Oklahoma Sooners are #1

So say the computers, as the first BCS rating, which averages in the human polls with statistics on strength of schedule and other number crunching, has anointed my alma mater’s football team #1!

Score an early round for Oklahoma.

And for computers.

The Sooners trail Oregon and Boise State in college football’s human-driven polls. But they posted higher computer ratings virtually across the board, and emerged Sunday atop the Bowl Championship Series’ first ratings of the season.

Oregon came in at No. 2 and Boise at No. 3, establishing an initial pecking order for berths in the BCS’ Jan. 10 national championship game in Glendale, Ariz. The top two teams at the end of the regular season advance.

Don’t discount Sunday’s outcome. Ten times in the BCS’ 12-year history, at least one of the first-week top two wound up in the title game.

via Oklahoma, Oregon occupy top two spots in first BCS standings – Campus Rivalry: College Football & Basketball News, Recruiting, Game Picks, and More – USATODAY.com.

But isn’t this reasonable? The human polls generally keep the previous week’s order, just bumping everybody up when a #1 team gets upset (as happened two weeks in a row, with Alabama and now Ohio State getting beat). Does anyone think Boise State, or even Oregon, has a tougher schedule than Oklahoma? Computers simply apply mathematics to the rankings and are thus bringing objective facts to bear. Isn’t that right? (I know, I know. I wouldn’t be saying that if Oklahoma got consigned a lower ranking because of the computers. But that’s because I’m not objective.)

Reformation Week on “Issues, Etc.”

The web-based radio program Issues, Etc. is planning a special series of programs for an early Reformation week, October 18-22, at 5:00 p.m. Central Time. The structure is following the chapters of my book Spirituality of the Cross.  Here are the topics and the guests:

October 18 – The Doctrine of Justification with Dr. Carl Fickenscher
October 19 – The Means of Grace with Pastor Paul McCain
October 20 – The Theology of the Cross with Dr. Scott Murray
October 21 – Vocation & Two-Kingdom Theology with Dr. Steven Hein
October 22 – Worship with Pastor Will Weedon


That’s how old I am today. I am at the end of the middle ages and one year from being ancient. (Notice how that goes through time backwards.) I remember the advent of the personal computer, the video-recorder, the microwave oven. I went off to college before my parents bought a color TV. I remember the collapse of communism, the moon landing, the assassination of JFK (and RFK and MLK). On the days after one memorable birthday, my 11th, I found myself, young as I was, preoccupied with the Cuban Missile Crisis. I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. I have dim memories of seeing Elvis on Ed Sullivan. I saw Jimi Hendrix in concert. I have actually seen and heard and done and experienced quite a lot during my six decades. Unlike those who say they have no regrets and would do everything all over again, I do have lots of regrets and would do plenty of things differently. Through it all, I have been blessed with a wonderful family, both growing up and now the one of my own. And I have found what I was looking for in my spiritual pilgrimage, or, rather, been found. So my life has been plenty full enough. I could shuffle off my mortal coil at any time, and it would be OK.

Who holds the deed to your house?

You have probably heard of the moratorium on home foreclosures due to sloppy paperwork in the mortgage industry. But there is potentially a far bigger problem, one that may affect your own paid-up mortgage. A court in Kansas has ruled that the old practice of registering titles to property in the local courthouse is, in fact, the law of the land. This was largely ignored during the mortgage book, with its high-tech mortgage repackaging and speculating. Let’s let the New York Times explain it:

For centuries, when a property changed hands, the transaction was submitted to county clerks who recorded it and filed it away. These records ensured that the history of a property’s ownership was complete and that the priority of multiple liens placed on the property — a mortgage and a home equity loan, for example — was accurate.

During the mortgage lending spree, however, home loans changed hands constantly. Those that ended up packaged inside of mortgage pools, for instance, were often involved in a dizzying series of transactions.

To avoid the costs and complexity of tracking all these exchanges, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the mortgage industry set up MERS to record loan assignments electronically. This company didn’t own the mortgages it registered, but it was listed in public records either as a nominee for the actual owner of the note or as the original mortgage holder.

Cost savings to members who joined the registry were meaningful. In 2007, the organization calculated that it had saved the industry $1 billion during the previous decade. Some 60 million loans are registered in the name of MERS.

As long as real estate prices rose, this system ran smoothly. When that trajectory stopped, however, foreclosures brought against delinquent borrowers began flooding the nation’s courts. MERS filed many of them.

“MERS is basically an electronic phone book for mortgages,” said Kevin Byers, an expert on mortgage securities and a principal at Parkside Associates, a consulting firm in Atlanta. “To call this electronic registry a creditor in foreclosure and bankruptcy actions is legal pretzel logic, nothing more than an artifice constructed to save time, money and paperwork.”

The system also led to confusion. When MERS was involved, borrowers who hoped to work out their loans couldn’t identify who they should turn to.

