Sunday, October 25, 2009

Well, it is officially a swine flu emergency

Well, ths swine flu is now a declared pandemic, and even President Obama has gotten in on the act by declareing it a national emergency. I say this is an act because the H1N1 is still considered likely to do less damage than its seasonal counterparts. This is like calling a national emergency for a routine severe thunderstorm here in Texas. And if he really wanted to make a difference, where was he on this subject last May, when he could have made a difference?

In the mean time, the shortage of Children's Tamiflu, and this is not a production problem, since there is more than enough of the drug available. It is a problem with finding people willing to mix it into the right dose for children. Something any pharmacist can do. Of course this may change, as projections are for the epidemic to outstrip availability of the drug withing a couple of months.

Of course, all of this is made a little harder by those spreading rumors about the safety of the vaccine. I say a little harder, cause with not enough vaccine to go around, my thought is that you expend the vaccine on those willing to take it and ignore the nay sayers. Let the Darwin Effect take care of them. Let me be clear on my stand. The vaccine is relatively safe. No drug or vaccine is completely safe, but in this case, the risk associated with not getting the vaccine is much greater.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Characteristics of a good Church

It is important for a Christian to be in regular company of other Christians. (It is commanded in the Bible too) Christians call this fellowship, but most people today don't know what that word means, so call it what you want. (the Bible calls it the gathering of yourselves together)

I have been brainstorming about some things to look for, if you are looking for a new Church. (or if you are looking for a Church, for the first time in a long time)

I undertook this idea for a number of reasons, first and foremost, because a couple of my recent pastors (my Church has changed pastors twice in the past 7 years) have stressed the importance of being involved with a Church.

Since you are looking for a group of Christians to spend some significant time with, both for company and for learning, you want to find a Church that is well suited to you.

And with so many Churches teaching incorrectly, or even teaching outright heresy, how can you determine which Church is the best? In my local area, there are enough Baptist, Lutheran, Christian, Bible, Nazarene and Assembly of God Churches that you could go to a different one every Sunday for a year.

The following should be helpful to those who are searching.

The Church Building
It should be ordinary, unspectacular. A Church building is a building for meetings and teaching. It is not, in itself, holy or sacred. The last thing you want is to try to go to a Church that meets in a building that intimidates you.

The Congregation.
Look for a medium sized congregation. This can be anywhere from 100 to 1000 people. Just so you are comfortable. Don't like to stand out? Look for a little larger one. Afraid of crowds, or feel like you will just get lost in the crowd and not find any one to be friends with? Look for a smaller one.

The Preaching and Teaching.
Of course, the most important aspect of a church is the Preaching and Teaching. There is no substitute (except as in the next paragraph) for Expository Preaching (which is really teaching). Expository Preaching is a system where the Pastor goes through a portion of the Bible, one chapter or even one verse at a time, teaching (or exposing) the Scriptures. The Bible specifically requires pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints.

This means they are commanded to prepare Christians for service to Christ. Since this is their purpose, Expository Preaching is required. In addition, if a Pastor teaches on subjects straight through substantial portions of the Scriptures, it is very difficult for him to stray very far from the true meaning of those Scriptures, since the Scriptures, themselves, are tools for their own true interpretation. (This doesn't mean we can't have some disagreement on some interpretation, but the longer we study the scriptures, the smaller those disagreements should become, in relation to the whole.)

As a second best alternative to Expository Preaching, I suppose a liturgical format is OK, if they offer a Sunday School or other weekly (or twice weekly) expository study. Some information on the liturgical format:

At any rate, if they preach on the same subject three Sundays in a row, it is time to find a different Church, as they have become wrapped around the axle, and are no longer equipping the saints, but rather indulging their own social pet peeves. This is not quite the same as teaching from the same passage three weeks in a row, but close. A passage can be looked at from three different points of view, giving three different subjects. I would cut them a little more slack in this case = to maybe four Sundays. At any rate, if they are not moving on, teaching through the Scriptures, then it is time for you to move on.

