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January 2011 Archives

January 6, 2011

Should You Buy a New Atheist Book?--Skeel

I’ve been thinking for some time about reading Christopher Hitchens' book God is Not Great. I’m on a trip to California at the moment, and now would be the perfect time to load it onto my new Kindle. (Actually, my wife’s new Christmas-present-from-me Kindle, but that’s a different story). My only hesitation is a hesitation about buying, and thus contributing to the success of, a book that attacks my faith. Should I? My tentative answer is that I wouldn’t pay money for a book that seems destructive of reasonable discussion of these issues, any more than I would pay money for pornography. I personally think Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are charlatans on these issues, and wouldn’t buy their atheism books. Hitchens, on the other hand, seems much more morally serious to me. I’ll probably be reading his book on the plane home.

January 15, 2011


I’m at the end of a very Oxford-y stay in Oxford for an insolvency conference—gray skies and drizzle, everyone whooshing by on Mary Poppins bicycles.

Thursday night I had a pint of ale with a friend in the Eagle and Child, the pub where C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and the Inklings used to set up shop a few decades ago. I brought C.S. Lewis’s “The Weight of Glory and Other Essays” with me, and finally ordered Christopher Hitchen’s “God is Not Great on my (I’m mean, Sharon’s) Kindle last night. It doesn’t seem at all surprising that Lewis, Hitchens and Richard Dawkins all have deep Oxford connections.
More on Hitchens soon. I’ve read the first chapter and so far still find Hitchens more morally serious than his fellow atheists, though locked in a worldview that I find hard to fully understand. One line in the first chapter that struck me: “I have probably sat up later, and longer, with religious friends than any other kind.” I believe him, and can easily imagine one or more of those conversations taking place at the Eagle and Child—a long narrow pub with the bar in the first section, then several more sections with tables and loud conversation.
I mentioned to Bill that I was re-reading “The Weight of Glory,” and he emailed back that it’s his favorite Lewis essay. This didn’t surprise me, as I remember Bill quoting in one of his essays a famous Lewis passage about our preoccupation with drink and sex and ambition, and neglect of the awesome promises of the Gospels, being like “an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”
It’s my very favorite Lewis writing too. I first heard about the essay in a sermon by James Montgomery Boice, a former pastor of our church. The first time I read it, it didn’t make a great impression. The second time I read it, I was absolutely bowled over.
I had long wondered what Paul meant by the “weight of glory.” It seemed counterintuitive that glory would have weight. But of course it does, as Lewis’s essay brilliantly brings out. I think of it as a little like first learning to ride a bike. At the lower gears, it’s easy to pedal but you don’t go fast. The high gears are impossible at first. But if you work up to them (the theologians would call this sanctification) you gradually can use higher or higher gears, which propel you faster and more powerfully than you ever imagined.

January 17, 2011

Wheaton Talk--Skeel

For anyone who happens to be in the Chicago area, I'll be giving a talk entitled "Making Sense of the New Financial Deal" at Wheaton College this Thursday at 7:30pm.  The talk will be based on my new book, "The New Financial Deal: Understanding the Dodd-Frank Act and its (Unintended) Consequences," but with a particular emphasis on some of the Christian implications of these issues.  Here is the announcement.  I hope to see one or two of you in person there.

January 19, 2011

More on Bankruptcy for States--Skeel

I speculate a bit more as to what it might mean to have a bankruptcy law for states in this op-ed.  There seems to be a flurry of drafting activity going on, but no draft legislation has been released yet.  I'm hoping that will change shortly.

January 27, 2011

Listening to the Bond Market--Skeel

My friend Stephen Lubben had a characteristically interesting post on the bankruptcy-for-states debate in his Dealbook column yesterday. Stephen pointed out that the advocates for a bankruptcy chapter for states are overwhelmingly Republican, and concluded that this bodes ill for the prospects of enactment.

It seems to me that more Democrats should support the legislation—especially those who are concerned to protect public employee unions. Although they fear the legislation would simply be used to whack unions, in reality union contracts are already under great pressure, even without bankruptcy.   The virtue of bankruptcy—at least as an option in the direst circumstances—is that it would bring everyone to the table, and ensure that everyone made sacrifices as necessary.
Which brings me to the bond markets. Republicans definitely aren’t united in favor of legislation at this point. My sense is that many who oppose a bankruptcy option—such as Eric Cantor—have bond traders whispering in their ears. The standard refrain is that a bankruptcy option would be devastating to the bond markets, and would create chaos for all states, even the financial stable ones. It’s possible that a state bankruptcy option would have adverse effects on the bond markets, but I think the effects are greatly overstated. The markets are very good at distinguishing between troubled borrowers and healthier ones; and even troubled borrowers often can quickly return to the markets after a rough patch. (On the international stage, Argentina has shown how this can be done—almost too easily).
Moreover, bankruptcy is much less destructive than a complete default by a state on its bonds, which is a real possibility with a couple of the most troubled states. In bankruptcy, the bonds could be trimmed a little, along with the state’s other obligations.
Hopefully, no state would need to use a bankruptcy option. But if worst came to worst, having the option seems a lot better than not.

January 30, 2011

Email Sign-Offs--Skeel

Last week, a friend (Eric Rasmusen) sent an email asking what I thought of I.H.S.—short for In His Service—as the valediction for email messages. I love the reminder of who our Master is, although I.H.S. makes me think of British royalty and British naval ships, perhaps because my wife and I just saw The King’s Speech.

I personally am partial to “All Best.” I saw it first in a letter from a poetry magazine editor many years ago, and thought it looked odd. So I of course soon started using it myself. If the correspondence concerns spiritual matters, I sometimes sign off with “Blessings.” If neither seems appropriate— after all, “All Best” sounds a little like “have a nice day”—I sometimes omit the valediction.
I prefer all of these approaches to the increasingly common strategy of omitting any sign-off, and simply relying on the contact information that’s automatically included at the bottom of the email. With someone I don’t know well, this invariably leaves me wondering whether I should use their first name or last, and whether it’s Bob rather than Robert, or Lisa rather than Elizabeth.