Court Strikes Down Polygamy Law in Utah.

The courts have once against legislated by fiat. In this instance, a federal judge basically legalized polygamy in Utah.

For those who said that gay marriage would not lead to polygamy, your crow is ready and you can start eating it anytime you want.

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Steven Sotloff: Observant Jew. Grandson of Holocaust Survivors.

 

ISIS recently released another video of their British Muslim terrorist, beheading an American journalist.

The journalist was Steven Sotloff, an American Jew with dual Israeli citizenship. According to reports, Mr Sotloff followed his religion, even in the extreme circumstances of captivity by ISIS.

He did not, understandably, tell his captors he was Jewish. He kept up his prayers and fasted on Holy Days by claiming that he was sick and couldn’t eat. The deep irony in all this is that Steven Sotloff is the grandson of holocaust survivors.

Think about that.

Mr Sotloff’s grandparents survived a genocide of Jewish people. Decades later in another part of the world, he was abducted and murdered as part of an attempt to force America to pay a ransom. The ransom would have been used to finance an Islamic killing machine which is bent on the genocide of Christians and other non-Muslim faiths.

The difference between Mr Sotloff and his captors is more than just the difference of the relative power of the murderer vs the murdered. It is, indeed, one of faith.

Steven Sotloff, James Foley and the man who murdered them each claimed to be men of faith. The difference is what their faiths inspired them to do.

James Foley, who prayed the Rosary while in captivity, and Steven Sotfloff, who fasted on Jewish Holy Days by pretending to be ill, were both capable of something that the members of ISIS are not: Compassion.

Their faiths inspired them to bring the stories of the helpless victims of war to the larger world view. They were the voices of the voiceless. They gave the whole world facts and information to help us view what is happening in the dark places of current history with at least some accuracy. Their work was a vital part of the empowerment of ordinary people, both in the Middle East and in the West.

ISIS, by contrast, is a destroyer. It does not build. It does not redeem. ISIS murders and rapes, tortures and lies. The videos it has put out showing the beheadings of these two brave men are themselves lies. These men were not murdered for some bizarre idea of retribution against American power. Their murders were acts of extortion in an attempt to get American dollars.

ISIS is not, as it styles itself, a great religious army. It is a band of pirates. There is no honor in ISIS. It is a disgrace to humanity.

Steven Sotloff’s faith, and that of James Foley, is evident in the good they did. We see what kind of men they were by the lives they lived. We see the life-giving power of true faith in the real God in these men’s goodness.

By the same token, we see what kind of men the adherents of ISIS are by the lives they live. When they stand before God, they will answer for their genocide, rapes, thefts, terrors, lies and destruction of whole societies.

God is real. And He is just.

I have no doubt that Steven Sotloff and James Foley took comfort in that as they knelt in the desert awaiting the knife. If their murderer has any knowledge of God at all, he will fear it.

The Identical Opens This Weekend. I’m Taking My Family to See It. You Should Too.

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What is it about Elvis?

Decades past his death, his magic remains. Is it the smoky eyes, the unique voice and style? Or is it the good guy, the gentle, deeply-spiritual soul that behind those blue, blue eyes?

I think it was and is the whole package. Elvis was American and his story was the story of much of America at that time, only writ large.

His family suffered during the depression, clawed their way out of deep poverty after World War II, and Elvis himself took off like a meteor, right along with his country, in the 50s. Elvis was energy and maleness, wrapped in basic decency and kindness. He was us, as we were then.

He must still be us on some level. Why else would his image and his story continue to captivate so long after his death?

The Identical is a bit like Elvis himself, in that it is based on good people making hard decisions in tough times. The Christian ethos of Elvis the man runs throughout the story in a deliberate but unselfconscious way.

The story uses an Elvis look-alike as its main character and is based — very loosely — on the fact that the real Elvis had a twin brother who died. I’ve read that Elvis felt the presence of this brother throughout his life.

In the movie, both twins survive, but one of them is given up for adoption, due to hard times. Both boys grow up loved and cared for by parents who adore them. The adopted child ends up experiencing something I’ve witnessed in adopted people I know: The call of a heritage that doesn’t quite fit the family they love and that cherishes and loves them.

We are ourselves from the moment of conception. This innate self is shaped by and reacts to the environment in which we are raised and live. But no matter the environment, this innate self will always win out at some level.

A person who has a deep and abiding talent for, say, music, will feel the call of that talent, no matter if he or she is raised by a family of people who are tone-deaf and without rhythm or not. This difference between the adopted and the family that adopts them is a fundamental expression of the innate person they are.

It has nothing to do with loving their parents or being loved by them. It does not change the fact that this is their family. But it does mean that adoptive parents will raise happier adopted children if they give space for the real person their child is to emerge in healthy ways.

