Monday, December 31, 2012

How I Wish That It Would Snow

We don't get much snow where I live.  Occasionally we get a light dusting... every few years we get something big enough to play in...  Needless to say, snow is not a part of our winter lives.

I miss snow.  My in-laws used to live in the New England area, and our yearly winter trek up their way always involved snow.  Our little ones would play in it.  We would go skiing.  We would walk around and see the lovely New England landscape covered in a blanket of white.  It was glorious, and worth every bit of the trouble of finding waterproof boots and gloves for kids of four different sizes year after year.

But many years ago now, they moved down South, too, and our yearly Massachusetts trek has ended.  We've made it a couple of snow-filled times all the way to Vermont, but it is difficult in winter since my husband and I can't stay outside in a tent.  (Yes, we usually sleep in a tent for our Vermont visits since I'm allergic to the cats that lived so many years in his aunt's home!)

I miss snow.  I'm sure those friends who live with it all winter--and have to shovel and salt and dry out their worlds every day for months--are not loving it, but I do, and I wish we would get some.

So that's why I was so thrilled to discover the artifically-produced-but-still-real-deal snow that they had at Christmas Town this year at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.  (More on Christmas Town later, on another day!)  Right there in the middle of beautifully illuminated France, complete with lights set perfectly to reflect the dancing flakes coming down.  It was beautiful.  Magical.

So, there you have it.  I'm desperate enough for some snow to love the manipulated, manufactured stuff falling so light and lovely in the French village at the (also artificial) Old Country!

And so, I end with one of my favorite poems, "Velvet Shoes" by Elinor Wylie.

Let us walk in the white snow
           In a soundless space;
With footsteps quiet and slow;
           At a tranquil pace,
           Under veils of white lace.

I shall go shod in silk,
           And you in wool,
White as a white cow's milk,
           More beautiful
           Than the breast of a gull.

We shall walk through the still town
           In a windless peace;
We shall step upon white down,
           Upon silver fleece,
           Upon softer than these.

We shall walk in velvet shoes:
           Wherever we go
Silence will fall like dews
           On white silence below.
           We shall walk in the snow. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

He Knows When You're Awake

So, here's some good news for those of us who wake in the middle of the night, spend a couple of hours awake, then fall asleep again. It's just another thing we're doing the old-fashioned way!

This interesting article lets us know that, actually, "first sleep" and "second sleep" were very common throughout history, and it has only been in the past century or so that we have abandoned it in favor of a single, shorter sleep period.

Now if we could just adopt the hobbit practice of "first breakfast," "second breakfast," and "elevensies," we'd be in good shape! By this time of the day, I'd like to have eaten a little bit at least three different times!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Greeting Cards Have All Been Sent

Yeah, right...

Christmas cards are the bane of my Christmas existence.  Don't get me wrong!  I love them!  I love to receive them.  I love to send them.  I absolutely love keeping up with special friends--moved across the miles or the distance of years--and hearing the updates about what's happening in their lives now that we're separated by time and reach.  I love sending cards to those dear to us who live nearby, too... who find us special and daily enough to eat with us and pray for us and visit us and hang our photo card inside the kitchen cabinet and smile when they open the door and see us and think of us.  (At least I hope some of them do that--we do... and hang them in magnetic frames all over the fridge... and other such silly, fun reminders of the sweet friends the Lord has blessed us with over the years, and right now.)

So, here on this Fifth Day of Christmas, I am confessing--yet again--that we have not yet sent out the Christmas cards.  For the past several years we have made the picture, had the cards printed up, paid for them, and brought them home.  Last year we even got stamps on them.  But then we never mailed them!

No, I'm not kidding.  They're sitting in my bedroom closet right now.  For at least two years now, we've done this!

Why?  Who knows, exactly.  We were busy with school until too close to the holiday.  We were caught up celebrating Christmas in all the wonderful ways we do, once school let out.  We were enjoying each other over a rare time of break from work and studies.  Then school started up again.  We (I guess I should say "I") was embarrassed to send them out so late.  We were back in the swing of things, and the Christmas cards sat gathering dust in the closet.

Thank you to those many of you who have faithfully sent us cards anyway.  I know it is time-consuming.  I know it is expensive.  I love every one of them--and I love you special, special ones who send them.

