Friday, December 19, 2014

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Looney DNA Analysis

This came from my sister from her DNA test:

"Great Britain 59%, Scandinavia 24%, European Jewish 8%, Ireland 6%, Finland/Northwest Russia 2%, Europe West 1%".

I was in some doubt as to whether or not Jewish was a race, but it seems to be.  Clearly my foray in to Russian history was needed to explore my "roots".  And it is good to know that my name, Looney, is connected to Ireland by DNA.

I am much disappointed that there wasn't any Vulcan or Klingon DNA found.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lenin: "The revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry"

Having finished this work, I now have some sort of understanding of what it is that he is trying to say, although Lenin insists that no one who is a member of the Bourgeois is capable of gaining such an understanding.  Of course Lenin himself came from the Bourgeois classes, as did all the other communist leaders, but we must let this bit of cognitive dissonance pass or we won't get through things.

Much of the thesis that Lenin is putting forward is that the Mensheviks want to have a democratic assembly and work with the liberal democrats (i.e. capitalists), and Lenin sees a hidden hypocritical agenda in this:  The Mensheviks will necessarily be coopted and assimilated into the Czarist/Bourgeois agenda, and the proletariat will be cheated out of their revolution.

Then there are the anarchist who see revolution as the end, and that action must always be from the lowest levels.  This Lenin sees as problematic.  The revolution isn't the end.  The revolution is the means to the end.  The end must have unlimited power to reform, thus, it must end in dictatorship.  The end must also have complete legitimacy, hence, it must be a democracy, never mind that democracy and dictatorship are mutually exclusive.  Lenin tries to merge these two by noting that dictatorship need not be that of an individual, and by extension proves that the dictatorship can include everyone, provided they are all empowered.  Finally, it must specifically enumerate who the dictatorship is allegedly for, and who it is not for.  Thus, it is for the factory workers and the peasants.  Only.  Don't ask any more questions.  Period.

Some of this discussion reminds me of America's persistent problem with RINO's (Republicans In Name Only).  They seem to have a somewhat opposite mentality to what Lenin claims will happen with the Mensheviks in that the RINO's routinely compromise with the Socialists, although Lenin honors the Mensheviks more by implying that they would need to be coopted first, whereas the RINO's don't even need that as an incentive.  The parallel breaks down if you go any further, because Lenin and the Anarchists are for completely overthrowing the legal framework, whereas America's Tea Party is for restoring the legal framework.

Another thing I sense from these writings is that the socialist in various groups have been brooding over power for a very long time, and this has caused them to carefully study history and generate a vocabulary for themselves.  The French Revolution figures very high on this, as well as the Paris Commune and the German Revolution of 1848.  Thus, to really put their thinking into perspective will require a more careful study of these events, along with the writings of Marx and Engels.

A final note is that there is not one reference to Christianity or the church in all these writings, which if I recall correctly was true to Trotsky's "From October to Brest-Litovsk" also.  This contrasts strongly with Leo Tolstoy's hatred for Christianity in his religious writings that were done towards this period.  Where was the church?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Vladimir Lenin: Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution

This work describes gives an account of the disputes over methods of accomplishing the communist takeover of Russia that were being proposed in the year 1905.  It is also a very sarcastic work, so I am having a little difficulty at times knowing if Lenin is advocating a position or citing a position for the purpose of mocking it.

The way I understand it is that Lenin is in favor of an armed overthrow of the government only, whereas others wanted a progressive set of changes towards socialism.  In this discussion a distinction that I wasn't aware of before shows up in the vocabulary.  The proletariat are the working poor of the cities, whereas the peasantry are the working poor of the country.  Lenin believes that these two large groups can be aligned in their revolutionary dreams, which is contrary to the belief of the other communists.

The problem as Lenin sees it is that Bourgeois democracy (i.e. capitalism) will both ally with the Tsar and co-opt the socialists, thus, precluding a revolution.  Thus, his insistence on armed revolution as being the only way to achieve communism.  What I found surprising in this was the degree to which Lenin was worried about capitalism:

"Since the rule of the bourgeoisie over the working class is inevitable under capitalism, it is quite correct to say that a bourgeois revolution expresses the interests not so much of the proletariat as of the Bourgeoisie.  But it is entirely absurd to think that a bourgeois revolution does not express the interest of the proletariat at all.  ...

