God doesn’t want people to have money

September 21, 2011

That’s why stocks tanked. It’s so obvious. Why didn’t I see that before!? God ruined the economy to make a point! God will fix it, too – when he’s good and ready and people truly deserve it, of course.

The Baylor Religious Survey results are out for viewing (PDF) and going by findings as reported by blogger Dan Merica at CNN, a full 20% of Americans believe God’s behind the economic woes facing the country. Paul Froese, co-author of the study, is quoted and explains how religious beliefs became so tied into the “conservative economic worldview” that’s touted by Republicans.

This coupling of belief systems began in the 1980’s said Froese, when the Republican Party began to court values voters who selected their candidates based primarily on social issues. Over time, the value voters began to go along with the economic teachings of Republican leaders of the time.

“Those kinds of voters who are driven by their faith tend to think that there are these ultimate truths out there and that everything else is wrong,” said Froese. “If you find a part of a leader you are in agreement with on these faith statements, then their discussion on the economy must also be right.”

Isn’t that kooky logic? Going by that route, if you trust your auto-mechanic’s word when he says he knows precisely what’s wrong with your car, then you can absolutely trust his opinion on whether or not you should have that surgery or get divorced. Being perceived as an expert in one thing doesn’t automatically make you expert at everything else.

There was a bit in my sociology/ethics courses somewhere that picked up on this kind of behaviour. Something about misplaced trust, maybe. Initially I think we were talking about television advertisements where there’s a guy in a lab coat holding a stethoscope while plugging some new drug. The audience should know without needing to be told that the person on the screen is going to be an actor playing a doctor, but they’ll still add a disclaimer admitting that, usually somewhere at the bottom of the screen in little white writing that vanishes in mere seconds. Other examples that came up at the time were celebrity endorsements. What makes them experts on the products they’ve been paid to appear beside on television and magazines? They aren’t. They’re just recognizable and known names, faces or physiques. If people can believe Donald Trump is an expert on steaks (has he ever owned or butchered his own cow?) then there’s no real limit to what the mind can bend itself into believing. Like God taking an active interest in our monetary futures.

I’m not equipped to offer suggestions on the topic of economic woes, so you won’t see any here. I don’t tend to follow politics or history either, so I don’t know what side of the economic debates are more likely right in terms of what will fix the damage. I think it’s fair to say leaving it all up to God sounds like a bad idea, though. There’s no real proof there is one, let alone one who cares about the economy.


Giant Croatian Jesus creates controversy

July 12, 2011

As well it should. From the Telegraph.

Split mayor Zeljko Kerum announced an initiative last week to erect a 129-foot-high statue of Christ – 10 feet taller than the world’s current biggest in Swiebodzin, western Poland.

Mr Kerum said the statue, to be erected on the Marjan hill that for many years sported big letters spelling Tito for the late Yugoslav communist leader Josip Broz, was a “good symbol.”

“It would be a tourist attraction, a new shrine … We are however a Catholic town and a Catholic country,” he said.

The mayor of the southern Adriatic town said he believed a municipal commission would support his idea and citizens could decide about it in a referendum.

Until then, Facebook is the places a lot of citizens are choosing to state their opinion on this venture.

On Monday, almost 4,000 people liked the Facebook page entitled: “Kerum, in Jesus’ name, don’t build Jesus” – some arguing the money could be better spent on windmills or solar panels.

“He is trying to gather people ahead of elections,” added Mate Loncar.

Some said this was simply not the right place for such a statue.

“If I want to see the statue of Jesus I will go to a church and pray to Him,” posted Marko Gundic.

I expect the project will wind up going ahead anyway. They won’t do the sensible thing and use the money this will cost to improve their city in other areas now. They’d rather sell this to the public as a kick-start to future tourism. Maybe they ought to check with the folks in Swiebodzin and see if their statue has improved the economic state of their town in any way.

Meanwhile, people in Peru are enjoying their own massive Jesus statue. Maybe enjoying isn’t exactly the word but Lima put on one hell of a welcoming party for it, complete with fireworks.

The statue was officially inaugurated by President Garcia.

‘Our Lord, Jesus Christ, I ask you to bring peace to our country,’ he said adding, ‘Material things can do a lot, but nothing is worth anything if there is not a transcendental and different message, and that is what you have brought here.’

