Sunday, October 31, 2004


Since Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has been complaining about "outsourcing," I thought I'd add my two cents to that discussion.

I have two friends, one who is absolutely a Democrat, and another who is quite likely one. Both of them have founded Internet companies that either are - or look as if they will be - fairly successful.

One of these friends has built his company using programmers in the Ukraine and Shanghai. The other started his company using North American programmers, but is now expanding using programmers in Bulgaria.

They are, in a word, outsourcing, and this, of course, has given me a great opportunity for kidding. But kidding aside, I really don't see what they're doing wrong.

Not only are they giving jobs to people in less wealthy parts of the world, but they are also giving jobs to people in the United States. Not to mention making nice products for consumers. So, who's worse off?

Of course, nobody objects to what they're doing. The problem comes with existing companies that decide to lay off people in the U.S. and replace them with people overseas. And that, of course, is painful for the people who lose their jobs.

But should we prohibit companies who have hired people in the U.S. from firing them and replacing them with people overseas? If we do that, then it seems we are giving people like my friends a very unfair advantage. My friends get to pay very low labor costs, while existing companies, which have hired and - for some time, at least - provided a living for American workers, would have to pay higher American labor rates.

At an extreme, the companies with the higher labor costs might go out of business, so the people whose jobs would have been outsourced might lose their jobs anyway.

But I really don't see this happening. I think the concern about outsourcing will die away because other jobs will arise to replace lost jobs. Like what? Well, I think again of one of my friends. He and his partner might not have been able to start their company if it wasn't for low cost programmers in the Ukraine and Shanghai. But because they were able to start their company, now they are able to hire people in the United States - including programmers. These are U.S. jobs that might not otherwise have existed.

So I think in the short run it will be painful for some people, but in the long run there will be more jobs, both in the U.S. and abroad.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Of Address Books and Tigers

I had two conversations in the past few days, both with nuggets worth sharing.

In one instance, a friend and I were talking about the presidential candidates, and he said of John Kerry, "A tiger doesn't change his stripes just because he's running for president."

While true enough, I burst out laughing - imagining all these tigers giving stump speeches.

The second comment was a bit more profound (And what couldn't be more profound than the stripy tiger comment?). A few people from work, including the company founder, went out to lunch the other day, and the founder, who is extremely bright and very successful, made this off-the-cuff remark. He said that sometimes he forgets people he has met, so he occasionally reads through his address book just to remind himself about them.

That may sound as dull as yesterday's spaghetti to you, but to me it is profound, at least for entrepreneurs. I believe much of my boss's success is due to his connections, and to his hiring and working with people he trusts.

It made me think of how many people I've met, chatted with, liked, whose talents I've admired, and then whom I've forgotten. How stupid! It's like you're doing an interview whenever you meet someone new. Why don't we draw on that knowledge and reenforce it by reviewing our address books periodically?

Sunday, October 17, 2004


I just finished reading the book of Leviticus (in the Bible) just because I thought I ought to every once in a while, not because I find it particularly enjoyable, it being essentially a list of regulations, some of which have a logic that is completely opaque to me.

But some things about Leviticus did strike me as interesting. One was its detail. In it is described with far more detail than I'm sure most of us would care for, various kinds of offerings, animals that can be offered, flaws that make them unaccpetable, exactly how much grain is to be used in offerings. How the offering is to be cut apart, what is to be done with it after it is offered. Etc.

I wondered about some of the regulations. Why was God so insistent that these sacrifices be done in such a particular way? And then, a little further on, I read the threats against those who offer up their children as offerings to Moloch, and I thought, "Okay, maybe that's why."

I suspect that all worship, whether Christian or Jewish or whatever, is to a some extent similar. Even those who offer up sacrifices to the Devil ... well, they offer up sacrifices. I can imagine that if the Israelites were offering up whatever sacrifices they pleased and the followers of Moloch were offering up the sacrifices they pleased, the Israelites might be inclined to say, "Hey, why don't we try giving our children as burnt offerings, like the Caananites are doing?"

Maybe that is the reason for many of the precise regulations in the Old Testament. Perhaps they are intended to make clear to the Israelites that the worship of God is not to be confused with the worship of false gods offered by neighboring peoples, whatever the superficial resemblances may be. God may have demanded differences in their service simply (or partially) to separate the worship of God more completely from the practices of Israel's neighbors, which, if adopted in part, might be adopted in their awful, sinful whole.

Or maybe - entirely likely - God simply has reasons about which I have no clue.

Another curiosity that struck me is "uncleanness." Throughout the book people and things are either clean or unclean. It seems to be a negative for whomever is unclean, but it does not necessarily imply any sin on their part. Even a moldy house or clothing can be unclean. Sexual relations cause you to be unclean. Burying a body makes you unclean.

If you're unclean it appears people were supposed to avoid touching you until you are clean again, and priests weren't supposed to be involved in service to God if they were unclean.