In countries like Russia, the working class suffers not so much from capitalism as from the insufficient development of capitalism. ... The working class is therefore decidedly interested in the broadest, freest and most rapid development of capitalism."

Then it launches off into some confused speculation about how this should lead to Socialism. The only reasoning that would make sense to me is that having tasted the good life of Capitalism, and craving more, the masses should proceed to vote to get more, which leads to the transition to Socialism.  Throw in a few mendacious politicians who quietly change the laws to undermine capitalism, then blame the chaos they caused on capitalism, from which they are then given a populist mandate to implement socialist policies while enriching themselves, and there seems to be a logic to Lenin's thesis:

"The more complete and determined, the more consistent the bourgeois revolution, the more assured will be the proletarian struggle against the bourgeoisie for Socialism.  Only those who are ignorant of the rudiments of scientific Socialism can regard this conclusion as new or strange, paradoxical."

I am about half way through this work.

Herbert Giles: Religions of Ancient China

Herbert Giles (1845-1935) was a Cambridge Professor and Sinologist who left us with the Wade-Giles phonic system for Chinese.  This work is much too short for my liking, but at the same time contains a number of curiosities, along with perhaps a caution that his scholarship might be no more accurate than his phonic system.

Religions of Ancient China begins with a description of the oldest Chinese religion, which he asserts to be monotheistic with two separate names for God.  One is an abstract one, 天, while the other refers to a more animate deity, 上帝.  Gradually a large number of other spirits appeared, but the earliest Jesuit missionaries found these original terms to be so similar in concept to Christianity that they adapted them, although the Pope insisted on the variant, 天主, "Lord of Heaven", which confusingly matched another Chinese deity.  Confucianism tried to manage the multiplication of deities, but then Confucius was deified and a mess ensued.

Taoism had its beginnings primarily as a philosophical endeavor in speculating about theological matters.  But then Buddhism came along as a distinct religion, and we have this note:

"Each religion began early to borrow from the other.  In the words of the philosopher Chu Hsi, of the twelfth century, 'Buddhism stole the best features of Taoism; Taoism stole the worst features of Buddhism.  It is as though one took a jewel from the other, and the loser recouped the loss with a stone.'

From Buddhism the Taoists borrowed their whole scheme of temples, priests, nuns and ritual.  They drew up liturgies to resemble the Buddhist Sutras and also prayers for the dead.  They adopted the idea of a Trinity, consisting of Lao Tzu, P'an Ku, and the Ruler of the Universe; and they further appropriated the Buddhist Purgatory with all its frightful terrors and tortures after death."

Reading between the lines, Buddhism didn't have any significant philosophical theology until it encountered Taoism.  All this just sets up a big red flag in my mind regarding how little I actually know about Buddhism and Taoism, but it certainly reaffirms my suspicion that modern Westernized Buddhism is even further from original Buddhism than I had thought.  There is also a note that Chinese Buddhism would have been unrecognizable to Buddha.  My problem is that I have zero confidence in westerners to properly teach this subject, while the original texts aren't accessible to me.


Exodus. In 3D.

There is plenty wrong and much right in the story line, but I will leave that to others to talk about.  I just found the movie a visual treat, especially with swarms of locusts flying at you in 3D.  Too bad they didn't do this with the crocodiles.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tolstoy: Resistance is Futile

Getting towards the end of Tolstoy's work, his rhetoric gives way to rage against the church, whether Eastern Orthodox, Romanist, or Protestant.  He then pronounces them to be so utterly corrupt that their destruction is inevitable.  Non-judgmentalism in action?

But let's rewind a bit.  There is a long winded Ecclesiastes style rant where he mocks all those who have not brought their life to a clear meaning and purpose.  Presumably he has found his own clear meaning and purpose, but I can't actually find a quote in this work.  Maybe I will run across this in a different work.  He vents against the idle rich and notes that their physical and mental health problems vastly exceed those of the working poor, while medicines cause them more problems than they solve.  While I can certainly appreciate this viewpoint, I wonder what he would think of today's large percentage of idle poor who suffer from obesity, STDs and various addictions, all fueled by government policies that are in turn inspired by his spiritual descendents in moralizing.

