Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Mind" -> What Should We Lend

"But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back" --Luke 6:35

There are many things in life that are easy to talk about:  What are you doing this weekend?  What is your favorite type of music?  Where do you want to go on vacation?

However, some areas of conversation will immediately throw off negative interactions in many circumstances:  What is your religion?  Why do you believe that?  What do you think about race relationships?  What do you think about sex and when it can be used?

And there is the money questions.

Money signifies our time and effort.  It is our focus of power.  It allows us to control or not control our lives.  A flow of money can make one highly dependent or highly independent.

"The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender."--Proverbs 22:7 

When you give money to somebody, and you expect them to pay you back, they become indebted to you.  This indebtedness is power over them.

Now, I was raised with very simple rules on lending to people.  I was the son of a depression era child, and a grandson of a man that made his money with only an eighth grade education.  On my maternal side of the family, my mother would agree with my father on this, but only for opposite reasons.  My father did and trained pretty much what his father taught him.  My mother saw the problems from not following these rules on her side.

Rule 1:  Give and never expect it back

I really only broke this rule once, and it was a complete disaster.  Here is what happened.  I was in a circumstance where a friend wanted to borrow some money to buy a computer, when computers were first coming out.  The kids of today may not remember, but the first personal computers were very expensive and didn't do much other than word processing and spreadsheets.  There wasn't even and internet..  He was an extremely likable person, and seemed to have a very good reason for why he needed to borrow the money.  I lent him the money, fully expecting to get the money back.  However, as it became the time to pay back, there was a problem, and suddenly he could not pay the bill.  Now, the amount of money that he wanted was worth maybe 3-4 days of my salary at the time.  I had a good job and my wife had a good job.

The problem is that I expected to be paid back, and when it did not happen the way that I expected, it made me upset at the person.  I could afford to give the money, but somehow I felt that the person had really let me down and had misled me about their ability to pay me back.  It was as if this person had stolen from me, and it made me mad.  It had permanently ruined any possibility of a relationship with this person.

Recently, I had a friend come to me and ask me if he could borrow a substantial amount of money for an investment idea that he had.

"I'll pay you back in 3-4 months.  I just need a bridge loan," he said.

Now, this person is generous and generally reliable, but he wanted a big chunk of money, roughly a month's worth of salary.  He is well placed at my company, and he should be able to have money to to do stuff.  The risk, I would imagine, would be low.

"You know, I've been taught by my Grandfather and my Dad to never lend money," I said.  "I'll think about it overnight, but I want you to know that this is just something that I've been taught never to do."  I did think about it overnight, and I went back and told him no.

"I am proud of my heritage," I said.  "I just can't do something like this because I've stressed to my own kids that this isn't the type of thing that you should do with friends."

Interestingly, he understood.  He said that he knew that lending money is risky to friendships.

Let's say that you think I am too hard nose.  Well at least I hope you aren't stupid.  While this was a friend with a good job, I still don't know what is really going on in his life.

If I lent a large some of money to him, I would want to make sure that he was spending it on the right stuff.  I would be watching him everyday and wanting him to show that he understood that this was a big chunk of money.  If he went out for lunch and didn't bring a brown bag, I would be thinking to myself "He's spending my money.  I don't think he should be doing that."

If he played golf, I would be thinking, "He playing golf with my money."

This is the reason why you need to give without expecting it back.  If you don't expect it back, you won't sit and say "Well that person is spending it wrong."  Once you give the money away, it is their money.  This means that you need to let it go, and the worry and stress is gone from you.

However, this is an interesting experiment, because it made me think about how much my friendship with him was worth.  I made up my mind that I would be willing to give him one day of my wages if he really needed it.  This was free and clear.  In some ways, it would be like going over to a friends to help them move for a day.  You shouldn't expect that you'll get a return.

Rule 2:  Give to those that are needy

"If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you. 36 Do not take interest or any profit from them, but fear your God, so that they may continue to live among you. 37 You must not lend them money at interest or sell them food at a profit." --  Leviticus 25:35-37

The interesting thing about my friend that was borrowing money is that there is not reason for him to borrow money.  If I had agreed to lend money to him, I would have asked him a series of financial questions.

"What is your salary?"
"What are you buying?"
"What is your leverage?"
"Why do you think this is a good deal?"
"Have you plotted out your cash flow?"

I'm sure if I dug into his reason for having money, he would be making choices that I found very unsatisfactory.  Thus as I found more and more, I would be convinced that he was making a bad decision.  Generally, people that try to borrow money like this don't have good money sense.  In this case, I know this individual is very heavily leveraged, and if the economy goes a bit south again, he will be destroyed.  He is gambling that the economy will stay the same or get better.

Thus once I started to get into his finances, I would have had a conflict.  Not because he needed money, but because I felt he was doing something stupid.  He was doing something that I would never do.

Therefore, if you are going to lend, you should lend to the those that are needy.  The poor are not trying to blow their own money (in most cases).  They are trying to simply figure out how to live.  If you combine this with the original passage from Luke at the top of the post, you'll have what God's plan is for us.

We lend to the poor.  Now, the poor may chose to pay us back.  If they do, then they say something about themselves.  I believe that their reward is just, and God will honor that they wish to own no man a debt.  However, if they cannot pay you back, you have done your duty as a Christian and allowed them to live.