It almost seems like a combination of health regulations (and it was easy to see the health value of some of the rules) and, to put it in modern terminology, "Wear good, clean clothes to church." In other words, you wouldn't want to see your pastor walk up to the pulpit, setting aside a plumber's plunger with which he'd been unclogging his toilet, wipe his grimy hands on his shirt, and then with those same filthy hands open his Bible and begin to preach.

Nothing wrong with fixing a broken toilet. It's a good thing to do. But most people regard it as pretty filthy work, and I think Leviticus suggests that we should not associate things that disgust us with God.

Another thing that struck me is what seemed to be the needless complexity of regulations regarding sexual relations. Why doesn't Leviticus just say, "Limit your sexual relations to your husband or wife?" Well, at that time men could apparently have concubines and slave women with whom they could have sexual relations. (This is suggested in some of the regulations.)In thinking of this, I was reminded of Jesus' comment that Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of the people's hearts.

I wonder if some of these Levitical regulations were because the people had hard hearts. Jesus said a man should have one wife, in which case the command I suggest in the previous paragraph might be appropriate, but if, because of men's hard hearts, they insist on having multiple wives, or wives and concubines, or wives and slave women, or whatever combination, then life becomes much more complex and the rules of sexual behavior become much more complex.

It occurs to me that ideals are often simple, whether it is for marriage or something else. But when the ideal needs to compromise with people's hard hearts, things can get messy. But it is interesting that God - for a while - was willing to make that compromise while leading people more firmly toward monogamy. But the compromise was accompanied by fierce penalties for those who wanted to be even harder of heart. God drew a line, not where he wanted, but where he would temporarily accept.

The final thing that occurs to me is what I will call the "unscalability" of the sacrificial system outlined in Leviticus. As we would say in the software business, "It doesn't scale," meaning that some things can be done easily if you're only doing it a few times, but it becomes extremely difficult to do it thousands or tens of thousands of times over.

While offering the complex and numerous sacrifices detailed in Leviticus was possible for a limited number of people, it would appear to be increasingly difficult to do as the number of people increased. Also, as I recall, the tabernacle (and later the temple) were of a very precise size, and simply would not accomodate sacrifices for tens of millions of people.

Either God did not anticipate this, which seems rather unlikely, or it was his intention that this not be a permanent arrangement, and that perhaps his intention was that the sacrificial system of Leviticus be seen as a foreshadowing of Christ's all-sufficient sacrifice.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

What's Wrong With Trade Deficits?

I went out for coffee the other day with a liberal friend of mine who was concerned about the U.S. trade deficit with China. He tried to persuade me that it is a problem, but I just don't get it. There are so many real problems in the world, why would anybody spend a moment worrying about the trade deficit.

I'm not an economist (and if I'm wrong about this, I invite any bright economists out there to explain why) but as I reflect on my life, I realize that my family has for years had a very serious trade deficit with the local supermarket. We pay the market money and the folks there give us food. However, we have never sold anything back to Ralph's; but if this is a problem, I don't see why.

But maybe it's different between sovereign countries. Maybe because countries can mint their own money, that makes a difference. I'm not sure why it would, but let's assume it does.

So, basically, the complaint is that we are buying more from China (or whomever) than China is buying from us.

But it seems that there are only two possible things that can happen with the dollars we send to China: 1) they are used to purchase U.S. goods and services, possibly after being traded through many countries, or 2) they are never used to purchase U.S. goods and services.

So, if someone eventually buys U.S. goods or services with those dollars, then the trade deficit "problem" is solved.

On the other hand, if the Chinese bury the dollars in a wet hole in the ground until they rot, then the U.S. has obtained some nice products or services from China, and all the Chinese got out of the deal was some rotted paper. I think we Americans would be happy to have a trade deficit like that forever! We could send the Chinese worthless paper and they'd give us lots of nice stuff.

Unfortunately for that bright idea, the Chinese are not such idiots.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Intelligent Design in Wired

The latest copy of Wired magazine has a fairly good discussion of Intelligent Design, which Wired (on the cover of its paper version, at least) calls "Creationism 2.0." Cute.

If you can get past the sensational cover art ("THE PLOT TO KILL EVOLUTION" in blood-red letters, complete with telescopic crosshairs aimed at the head of an evolving man) the actual discussion of the political aspect of intelligent design was quite good. I wish the author had beefed up the scientific part of the discussion, but still, not bad at all. There's even a sidebar by George Gilder that explains why he subscribes to intelligent design.

It's a good read. The intelligent design argument, if you are not familiar with it, basically says there are certain vital aspects of life that are "irreducably complex," meaning that they are complicated and cannot be made simpler, which means they could not have started simpler and become more complex by evolution. There needs to have been some designer at work.

For more on the topic, I'd recommend Darwin's Black Box by Lehigh University's Michael Behe; Icons of Evolution by Jonathan Wells, Darwin on Trial, by Phillip Johnson and Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, by Michael Denton. For a more specifically Christian view, The Fingerprint of God, by Hugh Ross, is excellent. And of course, it's always fun to go back and read Darwin's Origin of Species to see the other side of the argument. Here's a review I wrote of it.

UPDATE: My friend Chris also recommends God the Evidence : The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason in a Postsecular World by Patrick Glynn.