Archive for July, 2008

Whacked on the head by God with a sock full of silver dollars

Today I was listening to the Kunstlercast, a podcast about "the tragic comedy of suburban sprawl." They talk a lot about energy, new urbanism, peak oil and other fine subjects. Kunstler is one of my favourite commentators on the future because his very direct and unvarnished way of saying things.  He was featured on the CBC a little while ago and he featured in the documentary "The end of suburbia."  They have some interesting comments about evangelicalism in America.  Keep in mind neither of them of religious. You can listen to the audio here.

Kunstler: I have a feeling that there isn’t going to be a whole lot of structure left except what may be supplied by some kind of a spiritual or church setting.

Crary: Here is the problem that I see though.  Most of the religions, I don’t think, I think that as organizations they would be equipped to help us in to the future, but I don’t think the message that a lot of them are preaching actually one of humanism, about fixing the human [condition].

Kunstler: That is probably the most characteristic about evangelical Protestantism in our time, especially the brand the emanates from the sun belt is how consumerist and materialist it is.  How obsessed it is with riches and getting something for nothing and getting whacked on the head by God with a sock full of silver dollars.

If you want to know why the church is declining and descending perilously into irrelevance is that we make clubs for ourselves and there is nary a hint of sacrifice for anything bigger than ourselves.  From the self-help sermons, to megachurch malls and shallow self-serving spirituality we are revealing what we are really all about.  The world can see through it all.  We’ve hitched ourselves to the wagon of consumerist excess and we will go down with it.

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What are we doing tonight, George?

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Is the US becoming Canada’s China?

I found this cartoon pretty funny.

Jen Sorensen
Village Voice, C-VILLE Weekly
Jul 28, 2008

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It is really hard to take the National Post seriously

Consider the following posted at deSmogblog.

An earlier post of the errors/misrepresentations in a recent Lorne Gunter column in the National Post has attracted a host of comments and a few that further debunk Gunter’s passionately inaccurate talking points.

DeSmog reader Dave Clark, for example, offers this:

Yet another whopper from Gunter:

"Snow coverage in North America this winter was greater than at any time in recorded history."

In fact, (according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) the 2008 January coverage at 17.0 million square kilometers was identical to the average for that month from 1973-2008. Years having equal or greater January snow coverage include every year from 1974-1985, except the marginally lower years of 1976 and 1980.

So, Gunter says that Al Gore is "calling on his country to abandon all fossil fuels within 10 years."

That’s not true. Gore challenged the U.S. "to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years."

Gunter says that "worldwide, there are nearly half as many glaciers advancing as retreating."

That’s not true. Gunter’s own reference source says, "Climate change is causing roughly 90% of the world’s mountain glaciers to shrink."

Gunter says, "Greenland isn’t melting."

That’s not true. This NASA report – the most recent available – shows "that 2007 marked an overall rise in the melting trend over the entire Greenland ice sheet and, remarkably, melting in high-altitude areas was greater than ever at 150 percent more than average."

Gunter says, "Snow coverage in North America this winter was greater than at any time in recorded history."

Per the comment and impeccable scientific source above: THAT’S NOT TRUE.

More than 50 per cent of Canadians believe that there is still a legitimate scientific debate about whether human activities are causing climate change. That’s not true and hasn’t been for a long time, but you can hardly blame Canadians for being confused; when journalists (and journals) of record have this much contempt for science, truth and their unsuspecting readers, it’s completely to be expected.

Somebody should sack this character and should start insisting that his paper (and all the papers in the CanWest Global conglomerate) carry stories that are, well, true from now on.

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Resiliency : Strategy for the years ahead

I just finished reading Thomas-Homer Dixon’s the Up Side of Down.  That might be one factor in my dire prognostications.  The Up side in Dixon’s down is the opportunity to adapt to a new and better way of living.  This adaptability is the key component.

In Saskatchewan we can readily identify the generation that lived through the thirties.  While the "dirty thirties" were difficult everywhere Saskatchewan was particularly hard hit because drought turned the place in a dust bowl.  The people who came through that became experts and making do, reducing and reusing everything they could.  They adapted and learned new skills that helped them cope.  Adaptability and resiliency are key for the years ahead.

Here are some things I heartily recommend people consider:

Plant a garden
Carol and I made our first attempt.  It seems as though gardening is as much art as it is science so it is helpful to start small and expand.  Not a lot of effort can get you lots of fresh vegetables.  It was not that long ago that backyard gardens were very common. 

Move close to where you work
Everyone has watched fuel prices increase.  One good way to reduce that bill is reduce the distance you have to travel.  Work from home if it is an option.  Another trend to consider is the transformation of inner cities.  Traditionally the suburbs are where the middle and upper class life while the inner city is where the poorer people live.  This will reverse and the process has already begun.  I live just over 2 blocks from downtown and I’ve seen a tremendous amount of change in the make up of the neighbourhood. 

