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Posts Tagged ‘economics’

What Makes A Culture?

Can an individual have their own culture, or must the aspects be shared by a group?  How much can be absent or altered without losing (collective) culture or (personal) identity?

When I think of culture, one of the first things to come to mind is food.  When I get a chance to visit another country, I want to experience their food: the tang in the air, the flavors, the different ingredients.  I’m curious whether food is mostly served at home or at a restaurant?  If Asian markets are any hint, pre-packaged foods are popular in China.  But Asian cooking involves all sorts of raw ingredients I’ve never heard of here in the United States.  Here also we have one of our cultures that only eats either frozen foods or fast foods or snacks.  But aren’t there still places in the world where cooking from scratch is an art?  Some cultures encourage bonding over sharing food in various degrees from a family meal to a family-style where the food is served all in giant platters into which people dip their hands to hospitality.  On the other end of the spectrum is the more formal dining experience, at a restaurant, with plates individually prepared, courses served.  There are cultures more receptive to buffets (my grandparents from Kansas *loved* them), or short-order cooking.  There is something special that some cultures encourage about preparing food together.  Some places esteem cooks highly, while others relegate the cooking of food to the lowliest classes (or women or slaves).  In some cultures dessert is a special treat, for holidays maybe – while some have a dessert at least once a day!  Which cultures care about nutrition?  Which about presentation?  Which about exotic flavors and innovative dishes?  Which focus more on comfort food and cravings?  What are considered comfort foods in various cultures?

I’ve noticed that different cultures have different modes of posture.  Some use chairs, and some cushions.  Some have sofas, others benches.  There are places where squatting is more common than sitting “Indian-style”.  Related to this, I think, is hygiene: how often do the people bathe, and by what means?  What are their toilet facilities like – or do they use fields, dig holes?  How do the people view health, view disease?  How do they treat it?  Do they use prayers or rituals?  Exercises?  Medicines?  Drugs?  Herbal remedies and nutrition?  Oils?  Mineral baths?  Other practices like chiropractors would employ?  Do they gather the sick together in hospitals or tend them at home?  Are there doctors?  How much treatment is limited to professionals?  Do they believe in preemptive medical care like scans or vaccinations?  At what points do they choose not to treat a person any more?

How are drugs and alcohol viewed?  Sometimes there are whole cultures built around the common experience of these substances.

What do people wear in various cultures?  What are the conventions; that is, is it normal for anyone to wear pants?  Robes?  Hats?  Certain colors or fabrics?  What is the style?  How often do fashions change?  How are they changed?  Does appearance matter as a form of art or more a form of modesty?  Is clothing more about the aesthetic or the functional?  How is clothing used to demonstrate distinctions in gender, age, class, employment, marital status, etc.?  Do people alter their bodies for the sake of appearance: foot binding, neck stretching, piercings, tattoos?

It seems to me that different cultures hold different ideas about acceptable risks.  Is it acceptable to let a child play near a fire?  Jump off a log?  Play where he might encounter a snake?  Get into a fist-fight with another child?  This is not exclusive to children, though.  In some cultures taking risks is involved in a rite of passage.  Risks are joined in together, to form social bonds.  Other cultures are much more conservative and careful, I think.  What do people put on the other side of the scale when they’re weighing risks?  Are fun and excitement of any relevance to them?  Competition?  Appearance?  Or do they only consider practical things like preparing for invasions or hunting for food?

Art is such a huge sphere for culture that I don’t even know where to begin.  Cultures have their favorite mediums, subjects, colors, motives.  I can only suppose that certain fonts are the preferred writing of specific cultures, since the fonts on grocery stores appealing to diverse cultures are unique and identifiable even in the United States.  People groups have their own favorite sounds of music, their customary scales in which their music is played or sung.  Some have more instruments than others.  Dancing varies from culture to culture in complexity and energy and purpose.

There are other forms of entertainment that vary depending on the culture.  Even the predominance of entertainment can be a mark of a different culture.  Sports are observed as entertainment, or played for entertainment; in some cultures it seems to be one more than the other.  Some sports are preferred by certain cultures, probably by way of other aspects of their culture (energy, reserve, risk) and inheritance (what did their parents play or watch?).  The complexity of toys, items used for play and entertainment, is also different in foreign places.  Some toys focus more on athleticism, others on skill and focus, and others do most of the work for you, performing for your enjoyment.  Toys can be scientific or domestic – little representations of the working world.  On the other hand, they can be silly escapes from the real world.

Architecture is probably a form of art, too.  But I think it transcends art in that buildings often serve additional purposes.  So, is the architecture of a culture about efficiency? Beauty?  Community?  Symbolism?  Do they use materials found at hand, or manufactured, or transported to the building site?  How big are they – are they too big for one family to raise themselves?  Do people try to live in the same place their whole lives, or are they ambitious for bigger buildings?  Do they live in natural formations like caves?  Do they dig out holes in the ground?  Do they live in trees?  By rivers?  Do they dig wells or irrigation trenches?  Do they build dams?  And how much do all of these things influence other aspects of the culture, like family and friends and food and business?

An aspect of culture in my own country so glaring that I failed to recognize it at first is materialism.  How many things do people own?  Is it a status symbol to own more?  Is sharing encouraged?  Do people show love through gifts?  How do people feel about financial sacrifice?  Do they invest in material things or in businesses – or adventures?  Where do they keep their goods?  Are things owned by individuals or groups or everyone?  Is there a distinction between land as property and removable objects as property?