Offerings and Tithes
Some (rare) Churches never "pass the plate" to take an offering. Some have been known to pass the plate three times in one service. Well, if they pass the plate more than once - except on rare occasions, then, again, it is time to find a different Church. On the other hand, if you are sitting indoors and the lights are on, someone has to pay the bills. And many Pastors find that leading a Church is a full time job, so they need to get paid. (The Bible actually directs a Church to support those who evangelize and those who teach the Scriptures)

But the Pastor should live like his flock. If most of the people who attend the Church live in apartments, or small unassuming houses, then the Pastor should live in a small unassuming house. If most in the congregation live in nice middle class homes, then they should expect
him to live in a comparable house.

If the Pastor lives like a king and the flock struggles to get by, if they constantly parade "successful stories of faith" across the stage or if you hear "let your seed reflect your need" (this is a specific heresy) or anything like it - run. Again, this would indicate that it is time to find another Church.

If you attend Sunday School, or any other theological classes offered by the Church, they should be Bible Based - not over dependant on other material. This doesn't mean they can't use other materials, but the classes should be centered on the Bible.

The Works of the Church
A Church should (unless they, themselves, are destitute) support Charities and Missions - this is one of the biggest advantages of belonging to a Church. If you have read things I have said in the past about charitable giving, then you know there is a hazard to giving individually. Namely that the money might not go where it should, or that they will spend much of it on trying to get you to give more. With a Church, one person can do the research on a charity for the whole group, and the charity only has one point of contact to waste their efforts on, if they try to get more.

The budget, along with some other Church documents, such as their Constitution and bylaws, should be open to inspection by members. But not necessarily by just anyone, so as a compromise, I would highly recommend inquiring about them before formally joining any Church.

Pastor and Deacons should be approachable. They are in charge of setting the overall direction of the Church and serving the spiritual needs of the congregation, but they are not Lords. And if they are not approachable, they cannot fulfil their Biblical Duties.

So applying the above half a baker's dozen tests will narrow the choice of Churches by probably 90%. Possibly to zero - in which case you have to look for the closest thing you can find, and I would say that Expository Preaching is the most important test. Or you may have too look some distance to find a Church. Here in Texas, I know a few people who travel 30 or more miles to find a true Bible Based Church. But after learning the Bible for myself, I think it is worth it.

Proverbs 29:27
The righteous detest the dishonest;
the wicked detest the upright.

UPDATE 27Oct09: I discovered, this morning, that my links to the definition of Expository Preaching were broken. I fixed them, but at the same time, found that I wasn't satisfied with the definition they linked to. I will be looking for a more precise, yet pragmatic definition. But in the mean time, I found the following thoughts, which I want to provide.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Blog Labels

This is a detailed list of my LABELS.

Listed here for the purpose of making it easier to find any articles on any subject that I have written on. I will modify this article from time to time, to correct errors or in case I add some new topic of interest.

This label lists a series of articles on how to Study the Bible. The long version of the name is "Bible Studies 101" I will remove older articles from this whenever I replace them with newer versions.

This label includes all items posted with the goal of teaching others how to study the Bible. I am beginning to split this out, using this heading for motivational stuff and older articles and a new one "Bible Study 101" for the actual study guide.

Articles removed from "Bible Study 101" will be found here.

This label includes information and stuff about the process of blogging itself.

Border Security
This label includes all articles discussing the building of the Border Fence and other security measures, also includes information on the enemies of our boarder security efforts.

This label includes reviews of books I am reading,
Or have read over the past few years,
Or that I want to read, but haven't the time.

This label includes stuff about cars and trucks

And many other forms of personal transportation,
Including those with two wheels.

This label includes discussion on how Christians should live.
Authority for How Christians should live is the Bible.
But we need to look at 1 Corinthians 5
And balance it with Romans 15

This label includes stuff that I have removed tags from. Some de-tagged articles could be stuff that I have written a more updated article on, or stuff that I no longer consider it worthy of anyone spending time on. I won't remove the article, or pretend I didn't write it, but will just change it to this label.

Disaster Prep
This label includes information on what we should be doing now to prepare for disasters

This label includes discussions about Digital Rights Management, Copyright Enforcement, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the Jackbooted thugs at RIAA and MPAA and some other producers.

