Margin Call (R): Movie Review.

[Okay, this is really only like 25% movie review, 75% my hypothesizing about systemic ills that cause significantly societal dysfunction]

Margin Call is a 2011 film with an a great ensemble cast that includes Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, and Aasif Mandvi amongst others. It provides an “inside look” at a Wall Street finances firm during the 2008 financial crisis – albeit a fictional one.

Margin Call - a movie about the 2008 financial crisis.
Margin Call – a movie about the 2008 financial crisis.

The film contains no violence or nudity[1], it does, however, include a boatload of profanity – including religious…and I mean pervasive profanity.

If you are looking for a film that helps explain what happened in 2008 and perhaps one that will rile you up a bit, this is a good film to select – though it is too nuanced to be the sort of rage flick that allows us to direct all our hatred towards abominably evil characters – for that you’ll have to look to  Uwe Boll’s controversial and simplistic film Assault on Wall Street (2013, R).

Margin Call does demonstrate the greed and dishonesty which allowed the collapse to occur. It also highlights the way in which extremely intelligent individuals have been leaving jobs which are highly productive for society (e.g. engineering space craft and bridges) to these financial trading careers which have questionable value for society. It manages to enrage us with the “golden parachutes” many of the “higher-ups” secure for themselves even as they cut their employees off at the knees and leave the common man holding the bag and towards the end John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) characters highlights that the 2008 crash is not a one-time occurrence, but something which has been occurring with great regularity throughout history – and yet has not been stopped and is not being stopped now.

At the same time, it calls us, the common people, to account for our complicity in what occurred. In a powerful scene where Will Emerson (Paul Bettany) and Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) are driving together, Seth notes how devastating the crash will be for “real people” – to which Will explains why Seth should not feel sympathy for the “real people” who essentially pay the financial traders to abstract their dirty work – so they can feel better about themselves. Here is the relevant dialogue (you’ll see what I mean about pervasive profanity):

Seth: “—-, this is going to really affect people.”

Will: “Yeah, it’s gonna affect people like me.”

Seth: “No, Will, real people.”

Will: “—–, Seth. Listen, if you really want to do this with your life, you have to believe you are necessary, and you are. People want to live like this–in their cars and big ——- houses they can’t even pay for, then you’re necessary. The only reason that they all get to continue living like kings is because we’ve got out fingers on the scales in their favor.”

“I take my hand off, then the whole world gets really ——- fair really ——- quickly and nobody actually wants that. They say they do, but they don’t. They want what we have to give them, but they also want to, you know, play innocent and pretend they have no idea where it came from.”

“Well, that’s more hypocrisy than I’m willing to swallow. So —- ’em. —- normal people.”

“You know the funny thing is, tomorrow if all of this goes —- up? They’re going to crucify us for being too reckless. But if we’re wrong, and everything gets back on track, well then, the same people are going to laugh till they piss their pants ‘case we’re gonna look like the biggest ——- God ever let through the door.”

In other words, we desire a certain standard of living, so we engage in questionable practices in order to sustain that level of living – but we remove ourselves from conscious involvement in this unethical behavior by “handing off” the dirty work to the financial traders. We praise them when they do well for us and are horrified when they fail us and/or act unethically.

I have a developing hypothesis about evil. In my experience I find fewer evil people than I expect and more systems which propagate evil. I do not mean to excuse the financial traders for their unethical actions, but only note that removing the unethical (or evil) individuals will not rectify the problem – why? Because the system still exists and the system points incalculable pressure upon the individual to act unethically – thus creating more unethical individuals, which will, naturally, result in more unethical behavior.

I need to read up more on economics and specifically on the stock market – but I tentatively hypothesize that we’d need a fundamental change in the way the stock market operates in order to rectify (at least significantly) this system. This could perhaps be achieved by making investments in stocks somehow (I don’t know how) primarily about deriving profits from profit sharing dividends, rather than the current scenario in which much of what is bought/sold is done so under the philosophy of buy low, sell high – which creates an unsustainable pressure upon companies to continually increase profits (or risk the rage of the stockholder).

