Monday, February 28, 2011

Harmonices Mundi

The always interesting Eric Felten had an essay in Friday's Wall Street Journal that has had me thinking all weekend.  (The essay is here, but I am not sure if non-subscribers can read it.)  [And, I am serious that Felten is always interesting--I cannot remember the last time I thought an essay or book review he wrote wasn't good--indeed, I can't remember ever thinking that about something he wrote.  Curiously, he is also a musician, but I have never bought any of his music.  If someone is a great writer, will I also enjoy his music?]

But, to return to the point, the essay argues that the single will save the music industry.  With the rise of digital music, the single has made a comeback.  Now people can buy a single song as easily as a whole album.  So the days of having to pay $15 for a CD because you like one or two songs on it are over.  This will be the end of the bloated album--you know those albums with 2 songs and endless filler which really should never have been recorded.  Felten notes that once upon a time, singles ruled the music industry--all the old crooners made singles--Frank (Don't ask Frank Who?  There is only one Frank), for example, used to put out a new single every few months, in addition to the concept albums he pioneered.  Even in the early days of Rock, the single was king--the best Rolling Stones album to buy is the boxed collection of their singles from the 60s and early 70s--much better than any album they put out during those years.  But, sometime in the 70s or 80s the LP became king, and by the CD age, the album was everything.

But now the single is back.

And, it occurred to me after reading Felten's article, that it isn't just the ability to buy a single that is changing things.  The ability to listen to singles has improved dramatically.  In the old days of record players, I still liked albums better--you could put on a stack of 5 albums and not have to flip the records for an hour and a half.  But, if you put on 5 singles, you had to change the music every 15 minutes.  Now suddenly, on an iPod, you can throw the singles into a playlist of whatever length you want and play them either in some desired order or randomly.  You can, in effect, create whatever album you want at any time.  And the album you just created isn't fixed once for all.  Modify it at will.  Now the young'ins have no appreciation at all of how revolutionary this ability is--indeed, right now any young'in reading this (a small set to be sure) is thinking, "This is what happens when old people start talking about the modern age--welcome to the 21st century...".  But, I, still stuck in my Album-oriented days, never really thought about how stunning this change actually is--even though I have taken advantage of it, I never really thought about it.  And the aforementioned young'in has never really realized how much of the way music is packaged is driven by the way music used to be--why, dear youngster, do you put whole albums on your iPod when you know a bunch of the songs on the album aren't as good as the ones you like?  And why do you have to wait for an "album" to be released, anyway--why doesn't Ke$ha release a new single every three months?  And what does it mean to say she has released four hit singles from the album--if the album is already available in digital format, how do you release a single from it?

This will, over time, cause a huge change in the music industry, which we are only beginning to see.  It won't be much longer before the idea of an album is dead.  Some bands will produce individual songs and sell them.  Then other bands will make concept albums.  But there won't be anything in between.  Either an album is a collection of related songs or you are really just buying a preset group of singles--and there is no reason to buy a preset group of singles unless a) all the songs are good and b) the cost of buying the bundle is less than the cost of buying each song individually (which means, incidentally, that the cost of albums will come crashing down--you can probably price a non-concept album for the cost of roughly 3 songs--price it much more than that, people are just going to buy the three songs they really like).  In other words, sooner or later, the Amazon $5 album will be the norm.

That is unless the music subscription service gets here first.  Right now, in the USA, the music industry is blocking the equivalent of a Netflix-like service which allows you to listen to any song at any time over your wireless connection.  That too may change someday.  And if it does, then we will all just be listening to the music stored in the Cloud. (Which oddly sounds like something Kepler wrote about.)

[Incidentally, I am writing this while listening to Pandora Radio (the Robert Plant station--highly recommended (I love the pretense that you are creating your own radio station at Pandora (someone at Pandora was clever--who doesn't dream of creating a radio station?))) which is as close as you can come to the World-To-Be.]

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

On Evil Empires

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan announced a plan to defeat the Soviet Union and the threat of communism.  He was confident that Western values of freedom would beat Soviet repression; he was confident that people living in countries ruled by tyrants wanted to be free.  See here and here and here.  He was widely ridiculed at the time.  Within four years of the time he left office, the Communist Empire collapsed.  He was right.

Twenty years later, George W. Bush announced a plan to defeat Islamic Terrorists.  He was confident that Western values of freedom would beat Islamic repression; he was confident that people living in countries ruled by tyrants wanted to be free.  So confident, in fact, that he led a fight for 8 years in Afghanistan and Iraq.  He was widely ridiculed at the time  Within four years of the time he left office...Tunisia, Egypt, Libya...and counting.  Do we have to say that Bush was right?

