Thursday, February 28, 2008

You mean, they can go down?!

Hong Kong posts record surplus, unveils tax cuts, other concessions

HONG KONG (Thomson Financial) - Hong Kong on Wednesday posted its highest budget surplus on record for the year to March and unveiled tax relief measures to spur the economy in the coming year amid rising inflation and slowing global growth...

...[Financial Secretary John] Tsang said the government will cut income tax to 15 percent from April from the current 16 percent, while reducing corporate profit tax to 16.5 percent from 17.5 percent.

Tsang also said he is also waiving 75 percent of income taxes this fiscal year with a ceiling of 25,000 Hong Kong dollars, a move that will cost the government 12.4 billion dollars, but benefit 1.4 million tax payers.

Tsang offered other tax concessions, including waivers on taxes for property and alcoholic beverages. These concessions will put a dent on revenue for the coming fiscal year.

Read the entire article here.

Hong Kong regularly tops the Heritage Foundation/ Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom, just as they do this year. Click on over and see how the US compares. We actually moved up this year.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

My New Toy

On New Year's Eve Day, I spent my Christmas money to buy myself a new camera after losing our old one... somewhere. I still have no idea what could possibly have happened to the old one, but it eats me up that the memory card with our vacation and moving photos are still in that camera. Arg.

Anyway, I am very pleased with my new camera. I had originally planned to buy a different camera that cost about $300 more, but 1) it wasn't in the budget and 2) this camera will take at least 90% of the shots I'd like to try and that remaining 10% wasn't worth $300 to me.

When I was lying in bed the other day moaning and complaining because I still had the flu (I think I am finally over it now, knock on wood), I decided it was a good opportunity to read through the camera's instruction manual and play around and try to become more familiar with my new tool toy tool toy. There aren't many interesting things to photograph in my bedroom, so I sat in the bed shooting pictures out the window.

Here's the view looking out over the front yard (click on any of the pictures to make them larger):

Then I decided to play with the zoom and focusing features, so I focused on a shrub right in front of the window:

That came out very clearly (even through the window screen - you can see the screen in the first photo), so I aimed for the big maple tree that you can see in the upper right of the first picture:

Not too bad, so I decided to try the digital zoom on top of the mechanical zoom and took a picture of the neighbor's mailbox and trash platform (you can see in the first photo how far away they are - if you enlarge the photo and squint; I'd guess at least 100 yards away, probably more):

The focus isn't as good as the others, but I was rather impressed.

Since we kind of live out in the boonies, we do sometimes come across some strange creatures, and despite traps and a cat, who is an excellent mouser (and birder and rat-er and mole-er and lizard-er), they seem to find a way into the house.

Sure they look cute.

But then they get in your face.

And make a mess of the place.

No good. The lot of 'em. ; )

Sunday, February 24, 2008

What's on Your Desk?

I was reading Heather's blog, Stepping Heavenward, last week, and she had posted a meme that included a list of questions to answer to reveal a bit about your personality. The meme had quite a few questions, and I had answered an email forward with many of the same questions before, so I didn't "consider myself tagged" and post it here (sorry, Heather), but it got me thinking: Who comes up with these memes? There can't be some meme-generating organization out there, right? Someone sitting at their computer, probably someone with writer's block or being paid on salary, comes up with a meme, posts it on her blog, tags five people and, thus, a new meme is born.

Well, I have writer's block (although I'm posting this on Sunday when I just take off and chill, but we'll ignore that for now), I have a blog, I know five people. Hey! I could create a meme!

So, here's my meme:

What's on your desk?

You can tell a lot about a person by the state of their desk and what they keep on it. So, share what's on your desk. You can take pictures, take an inventory, or do both. Don't have a desk? That's okay, just give us a glimpse into the space where you pay bills, write letters, grade papers, study, or work on the computer.

When you've finished your photos or inventory, post it on your blog and tag five more people to do the same. Don't forget to share the rules with those you tag and ask them to share their posts with you when they are done.

My desk:

Actually, I have two desks. I have my grandfather's secretary where I keep all my bill-paying items, household paperwork and various office supplies like my stapler and 3-hole punch. However, we couldn't position it close enough to an outlet so that I could use my laptop there and I like to spread out when I work and the surface was too small for that. I still pay bills there and write the occasional letter there, but the majority of my work is done at the make-shift desk in our bedroom. It is made of a door laid atop two TV tray tables, so it gives me a nice long surface on which to spread out. Unfortunately, it also provides plenty of room to dump stuff.
Last Monday, when I came up with this meme idea, I went to sit down at my desk to work, and this is what it looked like:

Scary, huh? Since there's so much stuff on there,
I'll give you a short run-down of the junk that found its way on there.