The Identical is a tale of adoption, and the striving to be oneself in a sphere that doesn’t quite fit.

It is also a story of love and grace.

Because love has the power to make all things right between people. And grace from God is the transforming agent that lifts love up.

I had an opportunity to see a preview of the The Identical.  I recommend the movie. It has a fine cast, topped by Ray Liotta and Ashley Judd. It demonstrates the maturing of Christian entertainment that is beginning to occur.

Ray Liotta puts in a beautiful performance as the adoptive father. This performance sharpens the movie’s dynamic and gives it power. He manages to create a character that is both a stern and a loving man; someone who is full of human weakness but who is also deeply and absolutely honorable and loving. His character is balanced by Ashley Judd’s performance as the gentle Southern mama.

It is no easy trick to give artistic dimension to good people. Any painter will tell you that the light is the hardest — and most important part — of the image.

Liotta pulls The Identical together and makes it tick because he achieves that.

The Identical will open in theaters this weekend. I’m taking my family to see it. I recommend you do the same.

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Five Top Reasons to Homeschool Your Kids

It’s school time again.

What this meant to me as a homeschooling mom was organizing an attendance sheet (Yes. I kept an attendance sheet to make sure that we had the requisite number of school days.) and writing down my lesson plans (Yes. I had lesson plans.)

It also meant setting up two folding tables in the dining room to use as desks and enrolling the kids in science labs at the Omniplex and then in physical activities at the Y for the physical education class.

We usually topped off the first day of class by going to a movie together in the afternoon. Since we were a one-income family and totally broke, we went to the dollar movie. I sneaked sodas into the theater in my large handbag and we shared a single bag of popcorn.

We also did some sort of field trip every week or so. The zoo was a favorite. In the cold months, it was often the Omniplex. We could buy an annual membership of both for $50 that allowed the whole family to go as many times as we wanted without extra charge.

Homeschooling is hard work for mom. Holding down a job is a lot easier. But then, you’re building people. You are investing years of your life’s capital in your children.

I did it. It was the best investment I ever made.

Here, are five reasons I think most parents should consider homeschooling.

1. Socialization. Every home-schooling mom knows this word. It is flung at us as a question. What about socialization? we are asked.

In truth, there is no accurate way to answer that question except with another question: What do you mean by socialization?

If, by “socialization,” you mean interaction with other children and free play time, homeschooling has it all over the public and private schools. Unlike kids in public schools, homeschooled kids actually get free play time. Free play time is critical to blowing off steam so they can learn without Ritalin. It  forms skills, including social skills. Free play time also develops their whole personalities, including their creative, thinking powers.

If, on the other hand, you mean being subjected to the brainwashing our schools have come to specialize in, nope. They don’t get it.

As for interaction with other kids, there’s plenty of that in homeschooling. The difference is the kids they’re interacting with. Instead of spending their days with the messed up kids from the messed up homes that our society has come to see as the new normal, homeschooled kids spend their days with other homeschoolers, who are, by and large, from intact families and stable homes.

Plus — and this is critical — they spend a lot more time with their own parents, which gives them an emotional security that kids who are shipped around all their days will never have.

All in all, socialization is one of the best reasons to homeschool your kids.

2. Education. I first heard about the stunning educational effectiveness of homeschooling when I was on the board of regents of a college here in Oklahoma. The college president told the board that he was surprised to report that homeschooled kids were trouncing kids from public schools academically.

Not only that, but homeschooled kids didnt have the crippling behavioral problems that kids from the public schools exhibited. They were poised, sure of themselves, organized and they showed up for class ready to work. Both he and the faculty were surprised by this. It was a reality that flew in the face of all their previous suppositions. So, they were surprised. But they shouldn’t have been.

Homeschooling gives kids the chance to learn at their own pace. If a child is good at math, they can move quickly. If they struggle at math, they can slow down and work it through until they really learn it.

Homeschooling gives kids a one-on-one learning experience. Teacher mom is going to keep working with them on a knotty point until they understand and absorb it. There’s no going on and leaving them confused and lost because the rest of the group understands.

Homeschooling kids never end up in the dummy group. They are not subjected to bullying. They learn early that if they dig in and get their work done, they can go play. There is no sitting at their desk bored out of their gourd while the slower kids get finished.

Homeschooled kids can follow their interests. My youngest son loved chess. So, we joined the homeschool chess club. When the club entered its members in the statewide Chess tournament, my son went.

I have terrible handwriting. Somehow or other, the judges decided (I guess they didn’t look at the kid. Either that, or they were trying to punish him for being homeschooled.) that the number 4 I wrote on his entry card was a 9. So, they put my little fourth grader in competition with public school and private school 9th graders.

If this was an attempt to punish him for being homeschooled, it failed. Big time. He won the tournament and brought home the first place trophy. He beat them all.