Oh, and by the way, Reagan was Bush's forerunner in the battle against Islamic terrorists.  See here (in 1986, Reagan notes that a certain Libyan strongman needs to go--who knew?) or here.

Unfortunately, it's not all triumphant in the news.  As dictators fall across the region, it matter a great deal who comes out on top afterwards.  See Iran, 1979.  So, where oh where is the US in helping the right people attain power?  Why exactly did the US government seem to be more interested in removing the leader of Egypt than the leader of Libya?  Where is the US as Libyans are being murdered by their own ruler?  Is it really all that complicated to destroy the airfields in Libya from which helicopters are being sent out to gun down the people and mercenaries from other countries are being flown in to aid in the killing?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Buzzards Gotta Eat

Another Day, Another Book about financial crises.

It's shaping up to be a rather repetitive semester for reading.  Between my two classes, I have assigned 9 books which relate in some way to financial crises.  My tutorial is reading War and Peace, but it will be the end of the semester before we finish that one.  And, between the reading for my classes, and the other assorted obligations which life imposes, my other reading has been coming in bits and pieces.  And so, unless I take up reviewing short stories or some such thing, it will be all financial crisis all the time here for a bit. 

Fortunately, financial crises are really interesting.

Today's entry:  Roger Lowenstein, The End of Wall Street.
The alert reader will notice this is the second Lowenstein book this semester---he also wrote the book on Long-Term Capital Management (When Genius Failed) previously reviewed in this space.  When Genius Failed  is a classic.  The proposal for this book writes itself, "After Lowenstein's smashing success in writing a book about a previous fiancail crisis, Lowenstein's book about the Financial Crisis of 2007-2008 is a sure-fire, can't miss."  It missed.

Don't get me wrong.  The book is OK.  I has some decent anecdotes in it, and it does tell the story.  Perhaps the problem is that it is really not good at all compared to Sorkin's Too Big to Fail.  Without Sorkin's book, this one might seem better.  But, all in all, it just isn't that good.  And the problem is interesting.  In When Genius Failed, it seemed like Lowenstein talked to everyone--the book read like an authoritative account.  Surely, there are some details here and there which Lowenstein did not know, but it is hard to imagine that there is much we will ever discover about LTCM which isn't in Lowenstein's book.  the End of Wall Street tries to emulate that feeling of an authoritative account, but this crisis is too big for a 300 page book to have everything.  And so, the book skips lightly across the crisis.  Ultimately, the timeline is all there, and if you knew nothing about what happened, at least this book has the story from beginning to end.  But, there isn't much that is really interesting to someone who knows about the timeline.  And, if you want to just read one book about the crisis, Sorkin's is vastly better. 

[My favorite anecdote from this book doubles as a Rorschach test.  When everything was melting down, Pandit, CEO of Citigroup went out to dinner, and wanting a good glass of wine, ordered a bottle of wine which cost $350, and drank just one glass.  Lowenstein presents this as an example of outrageous "excessive indulgence."  I couldn't see the problem--if Pandit wants to spend $350 for a glass of wine, what difference does it make to me?  I told Janet the story.  She, like Lowenstein, thought it was outrageous.]

It will be interesting to see what my students who have not read Sorkin think about the book.  I get the impression that while they enjoyed When Genius Failed, it is taking a long time for them to force their way through this book.

And in a serendipitous note:  last night Emma and I watched The Outlaw Josey Wales.  That movie is just like The End of Wall Street.  If one had never seen a Clint Eastwood western, it might have been a good movie.  But, if you have seen his other westerns, this one is just OK.  A few good parts, Eastwood is Eastwood, and Dan George (or as he is listed in the credits Chief Dan George) was fantastic, but on the whole, neither Emma nor I  was really all that impressed with the movie.  If you want to watch an Eastwood western, try A Fistful of Dollars or The Good, The Bad and the Ugly or Unforgiven.

Friday, February 18, 2011

It was the best of times...

1) Last week, I got a smartphone.  An HTC Evo Shift, to be precise.  I have now joined the 21st century.  Technological Advance is a wonderful and beautiful thing.

2) Last night, the hard drive on our computer at home decided to start dying.  The computer is no longer usable.  I am hoping that with several more hours of work I can rescue the assorted files which are not currently saved anywhere else.  Forget what I said about Technological Advance in item #1.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hot Stock Tip

Buy now--you can't lose.  Well, except if you do.  But, then I'll have another deal for you.