Monsignor Bruno Musaro, the Apostolic Nuncio to Peru, was also in attendance at the ceremony.

‘I am very excited by this show of faith,’ he said.

Because you can’t show faith unless you’re showing off in some way?

Peru’s newly erected statue of Christ is the tallest in the world.

Second is the 120 foot (36 metre) Christ the King statue which was erected last year in Swiebodzin, Poland.

Rio de Janeiro’s world-famous 99 foot (30 metre) Christ the Redeemer came in third.

Makes me want to cherry pick the bible:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Phillippians 2:3-4

I guess when it comes to generating tourism dollars for a country in need of an economic boost, these lines won’t be the ones uttered in church.


Which country will next battle it out in the Jesus wars?

June 4, 2011

Morning amusement:

For years, Brazil held the title with its imposing Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro.

The 30m statue of Christ with arms outstretched has been struck by lightning, vandalised and infected by fungus but remained the world’s tallest for 70 years.

In 1994, Bolivia topped Brazil with a Jesus statue claimed to reach 34m into the heavens.

Now the little Polish town of Swiebodzin has conquered with a stone and fibreglass Jesus statue that stands a shade over 36m.

If only laughing was all a person would do over this 1-up business. Unfortunately, the people responsible for this new statue in Swiebodzin are pinning more than just faith in Jesus on it:

A local official said the statue would hopefully bring in the tourist dollars to the economically downtrodden town.

“If we had opened a racetrack or a golf course here, tourists would have come only for the season,” he said. “But with a statue of Jesus the season will last all year.”

That’s assuming people stick around to buy stuff in the pop: 21,679 town and don’t just stroll over to take a pic with it and drive off again like so many other people do with roadside attractions. Back in April I wrote about this and quoted an article from the Guardian regarding the cost of the bloody thing: six million zloty (£1.5m). I do declare this venture to be a waste of money.


Why focus on sins of homosexuality?

February 9, 2011

T.J. Facto asks a pertinent question:

I am not a Biblical scholar, nor a professor of constitutional law. It’s rare when I can resolve my own struggle between a society’s right to determine acceptable behavior and citizens’ civil liberties.

Looking for guidance, I found Jesus didn’t ever mention homosexuality or abortion, but he was crystal clear when warning that amassing and maintaining great wealth (America’s pastime) puts an immortal soul in serious jeopardy.

Maybe a theologian could explain to us laypersons why Christian Republicans aren’t spending their time and energy doggedly attacking rich people.

I’m not a theologian either, but a quick answer comes to mind anyway: hardly anybody dreams of being homosexual; nearly everybody dreams of being rich.

Back in university I’d been in a sociology class that explained some history via religious roads, particularly protestantism. There was something called the protestant work ethic and Max Weber had written a series of essays around 1904/05 about it that later became the book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

On my hunt for a brain refresher about his work, I ran across a worthwhile article outlining how people’s perceptions of work have changed over the centuries, and across cultures for that matter. Especially in the middle ages. After Martin Luther hammered his ideas for radical changes onto a church door, a man by the name of John Calvin came up with some ideas of his own: predestination and the idea that only a few, the Elect, would be selected for heavenly reward. It was impossible to tell at a glance who’d be so lucky but Calvin figured a good way to judge worthiness was by how well off the person was financially.

A person who was indifferent and displayed idleness was most certainly one of the damned, but a person who was active, austere, and hard-working gave evidence to himself and to others that he was one of God’s chosen ones (Tilgher, 1930).

Calvin taught that all men must work, even the rich, because to work was the will of God. It was the duty of men to serve as God’s instruments here on earth, to reshape the world in the fashion of the Kingdom of God, and to become a part of the continuing process of His creation (Braude, 1975). Men were not to lust after wealth, possessions, or easy living, but were to reinvest the profits of their labor into financing further ventures. Earnings were thus to be reinvested over and over again, ad infinitum, or to the end of time (Lipset, 1990).

Thus was born the idea that God wants people to get rich. They’re not supposed to love the money, though (love of money is still the root of all evil); they’re just supposed to collect it by the bin load.