The point? Homeschooling lets kids grow in directions that factory schools don’t.

3. Sexual harassment, twisted sex ed. If you have a daughter, this should be a big point. Based on what I heard from my constituents, sexual harassment of girls in our public schools is close to being pro forma. This is actually supported by sex ed classes that push kids toward sexual activity at a too-young age. Your daughter has a much better chance of growing up to be a strong, independent young woman if she can skip this abuse during her formative years.

4. Religious freedom. Your kids can pray in homeschool. They can also read the Bible, talk about God and and express their feelings on issues of faith — all without fear of being hounded and trounced by lawyer-laden adults with agendas.

I read Hurlbut’s Bible stories aloud to my kids at the beginning of our school day for our first two years of homeschooling. My mother had this old book from her childhood and I read it on my own when I was little. I advise it to anyone, whether they are Catholic or Protestant.

We read The One-Year Bible for Kids the next year. We took turns reading different portions aloud.

After reading the Bible, we prayed together.

We also read a lot of other books on religious topics. Usually, I read them aloud to the kids, because they contained ideas that I wanted us to talk about. We’d read and then discuss.

5. Exploration. Homeschooled kids have the opportunity to noodle with ideas until they grok them. I remember when we were doing baby physics.

Things don’t fall, I told them. Gravity pulls. I dropped a wadded-up piece of paper and a can of beans on the carpet. When they hit at the same time, both kids were a bit gobsmacked. I did it again. They were still confused. So, I flattened out the paper and dropped it and the beans again. When the paper drifted down and hit later than the can of beans, the oldest boy “got” it.

But the youngest did not believe it. He would not accept it. He spent the afternoon, dropping all sorts of objects, looking for a “proof” that Mom was a nut and this gravity stuff was myth.

The opportunity to prove the idea to himself is unique to homeschooling. So is the good-natured discussion that went on during this learning time. At the end of that day, they both “got” it and we could go on to talk about terminal velocity and other interesting ideas the next day.

I saw this acted out in my kids over and over again. We read aloud through a children’s version of Homer. When we got to the sack of Troy, class broke down for a while as the kids played Greek soldier. Then, I had them write a Boyodyssey, about a journey of their own devising. One of them wrote about the family cat, going on a hunt.

This breakdown from study to story-inspired play was just as much part of the learning process as reading the book or writing the Boyodyssey. Years later, one of them took me to see the movie The 400 with him. He knew all about the story and the politics behind the war itself. We’d read/written/talked about this entire war (both wars, in fact) and its significance to Western civilization when he was a kid.

I could go on, but I’ll stop at these five reasons to homeschool your kids.

Our society is increasingly poisonous to children. Your children are a gift and a responsibility from God. Nothing you can do with your life is as important as raising these precious little ones in such a way that they can become the people God intended them to be from the moment of their conception. They are your value added to (or, if you blow it, your value subtracted from) the human equation.

I can think of no better investment in your children’s lives and well-being than homeschooling.

 

Homeschooling Resources: Homeschool Legal Defense Association

Vegisource Homeschool  You can buy homeschool curriculum here, for a fraction of what it would cost new.

Homeschool World It is essential to find other homeschoolers. This is a place to start.

Curriculum:

Many of these programs are accredited. They all provide a framework for homeschooling. This is just a taste. There are many choices.

Sonlight Curriculum This is what I used. Protestant, but can easily be adjusted for Catholics

Ave Maria Academy Classical homeschooling curriculum.

Seton Home Study School  I have homeschooling friends who have used this with outstanding success. Rigorous, traditional, Catholic.

Lepanto Press Traditional Catholic

A Becka Protestant. Traditional. I started with this and abandoned it quickly. But if you want a traditional classroom curriculum with a Protestant slant, this is a good one.

Rotherham and the Cowardly Act of Offering Up Young Girls to the Dragon of Misogyny

 

It’s an old myth, the story of villagers who sacrifice a virgin to the neighboring dragon in order to keep the dragon from annihilating them. Unfortunately, like most myths, it has its base in terrible fact.

British police, due to what we are told was a kind of politically correct paralysis, essentially collaborated over a long period of time with local Pakistani gangs who repeatedly gang-raped British girls as young as 12 or 13 and then used them as forced prostitutes in their home-grown sex-trafficking rings.

In the clear hallmark of discriminatory police everywhere, these British cops blamed the victims and refused them the police protection that was their right as human beings. Here in America, we would say that the Rotherham police denied an entire class of their citizens — the young girls of their city — their civil rights. By any standard of human rights on this planet, they also denied these young girls their human rights.

What the report of this massive, on-going, police-enforced gang rape and selling of young girls by local Pakistani men amounts to is a violation of the civil and human rights of the girls of Rotherham by the officials of that city.