We have printed the cards again this year, and there are many of them that are addressed and ready to go.  My children are helping.  They've gotten into the spirit of it, too.  So, hopefully--this year at least--even if it's the last one to arrive in your mailbox, the wonderful things will finally get mailed!

And, as we move through this holiday season and back into those wonderful, ordinary, daily days, I will still be humming these lines from "Merry Christmas, Darling":

Holidays are joyful
There's always something new
But every day's a holiday
When I'm near to you.

Friday, December 28, 2012

...You Would Even Say It Glows

This post is pure "practical" and "pragmatic"... a follow-up to my previous post about candles.

First of all, since it was Christmas dinner at my mother's house, it qualified as a special occasion... and thus warranted candles even in Mom's book. We ate by candlelight--festive red tapers burning brightly at each end of the table. It was lovely!

The amusing part came later. One of my fun "happy" gifts to my parents included Yankee Candles: a large "First Down"--yes, as in football--candle for my father, and a couple of small holiday-scented ones for my mother, stuffed down into some Santa pants that Yankee Candle had had as part of a special promotion for Christmas. When they opened them, my mom said, "Well, in light of that, you should open this present!" and proceeded to hand me a Yankee Candle as well!

When I tried to get my father to light his candle--wanting to smell this warm, comfortable "man-scent" actually burning and not just while sniffing the lid--my mom piped in with something to the effect that we needed to light my pine-scented one since it smelled so wonderful and Christmas-y. (She had bought the same Balsam & Cedar candle for my sister, who had ignited it immediately and left it burning most of the day during their celebrations in Atlanta.  Love that girl!)

Happy to oblige--but unwilling to let the opportunity go by to actually get their candle burning, too, instead of sitting there as decoration!--I lit mine and got Dad to light his. We kept one in the living room and took one to the kitchen.  I proceeded to explain to them that they needed to allow the candles to burn until the wax had melted to liquid all the way across the top so as to maximize their life. They had never heard of this "rule" of cande-burning, even though they had bought their gift candles at the Yankee Candle store, which is where I first heard of it, I'm sure. (I think they told me it usually takes the large jar candles about two hours to get melted evenly across--I find that it doesn't take quite that long, but we usually burn them for at least that long at a time anyway.)

Mom wanted to make sure that my sister knew this rule and asked me to call her to tell her.  I did, and she did--and, in fact, her wonderful pine-scented gift of a candle is already gone, burned frequently throughout all the days of their December to brighten their home and make it festive and warm.  She's a candle-burner, too, and had loved this particular gift from my mom!

So, since my mom--a newbie to actual burning of the candles--didn't know this, I figured I'd post it here in case someone else doesn't know it. Here's the "practical" and "pragmatic" I promised earlier...

Here's a picture, from their website, of a Yankee Candle--and indeed, it would apply to any other chunky candle, as well-- improperly handled in the burning department:

Notice how it has burned down into a tunnel, leaving much of the candle unburned at the outer edge of the jar. This is caused by lighting the candle for just a little while and not letting it burn until the wax melts all the way across. Once that has been done even once, you're on your way to a ruined candle--do it multiple times and you really will get about a fourth of the life out of the candle as you should have.

Here's a picture of a Yankee Candle almost burned all the way across, but not quite. Notice the little unmelted "lip" of wax on the inside of the jar, off to the right side?  That needs to be allowed to melt, too, so that the melted wax is straight across and liquid before it is blown it out.

So, really, in the midst if all the wonderful and profound things that could be being discussed as we
ponder the reality of Emmanuel, "God with us,"
how to properly burn a candle seems banal and mundane, if not downright trite!

But I love that the Light of the World was born, and lived, and died, to bring us to God!

And I love the special little reminders that bring us joy amid commonplace, everyday living... including--for me--burning candles!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Victory in Jesus!

This morning we received the sad news that a friend of ours--a dear man we didn't know well but had come to love, just the same--died sometime in the wee hours this morning.  He had succumbed to a long, painful battle with cancer, surrounded by family and friends as he passed from this life into the presence of his precious Savior.