As for his true view of Jesus, we have this in Tolstoy's commentary on Jesus feeding 5,000:

"That many had brought provisions with them is evident from there being twelve basketfuls gathered of what remained, as we read in all the four gospels.  (If nobody had had anything except the boy, there would not have been twelve baskets in the field.)  Had Christ not done what He did, that is, the 'miracle' of feeding thousands with five loaves, what now takes place in the world would have taken place then.  Those who had provisions with them would have eaten all they had and would have over-eaten rather than see that anything should be left.  ..."  What I Believe, by Leo Tolstoy

And so Tolstoy reinterprets the text in order to eliminate the miracle:  In the Tolstoy retelling, many were secretly carrying food, and were enticed into sharing due to the example of Christ.  Based on this statement and several others, I think it is safe to say that Tolstoy was an atheist.  He did not believe that Jesus had any supernatural powers.  He was simply a teacher.  Where this gets problematic is that the disciples - the same fools or charlatans who twisted the story of the feeding of the 5,000 - these idiots are the ones who told us of the moral code that Jesus taught, apparently leaving nothing to the imagination by employing a pure literalism, which they completely failed to do elsewhere.  At this point it is important to note that Tolstoy is pretty much giving us a straight Mainline Christian teaching.  He goes on to prophecy the doom of the church:

"The life of the world in our time follows its own course, independently of the teaching of the Church.  That teaching has remained so far behind that men of the world hearken no more to the voices of the teachers; and indeed, there is nothing worth listening to, because the Church only gives explanations that the world has already grown tired of - explanations of an organization that is rapidly decaying."

Fast forwarding to our era, Christianity certainly has had a struggle, but this has mostly been due to atheists infecting the schools, seminaries and pulpits and systematically mis-teaching Christianity.  Yet contrary to Tolstoy's prophecy, Christianity is still growing in spite of the storm.

"All religious creeds, except that of the Christian Church, enjoin, besides the observance of certain rites, good deeds and forbearance from evil ones."

This is a fascinating statement in that it is in direct contradiction to those faiths which exist only for the purpose of providing health, wealth, and prosperity to their adherents, and the others which command their followers to kill, maim, enslave and torment others until world domination is achieved.  Still others demanded human blood or immoral sex acts.  But Tolstoy will have none of this.  All religions are good, except for the single exception, which is Christianity.  And if the non-Christian philosophies promote evil, it is only - in his mind - because they have accepted the teaching of the church.  This does remind me of Augustine's assertion that there were no moral teachings in the Pagan religions of his time.

I still have another 40 minutes of this rant to listen to.  One thing to note is that Tolstoy's religion has neither judges nor courts of any kind, so that there is "no controlling legal authority" for anything.  There is also no resurrection, and thus no final judgment after death, so he needn't worry if anything he says isn't quite correct.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Tolstoy: Religion in the Borg Collective

"This is the reason why those who believe in the happiness of an individual life cannot believe in the doctrine of Christ."  - What I Believe, by Tolstoy

The novel part of this work is the notion that there is no literal, bodily resurrection of the individual.  Tolstoy further claims that Jesus never taught the doctrine of any bodily resurrection, and he proceeds to dismiss all the statements that indicate Jesus did teach bodily resurrection as being figurative.  All the remaining new testament statements on this subject are ignored, while Tolstoy claims that Jesus was correcting the Pharisees in their erroneous notion of resurrection, which he deems to be a holdover from the most primitive and barbaric forms of religion.  The faith in a resurrection and heaven are mocked as a heretical perversion of the Christian religion and there is apparently no need in Tolstoy's religion to even speak of a judgment or hell.  In his view, we only have the now to do good and any energy expended in a hope for the hereafter will only distract from doing good in the present and, perhaps worse, tempt us to believe that we needn't give everything now in our struggle for good when there is a future in which we will be made perfect.  Instead, death is simply a state when our soul is assimilated into the collective oneness of God, as happened to Christ on the cross.

