Archive for August, 2011

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10 Best Places for Writing

August 20, 2011

In addition to being a counselor, public speaker and pastor, I also get paid occasionally to write. I choose not to write in my office and there has been too much hustle and bustle this summer to write at home (no offense to my family: it is what it is).

So I have become very creative in finding niche places to write. As with all my lists, these are not rated in any particular order. Here, then, are my favorite places to write these days.

1. The public library quiet rooms. Usually Internet access is available for free and the Quiet rooms are usually quiet (compared with the rest of the library).

2. Starbucks: Sometimes I need to combine people-watching with writing. By so doing, I ground my writing in the arena of the personal which make the writing poignant and accessible.

3. Airports: I did a lot of travel this year. Pick a gate where no planes are leaving  for several hours. This will be empty and once again, there is usually free Internet.

4. Barnes and Noble coffee shop: As with most places, if you go in the early afternoon, the crowds are gone. I have a Nook, so I can access books for free for one hour while in B. and N.

5. Backyard patio: Even in sweltering Sacramento, it is cool enough to write in the evenings out on my patio. My wireless network reaches out there as well.

6. Rented Hotel Room: Twice a year, I rent a hotel room someplace cool and write for three or four days straight. Go on Travelocity or another travel site and look at pictures of their rooms. Note the chairs and tables, not the bed. When you get there, disconnect the television from the wall, or take the batteries out of the remote and throw them away. That at least hinders the desire to waste time watching television.

7. Sandwich shops: The quainter the better. If you order food, they will let you work there for hours. Be cognizant that they open their doors to you in order to make a living. If you are there all day, keep buying stuff.

8. McDonalds: Yes, the Golden Arches do have several things going for them. Cheap menu, free wifi and comfortable seats. Also, if you get a booth, you can spread your stuff out. In order to avoid too many distractions, stay far away from the ball rooms.

9. University library study rooms: Even though I have not been a student for many years, you don’t have to show I.D. to get in. Usually the architecture is amazing and will inspire your creative muse.

10. Hospital waiting rooms: As a pastor, I am often called to visit people in hospitals. Most often, (with the exception of the Emergency room) they have free wifi and quiet spots to write. This will not occur to most people, but you learn a lot about the human condition in a hospital.

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Riots and Stock Market Crashes

August 9, 2011

I cannot give a long, detailed assessment of the current global crises, but I can give a response based upon established biblical truth.

These days, thousands of youth are rioting in the streets of London. It is not the “fact” of rioting that is most interesting, it is the reason. In recent years, rioting has fallen into one of three categories: political, crime-related or social protest. Political: people rioting because they want a change of government. This is what has fueled the riots of the so-called “Arab Spring”. Crime-Related: The Rodney King riots or many of the reactive riots in Syria at the moment protest the way the official police or court policy has handled affairs. Social Protest: The government or other entities are doing things that a portion of the society disagrees with. Think of the 60s anti-war protests, gay rights or anti-abortion marches, or even the anti-apartheid protests of the 80s. The race riots in Britain twenty years ago were the last time we saw violence in the streets of London.

So what is fueling this latest round of violence? Actually, not much of anything, other than selfish human nature. According to interviews done with some typical protesters on London’s streets, the violence was just “something to do to relieve boredom.” An Associated Press reporter this morning asked one young lady who was looting a store why she was doing it. Her answer: “We are simply doing our part to have class equality”. And then she laughed. Most of the organizers of this protest are using Twitter and Facebook to get the crowds out. The only universally stated goal is “anarchy and lots of it” as one infamous Twitter post reads.

Anarchy is the desire of the human heart to have “no one to tell me what to do”. The book of Judges has this theme going through it: “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes“. Anarchy says “might is right”. Anarchy says “if it works, we support it, if it fails it was wrong”. Anarchy says “there is no absolute truth”. Anarchy says “All men are created equal; but some are more equal than others”.