Cultures have their own stories.  “Own” is here used loosely, because I have found common threads of story in many different cultures.  There are fables about the origins of things, and love stories, and stories of wars and sacrifice.  Some stories even have comedies, the sense of humor varying from culture to culture (and individual to individual).  What is seen as a hero?  Is it the man who slays the most enemies?  The man who rules the most living men?  The man who sacrifices himself?  Different cultures have their different monsters.  They have their own dominant fears, just as they have different favorite virtues.

Values shape cultures.  It seems that in America the dominant culture values independence, and speaking our mind.  I’ve heard of cultures that value the good of the whole.  Some value honor, others hold preserving life as a higher value.  Some value youth, and others value the elders.

Religions are often associated with and intertwined in cultures.  Is there one sovereign God?  What is He/he like?  Are there many gods worshiped?  Are certain animals or plants revered?  How is worship carried out?  Through song?  Pilgrimage?  Sex?  Sacrifice?  Sacred words?  Eating?

Cultures have often established their own rituals to recognize significant events like birthdays, coming of age, marriage, and other accomplishments (like graduation).  They have special ways of holding funerals.  They bring their own unique takes on holidays.  What fun, to see images and artifacts from Christmases in other places or ages!

Language is one of my favorite aspects of culture.  Is it important to the culture?  Is it precise or more personal?  Is it written or mostly spoken?  Is it tonal?  How appropriate are metaphors, slang, and profanity?  What are the customary greetings?  Besides the words spoken, what other gestures are included?  What gestures are seen as essential to good manners, and which ones are abhorrent?  Which ones are just the convention?  One tribe I heard of rubs its nose while thinking, but it is more common for my culture to scratch our head or chin – or to frown.  Does the culture encourage more or less expression of one’s own thoughts – or feelings?  Which is predominant: thoughts or feelings?  Is expression mostly communicated by gesture, action, word, or art?  Accordingly, are the people of the culture more generally reserved – or exuberant?  Are they loud or quiet?  Does everyone speak at once?  Do they take turns at anything they do?

How intimate are their friendships?  How many friends does a person tend to have?  Do they share their friends with their whole family, or is it a private affair?  How do they play?  Is playing part of friendship?  How do they show honor?  How do they respond to dishonor?  Is dishonor a casual joke or a serious offense?  How are reconciliations brought about?

There is diversity in any culture, large or small.  How is that balanced?  Is it suppressed or embraced?  Is there competition more than cooperation?  Do they try to come to unity, or to sameness?  Are differences displayed?  Analyzed?  Intentionally created?  What things are used to emphasize (or manufacture) what they have in common?  I know in some places religion does this, in others wars bring people together against a common enemy, and in others it is the common experience of standardized schooling that prepares them to respond in similar ways to things.

I don’t know if there are cultures without classes, but given that in most there are, how are relationships between the classes?  Is there mutual respect?  Is there resentment?  Are people generally content with the life to which they were born?  Do they practice cruelty or charity towards the classes that are more needy?  Is this voluntary or institutionalized?

How big is one’s sphere in their culture?  Who does a culture encourage friendship with?  Who does it encourage responsibility towards?  What are members encouraged to aspire to?  How much is proximity a factor?  What kinds of transportation do people use (walking, driving, biking, boating, flying, carting, carrying)?  Do people travel for social reasons or economic ones?  Or are there environmental reasons to practice a sort of migratory lifestyle?

Here in the United States we have many cultures living side by side, some whose “boundaries” are only a block or two from a significantly different group.  And with technology the way it is today, we can converse with people far away, travel quickly to see them, view photos they took, and purchase art created in foreign cultures.  How aware are people of other cultures?  (How aware are they that theirs is distinct?)  Are they interested in them?  Do they want to integrate good things from other cultures into their own?  Do they integrate foreigners?  Is this by means of cooperation or an initiation and instruction?  Are they willing to adapt their own culture?  Do they resist change?  Do they try to replace every culture they meet?  Do they replace the cultures of peoples they come to dominate?  Do they have compassion for foreigners or other cultures?  Do they feel superior?  Do they covet what other cultures have or are?

To an extent, family structure is different in cultures.  How do husbands relate to their wives, and what is expected of each within the home?  How do people come to be married?  How many wives may a man have?  How do parents relate to their children?  Who else bears the burden of child-rearing (community, grandparents, school, nannies)?  What kinds of discipline are used?  Are children seen and not heard?  Are they seen as trophies or contributors?  How important is extended family?  Is family more important than friends?  Are there specific obligations towards family members?  How does a family unit relate to the rest of the world?  How much is the government involved?

Some people view laws and government as providing order and security, or as being the at-the-ready conflict resolvers, while others expect the government to oversee all of the individual’s (and group’s) needs.  Some expect the government to enforce justice, and others are content with a system built on bribes.  Do the people believe it is their place to submit, or to reform, or to revolt?  In some places, the government is not only expected to take care of needs, but to take on big societal problems, and solve them.  Governments tend to look out for their own interests, but whether the peoples are ok with that or not is not so universal.  Some governments take in a vast number of citizens, whereas there are some whose range is limited to the immediate family of a Bedouin tribe.

