Saturday, October 07, 2006

$100,000,000 Ego Houses

The "Veblen Effect" is when people pay way more than they have to for something to show how rich they are. Among the mega-egos with big bank accounts, there is always a competition to have the Most Expensive of Them All. This is not at all the same thing as having the Best of Them All.

When we think of mega-egos with money, one name may leap instantly to mind. Right. Donald Trump has led the way in building a nine-figure house, just to beat all the other guys. His 80,000 square foot monstrosity in Palm Beach has a "price" of $125,000,000, which is a makeover of a quaint little cottage that he bought for a mere $41,000.000.

And what would one call such a theater of intimidation? Maison de l'Amitie.

The punchline, though, is that Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia, who has even more ego and less sense of propriety than Trump, already has a $135,000,000 house is Aspen.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Amish Class

In a week of horrible school shootings, the deadliest and most graphically awful were the five young girls killed in the Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania. Four of them were buried today.

The Amish are very serious Christians. So they turned the other cheek. They have tried to comfort the dead murderer's widow and her children. They urge her stay in the community. They pray for the crazy person who molested and murdered their children before killing himself as the police closed in. The grandfather of two to the dead girls was asked by a reporter if he had forgiven the killer. "In my heart, yes, " he said, "through God's help."

That is the class of humble people.

Nobel Prize Colleges

The count of the colleges that produced our new Nobel prize winners so far:


Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Euston Manifesto I

A new venture in sensible center-left politics has begun in Britain, and spread to America. The British version begins with the "Euston Manifesto," to which a group of Americans has signed on.

I am always in favor of sensible centrist politics. I am working through the details of the manifesto and its amendments, to see what I think about it.

To start with, though, I was struck by the different ways of describing themselves that the British framers and their American cousins adopt.

The preamble to the Euston Manifesto begins "We are democrats and progressives." They go on to say that they are mostly from the Left, but not exclusive. So, who are they trying to reach? "We reach out … beyond the socialist Left towards egalitarian liberals and others of unambiguous democratic commitment." The left-of-center barrier is the fixed point of their identity. They are not aiming to join liberals and the center. They don't even imagine a center. Instead, the new line they are trying to draw is "between the forces of the Left that remain true to its authentic values, and currents that have lately shown themselves rather too flexible about these values." The Euston Manifesto alliance is not distinguishing itself from the Reactionary Right – that is a given – but instead from the Looney Left.

The "American Signers of the Euston Manifesto," on the other hand, have views that "range from those of centrists and independents to liberals of varying hues on to the democratic left." The Americans see the Euston movement as a center-left alliance. The line they want to draw is somewhere right of center. There could be an enemy on the left, too, but it is not named.

The Euston alliance is made by the Left. The American counterpart is made by the left.

As the old joke says, Britain and America are two countries divided by a common language.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Black Incomes Surpass Whites in Queens

That is the title of a fascinating article in the New York Times by Sam Roberts. We can see the point quickly with some numbers:

$46,000 = average household income in the United States

$50,960 = average white household in Queens
$51,836 = average black household in Queens

By contrast, in neighboring Manhattan,
$86,494 = average white household
$28,116 = average black household

What is the difference in black achievement in the two boroughs? First, blacks in Queens are more likely to be immigrants. Second, blacks in Queens are more likely to be married.

Within Queens, the immigrant difference is clear:
$45,864 = average black native-born household
$61,151 = average black immigrant household

Married households in Queens have an even bigger advantage:
$70,324 = average black married native-born household
$84,338 = average black married immigrant household

And which factor matters more, marriage or immigration?
Clearly, marriage is the more important factor in raising household income. Married couples make about 50% more than unmarried households, even though many of the unmarrieds have two or more adults in them.

Queens shows the future of black achievement in America. Immigrants are likely to lead native-born African-Americans. But married couples, wherever they were born, will lead more.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Is the Global Presbyterian Fellowship Schismatic?

The Global Presbyterian Fellowship is a new project by some of the leading congregations of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to get beyond the endless internecine struggle, and get on with the business of spreading the gospel. They had an initial gathering in Atlanta this past summer that generated a major buzz. Something good might be coming, a way forward out of the old mess.

However, the GPF also raises a disquieting parallel. In the 1930s disgruntled conservatives, led by J. Gresham Machen, created an Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions. In its brief life, the Independent Board was aggressively critical of the existing church leadership. They asked congregations to give their mission money to the Independent Board instead of to the official mission agency of the church. The denomination ruled that the Independent Board was schismatic, and ordered all officers of the church to quit it. Machen and the other board members had, in my judgment, created the Independent Board in order to create a schism. Naturally, none of them quit the Independent Board when ordered to. They were tried, convicted, and, in 1936, removed from the ministry of the Presbyterian Church. By prior arrangement, they immediately created a new denomination, now known as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

When the call for the Global Presbyterian Fellowship was issued, it raised a red flag for me and others who know this history. We were relieved, therefore, to see that the first point of the initial invitation proclaims:

We choose to remain within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and we encourage congregations to continue to relate to their own presbyteries in the manner that they deem best. This is not an effort to start a new denomination or to write a new constitution.

At the Atlanta meeting, the GPF adopted a covenant. The language of the covenant is a little less reassuring than was the initial invitation. Gone is any explicit assurance that they choose to remain within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Instead, we find this more ambiguous proposal:

To invest our financial resources only in those local and global mission efforts that we believe are biblically faithful and accountable, within the Presbyterian family and through other partnerships into which the Lord calls us.

That is not a call to schism, but it is not a proclamation of loyalty, either.

On the whole, I do not think the Global Presbyterian Fellowship is, or will be, schismatic. I say this partly out of trust for the initial impulse that created the GPF. I also believe, as I have written earlier, that the New Wineskins initiative has been the magnet for the schismatic forces in the church.

There is plenty of discontent in the Global Presbyterian Fellowship. So far, though, it is trying to build up the church from within.