"For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you do show the Lord’s death till he come."
1 Corinthians 11:26.
We are taught our interim employment—what is to occupy us until Jesus comes. Beloved brethren, until Jesus comes we have nothing left but to think of him. Till Jesus comes the main thing we have to do is to think of and set him forth a crucified Savoir. There is no food for the Church but Jesus; there is no testimony to the world but Jesus crucified.
They have sometimes told us that in this growing age we may expect to have developed a higher form of Christianity. Well, they shall have it that like it; but Christ himself has left us nothing but just this, “Show my death till I come.” The preacher is to go on preaching a dying Savoir; the saint is to go on trusting that dying Savoir, feeding on him and letting his soul be satisfied as with marrow and fatness. There is nothing left us to occupy our thoughts, or to be the subject of our joy, as our dear dying Lord.
Oh! let us feed on him. Each one, personally, as a believer—let him feed on his Savoir. If he has come once, come again. Keep on coming till Christ himself shall appear. As long as the invitation stands let us not slight it, but constantly come to Christ himself and feed on him.
Stay Smart, America: Some Must-Read Material on the Syria Dilemma
To help you get up to speed and give some perspective to the Syria crisis and issues confronting us, please take time to read the following materials. Stay smart, America.
William Polk on Foreign Policy
James Fallows of the Atlantic (Article One), September 2:
Many times I’ve mentioned the foreign-policy assessments of William R. Polk, at right, who first wrote for the Atlantic (about Iraq) during Dwight Eisenhower’s administration, back in 1958, and served on the State Department’s Policy Planning staff during the Kennedy years. He now has sent in a detailed analysis about Syria.
Polk wrote this just before President Obama switched from his go-it-alone policy and decided to seek Congressional approval for a Syrian strike. It remains relevant for the choices Congress, the public, and the president have to make. It is very long, but it is systematically laid out as a series of 13 questions, with answers. If you’re in a rush, you could skip ahead to question #7, on the history and use of chemical weapons. But please consider the whole thing when you have the time to sit down for a real immersion in the implications of Congress’s upcoming decision. It wouldn’t hurt if Senators and Representatives read it too.
Full article HERE and if you read just one piece on Syria, read this one.
Charles Stevenson and Mike Lofgren on Foreign Policy
James Fallows of the Atlantic (Article Two), September 2:
"Attacking Syria is simply not in the U.S. national interest; and absent an objective assessment from a neutral inspection team, and absent a UN resolution, the U.S. has no legitimate authority under any law or treaty to act unilaterally. Period."
In the wake of President Obama’s (welcome) decision to seek Congressional authorization before striking Syria, long-time Congressional defense-policy expert Charles Stevenson offers these guidelines about what Congress should actually do:
President Obama’s request for congressional authorization for retaliatory strikes in Syria creates tough choices for members of Congress. Do they want to assert their constitutional role in war powers by taking decisive action, or do they want to play political games? Does a majority want to support action, oppose it, or try to set limits and conditions?
The best model for congressional action is the law they passed in 1983 authorizing participation in the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, the only time Congress specifically authorized force under the War Powers Act. Public Law 98-119 has several features that should be part of any measure on Syria:
The best test of the Obama policy would be a simple up-or-down vote on a joint resolution authorizing the attack but limiting its purpose and scope. If that is not enough, if some members want to promote a policy of military aid to the Syrian opposition or a no-fly zone, let them vote on that and abide by the results. If it’s too much, let them vote that way and deny the President the support he seeks.
If Congress can’t come together and agree on a common policy, they will forfeit their claims to war powers.
In April, 1954, President Eisenhower was being pressured to take military action in Vietnam, where the French were losing a symbolically important battle at Dien Bien Phu and were about to be driven out of what was then their colony. At a press conference that month, Eisenhower acknowledged the “falling domino” principle—the idea that if one land were to fall to Communism others would follow. John Foster Dulles, his Secretary of State, declared that a Communist political system imposed on Southeast Asia by means of the Marxist and nationalist guerrilla forces fighting the French “would be a grave threat to the whole free community,” and Vice-President Richard Nixon, in a talk to newspaper editors that April, dropped hints about dispatching American troops. Eisenhower never used a phrase like “red line,” as President Obama did when he warned the Syrian regime that the use of chemical weapons would be punished, but he did say that the defense of the Southeast Asia region was of “transcendent importance.” He sounded determined to act.
Yet Eisenhower, much like Obama, sometimes appeared to be acting in ways that ran counter to his words. Historic parallels are risky, but the conflict in Korea had ended the previous summer, with an armistice that gave victory to no one. That divisive war, fought at a cost of nearly thirty thousand American lives and more than eighty thousand wounded, left Ike and most Americans with no appetite for a return engagement. The divisive Iraq war and its murderous aftermath still shadow every mention of involvement in the Middle East.
When Eisenhower in 1954 said that his Administration would need to consult legislators, he was pretty sure that the 83rd Congress had no wish to endorse intervention, and it is not unreasonable to think that Obama, despite his strong words and his mini-summit with Senator John McCain, suspects that the 113th Congress may be no more inclined. Eisenhower stressed the importance of working with American allies, particularly Great Britain, and he sent a cable to Prime Minister Winston Churchill saying that a “new, ad hoc grouping or coalition of nations” was needed to help the French: “We face the hard situation of contemplating a disaster brought on by French weakness and the necessity of dealing with it before it develops.”
Foreign policy grants American presidents almost supernatural powers. From thousands of miles away, they can mobilize fleets and squadrons at a whim, sometimes killing without risking a single soldier’s life. But foreign policy can also become a curse, with an equally mystical ability to ruin a presidency. Barack Obama learned that lesson watching his predecessor wage what Obama famously called “a dumb war” of choice in Iraq. His opposition to the invasion launched the one-term Senator’s first presidential run, and he arrived in the White House with a clear vision of a humbler America narrowly focused on core interests, like healing domestic economic and social wounds. Obama would hunt down terrorists in caves and deserts and throw a harder punch at the Taliban in Afghanistan. But he also presented himself as a conciliator, a peacemaker who would land the Nobel Peace Prize before he’d even redecorated the Oval Office.
From the start of his presidency, Obama sounded his call in speeches from Washington to Prague to Cairo, describing a transformed world order—“a revolutionary world” where “we can do improbable, sometimes impossible things.” Cynics said Obama was just putting a gloss on harsh economic reality: deep in debt and with its financial sector in a tailspin, the U.S. couldn’t afford an interventionist foreign policy. But Obama seemed genuine enough when he spoke of starting a dialogue of “mutual respect” with Iran, and to other rivals, he vowed that “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” Reason would replace raw power, and the neoconservative vision would be retired. It was hope and change on a global scale.
But history, it has turned out, wasn’t interested.
The fists remained clenched, the rhetoric toward the U.S. was disrespectful, and although there was revolution from Cairo to Tripoli to Damascus, it often unleashed dangerous religious and tribal passions across the Middle East. The hope has fermented into fear, the change into danger. Now, in a region that has confounded Presidents for decades and where the security stakes are highest, Obama faces a defining test in Syria.