I get asked for stock tips all the time.  My advice: read Burton Malkiel's A Random Walk Down Wall Street.  Said book demonstrates what economists think:  you can't predict the stock market.  Nobody can predict the stock market.  So, don't even try.  Buy a diversified portfolio and wait.  It's boring, but you can't do any better.

"Ah," but the skeptic says, "you can do better.  I know someone who did better.  So it is possible.  So, really, what is the way to do better?  I know you know.  And now you know I know you know.  So, you might as well tell me."

OK.  Here it is: the secret to making a fortune.

Get a really large mailing list.  Write to everyone on the mailing list explaining that you have a great method for predicting short term movements in stocks.  Explain that you know the reader is skeptical, so you will demonstrate the method.  Pick a stock--any stock, it makes no difference.  To half the list, write that your secret method predicts the stock will rise in the next month.  To the other half, say that the stock will fall in the next month.  Wait one month.  The stock either went up or down.  So drop the half of the list that got the wrong prediction.  Write to the half that got the right prediction and say, "See, I was right.  But, you are surely thinking that maybe I was just lucky.  So, to show you that it works, I'll give you another prediction."  Pick another stock--again it doesn't matter which.  To half of your new list, write that the stock will go up, to the other half that it will go down.  Wait one month.  Repeat process.  After 4 months, you are down to 1/16 of your original list.  Write them.  Say, "See my method works.  I have been right for 4 consecutive months.  Sign up with me and I will give you my expert advice.  My fee is $X.  [Make X as large as you want.]"  Collect money from the Fools who send it to you.  Laugh the whole time on your vacation in the Bahamas.

Interestingly, this is akin the process used by stock predictors as a group.  You usually never hear from the ones who were wrong.  You only hear from the ones who are right--or at least the ones who can convince you that they were right (curiously, in the real world, being wrong doesn't always matter; some people can convince others they were right even when they were not.)  But in a large enough world (like the one in which you live) there will always be people who have been right for several time periods in a row.  That doesn't mean they knew more. If some people predict rising prices and some predict falling prices, somebody has to be right.  Even if it is random.

And, that is the great thing--it is random. Stocks drift up over time as the economy gets more productive.  But there is no way to know in advance which stocks will rise faster than trend and which will rise slower than trend over short periods of time. 

Malkiel has been updating this book for decades.  The message never changes.  The evidence never changes.  It is a random walk down Wall Street.

I assigned this book to a class this semester--I've never assigned it before.  I am curious to find out if the students believe the argument or not.

And, by the way, if after reading all of the above, you want my Super-Duper Secret Stock Tip, I'll tell you for $100.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bowties are Cool

I recently finished watching the first Matt Smith season of Doctor Who.  I am not at all sure how Doctor Who has been able to remain so consistently good.  Seriously--how does it do it?  It's been five seasons since the reboot, and all five have been great.  And that is three different actors playing the Doctor.  Not many shows can make it for 5 really good season.  And the ones that do are all heaped with critical praise--yet Doctor Who still lingers almost exclusively in the Geek Cave.

As with all new doctors, it took several episodes before the show felt normal, but somewhere along the time the Weeping Angels showed up again, it was hard to remember a time before Matt Smith was The Doctor.  And, as an added bonus, this season has the best season-long story line since the franchise was rebooted--and what's even better, it sets up next season quite nicely.  Amy Pond is great, and Rory, well, he grew on me too.  But Matt Smith is excellent.

My kids still don't watch it with me.  Every time I was watching an episode and Emma wandered into the room, she just shook her head and said, "Oh, the cheesy 70's special effects show." Sigh.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Drink No Longer Water

In Vino Veritas doesn't even begin to capture the Truth according to Roger Scrunton's I Drink Therefore I Am: A Philosopher's Guide to Wine.  This is an odd book; I enjoyed reading it, but I have a hard time imagining recommending it to anyone.  The basic problem:  It is all over the place.  One part biographical reflections on Scrunton's life with wine, one part a tour of the world and wine, one part philosophy using wine as the hook on which to wander off onto all sort of topics, and one part an amusing guide to which wine to drink with which philosopher.