Right side: (roughly left to right)
-bowl of cold tea
-some DVDs (you can see What's Eating Gilbert Grape on top)
-Latin for Children A DVDs/CDs
-instructions for our new weather alert radio
-copy of Mother Earth News Magazine
-envelope to send to Angel
-clipboard of text edits for Science for Children: Book 1

-keychain thing with foreign language flashcards from Sonic
-pile of papers to send with bills to alert companies of our new phone numbers

Left side:
-a couple of Terzo's handwriting worksheets
-pile of papers that need to be filed
-Terzo's Tiger Cub cap
-Valentine from Secondo
-blown light bulb
-copy of The Well-Trained Mind

-books for work (which you can barely see)
-more papers to file
-copy of National Audubon Society First Field Guide: Weather

-a couple burnt-out matches

I'm not sure what you can learn about me from that mess... except that Frodo and I have been fighting the flu, so I haven't been working at my desk much recently.

The one good thing about this meme is that it inspired me to clean my desk.

Isn't that so much better? Now I can spread out. There are no shadows cast by the piles of junk. You can see the pictures of Frodo and I in college and my grandparents (taken a few months ago) and the lovely flowers that Terzo picked for me. Don't you love the vase he picked? Nothing says, "I love you, Mom" like daffodils in a college football cup. Seriously, nothing. You can also see my coaster that a new, dear friend of mine made for me. Actually, Belle, who directed the Christmas play at our church, made Frodo and I a set a four coasters as a Christmas gift; she put a photo of each of our kids in their costumes in each one. I love them... and now I can actually use my Secondo-decorated one because now I can find it! The envelope for Angel is still there in the photo, but I typed up my note (my handwriting is terrible) and dropped that in the mail Saturday. I am very happy with my desk. And now that I am feeling better (at least well enough to sit up and work at my desk), I'll get the maximum benefit from it... or at least have a clear space to bang my head or place my elbows while I stare at my computer screen (and its lovely U2 wallpaper) trying to stave-off writer's block, or editor's block depending on which I'm working on.

Alright, time to tag.

Heather at Stepping Heavenward
Angel at Aduladi' & Co.
Amy at The Foil Hat, Inc. (if she survives the flu)
Brittney at King Alfred Academy
Chris at A Mountain Homeschool

Tag! You're it!

Well, there it is. My first meme. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Stinkin' English

English can be a difficult language to figure out the spelling rules for. A couple days ago, the girls hit a pluralizing review and Terzo hit the "i before e" rule on the same day. Listening to Frodo review plurals and witnessing Terzo's frustration reminded me of this sketch my Brian Regan. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

COH - Week 111

Come, Buy and Eat!

So, it seems we have some money coming our way. The idea behind the related part of the “stimulus package,” in case you haven’t heard, is that we all will take our checks from the government and spend them at our local box store in order to defibrillate our apparently flatlining economy. Many critics of the stimulus package arose as soon as it started winding its way through the halls of power, but its effectiveness is hardly related to my writing fellow followers of Christ throughout our country.

I should stop for a moment to say that the $1,800 or $2,400 or whatever it happens to be that the Federal government seems intent on giving to my family could prove very useful around our home. I am currently a graduate student with a family and, as you might be able to imagine, it would be nice to budget in a little more meat and a little less starch into our diet, or perhaps get an inexpensive used car so that one person’s absence doesn’t bind the rest of the family at home, but other considerations have convinced us to use our share in a way that might seem both impractical and, to some, unpatriotic. Allow me to explain.

Think back to the weeks following September 11, 2001. Do you recall how we were challenged to defeat terror? In case you’ve forgotten, I’ll give you a hint. It didn’t involve humility or sacrifice; instead, we were to fight by continuing to buy and fly. Never mind that encouraging Americans to be good consumers is a bit like encouraging bricks to be hard; I have a feeling we would have gotten back on our spending feet with or without an executive pronouncement. Anyway, at least on a superficial level, the tactic seemed to have averted one potential disaster, so it’s time once again to love our country by loving ourselves.

But isn’t the church supposed to be different? Christ warns us that we cannot serve both God and material things, yet how many of us find ourselves looking a lot more like earnest inhabitants of what Augustine called the “city of man” than like followers of Christ. Some scholars speculate that the writer of Ecclesiastes may have been Solomon, partly on the basis the claim that “I denied myself nothing that my eyes desired.” While such extravagance may have been reserved for the powerful in ancient Israel , very average Americans can daily feed their lusts in astonishing ways – ways that should, but usually don’t, make us blush.

Now that we are once again hearing that being a good American seems to involve shopping or taking a vacation or eating out, Christians have an opportunity to stand in a meaningful way against the spirit of the age. Don’t buy the culture’s arguments about so-called needs and don’t buy stuff with your money this time. Instead, let’s find actual needs and meet those instead. I can’t say where you might find them; as for my family, we will likely direct ours to people for whom poverty is a much harsher reality than we will ever know, even with the specter of a recession haunting our near future.

