The Wedding Party

After the ‘I do’s were said, the wedding party made its way to the church hall for the reception.

A long table had been prepared at which we served ourselves, buffet style. There were little biscuits with ham, large bowls of shrimp, several different plates of vegetables, and assorted condiments and crudites – prepared by the ladies of the church. Half the table, though, seemed to be set aside for desserts.

I don’t know what doctrinal point is the cause, but for some reason Baptists prepare the best desserts. Episcopalians usually have good decorations, but they are no match for the Southern Baptists in the food department. Like the religion itself, Episcopal weddings look good but can leave you unsatisfied.

The best church food I have ever had was at an A.M.E. church in rural Maryland. A.M.E., for those unfamiliar with it, means African Methodist Episcopal. This was many years ago, but on that occasion a woman as big as a houseboat, named Hattie, stood beside me as I ate fried chicken and said in a deep, throaty voice that sounded like an Ella Fitzgerald song: “I likes to see a man eat!” {It is considered politically incorrect to report the black dialect as it is…or was… actually spoken – but that is what Hattie said.)

But French Catholics can put on a good wedding feast too. And it will have one major advantage over a Baptist one: liquor.

This aversion to alcohol created a small problem for my brother in law, Rev. Campbell, at the Sunday service. The wedding still fresh in his mind, he recalled the story of the wedding feast at Cana in Gallilee. Jesus arrived at about the time the hosts ran short of wine. The Nazarene asked that jugs be filled with water. This done, he performed his first miracle – he changed them into wine.

“Jesus can perform miracles in your life too,” said the Baptist preacher, ignoring the contradiction and continuing in his very southern accent, “He can change ordinary things – like water – into sparkling things.”

I wished someone had performed Jesus’s first miracle on Saturday night. But instead of wine, or champagne, Jesus seems to have entered these people’s lives and turned the wine into fruit punch.

Sunday morning I awoke with a bit of a headache. It must have been a result of too much temperance… after spending a couple of days in the buckle of the Bible Belt.

“All you have to do is to remember your ABCs from Bible School. Do y’all remember your ABCs,” Rev. Campbell asked the Sunday crowd. I had little doubt that every one of them remembered. But he spelled it out for us anyway.

“First you have to Admit that you’re a sinner. Then, you have to Believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God. And you have to Commit yourself to follow Jesus all your life.”

“It’s as easy as ABC. And if we all remember our ABCs, God can perform great miracles in our lives.”

Ghandi once said he was more free in his prison cell than most of the people walking the streets. In this reflection, Ghandi was vain. He could see the shackles others wore, but not his own.

Southern Baptists do not bind themselves only with the fetters of holy matrimony. They ask adherents to commit themselves to a code of conduct and a whole set of beliefs. Baptists (and I am only speaking of Baptists as an example; this is, of course, true of many different groups) give up the freedom to choose. Even a Chateau Rothschild 1986 Bordeaux is off limits.

Despite the lack of alcohol, Baptists are growing in number. The churches are packed with vigorous, robust congregations. But you will search in vain to find Southern Baptists in the New York Review of Books. American intelligentsia are contemptuous of Southern Baptists. For nearly the entire 20th century, intellectuals have scorned the ABCs of religious faith. Filmakers have mocked them. Writers have sought to reveal dirty linen in every Bible thumping household. Even the mainstream churches have turned their backs on them.

Episcopal ministers have more faith in taxes than in miracles. They urge their parishioners to support government programs to care for the sick and feed the poor. The chattering classes sneer at the shackles of religion, but cannot see the prison of contemporary ideology that confines them.

None of us are free. We are all prisoners of our own ideas, customs and beliefs – as well as the natural laws of the physical universe. Marriage, religion, Democracy, anti- nomianism, the boiling point of water, the Designated Hitter rule – these are just a few of the millions of ties that bind. Some think the world is ruled by a God, whose bidding must be done. Others put their faith in secular authorities. Still others think themselves the crown of creation and believe they can figure things out for themselves.

But none are free.

All people bow down before some public God, whether the God of Jehovah, the God of the State, custom, habits, or their own private demons…and all of us wrinkle a bit as we grow older.

At one comic low in the history of democratic government a state legislature decided that the value of Pi – which expresses the relationship of the circumference of a circle to its diameter – should be rounded off to 3 to make it easier to work with. Despite an official Act of the legislature, however, the actual value of Pi remained unchanged. We are stuck with it…just as my soul is stuck, as Yeats put it, fastened to this “dying animal.”

But there is another meaning to the word “free.” Ghandi was wrong. He was not free in his cell. He was free when he got out of it. He walked out still shackled to all his bad ideas – but he was free from the prison.

For my part, a private confession that I make reluctantly…I am willing to stand before God when the time comes – if that is what happens. But, to paraphrase Faulkner when he got fired from his job at the Post Office, I’ll be damned if I want to answer to every son-of-a-bitch with a gun or ballot in his hand.

