficit, taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood is preposterous. Let George Soros or Peter Lewis spend their private fortunes to support the group's abortion counseling. But Mr. Boehner was wise to drop the provision on Friday rather than let Mr. Obama portray a shutdown as a fight over abortion rights. If Republicans want to win this fight in the coming months, they need to convince voters that Planned Parenthood funding is a low fiscal priority, not make it seem as if they want to use the budget to stage a cultural brawl.
This point is especially crucial in the looming showdown over increasing the debt limit. Mr. Obama will marshal a parade of Wall Street and Federal Reserve worthies predicting Armageddon if the debt limit isn't raised as early as mid-May. Republicans will play into his hands of they seek to load up any debt limit increase with policies unrelated to spending and debt reduction.
Since when is $330 million unrelated to spending?  And, anyone who thinks that Planned Parenthood's portion of liberals' federal cornucopia is a discrete and isolated chunk is fooling themselves.  The same people are feeding at the government trough under various guises, e.g., health care, community organizing, foreign aid.  Liberals will squawk whenever any and every piece of their pork pie is threatened.  So, conservatives at the WSJ, and elsewhere, had better find their moral voice and get familiar with reasons for taking on social liberals.  They'll be running into them wherever they probe for cuts.

Ultimately, the problem with what the editorial counsels is that it ignores the vital connection between the social and fiscal issues, a connection that Democrats never ignore.  If two years of Democratic hegemony in DC taught us anything, it is that statist priorities, corporatist economics, and the sexual revolution march arm in arm.  They are all components of the culture of death.

Noman has come to appreciate the vital importance of the economic issues to freedom.  From a purely pragmatic perspective, the choice between a party that wholeheartedly loves abortion, hates traditional religion, and wants to take away all his money on the one hand--the Democrats--and a party that harbors some who love abortion, and hate traditional religion, but will let him keep his money--the Republicans--is an easy one.  But, until the first two items are removed from the equation, the choice merely offers the difference between a quick capitulation and a slow capitulation to government domination.  Moral degradation and statism advance together.  Dependence is central and crucial to both of them.

The only coalition capable of straightening out this country's problems will include libertarians and Christians; those who want small federal government and a large sphere of personal liberty, with those who want moral self-governance in both government and persons.  Endlessly deferring the interests of either group is the wrong way to advance the interests of the other, and of the coalition.  Economic conservatives will have to learn to appreciate the vital importance of the social issues to freedom.  That's when the party will really get going.

Abortion, and Budgets

The federal government averted a shutdown Friday night when the Democrats agreed to a few more billion dollars in unspecified cuts, and the Republicans dropped their insistence on federally defunding Planned Parenthood (and other riders).  Noman wasn't surprised, as he didn't expect the rider to get as far as it did.  The Republicans weren't ready to shut down the government over the issue, and the Democrats were.  Dems focused their prerogative-preserving attacks on the "far right's ideological agenda," and Republicans shied away from the fight.  Pity.  They missed a teachable moment.  

Those who kill their babies are the ones with something to hide from the public, not those who oppose forcing others to pay for the crime.  It's a shame that Republicans couldn't find one eloquent spokesman to argue the case for life--a Henry Hyde, for instance--when it mattered, or to explain the link between fiscal and social issues to the electorate.  Let Noman try. Only a people decent enough to accept limits to its self-gratifying behavior (thereby avoiding a last resort to mayhem in the womb) is likely to be decent enough to accept limits to its spending and borrowing.  Anyone who identifies the act of exterminating babies (for instance, the one pictured above) as the touchstone of personal liberty--something that feminists and philanderers have been arguing for decades--and moreover who expects others to stand silently by with their mouths shut and their wallets opened, is also likely to expect others to fund whatever social priorities s/he identifies.  Responsibility and decency are habits of the person that will manifest themselves in personal action, both socially and economically.  

Moreover, social conservatives were no more responsible for this unnecessary crisis than were social liberals--less by Noman's reckoning.  Funding for planned planned parenthood did not waft into the public budget on a breeze.  It was imposed by Democrats on the American public by means similar to those employed by Republicans trying to free the public from the imposition.  This season's budget skirmish would not have been necessary had lefties not prevailed in earlier budget contests.  And, in the final analysis, it was the left that was willing to exercise the nuclear option in its insistence, not the right.  The media specializes in clamoring about ideologues on the right, while denying (by their silence) the existence of ideologues on the left.  The public should not be hoodwinked about the contest, or the stakes. 

The funding issue, as per agreement, will come before the Senate, which will vote it down because Democrats run the show there.  And, Democrats fight with rat-like rage for all things abortion.  Generally, to vote "D" means to cast a vote for dependence, depravity, and death.  And, abortion satisfies all three conditions.  (1) It encourages irresponsible men and women to turn to government-funded agencies in order to avoid the responsibility for a baby that their actions have brought (or might bring, in the case of contraception) into existence.  (2) What could be more depraved than a mother delivering her baby to the executioner.  And, (3) death is the alpha and the omega of the act: its motive and end.  