Jerry was a tall, attractive, friendly man that was part of our special "other church family."  Iivo is the worship leader at our wonderful church plant--which we love being part of and which is our true church home--but we have also come to know and love many special families at the church across town where our children have attended Awana on Wednesday nights for the past  several years.  We adults attend what they call their "Bible study and prayer meeting," which consists of singing several hymns--called out by special request from the congregation--then hearing Bible teaching for about half an hour and then praying together for 15-20 minutes.  You will really get to know a group quickly if you pray together every week, and I am so blessed to pray with and for these dear folks every Wednesday.

Despite the fact that Jerry has been sick for many months, he was always ready each week with a quick smile and a friendly handshake.  I must say that this was, to me, the most memorable thing about Jerry.  He went around every week before the service started--after the shared fellowship meal--and shook everyone's hand.  And Jerry had huge, welcoming hands! Really! These were the biggest hands I've ever felt mine rest in, and he shook my hand with the perfect amount of force--not too crushing (and he could have really crushed me with those hands, I'm telling you!) and not too wimpy or soft, either.  He would smile and take my hand, week after week, welcoming me and greeting me.  Oh, I remember this charming man with such fondness!

It was no secret that Jerry's favorite hymn was "Victory in Jesus!"  Every time he made a request for a hymn to be sung, that was it.  The song doesn't appear in their hymnal, so they had to work up the words on a slide for us to sing from.  But that was the song he was going to request, so they had to be ready!

Oh, the joyful reality of our victory in Jesus--that because of His great sacrifice for us, His saving love, one day we will rest with Him in glory.  Because He died for us, our death is not the end.  Jerry lives on!

So, I know it isn't really a Christmas song... but it is this year!  Victory in Jesus!

I heard an old, old story
How a Savior came in glory
How He gave His life on Calvary
To save someone like me 

I heard about His groaning,
Of His precious blood's atoning
Then I repented of my sin
And won the victory

Victory in Jesus, my Savior forever
He sought me and bought me 
With His redeeming blood
He loved me ere I knew Him
And all my love is due Him
He plunged me to victory
Beneath the cleansing flood

I heard about His healing
Of His cleansing pow'r revealing
How He made the lame to walk again
And caused the blind to see
And then I cried, "dear Jesus,
Come and heal my broken spirit,"
And somehow Jesus came and brought
To me the victory

Victory in Jesus, my Savior forever
He sought me and bought me 
With His redeeming blood
He loved me ere I knew Him
And all my love is due Him
He plunged me to victory
Beneath the cleansing flood

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

...singing Christmas carols of love, perfect love

In the middle of all the celebrating of Christmas... singing, praying, cooking, feasting, gifting, laughing, crying, bursting with love... a moment of pure fun silliness... we literally laughed out loud watching these boys pull this off!  I love kids who are willing to be hams for the sake of a show!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Thy candles shine out brightly...

I miss my dear, sweet mother-in-law in so many ways. It will be strange not to travel to her home  this week--we've usually ventured their way sometime during the twelve days of Christmas for many years now.

My husband's family is old-world European. So many things that took getting used to at first are now precious parts of my life, adopted into the life of our little family from his. Perhaps I'll write of all of them sometime, but for today I'm thinking about candles. Sweet Tiiu changed my life regarding candles.

I grew up in a home where candles were decorations. They were carefully chosen for their visual appeal--never their actual scent when burning. Why? Because they were never actually burning. In fact, most were never even lit. A candle's visual appeal was, apparently, marred by a black wick. Every candle in our home growing up had a white wick from having never been lit.

I never saw candles burning, save for three notable exceptions. One was the several-times-a-year round of little candles on the birthday cakes. A second was the yearly lighting and passing of the flames during "Silent Night" at the Christmas Eve service. And a third was the times company came over and my mom lit a little votive candle in the bathroom. I remember going into the guest bathroom and just sitting there, watching the pattern of color that would dance on the walls through the sides of the little stained glass votive holder.

So the message I subconsciously got growing up was that candles were for decoration or special occasions only.

Then I began to visit the Sitterdings' house. I remember walking in, and there was always a candle burning in the entryway. There were candles on the coffee table. There were candles burning on the table during meals. At first I associated it with the "guests are here" category of candle-burning, but I soon realized that this was a common thing--an everyday thing. I so loved the feeling of warmth it gave--all welcome and comfort and home and "you are special."