Clearly on his way to being Elected

(via)

Weber, and Karl Marx for that matter, felt the change of attitude had to do with the economics of the time and the changing behaviours, work, and living conditions of the people then.

European cities acted to alleviate the problems of unemployment and begging on the streets by passing laws which prohibited begging. The general perception of the time was that work was available for those who wanted to work, and that beggars and vagrants were just lazy. The reality was that the movement of people into the cities far exceeded the capacity of the urban areas to provide jobs. The theological premise that work was a necessary penance for original sin caused increased prejudice toward those without work. Bernstein (1988) suggested that a fundamental misunderstanding of the economic realities facing the poor contributed to the theological development of the Protestant ethic.

From a marxist view, what actually occurred was the development of a religious base of support for a new industrial system which required workers who would accept long hours and poor working conditions (Anthony, 1977; Berenstein, 1988). Berenstein did not accuse the theological leaders of the Protestant Reformation of deliberately constructing a belief system which would support the new economic order, but proposed that they did misconstrue the realities of the poor and the unemployed of their day.

And, I think it’s fair to say a lot of this still goes on. Maybe the idea of penance for original sin has been lost but the misunderstandings and mismanagement of problems/lack of good solutions is still an issue. Especially when so many people want to hoard or waste their “hard earned” money instead of doing something worthwhile with it.

So, getting back to the question posed, it’s far easier to pick on the gays than it is to fix a financial problem of this magnitude. We’ve made the making of money such an important part of our lives, whether we’re protestant or not. We continue to think ill of the poor and the homeless. We accuse them of bringing it on themselves and then give them a side of Jesus when they come by for soup, as if the acquiring of Christ will fix all the problems their lack of money buys. In some cities, panhandling might pay better than minimum wage.


“houses of worship are subject to the same laws of economics as secular real estate”

January 31, 2011

That’s a direct quote from an NPR article about church foreclosures in the States.

For Dan Burr, the road to losing his church last year began with the greatest of hopes. Twelve years ago, Burr and his wife started to worship with a few friends in their son’s house in Fontana, Calif., a community about 80 miles East of Los Angeles. Neighbors began to come to the service. They brought their kids.

“And it began to grow, and before we knew it we had a little viable church,” Burr recalls.

Eventually Crossroads Community Church bought a building of its own — a dilapidated Boy’s Club that church members fixed up themselves. Those were the glory days. Fontana was one of the fastest growing cities in the country, church attendance was booming and Burr began to make big plans.

Their dreams clashed with the reality of job loss and financial strains not long after, as several of their members found themselves without work and without money to feed their own families, let alone Crossroads’ coffer.

Chris Macke, a senior strategist at CoStar Group, has looked into the rising number of church forclosures. He’s seen that churches (and other businesses for that matter) tend to assume good times will keep on rolling and make grandiose future plans that inevitably flop when the other shoe drops.

What made the problem more acute this time, says Scott Rolfs at Ziegler, an investment banking firm that does church financing, was the easy credit in the mid-2000s.

“There was a lot of money out there,” he says, “and just as some home borrowers obtained mortgages that they probably shouldn’t have gotten and wouldn’t have qualified for under historical standards, you had a few churches with some overzealous lenders that ended up in that situation as well.”

That’s not to say churches are going the way of the dodo. There are at least 300,000 other places of worship across the US, according to the article. The dodo just lost a few feathers off a wing or something, but they’ll grow back – other people will be able to buy those foreclosed churches on the cheap and start new ones.


edit 6:27 am — just found an article from the Ottawa Citizen: Churches Gambling with Real Estate.

Do faith organizations have a responsibility to ensure the future use of their property reflects their core values? Does it matter if Canadian Tire builds in God’s vacated backyard?

Indeed, for a religious order committed to vows of poverty, is it not somewhat jarring to enter into the shark tank of multi-million-dollar real estate deals?

Soeurs de la Visitation, an enclave nuns used for at least a hundred years has been sold to developers for $12 million. Other nun-owned property near Ottawa might be sold in the near future.

The early planning is looking at as many as 1,300 homes, divided between townhouses and apartments. Retail and commercial would be worked into what is being called a “model” community.

In this case, the Oblates are reportedly keen to work with planners to ensure they end up both with good neighbours and a design that doesn’t clash with their values, however that is interpreted.

