Monday, August 24, 2009

Nephi's Psalm

Scripture study yesterday got me thinking, so I put some thoughts to paper. Here's what came out:

One of the most important, yet often forgotten, doctrines of the Gospel is found in 2 Nephi 4:15-35. These verses are sometimes called “Nephi’s Psalm”. Nephi’s father Lehi has just passed away, and Nephi is alone as the family’s prophetic leader. Perhaps weighed down by this responsibility, coupled with the passing of his father, Nephi writes of his sadness at not living up to the blessings he has received. He recounts how he and his family have been led through the wilderness to a promised land, choice above all other lands. He has seen angels, been carried away to the tops of mountains, and had many marvelous visions. Yet he still falls prey to temptation. Indeed, in verse 27 he writes,

“And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul?”

There are a couple of important lessons to be gleaned from the verses to this point. First, it can be somewhat heartening to know that a person as righteous and close to God as Nephi is can still feel inadequate at times. There is a measure of comfort to be taken from the knowledge that even a prophet can feel overwhelmed by their weaknesses. Additionally, these verses teach us that the closer we get to righteousness, the more our own failings, however small they may be, become apparent to us.

The seminal lesson to be learned, though, is how Nephi deals with these feelings of failure.

He writes,

“And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support.

Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God.”

All of us, every one, can relate to Nephi’s feelings of depression and failure. We strive to do what’s right. We raise families, attend church meetings, fulfill our callings and reach out to those around us. It can seem overwhelming at times. Often, we fail to do what we know we ought. But do not let that recognition of our own weakness allow us to be led by Satan down a path of depression and discouragement. Those moments of failure are some of the most important moments of our lives. They offer us the opportunity to look heavenward, to know in whom we have trusted, and tie us ever closer to our Father in Heaven.

Too often we, like Nephi, have the light of truth shine on our small imperfections and we feel like we’ll never make it, that we’ll never be good enough. But that is not the message of the Gospel! The “good news” is that, through the Atonement, we can triumph over our sins. This is a marvelous promise. In the words of Ammon, “there never were men that had so great reason to rejoice as we.” And why should we rejoice? The Savior taught us why, when he appeared to Joseph Smith in the Kirtland temple and said,

“Behold, your sins are forgiven you; you are clean before me; therefore, lift up your heads and rejoice."

May our voices, like Nephi’s, forever ascend up to Him. For if they do, we will never despair.

Friday, August 21, 2009

How You Can Make Millions of Dollars And Go Bankrupt

One of the principles of accounting is to match revenue and expenses to the period they are incurred. That becomes problematic when you are working on a long term project like building a house. You might start the house in August but not finish and sell it until February. Under normal circumstances, you would show your profit in February. However, you've been working on it, and incurring costs on it, for the seven months previous. Shouldn't your income statement take that into account?

The percentage of completion accounting method allows you to do so. When you start building that house in August you also start recognizing some of the profit. Assuming you build at a steady pace, you would finish 12.5% of the house per month. Accordingly, you would recognize 12.5% of the projected cost and revenue each month.

But here's the problem. This only works if you are certain to sell the building when it's done, ie. you have a contract in place. Commercial construction works this way, but the housing market only partially so. When you contract with a builder to start a home, you generally have to put in some earnest money. This assures the builder you won't walk away in the middle of construction and leave them with an unsold property. However, and this happened a lot during the recently ended housing boom, the earnest amount can be quite low. So low that it isn't much of a barrier to backing out of the contract.

If the builder was using the percentage of completion method in this case, then not only have they lost the sale, but they've already recognized a portion of the expected profit from that house. Couple that with the rapid decline in housing prices we've just experienced, and you can see how a builder can see profits on one income statement and nothing but red ink on the next.

This is a lesson on reading financial statements. I have talked to troubled business owners who say they were profitable and don't fully understand what happened. They didn't understand what accounting system they were using, and so didn't understand the risks involved.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cheneyed By A Guy Named Barack Obama

Those crazy right wing extremists are at it again, calling president Obama a fascist:

From the Huffington Post:
A memo obtained by the Huffington Post confirms that the White House and the pharmaceutical lobby secretly agreed to precisely the sort of wide-ranging deal that both parties have been denying over the past week.

The memo, which according to a knowledgeable health care lobbyist was prepared by a person directly involved in the negotiations, lists exactly what the White House gave up, and what it got in return.

Critics on Capitol Hill and online responded with outrage at the reports that Obama had gone behind their backs and sold the reform movement short. Furthermore, the deal seemed to be a betrayal of several promises made by then-Sen. Obama during the presidential campaign, among them that he would use the power of government to drive down the costs of drugs to Medicare and that negotiations would be conducted in the open.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"A Picnic That Changed The Course of History"

From the AP:
Twenty years ago Wednesday, members of Hungary's budding opposition organized a picnic at the border with Austria to press for greater political freedom and promote friendship with their Western neighbors.

Once the initial group got through hundreds more East Germans joined them. Still vivid in Bella's mind was the reactions of the Germans, including many young people and families with small children, once they were on the other side.

"They embraced, they kissed, they cried and laughed in their joy. Some sat down right across the border, others had to be stopped by the Austrian guards because they kept running and didn't believe they were in Austria," Bella said. "It was in incredible experience for them."
Hungary, it turns out, has an interesting history.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I Love That 'Regular' People Are Getting Involved...Oh, And Larry O'Donnell Is Still A Shmuck

This video annoys me for a couple of reasons.