I realized that it made me feel so special, this extravagant act of "wasting" candles in the everyday. It spoke to me, straight to my heart, that "today is special enough--this ordinary, daily-day moment together--for burning candles." So burn them I did.

It took a little while to get used to, for sure--I was conditioned to think this was excessive in the everyday--but only a little while! I loved how it made the house feel--how it made the house smell. (Somewhere on the list of favorite, memorable things ever said to me is a friend's pleased utterance of, "Your house smells so yummy and welcoming!")

And so, as I light the yummy-smelling pine-cone-and-lime Yankee Candle this morning--and, indeed, every other candle in the house!--I remember my sweet mother-in-law, and my dear sleeping children upstairs, and my dear husband out running the dogs, and I prepare my heart to celebrate the wondrous fact that today is anything but an ordinary day!

*From "O Christmas Tree"
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Thy candles shine out brightly!
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Thy candles shine out brightly!

Monday, December 24, 2012

He signs his name to a letter he just wrote...

I figure, since it is Christmas Eve--and the "12 Days of Christmas Blog Challenge" doesn't officially begin until tomorrow--I can have a "guest post" of sorts, and I can use a line from a Christmas song that's a little too newfangled to count, in my book.

A few minutes ago, as I soaked in the warm bath that is my annual Christmas-Eve-afternoon "calm before the (glorious) storm," the following email arrived from my sweet husband to each member of our precious family. I have no idea if any of the other recipients have read it yet, but it has been a timely, joyful reminder for me this afternoon. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle... the fun silliness... the exciting plans for giving and gifting... the serious business of tradition-making and -keeping... may I never, never lose sight of the real point of it all!  Oh how thankful I am for the reminder, so I figured I'd remind you, too...

My dear Family,

During this time that is so fun (and also sometimes so crazy) I hope that you are all, in some way, savoring a taste of God’s goodness in sending us the “Light of the World.”  Regardless of the disappointments, trials, difficulties, joys, and triumphs you face, if you have embraced the “Present of the World,” you are secure in God! 

What follows, then, is the realization that NOTHING can separate you from that love!  Not fussing, yelling, bad grades, unclean rooms, dirty dishes, biting dogs, deadlines, stress, worry….  God’s Word has a lot to say about many of those things, but ultimately, God has covered us in the Righteousness of Jesus, and so we are secure.  Remind each other, and yourselves, of that all year round.  Then, how much more sweet every yummy thing will taste, how much better every good thing seem, and thankfulness will abound. 

I want you all to know how thankful I am for each of you.  I love each and every one of you and, to quote a song, “my life will always be richer for the time I spent here with you.”  I am proud of every one of you as well.  You are all incredible persons.  :)

I am looking forward to sharing Christmas with my very favorite people in the world.

Much love, always

* "He signs his name to a letter he just wrote..." from Reba McIntyre's "A Christmas Letter"

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How to Remove Unwanted Ads and Links from Your Blog

This article is crucial to me right now.  I'm sick of the unwelcome ads appearing on my blogs!  My little students keep seeing links to who knows what... irritating...

Here's the link to the article, entitled How to Remove Unwanted Ads and Links from Your Blog.

It worked perfectly!

Monday, July 9, 2012

"A Commitment to Human Dignity and the Common Good"

Today on Public Discourse, Robert P. George and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf pen a letter to the hotel industry on pornography, respect, and responsibility.  

Pornography, Respect, and Responsibility: A Letter to the Hotel Industry
by Robert P. George and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
July 9, 2012

A letter on pornography and business ethics written by two prominent public intellectuals--one a Christian, one a Muslim--sent to hotel industry executives last week.    

We write to ask you to stop offering pornographic movies in your company's hotels. We make no proposal here to limit your legal freedom, nor do we threaten protests, boycotts, or anything of the sort. We simply ask you to do what is right as a matter of conscience.   

We are, respectively, a Christian and a Muslim, but we appeal to you not on the basis of truths revealed in our scriptures but on the basis of a commitment that should be shared by all people of reason and goodwill: a commitment to human dignity and the common good. As teachers and as parents, we seek a society in which young people are encouraged to respect others and themselves--treating no one as an impersonal object or thing. We hope that you share our desire to build such a society.   