Your correspondent, back in Baltimore…

Bill Bonner

Baltimore, Maryland July 11, 2000

My daughter Maria blurted out to her aunt that she “had Daddy wrapped around her little finger.” This was true, of course, but I was shocked to realize that Maria was aware of it. I am a prisoner…and a happy one.

P.P.S This poem, sent by DR reader R.B. seems appropriate:

“Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad?”

W. B. Yeats 1939

Why should not old men be mad?

Some have known a likely lad

That had a sound fly-fisher’s wrist

Turn to a drunken journalist;

A girl that knew Dante once

Lived to bear children to a dunce;

A Helen of social welfare dream,

Climb on a wagonette to scream.Some think it a matter of course that chance

Should starve good men and bad advance,

That if their neighbors figured plain,

As though upon a lighted screen,

No single story would they find

Of an unbroken happy mind,

A finish worthy of the start.Young men know nothing of this sort,

Observant old men know it well;

And when they know what old books tell,

And that no better can be had,

Know why an old man should be mad.

*** Yesterday was a typical summer day… The bear spent the day at the beach…letting stock market investors shuffle and bob without interference.

*** The Dow ended the day up 11 points. The Nasdaq fell 42 points.

*** What is there to say about such a middlin day? Nothing much happened in the gold market…or in bonds…or in stocks.

*** A report from the Labor Dept. says that wages rose 5 cents/hr. in May. As tight as the labor market appears to be, it’s surprising employers got away with just a nickle. But one month’s worth of statistics don’t mean anything.

*** When p/e ratios rise above 22, according to a study cited by Richard Russell, you can expect returns of only 5% per annum for the next 10 years.

*** Russell also worries that this bear market could be like the long, confusing period following the peak in ’66. If that is the case, the 5% sounds pretty good. Because if you adjust for inflation, stock investors went nowhere for approximately 20 years following the ’66 peak. And yet, during that period, there were several major rallies that carried the Dow up to and beyond the ’66 high. *** Another interesting little note: the average price/dividend ratio going back a century has been 25.50. The ratio hit a record high (meaning stocks were paying the lowest dividends in history) of 88.29 on June 27, 2000.

*** This also from Richard Russell:

“In 1948 Don Bradley published a booklet which explained how the stars and planets and heavenly events, when analyzed correctly, exert a force on the human psyche and thus on the stock market. Sounds daffy? Sounds ridiculous? Don’t laugh. The Bradley Model has made some amazingly accurate forecasts. The brilliant Paul Marcrae Montgomery of Legg Mason and the equally bright Arch Crawford of Crawford Perspectives (520 577 1158) follow the Bradley Model. They’ve followed it for years with many outstanding successes.

At any rate and for your interest, the Bradley Model traces an irregular uptrend in the stock market, starting from last December and ending in a high for the year to take place this month – on July 21. Then a decline, and then a secondary (lower) peak on September 14. After Sept. 14, the Bradley Model says “down and dirty” for the stock market for five months to February of 2001.”

*** Despite Bradley’s work, I believe the fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves. Polls show that as the bear suns himself at the beach, investors are becoming more bullish. Advancing stocks beat out declining ones yesterday, as they’ve done for 8 out of the last 10 days, 1594 to 1242. New highs hit 99; new lows numbered only 21.

*** October platinum continues to rise – up $6.90 yesterday in an otherwise unexciting metals market.

*** Meanwhile, on the River of No Returns, from Alan Newman at Crosscurrents:

“Clearly, time is running out for Bezos and company to turn a buck or three profit. Will they ever? In the company’s first year, expenses were 40.9% more than revenues. Improvement was clearly visible in 1997 when expenses exceeded revenue by only 22.1% and again in 1998, when the vigorish was a mere 17.9% over total revenues. But last year, expense exceeded revenue by 36.9%, a staggering amount when you consider that the company was running revenues at more than 104 times the pace of 1997. As a consequence, expenses were 101 times what they were in that first fateful year.

Amazon may be the first company in the history of the planet with $72 in debt for each of its customers. The trick in maintaining 17 million customers, of course, is to offer everything at a loss, a deal consumers cannot refuse. To compete with traditional and other Internet booksellers, Amazon offered to FedEx the new Harry Potter book upon publication at no extra cost above the regular shipping rates. Pre-orders went to a 40% discount from retail, and we can only suppose that the 256,310 consumers who pre-ordered cost Amazon a buck or two on every copy Fed Ex’d at lower rates than otherwise available. That’s how the company is able to secure 17 million customers and keep them – by giving away the store. The pattern we sense is one of inevitable doom for Amazon’s shareholders and we must admit not one scintilla of surprise at the recent drop in share price from which no dead-cat bounce will mollify those who bought at much higher prices. We are beginning to see Amazon’s survival in jeopardy.”