Sacred Christmas music marathon

The online radio program Issues, Etc., is planning a marathon of sacred Christmas music beginning on Christmas Eve. You’ve got to love their promo:

Vocation & economic productivity

Greg Forster, in the context of a discussion about Europe’s economic woes, makes some fascinating connections between the doctrine of vocation and economic productivity:

A historically unprecedented phenomenon has been unfolding—in Europe for the past five centuries, in America for the past two, and more recently everywhere across the globe except sub-Sarahan Africa. That phenomenon is explosive economic growth. After millennia of basically stagnant wealth levels from the earliest recorded history forward, God’s world is at last beginning to flourish economically.

Just in the past two decades, the percentage of the population in the developing world that lives in dire poverty (less than $1 a day) has been cut in half. Contemplate that for a moment.

This economic flourishing was originally produced by a confluence of factors, the most important of which was Christianity. Late medieval Christianity developed an increasing emphasis on universal human dignity and (consequently) the intrinsic goodness of economic activity. The Reformation dramatically expanded these trends and added critical new dimensions—especially the idea that your daily work is a calling from God and the primary way God makes human civilizations flourish.

All this culminated in cultures that made productivity—improving the lives of others by responding to their authentic needs—central to both individual and national identity. Scriptural treatment of this topic is extensive.Everything from the image of God to the Trinity to the prophets and parables is implicated in understanding productivity.

Christians believe human beings are made in the image of a Father who creates from nothing; this explains why human work creates wealth rather than just moving it around. Christians believe in a divine Son who joined in mystical union with temporal and material humanity. Material activities like economic work are not separate from, and inferior to, “spiritual” activities. And Christians believe in a Spirit who liberates us from selfishness; this explains why life works best when people orient their daily lives around serving others.

The problem is, too many Europeans now take wealth for granted. Some have forgotten where it came from—productive work—and feel like they’re entitled to it by birthright. More to the point, the people and institutions in authority have irresponsibly indulged this attitude (for various reasons, such as vote-buying) and have thereby anointed it as culturally accepted.

Where this happens, economics is reduced to the purely material. If the proper economic goal for individuals is to enjoy leisure rather than to be productive, then of course voters should demand endless, unsustainable entitlement programs. If the fundamental purpose of business is to make money rather than to serve customers, then of course businesses should game the system to enrich themselves—and nations can try to get rich by playing games with the money supply.

The idea that policy should encourage financial rewards for productivity, and culture should set the expectation of productive work from all who are able, simply makes no sense in this context. Once you forget the Creator, you quickly forget that wealth needs to be created.

via Productive for the Glory of God, Good of Neighbors – The Gospel Coalition Blog.

Follow the links.  (There is even one to something I wrote on vocation.)

HT:  Justin Taylor


Newt and the courts

What do you think of Newt Gingrich’s expressed plan, if he is elected president, to ignore court rulings that he disagrees with, to legislate judicial districts out of existence, to arrest judges in order to haul them before legislators to explain their rulings, to over-rule the Supreme Court with the agreement of the other two branches of government, and to attach riders to some laws that make them unreviewable by the courts?

What I think is that this would be a dangerous tampering with the constitutional division of powers.  In place of the rule of law (the conservative ideal), our government would be reduced to an unstable and arbitrary power struggle.  Yes, the judicial branch gets out of hand sometimes, but this is no solution.  Conservatives might like the idea of squelching liberal judges, but liberals can play the same game against conservative judges.  And for whatever legal precedents Gingrich thinks he has for all of this, throwing our whole system of government up in the air to try something else is NOT conservative and certainly NOT wise.

I’m open to persuasion, but this is turning me against Newt.


Gingrich, the anti-conservative – The Washington Post.

The end of email?

An interesting article in the British business publication Financial Times about how many companies–including high-tech companies–are trying to do away with e-mail:

“We believe email is fundamentally unproductive, you need to sift through too many documents and things get lost,” says Leerom Segal, president and chief executive of Klick, a Canadian digital marketing company. “It has no prioritisation, no workflow, and assumes that the most important item is the one at the top. My business partner became so frustrated with how dumb email was, that 14 years ago he began to build better tools for us to manage workflow.”

Klick, which has over 200 staff, now uses email only to communicate with external clients, while internally all messages go through Genome, its self-designed system which enables users to monitor tasks in a workflow. The programme works so well that Klick is now receiving inquiries from clients interested in installing the system in their own offices. The company has 10 employees working full-time on developing the network.

“When we started this, we never thought it could completely replace email,” says Mr Segal. We thought it would be used for specific tasks requiring a response. But before you know it, it was being used for every task.”

Other companies have opted for social networking tools such as Yammer to replace some of the function of email. For example, Capgemini, the IT services company, says it has reduced its internal email traffic by 40 per cent in the 18 months since staff began using Yammer. About 20 per cent of companies are estimated to have experimented with using social networks to connect employees.

The appeal of social networking over email is that it puts people in control of the information they see. Rather than material flooding unasked into the inbox, employees can subscribe to just the social networking groups and topics they are interested in, and read the information at a time of their choosing.

Other companies, while not necessarily looking to replace email, are looking for ways to lessen its use. Intel, for example, has experimented with “no-email Fridays” encouraging engineers to solve problems by phone or face to face instead.

Indeed, email has become a symbol of stress for employees, according to a a paper published earlier this year in Organisation Science, an academic journal of management.