We are being told that the local police and the rest of the community were so fearful of being called out by the forces of political correctness that they offered up their city’s young girls to avoid it. This echoes tales of heretofore mythical villagers, offering up their daughters to appease the dragon. Only this is real life.

Is anyone believing this? Were these cops so afraid of being called Islamaphobes that they allowed young girls to be repeatedly gang raped and sold to avoid doing their jobs?

Is that what Britain has devolved down to?

Frankly, my first thought was that the Rotherham police were probably getting paid off. I can’t imagine that the police — the police — were so cowed by the politically correct whatevers that are evidently running Britain that they not only allowed, but enabled this to go on for decades. So, I thought of corruption and bribery, and to be honest, I thought it almost hopefully.

Because if the Rotherham police were not being bribed to look the other way and the story really truly is that they allowed these young girls to be raped because they were afraid of violating some sicko idea of political correctness, then our good friends the British have gone insane and suicidal.

 Evidently, a woman who tried to blow the whistle on the rapes was sentenced to “sensitivity training” for doing it. Maybe the cops really were afraid of being denounced and sentenced to re-programming if they did their jobs. Whatever the reason, they are filthy misogynist rapist enablers and claims of cowardice in the face of politically correct sensitivity training don’t excuse them. That much is sure.

We’ve gone a long way down the road of politically correct bullying here in America and it’s getting worse. But I don’t think our cops — at least not Okie cops — would be afraid to prosecute crimes of this nature just because the perpetrators were Muslims. In fact, I’m sure they wouldn’t be.

I don’t know British law, but my first — entirely American, totally Okie — take is that the police in Rotherham ought to go to prison along with the rapists. The rapists should spend the rest of their lives in jail. When they leave prison, it should be in a box. The police who allowed this to happen should take a perp walk in front of television cameras so the whole world can see what useless cowards and traitors to their duty and their community look like.

Koran Graffiti Indiana

Meanwhile, on this side of the pond, Kathy Schiffer wrote a post yesterday about three churches in Columbus, IN that had been graffiti’d with a verse from the Koran threatening physical violence. The word “infidels” was spray painted alongside it. And I watched a video last night of another helpless American being beheaded by ISIS. That, added to Rotherham, seems like a lot.

The Anchoress looked at the rapes in Rotherham and saw the actions of conquest. I look at it and see patterns.

Bring back our girls

I’ve been reading for months about ISIS in Iraq and Syria and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, kidnapping Christian girls, and raping them and selling them into sex trafficking. Boko Haram kidnapped almost 300 school girls for the express purpose of selling them into sex slavery.

In other news, we have the Sidney gang rapes of Australian girls by Australian nationals of Lebanese Muslim descent, and the gang rapes in Holland by men of Turkish and Moroccan descent.

Does anybody see a pattern here?

The politically correct crowd can yak about “racism” and “Islamaphobia” all they want. What we are dealing with is violent and vile misogyny of almost mind-boggling proportions. And it’s not just the rapists who are misogynists. Whole countries — entire nations — are willing to sacrifice their girls to the dragon of politically-correct lies.

The Rotherham police can now join the cops of Juarez who allowed young women to be kidnapped, raped and tortured to death and would not lift a finger.

Their response was the same as the police in Rotherham. They made fun of the families who tried to get their help and said the girls were “prostitutes.”

Spineless and misogynist British cops who allow savage violence against young girls, and the gangs of Pakistani rapists/pimps in Rotherham who are supported and enabled by politically correct bullies, are certainly bad enough. But they’re just the little finger on the left hand of the whole truth.

We also have a pattern of one particular group of people — of whom the Rotherham rapists are a part — engaging in terror tactics against helpless civilians in a number of places around the world. Not only do they kidnap/rape/enslave and sell young girls, they burn, behead and annihilate whole populations.

In the West, they respond to criticism just as the rapists of Rotherham have responded; by running to their politically correct protectors and claiming that they are the victims. In the Middle East, they respond by making videos of themselves as they murder helpless people to use to recruit more murderers from places like Rotherham and, presumably, Columbus.

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If it raises your politically correct hackles for me to say that, I put before you the kidnapped, raped and sold girls in Nigeria; the kidnapped, raped and sold girls in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, et al; the raped and sold girls in Rotherham. Alongside the kidnappers/rapists/slavers, I put before you the police who colluded with the kidnappers and rapists. And alongside the police I put the political correctness enforcers who attack anyone who says the truth.

Then I turn your attention to the burned out churches and piles of beheaded bodies in the Middle East.

We have created a lethal brew of enforced helplessness and passivity in the face of violence and evil. We are binding this together with cords of misogyny that places the value of young girls at zero.

Political correctness voltaire

We justify it with self-righteous claims that anyone who speaks against it is a racist who hates Muslims. The obvious response to that is Who is the racist here? Who is raping whom?