I see this as an attempt to merge an atheist theology with a pseudo Christian morality in a mix that more or less follows Mainline Christianity.  Since Tolstoy doesn't claim to have discovered this "correct" teaching of Christ until he was 55, it becomes much easier for him to imagine that he could fulfill the requirements.  Yet why bother?  His claim is that by following Christ's commands in detail we should have greater personal happiness.  Yet he ignores what Jesus really said, "take up your cross and follow me", as if this were to be a source of joy without the hope that Tolstoy denies nor the work of a Holy Spirit, which has not yet been mentioned in this work.  And if a madman deems that he will find personal satisfaction in robbing and killing his neighbor, he will never face a judgment, which is really where this religion is hopelessly defective.

One thing I did like that Tolstoy mentioned was the need to literally understand Christ's teaching regarding adultery.  He doesn't dwell on this like he does the other, unfortunately.  Today, the mainliners who follow this line of rhetoric have pretty much abandoned any attempt to restrain immorality and completely committed themselves to a doctrine of perversion.  Doing good to others is all about using someone else's money.  I still have a few chapters to go, so we will see what else is exciting here.  Will resistance be futile?  I can't be sure yet, but Tolstoy has accused the church of resisting Christ's teaching for 1,800 years.


Sunday, December 07, 2014

San Francisco Bay Area Drought Flood Warning

It is always one extreme or the other here in California.  The storm with flooding warning is here.  There is a drought story here from today's San Jose Mercury.  I included a photo of one of my neighbors who is happy to get outside after the current series of rains.

I don't know any songs about rain in Northern California, so this one from Southern California will have to do.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Greek Semester 1: Complete

What a relief.  There are two more semesters to go, but I will delay until the summer before starting the second one.  The first semester had us go through all the basic Greek grammar along with a few hundred vocabulary worlds.  The second semester supposedly has us going through the material again with an eye on the linguistics aspects.  I will get the books for the second semester and study ahead.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Tolstoy: What I Believe

This work was written by a 55 year old Tolstoy and is nearly 30 years removed from his trilogy on childhood.  From his testimony, he spent considerable time studying the Bible, reading commentaries and theologies, and discussing theology and moral principles with those around him.  The result is something that might be termed Tolstoyanist Dogmatics, except that it is presented more as a novelist might do rather than as a blinkered theology professor.  I have listened so far to about 1/4 of this work, so will give my preliminary impressions.

A key theme that Tolstoy is developing in the early part of this work is that the Biblical command, "do not judge", is an absolute command that covers all possible human judgements, whether individually or collectively.  He goes on to judge that almost all Christian thinkers prior to himself have judge wrongly in their judgement of the meaning of this phrase, which he judges to be a primary Christian imperative.  And he judges that he judged correctly.

From this description it should be clear as to what I think is the subtle flaw in his thinking:  Humans have a brain and a free will so that we might make judgments, and I have no doubt that Tolstoy made tens of thousands of judgments in the process of writing his work that condemned judging. Don't we judge what would be the most persuasive choice of words in order to entice others to judge that our judgment is the correct one?  And if he hadn't judged that his writing was worthwhile to others, would he have published it? Thus, he has already fallen into the trap of the Academic philosophers who dogmatically asserted that all dogmatic assertions are false.  Only the dead can escape judging.

The problem that Tolstoy stumbles over is fairly basic.  He quotes Matthew 7:1-2, "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you."  We must interpret this in a way that is consistent with the rest of scriptures.  Thus, we go down a few more verses and we see Matthew 7:15-16, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will recognize them by their fruits".  Is this not a command to judge?  And if I judge wrongly with respect to a false teacher, will this not potentially be catastrophic?

The there are the contrasting verses, such as John 7:24, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment".  The issue here is not that judging is wrong, but rather that we should not expect to escape a final judgment where whatever standards we used are thrown back at us.  It is a command to judge correctly, because we ourselves will not escape judgment.  There are countless other verses to support this point, and once we go this way we are much more in conformance with Old Testament teaching.  Thus, I take this command more as a "Beware when you judge!".  Especially to be avoided are judgments that needlessly make pronouncements on the character of others.  But how is a novelist to function if he never makes a judgment regarding the character of those he writes about?  Stop it!  Looney, you may not be directly judging, but you are implying that he is a hypocrite and thus judging by stealth!