Every Senator will be on record as to where they stand on government funding of abortion.  I hope that Republican Senators, when explaining why funding "women's services" is none of the federal government's business--whether or not it's running deficits, but especially when it is--will take the time to explain that the culture of death, which menaces us all, rides the coat tails of the abortion lobby.
In some ways the dispute over Planned Parenthood funding is symbolic. The legal right to abortion is not at stake, and the subsidy doesn't even pay directly for abortion, which the group is required to fund from nonfederal revenue. So why is it the Democratic Party's No. 1 priority?
Our best answer is identity politics. As we observed in January, for many liberal women, their sexual identity is bound up in their politics, and especially in the politics of abortion. Just about anyone who lives in a big American city has the experience of being told by a woman, probably a youngish college-educated woman, that she would never vote Republican because the GOP is against abortion.
There are single-issue antiabortion voters as well, and our guess is that they are more numerous nationwide. Republicans have on the whole done better than Democrats in federal elections since 1980, when the parties first became polarized around abortion; and the Roe effect ought to give them a demographic boost.
But single-issue pro-abortion voters are still a crucial component of the Democratic electoral base. As National Journal reported last week, President Obama is "struggling with every other segment of the white electorate, including younger voters," with the exception of "well-educated white women."
Noman believes that these "well educated white women" are rather poorly educated, especially about ethics.  But, they are highly indoctrinated, with a chip on their shoulders for not being born with men's ability to arise from a sexual encounter unburdened by new, separate life within.  They are the quintessence of narrow-mindedness, especially about their nature and all that goes with it, regardless of how many degrees they have.

Noman's opinion of why Democrats are so adamant about abortion is that Democrats are the party of the left, and as leftists, are neo-Hegelians who believe that the state is the march of God in the world.  There is no room for devotion to another God--especially not the God whose followers colonized this country and established the American nation--and abortion strikes at the heart of Christian civilization.  For lefties in America and throughout the occident, Christ, the great Liberator, must die again by being ripped from the culture, and having his church shackled; the Holy Spirit must be denied access to the human heart by enslaving man to his libido, and occluding his conscience as to the morality of personal action; God must be diminished by belittling His fatherhood, and debasing human fatherhood, thereby discrediting the concept of fatherhood generally.  Just Noman's opinion.

Abortion, turns mother against child, and enlists the complicity of fathers, and/or law.  Thus, the mother-child bond nurtured within a family--the most intimate bond known to man--is converted from the seedbed of security to the font of alienation.  Every American born after 1973--the year the Supreme Court definitively turned the country over to culture warriors on the left--was born to a mother that could have turned thumbs down on his existence, including (until 2007) in the 9th month of pregnancy; none have intrinsic value; all have worth merely by the good graces of another who deigned to let him live.  The person, shorn of supernatural and human context, and oriented towards vice is easy prey for the aggrandizing state promising cradle to grave security.  In reality, it offers dependence, depravity and death.  And abortion is the key to its achieving the desired result, sooner or later.

Consider how far the march of this false god has advanced in the last four years, since Nancy Pelosi's Congress joined with Harry Reid's Senate to govern in accordance with leftist beliefs.  Did anyone ever think that the Leviathan federal government would be strong enough to fend off efforts to reduce a $1.65 trillion deficit.  Noman didn't.

Defund Planned Parenthood, and quit making people like the ones above pay for activity on behalf of a god (of state) that they won't worship.  Let PP survive on the support of those who believe in the sanctity of taking human life.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Hollywood On A Roll

In case you weren't aware, "Soul Surfer" is a faith-filled movie about surfing champion, Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm in a 2003 shark attack.  It must be good because movie reviewers are singing its praises (even if somewhat grudgingly), as is the viewing public.  
No one actually walks on water during the fact-based sports drama "Soul Surfer," but the Christian signifiers arrive with the regularity of waves slamming against the Hawaiian shoreline. It was there, in 2003, that up-and-coming teen surfer Bethany Hamilton lost an arm in a shark attack, and not only recovered but went on to surf competitively again. It's a great story, one told with a great deal of polish and passion by director Sean McNamara, adapted from Ms. Hamilton's memoir (co-written with Sheryl Berk and Rich Bundschuh). The movie is bright, blue and buoyant. And it has a religious agenda as wide as the ocean.
Which does not, of course, make "Soul Surfer" a bad movie. Far from it. Even if you instinctively resist the kind of subtle proselytizing that goes on throughout the film—the prayers, the hymns, the Bibles, the implied heavenly guidance, the prominent placement of the evangelical organization World Vision—its bubbling optimism and spectacular scenery are hard not to like. But "Soul Surfer" is also part of a growing movement dedicated to making and distributing Christian films in the mainstream, films that don't advertise their spirituality but carry a very distinct religious message nonetheless. And once your antennae are up, of course, everything becomes symbolic. 

It opened strong, and was the 4th best grossing film last weekend.  The movie stars Carrie Underwood, Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid.  Could it be that Hollywood is waking up to the power of faith, at least at the box office, and wants business to fly on its wings?