I, for one, do not hate Muslims. I believe that there are a lot of Muslims who feel trapped between these rapists and the larger society. But we do those people no good by allowing the savages among them to run free and terrorize all of us, including them.

The perpetrators of these crimes — and I include the murderer of James Foley and Steven Sotloff — must be brought to justice. Their collaborators in government who deny citizens their human and civil rights by refusal to do their jobs need to be brought to justice alongside them. The purveyors of political correctness who enable rape/slavery/murder/genocide must — for our own survival, and common decency — be ignored and dismissed as the blithering fools they are.

Are we, on both sides of the Atlantic, going to stop being enthralled by lethal politically-correct lies and put down these atrocities and those who commit them in a way that stops them cold? Or, are we going to try to avoid a fight by giving our children to the dragon?

ISIS Releases Video of What it Says is the Beheading of American Journalist Steven Sotloff

 

ISIS has released a video which it says is the beheading of another American journalist. The video of James Foley’s beheading ended with his murderer dragging Mr Sotloff in front of the camera and threatening his life, as well.

May God have mercy on his soul.

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For more details, go to The Deacon’s Bench. 

ADULTS ONLY for This One: Rape is Hilarious

I have nothing to add to this. The video speaks for itself.

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Christianity: The Religion of Life

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 

 

In a world beset with narcissistic -isms, Christianity is the one light.

Every other philosophy, sooner or later, gets around to death. But the Gospel message of Jesus Christ is a message of life. And that light of life and love not only illumines our deepest darkness, it plants hedges around our most pitiless impulses.

In a world where the power to kill helpless human beings is labeled “compassion” or a “human right,” both compassion and human rights become matters of definition, and the defining is done by those who want to kill at will. What is in fact, monstrous, we call good. And what is in fact good, we call monstrous.

Christianity, with its unyielding call to life and love, is the light that shines in this darkness. And the darkness hates it.

This attraction — I cannot call it love, for love is not in it — to ever deeper darkness grows from our most selfish impulses. It creates an upside down world based on language mis-used that demands that everyone — everyone — accede to the lies of manufactured definitions of our finest words. Killing, we are told, is a “right” of the killer, as in abortion is a “right.” Murder is compassion, as in euthanasia is compassionate. Genocide is godly, as in the bestial behavior of Boko Haram and ISIS.

In this upside down world of lying definitions, we can pretend that homosexual couples are the same as a man and a woman, is the same as groups of people consorting sexually, is the same as … whatever. We can label the deliberate killing of people who are slightly different from the norm — such as those with down’s syndrome — a moral necessity. We can reduce women and children to commerce with surrogacy and egg harvesting, sex trafficking, prostitution and porn and call it variously, freedom of expression, creation of families and, once again, the “right” of the purchasers.

Whatever our dark desire to degrade, exploit or kill other people, we can use our facile gift of language to construct a lie to convince ourselves that it is good.

This darkness slides over all life like sludge from a tar pit. It seeks, always, to take us back to the time before; before Christ, even before Abraham. It wants to take us back to the time when we used our big brains in the service of our reptile brains without the hedgerow of Christian teaching to fence them in.

Without God, without Christ, we are capable of anything. There is no bottom to our depravity, no end to our malignant craving for self-gratification. Because we are not animals. Or rather, we are not animals entirely. We are made of the same dust of this earth as any other living thing on this planet. But we alone of all the life on this planet teeming with life have the breath of God within us. We know that we are creatures. We know that we are finite and temporary.

And, if we will admit it, we also know that there is an Other, a being outside ourselves, greater than us, Who is both infinite and eternal. Our inchoate longing for this Other can haunt us. It can drive us to brittle anger and rageful hate that sends us screaming through our years, leaving a past of toppled lives behind us.

The terrors we weave of our unsatisfied longings for God and our refusal to live in the light of His life are the terrors that only a living soul, a creature made in His image who rejects that image in an irrational self-deification, could devise. We are not just animals. We are cathedral builders and bomb builders, poets and beheaders, we are slavers and freedom fighters, abortionists and mothers who lay down their lives for their child. We are the men who protect their families, and the men who kill their families. We are destroyers and builders, killers and nurturers.

No animal possesses this grandeur of good and bottomless capacity for evil. We do.

That is our darkness. It is the darkness of freedom that runs so frantic that it becomes a prison. We are, and we have always been, free. We are not spiders who spin the same web from one generation of spiders to the next. We are free. We can create. We can destroy. We can reject this Other, this God Who calls us but will not force us to love Him. We can even create alter-gods of our own devising, bastardized versions of the real God in whom we attempt to deify our deepest darkness.

The Light of Life that is Christ is the only beacon in the darkness of the hidden places in our own souls. The Gospel message is the message of life. Christianity is the religion of life.