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

"About 100 brains missing from University of Texas"

It seems to me that brains becoming lost in institutions of higher learning is a problem that has been with us since the beginning of the university system about a thousand years ago.  Yet for the first time in history, a university is beginning to take notice, identify and quantify the losses, and take precautions to avoid a recurrence.  Maybe there is hope for the future?

Pondering Riots

The recent Ferguson events have me thinking of the 1992 LA riots.  I was flying back from the east coast and went into LA at night, which is usually a mass of lights going forever.  The situation was visibly different, since many blocks were blacked out due to the vandalism.  We normally make the final approach into LAX going from the land, due to the sea breeze coming off the ocean.  In this instance, however, the landing was reversed because air traffic control didn't permit the planes to fly low over the neighborhoods where shots were constantly being fired.  Eventually I got home to my worried wife with nothing more remarkable to note.

So has there been any progress since 1992?  One observation is that the chaos spread far and wide after Ferguson so that even San Francisco was treated to protests and vandalism, although formerly they had been safely separated from the chaos in Oakland.  In terms of the rhetoric, the main difference seems to be that the voices of the anarchists, social justice theologians, and ethicists are much stronger in pointing out the obvious fact that if there were no law enforcement, then there wouldn't be any police brutality.  And while we are at it, if there were no laws, then there would be no law breaking.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Regarding The Imminent Chocolate Apocalypse

I am not quite sure what the cause of the crisis is.  Perhaps it is due to global warming as the leftist say.  Or maybe it is due to misguided legislation regarding "conflict chocolate".  The issue is certainly one to shake up the usual left-right political alliances, since even the Libertarian Cato Institute was advocating government intervention to address the issue.  Perhaps The Walking Dead should be re-themed to account for the much more fear inspiring chocolate shortage.  My only recommendation is that the United Nations take up the issue by declaring chocolate to be a fundamental human right.

Tolstoy: The Three Kinds Of Love

This is a paraphrase of some remarks made in Tolstoy's work, Youth, which is one of his first works.
1.  The first kind is the love between males and females, which he doesn't see necessary to expound on much.  He simply notes that in desiring to gain their own fulfillment, people convince themselves that they care for another.

2. The second kind is the heroic, suffering lover.  This person will deny themselves sleep for a week while sitting at the side of someone who is sick.  It is almost as if they need sick people, so that they can sleeplessly sit by their side and prove how heroic they are, yet they generally are oblivious to the real concerns of people otherwise.

3. The third kind of love considers the needs and wants of others in minute detail and performs actions accordingly.  The complication being that such lovers expect reciprocity.

Tolstoy's three works, Childhood, Boyhood and Youth, are some of his earliest works.  I am wondering if he discovered any additional types of love as he got older.  There are parts of this trilogy that are of interest to me, given the upper class lifestyle and transition to universities that occurred during this era.  It seems that the university was exclusively for men.  What annoys me in these works is the constant need to psycho-analyze every gesture, movement of the eyes, utterance, or tone of utterance.  Only the dogs and horses are spared.  Perhaps this is just my dull nature, yet I am not convinced that so much information is conveyed, and if it were conveyed and I were to analyze everything, I would undoubtedly come to the wrong conclusion in every case, so that I would still be better off in not having attempted this kind of analysis.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Xenocracy: Governance in the Galactic Federation

Can differing life forms that experience wholly other realities embrace a mutual government for a shared destiny?  This seems to be the experiment that we have embarked upon.  For example, in the former experiment of the coalition government involving the sheep and the wolves, there was agreement on the concepts of "teeth" and "biting" that provided a certain framework for communication and negotiation.  In the current situation, even this modest degree of shared beliefs cannot be relied upon.

For example, the Washington Post lamented that the president was "impotent" regarding the events in Ferguson, since people had placed all kinds of unreasonable expectations on the first black to be elected to the office.  And they whine, "Obama never actually promised to bind up the nation's racial wounds =- that was a hope others placed upon him, far too naively".  Yes, the campaign of "hope and change" never happened.  It was a fabrication of Fox News.  Blacks and minorities are angry because they have lost the right to vote in the Washington Post's reality.  The American conservative's reality, however, states that the current administration has taken race baiting to an entirely new level and used the justice department to engage in endless warfare against civilization on behalf of anarchy, while the dead are often more faithful voters than the living.