The big message of the book: Wine is Important, Really Important.  It is not simply something you drink.  It is not even an accompaniment to a meal.  It is Something Big.  For example:

"When we raise a glass of wine to our lips, therefore, we are savouring an ongoing process: the wine is a living thing, the last result of other living things, and the progenitor of life in us.  It is almost as though it were another human presence in any social gathering, as much a focus of interest and in the same way as the other people there.  This experience is enhanced by the aroma, taste and the simultaneous impact on nose and mouth, which--while not unique to wine--have, as I have argued, an intimate connection to the immediate intoxicating effect, so as to be themselves as intoxicating.  The whole being of the drinker rushes to the mouth and the olfactory organs to meet the tempting meniscus, just as the whole being of the lover rises to the lips in a kiss."

Or, to take another example:

"At some level, I venture to suggest, the experience of wine is a recuperation of the original cult whereby the land was settled and the city built.  And what we taste in the wine is not just the fruit and its ferment, but also the peculiar flavour of a landscape to which the gods have been invited and where they have found a home.  Nothing else that we eat or drink comes to us with such a halo of significance, and by refusing to drink it people send an important message--the message that they do not belong on this earth."

And you get the idea.  On the whole, Scrunton is very persuasive that I should drink a better class of wine.  However, I had a fundamental problem with the whole book--of all the alcoholic beverage categories, I think wine is my least favorite.  I like a good glass of wine with a formal dinner, and I can appreciate a glass of wine other times, but all in all, while I don't dislike wine, it isn't something I ever choose to drink.  I much prefer beer, gin, whisky, brandy, rum, tequila, and so on.  If faced with the choice of a half-dozen different alcoholic beverages, it would be a rare list where wine was at the top of my list of the one I would choose.  (I would, for example, choose even the worst wine over Southern Comfort--now that is a repulsive substance.  I would also prefer a really good wine to a really cheap beer, but it is hard to imagine the circumstances under which that is the choice.)  Now, my taste preferences are neither here nor there, one would think, but according to Scrunton, my taste preferences are a sign of a serious Moral Failing.  You see, the book is not the philosphers' guide to alcohol, but wine.  And Wine is not just any other alcoholic beverage, but a Class Unto Itself.  And if you don't appreciate Wine, then you are akin to the person who doesn't appreciate opera.  You are a barbarian.

[Unfortunately, my wife agrees with Scrunton here---wine is the only alcoholic beverage my wife really enjoys.  She'll drink a vodka and fruit juice concoction if there is no wine around, but given the choice, she would always have a glass of wine.  Always.]

But, this argument that wine is morally superior to other drinks is where I have a hard time following Scrunton.  I can buy that wine is good; I can buy that drinking wine can be a prelude to serious thinking.  But, I cannot buy that wine is fundamentally in a different category than beer or whisky--that one of those drinks is reflective of a deeper moral and spiritual order than the other two.

But, as soon as I convince myself of Scrunton's exaggerated claim for wine, he reminds us yet again that the Eucharist is bread and wine, not bread and beer.  Indeed, were a church to offer beer as a substitute for wine in the Eucharist, it would be outrageous.  (Though why the low protestant churches feel perfectly free to substitute sweet grape juice for wine is a thing I cannot understand.)  Maybe Wine really is important after all?  OK, I still don't think so, but "This is my blood" is a really hard argument to simply ignore.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Money for Nothing

Stop me if you have heard this before:  A giant financial crisis caused by speculative bets by financial wizards going bad all at once threatens to bring down the entire world economy until a combination of desperate measures and luck saves the world.  The year is:  1998.

1998: the financial crisis nobody noticed.  There is an excellent book about it too.  Indeed, it is one of the best books in the "Kiss and tell stories about Financial Firms gone bad" genre.  Roger Lowenstein's When Genius Failed is, as the subtitle says, the story of "The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management."  (Oddly, the subtitle is printed above the title on the cover--does that make it a supertitle?.)

The book is excellent at telling a gripping story (well, at least if you are the sort who finds the idea of people making and losing staggerings amounts of wealth to be gripping).  Lowenstein is great at the character sketch part of books like this--the people in the book, who could easily have been drawn as "Generic Wall Street Type" all end up seeming like different people.  And as for the hubris of these guys?  Truly Shakespearean hubris.  Oedipus-style hubris. 

The book is a bit weak on the details of the financial assets these guys were constructing--going light on the technical details helps make the book vastly more readable, but I assume it would be frustrating if you really wanted to understand what exactly these guys were doing.  Then again, figuring out things like that is why Google was invented, I suppose.