This is not where Obama wanted to be. On Aug. 22, one day after a cloud of what is suspected to have been nerve gas descended on a Damascus suburb, killing hundreds of people, the President left the White House for an all-smiles bus tour of upstate New York, focused on college affordability. But that morning in the Situation Room, Obama’s national-security team was grasping the shocking scale of the attack and its implicit challenge to American power and authority.
Spiritual formation in Christ is an orderly process.
[Jesus] invites us to leave our burdensome ways of heavy labor—especially the “religious” ones—and step into the yoke of training with him. This is a way of gentleness and lowliness, a way of soul rest. It is a way of inner transformation that proves pulling his load and carrying his burden with him to be a life that is easy and light (Matthew 11:28-30). The perceived distance and difficulty of entering fully into the divine world and its life is due entirely to our failure to understand that “the way in” is the way of pervasive inner transformation and to our failure to take the small steps that quietly and certainly lead to it.
For our Christian groups and their leaders, [orderly spiritual formation] means that there is a simple, straightforward way in which congregations of Jesus’ people can, without exception, fulfill his call to be an ecclesia, his “called out” ones: a touch point between heaven and earth, where the healing of the Cross and the Resurrection can save the lost and grow the saved into the fullness of human beings in Christ. No special facilities, programs, talents, or techniques are required. It doesn’t even require a budget. Just faithfulness to the process of spiritual formation in Christlikeness exposed in the Scriptures and in the lives of his “peculiar people” through the ages (Titus 2:14, KJV).
Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ
First Ideas for What to Get the New Grand-baby--Just Sayin'
Just found out we are going to be grandparents, for the first time. So, I got to thinking, maybe I should start planning on what to do for this new addition. I checked, and my job is to spoil the kid rotten. Or something like that. (The Japanese lady is not part of the idea stream.)
I don’t know any letter that is more fundamental and foundational than Paul’s letter to the Romans. It is unquestionably the greatest of all of Paul’s letters and the widest in its scope. It is most intent and penetrating in its insight into the understanding of truth; therefore, it is one of the books of the New Testament that every Christian ought to be thoroughly familiar with. If you haven’t mastered the book of Romans and aren’t able to think through this book without a Bible before you, then I urge you to set that as your goal.
Master the book of Romans — be so acquainted with it that you can outline it and think of its great themes without a Bible open before you. That requires reading it and studying it and thinking it through in careful detail. I think it is safe to say that Romans probably is the most powerful human document that has ever been penned.
—- St. Augustine, whose shadow has loomed large over the church since the fourth century, was converted by reading just a few verses of the 13th chapter of the book of Romans.
—- Martin Luther, studying the writings of Augustine, came to an understanding of faith. The 16th verse of the very first chapter of the letter spoke volumes to Luther’s heart as he thought and meditated on the great phrase, “The righteous shall live by faith.” This book’s effect on Luther ushered in the great Protestant Reformation, the greatest awakening that our world has seen since the days of the apostles.
—- John Bunyan, studying Romans in the Bedford jail, was so caught up by the themes of this great letter that out of it he penned Pilgrim’s Progress, which has taught many people how a Christian relates to the world in which he lives.
—- John Wesley, listening one day to Luther’s preface to the commentary on Romans, found his own heart strangely warmed and out of that came the great evangelical awakening of the eighteenth century.
”—Ray Stedman, Introduction to his study of the book of Romans, 1975.
“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.
“With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward …”
Franklin told his daughter that he thought the wild turkey would make a much better symbol of the American character: “For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America … He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”
Benjamin Franklin writing to his daughter Sally from France in January 1784.
"When Jesus came he told his disciples that he "would utter things kept secret since the foundation of the world," (Matthew 13:35). He said, "many prophets and righteous men have longed to hear what you hear, but did not hear it." In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul declares these truths have now been revealed to us through the Spirit, and he sums it all up in the arresting phrase, "the secret and hidden wisdom of God."
Since I preach in a university community, this has always meant to me that when I open the Book on a Sunday morning, I am offering to the physicists, the scientist, the high-tech engineers, the doctors, lawyers, bankers, and captains of industry present, as well as artisans, secretaries, plumbers, and many others, essential knowledge about themselves and about life, which they have never learned, nor could learn, in any secular college or graduate school! I am privileged to give them an understanding of reality unattainable from any other source.
It is the business of preaching to change the total world view of every member of the congregation; to dispel the secular illusions which are widely believed around, and to identify and underscore the concepts and practices that are right, and do this for each member. Perhaps the most amazing verse is that this hidden truth is “for our glorification!” The Westminster Confession properly states that the chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. But this verse declares that God plans and works “for our (that is our human) glorification.”…..
There is much more I could say, but perhaps this is enough to help us see the enormous consequences of true preaching, and the terrible blight that falls upon a congregation or community which is deprived of these “unsearchable riches of Christ.” My plea is, let preachers stop feeding people with moral platitudes and psychological pablum. Let us say once more, with Jeremiah,”Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your Word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart.”
Americans cut back in some types of disposable spending during the nation’s financial crisis, but spending on Fido held steady and is picking up again.
It turns out even the deepest recession in decades can’t kill off pet spending. A new report from the Labor Department shows that while Americans cut back in some types of disposable spending during the nation’s financial crisis, spending on pets held steady and has begun to pick up again.
The report shows that Americans spent over $61 billion on their pets in 2011, with the average household spending just over $500 on their pets during the year. That’s more than the average household spent on alcohol, men’s clothing, or landline telephones. The data show that pet spending hit a peak in 2008, at $571 per household, then dropped off sharply, eventually hitting $480 in 2010. However, spending on Fluffy and Spot as a share of households’ total spending picked up slightly during the recession, from 0.9 percent in 2007 to 1.1 percent during the heart of the downturn in 2008 and 2009.
The Labor Department data show that Americans remained selflessly devoted to their pets during the recession, holding their spending on pet food steady through the downturn while cutting back on the luxury of eating out.
A major economic downturn may not dramatically cut pet spending, but having kids does. Single people spent over $400 on average on their pets in 2011, while single-parent households spent two-thirds that. Likewise, husbands and wives with no children at home spent the most on their pets, at nearly $700, while those with the youngest children spent less than 60 percent of that, at just over $400.
The data may also signal fatter times ahead for America’s pets. Americans age 55 to 64 spent the most on their pets of any age group, at $636 per year, in 2011. In addition, homeowners spent $653 on average, compared to renters, at $221. With baby boomers entering retirement and a housing recovery in place, that may mean the population willing to spend big on their animals is about to grow.
Brewer Magic Hat files federal lawsuit against West Sixth Brewing
In a battle of beer logos, brewer Magic Hat has filed a federal lawsuit against Lexington’s West Sixth Brewing Co., claiming trademark infringement.