I firmly believe that God uses physical realities to communicate spiritual truths to us, so that when, for example, the Apostle Paul wrote in II Corinthians of one church’s wealth meeting another’s need, it was a reminder of what a dramatic repudiation of this world’s commercial paradigm a gospel of grace represents. Earlier in the Scriptures, God even addresses Israel using the language of commerce to emphasize just how seismic this shift is:

Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.

Isaiah 55:1

We all know that the best store was the one where we could afford nothing but walked out with more than we could ever carry. Perhaps that’s a sign that we could hand off one of our bags to someone else. Isn’t that kind of economy much more stimulating anyway?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

La la la la la

If I hear the phrase "foot soldier in the Regan revolution" one more time, I'm gonna scream.

That is all. Just thought you should be warned in case you want to stick your fingers in your ears.

Wayward Christian Soldiers by Charles Marsh

I had gone to one of my local Christian bookstores to find a Bible for my goddaughter. On a whim, I also decided to to look for a Holy Spirit lapel pin, the kind that had always been easy to find in the display case in the front. Many people in my church and in the places where I traveled had been wearing the American flag on their lapel for months now. It seemed like a pretty good time for Christians to put the Spirit back on. But the doves were nowhere in sight. In the place near the front where I once would have found them, I was greeted instead by a full assortment of patriotic accessories - "support our troops" ribbons, "God Bless America" gear, and an extraordinary cross and flag bangle with the two images welded together and interlocked. I felt slightly panicked by the new arrangements. I asked the clerk behind the counter where the doves had gone; they had always been so popular in the subculture. The man's response was jarring, "They're in the back with the other discounted items," he said, nodding in that direction.
- page 6

On Friday, February 1st, our family went to hear a reading by author and University of Virginia professor, Charles Marsh. The reading was for his latest book, Wayward Christian Soldiers: Freeing the Gospel from Political Captivity, in which Prof. Marsh attempts to shake the Evangelical Christian body by the shoulders and wake it up to the fact that it has taken the trust, passion and faith it should have reserved exclusively for God and has adulterously given them to the American government instead.

We have become idolaters. Egotistical idolaters. As the American Church, we have looked to ourselves as the standard which God uses to measure truth throughout the world. The more American a foreign populace appears, we assume the more Christian it must be. God warned us against this in the Scriptures, in Mark 7:5-8:

The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?"


"Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men."

As members of the American Church, are we promoting the Gospel or the Constitution? With which are we more concerned? And who was charged with the Great Commission? Was it the Roman government? No, it was the disciples and the disciples to come. It was a command given to the Church. When missionaries travel the globe to share the Gospel with those who may not have heard, they learn the language, traditions, and cultures of the people they are serving. In her book, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, Edith Schaeffer tells of her parents' taking on of Chinese culture when they were missionaries in that country:

My father went to China at the turn of the century, as a missionary under the China Island Mission (now the Overseas Missionary Fellowship). At that time China could be better reached by missionaries dressing in Chinese dress, looking as much as possible like the Chinese, so that the message would be listened to, rather than the missionary simply being stared at as a curiosity, or being rejected as a 'foreign devil'. So missionaries wore native dress. For my mother this consisted of trousers and a high-collared Chinese robe made of a very lovely blue Chinese damask, frog buttoned down the side and embroidered... My father wore a long gown with very wide long sleeves and a stand-up collar. The frog closings were made of handsome twists of satin. Now some may say that a man should wear men's clothing. But a gown was men's clothing in that place, at that time. But there was more than that. Chinese men, at that moment in history, wore plaits. They had very very long hair, and braided it in a single braid that hung down their backs. The head was shaven in a circle so that no hair showed around the face. A black silk 'pill box' type of hat was worn, with a hole in the centre out of which the plait could come. Some missionaries bought ready-made plaits, and sewed them to the top of their hats. But my father disliked 'falseness' and grew his own hair. But - long hair for a man? The point was that at that time, and in that place, it 'fitted in' with the people to whom God had sent him.

God warns us in Scripture that we must beware of holding culture and tradition above God's Law and mercy; in Matthew 10 Jesus warns that those who love their father and mother more than Him are not worthy of Him. Now, the Scripture also tells us to honor our fathers and mothers and to love our neighbors (our neighbors being those to whom we show mercy and all are in need of being shown mercy), and we should honor them. However, our parents are also fallen and can make errors. We must hold their teachings up to the filter of Scripture. The home is the central classroom of the culture. We must be willing to scrutinize and either embrace or reject various elements of culture as taught to us through our parents, schools, communities and governments. If we cling to a teaching simply because it was taught to us by our parents or our culture, we are not worthy of Christ. Many American evangelicals have done just that. And what is worse, we have tried to harness the power of our government, supported by its military and judiciary, to impose those tightly held cultural beliefs upon others. We are trying to legislate or battle the Kingdom of God into the hearts of people instead of loving them sacrificially and possibly causing ourselves personal effort or discomfort. Is our vision of and trust in God, who is all-knowing, all-seeing and all-powerful, so weak that we are willing to entrust our lives and devotion to a government composed of fallen men? They deserve our honor because they have been chosen and placed by God Himself, but it is not blind honor. It is honor with the knowledge of who rules the universe and to what standard we are all held to.