Thoughts?


Grow up? Maybe later…

August 24, 2010

A while back I’d written a short post wondering about how long adolescence lasts and the other day I came across this incredibly long article regarding prolonged youth, as if people are creating a whole new post-adolescence thing, putting off the actual moment where adulthood (and all the responsibilities implied) sets in. I’m just quoting page 1 of this but feel free to read the other 9.

We’re in the thick of what one sociologist calls “the changing timetable for adulthood.” Sociologists traditionally define the “transition to adulthood” as marked by five milestones: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had, by the time they reached 30, passed all five milestones. Among 30-year-olds in 2000, according to data from the United States Census Bureau, fewer than half of the women and one-third of the men had done so. A Canadian study reported that a typical 30-year-old in 2001 had completed the same number of milestones as a 25-year-old in the early ’70s.

Of course, the “nuclear family” concept is way past its prime and it’s laughable to claim that it’s something everyone should still aspire to achieve. Frankly, I’d want to argue that more households would be in better financial shape if three or more working adults were a unit instead of limiting “marriage” to two people. But maybe that’s just me (and some Mormons).

It’s been suggested
that the push for industrialization is what pushed families into the so-called nuclear arrangement in the first place. (Breaks added)

The removal of productive work from the home into the factories had, of course, important consequences for all family members. It was no longer necessary for any of them to develop strong roots in any particular community or to become attached to a particular house. Instead, they became free to move about, to follow industrial development into new settlements, to “go after the jobs” wherever they might be.

Moreover, family connections became less important, as factory work became ever more rationalized and efficient. Nepotism gave way to hiring and promotion on merit alone. By the same token, the new worker, business man, or bureaucrat no longer had to take care of distant relatives. He now worked exclusively for his own small family and this made him more industrious. He could advance faster, since his income had to support only very few people.

Thus, the individual husband and father was no longer weighed down by traditions or extensive social obligations. In addition, the education of his children and the care of his aged or sick parents began to be taken over by the state.

Now that education doesn’t lead immediately to well paid careers and the definition of “elderly” has shifted a bit, since many people over 65 are capable of working far past that age should they want to, small wonder there’s an influx of late-bloomers. There’s little alternative, if you get right down to it. (Can’t open up jobs to new blood if those old buggers don’t retire, for one thing…)

Slate has an article mocking the pittance wages some companies were advertising as incentive to work for them and the overall problems with unemployment levels and productivity levels of those who do have jobs. Forbes is predicting technology will wipe out more jobs by 2020. Even something as simple as running a till at Wal-mart might get to be a hard job to find as more and more self-serve checkout machines come in. And it’s not like that was a well paying job to begin with. And technology is revolutionizing the fast food industry, too. Computers can assemble better burgers and faster. They never get the amount of mustard wrong, for one thing, or mistime how long a patty has been on the grill. And they can anticipate orders based on probability and have stuff ready before someone’s even asked for it.

Am I off topic? I don’t think so. The point I’m trying to make is that I can see why young people are delaying the grow-up part of their lives as much as they do — the joys of adulthood seem to be lacking a little these days.

Maybe their parents should be a little firmer with the boot to the ass in some cases, but I suspect they’ve rationalized that it’s better their kids be at home and earning a little than in a dump on welfare, or on the street with nothing at all. In some cases I think it’s great that parents are in a position to let their kids come home. Maybe it isn’t ideal, but the alternatives could be a hell of a lot worse.

What the Times article is ultimately about, though, is whether this is just a trend, or evidence of a mental shift in the brains of the youth, that it’s really becoming another stage of development like adolescence (an unheard of word prior to 1904) wound up being. From page 9:

if the delay in achieving adulthood is just a temporary aberration caused by passing social mores and economic gloom, it’s something to struggle through for now, maybe feeling a little sorry for the young people who had the misfortune to come of age in a recession. But if it’s a true life stage, we need to start rethinking our definition of normal development and to create systems of education, health care and social supports that take the new stage into account.

The Network on Transitions to Adulthood has been issuing reports about young people since it was formed in 1999 and often ends up recommending more support for 20-somethings. But more of what, exactly? There aren’t institutions set up to serve people in this specific age range; social services from a developmental perspective tend to disappear after adolescence.