Is business conducted in a personal way?  Does a person go door to door offering their goods or services?  Is there a public common market or do consumers seek out goods and services at specific phone numbers, websites, or stores?  Is a transaction considered between equals, or are service providers a lower class?  Are the servants recognized as members of a household or anonymous functionaries?  Is there a mindset of professionalism?  Who desires the professionalism – professional or consumer or both or neither?  How influential are corporations – the idea that no one person is responsible for the good or service being sold?

There is such a variety of technology, and tools, that are used in different societies, and these can be both representative and influential.  What things are used for communication?  For building?  Transporting?  How much of life is taken up by work?

What is the general schedule?  What is the work week?  How many hours in a day are work?  Is work a means or an end?  Which hours are devoted to sleeping?  When and how do people wake?  When do they play?  When do they have social activities?  Do they work together or finish their work and then spend time together?  When do they eat and how often?

If a group’s language is forgotten, and they move from the land of their buildings and ditches; if they stop playing with their old toys, and their clothing no longer distinguishes them clearly from one class to another – but they carry on a secret family recipe from the old, old days when all those things had been in place, have they lost their culture?  Can they share their recipe, market their spices and vegetables to other people groups, and still have their culture?  When do we say a culture has become distinct?  When do we say it has merged with another?

Should we try to preserve cultures?  Or is a way of life gloriously defined by the personalities and abilities and histories of the people who make up the group?  Is there a difference between dissolving a culture and replacing it?  What harms does the structure of tradition found in a culture cause?  What benefits does it provide?

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Money has been in the English language since the 13th century, courtesy of Old French carrying it to us from Latin. In Latin, it was originally a surname of the Roman goddess, Juno: Moneta. Coins were minted (also a similar etymology) outside the temple of Juno. Other forms of currency were included in the term in the early 1800’s.

In 1699, John Locke first applied the word currency to economics. As opposed to a barter system, where goods are directly traded for each other, the use of money allows for more liquidity. This increases the flow of trade, thus the root word, “current” as in a stream.

Tender is on the federal reserve notes in the United States. It means “to offer”, and by association with the idea of extending the hand, ultimately shares the same Latin root as the word tendon. The word gained formality when in English in the 1540’s, and became used for “money legally offered as payment” in 1740.

A “note” was originally more like an IOU, then a check. These were called promissory notes, a piece of paper on which was written a promise for a specified sum to be paid to a designated person. When a bank printed official slips promising amounts of money to be withdrawn from their treasury, they were called banknotes. The Federal Reserve, that prints our bills in the United States, is a bank – not a branch of the government – so technically, our paper money are banknotes.

When I think of the phrase “dollar bill,” I imagine a slip of paper, rectangular, of a certain size, and printed to look like money. The word bill is most often used as a piece of a transaction with delayed payment. The bill tells how much is owed, and when. It is a demand for payment. The dollar bill is also an order for payment: it is an order to the issuing bank to pay out the value of the bill to the holder, if turned in for exchange. I’m not sure this would actually work in our bank system today, but it is an interesting historical fact, perhaps more relevant to the development of our economy than we realize.

A dollar is the primary denomination of money in the United States. This was instituted by Thomas Jefferson and Gouverner Morris when the (pre-constitution) Continental Congress established the US currency in 1785. They selected the term because it was not British, but commonly known. Colonists used the word to refer to the Spanish pieces of eight (and our dollar sign, $, is derived from the symbol stamped on that coin) – though the word was originally German, an abbreviation of Joachimstal, a mine in northwest Bohemia opened in 1516. The staler began as the coin minted from silver acquired there.

Buck refers to a dollar because it was another term for money used in the American west. Native Americans sometimes traded buckskin (deer skin) with European-descended pioneers, and so over time the term became slang for official United States money also.

The stamp for making coins was wedge-shaped in the 1300’s, and the French word for wedge or corner was coing, from the Latincuneus. (Think about cuneiform writing – symbols made by pressing a wedge into soft clay). By extension, we use the word to refer to the thing stamped, a piece of metal minted as currency.

As you might expect, “dime” means a tenth, or a tithe. It also comes from the French (disme), and the Latin (decema). In 1786 Congress decided to call the ten-cent piece of our money a dime.

Nickel is one of the most fascinating words in our money-lingo. The root of the word is “devil.” Copper miners saw ore of the color they were seeking, and fell prey to the wiles of the false-copper. (In the early United States, all coin had to be made from gold, silver, or copper – metals considered more valuable – by law.) But a whitish metal could be derived from it, named “nickel” in 1754 by a Swedish mineralologist. In the history of United States money, it was first applied to one-cent pieces when nickel replaced the bulkier copper in minting those in 1857. In 1866 a second type of five-cent piece was made, also containing nickel (mixed with copper), and so the term “nickel” came to be applied to it as well. Eventually this new nickel replaced the tiny silver half-dime.

Penny is not an official congressionally-instituted name for a US coin. We insisted on using the more literal and non-British term, “cent” (one-hundredth of a dollar). But the habits of the people have prevailed. The smallest-value coin in England has long been the penny, set at one-twelfth the value of a a shilling there. Over the years their pennies were each made of silver, then copper, then bronze. Though we know the word is Germanic, since it appears all over the German languages, no one knows what it originally meant or where the word came from. In 1889 there is the first recorded use of the colloquial application of “penny” for our American one-cent piece. I have never called them anything but pennies, bright copper coins cluttering up wallets and jars and cash registers all over the country. (Incidentally, if I was referring to the British pieces collectively, the plural would be “pence” instead of “pennies”.)