As cases filed by MERS grew, lawyers representing troubled borrowers began questioning how an electronic registry with no ownership claims had the right to evict people. April Charney, a consumer lawyer at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid in Florida, was among the first to argue that MERS, which didn’t own the note or the mortgage, could not move against a borrower.

Initially, judges rejected those arguments and allowed MERS foreclosures to proceed. Recently, however, MERS has begun losing some cases, and the Kansas ruling is a pivotal loss, experts say.

While the matter before the Kansas Supreme Court didn’t involve an action that MERS took against a borrower, the registry’s legal standing is still central to the ruling.

via Fair Game – The Mortgage Machine Backfires – NYTimes.com.

Now factor in this from the Washington Post:

The federal government’s pressure on lenders Wednesday to fix the paperwork problems plaguing foreclosures left unaddressed a far greater potential threat facing the financial system and the U.S. economy.

Financial and legal analysts are divided over how the ownership questions will be resolved and the scope of the potential damage. Lenders and investigators are in the midst of a painstaking process of unraveling the complex chain of loans that were sold from one party to another, a process that some analysts say could take years.

Of the nearly $11 trillion in mortgages in the United States, about two-thirds was turned into securities that were traded around the globe.

After a home buyer gets a mortgage, the lender typically pools that loan with hundreds of others to create a security that can be traded like a stock. This process is commonly called securitization and has been the preferred method of financing debt in America for more than a decade.

Wall Street firms would set up partnerships called “trusts” and would raise money from pension funds, university endowments, hedge funds and other investors to buy these mortgage securities. The investors would then share the cash flow from the payments made by homeowners every month.

However, local laws in most states dictate that each time a mortgage changes hands, the transaction needs to be recorded in courts or county offices. But the speed with which the loans were being generated during the housing boom and then pooled together and passed around Wall Street meant that big financial firms took shortcuts, consumer lawyers said.

Often the proper paperwork got lost or was passed along without being filled out, lawyers say. Some documents have been found retroactively signed or even forged.

“It now appears that in many cases: 1. the paperwork was not properly transferred and 2. it is unclear in many cases where the actual paperwork actually rests today,” Citigroup Global Markets analyst Josh Levin wrote in a note to investors this week.

Some think this can be fixed easily; others think it might paralyze the housing industry and bring down banks, investors, and the financial system.

Titles are a legal bulwark of private property. What we often dismissed as “mere paperwork” can be profoundly important. Or do you think physical titles and the like are obsolete in the age of internet transactions? But even if we need to adjust the system to the new technology, how do we get from here to there without going through an economic mess? And, in the meantime, who holds the deed to your house?


Latest marriage findings

The news reports about this Pew Research study focuses on how more college graduates are getting married than non-college graduates, reversing an earlier trend. But there are a number of other curious findings:

For the first time, adults are more likely to wed by the age of 30 if they obtained a bachelor’s degree than the young adults who have not, according to a report released Thursday by the Pew Research Center. . . .

The situation was more favorable for people without college degrees two decades ago, Fry said. Then, people without college degrees were more likely to get married than their college-educated counterparts. Those without college degrees could rely on the benefits of marriage to offset their lower salaries.

In 1990, 75 percent of 30-year-olds who did not have a college degree were married, a figure outnumbering the 69 percent of college-educated 30-year-olds who were married, according to the Pew study.

But the study now reveals a reversal, showing that the percentage of people with college degrees marrying has slightly eclipsed those without. In 2008, 62 percent of college-educated 30-year-olds were married or had been married, the center found after analyzing American Community Survey data from 2008. In contrast, 60 percent of 30-year-olds without a college degree were married or had been married. . . .

Economic hardships among young men create barriers to marriage, the report said. High school-educated men between 25 and 34 earned less money in 2008, about $32,000 a year on average, a 12 percent decline from $36,300 in 1990. Meanwhile, earnings for college-educated men in the same group rose 5 percent to $55,000 in 2008, up from $52,300 in 1990. (These median annual earnings were adjusted for inflation.)

The declining fortunes can be a detriment to marriage prospects, Fry said, because many people are seeking partners who can provide for a family and who are economically stable.

During the same time period, cohabitation has doubled and has consequently become a more acceptable alternative to marriage, Fry said. Half of those living together are under 35, and more than 80 percent lack a college degree, the study said, citing census data. . . .

[Researcher Sharon] Sassler points out weddings have become so expensive that they are often a status symbol among the college-educated middle class. Modern-day weddings also can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and there is a perception such costly ceremonies are necessary. Couples without a college degree, who may be struggling financially, are often unable to afford it, she said.

“Marriage means something different for the middle class because they have a college degree and better jobs,” Sassler said. “And because now we have expectations on what needs to be in place to be married.”

via College-educated more likely to marry, study says – CNN.com.

