Tuesday, April 15, 2014

‘In Bed with Wall Street’ (Book Review)

Ever hear of the legal cartel theory of regulation? Its proponents argue that some industry regulation, rather than making a market more competitive, actually aids firms in securing market power, protecting profits, and keeping out new competition. This immediately came to mind while I read Larry Doyle’s In Bed with Wall Street: The Conspiracy Crippling Our Global Economy (Palgrave MacMillan, 2014), a timely exposé on America’s financial industry, calling for some radical changes in how it is policed and judged.

Looking at the facts behind recent financial disasters, Doyle, a former mortgage-backed securities trader and current blogger on Sense on Cents: Navigating the Economic Landscape, exposes the government and private regulatory agencies’ failure to protect American investors from the self-interested financial industry. The problem, he shows, isn’t too much or too little regulation, but inadequate and corrupt regulation, rife with conflicts of interest. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), as a self-regulatory organization, has too much stake in the status quo, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), figuratively “sleeping” with the enemy, has failed to curb “insider trading” and protect “whistleblowers” from harm.

What’s the solution? Doyle puts forth ten “financial regulatory reforms” and four public policy proposals,” most without comment as to their feasibility and likelihood of success. Many have to do with the workings of FINRA. For example, he advocates forcing the organization to become more transparent by subjecting it, a private agency, to the Freedom of Information Act, something that would surely have long-term unintended effects. What Doyle apparently doesn’t recognize is that we don’t need the government micro-managing this private agency, but an attentive and efficient SEC that will monitor the financial industry and investigate potential law violations by FINRA, brokerage firms, and individual investors. Doyle should just accept FINRA for what it is: one of many self-policing or self-regulatory organizations (SROs) that can potentially suffer from conflicts of interest, just like the American Bar Association, the American Medical Association (AMA), and the National Association of Realtors (NAR). And like any private entity, it shouldn’t have the final word on matters of law.

Now, I should add a disclaimer here. Law and finance are far from being my specialties. I approached In Bed with Wall Street as a mildly-interested lay-reader not intimately familiar with particularities of the agencies and events discussed. It’s likely that someone better informed on financial markets will find it easier to embrace – or poke holes – into Doyle’s recommendations. I finished Doyle’s book feeling a bit bored and dissatisfied. The author appealed to the reader’s emotion with comments from his blog readers and stories of persecuted “whistleblowers,” something I’m particularly sensitive about. And he even sounds vindictive when fantasizing about banking executives being “disgraced and discredited.” I honestly had to question whether or not the book offered a truly balanced look at the problems it raised. In addition, a time-consuming process like book writing doesn’t seem to be the most efficient way to get the word out about a politically urgent matter to a largely uninformed and disinterested public. Will In Bed with Wall Street actually initiate change to a flawed and corrupt system? Or will it merely serve as a resume line for the author and be bought, read, and shelved by his fans in due time? I’m inclined to believe the latter.

Disclaimer: I received this a copy of First Reads giveaway winner on GoodReads.com. There was no obligation to write a review.

Monday, March 31, 2014

‘The Age of the Spirit’ (Book Review)

Disputes over ecclesiastical authority and dissimilar political and doctrinal threats, along with cultural and language barriers (e.g., Latins who misunderstood Greek), drove the “western” Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches apart. Geographical isolation helped keep them apart. But globalization has torn down that barrier, and the West is now confronting eastern perspectives on all things religious, including the Holy Spirit. As Orthodox, Pentecostal, and Emergence Christianities continually challenge Catholic and Protestant norms, Episcopal author Phyllis Tickle suggests that Joachim of Fiore’s “Age of the Spirit” may now be upon us. Western Christians cannot continue to conveniently ignore the “Third Person” of the Trinity.

What? Isn’t the Holy Spirit is a staple of Christian conversation? Being honest we’d have to admit otherwise. The average Christian doesn’t want to think about the Holy Spirit. Speaking of “discernment” or “being led by the spirit” will draw dirty looks from other church members, who dismiss such talk as only befitting a Pentecostal…you know, those weird people. Add in Jesus’ terrifying warning about blasphemy against the Spirit (Mark 3:28-29), and no one dares question the far-fetched extra-biblical diagrams our teachers present in attempt to illustrate the Trinitarian “mystery” for fear of putting their souls on the line.

We don’t necessarily intend to ignore the Holy Spirit. We just don’t know how to talk about “it”…or “him.” Even the most passionate Trinitarians recognize that their views require a lot more biblical support than we are given. Being unable to “own” their opponents in debate is greatly unsettling to Christians, so it’s easier to dismiss questions with a quick “This is the way it is” and cease further discussion.

It should be of no surprise then that many people are converted to some form of Christianity without ever being introduced to the “Third Person.” Its absent from many tracks, Bible correspondence courses, and after-sermon invitations (i.e., alter calls) is deafening. Individuals “raised in the church” rarely fair better, lacking a definite understanding of what the Holy Spirit is and the role it plays in their lives. Unless one belongs to a religious movement that is all about the influence and work of the Spirit, then the whole of pneumatology is unofficially declared off-limits.

Some of us, however, would like to have a deeper understanding of the Holy Spirit and thoroughly investigate what is usually considered a major pillar of the Christian faith. However, balanced and easy-to-read resources are often difficult to find for us lay-Christians. (By “balanced” I mean only in the sense that the author analyzes the history and arguments for variety of views, allowing a well-informed reader to draw his own conclusions.)