First, for Larry O'Donnell to cluck cluck about having a rational debate without yelling and screaming is incredibly ironic considering his meltdown about Mitt Romney's mormonism. You can watch it here. But really, that's indicative of pretty much everyone who has cluck clucked about the tone and tenor of the folks attending the town hall meetings across the country; it wasn't too long ago they were whining about their own free speech rights while burning US soldiers in effigy.

Second, O'Donnell is oozing fake niceness and understanding here. What a shmuck. He set up this woman and set out to make her look bad. This was not journalism, or debate. This was an orchestrated hit job. It's not often I watch these pundit shows, and this clip reminded me why. In fact, this clip typifies exactly why people like Katy Abram aren't involved in politics. No one's actually interested in solving things. It's all just a sick game to them.

Which brings me to my final point. I struggled watching this clip because I could see right away where it was headed. I wished I could have been in her place, as I'm fairly certain I have already heard and answered every inane question O'Donnell was prepared to ask. And that's the point. Too many people have left to others the task of being informed. Too many people shy away from political conversation. But now, many of these people are waking up, getting involved, going to town hall meetings. They know they don't like what's going on, but they don't know how to articulate it. Because these are their first baby steps into political conversation they've never heard someone like O'Donnell try to argue that Medicare is great so stop complaining about government health care.

This is the reason I enjoy blogging so much. I have come into contact with people all over this country from every political stripe. I have heard arguments for and against just about every issue, and I've had to defend my own positions time and again. I've become known as 'the political one' among my friends and family, and am always ready to join a political conversation wherever it arises. But those occur far too infrequently.

We need more of this. We need more political conversations - at home, at work, with friends and family. With more people sharing and hearing, the real issues will come into focus. People will be less able to be dismissed as a 'mob', less able to be sneered at in contempt like Larry O'Donnell did in this video. Oh, the O'Donnells of the world will still sneer, but if you answer from a place of knowledge and experience, they'll be revealed for the empty windbags they really are.

Health Care Lies That Are Deceiving the Public

I've read in a few places how the lies being spread in the media and elsewhere about Health Care reform are distorting the public's perception of the issue and making it difficult to have a rational debate. So I've put together a quick list of lies I've come across:

1. There are 46 million uninsured Americans.

See here and here for a serious debunking of this dubious statistic.

2. These plans are only for a "Public Option", not for single payer

President Obama has been quite eloquent in explaining away this myth.

3. You will get to keep your current insurance even if this reform bill is passed

This is one of those sorta, kinda technically true statements. Sure, there's nothing in the bill that I'm aware of that forces you to drop your current insurance plan. But in reality, millions of Americans who get their insurance through their work will find their employers dropping their plans. So it's not really truthful to say you'll get to keep your current plan if you so choose.

4. We need more government involvement because our current free market system is failing.

Hard to say we've got a free market system when government programs Medicare, Medicaid and SCHIP pay for 47% of health care in this country.

5. The reform bill includes measures for preventive care, which will drastically reduce overall health care costs.

Not according to the Congressional Budget Office, which quotes a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine which says,
"Sweeping statements about the cost-saving potential of prevention ... are overreaching. Studies have concluded that preventing illness can in some cases save money but in other cases can add to health care costs. For example, screening costs will exceed the savings from avoided treatment in cases in which only a very small fraction of the population would have become ill in the absence of preventive measures. Preventive measures that do not save money may or may not represent cost-effective care (i.e., good value for the resources expended). Whether any preventive measure saves money or is a reasonable investment despite adding to costs depends entirely on the particular intervention and the specific population in question.

Although some preventive measures do save money, the vast majority reviewed in the health economics literature do not."
6. The initial cost projections are at $1 Trillion over the first ten years, but don't worry, the president assures us it will be paid for and won't add to the deficit.

Hmmmm...where have we heard that before?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"The Most Open Government Ever" Won't Answer A Simple Question

In response to the very vocal opposition to the health care reform plans being railroaded through Congress, the White House recently asked US citizens to send them any "fishy" (their word) information they may have gotten in emails and the like.

In an interview conducted on Fox News, White House spokesperson Bill Burton was asked what was being done with the email addresses and other information being sent to them per their request. Mr. Burton was extremely evasive, until finally the question was put this way:
"In an environment when you have the Speaker of the House referring to these people as swastika wearing, where you have another democrat calling them Nazis, where you have the president calling complaints about health care "smears" and saying he's going to fight them and then the White House comes out and says "send us the emails", those who are behind the emails may feel a little reluctant to engage in such speech in the future. And that is the complaint, not just cable news has about it, Bill Burton, but the ACLU has come out and said "we've got a serious problem with that."
Here's the entire interview:

This really is an example of when evading a question makes it an even bigger deal than if you had simply answered it. Perhaps the White House strategy is to not justify with a response what they feel are silly questions, but when you're directly asked a question four or five times and you flail around like Mr. Burton did, you're just raising more doubts.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Dueling Health Care Videos

The first video shows clips of President Obama and others explaining how a public option is the first step to getting rid of private health care. The second is a quick follow up from the White House's youtube page showing President Obama promising that if you like your current doctor and insurance, his plan won't take that away from you. What it doesn't explain are his past statements as shown in the first video, other than to say they were taken out of context, nor does it explain that while the government technically won't "force" you to use the public option, it is making it so that your employer just won't offer it to you anymore.


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