Then there is The Economist, who took offense at the notion that the US was headed towards tyranny due to the government no only refusing to enforce immigration laws, but also litigating against states that are trying to gain control over the hordes that are flooding in.  The alternate reality, however, is that the US never has had any laws regarding immigration, and this is entirely the fault of the Republicans, who have unilaterally refused to make and pass any laws on the subject.  All this begs the question as to whether left and right have a shared concept of "law".  Given that they don't have a shared concept of "US Constitution", it would be more surprising if the notion of a "law" were agreed upon.

The latest one brought to my attention is a clever saying, "If Obama came out in support of oxygen, Republicans would suffocate themselves."  Thus, implying that Republicans are purely reactionary in thinking, whereas Obama is a faithful supporter of ancient traditions of unknown origin.  Then there is the other reality, which states that the Republicans are brainless, knuckle dragging traditionalists who certainly wouldn't understand the concept of oxygen.  This later reality seems to be embraced by the same smart ones who embraced the former reality, so that the number of distinct realities in a Xenocratic legislature can exceed the number of legislators.

Given that this level of difference is clearly otherworldly, I can only take the current news as a sign that we are part of some extraterrestrial experiment in governance where mutually antagonistic viewpoints have been deliberately implanted for the purpose of seeing whether or not lifeforms with alternate realities are capable of mutual cooperating in government.  Hopefully they will send me a copy of their final report.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Executive Action Regarding Open Borders

I can't understand why conservatives don't get it.  Obama's speech had nothing to do with Amnesty, and it was only a reiteration of what he has been doing for the last 6 years.  Leftists don't believe in Amnesty.  Leftists believe in a post-national universalism that obsoletes national borders.  Everyone is free to migrate anywhere and vote and shop for the best social benefits.  Leftist intellectuals have been writing about this for decades and now are implementing it.  After the speech, I was tuning in to CNN where the moderator was discussing the fact with a Hispanic activist that the US has - until Obama - never actually had any immigration system.  To many Americans this is nonsensical, but when you realize that the only immigration that makes moral sense is a pure open border system, it becomes clear that America has never really had any system for handling immigrants.

Then there are those small minded people who think they are being clever by pointing out that the president took an oath to uphold the US Constitution.  Do they really think that the US Constitution is some silly document written in 1787?  Seriously.  The Constitution of the US is the US Constitution that is determined by the intellectual elites, thus, our president always, by definition, upholds the US Constitution in whatever action he takes.  i.e., Our president is an intellectual elite.  This US Constitution alone is to be upheld and treated as sacred, which is exactly what our presidents take the oath to do.

So where does this leave me?  Being a Christian first, I must look at this from a Christian perspective.  For example, Pharaoh too upheld the Constitution, in spite of the temptations that Moses offered him to do otherwise.  The end result accomplished God's plan, which was apparently to destroy the Israelites in the wilderness, until Moses talked God out of it.  Thus, my end conclusion is that I should relax and realize that I am likely in the middle of a great epic story of some sort and God will eventually bring the outcome to something good.  Meanwhile, I just need to be on the lookout for opportunities to do good to others and show kindness.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Pondering Beheadings

Since I watched a news clip this morning with a statement from Peter Kassig's parents, and my head is still in sufficient proximity to my hand, I have been scratching it in wonder.  Certainly Peter's service is something to be admired, and his death to be lamented.  Then there is the grief of Peter's parents, which I can certainly empathize with.   

What puzzled me were the statements regarding faith that came from Peter's parents:  "The world is broken, but it will be healed in the end.  And good will prevail as the one God of many names will prevail."  May God grant them peace.  Yet at the same time, I am not accustomed to referring to God as "the one God of many names", since this isn't from the Bible.  Nor does the Bible teach that the world will be healed, but rather says that it will be destroyed.  Good will prevail, but only through the authority of Jesus Christ manifested during his second coming.  Another article referred to the statement having being given at Epworth United Methodist Church in Indianapolis.  Checking the web site, there is no statement of faith as Christian churches normally provide, which shouldn't be too surprising, since this is a United Methodist religious group.  But to their credit, they don't have a formal declaration of salvation by total depravity as many of their sister churches do, and I believe there are a few Christian clergy and churches among the United Methodists.  I just can't tell what religion this church is.

