Wednesday, December 31, 2008

a house of cards

kudos to robert stewart (formerly of royal dutch shell), who recently published a brief, clear explanation of how we got into the current financial crisis. tracing the collapse back to the widespreach practice of subprime lending, he writes:

in summary, the essence of the subprime crisis is that money was lent (often through the agency of questionable mortgage brokers) at very low interest rates (courtesy of the fed) to hundreds of thousands of people (all they needed was a credit score and a pulse) who could not afford to pay it back; and it was backed by collateral (a house) that was not properly valued. such assets, accurately described as “liar loans,” were then packaged into opaque securities, known as structured-investment vehicles (sponsored but not guaranteed by a respected and well-known name), which very few people understood. they were sold on to pension funds, banks, and others whose gullible investment managers also did not understand them and failed to carry out the rigorous analysis that their clients had a right to expect.

government encouraged all of this by supporting affordable housing (which was politically correct) and accusing banks of redlining (failing to lend to poor and black people in the same proportion as they lent to the rich and white). when the borrower, already maxed out on his credit cards, predictably failed to make payments, the scale of the problems eventually became apparent to somnolent regulators and financial institutions. confidence and trust evaporated, because no one knew which institutions held suspect securities, how much the losses were, and who was ultimately safe. a financial system built on debt and excessive leverage was a financial system built on sand.
stewart's analysis doe not detail the moral rot underpinning the current predicament, but he does point out:

populist politicians rarely blamed the borrowers, because there are so many of them and they vote; instead they blamed greedy capitalists, speculators, short sellers, anyone except the debtors, and the imprudent economic policies of the u.s. government.
the entire article, which chronicles how this root issue led to the broader financial calamity, is worth reading and can be found here.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

the light has come into the world

the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. (isaiah 9:2)

that was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. he was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. he came unto his own, and his own received him not. but as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (john 1:9-13)

joy to the world, the Lord has come
let earth receive her king
let every heart prepare him room
and heaven and nature sing!

Monday, December 22, 2008

cold as ice

they're calling it the worst snow storm in 12 years in the seattle area -- lots of snow and freezing rain, and because of unusually cold temperatures, none of it is going away. according to the latest forecasts, it looks like we'll be somewhat 'snowed in' for another week. "no need to dream of a white christmas -- it's coming." one local told me that this is the kind of thing that only happens once in 30 years.

thankfully, we were able to pick up b from the airport, after a bit of drama. she was supposed to come in on saturday night, the night when the big part of the storm hit. because of inaccurate communication from american airlines, i thought she was coming into seattle just an hour after her scheduled arrival, when in actuality, her plane was being diverted to san francisco. so i braved the blizzard en route to the airport, having to stop periodically to remove the ice from the windshield wipers when i could no longer see. driving in the snow here is typically more difficult than in montreal; even though the snowfall is not as heavy, they don't salt or clear the roads, so you're driving in a lot of snow and ice. thank God for those winter tires we brought from montreal, a gift from the river church community in san jose.

when i got to the airport, i discovered that they had closed the cell phone waiting lot, which i thought was ridiculous. but a number of us were actually chased away by a gruff police officer. i waited for about 90 minutes before we figured out what had happened, then made my way back to our house in the snow storm, only to find that the road was closed just a mile from home. i made it home anyway, passing at least one car that had been abandoned by the road side. i parked at the bottom of our hill and hiked up. the snow was so heavy and the hill so steep that i think i was getting about six inches per step.

upon returning home, we confirmed that b was on the ground in sf, awaiting departure to seattle. i worried about what we would do if she got to seattle and i couldn't get through, but her plane was finally grounded. good friends c and n rode to the rescue, picking up b at sfo and shuttling her back to their place for a nice dinner and a good night's rest in a warm bed.

yesterday morning, they took b back to the airport, where she finally departed for seattle. church friends on this end offered to pick her up at the airport and bring her to within a mile and a half or so, where we were hoping to hike out and pick her up. i wasn't sure what we were going to do with her (large!) suitcase, but before we had to find out, g from across the street offered to take me to pick her up in his awd. not long after that, we were all eating lasagna back at the house!

because of the dangerous weather, church was canceled for the second sunday in a row, so this time, we experimented with a live video broadcast, and i gave an informal message from our living room to some 23 viewers; don't know how many were watching per computer, but that was probably most of the bridge!
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Sunday, December 14, 2008

are you kidding me?

once upon a time, we lived in northern california. there were two seasons. one was warmer and drier, the other cooler and wetter. snow was a once-in-a-decade phenomenon, the kind of thing that kids wished for at christmas, but never got to see.

then a few years ago, we moved to montreal, quebec -- our first home with four true seasons, including some brutally cold, snowy winters. there's a lot that we miss about montreal, but snow hasn't really been the main thing, at least for me. i love the appearance of snow; it makes everything look beautiful and clean. but with snow comes ice and other safety concerns. that's the part i haven't missed since we moved to the seattle area.

and then last night, it started to snow. and snow. and snow. because snow is more rare in this area (at least at our elevation), there really aren't provisions for snow removal or (God forbid) salting of the roads. usually, people just stay inside and wait for it to melt. when they don't, it's not very safe, as many aren't experienced at driving on icy roads. combine that with some steep hills (like the one we live on) and the results can be... unfortunate.

so we canceled the worship service of the bridge this morning due to snow. there's a part of me that still can't believe it. this amount of snow wouldn't elicit a grunt in montreal; they wouldn't even bother with snow removal. but then, they'd have so much salt on the roads that it would look like it had rained. the road would be moist, but without a hint of ice. and it'd be mostly flat. for reference, what montrealers call 'the mountain' is only a couple of hundred feet higher than the east hill of kent!

the thing that has me concerned is that the weather forecast is for highs below freezing all week. are we stuck up here for a week? we might want to replenish our food before then...
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Friday, December 05, 2008

holiday stupidity

'tis the season to be... silly?

earlier this week, an atheist-sponsored sign disparaging religion was included in a holiday display (along with a nativity display) in olympia, wa. christians and other folks from around the country were outraged; some even called it 'hate speech.' the atheists insisted that it is the nativity that is the hate speech, indirectly threatening non-believers with violent, eternal judgment. a local pastor planned to hold a press conference to unveil his own counter-sign that says, in part, "atheism is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds." now, the original sign has disappeared.

i will not defend the motives or actions of the atheists. was the sign provocative and insulting? sure, all of the atheistic protestations to the contrary. but i do sometimes wish that christians could respond with grace as well as truth. some of our reactions seem slightly hysterical to me. are we really that thin-skinned?

no one thought to have video surveillance on this obvious invitation to mischief, but i can only hope that christians were not the thieves. that's not only illegal and cowardly; it's also a strategic mistake. that sign was a great opportunity. it was the open door to talk about the true meaning of christmas and christianity, an invitation for the not-yet-believing to reflect on questions they might otherwise never ask, and a chance to demonstrate the love of Jesus. instead, we have discussions about first amendment rights vs. hate speech. not to mention that after the theft of the sign, the atheists are getting even more air time for their message.

maybe we should ask ourselves again, "what would Jesus do?" in addition to an unbending commitment to the truth, i'm guessing it has something to do with loving our enemies and laying down our lives for them, that they might come to know God...