As an aside, my cousin managed to declare bankruptcy when his student loan got unmanageable but new laws in Canada have made it a bit harder for others to do the same now. I wonder how many kids go into their loans aware of just how hard the bloody thing will be to pay back if they can’t get a job in the field they “trained” (har) for…assuming they even finish the damn course.

I don’t know what it is. Nobody really does. I suppose if people want to treat it like a stage of life, then I think people need to consider the fact that some enabling is going to go on, letting kids prolong their childhoods far past sense. At some point a person does have to throw caution to the wind and take a risk, after all. Next thing we’ll hear is that it’s totally fine if kids never get around to leaving home at all. Helicopter parents, rejoice.

I think I can see rebellion happening for many of these kids at some point, though. After university, I’d wound up home with the folks for a few years and hopped at the chance to move away when the opportunity became available. While hopping into a relationship with an internet fling wound up not being the best idea I ever had, that year with Mr. Switzerland still set me up with enough of a desire to remain independent so I never moved back again even when the thing with him flopped.

I remember being appalled at the idea of remaining with parents (and bringing the significant other into the house to live under the same roof — I had cousins who did that) but times have changed enough that what was once an aberration has become a norm. Just like single parenting, gay couples, and pretend I thought of a third example because three things always sound better than two.

Times change and attitudes will change to match them eventually. We’re born to rationalize and justify everything we do. Of course we’ll figure out a way to explain why kids still want to be kids.


It’s drafty in here (If you were part of a societial science experiment, would you want to be told?)

August 14, 2010

I’ve been going through my draft folder digging out the stuff I’m still interested in writing about. CNN posted an interesting article (and video) regarding Esther Duflo. I hadn’t heard of her before, but she’s critical of the current situation in places like Africa where a lot of aid money is getting sent with little improvement to show for it.

In her talk at the TED2010 conference in Long Beach, California, Duflo pointed out that Africa has received a great amount of development aid, but the African economies have not made a lot of progress in improving their gross domestic product.

“If we don’t know whether we are doing any good, we are not any better than the medieval doctors and their leeches. Sometimes the patient gets better, sometimes the patient dies. Is it the leeches? Is it something else? We don’t know.”

She also has some suggestions on how the health and well being of people in developing nations could improve: utilize the scientific method and experiment more. Find new ways to help them and track how useful they are.

Duflo said, “It’s not the Middle Ages anymore. It’s the 21st century. And in the 20th century, randomized, controlled trials have revolutionized medicine by allowing us to distinguish between drugs that work and drugs that don’t work. And you can do the same randomized, controlled trial for social policy. You can put social innovation to the same rigorous, scientific tests that we use for drugs.”

Some good suggestions are provided, like taking the money earmarked for new teachers and putting it into pills that can deworm the kids. Wouldn’t it be easier to concentrate on sums when worms aren’t causing gastronomic issues? And healthy kids should live longer and thus be able to learn more, too. Trade food for vaccine; don’t get bent out of shape when fishermen put new mosquito netting to better use in the river. Adapt and innovate. Find what works and actually makes a difference and share that information with other groups working toward similar goals.

I guess the worry, and the point of my post’s title – would the people of Africa understand their role in such a massive aid experiment? Yeah, the benefits should be obvious, but still. It’s hardly a good idea to go in there looking like you have no idea what you’re doing and expect a whole village to let you fuck around with their lives for a while.

But maybe I’m missing something about that. I don’t know. I think it’s great that people are keen on helping Africa. I just don’t know if the little that gets done is enough to change anything. But I suppose if it changes enough people, those people can help to change their own country, too, in time.


What matters more at Crystal Cathedral, layoffs or Easter?

February 1, 2010

The once-prosperous megachurch has had to cut fifty jobs and wants to sell the property they worked on, the Rancho Capistrano retreat. From the L.A. Times:

Charles said the church’s revenue sank 27% from roughly $30 million in 2008 to $22 million in 2009. Anticipating a drop in 2010 revenue, he added, “If it maintains, that would be fine, but we don’t have a crystal ball, so we are cutting.”

Sorry, I can’t help but ask where their god is now. I just love the crystal ball reference, like they’d be willing to resort to magic and new age frippery to ascertain their chances of survival. Funny that he didn’t say they’d be praying for help instead. More proof that a church is just another business, I guess.