The fear of man brings a snare,
But he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.
Many seek the ruler's favor,
But justice for man comes from the Lord.

- Proverbs 29: 25-26

Americans are not the only ones who are commanded to honor their authorities. The French, the Iraqis, the Chinese, all people are commanded to respect their authorities. The Scriptures attest to the fact that all authorities are put in place by the God of the universe.... President Bush, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and President Jalal Talabani. Should we not then use caution and pause before taking our military into other countries and imposing our customs and system of government upon them? These leaders we are planning to overthrow have been ordained by God. Why are American evangelicals so quick to attribute God's blessing to our military actions and successes? If the fruit of the Spirit includes love and peace, why are we so quick to cheer on Shock and Awe?

Franklin Graham boasted that the American invasion of Iraq opened up exciting new opportunities for missions to non-Christian Arabs. But this is not what the Hebrew prophets or the Christian teachers mean by righteousness and discipleship.

- page 14
In the movie musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, six brothers, with the encouragement of their oldest brother who easily attained a wife for himself after a quick trip to town one day, decide to "do as the Romans did" and kidnap some girls to marry. Without giving too much of the story away (it really is an excellent musical, by far my favorite), the oldest brother, Adam, decides to bring the girls back to their families, but his brothers want to fight to keep them. Adam confronts them by asking, "And who would you be fighting? Their fathers. Brothers, maybe. Don't you see that the only way you're gonna get 'em is by bringin' 'em back?"

Yes, God is sovereign. He can turn the hearts of the Arabs to Christ through this war if He so chooses. He used the wickedness of Joseph's brothers to bring glory to Himself and save the Israelites, after all. But why are we voluntarily making our task of evangelism and discipleship that much more difficult? Why should an Iraqi accept food from us when we offer it with fingers stained with the blood of their fathers or uncles or neighbors? Why would they listen to the good news of the love offering of Christ from the same lips that cursed their customs and spoke of them with disdain?

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you great only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
- Matthew 5:43-48

I haven't finished reading the book. Most of these thoughts were spurred by the reading and discussion we attended. I am still struggling with these ideas and many more. Are there times when war is necessary and we should support it? If so, when? Should evangelicals become pacifists, like the Amish, and never participate in military activity? How should we mourn for the babies that are lost to abortion while we sacrifice and love the mothers who see abortion as their only option? Do we really know how to grieve over sin like God does? Why are we so willing to allow the government to take over the job of the church? Do we not believe that God is all-powerful? Why do we protest in the streets? Do we think that God cannot really hear our prayers spoken in the closet?

I will leave you with a couple more quotes from the book:

Have we in the Christian community forgotten that we serve a God who really is, who sees and hears and shares our sorrows, and a God who listens with favor to the victim and the oppressed; that the God we confess to be the true and living God is a God who stands in our midst?
- page 13

If only holiness were measured by the volume of our incessant chatter. We would then be universally praised as the most holy nation on earth. But in our fretful, theatrical piety, we have come to mistake noisiness for holiness, and we have presumed to know, with a clarity and certitude that not even the angels dare claim, the divine will for the world. We have organized our needs with the confidence that God is on our side, now and always, whether we feed the poor or corral them into sweltering, subterranean ghettos. The demands of scripture and tradition, the study of Christian doctrine, and the catechisms of the faith have been abandoned for pleasurable technologies and relevant guidebooks. No wonder we have no qualms about mining the faith for sound bites.
- page 15

Alright, I can't resist sharing this story about what happened after the reading was over. We were taking a stroll around the town square where the bookstore is located, and two women who attended the reading were walking behind us, and as their conversation was rather loud, I couldn't help overhearing. Keep in mind the book we had just heard a reading from and discussed was the one I just discussed above.

Lady 1: "Hmmm. That was interesting."

Lady 2: "Yes, it was."

Lady 1: "I really don't care for any of the candidates. Although I really don't know much about Hillary or Obama. Hillary's a Methodist, isn't she?"

Lady 2: "I don't know. I think I've heard that, but I'm not sure."

Lady 1: "What about Obama? Is he Methodist, too? I thought he went to a different kind of church."

Lady 2: "I've heard about his church, too. If it's Methodist, I guess it's okay, but I don't know about anything else."

Lady 1: "Yeah, I guess Methodist is okay, but I'm really not sure about Methodists."

Huh? Seriously, I'm not sure they were listening to the same talk I was.