Pornography is degrading, dehumanizing, and corrupting. It undermines self-respect and respect for others. It reduces persons--creatures bearing profound, inherent, and equal dignity--to the status of objects. It robs a central aspect of our humanity--our sexuality--of its dignity and beauty. It ensnares some in addiction. It deprives others of their sense of self-worth. It teaches our young people to settle for the cheap satisfactions of lust, rather than to do the hard, yet ultimately liberating and fulfilling, work of love.   

We recognize that we are asking you to abandon a profitable aspect of your business, but we hope that you will muster the conviction and strength of will to make that sacrifice and to explain it to your stockholders. We urge you to do away with pornography in your hotels because it is morally wrong to seek to profit from the suffering, degradation, or corruption of others. Some might say that you are simply honoring the free choices of your customers. However, you are doing much more than that. You are placing temptation in their path--temptation for the sake of profit. That is unjust. Moreover, the fact that something is chosen freely does not make it right; nor does it ensure that the choice will not be damaging to those who make it or to the larger community where degrading practices and materials flourish.   

We beg you to consider the young woman who is depicted as a sexual object in these movies, as nothing but a bundle of raw animal appetites whose sex organs are displayed to the voyeurs of the world and whose body is used in loveless and utterly depersonalized sex acts. Surely we should regard that young woman as we would regard a sister, daughter, or mother. She is a precious member of the human family. You may say that she freely chooses to compromise her dignity in this way, and in some cases that would be true, but that gives you no right to avail yourself of her self-degradation for the sake of financial gain. Would you be willing to profit from her self-degradation if she were your sister? Would you be willing to profit from her self-degradation if she were your own beloved daughter?   

Furthermore, we trust that you need no reminding of the fact that something's being legal does not make it right. For example, denying black men and women and their families access to hotel rooms--and tables in restaurants, as well as other amenities and opportunities--was, for countless shameful years, perfectly legal. In some circumstances, it even made financial sense for hotel owners and operators in racist cultures to engage in segregationist practices even when not compelled by law to do so. However, this was deeply morally wrong. Shame on those who denied their brothers and sisters of color the equal treatment to which they were morally entitled. Shame on you if you hide behind legality to peddle immorality in the pursuit of money.   

Our purpose is not to condemn you and your company but to call you to your highest and best self. We have no desire to hurt your business. On the contrary, we want you and your business to succeed financially--for your sake; for the sake of your stockholders, employees, and contract partners; and for the sake of the communities that your hotels serve. We believe that the properly regulated market economy serves the good of all by providing products and services at reasonable prices and by generating prosperity and social mobility. But the market itself cannot provide the moral values that make it a truly humane and just institution. We--owners, managers, employees, customers--must bring those values to the market. There are some things--inhuman things, unjust things, de-humanizing things--that should not be sold. There must be some things that, for the sake of human dignity and the common good, we must refuse to sell--even it if means forgoing profit.

Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University.
Shaykh Hamza Yusuf is co-founder and a member of the faculty of Zaytuna College.
Affiliations are provided for identification purposes and do not imply institutional endorsements.

Support the work of Public Discourse by making a secure donation to The Witherspoon Institute.
Copyright 2012 the Witherspoon Institute. All rights reserved.

Here's an interesting follow-up from a few days afterwards.  Thought-provoking stuff...

Today on Public Discourse, Robert Miller explores the legal and economic hurdles facing hotel execs who want to do the right thing.

Hotel Pornography and the Market of Morality

The legal institutions of a democratic and capitalist society are designed not to give people what is good and prevent them from getting what is bad; they are designed to give people what they want and not give them what they don't want.

Public Discourse recently published a letter from Professor Robert P. George and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf to executives in the hotel industry asking that their companies stop selling pornographic videos in their hotel rooms. George and Yusuf argue that pornography is morally wrong and thus selling pornography is morally wrong, and I agree completely. I fear, however, that their request to the hotel executives will not produce the result they hope.