What is clearly needed is a way of opening up the discussion and allow for questions, especially if Christians are ever going to be expected to distinguish between orthodoxy and heresy. That’s what’s provided by Phyllis Tickle, founding editor of Publishers Weekly’s Religion Department, with Jon M. Sweeney in The Age of the Spirit: How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy is Shaping the Church (Baker Books, 2014). Part history and part theology, this book examines how the Holy Spirit has been defined and redefined over the millennia and what effects those definitions have had on Christian doctrine, worship, and living.

As you might have guessed, The Age of the Spirit is not an apologetic for any particular view. However, Tickle does present an argument that the filioque addition to the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed and the Lutheran doctrine of sola scriptura effectively limited the power of the “Third Person” in the minds of western Christians. In the wake of what she says might be a major turning point in Christian history, Tickle challenges her readers to find new ways of engaging the Holy Spirit. Whether that might mean accepting an ancient “heresy,” mysticism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Pentecostalism, or Emergence Christianity, or something else remains unsaid.

What I appreciated most about The Age of the Spirit was its easy read (which I suspect was Sweeney’s contribution). Although Tickle made some unconvincing claims and odd speculations at times, I came away with a clearer understanding the ecumenical creeds, the Great Schism, and the infamous ancient heresies. The book didn’t validate my beliefs, but that wasn’t why I picked it up. It gave me a different perspective and made me rethink some of my own assumptions about the Spirit.

As for the more technical details: Phyllis Tickle has a well-known presence within the “emerging church” movement, and the book, lightly peppered with their lingo, seems written for an audience more familiar with it than I. In addition, she makes reference to biblical content without necessarily including a citation, preferring a more fluid style of writing. While this is should be a minute problem for Christians well-read in Scriptures and having at their disposal every means of looking up these passages, it would likely annoy a number of readers who rely on chapter and verse. For that same reason, an index of Bible references would’ve also been nice.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Influenster Report: J’adore VoxBox

A couple of months ago, Ruth of Captain America and His English Rose and Shecki of Greatly Blessed encouraged their fellow West Coast Christian Bloggers to sign up for Influenster, an online community that features a gaggle of consumer product reviews. I decided to check it out, and recently received a pink J’adore VoxBox filled with Valentine’s Day goodies – a tad bit late – to critique. Below you’ll find my initial thoughts, uninfluenced by the fact that I received the products for free. Note: The pictures are from and linked to Amazon.com

Boots Botanics Shine Away Ionic Clay Mask
On a “girl’s night in,” one of my sisters and I covered our faces in this suspiciously-colored face mask. I dried my face after cleansing it, so the mask hardened while I was still spreading it on. My sister, the more experienced face mask user, left hers wet, so the mask spread on easily. Liked the results: Both of us felt that our faces seemed tighter (in a good way) immediately and also the next morning! Planning on using again soon.
Check it out: Influenster, Boots, Target

Hershey’s Kisses Milk Chocolates
Can you believe it? A free bag of one of my favorite childhood candies! Tasted pretty much the same as I remembered. The red, pink, and silver wrappers were all emptied within 48 hours. Wonder if the next box contains a diet supplement…
Check it out: Amazon, Influenster, Hershey’s

Frizz Ease 3-Day Straight Flat Iron Spray
Had to time a couple of test runs with my hair maintenance schedule. I’m not used to spraying anything on my hair, so my aim was off, and I got a bit in my eyes a few times. (Probably ruined my contacts!) I was pleasantly surprised, however, when my flat-ironed hair withstood getting caught in some light rain the next day, and no sign of frizz later on despite the high humidity. Unfortunately, another test run failed a week later during a Spring Break stay at a beach-side Monterey resort. On the fence.
Check it out: Influenster, John Frieda, Target

Kiss Looks So Natural Lashes
Fake eyelashes? You’ve got to be kidding me. Influenster made me complete at least three beauty survey questions about my preferences on this, and I thought I made it clear that I don’t wear them and won’t wear them. So much for tailoring the boxes to the consumer. At least Google search results suggest that this is a quality brand. The box says that it’s the “tapered end lash” gives the pair a softer, more natural look. So if Bambi eyes is something you’re after, consider giving Looks So Natural a try.
Check it out: Amazon, Influenster, Kiss, BeautyOnlineSupply.com (25% off discount code KISSLSN until 3/31/14)

Red Rose Simply Indulgent Teas
For a warmer winter experience, Influenster packed up four bags of Red Rose Simply Indulgent Teas in Crème Caramel and Lemon Chiffon. Red Rose also offers Cinnamon Streusel and Peach Cobbler. I’m not a fan of these dessert-flavored teas because my taste buds expect them to taste just like they smell: like dessert. However, my tea-loving husband and sister really liked them, so I’ll put the six coupons included to good use.
Check it out: Amazon (Crème Caramel, Lemon Chiffon, Cinnamon Streusel), Influenster, Red Rose

Vaseline Men Spray Lotion Fast Absorbing
Influenster sent me a “for men only” product, which my husband and brother-in-law graciously tried out and gave me their opinions on. The product has a nice masculine smell reminiscent of Axe deodorant. Surprise: The spray can made a cool – “laser” was the word used – sound when activated. Downsides: The spray-on is supposed to be more convenient, but it still has to be rubbed in. Also the labeling was generic (i.e., boring). Worth the tryout for guys who prefer to use lotion, but probably won’t convert those who don’t care to lather it on.
Check it out: Amazon, Influenster, Vaseline, Target

Want an Influenster box of your own? Join here. Disclaimer: I received these products complimentary from Influenster for testing purposes.