My favorite story line in the book was about the two Nobel Laureates who were part of LTCM.  (The fact that there were two, not one, but two Nobel winners on the LTCM board was one of the things about which LTCM liked to brag.)  Merton and Scholes were funny--classic academics who were suddenly wealthy, very wealthy.  And not only that, they were wealthy because they were so smart they figured out how to get really wealthy and then there were the Wall Street guys who did the sort of thing they said someone should do and it worked.  It really, really worked!  Well, until it didn't.

The moral of the story:  People always want a Get Rich Quick scheme.  And the funny thing is that people believe there is such a thing.  Sometimes people do get rich quickly.  Sometimes people win at roulette too. But, for some reason if someone tells people they have a scientific means of predicting the number which will turn up on a roulette wheel, everyone is skeptical, but if someone says the same thing about picking what will happen to financial assets, people believe them.  Why?  Why do people believe that those who make a fortune on Wall Street did so by superior knowledge rather than a combination of a) working really, really, long hours and b) being lucky.  And it is both parts of those that are interesting--those rich guys on Wall Street did not get that way by working 40 hours a week.  They work insane hours; they get called back from vacations and have to go to work right away.  They get calls in the middle of the night and have to go to work.  And it is stressful work--really stressful.  Most of them fail.  Some of them get fabulously wealthy.  But, it can all turn around in a a few weeks--and they all know it.  There is something impressive about the Wall Street types, but it is not that they have some secret insight and knowledge or some magic ability to make money grow on trees. 

So, the moral?  If you work really hard and you get really lucky, you can become worth billions.  But, you will probably fail.

I assigned this book in my Money and Banking class this semester--I suspect many of the students will learn a different lesson from it.  What will they learn?  "I can make a fortune by being really smart and not repeating the stupid mistakes those guys at LTCM made."

But. if you really want a Get Rich Quick Scheme:  Here is the best one about which I know. (Ah, the early years of MTV...)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The State of First Things, February 2011

Before getting to the review of this issue, a note about the Editorial changes.  There is still no mention in the magazine about any change in the editor--which is really quite surprising.  The web page did announce that R.R. Reno is taking over as the new editor.  Earlier, the web page also had a very brief note from the editors announcing that Joseph Bottum had left--it was the nice pro forma announcement that should have been issued months ago.  But, here is the odd part.  Joseph Bottum also sent out an e-mail, apparently to everyone in his e-mail folder (which is the only reason I would have received the letter), announcing that he had left First Things.  Both Bottum's e-mail and the editors said he left to pursue other projects--which is the normal thing to say.  But, the two statements had different dates on which Bottum left--the editors marked his departure a month earlier that Bottum said he left in his e-mail.  Why?  I have no idea.  And, honestly, I wouldn't even care if this whole thing hadn't been handled in such an utterly bizarre, secretive fashion.  How secretive has it been?  Well, here is an odd indicator.  I have a statcounter running on this blog, which keeps track of, among other things, what google searches people used to find this blog.  Since my post about the January issue in which I noted that Bottum had left, I have been getting  steady stream of visits to the site from people searching for such things as "Joseph Bottum fired" or "Joseph Bottum leaving First Things" and so on.  Now, this blog had absolutely no information about the matter, but if one was curious about the editorial change and googled anything looking for information about it, my blog post on it was one of the few things you would find.   That is really not a great state of affairs--this should have been handled better.  Someone with absolutely no inside information should not be the primary place people end up looking for information.  Piecing it all together, it looks like it was a really acrimonious split, and there was probably some sort of strange dual separation date--he might have been removed as editor but they kept paying him for another month--and I suspect that everyone agreed to not talk in public about it.  At some point in the not-too-distant future, I suspect some enterprising journalist will piece together the story--I hope the details aren't as embarrassing for First Things as all this secrecy makes them seem.

But, the editor change presents me with a serious problem.  My subscription has one more issue left.  Will Reno make the magazine better or worse?  Is it worth $40 to find out?

[Note added much later: my concluding comments on the Joseph Bottum/First Things split, can be found in the review of the June/July issue.]