The ironic thing is, if I’m right, we are cutting each other off at the knees. Company X lays off 5,000 employees to increase its profits so stockholders don’t sell…the employees are righteously angry. Who are those stockholders? Well, many of them are from Company Y which just cut 5,000 employees to keep their profits increasing (and who are their stockholders? Why people from Company X!). Obviously this is a vast oversimplification…but it seems to me we are demanding increased profits from those we invest in yet at the same time demanding that the companies act in more generous, considerate ways – and in so doing we ask the impossible.

I’d love to hear your thoughts? As I said, I’m no expert on economics or the stock market.

  1. [1]Though two of the characters are briefly at a strip joint, the film (amazingly) chooses not to throw in nudity to attract additional viewers

Hero of the Day: Mark Rutland.

Within Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) there is a sub-type known as “scrupulosity” or “religious OCD” – and it is one nasty monster. I’ve been afflicted with it since early childhood and during my early college years I almost dropped out, left the faith, and probably verged on institutionalization due to it.

Photo of Mark Rutland as found on the Global Servants website, a ministry he founded.
Photo of Mark Rutland as found on the Global Servants website, a ministry he founded.

Since then I’ve learned a lot of coping skills, I take medications, and so on – and it isn’t nearly as intrusive (though it is still a regular pain in the butt). One of the major ways in which I experienced relief from these symptoms was through Mark Rutland’s excellent (yet poorly known and under-appreciated) Streams of Mercy which spoke about receiving and reflecting God’s grace.

Seriously, this book revolutionized my life. I’ve read it many times and it continues to make me break down in tears with great regularity. It is an easy read with plenty of personal anecdotes from Rutland’s fascinating life and creative short stories that illustrate his points. A must read.

I’ve written about Streams of Mercy before – but I want to write today about Mark Rutland the man. Sometimes folks write a good book – but what are their lives like? Well, Rutland founded a ministry called Global Servants which has done some impressive work around the world – not least of which is the founding of House of Grace, a refuge for Akha girls who are being drawn into the sex trade. Ahh, here was a man who put his hands and feet where his mouth was!

Rutland continues to run Global Servants, but has also been involved in an amazing array of other endeavors – starting in 1987 he was Associate Pastor at Mount Paran Church of God in Atlanta, Georgia…but he didn’t stay in this potentially comfortable position for too long, moving on in 1990 to Calvary Assembly of God in Orlando Florida in 1990, a church attempting to recover from scandal and financial insolvency. After successfully leading a turnaround of this church he moved on to Southeastern University of the Assemblies of God in Lakeland Florida in 1999, again leading a successful turnaround of the University. He thought he was done with these gigantic endeavors but was called yet again to serve as President of Oral Roberts University (one of the largest and most reputable charismatic higher education institutions), which was on the verge of collapse – and over a several year period again succeeded in turning around the institution.

It seems evident that God’s blessing has been upon Rutland’s work. Somehow he has also managed to preach numerous sermons and write numerous books – which I am grateful for, b/c I want to keep reading and learning from this man. Up to this point I had only read about him, read Streams of Mercy, and listened to one or more of his sermons – but recently I picked up his latest book called reLaunch about turning around an organization (I had no clue this was something he specialized in) and it is again proving to be a magnificent, encouraging, and challenging read! Then I subscribed to his blog and began reading his posts. The first one was “The Antidote for Poison Berries” posted on January 22nd…I think a few choice excerpts and comments concerning this post will give you an idea of why I find Rutland such a fantastic inspiration:

  • Rutland openly shares that he has struggled with depression at times throughout his forty-six years in ministry (this has become more common in smaller ministries, but I still don’t hear a lot about it from bigger, successful personalities within Christianity).
  • He then goes on to state, “I have known dark moments and personal failures. I have been deeply disappointed in myself and struggle at times to stay in the ministry, or even to feel that I should stay in the ministry. In one truly terrible season, only the grace of God through my wife, two friends that refused to let me quite, and the wise anointed help of a trained counselor kept me in the work.” Wow. Again, Rutland is willing to admit significant enough failures in his personal life that have led to his questioning (at times) his qualifications for ministry – and that he would have abandoned ministry altogether except for the moral support he received from others…What an encouragement to ministers who are struggling to keep their heads above water! Further, Rutland admits seeing a “trained counselor” something which is still widely looked down upon in many Christian circles – an admission which normalizes this practice for others – who really need it.
  • He goes on, “Is this shocking you? Are you thinking, why should I listen to this guy? He shouldn’t even be in the ministry. Is that what you’re thinking? Then I submit to you that I cannot think of but a handful of sturdy saints who should be in the ministry.” Thank God! A leader who is willing to admit that we are not qualified, that we do fall short. Yes, there must be accountability and standards within Christian ministry – but this too often occurs at the cost of masks – masks of pretend people who pretend to be things they are not. We hide our sin in a corner (even from ourselves) so we can be “qualified” for the ministry we are undertaking. I’d like to know who these “sturdy saints” are of whom Rutland speaks, b/c he knows more than I – I know of none (including myself).
  • But Rutland, have you ever been so tired you just couldn’t do it any more? Have you felt that battle raging within you that you feel like is going to kill you if you don’t just surrender, give up, give in? “The wrestling match within myself has at times been almost unbearable, but when the sun came up I limped toward whatever shred of victory I could still find.” Wait? What about the victorious Christian life? Shouldn’t you have experienced calm and peace and serenity in the midst of this unbearable suffering? That is what the Apostle Paul had, is it not? Perhaps…but at least there are a few humans in ministry who also “limp” toward a “shred of victory” that must be “found!” Ahh, here is someone more to my level!
  • “You know all the keys to spirituality. Prayer. The Word. Accountability. You can name them and you have preached on them and they are incredibly important…[but] what do I do when I have done all those and deep tissue, immobilizing, paralyzing discouragement settles like inky night upon the parsonage?” Wait! Rutland, are you saying that you have applied the proper methods as taught by Christian circles – derived from Scripture – and at the end of the night there has been no relief? No light at the end of the tunnel? That you have foundered in the cess pool of darkness? God be praised! Christian experience cannot be reduced to a set of rules and formulas by which we experience peace and healing from our struggles (the Book of Job is my favorite book of the Bible currently…Job finds no relief, no answers, and He is not the ‘prim and proper’ individual we like to recommend folks to be when they experience suffering – he is a raging, crying, frenzied maniac who cries out to a God who has abandoned him).
  • He talks about various ways he attempts to restore himself in the midst of these dark times – remembering he is not the first to struggle (see Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, David, Paul, and Jesus he says), avoiding isolation (including seeing a professional counselor), resting, not comparing our ministry/life with others (he says we don’t need to be a Joel Osteen, I’d add, that we don’t need to be a Mark Rutland, though I’d like to be…), and he says that we should not allow failure or fear of failure to stop us: “If you have not failed at anything lately, it’s time to try something new.” Yehaww! (No, I don’t talk like this in real life)

Okay, I’ve quoted huge portions of his post – but there are some really excellent other nuggets that I didn’t include – simply b/c I didn’t want to include the entirety of his post. Go read the original here.

[Some may wonder, “Is Dave a Charismatic?” The answer would be no. I’m a non-cessationist. I do not believe that the spiritual gifts have ceased to operate – but I also see many expressions of the spiritual gifts which are questionable at best and downright hypocrisy and blasphemy at worst. I will accept the proper expression of a spiritual gift but I will also demand that any expression of spiritual gifts meet a high level of accountability and integrity. I have great respect for individuals like Mark Rutland, Wayne Grudem, and John White who fall into more charismatic circles – and I want to learn from them. I think both Charismatics and non-Charismatics have some truth in their hands – and that we find ourselves strongest when we sharpen each other as iron sharpens iron – challenging in love and humility the authenticity and validity of our beliefs in such a way as encourages the upbuilding rather than the dismantling of Christ’s body.]

My Fisher Wallace Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulator Has Arrived!

I came home from working at the church and noticed a small package on the front steps. I couldn’t remember anything of this size I had ordered, so I walked inside and slide it open – to my surprise, there was the Fisher Wallace Stimulator! I’d purchased it on Tuesday (7/9) and received it the next day (7/10). I don’t expect everyone will get it that fast – but I’m glad it miraculously came so quickly to me. Here is a photo of what you see when you open the box:

Opening the Package from Fisher Wallace.
Opening the Package from Fisher Wallace.