A lawsuit filed May 16 in U.S. District Court charged that West Sixth began selling beer, ale and brewpub services in 2012 using color, trademarks and designs “that closely resemble and are confusingly similar” to the designs used by Magic Hat for several years.
On Tuesday, West Sixth co-owner Ben Self said the lawsuit was without merit. West Sixth officials launched a social media campaign, asking customers to sign a petition on its website to ask Magic Hat to drop the lawsuit and stop “corporate bullying.”
According to news reports, North American Breweries Inc. bought Vermont-based Magic Hat in 2010. North American’s website said it owns and operates five U.S. breweries and six retail locations in New York, Vermont, California, Oregon and Washington.
The petition had more than 5,100 signatures by 9 p.m.
"The public has really come to our defense as a craft beer producer and joined us demanding that Magic Hat withdraw their lawsuit," Self said.
What’s at issue is a logo used on a number of products, including beer bottles and cans.
The lawsuit said the appearance or trade dress of Magic Hat’s #9-branded products is characterized by its distinctive orange, the predominant color on its labels, the presence of the “dingbat” star and the circular motif of the #9 design.
West Sixth recently introduced its Amber Ale, which is offered in an orange label that includes the numeral 6. The lawsuit says West Sixth has used a “dingbat” star to “confuse consumers and trade on Magic Hat’s good will.”
Magic Hat has used the #9 mark for beer and ale since at least 1995 in the United States and since at least 2009 in Kentucky, according to the lawsuit.
West Sixth has sold beer, ale and brewpub services using the 6 in its logo in portions of Kentucky and Ohio since April 1, 2012, the lawsuit said.
Magic Hat is seeking an injunction to stop West Sixth from using the design and is asking the court to direct West Sixth to pay Magic Hat all profits made by West Sixth as a result of “its acts of unfair competition,” the lawsuit says. Additionally, Magic Hat is asking for a jury trial and damages including costs and attorneys’ fees.
The lawsuit says West Sixth’s use of “confusingly similar marks” is causing Magic Hat irreparable harm.
"West Sixth’s use of its confusingly similar marks … continues to cause, and is likely to cause confusion, … and deception in the minds of the consuming public," the lawsuit said.
West Sixth officials posted a statement at Nomoremagichat.com that said, in part:
"Before we go any further, we do want to let you know that none of this will affect in any way our ability to continue brewing the great beers that you all have come to love. So, don’t worry about that at all!
"They’re claiming that we intentionally copied their logo, and that has caused them "irreparable harm," enough that they’re asking for not only damages but also all our profits up until this point (little do they know that well, as a startup company, there wasn’t any, oops!)"
West Sixth logos were created by a professional design firm in Lexington called Cricket Press that has “a long history of fantastic and creative logo designs. … Our logo contains neither a ‘#’ nor a ‘9.’”
Poll Says Teens Are Migrating from Facebook to Twitter
WASHINGTON (AP) — Twitter is booming as a social media destination for teenagers who complain about too many adults and too much drama on Facebook, according to a new study published Tuesday about online behavior. It said teens are sharing more personal information about themselves even as they try to protect their online reputations.
Teens told researchers there were too many adults on Facebook and too much sharing of teenage angst and inane details like what a friend ate for dinner.
“The key is that there are fewer adults, fewer parents and just simply less complexity and less drama,” said Amanda Lenhart of the Pew Research Center, one of the study’s authors. “They still have their Facebook profiles, but they spend less time on them and move to places like Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.”
In the poll, 94 percent of teens who are social media users have a profile on Facebook – flat from the previous year. Twenty-six percent of teen social media users were on Twitter. That’s more than double the figure in 2011 of 12 percent.
In what is likely a concern to parents, more than 60 percent of the teens with Twitter accounts said their tweets were public, meaning anyone on Twitter – friend, foe or stranger – can see what they write and publish. About one-quarter of kids said their tweets were private and 12 percent said they did not know whether their tweets were public or private.
Teens are also sharing much more than in the past.
More than 90 percent of teen social media users said they have posted a picture of themselves – up from 79 percent in 2006. Seven in ten disclose the city or town where they live, up from about 60 percent over the same time period. And 20 percent disclose their cell phone number – up sharply from a mere two percent in 2006.
At the same time, teens say they’ve taken steps to protect their reputations and mask information they don’t want others to know. For example, nearly three-quarters of teen social media users have deleted people from their networks or friends list.
The researchers surveyed 802 parents and their 802 teens. The poll was conducted between July 26 and September 30, 2012, on landline and cell phones. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."—Psalm 116:15.
We love the people of God, they are exceedingly precious to us, and, therefore, we are too apt to look upon their deaths as a very grievous loss. We would never let them die at all if we could help it. If it were in our power to confer immortality upon our beloved Christian brethren and sisters, we should surely do it, and to their injury we should detain them here, in this wilderness, depriving them of a speedy entrance into their inheritance on the other side the river. It would be cruel to them, but I fear we should often be guilty of it. We should hold them here a little longer, and a little longer yet, finding it hard to relinquish our grasp.
The departures of the saints cause us many a pang. We fret, alas! also, we even repine and murmur. We count that we are the poorer because of the eternal enriching of those beloved ones who have gone over to the majority, and entered into their rest.
Be it known that while we are sorrowing Christ is rejoicing. His prayer is, “Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am,” and in the advent of every one of his own people to the skies he sees an answer to that prayer, and is, therefore, glad. He beholds in every perfected one another portion of the reward for the travail of his soul, and he is satisfied in it. We are grieving here, but he is rejoicing there. Dolorous are their deaths in our sight, but precious are their deaths in his sight.
We hang up the mournful escutcheon, and sit us down to mourn our full, and yet, meanwhile, the bells of heaven are ringing for “the bridal feast above,” the streamers are floating joyously in every heavenly street, and the celestial world keeps holiday because another heir of heaven has entered upon his heritage.
May this correct our grief. Tears are permitted to us, but they must glisten in the light of faith and hope. Jesus wept, but Jesus never repined. We, too, may weep, but not as those who are without hope, nor yet as though forgetful that there is greater cause for joy than for sorrow in the departure of our brethren.
Precious Deaths Sermon Delivered February 18th, 1872, by Charles Spurgeon
"For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward.[Do not stop there, for the sentence goes right on in the original language. "And… ] Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea." (Mark 9:40-41 RSV)
Remember that Jesus speaks these words with his arms still around the little child. What he is saying is that the mark of true greatness in his kingdom is that someone takes humanity seriously, and longs to see it develop rightly. The slightest ministry to a young believer is rewarded by God. Even a cup of cold water given in the name of Christ will never lose its reward. Every opportunity taken to help someone develop into fullness of health spiritually, as well as in soul and body, is to be rewarded by God. But on the other hand, any damage, any spiritual injury to a young Christian, is more serious than murder or physical injury: “Better for him that a great millstone be hung round his neck and he be cast into the depths of the sea, than to cause one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble.”