Thanks to http://www.EtymOnline.com, http://www.Dictionary.Reference.com, and http://www.USMint.gov for their information.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I’ve been a fan of Monopoly all my life.  Getting brothers and sisters, let alone parents, to play this long game has been hard.  Whenever I had the chance, I would play.  One year for Christmas I got Deluxe Monopoly, the board, box, and various parts of the game wrapped separately so I would have plenty of presents under the tree.  I own a book about Monopoly that gives secrets to the game, among which is the hint to buy orange and red properties, statistically the most landed on spaces. 
 
Before I had real money to speak of, I decided to budget when I played Monopoly.  I kept a ledger and gave myself a $200 allowance each time around the board.  The allowance rolled over, but this budget was not the best strategy for Monopoly.  Property is, as you might expect, key in Monopoly.  (Allowances reduce spending power when the most properties are available.)  In Monopoly, finishing the game is important.  Long term strategy requires that you invest cash now in the future, planning to finish the game as the only player not bankrupt.  Stopping earlier cheats the strategists. 
 
Learning financial principles and investment strategies can be useful, and Monopoly is a versatile tool.  We know there are versions of Monopoly for all sorts of things, changing the wording and the pictures on a board to match a theme: Golf, Disney, Dinosaurs.  Some of these, like Lord of the Rings Monopoly, even offer optional new rules.  Inspired by these game-twisting ideas, my friends and I have come up with some of our own new rules.  Far different than “house rules” (using Free Parking as a lottery), these are made to challenge the way you strategize, and how you think about capital, commerce, and taxes. 
 
Here are a few Alternate Monopoly Rules. —  All games must be finished.  Early terminations necessarily end in a draw, with no winners.  Versions are meant to be played one at a time, and not combined.  However, feel free to modify these rules for your own use.  Unless stated, all rules are as printed in the Monopoly Rule Book.  As a general rule for inventing alternate rules, keep things simple. 
 
Inflation
Every time you pass Free Parking, your cash will be assessed and 25% will be returned to the Bank.  Properties will not be assessed.  Your salary upon passing GO remains the same. 
 
Ultimate Portal (Aughenbaughs)
Use 2 Monopoly Boards, preferably with slightly different cards (vintage, specialized version).  Landing directly on Go on either board shoots you to the opposite board.  Also switch the chance and community chest cards from the two versions.  When a Chance or Community Chest card tells you to go somewhere, go there on the opposite board.  Everyone starts on one board. 
 
Swiss Bank Account
Play like Ultimate Portal with these additions.
Any cash COLLECTED while your piece is on the SECOND board goes into a Swiss Bank Account.  The player may take cash out of that account at any time, but cannot arbitrarily add money.  Income Taxes and Bankruptcies cannot touch any cash in the Swiss Bank Account.  It stays there through the whole game, even if you are bankrupted in the main game.  At the end of the game (when only one player in the main game has any money), the initial winner adds his main game money to his Swiss bank account.  If his total is greater than the balances of his opponents in their Swiss bank accounts, he wins. 
 
Criminal Justice
When you roll three doubles, get a “Go directly to Jail” card, or land on the “go to jail” space on the board, if you do not have a “Get out of Jail free” card with which to bribe the judge, your game is over.  You are capitally executed and your assets are returned to the bank in full. 
 
Wartime/Draft
All taxes are doubled.
If you land directly on any of the four corner squares, you have been drafted.  Roll the dice to determine your fate:
1-Tour of Duty.  Sit out 3 turns.  Come back (to GO) exempt from future service and any taxes.
2-War Hero.  Same as 1 with $1,000 bonus.
3-Casualty.  Game over.  Return assets to the Bank.
4-Draft Dodger.  Sit out 3 turns.  Resume play from GO.  If on any turn afterwards you land on a street property, you may buy any unowned properties in that color group.  If you subsequently land on Go to Jail or get a Go to Jail Card, your game is over.
5-Amputee.  Sit out 1 turn.  Resume play from GO.  All future turns, roll both dice and divide by 2, rounding up. 
6-Did not Qualify.  Proceed with game as normal. 
 
Socialist
At the start of the game all properties are shuffled and dealt to the players.  All rents are the prices posted on Indiana.  Chance and Community Chest cards that involve spending or receiving money apply to everyone.
 
Triggered Socialism
If at any time the least propertied player has 3 or more properties LESS than the next richest player, EVERY player must return his lowest-priced property to the bank.  
 
Economic Stimulus
Pay taxes and fees to Free Parking.  If anyone lands on Free Parking, the pot is divided evenly among all players, with remainders going to the player who landed on the space. 
 
Jubilee
Every time a 7 is rolled, all mortgages are automatically forgiven.  Every 7th time around the board, all rent is free. 
 
Savings Discrimination
Every player must spend money on each trip around the board.  If he completes a circuit without spending money, he must pay a fine of $50 to the bank. 
 
Debt Incentive
If you own a mortgaged property, you do not have to pay any taxes.
 
Foreclosure
If a player lands on a mortgaged property, he may pay 110% of the mortgage value to the bank and acquire that property. 
 