There are two reasons for this. George and Yusuf mention the obvious one--that selling pornographic videos is profitable. But this is truer than George and Yusuf say. It turns out that many hotels would lose money offering pay-per-view videos if they did not include pornographic ones. Such hotels lose money on every sale of non-pornographic videos, but they make so much money on the pornographic ones that the operation as a whole turns a profit. Hotels in this situation cannot ditch the pornographic videos and keep the legitimate ones; they would have to stop offering all in-room movies. But it gets worse. A sizable percentage of the earnings of many hotel chains comes from business travelers, who tend to spend more than other customers. Now, most business travelers are men traveling alone. Want to take a guess who buys the most pornographic videos in hotel rooms? That's right: men traveling alone. Hence, a hotel that stops offering pornographic videos will certainly lose the earnings attributable to such videos, but it may also lose a lot more than that because some of its most valuable customers may shift their business to other hotels. If that happens, the company loses all the earnings associated with such travelers--not just the earnings from the pornographic videos, but also those from room rentals, room service, drinks and meals in the hotel restaurant, and so on. Giving up the pornographic videos could be very costly indeed.

The other reason that it may be hard for executives at hotel companies to cease offering pay-per-view pornographic videos is that doing so may be unlawful. Yes, you read that correctly: there is a serious argument that choosing not to sell pornographic videos could expose the directors of a corporation in the hotel business to civil liability to their shareholders. The reason is that, as explained above, selling pornographic videos makes a lot of money for the company, and corporate directors are under a fiduciary duty to maximize profits for their shareholders. This does not mean, as some uninformed people think, that directors may cause the corporation to engage in illegal acts to make a profit. On the contrary, directors who intentionally cause the corporation to do something illegal thereby breach their fiduciary duty to the corporation, no matter how much money can be made by illegal conduct. The directors' duty is to maximize profits within the law. But as George and Yusuf point out, selling pornography is perfectly legal. So the question becomes whether corporate directors, consistent with their fiduciary duty to maximize profits within the law, may cause the corporation to terminate a highly profitable and perfectly legal operation merely because the directors conclude that the operation is immoral.

I am aware of no modern case treating this issue; it is an open question in the law. Is it the duty of corporate directors to choose the course of action that they honestly believe will maximize profits within the law regardless of moral considerations, or is it their duty to exercise moral judgment as well as business judgment and so to choose the course of action that they honestly believe will maximize profits within the law and within the constraints of morality as the directors see them? In my opinion, the latter ought to be the law, but as to what the law actually is--what, for example, a Delaware court presented with the issue would actually hold--I do not know. No one knows.

One thing that is certain, however, is that if a public company in the hotel business announced that it was ceasing to offer pay-per-view pornographic videos because the directors thought that doing so was immoral, some of its shareholders, encouraged by the plaintiffs' bar, would sue the directors alleging that their decision breached their fiduciary duty to the corporation. If the plaintiffs won, the directors would be personally liable for all the lost profits attributable to their decision. For a large hotel chain maintaining hundreds of thousands of guest rooms, the potential liability for the directors would be enormous. Not many corporate directors would expose themselves to bankrupting civil judgments in order to do the right thing here.

Oddly, however, a board of directors that stopped selling pornographic videos for moral reasons could escape all liability to its shareholders if it was willing to lie about its reasons. That is, the directors could say that, in their judgment, selling pornographic videos offends so many customers that in the long run the company would make more money by not selling such videos. Then, regardless of how implausible this theory may be, under the corporate law doctrine known as the business judgment rule, a court would not intervene and would not hold the directors liable, provided the directors claim to honestly believe the explanation they were offering the court. Since George and Yusuf say in their letter that they are not planning to organize a boycott of hotels selling pornographic videos, they have inadvertently undermined such a stratagem. But this hardly matters, because directors who object to pornography on moral grounds are not likely to be willing to lie about the corporation's business to its shareholders, much less perjure themselves in court.

But let us assume, as I think right, that the law allows directors to exercise moral judgment as well as business judgment and would protect their decision to choose, for purely moral reasons, a course of action that fails to maximize profits for shareholders. Assume further that, having read George and Yusuf's letter, the directors of the various hotel corporations decide to terminate sales of pornographic videos in their hotels. Then what? I doubt we would soon see the end of pay-per-view pornographic videos in hotel rooms. The reason is that, if the companies' shareholders disagree with the moral judgment of the directors, they can vote such directors off the board and replace them with individuals who agree with the shareholders on moral matters. Hence, to stop hotels from offering pay-per-view pornography, we will need to convince not only the directors of such companies but also their shareholders that they should accept lower profits in order to do the right thing. Given the broad shareholder base of most public companies, and given too that when a shareholder objects on moral grounds to the corporation's actions, his usual response is to sell his shares to someone who does not object to the corporation's actions, we would need to convince a large portion of the population, not just some hotel executives, that selling pornographic videos is morally wrong.

