Monday, September 30, 2013

Economics devotional on scarcity

The fundamental problem economics addresses is that of scarcity-- we have limited resources to satisfy our unlimited wants and needs. But why do we have scarcity? Why do we have unlimited wants and needs? How should we reflect on it as Christians?

Genesis 3:22-23 (NASB): Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken.”

In the Garden, man worked without sweat or pain. Food, shelter, life, and God were in abundant supply. Man rejected God’s commands and provision in the Garden, and the result was scarcity became a reality. This is the reason why we struggle to “make ends meet,” why we stress about our grades and job performance, why we struggle to keep from doing things that ultimately harm us. The story would be a depressing tragedy if that’s all there was to it.

But God provided a sacrifice--Jesus-- to atone for our sinfulness. The Living Sacrifice made a promise to those who follow Him: “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3).

Christians have the promise that one day God and all we need will again be in full supply,
“and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Revelation 21:4). This should encourage us-- the scarcity we study in this class is a temporary thing-- if we are Christians.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

How to calculate your calories burned without a heart rate monitor

Until a few weeks ago I had gone through a lot of P90X and Insanity without a heart rate monitor. Both programs give you a generic guesstimate at calories burned. P90X says estimate 600 calories per workout, Insanity advertises 1,000 (which is a gross overestimate). But making estimates like this is like never looking at your paycheck from work-- you WANT to make sure every penny is there.

Calories burned during a workout vary depending on your sex, height, weight, and heart rate. Smaller women burn fewer calories than large men (which women sometimes gripe about).

Here's the basic formula, taken from someone's fitness website

Men use the following formula:
Calories Burned = [(Age x 0.2017) + (Weight x 0.09036) + (Heart Rate x 0.6309) -- 55.0969] x Time / 4.184.
Women use the following formula:
Calories Burned = [(Age x 0.074) -- (Weight x 0.05741) + (Heart Rate x 0.4472) -- 20.4022] x Time / 4.184.

But how do you know what your heart rate is without a heart rate monitor (which would calculate calories for you anyway)?
What you can do with Insanity and P90X, both of which have periodic breaks as part of the sort of interval training, is take your heart rate at the breaks. Look at the clock on the screen and take your pulse for 10 seconds. Write that number down each time (I logged it in my phone as I jogged, stretched, whatever).

I put all those numbers down in a spreadsheet and averaged them. Since the intervals are irregular in some workouts, I looked what the time was for each part and calculated a weighted average. Multiply your average by 6 and you have your BPM to plug into the formula above.

Since I've bought a heart monitor, I've been able to check my calculated averages. I had varying results. For some Insanity exercises, the break is right after a lower-impact exercise in which my heart rate had already come down anyway, so I was never really measuring the time in between when my heart rate spiked. In other cases, vice-versa.

My advice? Avoid the hassle of focusing on counting your pulse correctly and later averaging it by spending the money on a heart rate monitor. I got a Polar FT7 for $80 from Amazon and love it, it does all the work for me and has other cool features.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Cyrus Hamlin - The first BAM practicioner in Turkey

Business as Mission and Business for Transformation (B4T) are something being "discovered" by the Church thanks, in part, to people like Patrick Lai. But as I read books from the 1800s, I discover a whole lot of history, ideas, and "pioneering" that have simply been forgotten...there really is "nothing new under the sun" (Ecc. 1:9).

Cyrus Hamlin is a case in point, a truly remarkable American missionary to Armenians in Istanbul from 1838-1876. His life story is told in his autobiography, My Life and Times, which you can read for free. It is that book which which I quote from below.

Before entering full-time ministry, Hamlin had been an apprentice silversmith and jeweler in Maine. He had an engineering mind, and even created the first steam engine in the state of Maine while he was an undergraduate. He took his skills overseas when he was posted to Istanbul, after completing seminary.

Hamlin helped establish a Protestant seminary in Istanbul, reaching Armenians. His students were poor, requiring scholarships, and were facing heavy persecution from both Armenian Catholics and the  Armenian Orthodox, which forbid congregants from doing business with them, and tried to get the seminary shut down.  Hamlin begged the American Board to grant him funds and permission to start a workshop at the school to teach his students' viable trades. The board complained that Hamlin was trying to "secularize the ministry:"

"The skill and industry of the boys became too interesting and attracted too much attention. The Turks considered me specially Satanic, because, has has been stated, all skill and invention according to their theology, or demonology, come from Satan. Then, too, my Christian brethren feared that I was secularizing the missionary work. It was not liked at the Missionary House. My brother Hannibal, then residing in Boston, heard so many unfriendly criticisms, that he wrote to me, begging me to make a defense of my course...I was doing, in a poor feeble way, and in only a few cases, what our Saviour did for the lame, the halt, and the blind. I had the lame and the blind, and I resolved to help them in the best way I could and to the extent of my ability, fearing naught" (276-278).
Hamlin's plan worked. Training students in basic metalwork and carpentry helped them secure jobs and start businesses of their own.