The darkness fights to overcome it with weapons that appeal to our vaunting need to be our own gods. It uses our great facility for language, our enormous creativity, to shape the lies, excuses and bogus philosophies of false belief and disbelief that become tools for tearing down our common humanity and the walls of our civilization.

But the darkness, however many it pulls into its quagmire of lies, never overcomes the Light of Life. This Light shines through us, through ordinary weak and willful Christians who are as afflicted by the fallenness of this world as any other human. We are different in that, though we stumble on the path, we know the Way.

Christianity in general, and the Catholic Church in particular, is the bulwark against the forces of death. It shines the light of Life into the darkness of abortion, euthanasia, eugenics, egg harvesting, surrogacy, human trafficking, the destruction of the family and the whole range of degradations, humiliations, and destructions of the human person who is made in the image and likeness of God.

The howling hatred which is directed at Christians and Christianity is the rage of those who wallow half alive in the sludge and do not want to be awakened from their nightmare. Christianity is the religion of life. It defends life in this world, and, to those who are willing to accept Christ, it gives eternal life in the next.

We are not made for the sludge pits of evil that so many of us call home. We are eternal beings who are made for the Light.

Our great dignity is that of all the creatures and living things on this planet, we alone are free. God sets before us each and every day life and death. We can chose the life of His Light. Or we can chose the death of our many false gods and self gods.

It is no accident that the powerful ideas of the value of the individual, the splendid notion of inalienable human rights and the essential equality of all human beings came into existence within Christendom. Such ideas could not have come to fruition anywhere else. Only the Light of Christ, the enlightening mustard seed of Christianity which teaches that there is neither Greek nor Jew, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus, could have grown and blossomed into the progenitor of the idea of universal human rights.

This is not a Western notion. It is a Christian teaching.

Even the hairs of your head are numbered.

If you have done it for the least of these you have done it for me. 

Blessed are the poor.

If you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. 

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that you may have life and that you may have it abundantly. 

Christianity is growing rapidly throughout the world, even as we are moving into a new age of martyrdom. It is growing the way it always has: By voluntary conversion. People who are attracted to the Light, who hunger for Life, are drawn to Jesus because He is the Light and the Life.

Christianity is the religion of life because Christ is the Light of Life.

And the darkness will never overcome Him.

Retirement: Cashing In Before You Cash Out

 

I’m not so much interested in the return on my money, as I am in the return of my money. Will Rogers

I’ve spent quite a bit of time lately, trying to figure out our family finances going forward.

I have an advanced degree in management, with graduate level courses in finance and accounting under my belt. I’ve even taught graduate level courses in management at one of our local universities.

That does not mean that I have a crystal ball about what the markets are going to do in the next decade. In fact, about all it means in real life is that I understand things like beta and r squared and other odd whatnots of data that the investment firms put out there. Truth told, my insight into politics has actually proven to be a better predictor of long term financial trends than technical financial data.

The markets have given us quite a hayride since the turn of the century. We’ve had two big recessions that basically leveled the returns generated in the bull runs that came after each of them. Extreme volatility has been the hallmark of the markets in the first years of the 21st Century.

I kind of knew this was going to happen way back, but not because of my master’s level coursework in finance and accounting. I knew because I understand politics and I saw what most people don’t want to admit: We are electing ideologue puppets who do not care about this country and who have put corporatists in charge of our nation.

So, what does this mean to the retiring baby boomer generation? Just this: You’d better be careful.

As I said, I’ve spent a bit of time lately, re-jiggering our itty bitty retirement savings. That led me to read the info on various investment web sites. One thing that struck me is the paucity of honest advice from the financial services industry for people who are actually in retirement.

Most of what’s out there is a series of useless three, four or five question risk assessment questionnaires that end in a pretty little round chart advising you to put your doh re me into set percentages of equities, bonds and maybe the side bet du jour, such as REITS or commodities. There’s usually a breakdown between percentages of international and domestic investments, but that’s about it.

I’m not arguing that the allocations you choose between equities (read that growth and loss) and bonds (read that income) will pretty much determine how your investments ride the market. In fact, I’ll go a step further and say that almost everything you’re doing with your investments is just riding the market.

If what you are doing when you invest is riding the market, and the percentages you chose between growth (and loss) and income determine how your investment boat floats, then that makes those ridiculous questionnaires and their pie charts important. What’s scary about this is that the percentages those charts are advising are totally off for retirees. They are far too risky, and they are based on a laughably fallacious assumption.

These savings, which are often accrued with a self discipline and self denial about money that approaches a fashion model’s discipline concerning food, may well be their owners’ best shot at all the extras and a lot of the necessities of their elder years. Without Social Security, these savings could be all they have between them and what people used to call “the poor farm.”