The church, founded by the Rev. Robert H. Schuller more than 50 years ago, lost members in the wake of a family feud after he retired. His son, the Rev. Robert A. Schuller, succeeded his father, but stepped down in 2008 after disagreements. His sister, [Sheila Schuller Coleman] is now the church’s leader.

Charles said the church surveyed its members last fall to see if the dispute had caused a drop in contributions. “We found out it had no effect. It is the economy. We have a lot of older, retired people,” he said.

Retired people who are perhaps more worried about their own future survivability to care about funding a glass castle of materialism? Money woes means cuts to the entertainment budget, too. The Glory of Easter pageant has been canceled for this year and the new leader appears to be heartbroken:

Coleman said she had tears in her eyes when she heard the board’s decision to temporarily suspend “The Glory of Easter,” the pageant that depicts the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ with flying angels, special effects and a live animal parade.

I wonder how much tickets were costing to attend that and I wonder how much money was required to make it fly in the first place.

Charles said suspending “The Glory of Easter” has been an “emotional issue” for staff and hundreds of volunteers who help put the show together.

“But it is a very costly production and advance sales were down,” he said. “It was a business decision that was extremely tough to make.”

Also according the O.C. Register, they’re having trouble unloading the property – the retreat office building and all the land it sits on.

The sale of the office building fell through, and selling the 150 acres in Rancho Capistrano is contingent on what happens to the retreat, he said.

“The city of San Juan Capistrano has imposed a lot of limitations on us regarding what we can do with that land,” Charles said. “That and the real estate market have posed a serious challenge in terms of selling the property. But we want to sell it. We’re not going to give it away.”

Philanthropist John Crean gave it to them in the first place, and more.

Dr. Robert H. Schuller officiated [his funeral] along with the Rev. Robert Richards, Crean’s Lutheran pastor for many years.

“The church you’re sitting in, the Crystal Cathedral, would not be here without John Crean,” Schuller said, recalling a $1 million donation that helped get the world-famous house of worship built.

I guess that’s the trouble with relying on generous people to get ahead. Maybe they got greedy. Maybe they got too big. Maybe they made some bad money decisions, bad management decisions. Why did that house of worship have to be world famous anyway? Anyone can pray to god in a field, so why fund the building of something like this in the first place?

I hope the people who are now out of work find replacement employment soon. It’s probably a terrible time to be looking for work. I hope for the best.


Is Wal-Mart killing Christian book retailers?

January 25, 2010

Maybe it’ll seem odd, but I’m on the Christian bookseller side of this thing. Walmart is a growing shit stain in a retail world already full of crap. The crap involved in this case is Sarah Palin’s self-gratifying brag book, Going Rogue, which normally retails around $28 that Tennessee Walmarts (and others) are or were selling for $9 recently. A Christian bookstore in Nashville is feeling the pressure, willing to sell their books at cost, but can’t afford to go lower. Customers are discount whores, of course.

Christian retailers believe these extreme discounts are illegal and could drive them out of business, and they’ve asked the government for help. Recently, the Christian retail trade association known as CBA filed a complaint with the Justice Department, accusing Wal-Mart, Amazon.com Inc. and Target Corp. of predatory pricing.

“What happened was that giants were fighting the battle and the little guys were getting trampled,” said Eric Grimm, business development manager at CBA, formerly called the Christian Booksellers Association.

Grimm believes that the price war violated fair trade practices laid down by the federal Robinson-Patman Act. “We think their intent was to dominate the market with predatory pricing,” he said.

But the major retailers deny they’ve done anything wrong.

Greg Rossiter, spokes man for Wal-Mart, said the retailer was giving customers what they wanted. He said the sale was a good business practice.

“We are committed to providing our customers the best prices possible,” he said.

When asked if Wal-Mart sold the books at below cost, Rossiter declined to comment. “We don’t get into the pricing strategy for specific products.”