I remember a number of years ago reading a short story by O. Henry, in which he told of a little girl whose mother had died. When the father would come home from work, he would fix their meal, then he would sit down with his paper and pipe, put his feet up on the mantle, and read. The little girl would come and say, “Father, would you play with me?” And he would say, “No, I’m too tired, I’m too busy. Go out in the street and play.” This went on for so long that finally the little girl grew up on the streets, and became what we would call a “streetwalker,” a prostitute. Eventually she died, and when, in the story, her soul appeared at the gates of heaven, Peter said to Jesus, “Here’s this prostitute. Shall we send her to hell?” Jesus said, “No, no; let her in. But go find the man who refused to play with his little girl, and send him to hell.”
Here in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is saying that neglect is sometimes the greatest injury done to children, and to young believers, and that we must recognize this as a serious matter.
President Obama’s Elusive Budgetary Goal of ‘Fiscal Responsibility’
By Michael Scherer of Time Magazine
President Obama will release a “fiscally responsible” budget for the country today, his aides say. This is not news. It happened last year. And the year before. And the year before. In Obama’s first year, he was so confident, he called his budget “A New Era of Responsibility.”
Except, it wasn’t. And never really has been. Because the fiscally responsible part is always projected to begin a few years in the future, and each year, as a new budget comes out, White House aides have also revised their projections. What they believed to be responsible before was not so responsible after all. The deficits were larger than they expected. The economy grew slower. The debt was bigger.
There is some disagreement over just what “fiscally responsible” means. Some liberals believe there is no real risk of running up too much debt, given the demonstrated willingness of the world to buy our bonds, so it is responsible to accept our high deficits. Some conservatives believe that any deficits are a moral outrage that will turn our children into chattel or preface armageddon, so it is responsible to embrace austerity. For the purposes of this post, I am defining “fiscally responsible” as it is most often meant by the White House: charting a path to deficit levels that roughly stabilizes the size of the debt as a percentage of GDP.
In 2009, Obama’s propeller heads predicted the deficits in 2012 would be about 4.6% of GDP, or just slightly higher than the growth of the economy. Three years later, Obama’s number crunchers were saying that the 2012 deficit would be 7.2% of GDP, which means the original prediction was off by about 50%. Why? The biggest reason is that the financial crisis was worse than predicted, and the recovery has been slower, lowering tax revenue. It’s also true that Congress never puts a White House budget into law, but as this chart by The Washington Post’s Dylan Matthews shows, had Obama had his way, the deficits would likely have been worse, not better. The budget that Congress passed in 2009 was 3% smaller that Obama wanted; it was 7% smaller in 2010.
But the pattern in the Obama administration has been remarkably consistent: Presidential budgets are a terrible source for predicting the fiscal responsibility of the U.S. government. Here is a line chart I made showing the deficit projections Obama made in each of his first four budgets, as a percentage of GDP. As you can see, each year the short-term projections tend to get a little worse.
The number crunchers across the street from the White House are not fudging the numbers. The problem is that lawmakers do not have complete control over deficits. The economy matters, and the official numbers have not been good at predicting what will happen.
The other thing worth mentioning here is that in discussions of fiscal responsibility, the President’s budget is often a distraction. The real problems with spending and taxation have little to do with what Obama likes most to talk about: new bridges, pre-K education, tax loopholes for the very wealthy. They have to do with long term trends—a decrease in tax rates and revenue over the last decades, and an increase in the cost of health care. The graphic designers at the U.S. Treasury clearly illustrate this point:
Any long term solution to the high deficits will most certainly arise from addressing these areas. And that deal, if it happens anytime soon, will not be found in the Obama budget document, though his recent embrace of cuts to Social Security and Medicare may be a step in that direction.
UPDATE: I have added below another line (in teal) to my chart, showing the deficit projections as a percentage of GDP from the most recent budget, fiscal year 2014, which was released Wednesday afternoon. You will see that the deficit estimates for the most immediate year are once again higher than they were predicted to be last year, the year before, the year before that, etc. Not exactly the kind of projections you want to take to the bank, or bond market. To read the whole budget, see here.
The victorious Christian neither exalts nor downgrades himself. His interests have shifted from self to Christ. What he is or is not no longer concerns him. He believes that he has been crucified with Christ and he is not willing either to praise or deprecate such a man.
Yet the knowledge that he has been crucified is only half the victory. “Nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Christ is now where the man’s ego was formerly. The man is now Christ-centered instead of self-centered, and he forgets himself in his delighted preoccupation with Christ.
Candor compels me to acknowledge that it is a lot easier to write about this than it is to live it. Self is one of the toughest plants that grows in the garden of life. It is, in fact, indestructible by any human means. Just when we are sure it is dead it turns up somewhere as robust as ever to trouble our peace and poison the fruit of our lives.
Yet there is deliverance. When our judicial crucifixion becomes actual the victory is near; and when our faith rises to claim the risen life of Christ as our own the triumph is complete. The trouble is that we do not receive the benefits of all this until something radical has happened in our own experience, something which in its psychological effects approaches actual crucifixion. What Christ went through we also must go through. Rejection, surrender, loss, a violent detachment from the world, the pain of social ostracism - all must be felt in our actual experience.
Where we have failed is in the practical application of the teaching concerning the crucified life. Too many have been content to be armchair Christians, satisfied with the theology of the cross. Plainly Christ never intended that we should rest in a mere theory of self-denial. His teaching identified His disciples with Himself so intimately that they would have had to be extremely dull not to have understood that they were expected to experience very much the same pain and loss as He Himself did.
The healthy soul is the victorious soul and victory never comes while self is permitted to remain unjudged and uncrucified. While we boast or belittle we may be perfectly sure that the cross has not yet done its work within us. Faith and obedience will bring the cross into the life and cure both habits.
As the first day of April has largely come to be the day where nothing but jokes, fake press releases, preposterous rumors (or, at least, more preposterous than they are normally), expensively produced videos for products that will never exist by companies that kill real products to “focus”, and the infinite re-sharing-blogging-tweeting-plussing of such, I think it is high time that those who reject such foolishness and need to get real work done take this day back.
I say we make this first of April, and every first of April to come, the day where we take a digital sabbatical (at the very least, an online one). We use this day to take a break. Perhaps get an honest day’s work in. Maybe brush off that old notebook and sharpen that pencil and write out the things you’re going to get done tomorrow. If you are at work, perhaps this is a good day to clean your office. If at home, take the kids out to a museum. Perhaps this is the day to put on your favorite road songs, get in the car, pick a direction, and drive for a few hours and see where you end up. Because that place, no matter where it is, will be better than just about anything else you will see online today. I think you get the idea.
Because, well, it is already pretty difficult to sift the meaning from the noise from the constant connection. It is even more so when you have to question almost everything you see on it for a day. Life is short. There are better things to do. Ignore it today. It’ll still be here (and, hopefully, back to normal) tomorrow.