There is an important lesson here about how our society is organized, and it can be best brought out by a comparison. Like pornographic videos, videos espousing racist views are immoral but legal, but we never find such videos on offer in hotel rooms or, for that matter, almost anywhere else. Why not? Obviously, because practically everyone nowadays finds racist views deeply offensive, and any company that attempted to make money selling such trash would be severely punished by the market. The situation is different with pornographic videos because a significant portion of the population wants to watch such videos and, more importantly, a large majority of the population doesn't object to their doing so. With racist videos, market institutions reinforce a moral result; with pornographic videos, market institutions reinforce an immoral result. The lesson is that, when a people's desires are consistent with moral norms, markets produce moral results, but when a people's desires are inconsistent with moral norms, markets produce immoral results. The economic institutions of capitalism are thus analogous to the political institutions of democracy. With limited exceptions, laws can be enacted and enforced in a democratic society only if they command the support of a large majority of the population. Hence, it is not so much wrong as it is impossible to impose moral norms through law: the only norms that can be imposed in this way are norms that already command broad support.

The legal institutions of a democratic and capitalist society are not designed to give people what is good and prevent them from getting what is bad; they are designed to give people what they want and not give them what they don't want. For this reason, some people decry capitalism and democracy as amoral. Such views are misguided. In a democratic and capitalist society, there is a certain division of labor: it is up to the people themselves to become moral individuals with moral desires, while the political and economic institutions of the society implement the individuals' aggregated desires. In any alternative system, there are institutions not accountable to the people and powerful enough to impose their will (really the will of the individuals who control the institutions) on everyone who disagrees with them. The historical record of such institutions has been terrifying, which is the best argument in favor of democratic capitalism. It is true that, in such a system, it may be harder to be moral when your understanding of morality is different from the majority view, but at least you will not often be forced into doing what you think is wrong. You may be seduced, but you will not be coerced. Democratic capitalism is a moral system, but in this system the guardians of morality are not institutions but the people themselves. Thus we read in the Book of Wisdom, A large number of wise men is the safety of the world.

Robert T. Miller is a Professor of Law at Villanova University, and as of August 2012 he will be a Professor of Law and Sandler Faculty Fellow of Corporate Law at the University of Iowa.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mischief Managed

I just got home from a whirlwind of trips and travels, only to find three different emails from three different organizations alerting me to a password compromise I have been involved in.  That's too many for comfort.  Apparently malicious dudes are getting better and better at their mischief.  So, what am I--a little computer cretin who can't compete with such evil--going to do about it?

Well, I've started with this website, "How Secure Is My Password?"  It promises to test the security of your proposed password, giving you peace of mind as you make your selection away from something like "BobFacebook." (That takes a mere 169 days to crack. And once they do, other passwords that follow the pattern like "BobLinkedIn" and "BobGmail," likely take 1.69 seconds!)

My results?  "It would take a desktop PC about 778 thousand years to crack your password."

That'll do.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

U.S. Faith

I found this interactive map to the results of a USA today "pew survey" regarding the religious affiliations of Americans interesting...

Just click on the link above to explore it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Gone From Our Sight

I am standing upon the seashore.  A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean.  She is an object of beauty and strength.  I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says: "There, she is gone!"

"Gone where?"

Gone from my sight.  That is all.  She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear the load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me, not in her.  And just at that moment when someone at my side says: "There, she is gone!"  There are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout: "Here she comes!"

And that is dying.                                                                           - Henry Van Dyke

Tiiu Muursepp Sitterding
January 11, 1939 - May 21, 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

Third cousins, twice removed

Okay, so I have like a bazillion cousins, since my parents were each one of three children, and those siblings each had at least two or three children, and each of their children who has them has had at least two or three children so far.

So, needless to say, we're always quite confused about "cousin relationships" around here, what with first and second and third, and then the once- or twice-removed or whatever.

I found this very helpful chart today, and I might want to be able to find it again. So, if you're confused at all about cousin relationships, too, check it out!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Just in case you haven't seen this, dubbed "the most beautiful seatbelt commercial ever."