Of course they don’t. Basically it works as follows – Walmart is such a large company capable of such large orders that it can demand to buy copies of books (or anything else) at a reduced bulk cost that no other company would have the stones to demand and these companies are stuck with it because a) they want to sell the shit and b) they don’t want to piss off Walmart to a point where they never buy from that company again. Walmart has gotten very good at gauging what items are going to be good sellers and they are willing to sell those items below cost at a loss because they know their customers will buy other (+28% above cost) things during the same trip to the store. This kind of “loss leader” approach isn’t illegal but it always damages smaller competitors who unable to provide the same deals and still stay afloat.

Mark Kuyper, president of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, said the Christian publishers abide by the Robinson-Patman Act rules. But they have no control over the pricing in stores. And publishers get paid the same wholesale price, no matter what the stores decide to charge for the books.

“We can’t really tell a retailer how to run their business,” he said.

It’s really up to customers to do that.

The article also suggests that “offering such low prices will devalue books in the minds of consumers.” I don’t think that’s the case. Cheap books means more people can afford to buy and read them. I think literacy is so important and it’s great that books can be this affordable.

That said, I think if people really start demanding cheap books, it means publishers will resort to making more books cheaply. And I think a lot of publishers have already gone that route, judging by what the library receives when it orders. Thin book jackets, poor binding, bad glue jobs, crappy cut paper jobs. We had one book that recently made it onto the shelves with 35 pages not included when they bound it. At least someone wanted to read it, which is why the missing pages got noticed. I think many publishers are cutting costs left, right and center and will continue to do so, or risk going out of business altogether.

I think what also concerns me is a future where retail giants like Walmart are the ones who dictate what people should read. They only supply certain titles to their shoppers as it is, so what happens to publishers that Walmart doesn’t support? If independent book sellers are shoved out of business, the only books people will be able to get will be Walmart-approved books and I don’t like that idea at all. That’s not a free press world.

I don’t think I want to see every book go digital either. I’m in no mood to read on a Kindle. I want the smell of a book, the sound of pages flipping, the feel of the ink on my fingers. I want the Printed Page Experience in all its glory.

Walmart and others like it will continue to offer what they’ve got for as cheap as they can sell it. Customers will have to decide what they want to do about that.


Good thing today’s my birthday

September 25, 2009

I could’ve been a whole lot dumber had I been born three months later. That’s what research keeps proving, apparently. Winter birth is a serious detriment to a child’s future health and brain power. From lacking vitamin D to when we start school, everything is affected by it. I got to start school when I was four. Well, Kindergarten. My birthday fell so close to the start of the school year anyway, so they let me start with the kids who’d already turned five. Did that really make enough of a difference? Had I started a year later, I wouldn’t have had my annoying cousin in my class, though. But then I would have been mocked for starting school late, rather than for everything else he found to tease me about. I think that definitely would have changed my attitudes and behaviours. Better it was done this way, me thinks.

I can’t speak for my mother’s family much since I don’t know any birthdays besides hers (August), but Dad (June) has several siblings born in January and February. In a farm family in the late 1930s and ’40s, though, it made a lot of sense to have winter babies. Grandma would have been needed a lot more in the kitchen during seeding and harvest than she would during calving, for one thing. Hard to be a gung-ho gardener/canner with a giant belly in the way.

Anyway, a couple University of Notre Dame economists were doing separate research on economics and families with children and each came up with similar conclusions.

In 2007, Mr. Hungerman was doing research on sibling behavior when he noticed that children in the same families tend to be born at the same time of year. Meanwhile, Ms. Buckles was examining the economic factors that lead to multiple births, and coming across what looked like a relationship between mothers’ education levels and when children were born.

“I was just playing around with the data and getting an unexpected result,” Ms. Buckles recalls of the tendency that less educated mothers were having children in winter.

Being colleagues, they got a chance to compare notes and were intrigued by each other’s findings.

If winter babies were more likely to come from less-privileged families, it would be natural to expect them to do more poorly in life.

The two economists examined birth-certificate data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 52 million children born between 1989 and 2001, which represents virtually all of the births in the U.S. during those years. The same pattern kept turning up: The percentage of children born to unwed mothers, teenage mothers and mothers who hadn’t completed high school kept peaking in January every year. Over the 13-year period, for example, 13.2% of January births were to teen mothers, compared with 12% in May — a small but statistically significant difference, they say.

Weird, eh? Exactly why this would be the case is still up in the air and open for debate, but it’s still interesting research.


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