The new cross does not slay the sinner, it redirects him. It gears him into a cleaner anal jollier way of living and saves his self-respect. To the self-assertive it says, “Come and assert yourself for Christ.” To the egotist it says, “Come and do your boasting in the Lord.” To the thrill seeker it says, “Come and enjoy the thrill of Christian fellowship.” The Christian message is slanted in the direction of the current vogue in order to make it acceptable to the public.
The philosophy back of this kind of thing may be sincere but its sincerity does not save it from being false. It is false because it is blind. It misses completely the whole meaning of the cross.
The old cross is a symbol of death. It stands for the abrupt, violent end of a human being. The man in Roman times who took up his cross and started down the road had already said good-by to his friends. He was not coming back. He was going out to have it ended. The cross made no compromise, modified nothing, spared nothing; it slew all of the man, completely and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with its victim. It struck cruel and hard, and when it had finished its work, the man was no more.
The race of Adam is under death sentence. There is no commutation and no escape. God cannot approve any of the fruits of sin, however innocent they may appear or beautiful to the eyes of men. God salvages the individual by liquidating him and then raising him again to newness of life.
That evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of men is false to the Bible and cruel to the souls of its hearers. The faith of Christ does not parallel the world, it intersects it. In coming to Christ we do not bring our old life up onto a higher plane; we leave it at the cross. The corn of wheat must fall into the ground and die.
”—Man-The Dwelling Place of God-Chapter 10: The Old Cross and the New-by A. W. Tozer
There is a single chart — three colored lines on a grid — that shapes the political reality of this country. During the 2012 campaign, one of President Obama’s senior strategists called it “the North Star” and started his internal PowerPoint presentations with it. When Republican majority leader Eric Cantor speaks on Tuesday about his vision for the future of the Republican Party, the chart’s central message will bind together his words.
The chart tracks three economic trends in the U.S. over the last two decades, between 1992 and 2009. The first two lines — productivity and per capita gross domestic product — are rising. This is the unmistakable American success story, the one reflected in record corporate profits, growing wealth accumulation and the unmatched efficiency of this country’s economy. The third line tracks median household income, as measured by the U.S. Census. It shows the story of frustration and stagnation that so many Americans long ago accepted as a reality.
Shortly after 2000, the lines diverged. The economy hummed along, but many Americans, the ones politicians typically refer to as the middle class, stopped feeling the benefits. There are many reasons for the change, and some of them are open to economic debate. (The Congressional Research Service issued a paper [PDF] on the divergence in 2006 so that politicians could make sense of it.) Part of the shift can be attributed to increased income inequality owing to globalization and new technology — the wealthy becoming much wealthier, while the rest stayed the same. Part of it can be attributed to increased corporate profits, as new markets opened overseas and new technology lowered costs. Some of it has to do with how the figures are calculated. But the most important political takeaway of the chart is that at the turn of a new century, much of the U.S. stopped feeling the benefits of a growing national economy.
The chart (above) was originally created by NDN and the New Policy Institute, and it helped Democrats change the way they talked about the frustration of the American people. Shortly after the 2010 election, Simon Rosenberg, who runs those left-leaning think tanks, showed the chart to David Axelrod and David Simas, two of Obama’s top political advisers. The point of his presentation was that the emergency of the first two years of the Obama presidency — the Great Recession, brought on by financial collapse — did not explain the economic suffering and resulting anger felt by so many voters. Instead it was a more recent manifestation of a trend that had begun nearly a decade earlier.
“The reason this is happening is because of rising global competition, the defining new economic challenge of our time,” Rosenberg said in a recent interview with TIME. “In the actual experience of the American economy, there has become an enormous gap between the upper one-third and everyone else.”
Simas led the opinion-research effort for the 2012 Obama campaign, and he told me after the election that the chart hung in his Chicago office, along with a caption he derived from a focus-group participant: “I’m working harder and falling behind.” (That same line became a fixture of the President’s stump speech.) The Obama campaign built its strategy to attack Mitt Romney by focusing on the flat red line of median household income. Romney struggled to focus the country’s attention on the suffering and was never able to escape the Obama campaign’s characterization of him as the candidate who didn’t understand. By the end of the campaign, Romney became the candidate who understood GDP and productivity, a corporate turnaround artist out of touch with reality. As polls showed, Obama was the one who better understood the struggles of the middle class.
This is why Cantor’s speech on Tuesday is worth watching. It will be a full-throated effort to reclaim the median-household-income line for the Republican Party. He will mention the stagnation. He will describe Republican solutions aimed at addressing decade-old frustrations: new federal help for paying for school, tax code simplification and a renewed focus on R&D investment. His rhetoric will strongly echo Obama’s campaign stump speech. “Lately it has become all too common in our country to hear parents fear whether their children will indeed have it better than they,” Cantor will say, according to early excerpts of his speech. “Our goal: to ensure every American has a fair shot at earning their success and achieving their dreams.”
For much of the 2012 campaign, Republicans contented themselves with a message focused on decreased federal spending and debt, two policies that addressed the aftermath of the Great Recession but offered no solutions to the economic struggles that had begun a decade earlier. With Cantor’s speech, there is the beginnings of a shift. Like Obama after the 2010 election, Republicans are now directly addressing the fears and frustrations that have been at the heart of each federal election since 2006, a feeling of the country in decline as manifested by stagnant take-home pay. If the 2012 election has any lasting import, it is that fiscally conservative austerity politics alone will not win the day. It must be paired with a broader message. The most important chart in American politics can no longer be ignored.
My VIVID Memories of the Very First Super Bowl--(starting to feel like a really old guy)
As an “older guy” getting ready to watch Super Bowl 47 (Yipes; no Roman Numerals), it has occurred to me how vividly I recall watching the very first “Supergame.” It was 1967, I was 12 years old, and my neighbor had just purchased some new technology—a color television set. The neighbor was not a sports fan, but the Supergame represented one of the first ever live sports broadcasts in something called “living color.” I’d seem football games before, in black and white, but when I had a chance to see the green and gold of the Packers and the bright red and white of the Chiefs, I was stunned. It looked unreal and it was almost impossible to watch the game because of the color.
Many, many years later we now have the Super Bowl. But for some of us, we can and always will remember the first game and the day football changed forever in America. It was a simpler game, and America was definitely not as addicted to football as it is today. My buddies and I spoke more of the color television idea than we ever did of the game. What a difference 47 years can make.
Below is a little history on the first game ever to crown a world champion in football.
The First AFL-NFL World Championship Game in professional American football, later known as Super Bowl I and referred to in some contemporary reports as the Supergame, was played on January 15, 1967 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. The National Football League (NFL) champion Green Bay Packers defeated the American Football League (AFL) champion Kansas City Chiefs by the score of 35–10.