And now for the review of the February 2011 issue:
A. Must Read Articles
1. Meilaender, "The Catholic I Am"
This is an essay nominally about why Meilaender has remained a Lutheran, but really about the ecumenical idea.  There are quite a few Protestants who feel a real tension in the unhealed break with Rome.  The church is universal, so why have all the denominations?  And, as Neuhaus once noted, if the church is going to become whole again, it will do so in the Roman Catholic church.  Yet, formal reconciliation doesn't seem possible.  It's hard enough to imagine reconciliation between the Lutheran Church and the Roman Catholic church, but imagining it between small nondenominational evangelical churches and Rome is really hard.  Meilaender makes a really interesting point in the midst of his discussion--Lutherans spend too much time trying to figure out what it means to be distinctively Lutheran.  Lots of protestant churches do that.  A small, non-denominational evangelical church constantly feels the need to explain its existence by explaining how it is unique.  But, why?  Why try to make oneself distinctive?  Why not simply say that the church is simply a part of the holy, catholic and apostolic church, that there is nothing distinctive about it at all, but that it is simply a faithful part of God's kingdom.  Such an answer is remarkable for its simplicity.  It approaches the ecumenical impulse from the other way around--instead of asking how the small church can be reconciled with Rome, it asserts that we already are united in the only way that really matters through Faith.

2. Wilken, "Culture and the Light of Faith"
Much of the essay is a restatement of how Athens and Jerusalem came together to create Western Civilization.  I know a fair amount about htis topic.  Yet, I still learned quite a few things in this article.  The details on Isidore were particularly fascinating.  In the 7th century, Isidore put together an encyclopedia--this is over a thousand years before the Enlightenment thinkers decided to do the same thing.  Isidore also put together a dictionary--again a thousand years before the Enlightenment.  The whole article is well done.

3. Hart, "A Philosopher in the Twilight"
Hart is rapidly becoming one of those authors who is always worth reading.  This article is about Heidegger.  It is popular philosophy of the best sort--in a few pages, Hart not only provides an excellent survey of Heidegger's thought, but he evaluates it as well.  Hart always strikes me as a fair critic--giving credit where credit is due, but never pulling his punches.  The central question in Heidegger is whether our very attempt to understand the world has destroyed our abilty to acutally see the world as it is.  By trying to make everything comprehensible we may be syetmatically destroying our ability to see things that are outside of our abilty to comprehend.  And, when you think about it, there is no reason to assume that the world is comprehensible.  Heidegger, in other words, ends up being another means by which Christian thoelogy is given philosphical standing--knowing the Truth may require fauth.  The "twilight" in Hart's title is Heidgger's ultimate conclusion--Western philosophy has led inevitably toward nihilism, the coming night is going to block out our ability to understand the world.

4. Robert Miller, Waiting for St. Vladimir"
I was torn about whether to put this article here or int the next section.  The problem: the article is really quite good, but I didn't learn all that much.  It does an excellent job systematically taking apart the silly economic arguments of Alasdair MacIntyre, whose economic views are like those of many other vulgar Marxists.  As such, it is the sort of thing that someone who wanted to know why vulgar Marxism lacks anything like intellectual rigor should read.  And it ends with a really nice observation that the vulgar Marxist argument that workers are exploited because they aren't given the value of what they produce implicitly assumes that people are entitled to own what they produce, which is, of course, the whole point of a capitalist economic system.

B. Flawed, but worth Reading
1. Weigel, "The End of the Bernadin Era"
An overview of the American Catholic Church in recent decades--I found it mildly interesting.  It reminded me, though, of one of the reasons I am a Protestant (which was useful coming right before Meilaender's article)--I have absolutely no problem saying that sometimes church leaders are horribly wrong (they are flawed, sinful human beings after all).  And I have absolutely no internal tension in believing that if the Roman Catholic Hierarchy wanders from the Truth, that faithful Christians need not follow them.

After last month's issue I had just about given up hope for the magazine.  Now, this issue comes along, and reminds me why I liked First Things.  This was an issue well worth reading.  ( A few inane articles (How I became a Catholic through Yoga?  Please.), but not too many. And, I really want to like Armond White's movie reviews, but so far they aim to be so pretentious they end up a vague mush.)  Of course, this issue was put together by the interim editor, so who knows how it relates to the future.

Let it Snow

For the first time in my life, when I heard the news earlier in the week that another storm was heading our way, I sighed with dismay.  I just spent the morning removing snow and ice--again.  That makes 5 days in a row in which I have spent between 2 and 8 hours removing snow from our roof and things that used to be walkways.  I have been shovelling snow, chipping ice, melting ice, standing on ladders perched on top of mounds of ice, standing on ice-covered roofs, knocking out ice dams, putting buckets under leaky roofs where ice dams have formed, pulling out drenched insulation, wading through snow in drenched and frozen clothing, and generally been thinking that snow just isn't as much fun as it used to be. There is more snow on the way this evening. 

Too much.