What other questions are raised by this study? For example, given co-habitation and other evidence of the decline of traditional marriage, why do you think couples think a “costly” wedding ceremony is so “necessary”?

HT:  Jackie

Blog arguments

Friends, way back on September 28–that’s last month, 16 days ago–I posted about our pastor’s sermon on a parable:  The Rich Man & Lazarus | Cranach: The Blog of Veith.  That innocent little post has now chalked up a record 422 comments at last count.  What happened is that a very heated debate broke out between Lutherans and non-Lutherans on the true meaning of John 20:23.  Before long, Luther was getting bashed, and non-Lutherans were getting bashed, and feelings were getting hurt on both sides.  Then, at about comment #359, people started talking about ME, taking me to task for allowing unkind things being said on my blog.  I should not allow certain things to be said.  I should establish a  code of conduct, require registration, moderate comments, monitor what people say, and delete negative remarks.

I actually do delete some comments when they go far over the line, but I can’t monitor everything that is said, especially what is said on posts from a month ago.  And in principle, I value open and free discussion.  That becomes impossible if people insist on silencing their opponents.  In general, this blog has the reputation of having a higher level of discourse than other blogs, a reputation I don’t want to lose.  At the same time, there seems to be some misunderstandings.  So I will offer some thoughts:

(1)  The word “argument” has become a synonym for “fight.”  (As in, “He had an argument with his wife.”)  That shows the decay of contemporary argumentation.  An argument is supposed to be a train of thought that leads to persuasion.  The goal of an argument is not to score points but to win over your opponent to your way of thinking.  An effective argument ends in agreement.

When you insult, mock, name call, or otherwise make your opponent angry, you will never win the argument.  That is, you will never persuade your opponent.  Instead, you will make him or her “defensive,” as we say, and from behind that defensive bunker, your opponent will never surrender, no matter how good your logic and evidence may be.   So mean and vicious and hurtful remarks are simply counterproductive.  I shouldn’t have to ban them.   They are the equivalent of an admission of defeat.

In the current case, both sides were giving as good as they got.  At the same time, it is unfair to zap your opponent, and then get all upset when you get zapped in return!  Again, both sides were doing that.

(2)  Ah, but Jesus called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers.”  If Jesus can call people names, I can too.  No, Jesus spoke as one with authority, and not as one of their scribes.  We are not Jesus and lack His authority.  We are scribes.

When I read that passage, I do confess and feel that I am a viper.  Some people do bear God’s authority by virtue of their vocation.  When I am castigated by my pastor, or parents, or boss, or the police officer who caught me breaking the law, they do have the calling to deal with me and I take their words to heart. When someone without that calling castigates me, it does not convict me but only makes me angry.

(3)  Ah, but we must proclaim the Law to convict people of sin!  First of all, not all disputes involve moral failure.  But, setting that aside, applying the Law is far more involved than just calling people bad  names or even saying they will go to Hell.  Applying the theological use of the Law means holding up God’s Law as a mirror so that people will see themselves and their sin, provoking repentance and then a turning to Christ, to the Gospel which also must be proclaimed.   But if the person you are attacking does not see his sin, but rather is provoked into self-righteous indignation, you have failed to apply the Law successfully.  Preaching the Law is more like surgery than beating with a blunt instrument, which is why Luther and Walther call the ability to apply and to distinguish Law and Gospel is the highest art.

(4)  It is good to hold discussions with people whom we do not agree with.  We have a tendency to only talk with people like ourselves (Lutherans with Lutherans, Christians with Christians, conservatives with conservatives, liberals with liberals).  But if we ever want to, again, win anyone over to our side, we need practice talking with those who do not believe as we do.

One of the great strengths of this blog is that it attracts–how, I don’t really know–people of many different views.  I loved it when that Muslim guy joined in recently, stating his objections to Christianity, which many of you–including diehard opponents usually–joined together to defend.  I’m glad to have the “spiritual but not religious” Bunnycatch3r here.  And the whole gamut of Christian theologies.  And the atheists who chime in.  Don’t you see how good that is?

The old record for most comments was held by a series of posts involving Michael the atheist.  You commenters, for the most part,  treated him with great gentleness.  And do you remember how he said, at one point, something to the effect that this blog was his support group!  I don’t think we came to an agreement with him before he stopped posting, but who knows what might have happened to him since then and what part some of you might have played in his life?  If I excluded him or deleted his negative comments about Christianity, or if you just resorted to calling him names or got all offended at his very presence, the opportunity to talk with him seriously about Christ would never have happened.

So, in conclusion, I’ve got to trust you, and I do.  Learn how to argue.  Don’t have a thin skin.  Talk with people you don’t agree with.  Try to win each other over.  Realize that we have in common both the wretchedness of our sin and the forgiveness of our Savior.