Coming into this game, there was still considerable animosity between the two rival leagues, and both teams felt pressure to win. The Chiefs posted an 11-2-1 record during the 1966 AFL season, and defeated the Buffalo Bills, 31-7, in 1966 AFL Championship Game. The Packers finished the 1966 NFL season at 12-2, and defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 34-27, in the 1966 NFL Championship Game. Still, many sports writers and fans believed that any team in the older NFL was vastly superior to any club in the upstart AFL, and thus expected that Green Bay would blow out Kansas City.
The Super Bowl Game was established as part of the June 8, 1966 merger agreement between the NFL and the AFL. However, Los Angeles was not awarded the game until six weeks prior to the kickoff.
This game is the only Super Bowl to have been broadcast in the United States by two television networks simultaneously (no other NFL game was subsequently carried nationally on more than one network until December 29, 2007, when the New England Patriots faced the New York Giants on NBC, CBS, and the NFL Network). At the time, NBC held the rights to nationally televise AFL games while CBS had the rights to broadcast NFL games. It was decided to have both of them cover the game.
Each network used its own announcers: Ray Scott (doing play-by-play for the first half), Jack Whitaker (doing play-by-play for the second half), and Frank Gifford provided commentary on CBS; while Curt Gowdy and Paul Christman were on NBC.
Super Bowl I was the only Super Bowl in history that was not a sellout in terms of attendance, despite a TV blackout in the Los Angeles area (at the time, NFL games were required to be blacked out in the market of origin, even if it was a neutral site game and if it sold out). Of the 94,000 seat capacity in the Coliseum, 33,000 went unsold. Days before the game, local newspapers printed editorials about what they viewed as a then-exorbitant $12 price for tickets, and wrote stories about how to pirate the signal from TV stations outside the Los Angeles area.
Much to the dismay of television historians, all known broadcast tapes which recorded the game in its entirety were subsequently destroyed in a process of wiping, the reusing of videotape by taping over previous content, by both networks. This was due to the idea that the game wasn’t going to become what it did, no one knew yet about VCRs and the idea of re-broadcastsplus the fact that videotapes were extremely expensive back then.
Calling All Students: Summer 2013 Mission Trip to New Beginnings Village in Nakasangola District, Uganda
For the past two summers, students and adults from in and around Lexington and Central Kentucky have answered God’s call and traveled thousands of miles to Uganda for work with orphans. And our lives have never been the same. God is calling us back for a third year, and we need your help. Please read the following and begin to dream of what God can do through you this summer. Brenda and John Sawyer
During the last two weeks of June 2013 (final dates are still to be decided) we have an opportunity for a mission trip to the New Beginnings Village in Uganda. We need between 8 to12 people at least college age or any age north of that—Brenda and I still think we are college age—to join us for an amazing “only God” experience. There will be an application and interview process, and details of next steps will be forthcoming. This post is a “God appointment” intended to give you just a brief overview of the trip, plant a seed, put you in God-mode and provide you with a link to the Village we will be working in in Uganda.
Uganda has a population of approximately 30,000,000 people and there are an estimated 2,300,000 orphans below the age of seventeen. Sadly, there is at best limited government help for these orphans, and only pockets of help provided by NGOs and church-sponsored groups.
New Beginnings Village was founded five years ago in a rural district three hours north of Kampala. The founder, Roger Annett from Kilkeel, County Down, Northern Ireland, felt God’s call on his life after many visits to Uganda on building teams. Roger was touched by the children he met and with God’s help, he made a life-changing decision to buy land, build a village and begin to care for what is now nearly 90 orphans and underprivileged children
Roger now lives and works on site overseeing all aspects of the work there, providing a full caring service devoted to children. Ugandan men and women selected by Roger serve as house parents and act as a mother/father figure to approximately eight children accommodated in a traditional African style village. The development consists of guest homes, cooking areas, toilet facilities and a number of smaller traditional homes.
Children ages three to 16 are encouraged in academic, vocational and basic life skills, with the goal of the Village to enable them to become productive and self sustainable members of the community.
All of the children and house parents are involved in Bible training and shown the love of Jesus. Teams provide that needed connection between child and parent—you offer hands, love, laughter and affirmation to so many children who have never know the embrace or encouragement of a parent figure. All to show these amazing children that there is a Heavenly father who loves them and that there is a hope for their life in Jesus.
The trip will last two weeks and with travel will take 17 days. The cost is estimated to be between $2,500 and $2,750 per person although final figures will be driven by air fares. The cost will cover all expenses other than incidentals. We will as a team help all of you with fund raising. Travel will be from Lexington to Amsterdam, and then from Amsterdam to Entebbe.
You will need a set of shots for tropical diseases that need to be completed well before we travel, and those will be an added expense. In addition, you’ll need a passport. A Ugandan visa can be obtained on arrival in the country.
Our work in the village will be focused mostly on activities and teaching for the children. Fun days, crafts„ Bible lessons, singing, games and crafts will be the primary focus. Our goal is to help the children have a special “summer vacation” including days out from the Village where they are affirmed and made to be special. We’ll also do cooking, help with sports, work on the Village farm and simply love on the children and staff. We’ll be a sweet offering of encouragement and affection from our Heavenly Father.
Watch this space, Twitter and Facebook for an announcement concerning the time, date and location of an informational meeting where you can pick up a trip packet and have questions answered. Information is also available at Tuesday Night Dinner. Start praying, start talking and start dreaming about where God can use you. He will confirm whether you are headed to Africa to show the love of Jesus to some amazing children. You will be blessed beyond belief by joining this team.
Feel free to contact Brenda Sawyer if you have any questions or simply want to hear more before the upcoming trip meeting.
"And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” Isaiah 6:8
(We are) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness. Romans 3:24-26.
There is no such thing as cheap grace. The gospel is not simply an announcement of pardon. In justification God does not
merely decide unilaterally to forgive us our sins. That is the prevailing idea, that what happens in the gospel is that God freely forgives us of sin because he is such a loving, dear, wonderful God, and it does not disturb him that we violate everything that is holy.
God never negotiates his righteousness. God will never lay aside his holiness to save us. God demands and requires that sin be punished. That is why the cross is the universal symbol of Christianity. Christ had to die because, according to God, the propitiation had to be made; sin had to be punished. Our sin has to be punished.
In the drama of justification, God remains just. He does not set aside his justice. He does not waive his righteousness; he insists upon it. We cannot be justified without righteousness, but the glory of his grace is that his justice is served vicariously by a substitute that he appointed. God’s mercy is shown in that what saves us is not our righteousness. It is someone else’s. We get in on someone else’s coattails—that is grace.
Romans: St. Andrews Expositional Commentary, R.C. Sproul
Death takes no holiday at Christmas. A reflection on "Why, God?"
A column from Maureen Dowd of the New York Times posted on Christmas Day. Read and reflect.