Another puzzling statement from the news article reads: "He also married and quickly divorced.  And he felt stirrings of a higher calling even then."  My reaction could certainly change if I knew more about the circumstances, but it seems that being a good husband is a higher calling.  Or at least it was until a generation ago.  

Then there is this from a conservative article regarding Peter Kassig:  "It suggests that he denied his murderers the pleasure of a kneeled submission."  This wouldn't bother me, except that Peter also converted to Islam while in prison.  So which act is the greater one of submission?  To bow to your executioner?  Or to bow to the religion of your executioner?  But then again, Peter was raised Methodist, so perhaps there was nothing to lose in the conversion?  

I don't intend to answer any of those above questions, while I suppose many more could be asked.  And if I misunderstood, given that what I have learned has come through fallible sources, I will be happy to be corrected.  The main thing that stands out in all this is the clear thinking of ISIS, Jihadi John, and the caliphate, which contrasts with the total confusion of western thinking.  

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Childhood by Tolstoy

This is the prequel to the previous post on Boyhood, featuring the same characters, and almost certainly written first.  Behind the stories of the children there is the nature of serfdom which I must wonder at, having never experienced anything of the sort.  An example of this relates to a young lady who had been in the service of the grandfather, and sought to marry a young man who was also a servant:

"At last she ventured to go and ask my grandfather if she might marry Foka, but her master took the request in bad part, flew into a passion, and punished poor Natashka by exiling her to a farm which he owned in a remote quarter of the Steppes. At length, when she had been gone six months and nobody could be found to replace her, she was recalled to her former duties. Returned, and with her dress in rags, she fell at Grandpapa's feet, and besought him to restore her his favour and kindness, and to forget the folly of which she had been guilty--folly which, she assured him, should never recur again. And she kept her word."

Natashka returns and is a simple, loyal, and single servant for life.  As a practical matter, she is a slave, but her entire being is wrapped up in the taking care of the household, including the children and grandchildren.  This has me wanting to compare these circumstances with the experience of American slavery, but that will need to wait.  Thankfully the serf system was done away with in Russia about the same time the US put an end to slavery.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Boyhood, by Tolstoy

The order of reading Tolstoy's works should have been Childhood, Boyhood and Youth, but the mp3 player brought them up in alphabetical order.  Boyhood is the story of the antics, imaginations and trials of a boy as he transitions from 14 to 16 years old.  The boy being a younger son of an aristocratic family in 19th century Russia.  Education is accomplished by private tutors in this family, which should induce all the Asian tiger moms in my neighborhood to be consumed with jealousy if they had only known that such an education was possible.  The second tutor for this boy is a Frenchman, who the young lad didn't get along with.  This dislike rapidly transmorgified into hate, followed by a long, slow thaw.  I had presumed this story was about Tolstoy himself, but if so, it would only loosely be the case.  Much of what I enjoyed were the philosophical ponderings that he attributes to this young man.  One senses a Christian background, but the consciousness of God that I had growing up is largely absent from Tolstoy's discourse.  There really is just this remark after a well-earned punishment:

"The the idea of God occurred to me, and I asked Him boldly why He had punished me thus, seeing that I had never forgotten to say my prayers, either morning or evening.  Indeed, I can positively declare that it was during that hour in the store-room that I took the first step towards the religious doubt which afterwards assailed me during my youth (not that mere misfortune could arouse me to infidelity and murmuring, but that, at moments of utter contrition and solitude, the idea of the injustice of Providence took root in me as readily as bad seed takes toot in land well soaked with rain)."

The idea that the punishment could have come from God as a blessing seems to have been completely missed from our aspiring young philosopher.  Getting back to the French tutor we have a gem of a quote:

"Judging coolly of the man at this time of day, I find that he was a true Frenchman, but a Frenchman in the better acceptation of the term.  He was fairly well educated, and fulfilled his duties to us conscientiously, but he had the peculiar features of fickle egotism, boastfulness, impertinence, and ignorant self-assurance which are common to all his countrymen, as well as entirely opposed to the Russian character."