Libertarian
Taxes and jail are cancelled.
 
Mobster
Make up your own rent.  If you own a property, you have 2 options.  You can charge a tenant the printed rent.  Or you can make up your own rent, at which point you have a shoot-off with the tenant.  You each roll one dice.  The higher number wins.  Winner (landlord or tenant) collects the made-up rent from the loser.  In case of a tie, both players pay printed rent to the bank.
 
2012
Put a sticker on a community chest card, and one on a chance card.  Shuffle both decks (separately).  Play Monopoly as usual.  When the special Chance card is drawn, 2012 has arrived; the End of the World has come.  Clean up the game.  There are no winners.  If you draw the special Community Chest card, you can play it as written.  Or you can keep it as a Cycle Card.  If the holder of that card so chooses at the End of the World, he can play his card.  Instead of the world ending, it merely begins a new cycle or phase.  The game is still over, but assets are summed and a winner is declared. 
 
Freaky Friday
Whenever doubles are rolled, players keep their same pieces but all assets shift clockwise (to the left).  No new rents are paid as a result of the exchange until the next turn.
 
Insurance
Optional: Each player has the option at the beginning of the game of receiving a reduced Go paycheck of $150 as insurance against Utilities and Railroads.  The extra $50 goes into the middle of the board and pays Utilities and Railroads charges unless there is no money in the pot, at which point the rents/fees are still charged at $0. 
 
Mayor
When someone rolls a 12, he becomes Mayor.  He holds the special mayor piece.  Property improvements (houses and hotels) are half price to him while he holds that piece.  Mayors are exempt for the duration of their term from property assessment cards.  The next person to roll a 12 is elected the new Mayor.  No special privileges are retroactive.  
 
Feel free to share your own special rules in the comment section!
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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The Empty Cradle, by Philip Longman, is a wide-scope book delving into a truth much more inconvenient than “global warming.”  It is a fact that birthrates are falling all over the world, and that in many countries, particularly Western nations, the rates are already below replacement.  In this well researched book, the author logically lays out a history of birthrates – particularly in the modern era (since the founding of America), the economic consequences of labor shortages, and some suggestions for stimulating a rise in birthrates again without relinquishing secular equalitarianism.  The author’s worldview is specifically secular, and he expresses some fear that religious fundamentalists (that would be me) may inherit the earth by default of having more children.  He describes the overcoming faith that such people have, enabling them to go ahead and have multiple children despite cultural and economic pressures that depress the birthrate among pragmatists. 

 

Once upon a time the government was concerned to see birthrates falling (they fell in the United States for about a century between the Civil War and the end of World War II).  In the 20th century, however, prominent voices began sounding an alarm of overpopulation – a myth, since the population of the world has multiplied magnificently in the ensuing decades and managing an ever-increasing productivity.  Quality of life has improved significantly since the middle ages, when the population of the earth was but a fraction of the present 6 billion. 

 

A few pages are devoted to the causes of declining birthrates.  Accessible and legal and socially acceptable birth control (the Pill) is mentioned, along with abortion.  Mostly the author discusses the “liberating” policies of equality and the economic forces of increasingly technological jobs.  There is also the cultural/materialistic glamorization of adults free of the burden of children. 

 

How important is the birthrate?  The middle of The Empty Cradle describes the devastating economic situation we can anticipate when 1) birthrates fall steeply and 2) birthrates fall below replacement levels.  The population ages.  Aging populations reproduce less even than their parents did.  This is a downward spiral with drastic consequences.  Most attempts to deal with these results depress the birthrate even more. 

 

Economics effect social structure and the type of government people find acceptable and necessary.  As he builds toward the concluding recommendations for turning these trends around, Mr. Longman incorporates a good tutorial on economics, the examples of history, and some political theory.  If you’re interested in the power of taxation and laws, read this book. 

 

In Chapter 7 is a discussion of the economic implications of having children, including “opportunity cost.”  At one point the author states that “cheaper by the dozen” is true, but he minimalizes this.  He is exaggerating when he uses the phrase, really only calculating for two or three children, not by a larger number like a dozen.  In a broad economic sense, one woman raising and educating 6-12 children, cooking for them at home, growing her own vegetables, etc. would be a much more efficient means of producing a crop of laborers than the present one.  Also the data he uses in calculating the cost of a child is an average, representing the values of a society that prefers things to people.  Priorities change (people whose priorities have not changed consider this a sacrifice) and thrift is employed when you really wish to invest in having many children.  What the author does not do in analyzing whether all the costs typical of raising a child are necessary or even beneficial, he does for the elderly.  There are many pages describing the extension of life expectancies, the ineffectiveness of healthcare, and environmental excesses that cost money to produce and to remedy but which could easily be avoided with a bit more prudence. 

 

The final chapter of the book (none of this book is superfluous; there is not even a summary conclusion – a concise style I appreciate) lists three primary recommendations the author has for making the most of the labor we have and for encouraging adults to invest in the future through bearing a next generation.  In keeping with his worldview, the recommendations avoid appeals to virtue or self-responsibility, instead increasing the role of governments wielding taxes and laws to corral the people to a preferred socially beneficial behavior (including more healthy lifestyles and diets).  My favorite recommendation is one that would be difficult for a government to force, but which may be the inevitable social response to increasing economic and political pressures from the declining population: return to smaller communities in which production is less efficient but healthier and more viable long term. 