When my friend Robin was dying, she asked me if I knew a priest she could talk to who would not be, as she put it, “too judgmental.” I knew the perfect man, a friend of our family, a priest conjured up out of an old black-and-white movie, the type who seemed not to exist anymore in a Catholic Church roiled by scandal. Like Father Chuck O’Malley, the New York inner-city priest played by Bing Crosby, Father Kevin O’Neil sings like an angel and plays the piano; he’s handsome, kind and funny. Most important, he has a gift. He can lighten the darkness around the dying and those close to them. When he held my unconscious brother’s hand in the hospital, the doctors were amazed that Michael’s blood pressure would noticeably drop. The only problem was Father Kevin’s reluctance to minister to the dying. It tears at him too much. He did it, though, and he and Robin became quite close. Years later, he still keeps a picture of her in his office. As we’ve seen during this tear-soaked Christmas, death takes no holiday. I asked Father Kevin, who feels the subject so deeply, if he could offer a meditation. This is what he wrote:
How does one celebrate Christmas with the fresh memory of 20 children and 7 adults ruthlessly murdered in Newtown; with the searing image from Webster of firemen rushing to save lives ensnared in a burning house by a maniac who wrote that his favorite activity was “killing people”? How can we celebrate the love of a God become flesh when God doesn’t seem to do the loving thing? If we believe, as we do, that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, why doesn’t He use this knowledge and power for good in the face of the evils that touch our lives?
The killings on the cusp of Christmas in quiet, little East Coast towns stirred a 30-year-old memory from my first months as a priest in parish ministry in Boston. I was awakened during the night and called to Brigham and Women’s Hospital because a girl of 3 had died. The family was from Peru. My Spanish was passable at best. When I arrived, the little girl’s mother was holding her lifeless body and family members encircled her.
They looked to me as I entered. Truth be told, it was the last place I wanted to be. To parents who had just lost their child, I didn’t have any words, in English or Spanish, that wouldn’t seem cheap, empty. But I stayed. I prayed. I sat with them until after sunrise, sometimes in silence, sometimes speaking, to let them know that they were not alone in their suffering and grief. The question in their hearts then, as it is in so many hearts these days, is “Why?”
The truest answer is: I don’t know. I have theological training to help me to offer some way to account for the unexplainable. But the questions linger. I remember visiting a dear friend hours before her death and reminding her that death is not the end, that we believe in the Resurrection. I asked her, “Are you there yet?” She replied, “I go back and forth.” There was nothing I wanted more than to bring out a bag of proof and say, “See? You can be absolutely confident now.” But there is no absolute bag of proof. I just stayed with her. A life of faith is often lived “back and forth” by believers and those who minister to them.
Implicit here is the question of how we look to God to act and to enter our lives. For whatever reason, certainly foreign to most of us, God has chosen to enter the world today through others, through us. We have stories of miraculous interventions, lightning-bolt moments, but far more often the God of unconditional love comes to us in human form, just as God did over 2,000 years ago.
I believe differently now than 30 years ago. First, I do not expect to have all the answers, nor do I believe that people are really looking for them. Second, I don’t look for the hand of God to stop evil. I don’t expect comfort to come from afar. I really do believe that God enters the world through us. And even though I still have the “Why?” questions, they are not so much “Why, God?” questions. We are human and mortal. We will suffer and die. But how we are with one another in that suffering and dying makes all the difference as to whether God’s presence is felt or not and whether we are comforted or not.
One true thing is this: Faith is lived in family and community, and God is experienced in family and community. We need one another to be God’s presence. When my younger brother, Brian, died suddenly at 44 years old, I was asking “Why?” and I experienced family and friends as unconditional love in the flesh. They couldn’t explain why he died. Even if they could, it wouldn’t have brought him back. Yet the many ways that people reached out to me let me know that I was not alone. They really were the presence of God to me. They held me up to preach at Brian’s funeral. They consoled me as I tried to comfort others. Suffering isolates us. Loving presence brings us back, makes us belong.
A contemporary theologian has described mercy as “entering into the chaos of another.” Christmas is really a celebration of the mercy of God who entered the chaos of our world in the person of Jesus, mercy incarnate. I have never found it easy to be with people who suffer, to enter into the chaos of others. Yet, every time I have done so, it has been a gift to me, better than the wrapped and ribboned packages. I am pulled out of myself to be love’s presence to someone else, even as they are love’s presence to me.
I will never satisfactorily answer the question “Why?” because no matter what response I give, it will always fall short. What I do know is that an unconditionally loving presence soothes broken hearts, binds up wounds, and renews us in life. This is a gift that we can all give, particularly to the suffering. When this gift is given, God’s love is present and Christmas happens daily.
The story of the three wise men got me wondering: What if you did walk towards a star at a fixed speed? What path would you trace on the Earth? Does it converge to a fixed cycle? —N. Murdoch
From the web site What If with its tag-line: Answering your hypothetical questions with physics, every Tuesday. Check out the site HERE. This article is written with good humor and is a great smash up of the Bible and Physics. Just more confirmation of the majesty and mystery of the Christmas Story—enjoy.
If the wise men leave Jerusalem and walk toward the star Sirius, day and night, even when it’s below the horizon, this is the path they follow over the surface:
If we allow a little theological confusion and assume the wise men can walk on water, they’ll eventually wind up going in an endless circle, 30 kilometers in diameter, around the South Pole.
But let’s be a little more realistic; the wise men are hardly going to walk toward the star while it’s behind the Earth. Let’s assume that they only walk toward the star when it’s in the sky and the Sun has set.
In that case, their path actually takes them through Bethlehem:
If they don’t stop there, after a few years, they wind up orbiting Botswana:
These paths are calculated using, among other things, PyEphem, which provides tools for determining the historical positions of astronomical objects.
It’s tricky to figure out exactly what the wise men would have been following. There aren’t very many good astronomical candidates for the Star of Bethlehem (Chinese records don’t show a supernova at the right time, and none of the other obvious candidates check out) and, furthermore, there’s a lot of historical and theological debate over Jesus’s date of birth (“4 BC” seems to be the closest thing to a historical consensus date). These charts are all calculated for a somewhat arbitrary departure date from Jerusalem of December 25th, 1 AD; different departure days would lead to different paths, but the overall picture would be the same.
What if the wise men followed a planet?
Planets move against the background of stars, so the paths they produce are more complex. Here’s where the Wise Men would’ve gone if they followed Venus:
And here’s their path for Mars:
If the three wise men had a hovercar that could move at highway speed over land and water (it’s in the gnostic gospels somewhere) and decided to follow Venus, they’d take a particularly weird path:
At one point, they wind up near the North Pole in October. There, the Sun and Venus spend months near the horizon, rising and setting, nudging the Magi into a month-long spiral around the pole, a chaotic strange Magi attractor around the North Pole which some argue provides the theological foundation for the story of Santa Claus.
Sadly, the three wise men probably weren’t following Venus. It’s one of the most familiar objects in the night sky, and as the late Sir Patrick Moore observed, if the wise men mistook it for a new star, they couldn’t have been very wise.
But maybe they’re wiser than Sir Patrick gives them credit for. After all, if you pick a random star in the sky, point at the horizon, and predict that there’s a baby about to be born in that direction, statistics—and birth rates—are on your side.