Downsize to a smaller home or share it
2 people probably don’t need a 1000 sq/ft home with a developed basement.  Why pay to heat 2000 sq/ft when you only really need 1000 or 700.  If you have the opportunity turn your basement in to a suite.  The best way to reduce energy costs is to have more people share the same heat and light.

Renovate your home
Make your home as energy efficient as possible.  Take advantage of government programs that will help pay the bill.  Newer appliances like fridges can save so much electricity you would be financially ahead to lost the older model.

Downsize your vehicle
If you need a car purchase the most fuel efficient one you can.

Invest more cautiously, pay down debt
In the two most notable economic down turns we see two different scenarios.  In the 30′s people panicked, pulled their money out of the bank and put it in their mattress take millions of dollars out of circulation.  This caused deflation.  If you had stocks you were hosed but if you had cash you did very well because each dollar purchased more.  I think deflation is less likely than stagflation which is what we had the 70s.  Low growth with high inflation.  Eventually central banks raised interest rates so high they caused the economy to go down for a reboot.  Stocks took a hit in this era as well.  People that had mortgages were in serious trouble because the interest rates were so high.  I’d consider moving from variable interest rate mortgages to fixed rate mortgages and I certainly wouldn’t get a Home Equity Line of Credit.

Learn to share, become a generous friend
No household is an island and if times become tough real friends are one of the most valuable and resilient assets you can have.  Give up on the "stuff makes you happy" dogma and focus on thing that really matter….must resist iPhone.

Learn skills
Cooking, sewing, gardening, home maintenance (carpentry, electrical, plumbing, heating and ventilation etc…) , repair (auto, electronics etc…).  Collect cheap used books on the skills you don’t have time to learn now.

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Canada in deficit situation for April and May

$517 million dollar deficit. Why?

Expenditures up 7%.

Revenues down 4%.

By the end of the year things might even out, but wouldn’t we be better off with a government that didn’t heavily increase spending and leave no room for a downturn?

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Why do I have such pessimism these days?

There are a couple of reasons.  None of them stem from much of anything that I get from the mainstream media.  One of them is the state of the American financial system and with that government and consumer debt.  When you add up all the obligations of the American government from foreign debt to medicare and social security the number is staggering.  It comes to $375 000 for each full time employee in the United States.  My source?  The United States Government Accountability Office

The latest expansion of the US economy was largely driven by credit and to keep things afloat the federal reserve is taking unprecedented measures.  The Fed’s monetary policy is causing inflation.  One of the Fed’s roles is the expand or contract the money supply.  They can generate money "out of thin air" to loan it against assets like houses.  Right now they backing worthless investment banks and financial institutions to keep them alive so the economy doesn’t seize up.  This is putting pressure on the US dollar

Currently America enjoys an advantage in the world marketplace as the US dollar is the world reserve currency.  It is the most commonly held currency and it is the currency commodities like oil and wheat are priced in.  If the US devalues its currency too much then other countries, particularly oil producing nations will be more and more tempted to start selling oil in a basket of currencies.  Iran and Venezuela have already begun pushing OPEC in that direction.  Asian nations have significant holdings of US currency, especially China. 

China and the US have something of an unspoken arrangement.  China makes lots of stuff for the United States.  China intentionally keeps the value of their currency low.  America buys lots of cheap stuff from China and borrows money to do it.  China buys up all that debt and the cycle keeps going.  Most countries couldn’t do this the way the US does because the trade deficit would obliterate the value of their currency.  Because the US dollar is the world reserve currency it can get away with this arrangement. 

So far it is in everyone’s best interests to keep this arrangement going.  If the US dollar is significantly devalued America won’t be able to buy the stuff most the world sells it.  This is why countries like Saudi Arabia have been very firm on trading oil in US dollars.  If the US borrows too much money and becomes so financially sick that countries start to think the value of its currency is a heavily inflated bubble they will begin selling their commodities in other currencies and start dumping their reserves of US currency.  Then the race to the bottom will begin.  When the carnage is over the dollar will have lost so much its value that it will be incredibly expensive to buy imported stuff.  Having exported much its manufacturing base off shore this will make things much more expensive.

There are couple of major trends that will continue to be a weight on the US economy.  As oil production begins to decline from its peak the price will continue to increase putting more and more pressure on the economy.  Measures to reduce demand will offer brief relief but as the relentless decline in oil production continues the room created by demand destruction will shrink and the price will remain high.  The only way out of the cycle is to completely change the transportation system and that is an expensive capital project.  If there is an oil shock, say Mr. Chavez decides he doesn’t want to sell oil to the US anymore, or conflict with Iran cuts results in a dramatic drop in supply it could cause such a disruption it will begin cause the US economy to unravel.  For a great explanation of what could happen read "Countdown to Meltdown" published at The Atlantic Monthly in 2005.

Another major trend is the health care costs of the baby boomer generation.  In America the government does pay for health care for those over 65 in the most expensive health care system in the world.  For a government already mired in debt because of wars and bailouts it will prove to be too much.  Something will have to give on the tax side or the spending side.  Whether that means more taxes or more people paying for health care it will put even more pressure on discretionary spending. 