No, I did not lend to my friend with a good job.  However, my wife and I do contribute to and make this our place of giving.  There is no more important calling that to wish our Brothers and Sisters both spiritual health, but also heath of physical body.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

"Mind" -> Robert A Heinlein Lives Again In John Scalzi

I often wonder if the modern age has lowered our ability to think and imagine.  Not that all electronics and web is bad, but that when our children sit in front of a PC and play games for an extended period, they are living other people's visual experience rather than creating their own internal experience.  We don't have the data on the new breed of children that we are raising, but we will have the data in the future.  So, we'll just need to wait to see what our culture reaps.

One of question asked in the "Old Man's War" universe is about the integration of technology into the human genome.  In many ways, Scalzi paints a picture of technology naturally extended, and provides a straight-forward and exciting read in the style of Robert A Heinlein.

But I get ahead of myself.

As a young child, my entertainment was either 7 channels of television, or the local library.  If seven channels don't sound like much (and we had no VCR kids), you are right.  You couldn't depend on video for entertainment.  We gravitated towards reading.

The Newport Library was just a mile away, and although I didn't often walk it, my mother would drive me down there so I could devour the science fiction section.  While I loved the short stories of Ray Bradbury with both of his books "R is for Rocket" and "S is for Space", the author that I loved to read best was Robert A Heinlein.

Heinlein's juvenile fiction often would feature a geeky type boy that would know more than those around him and was subversive for some greater good.  I felt like I was one of these individuals in my own young life.  I quickly wore out the young adult science fiction and I moved into books like "Stranger In A Strange Land."  Unfortunately, I found myself disliking Heinlein move toward sexuality and free love as a young unmarried Christian.  In addition, his writing simply started to get a bit sloppy and unfocused.  However, I always longed for the days of my earlier Heinlein, where he would write tight narratives of people struggling and planning.  Much of Heinlein did not have confused characters that were unfocused, but instead had people that reacted and moved with purpose.

John Scalzi could have scrapped his name off of the "Old Man's War" trilogy, and many individuals would have assumed that we had found another Heinlein book (ignoring the updated technology).  Scalzi did this on purpose and mentioned in his book that it was influenced by Heinlein.

Now it is with deep regret that Scalzi's writing references enough sex that I cannot suggest that my young Christian children read the books.  Not that there is an overabundance of sex.  If one chose, a bowdlerized version would leave 99.9% of the writing intact.  For those that can blow past a small amount of this, the book is just simply a great read.  Scalzi is not what I would call hard core technology.  However, he is thoughtful in his science.  In the blog post below this I mentioned Suzanne Collins.  Unfortunately, Collins is almost painfully ignorant of science in her books.  For all practical purposes Collins would have been better to describe her technology as magic, to give it some sense.

Scalzi, in contrast, actually shows science in the science fiction.  While his characters are not deep, they do show some great gedanken experiments on what will happen as we evolve our technology and what this means for life and the universe as a whole.

There is one section that borrows heavily from Gulliver's Travels that is less than believable, but overall this section is mercifully short, and may even be a wink at the audience.

The interesting thing about Scalzi is that he had no contract to publish his first book.  He simply wrote something and published it up on the web.  This was discovered by TOR, and they published the book.  The book then went on to be nominated for a Hugo award.  Sometimes talent will be found out.

The first novel simply dealt with the question of "what would happen if the end of your life just happened to be the beginning of a new life as a soldier?" From this simple premise, he is able to weave a compelling action-adventure story about the human race.  We are introduced to the main character, which plays through out the entire book.  His character is introduced to a potential love interest, and he nicely sets up the idea that this love interest may some day be introduced into the main characters life.  The book ends, however, without resolution of this theme.

Having a following, Scalzi then goes off to build on this universe and focuses the second book more on the love interest and leaves the first character behind.  This also allows Scalzi to ask the question "What is the nature of being human?"  Scalzi does not drive into some deep psychological driven discourse or spend lots of time navel gazing.  Instead, Scalzi puts force clear ideas of man's intrinsic human nature and places it immediately into context of an action-adventure theme.

I am a member of my daughter introduced me to this site--and I checked out the reviews of this second book of the series before dedicating 3-4 hours of my time reading the book.  Most of the readers said his second book has not as good as his first.

I disagree.  Scalzi was on a roll in his universe when he was writing the series, and his second book lends itself nicely to his constructs.  Overall, another great page turner.

Although there is no clear lead character to the novel, the love interest in the first book is prominently displayed in the second book and is one of the leads.  We get a bit more hint of this person's background, and there are a couple scenes where we can see Scalzi's thoughts about what makes a relationship tick, trickle into the picture.

"The Last Colony" is the last book.  It is nice that Scalzi is now able to pull the original character lead from the first book and the love interest into a final story to resolve his final question of "What  is family and how should a family relate?"

In some sense, because he attempts to place the characters into a situation that is more analogous to every day life on earth, the science becomes pretty thin.  However, at the same time, I think he does a nice job of introducing politics in a new age.

After all, the theme of the book is family, and we can see that Scalzi is favoring what his view of a family should be:  The parents are wise.  The kids are respectful but fun.  The situation is critical all the time, and bring out the best in our heroes.

In conclusion, there will be people that criticize Scalzi for not having much more dysfunctional heroes, which seem to be the trend these days.  I kept waiting for some horrid secret to come out during the dialogs, but Scalzi felt no need for these types of plot twists.

Scalzi simply decided to layout a strong and clear story.  He did this in the style of Heinlein, and if you are willing to overlook a small amount of sex, I can strongly recommend the books for any person that likes a does of SciFi every once in a while.