This label includes all kinds of stuff on economics, whether world economics or national. Or micro economics which, for my definition, includes economics of a single business, household, or even a single process (like driving to work).

This label includes discussion of all forms of energy,
both mainstream and alternative.
Oil, Coal, Nuclear, Wind, Solar, Home grown, imported -- etc
and the energy situations of other countries

This label includes information on current, future, and past epidemics,
their expected impact,
and what we should be doing to deal with those epidemics.

This label includes discussions on corporations,
their behavior, and how they undermine our prosperity,
our rights as citizens, and our sovereignty as a nation.

This label includes various heretical teachings, from prosperity preachers
to politicians mis-using biblical teachings for political purposes, to others
using quasi or pseudo scriptural ideas to support pseudo christian beliefs.

This label includes things conservatives do that will hamstring them, or that show they are not really conservative, but rather, doing what is right for big corporations or the very rich. Also included are things that will reduce our ability to remain a free and prosperous country.

Retiree Issues

Planned - but there are no articles under this heading.

This label includes stuff, including technology, that have vanished over the last 20 or so years, due to manufactures going out of business, production costs for too few items, or excessive greed on the part of patent holders.

The long name for this is "Observations and Definitions"
Just a place to put short articles that are
not much more than a paragraph,
Any observation, definition, or quick link to a good article.

Short for "The November Chronicles"

This label includes evidence of the "coming storm" and the decline and fall of the American Nation. Primarily, five things are leading to this "coming storm" Overpopulation, Overspending, Apathy, Islam, and Environmentalism.

This label includes notes on my personal life and things happening around me personally.

This label includes articles about state and national politics, and the goings on of international or foreign government bodies and agencies.

This label includes stuff I found where people have behaved in despicable ways. I thought about migrating this to the heading of Weasel, hat tip to the author of Dilbert for the term.

But instead, I have decided to depreciate it.
In Geekspeak, this means that
while I won't immediately delete it,
I won't be using it any more.

This label includes,
As the banner on my blog reads:
Discussions of Technology, and How We Use or Misuse it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Hollow Recovery amid Job Losses

This is coming out a bit late (OK, very late), and will mark a change in my efforts to regularly forecast the economic climate. Future articles will be shorter and address only one or another item.

Optimistic chatter from Washington and Wall Street is counter balanced by the reality that job losses, and especially manufacturing job losses, are killing the American Dream. This seems to be a continuation of the last few months. There is a (well thought out) theory afloat that the recovery will be in phases, but not really recovery - Change.

There is more about job losses here. And here: look specifically at "US manufacturing statistics" and then realise that this was written in 2005 - before the collapse.

Some time ago (July), when some of the brain-dead-heads in Washington (and some in NYC) were talking about the recession being over, the smarter people on Wall Street were saying it is too early. It still is.

Among the economic indicators I watch Baltic shipping index (third graph) is beginning to show the "W" shape that I mentioned in last month's update.

Two things that few people are talking about are dragging the economy, and preventing any real recovery. One is the addiction to foreign oil. While we are still importing 70% of our oil, and still not investing much in the way of new supplies or even new refineries, China is buying up future oil production, which will again push oil prices sky high. (About $20 - $40 a year increases) As Pickens says: "China has a plan," Pickens said. "We don’t."

The other drag on the economy is the previously mentioned manufacturing job losses. While the brain-dead-heads in Washington keep measuring the service sector, as if consumption will make us rich, we keep exporting our manufacturing jobs overseas. The pundits on Wall Street keep talking about a "jobless recovery," which means if the economy recovers at all, it will again be a hollow economy. I specifically remember, some years ago, one Caterpillar May (stock owner) telling me how good it is for the US to have free trade with China, since that would lead to them buying equipment from US. Now, after we pumped billions into the Chinese economy (some of which they loaned us this past year to stabilise our financial sector) they have built their own manufacturing facilities and are building machines they used to buy from US.