 

All the facts, observations, and analyses of this book had the ring of truth (included are multiple sources and footnotes).  I disagree with interpretations in some places, and with prescriptions in others, but benefited from reading the author’s different point of view.  This is a book I want to own, to keep on my shelf and to use in home educating my, God willing, many children.  The information presented in The Empty Cradle is important for every person to know, and the writing and layout are superb.  Therefore, I recommend this book to you, and to all of my friends. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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We came up with the ultimate socialist plan tonight, inspired by my brother’s roommate.  Socialism says that we share the work and we share the profit, everybody being entitled to the same wages no matter what they accomplish, and the same “nanny state” benefits such as healthcare and public schooling (even through college – which, in actuality just means that they’re destroying what healthcare and education there was).  So why not socialize the penal system?  When someone commits a crime, each person in the community can pay part of the fine and serve some of the time.  Can you see any inconsistencies between our plan and true socialism? 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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A couple years ago I heard a radio interview with an author who wrote novels based on Bible prophecy and current events.  He had the uncanny knack of predicting world events.  The first chapter of his first book, written before 9/11 (and published right after) described an airplane hijacked by terrorists to fly kamikaze into a target in the US.  So when I remembered his name long enough to find his newest book, Ezekiel Option, I grabbed it.  And then I read a fascinating intersection of prophecy and foreseeable world events. 
 
The scientific method requires a scientist to make a hypothesis and then to conduct a series of tests.  If x is true, then y.  If x is false, then no y or z instead…  Joel Rosenberg is a sort of scientist.  His hypothesis is that the Bible is true, and that certain of its prophecies are next on the prophetic timeline.  His test is that if this were so, international politics would be moving in a certain direction.  I don’t regret picking up in the middle of his series.  The first two books describe an attack on America that leads to a war with Sadaam Hussein, which at its conclusion produces an increasingly prosperous Iraq.  Ezekiel Option picks up about where we actually are in world events, and predicts a Russian alliance particularly with Iran, but with other Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries as well. 
 
I pay attention to these parts of world news like a scientist testing a theory.  Joel Rosenberg, who, it turns out, doesn’t just see these things in visions but actually does a huge amount of research through personal interviews and worldwide newspapers and Bible study, helps me to stay up to date on potentially prophecy-related news items through his weblog.  Last night scrolling across the bottom of Hannity and Colmes or the O’Reilly Factor (late repeats of both) was the casual report: Russia, Iran & Qatar move towards oil cartel, would force EU to rethink energy policies.  Russia has sold arms to Iran.  Putin is moving more and more to be the strong central leader of his country, a requirement of the Ezekiel prophecies. 
 
Anyway, all of that is preliminary to this actual review of Joel Rosenberg’s fifth novel, Dead Heat.  When I first picked this book up from the library, my dad read it.  He said a lot of people died, and was mum about the rest.  So I wasn’t really in the mood to read about people dying.  After the elections last week, however, I remembered a quote on Joel Rosenberg’s weblog from this book, “What Bennett had never really considered carefully until now was the possibility that something else might devastate the American people, rendering them ineffective heading into the last of the last days. A financial downturn on Wall Street. The sudden collapse of the dollar. The beginning of another Great Depression. A series of devastating earthquakes. Or hurricanes. Or other natural disasters, like a tsunami… None of it was clearly prophesied in the Scriptures. Not that he could find. But perhaps he should have foreseen the neutralization of America by more carefully reading between the lines. If so, what else was he missing? What exactly was coming next?”(edited for spoilers)  Since it looks to me like this is happening to America, this economic depression and weak leadership essentially neutralizing us as a Superpower, I figured now would be the time to pick up Dead Heat.  I was in the mood for a depressing book. 
 
Except we hadn’t purchased the book like I thought.  Our collection of secondhand Joel Rosenberg novels had an empty spot at the end.  So I couldn’t just pick it up and read it last Tuesday night.  I read Lady Susan instead, a much more cheerful response, I must say.  But Mom found Dead Heat at a thrift store over the weekend, so I set about reading it. 
 
374 fast-paced pages led me from a close presidential election to the rapture and  beginning of the tribulation.  No book I’ve ever read has made me feel more vulnerable.  Waking up after dreams (casual dreams, not nightmares) continuing the book in my imagination, and as I read, I had to keep telling myself that there is no safer place than where God wants me.  There’s this temptation when I read Joel’s books to pack up and move either to Israel or some place safe like Antarctica.  God has given no guarantees on my life either way.  I could die, or I could suffer pain, or I could have a peaceful life like many have experienced in the past.  To be honest I don’t think I could run.  I like to be a part of things going on, even if they’re dangerous. 
 
Spoiler:  The book essentially opens with five nuclear bombs taking out four major American cities and the President and at least half the government.  No one knows who is responsible for the attacks.  Like the movie Crimson Tide (whose plot fascinates me), ignorance could be fatal for most of the world.  And in Dead Heat, there are virtually no voices urging caution. 
 
How do you know which world leaders to believe?  Are the more aggressive ones just equally afraid, or are the opportunistic, or are they part of a mega-conspiracy to destroy you?  Why is this happening?  What are the motives of the world leaders, or of the people sitting next to you?  Who has the answers?  How does one make such huge decisions when you haven’t had any sleep and you’re grieving the loss of millions of lives? 
 