"The success of our workshop enabled me to give various employments to the most necessitous of men with families, who had not been able to obtain any work" (291).

The Christian nature of Hamlin's students endeared them to the community, as one customer said "These Protestants do not overcharge and cheat like other men, but they are just and speak the truth!" (292).

These tradesmen went on to pastor churches, and provide income for churches they were a part of. Hamlin converted part of the workshop into a bakery that became wildly successful-- Hamlin secured the contract to be the sole provider of bread to the British Army's hospital in Istanbul during the Crimean War. Hamlin credits these enterprises for the funds to build thirteen protestant Armenian churches in Turkey (272). There was apparently a great movement of God in seeing Armenian churches planted in these years, and Hamlin's courage to teach enterprise alongside theology was a part of what helped it grow.

Hamlin's reputation in the community and around the world helped him found Robert College, an institution which still stands in Istanbul today. I'm sure he'd find it amusing that in 2013 several missions organizations are now exploring "business as missions" and maybe even patting themselves on the back for their pioneering work.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

I like interval training

I got this infographic off of Pinterest and enjoy it. My favorite factoid is "It takes approximately 5 calories to consume 1 liter of oxygen." I think about that when I'm breathing A LOT while doing Insanity, which is a lot of interval training (though it doesn't quite fit the guidelines of the three programs above). I'm a minimalist-- get the most that you can with the least that you can; high-intensity interval training is the way to do it. You'd better be consuming your carbs and protein afterwards, though-- you burn a lot of calories fast!

Here are two articles on interval training from the NY Times' Well Blog that I recommend.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

One Christian's Proposed Compromise for Action on Syria: Drop Barriers, Not Bombs

Instead of dropping bombs, why not remove the quota on visas granted to Syrians to live and work in the U.S.?  We would open the door for tens of thousands to improve their lot rather than live for years in limbo or be forced to return to a dangerous situation. That would be a lot cheaper than an airstrike that may or may kill and might not deter further chemical weapons use. What better way to lead by example than to say "Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free"?
Why not also help airlift refugees here (similar to what we did in 1975 when Saigon fell)? Right, now a Syrian refugee has to find a way to travel (and be granted entry) to far-away places like Berlin, Rome, and Vienna in order just to apply for asylum in the U.S. That doesn't strike me as very practical or hospitable.

Law professor Peter Schuck made a similar argument in the Wall Street Journal in March 2012. He argued that we give sworn defectors asylum in Western countries until Assad fell, in return for the refugee returning to rebuild Syria after Assad fell.  Schuck points out that under the Refugee Act of 1980, the President may exceed statutory refugee quotas-- that's what I think we should do for all Syrians who want it, not just people who will swear to return when Assad falls (the chaos could be worse after Assad falls).

In 1938, news of growing violence against Jews in Nazi-occupied Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia was being widely reported in the U.S. A poll taken at the time showed 80% of Americans were against doing anything-- including expanding visas for Europeans. FDR combined quotas from Germany and Austria, which saved the lives of several thousand Jews in 1939. (FDR had a mixed record on Jewish refugees, documented here). I think history suggests we should have done more at the time-- German statements at the time show Hitler would gladly have given the U.S. all the Jews it could handle-- with the Fuhrer paying for the shipping himself (info taken from this book on the period). I see the Syrian situation (and Darfur, and other ethnic cleansing horrors) as similar to Europe and Japanese-occupied China in 1938-- Western powers reeling from slow economic growth and bitter about the previous war didn't want to take any steps to confront the problem. If we really care about the human rights of the most vulnerable, shouldn't we open our doors to them?

Might pro-democratic Syrian opposition be better organized and able to use the Internet from the U.S. than from a tent camp on the Turkish border? Might we be able to show that we're not interfering in Syrian politics purely out of a goal to strike Iran or gain oil or some other non-humanitarian motive?

"What about terrorists, won't they come too?" was one objection raised over Twitter. Well, the U.S. currently has a screening process that keeps terrorists out. Syrians are largely moderate in their religious beliefs, and how many Syrian terrorists have we dealt with compared to Saudis or Yemenis? I suspect that the number of grateful, peaceful Syrians would far outnumber those who might take advantage to do harm. I'm not calling for a blanket open door, just to open the door wider than it is currently, and to expedite the process.

18 months ago, I was an advocate for strong multinational intervention in Syria, to prevent the country from descending into further genocide-fostering, infrastructure-destroying, refugee-creating brutal civil war that might lead to chemical weapons usage. Now, attempts to impose peace would be much more costly, and the required international will and resources aren't there. Syria's neighbors aren't wealthy democracies with long histories of incorporating immigrants into a melting pot. This is where the U.S. can lead.