I took out the pouch and unloaded its contents, which look like this:

Everything that comes inside of the pouch.
Everything that comes inside of the pouch.

I must say that the first thing that impressed me was the presence of two Duracell batteries. I know, I know, its a very small thing – but doesn’t it just drive you nuts when you get an electronic device and it doesn’t have the batteries!?!? Well, it drives me nuts. Lets take a closer look at the different components:

Fisher Wallace Stimulator - Frontal
Fisher Wallace Stimulator – Frontal

This is the stimulator. Looks pretty simple. The bottom light indicates the device is on, the lights with numbers indicate how high of intensity it is running at – they recommend starting at two. Despite my great desire to start at four, I started with two.

Fisher Wallace Stimulator Without Batteries
Fisher Wallace Stimulator Without Batteries

Flip the device over and pop off the battery cover and this is what you’ll see. Nothing too fancy, but note the nice belt clip. This is where I first had problems. There are two little hooks at the bottom of the battery cover that need to slip in a certain way and it took me a few tries (nothing major) to get them in. Then I picked it up and the battery cover fell off! What?! I realized that at the top there is a little latch which can be pressed up or down (most simply snap in, which probably makes them more likely to break – so I think this is a better design). Once I had actually latched the battery cover shut, everything was good.

Fisher Wallace Wire Connectors
Fisher Wallace Wire Connectors

Now these wires plug into the stimulator and then into sponge covers which attach to my head. Looks a little frighteningly like I’m getting ready to jump start a car battery, no?

Fisher Wallace Stimulator Sponges/Holders
Fisher Wallace Stimulator Sponges/Holders

This is the front of the sponge containers. Fisher Wallace kindly inserts the first set of sponges for you.

Fisher Wallace Stimulator Sponges After Soaking
Fisher Wallace Stimulator Sponges After Soaking

And here are the sponges after I’ve soaked them in the sink. Not sure if you can tell from the photo but they have expanded significantly.

Fisher Wallace Stimulator Waiting to Be Used.
Fisher Wallace Stimulator Waiting to Be Used.

It only took a few minutes, but now she is ready to go…So, I latch her onto my belt and start her up.

Fisher Wallace Stimulator attached to belt, powered on.
Fisher Wallace Stimulator attached to belt, powered on.

I had no problem attaching it to my belt and you can see the green light says that it is on and the two yellow lights say that it is at level 2. Note that they are actually flashing, but that doesn’t show up in a still photo. 🙂

Dave wearing Stimulator without glasses.
Dave wearing Stimulator without glasses.

And here I am wearing the stimulator…but that isn’t really what I look like when I’m using it, b/c I use reading glasses…it’s more like this:

Dave Wearing Stimulator with Glasses
Dave Wearing Stimulator with Glasses

Yes, that is a little more dorky/geeky looking, like it should be.

Dave Wearing Stimulator Ear Shot
Dave Wearing Stimulator Ear Shot

I also took a close up shot so you can see how the sponge/sponge cover fits under the headband immediately above my sideburns.

Now I did have one other small problem. At first the device was powering on and showing one level 1 activity, but no matter how high I turned it up, it didn’t go up any levels. If I pressed the sponges against my head, the activity went up. I was confused.

As my fingers ran across the two sponge covers at the same time I realized that they didn’t feel the same. I turned the device off, took out the sponge covers and realized that I had placed one backwards (the sponge was pointing out, with the wire against my head, instead of the sponge being pressed against my head). I corrected this user fail and restarted the device – this time everything worked just dandy.

The device has now finished its first cycle and I don’t feel any noticeable difference, nor did I really feel anything during the entire process. If it wasn’t for the lights on the device, I would have questioned if anything was happening.

So, there ya are. You’ve experienced my first trial with this device. I intend on using it twice a day (once in the morning, once before bed) for the next several weeks and report my findings on a daily basis…but don’t worry, I won’t clog Dave Enjoys up with that, instead I’ll post about it over at OCD Dave. So if you want to read about the ongoing saga you can subscribe to Dave Enjoys using the email subscription box on the right of the OCD Dave blog page or you can use RSS (if you are a geek :)) or you can like the OCD Dave Facebook page and notices of new blog posts will go up there.