This pro forma advice, if taken down like the daily dose of castor oil that my grandmother’s generation once administered in the spring time, will probably yield you a reasonable-sized pot of money at the end of your working years. This outcome is nowhere near as certain as the investment websites imply, as those who had to retire in 2008 know. But that is another story.

At that point, you will find yourself looking at the numbers on your computer screen with the knowledge that this is all there is and you’d better not blow it if you don’t want to eat beans and rice for supper every day of your extreme old age. So, you turn to the “expert” advice on those websites and play copy cat with those little round charts and their color-coded percentages.

Sadly, your actual situation and true risk aversion probably have little or nothing to do with the proportions those charts advise. The primary reasons are a fallacious premise and human nature. Let’s take the human nature part first.

The plain truth is that all people lie to themselves about themselves like they breathe.

Those self-lies carry over into the answers you give to the three or four questions that the marketing departments of those various investment firms put out there on the internet. You will say and believe — when you are clicking answers on a questionnaire — that when the market takes a breathtaking dive for the bottom, you will not only hold your investments, you will pile more money into them. You can say that all day long when you’re answering one of those questionnaires. It won’t hurt a bit.

But the real time pain of watching your life’s savings drop, drop, drop like a rock falling into a well is something else again. Suddenly, you’re the star of a gambling movie and you’re letting your lifetime winnings ride on the next roll of the dice. Or, you’re the driver of a car who just pulled out to pass and is staring into the headlights of an on-coming semi.

The older you are, the more you have to lose, the less you can get back, and the harder staring into those headlights becomes.

People duck in those circumstances, and in the parlance of the game, “lock in their losses.”

The first rule of successful investing is “sell high.” If you can’t white-knuckle those blood-curdling dives into portfolio oblivion, you will violate that rule and sell, not only low, but historically low. You will deflate all those years of scrimping and saving and doing without with a single click of the “sell” button.

But what about the person who has no choice? What if, say, you’re actually living off those savings? What if the crumbs that are left on the table after the crash are all you’ve got? What if you have to sell to pay the bills, even if it means liquidating an unrecoverable large percentage of the fund shares you’ve labored to accumulate over the decades?

That’s the point where the advice in those little circular charts with their color-coded admonitions to buy various percentages of stock/bonds//cash/side bets become something approaching criminal. Because if you’ve done like all of us do and lied to yourself about yourself and blithely answered those questions to the gunslinger side of investing, and if you’ve then slavishly followed the advice in the little chart, you are out there with an investment portfolio whose decline you cannot stomach when it dives for the dirt.

Oh, it was great fun when said investment portfolio was soaring toward the clouds. It felt wonderful, like winning at the annual office softball game, to check your score and see the numbers ticking off in a steady climb higher. You’d check those returns and bask in your own brilliance for being such a clever investor.

But when the bitterness of going down the other side of that mountain begins to settle on you, it’s difficult not to feel panic settle on top of that. If you are actually in retirement, rather than preparing for it, that panic is not at all misplaced.

If you have, as I do, kids in college and an elderly mother to care for while you are also figuring out how to keep a roof over your own head, that panic is not only a realistic response, it may very well be an emotionally accurate assessment of your situation.

You can easily find yourself prey to the marketing advice of the disconnected minds on the other side of those little charts. They  advised you to put entirely too much of your nest egg in equities for your situation and your stomach and you did it. Now you, and not they, will pay the price.

I’ve looked at the advice out there for retirees and I believe quite strongly that it is entirely too focused on growing your money instead of spending it while conserving it.

The recommendation to keep a certain portion of your retirement portfolio invested in growth and loss is — at least in the early years of retirement — good advice. But those questionnaires and resulting charts are way off in the percentages they are advising you to take. This is where we get to the fallacious assumption part.

Old-school opinion was to subtract your age from 100 and put that amount in stock. Or, conversely, to put your age in bonds and cash. Either way, the whole scenario was based on the assumption that the human life span ended at 100. It further assumed that people in retirement have less time to make up losses and a need to liquidate assets on a regular basis in order to live off them.

Today’s financial gurus quarrel with that assumption. They claim — with straight faces — that, because “people are living longer than they used to,” we should change the formula and base it on 120. Subtract your age from 120, they tell you, and put that amount in bonds. Put the rest in stock. “Keep your money working for you” by being “100% invested,” which is to say, eschew cash entirely.

All this is based on that magically altered number: 120. This new number, on which the investment industry has millions of nurses, welders, middle management types and professionals betting their retirements, is supposed to reflect the “fact” that “people are living longer” these days.

As if.

How many 120 year old grannies do you know?

The truth is, we’re not living longer. Fewer people are dying young. Our so-called longer life span is just an average that reflects the fact that stable government, better nutrition, vaccines, antibiotics and anesthesia which allows advances in surgery is giving more people the chance to live out their full span of years.