The biggest deficit is in American leadership.  McCain 2008 isn’t an upgrade from McCain 2000.  Aside from Obama’s rhetorical abilities I’m not impressed with him either.  In her history America has overcome some serious challenges in the past.  I believe that America could overcome these challenges, with a lot of pain and hardship, but it could happen. 

Unfortunately the problems are more complex than "we need to defeat Japan."  Instead of putting manpower and ingenuity towards solving the problem of Peak Oil they are going on a witchhunt looking for someone to blame or someone to tax for high oil prices.  The Democrats and the Republicans are equally vacuous on this issue.  Without a common understanding of what needs happen very little does happen.  That is was depresses me the most. 

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Game over man, it’s game over

I’m curious.  How many people out there think the US economy is on the brink of an epic failure?

David Horsey
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Jul 16, 2008
J.D. Crowe
Mobile Register
Jul 15, 2008
Signe Wilkinson
Philadelphia Daily News
Jul 15, 2008

 

Maybe we could build a fire, sing a couple of songs, huh why don’t we try that?

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Todd Bentley

In the last few weeks the question of Todd Bentley and what is called the Lakeland Outpouring has weighed heavy on mind.  I don’t think I could comment negatively or positively without putting myself in tension with someone I care about.   For those unfamiliar with Todd Bentley he is Canadian charismatic evangelist leading what is considered by many to be healing revival in Lakeland Florida.  By most standards he is unorthodox.  He is a younger man, covered in tattoos, and his ministry is marked by manifestations like shaking, being drunk in the spirit and laughing.  Bentley has been a polarizing force.  As such people tend to strongly embrace or strongly reject was going on. Nightline just did a story on Bentley and couldn’t find one independently verified documented miracle.

At this point I haven’t seen a lot that I can embrace.  Everything that I’ve been learning in scripture about the nature of the church, salvation and ministry is at odds with what I see at Lakeland.  The message that is presented contrasts too heavily with the picture the New Testament paints.  The Lakeland message is pretty much summed up with one of Bentley’s catch phrases: "come get some".  While healing was a significant part of Jesus’ ministry all the talk of impartation’s, transferable anointings, and healing angels is foreign to scripture.  Some have attempted to take some scattered tidbits of scripture and try to make a case for this brand of Christianity but the attempts fail to measure up against the direction and the force of theologically orthodox Christianity.  While one could find  lots to criticize in Bentley’s brand of revival Christianity the most disturbing is what is missing.  I’ve yet to see a proper presentation of the message of the cross, sacrifice or death to self. 

Upon some sober reflection I can’t judge Todd Bentley the man (1Cor 4:5).  I can tell you that the message he conveys isn’t the gospel I know and believe in.

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Authentic Spirituality

…With that in mind, I would like to address something that has bothered me all my life, but have never put into words until now. I believe that this little issue has taken its toll on thousands of genuine and honest God-seekers, and has left them feeling as though they are completely missing God. It’s time to expose one of the church’s greatest and best-kept secrets. Exposing this could set Charismatic Christianity back a thousand years. I’m about to blow a cover off this religion in a way I’ve never seen done before, so buckle your seatbelts.

My 8th grade science teacher pinned up one of those psychedelic mind-bending posters that supposedly had a picture within a picture that you could psychologically see inside, if you stared long enough and allowed your eyes to go out of focus. Those things never worked for me. I could stare for hours and I never saw anything but a bunch of squiggly lines and shapes. Supposedly this particular poster had moving dinosaurs in it. At least that’s what the first kid claimed to see as he let out a, "Wooooee, dude, I tooootally see it!" I got up close and looked till my head hurt but I still couldn’t see what he was talking about. Sure enough, one by one, people started to see the moving dinosaurs. Everyone was laughing and talking about it. There was energy and excitement as people coached friends on how to look in just the right way to "experience" it with them. One by one you could hear people getting a "break-through" as they would finally se what everyone else was seeing. I felt ignorant, because all I saw were stupid, squiggly lines.

I quit trying about half-way through the year. I got to the point where I just ignored the poster when I came to class. Truthfully, I resented the fact that he put it up there in the first place. It was a science class. Why hang a poster with hidden dinosaurs? It didn’t make sense to me, and I found it to be a source of irritation every time another two or three people exclaimed, "I see it, I see it!!!!" I even considered lying to everyone at one point because it was only me and perhaps two other kids who were on the outs, and neither of them had a cool bone in their body.

By the end of the school year, it appeared that the majority of the school had experienced the dinosaurs and I still couldn’t see them. How embarrassing. My embarrassment was short-lived, however, because on the last day of school, the cocky old science teacher stood before the class and revealed to everyone that there were no dinosaurs in the picture. IT WAS A HOAX! He wanted to illustrate how peer pressure can easily sway others. It was amazing to see different people become angry and defensive and swear up and down that they saw moving dinosaurs. I believe those kids could have taken a lie-detector test and passed with flying colors. They fully believed that they saw dinosaurs moving!

Read the rest here.

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