Andy Ellison is an “MRI technologist at Boston University Medical School and has been posting these images on his blog, Inside Insides, he manually acquires from a research Philips 3 Tesla MRI he runs.”
IT IS an epic story of warring factions in a strange and changing landscape, a tale of incursions and sieges, of plots and betrayals, of battlefield brilliance and of cunning with coin.
The sequence of doorstop fantasy novels that George R.R. Martin began with “A Game of Thrones”, and which HBO has now turned into a hit television show, provides the sort of immersive experience of an alien world that has always been popular among techies. But these days the escapism they offer may be tinged with an eldritch sense of recognition. Silicon Valley offers few dragons or direwolves, but Mr Martin’s tales of a world that has lost its king echoes the reality of today’s technology industry, where the battle lines between the four large companies seen as dominating the consumer internet—Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon—are in furious flux. The death last year of Steve Jobs, Apple’s monarch, robbed the technology world of the nearest thing that it had to royalty. But even before Jobs’s passing, tension was growing between the great powers of the web generation as the onset of mobile computing upset the previous balance of power.
The tech industry has a history of bitter rivalries: IBM and Apple in the 1980s; Microsoft and Netscape in the 1990s. But the rivalries shaping the market today are even richer and more complicated, not least because they have a personal edge. Three of the big four are still run by men who made their billions as founder, or co-founder, of their empires—Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Google’s Larry Page and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. And although Jobs no longer rules Apple, he groomed Tim Cook, his successor as chief executive. “In the modern history of technology we have never seen such a highly engaged group of chief executives and founders,” says Mary Meeker, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture-capital company.
Nor has the industry ever seen such young and feisty firms—Apple, the oldest of the quartet, was founded in 1976—with so much financial firepower. Each of the companies has developed a powerful business model. Google has turned search into a huge money-spinner by tying it to advertising. Facebook is in the process of doing something similar with the way people’s interests and relationships are revealed by their social networks. Amazon has made it cheap and easy to order physical goods and digital content online. And Apple has minted money by selling beautiful gadgets at premium prices.
Click on chart for a larger view.
This has let the companies pile cash into their war chests (see table). They will need them. All four grew up when computing was basically something done at a desk or on a laptop with the programs you had to hand. Now, as in Mr Martin’s realm of Westeros, where the reader is always being apocalyptically assured that “winter is coming”, their world is undergoing great change.
The iron phone
As the web becomes something that lives through and on the phone, and software something handled in a cloud, the clear lines that once defined territories and strategies are blurring. A mixture of threat and opportunity has the big four using their cash and acumen to strike out into other areas—sometimes into uninhabited lands, sometimes into places where some other firm is used to ruling the roost. And they are not the only ones involved in the fray.
A host of start-up lordlings—such as Twitter in microblogging, or Square in mobile payments—seeks to carve out fiefs of their own, either with an eye to being bought out by the big four or becoming powers in their own right. And there is an ancient empire to contend with, too: Microsoft, which recently launched its first tablet computer, is trying hard to get back into the game, having been profitably preoccupied with PC software. But it is the battle between the big four that will have the greatest impact in future on the way people find information, consume content and purchase all kinds of stuff, and on who takes their money in return.
The battlefields on which the big four are fighting are, like most battlefields, messy and confusing. They are also numerous. Apple and Google are crossing swords in operating systems for smartphones and tablet computers; both firms and Amazon are butting heads in hardware; Google and Facebook have become sworn enemies in social networking; some of the other protagonists even have designs on e-commerce, which has long been Amazon’s stronghold.
They also have territories to defend. Take Google. Its search engine gives it a rich heartland. The company continues to pour money into refining the algorithms that power this engine. It has reinforced its defences by annexing other services that help find things, for instance by buying ITA Software, a firm that provides flight data and other travel information.
Search engines and siege engines
It will not be easy to wrest this profitable property from Google. But each of the other web giants would dearly love to carve out a chunk. Arguably the biggest threat comes from Apple. The two firms used to enjoy one of the cosiest relationships in the tech industry—so cosy, in fact, that the search firm’s then chief executive, Eric Schmidt, sat on Apple’s board from 2006 to 2009. Now they are locked in a conflict that is every bit as intense as one of Mr Martin’s, if slightly less well provided with incest, debauchery and parricide.
At its heart lies the competition between Apple’s iOS mobile operating system, which powers the iPhone and the iPad tablet computer, and Android, Google’s rival operating system, which is used by a host of manufacturers such as Samsung and HTC. Google snapped up the firm that created Android in 2005 as a strategic hedge; it was worried that its search engine and other services might be excluded from mobile devices owned by potential rivals. It has since turned the system into a formidable competitor to iOS. According to IDC, a market researcher, Android was the system of choice for three-quarters of the 181m smartphones shipped in the third quarter of 2012. Google claims it is activating 1.3m Android devices a day.
What Google portrayed as a smart way to keep options open looked to Apple like a declaration of war, one in which a furious Jobs said he intended to go “thermonuclear”. Apple’s Siri voice-activated personal assistant is part of the attack—a new sort of search engine that can serve up answers to people on the go. Apple’s controversial decision earlier this year to take Google Maps out of iOS and replace it with the company’s own, flawed mapping product is another attempt to provide ways of finding things that are Google independent.
Some experts think Amazon also poses a threat in this battle to find things. “Google used to be the toll-taker, directing people to Amazon,” says John Battelle, a seasoned Valley-watcher and the founder of Federated Media. “Now people are increasingly bypassing it and going straight to Amazon to find and buy stuff.” He has a point: Forrester, a research firm, reckons that 30% of America’s online shoppers begin their search for a product at Amazon. Facebook is also rumoured to be working on a search product with a social spin. Mr Zuckerberg recently said at a conference that, thanks to folk looking for friends and other things, the social network was handling “on the order of a billion queries a day already, and we’re basically not even trying.”
While Apple fights Google on one border, it fights Amazon on another, where the battle is to be the best provider of online content. After it launched the iPod, Apple mounted an unexpected raid into the realm of content with its iTunes digital music store. The content sold the hardware, and vice versa—a successful strategy that started a new rivalry with Amazon, which began as a bookstore in the mid-1990s but soon diversified, first into selling compact discs and DVDs, now into clothes, kitchenware and everything else. But last year 37% of Amazon’s $48 billion revenue still came from media, both physical and digital.
The most hard-fought battle between them so far has been in the e-book market. Amazon accounted for some two-thirds of all digital-book downloads in America last year. Apple accounted for just 5%, but it has been trying to woo publishers away from Amazon with an aggressive strategy that gives them more freedom to determine e-book prices than under Amazon’s terms. In digital music, the tables are reversed, with Amazon’s Cloud Player music service struggling to make a dent in iTunes’ huge market share. In video both firms are trying to make headway against Netflix, which has been turning itself from a DVD renter to a video streamer.