Once again the book weaves the stories of fictional world leaders with that of the main character, Jon Bennett.  He and his wife have cashed in their portfolios to help an exponentially needy world.  And convinced that time is running short, they invest their lives in helping others and spreading Jesus’ love one encounter at a time.  This book is filled with references to salvation, to the love of God and the peace of accepting His provision for our sinfulness.  When any character asks, “what should I do?” the answer is always something Jesus says.  The answer is what Jon and his new wife Erin did: love people and tell them about Jesus. 
 
A theme of Jon Bennett’s story is responsibility.  Is he responsible for things that happen or don’t happen?  He asks a lot of if-only’s, and other people point blame-filled fingers at him.  Should he have stayed involved in politics, shared what he knew?  Should he have taken his wife to the infirmary sooner?  What about the choices facing him in the future?  What’s his responsibility?  How on earth do you decide?  The answer, of course, is to do the right thing, including loving even your enemies.  And God had blessed Jon with the answers when he sought Him. 
 
Near the end of the book, Jon has a revelation: his whole life he’s chased after measurable results.  He’s wanted to be a part of important things.  He wanted control.  And spending months in a refugee camp helping the poor wasn’t so measurable.  People weren’t responsive to the gospel like he thought they should be.  What difference was he making?  Was it worth it?  Could he have done something more productive?  What about now, when he was helpless as the world slipped into war and there was no one even to talk to about Jesus.  What is God’s purpose in that? 
 
Isn’t it our responsibility to do something?  Didn’t God put us here to get results?  Isn’t Jon to blame if his wife isn’t safe?  Isn’t that his job?  Jon’s to-do list had two columns: done or to-be-done.  But he learned something through his helplessness, a miniature of the helplessness felt by all the world at such a time.  Erin said God wanted her to “do the loving; I’ll do the converting.”  Love is not measurable.  People are not ever checked off your list as done.  And grace isn’t about accomplishments or blame.  Jesus says well done because we’ve been good and faithful, not competent and productive.  Jesus isn’t a CEO or a president.  He knows the end result, and He knows how He’s getting it there. 
 
God knows how the world is going to come to the last days.  Joel Rosenberg’s hypotheses aren’t all right.  He’s waiting like the rest of us.  It is possible that the time between the Ezekiel prophecies and the classic end times events (world government, temple in Israel, rapture) is longer than a book series will allow.  The rapture could come earlier than these devastating wars.  Or later.  Or the wars may not happen at all.  Given his reputation for correctly predicting the future, Joel opens his book with a sort of disclaimer: “I pray to God the novel you hold in your hands never comes true.” 
 
The idea of prophecy is an interesting one.  For centuries if a man sought to unite the world, he failed.  He was doomed to do so, because the time was not fulfilled.  Other elements of prophecy were not in place.  But at some point things are going to happen, and nothing will be able to stop them.  There will be that one-world government.  Any superpower or leader or ministry that stands in the way will be removed.  We put off disaster, continue peace negotiations about Israel, etc.  One day none of that will work.  Will it be that no one is left who wants anything different, or will God remove them from power?  Is there any difference? 
 
I (Lisa of Longbourn) am willing to say plainly that I think Obama’s presidency (based on the Dead Heat quote above) weakens the prophetic necessity of a violent neutralization of America.  But it increases other likelihoods.  When our enemies think we are weak, those who want us destroyed because they hate us (not because we’re in their way) are emboldened to attack.  Persecution may arise from inside, as it has in other countries that drifted toward socialism as we are doing.  Obama is ardently pro-abortion, and the longer our country massacres its innocents, the more likely we are to incur natural consequences (economic, military manpower) and supernatural judgment.  Dead Heat makes my final point, that it is possible America is prosperous because it supports Israel.  If we stop being their ally, we remove from ourselves the Genesis 12 blessing of God.  And if we ally ourselves with Israel’s enemies, we incur the curse of Genesis 12.  So we might be asking for bad things to come to America. 
 
I’m having a hard time shaking my mind free of the story.  I look out my window and wonder why people are so casual.  Why is my church doing ministry as usual?  Why am I sitting at my desk reading or writing when people are dying and, truly, millions could die at any minute?  Shouldn’t I say something?  Doesn’t the whole lost world (of which I’m increasingly aware) need to hear the gospel?  I watch the news and have to remind myself they won’t mention President MacPherson or UN Secretary Lucente or Iraqi leader Al-Hassani.  So this is a vivid piece of writing.  But I pray that its impact has more to do with my character and less to do with my imagination. 
 
This book challenges me to be urgent about the Father’s business, and to live out love, ministry, and faith all the more radically.  The more I feel helpless, and am humbled by my lack of control, the more I need God.  I need His direction and His peace.  I need to believe in His goodness.  And I need to lean on His instructions. 
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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It’s been several months since the Russian aggression against Georgia.  Though the media has entirely abandoned this story, some of us continue to think about and discuss the implications of the situation, which as far as I know remains fairly tense and problematic. 

 

A friend argued that in invading Georgia, Russia is only doing the same thing the US has done any number of times for oppressed countries.  The rebels of South Ossetia are like the 13 colonies of America at the Revolutionary War. 