More about the jobless recovery here. And a quick quote from it:

(Oct. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Job openings in the U.S. fell in August to the lowest level in at least nine years, signaling the economy hasn’t improved enough to prompt companies to take on more staff.)

Although I can't find the reference right now, the real jobless rate, including people who have given up on finding a job, and those who don't qualify for unemployment is close to 17%.

Also, late breaking: China is going to be building Hummers
(Just a note that this does not affect the production of the US Army HMMWV)

There is a comical picture of our economic dilemma showing that we are counting on the unemployed to bail us out.

So, if things are so bad, why are the market numbers looking pretty good? Well, two things are in play, inflating the numbers. One is the constant pumping of extra money into the economy, mainly by way of low interest rates. The "Fed" has indicated that the current interest rate, which is indistinguishable from zero, and has been for almost a year. (Also found here)

But all this extra grease on the wheels of the economy has had a downside. The dollar has been declining for some months now, pushing up prices of commodities (like oil and gold) balancing the deflation in the economy. Of course, with material costs rising and finished goods remaining the same, the workers are obviously absorbing the loss. (also here)

As an ironic twist, some employers are pretending to have a hard time finding qualified workers. I say pretending, because they obviously are complaining that qualified applicants are taking the better paying jobs (or better work environment), and the complainers are the ones that can't get the workers.

Gold, trend lines are still rocketing upwards, and gold will be over priced for some time, unless one takes the demise of the dollar very seriously. But I don't think it will collapse entirely, since Obama's handlers in the far east (remember, the debtor is servant to the lender) want to keep it afloat.

So, What Now?

Because, as I mentioned above, the "Fed" is planning to keep interest rates low for at least another year, I will no longer be doing this article monthly, as I have been. Even thought the "markets" will seem to recover (good if you have mutual funds) the real economy will not recover for many many more months, if it recovers at all.

What to do in the mean time?

Keep working - if you have a job. Don't be afraid to take on any work that comes your way if you don't. Times will be hard for many years, and the line of work you want may never come your way again. Learn new skills. Everybody should have at least two (unrelated) job skills.

If you have money (if you can afford cable TV), buy tools for survival, in case the worst happens. And make sure you know how to use them. If you are no good with tools, you might have to barter - and find someone who has the skill.

Do not let your love grow cold. Now, to be clear, when the Bible talks about love, it is an action verb. To be specific, Love equals charity, in fact, if you look at an Old English dictionary, you will see they are synonyms. Love is a call to action.

And one last thought: hunker down. It is going to be a long and bumpy ride.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

My New (used) Truck

I actually began this subject with my rant against the Consumer Reports 2007 used car buyer's guide. The reviewer of all of the smaller trucks had a bad attitude, as was evidenced by their consistent belittling of small trucks.

I recently bought a Chevy Colorado. The Consumer Reports (this link subject to change) reviewer said the four cylinder engine in the Colorado was "crude and noisy." I do not find that to be true, but I will say the transmission tends to shift into overdrive and engage the lock at too low speed. It also seems to like first gear too much. At 1500 RPM in first, it is traveling about 12 mph, and does not want to shift into second. At 46 mph, it shifts into overdrive (and the lock engages at any speed over 35), which again puts you at 1500 rpm - but with about 6 times the torque output. There is a slight, but noticeable engine vibration. I doubt this is what the reviewer was referring to (really can't figure out what he is complaining about), but a switch to prevent it from going into overdrive, or just adjusting it to shift to overdrive only at higher speed would fix this.

The Consumer Reports reviewer seemed to think that anything with less than rocket like acceleration was underpowered, but this truck has plenty of power for daily use. And that is what it is meant for. There are heavier and more powerful trucks on the market, for jobs that need heavier and more powerful trucks (my job, as an equipment maintenance person requires something heavy duty, but I drive a corporate truck for that). What I need is something that is economical. This truck gets fairly good mileage, but not as good as my 95 Isuzu. And not as good as an economy car. And the tires will be a bit more expensive to maintain. But overall, it isn't too bad.

Anyway, at this point, my biggest complaint (other than it is going to cost more to drive) is that I can't get the dome light to come on without the key in the ignition.