“Most companies are grappling with email overload,” says Monica Seely, an email management expert at Mesmo, a consultancy, and author of Brilliant Email. “Companies are losing up to 20 days per person per year, dealing with email poorly.”

Mr Breton estimates that managers at Atos spend between five and 25 hours a week dealing with email.

Ms Seely says most people receive over 100 emails per day, and feel pressure to answer these quickly. Studies have shown that a quarter of people expect answers to their emails within an hour, with a third expecting a response within two hours. It is impossible to meet these demands.

“We live in an instant gratification society where we expect a response immediately. People at the receiving end feel like they need to constantly check email,” she says.

Andy Mulholland, chief technology officer at Capgemini, says email works poorly for people working in unstructured roles, such as engineers solving IT problems. “Someone asks you a question you don’t know the answer to, so you send out emails to everyone you know. Out of 20 people, 19 have their time wasted and the 20th gives you half an answer,” he explains. Social networking, in this case, can give faster and better answers.

via The end of email? –

The internal/external communication distinction might be a useful one.  But can’t social networking be just as much of a time waster?  The beauty if e-mail would seem to be that it can be targetted to one and only one individual.  Perhaps getting rid of e-mail advertisements and mass mailings would help.  What do you think about this?

The “God particle”

Michael Gerson gives the most lucid explanation I have found for what the Higgs boson–a.k.a. the “God particle”–is.  He also explores the implications of the strange fact that mathematics, which is a function of the human mind, can actually predict what things exist in the external world:

Modern physics can explain just about everything, except why anything has mass. The Standard Model of physics, which emerged four decades ago, employs an elegant mathematical formula to account for most of the elemental forces in the universe. It correctly predicted the discovery of various leptons and quarks in the laboratory.

But the equation doesn’t explain gravity. So the Standard Model requires the existence of some other force that seized the massless particles produced by the Big Bang and sucked them into physicality. The detection of Higgs bosons would confirm this theory — which is why scientists are smashing protons into one another in a 17-mile round particle accelerator and picking through the subatomic wreckage.

It will take a few more years for definitive results. But most scientists don’t seem to appreciate the glorious improbability — and philosophic implications — of the entire enterprise.

In 1928, theoretical physicist Paul Dirac combined the mathematical formulas for relativity and quantum mechanics into a single equation and predicted the existence of antimatter. Antimatter was duly discovered in 1932. But why should a mathematical equation — the product of brain chemistry — describe physical reality? It is not self-evident that there should be any correspondence between mathematical formulas and the laws of the universe. Modern physics does not consist of measured phenomena summarized in elegant equations; it consists of elegant equations that predict measured phenomena. This has been called “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics.” However unreasonable, it led to the construction of the Large Hadron Collider along the border of France and Switzerland, the largest machine ever built by human beings.

Dr. Ard Louis, a young physicist teaching at the University of Oxford, recalls his first encounter with Dirac’s equation. “How can mathematics demand something so fantastical from nature? I was sure it couldn’t be true and spent many hours trying to find a way out. When I finally gave up and saw that there was no way around Dirac’s result, it gave me goose bumps. I remember thinking that even if I never used my years of physics training again, it would have been worth it just to see something so spectacularly beautiful.”

Louis describes a cumulative case for wonder. Not only does the universe unexpectedly correspond to mathematical theories, it is self-organizing — from biology to astrophysics — in unlikely ways. The physical constants of the universe seem finely tuned for the emergence of complexity and life. Slightly modify the strength of gravity, or the chemistry of carbon, or the ratio of the mass of protons and electrons, and biological systems become impossible. The universe-ending Big Crunch comes too soon, or carbon isn’t produced, or suns explode.

The wild improbability of a universe that allows us to be aware of it seems to demand some explanation. This does not require theism. Some physicists favor the theory of the multiverse, in which every possible universe exists simultaneously. If everything happens, it is not surprising that anything happens. But this is not a theory that can be scientifically tested. Other universes, by definition, are not accessible. The multiverse is metaphysics — just as subject to the scientific method as the existence of heaven.

One reasonable alternative — the one advocated by Louis — is theism. It explains a universe finely tuned for life and accessible to human reason. It accounts for the cosmic coincidences. And a theistic universe, unlike the alternatives, also makes sense of free will and moral responsibility.

via The search for the God particle goes beyond mere physics – The Washington Post.

I love that:  “sucked into physicality.”  Also the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics.”  Also “Modern physics does not consist of measured phenomena summarized in elegant equations; it consists of elegant equations that predict measured phenomena.”

Intelligent design is not just predicated on one thing or another showing evidence of having been designed by a primal mind.  It seems to me to go much deeper than that.  Mathematics is mind, and that mathematics applies to nature is evidence of a mind behind nature.   Isn’t it?

The 4th most accomplished president?

President Obama on himself, speaking in an interview with 60 Minutes:

“The issue here is not going be a list of accomplishments. As you said yourself, Steve, you know, I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president — with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R., and Lincoln — just in terms of what we’ve gotten done in modern history. But, you know, but when it comes to the economy, we’ve got a lot more work to do.”

via Blogs bash Obama’s historic claim – MJ Lee –

Covering for these grandiose claims, CBS edited out the remarks in the version shown on television.  They were, however, in the complete version posted online.  (Politico has the links.)

But let’s test his claims.  Since he considers Lincoln part of “modern history,” we can go back into the 19th century.  And he is talking about both his legislative and  his foreign policy accomplishments.  How would you say he measures up?  What other presidents had greater accomplishments in these areas?