 

My argument, (certainly not made so persuasively in person and on the spot) is as follows:

 

         Russia chose this summer to invade Georgia, though South Ossetia has had its share of rebels since the Soviet Union fell.  This summer was a time when world attention was on other things.  The invasion happened just before the start of the Olympic Games.  Economic times were hard and more pressing to most of the world than foreign affairs.  America was and continues to be engaged in a close and important election, while its sitting government has proved impotent. 

 

         Only after Georgia sought to join the NATO alliance did Russia act against them.  Russia is less interested in revolutionaries than it is in bullying smaller nations out of alliances with the democratic West.  Russia is engaged in a new Cold War with the West, though the West seems unaware of this development.  Russia is testing the strength of the NATO nations’ friendship with Georgia, much as Hitler did by stepping into Austria, the Sudetanland, and Czechoslavakia before the free world decided with Poland that enough was enough and Europe was in danger. 

 

         Russia has economic/oil interests in disabling Georgia or in annexing the small country.  Georgia has the only oil pipeline to northeastern European countries that is outside of Russian control.  Russia wishes to control those NE countries, many of which were formerly part of the Soviet Empire.  Controlling the supply of such an essential resource essentially holds hostage any dependent nations. 

 

         Russia is busy forming an alliance with Iran and the Islamic states.  Georgia is in the way. 

 

         The revolutionaries in South Ossetia are Islamic troublemakers, not interested in freedom.  If they wanted to be free, they would want to be independent, not to join Russia.  Like Iran supplying insurgents in Iraq with weapons and training, so has Russia been backing these rebels for over a decade. 

 

         The claim has been made that because the South Ossetians and the Georgians are of different ethnicity, they cannot get along sufficiently to live under the same government.  America has done this for its history as a nation.  Russia does this, and South Ossetia is seeking to be annexed into Russia, which has much more ethnic diversity than Georgia.  Local South Ossetians and Georgians get along just fine when there is no battle line drawn between them.  (See the American Civil War)

 

         Russia did not only invade South Ossetia; their troops pushed all the way to just outside the Georgian capital.  If helping the South Ossetians throw off an oppressive regime was their only interest, Russia should only have occupied South Ossetia.   Russia has been dishonest in its invasion of Georgia.  Russia promised to withdraw its military troops, but has not.  It simply renamed the occupying forces as “peacekeepers.” 

 

         South Ossetia says that Georgia’s rule was oppressive.  There are three possible explanations for this:  1) Georgia is abusing its power and depriving South Ossetians of their rights based on ethnicity.  If that is the case, the best first move is a demonstration of these “atrocities” to the world.  America did this with its Declaration of Independence.  2) Georgia is engaged in a military conflict begun by the rebels themselves.  A sovereign nation has the right and responsibility to quell insubordination within its borders.  3) South Ossetians are lying in order to justify their rebellion. 

 

         Georgia is a small country still wobbling towards maturity as a democratic republic.  In the interest of discouraging the return of Communism or totalitarianism, the US is justified in making alliances with this nation.  It was proposed as part of a potential NATO treaty that Georgia allow the US to post technology military in nature on their land and directed at the aggressively posturing Russian nation.  Many young nations with democratic ideals look to the US (successful in these very pursuits) for help and example in establishing their governments. 

 

         If the US or any other nation has a defense treaty with Georgia, it must be honored less the validity of any treaty made by said nations be weakened and doubted.  A treaty is like a contract, each nation receiving a needed good or service.  One party cannot withdraw on its agreement. 

 

         The free world must take a strong stand against Russia lest they, growing confident, invade more countries in Europe and Asia. 

 

         If the US has unjustly invaded other countries, this is no argument for Russia to do the same.  However, in many cases the US has invaded countries in order to honor treaties it has with threatened nations.  In other cases, the US has engaged in preemptive or retributive strikes against countries whose military/weapon technology has threatened us directly. 

 

         Whether the US should militarily support Georgia is dependent on at least two things:  Have we made any official promise to Georgia to do so?  and Are we nationally threatened by this move Russia is making? 

 

In conclusion, I believe that Russia’s motives are suspect in a large way, its methods are inappropriately aggressive, and its response to world denouncements chillingly indifferent or dishonest.   

 

Georgia is a little former Soviet ‘republic’ with ethnic tensions, economic precariousness, and threatening neighbors.  Whether right or wrong in its treatment of the northern province, the country ought to be esteemed as a sovereign nation, not as a child-state of Russia.  As such it has the right to international relations and to addressing its own civil order. 

 

The US needs to pay more attention to world events, especially Russia.  Russia is quietly rebuilding its empire, reducing the freedoms within its boundaries.  It is also allying itself, including through the sale of weapons, with professed enemies of the United States.  Watching is not enough; the US needs to take a stand.  In this age of global technology, we must be very careful lest those who wish to destroy us get the weapons capabilities of doing so.  We are engaged in a global war on terror, declared first by the terrorists on us.  Failure to engage our enemies means defeat. 

 

We as Christians need to give careful thought to prophecy and the roles of countries such as Russia, Iran, and Iraq.  It is written in the Bible that they who bless Abraham and his heirs will be blessed.  Essential for our preservation in the world is that we side with Israel, not only in word, but in diplomacy and force.  Also important at this time is evangelism: in America, in the closing country of Russia, and in the Middle East.  I believe biblical prophecy predicts that a revival is at hand. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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