In America, we have always hated the idea of a society that is anything less than free. We like everything free. We want a free Internet, free voting, free enterprise, free health care, free education, free speech, free press, freedom to bear arms…on and on. But freedom is always only a quarter of a step away from anarchy. A free market is allowed to do anything it wants. When the banks started betting on each other’s assets (also known as Mortgage based Securities), it sent our economy into a semi-permanent nose-dive. We all want everything to be free, but we don’t realize it all has a price. The free Internet destroys jobs faster than the failing economy. People used to get paid to book flights, write articles, market songs, make movies, sell books and clothes – most of which are done online now through computers. The people who used to do those jobs are unemployed and have too much time on their hands. In a society like Britain, when you have too many youths with too much time on their hands, a few Tweets and the candy store down the street looks like a good investment. A rock and an angry yell make the perfect down payment for anarchy.

According to the New America Foundation, an independent think tank, our true unemployment rate is 19.2% in America, and almost 40% of those are now “permanently” unemployed. This means that even if we pay people to stay home (through unemployment) and pay their medical and pay their public transportation, at some point they will get bored with staying home and will find some reason to hit the streets.

The stock market crash of yesterday is only a symptom of many people getting their money out of what looks like a sinking ship. What will happen when it feels like all ships are sinking? Without God as our anchor, and a public consensus of morals, civilization can become chaos in a moment. It could happen in six months if we do not pray right now. Pray that people will get tired of anarchy and boundless greed and will gather together to turn back to God. Really turn to God, not in a religious way (appeasing God) but in a relational way (knowing God and his ways).

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Blue Line Budgeting

August 1, 2011

I asked several very smart people this week if they have ever heard of  “Blue Line Budgeting” and they had not. I was appalled. How are we ever going to hold the government accountable for their spending if we don’t know what they really do when they allocate the money?

Then I checked on the Internet and I had to go five pages deep on a Google Search to find a definition of it. Not even Wikipedia knew about it. Isn’t that strange, since Blue Line Budgeting is practiced by the Federal Government every year and is one primary reason for our ballooning debt. I had to look in my Economics textbook to get the best understanding. You will want to read on. This is fascinating.

In regular budgeting – whether your household budget, a small business, a major corporation or the government – it is simply a matter of balancing income and expenditures. If you spend less than you take in, you are in a surplus situation. If you spend more than you take in, you have a deficit. That is easy to understand.

The problem comes in when you cannot predict accurately what income you will have. For instance, a person who works on commission cannot be completely accurate about how many sales they will make. But they have to plan for their future expenses. So they make a budget based on one of three scenarios:

1. A Red-Line Budget: A budget that is largely pessimistic about the amount of income. The expenses, therefore, are based on this small amount.

2. A Black-Line Budget: This is where you take the average amount of income you have had over the past few years and assume this is your income for the next year. Your expenses are based on that amount.

3. A Blue-Line Budget: This is where you exaggerate (or are extremely optimistic about) your income. Blue line spending means you expect a very positive amount of money so you spend on that basis.

Companies budget using one of these three guidelines. Usually they have to take the state of the economy, the company’s health and success in the marketplace and the cost of materials into account. If a company makes widgets and the economy is going well, and there are relatively few widget makers, then they can propose a more Blue Line budget.

Since 1960, the United States Government has proposed a Blue Line Budget EVERY SINGLE YEAR! This means, no matter what happens with the economy, what wars we are fighting, what the tax rate is, we have set a budget forecast based on the Blue Line – the most optimistic view of the future. According to a noted economist, the Government has only had income coming close to their projections three times since 1960.

I say all of this to tell you how to read the phrase “spending cuts”. When you and I make a spending cut, it means we spend less. That is not how the Government does it. They look at their Blue-Line projected budget for Medicare. Let’s say they expect to spend 800 Billion next year on it.  That is up from 700 billion the year before. So, instead of spending 800 billion, they spend 780 billion. They then tell us they cut 20 Billion from Medicare. What they don’t tell you is they only spent less than their own rosy forecast. They actually spent 80 billion more than the year before.

That’s one of the ways we got into debt. Here is what twists my shorts. Everyone was worried that we would default on our debt tomorrow without a budget deal. If the government simply went to Black-line spending for two years, we would be fine. We would pay EVERY BILL.

Blue Line spending. Write your congressman and ask if they have heard of it. If they haven’t, I can send them my Economics textbook. It would make a great paperweight for their office.

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