Don’t let these ludicrous claims about “people living longer” persuade you to Invest like you’re in your mid 50s and have a dozen years to work, when you’re really bumping against 70 and drawing down those savings. That’s fantasy investing. It can leave you broke and sucking air at the precise time of your life that you scrimped and saved to provide for in the first place.

In my opinion, if you need to invest percentages in growth and loss that are as high as these websites advise in order to have enough money, you are not ready to retire. You need to change something on a more fundamental level than your portfolio allocation.

Perhaps you should become a one car family, or clip the cable tv, get your books and periodicals at the library and start thinking about visits with the relatives in a nearby state instead of high dollar tours of foreign lands. Maybe it’s time to give up eating out every night and replacing automobiles, appliances and computers while they are still working perfectly well.

In addition to telling you to invest in portfolio allocations that are too risky for your age, a lot of these web sites also advise you to keep on working ad infinitum to “let your savings grow.” They use a full-blown oxymoron to describe this: “Working retirement.”

Get a part-time job they say, or maybe even a full-time job. To which I reply once again,

As if.

Are you saving in order to have money to retire, or are you saving to grow money for itself?

Do you really want to be an old coot, sacking groceries in your “working retirement?” Is that your big plan that you’ve been saving for, to work until you drop?

Whatever it takes, you need to get that growth and loss portion of your portfolio down to the point that those dives into the dirt level off and become dips in the air. You need a big chunk of your money in cash, even if it’s not earning anything, so that when the plumbing breaks or the kids need tuition or Mama has to have a hearing aid you can chin it without being forced to sell low.

And you need to pare your expenses so that these sensibly invested savings, plus Social Security and whatever pension you might have, will keep you going.

Someone should put a big red Stop! sign in front of those questionnaires and their little pie charts. Because they ask the wrong questions and they are based on fallacious premises. They give dangerous advice to vulnerable people.

They should really be asking you things like how much money will you get from other sources besides this little pot of gold you’ve saved? Do you, or will you by the time your retire, own your home? Are you saddled with short-term debt such as credit card debt and department store loans? How many miles do you put on your car each year? How healthy are you? Is your house energy efficient? What are your human liabilities: Do you have aged parents to care for, kids to educate, a disabled spouse or child?

And oh yes, what will you do when the markets tank? What is your contingency plan for the days, months, weeks and years when the whole thing craters and you are left holding a couple of quarters on the dollar of what you had before? Because it will. The only thing uncertain is when.

Sure. It has historically always come back.

In time.

But how are you gonna live while the tide is out?

The real questions, as far as risk is concerned, are (1) how much (and how long) of a dive can you take without cutting and running, and (2) how will you fare while your savings are bottom feeding? Remember: It took 10 years for the markets to come back after the crash of 1929. That’s scary stuff. But it is also a fact.

The difference now is the leveling influence of Social Security and unemployment compensation on the economy. No matter what happens, Social Security keeps pumping money into the economy. People tend to forget that, but the “earnings” of Social Security and unemployment compensation act much the same way on the economy that dividends act on stocks. They level out the troughs.

Your questions of personal survival in the choppy waters of macro trends are only partially based on the psychology that says that you and everyone else gives wonky answers on those little questionnaires. There is a bottom line here and it’s hard as concrete. How do you plan to survive and keep your obligations during those down times?

There are answers to these questions, but you won’t find them in the boring and simplistic advice being churned out by investment firms’ marketing pages. Even in retirement, investment firms are advising you to swing for the fences.

That’s bad advice. Get that growth and loss portion (stocks) down to manageable levels. Raise the income-producing portion (bonds) and non-productive but safe cash portion up accordingly.

If you’re in need of a formula, the traditional advice to keep your age in bonds and cash and put the rest in stocks is time-tested and simple.You don’t need an advanced degree to figure it out, and, unlike the advice coming from those little charts, it’s based on your reality.

Don’t worry about what-ifs like whether or not interest rates will rise. If you have cash, that’s more money for you, and if your bonds fall, they’ll keep paying themselves interest and buying more shares of themselves in the bond fund and, well, you and compounding will win out in the longer while. The trick is, don’t sell them while they’re low.

Which goes back to cash. I can’t emphasize enough that you need to keep a chunk in cash so you can live, no matter what. Assess your real-life responsibilities. Put yourself on both a short-term and a long-range budget. Ignore those questionnaires and their cutesy little pie charts. Make sure your Congressperson knows that anybody or any political party that messes up Social Security is going out the door, feet first.

Then fold up the investment planning for a year and get back to living.

All will be well.

Taking Off for Labor Day

 

I’m taking off for the Labor Day weekend.

I’ll be back Tuesday.

Here’s hoping you and yours have a wonderful holiday.


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