Having worked for a French company for a few years, there is part of me that wants to agree with this.  Yet I also enjoyed this time and had not felt particularly bothered by those traits.  And at the same time, I have found the Russians I had worked with sharing many of the same characteristics of being loud and overconfident, although seemingly managing this without exuding the "me-ness".  Anyway, if I were to proceed further in judging this matter, I should undoubtedly exceed both the Russians and the French in hypocrisy, so I will merely note that this topic was commented on.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

End of the Swimming Season.

Well, not quite.  The Shadow Cliffs lake temperature is now in the upper 50's Fahrenheit, which means that we are a bit colder than the San Francisco Bay at the moment.  The water level is more than 6 feet below normal, but there is still sufficient for swimming.  Today was the last day when my mid-week swimming partner would be there until April.  He said good bye to the park attendants and I put in a last 2 kilometer swim.  From now on, when I swim I must stay in the swim lanes, which is much more tedious than a loop around the lake.

This time of year the early morning workout gets challenging.  There is nowhere to get warm and the end of the swim is a cold outdoor shower to get cleaned up before heading to work.  The showers will continue for another month until the first good freeze.  Then they will shut down the shower for a few months.  Perhaps I should sign up for the winter Alcatraz swim again.  We shall see how far will power can go in the struggle with hypothermia.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Bethink Yourselves, by Tolstoy: Christian Pacifism?

"Then I saw and the lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, 'Come.'  I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer." - Revelation 6:1-2

Tolstoy had seen enough of war up close to earn a hearing.  This is his response to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 that ended badly for the Russians.  To a large extent it is a religious work also providing his view on religion and what he sees as perhaps a path to hope.  In this he finds that Jesus provides the answer, that we are to love one another.  So far so good, but let's hear Tolstoy in his own words:

"If we indeed love our enemies, if even now we began to love our enemies, the Japanese, we would have no enemy."

Um, really?  Didn't Jesus say that the whole world would hate us?  But perhaps the notion of enemy is strictly an existential one that exists only in ourselves, so that even though others might plot evil against us, we can still declare that they are not our enemy.  Then there is the smarty in me who wants to suggest that if we didn't have any enemies, we couldn't fulfill the command to love them, thus, perhaps we should work to have more enemies so that we have more opportunities to love them!

But Tolstoy gives us something more:

"To love the yellow people, whom we call our foes, means, not to teach them under the name of Christianity absurd superstitions about the fall of man, redemption, resurrection, etc., not to teach them the art of deceiving and killing others, but to teach them justice, unselfishness, compassion, love--and that not by words, but by the example of our own good life."

This a clear profession that Tolstoy's religion is Modern-anity.  i.e., it is a selective rendering of a few of the teachings of Jesus out of context, mixed in with a complete rejection of everything that Jesus did.  War will always be with us, because man is fallen.  Without a resurrection, there is no judgment, and with no judgment, it is meaningless to speak against war and to command love.  Tolstoy rejects the sacraments of the church, apparently in ignorance that they are emblems of the love Jesus showed us by dying for us.  At the same time, Tolstoy sees "religion" as the answer and rejects "science", which in this context means the scientistic pretentions of the intellectuals.  He also implies that Buddhism has the same lofty principles as Christianity, apparently ignorant that Buddhism has no principles of any consequence.

The end of the Japanese Russian war was a major defeat for Russia and Japan was empowered to continue its brutal conquest into Korea, China and beyond.  The timing of this work is also striking, since it appears that the social revolutionaries used a phony call to pacifism to further their ruthless aims.   And so fanatics will keep on going out conquering and to conquer.  May Christians find ways to offer relief.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

From October to Brest Litovsk by Leon Trotsky, Conclusion

This work ends with Trotsky's apology for the Brest Litovsk treaty that conceded large portions of the Russian Empire to Germany along with reparations and brings Russia's participation in World War 1 to an end.  Trotsky's explanation is that Russia was too weak industrially and militarily to resist.  Germany's goal that Trotsky mentions is that of splitting off as many people groups from the Russian Empire as possible into separate nations.  The other goal that Trotsky didn't mention was to free up German soldiers for the Western front.  He portrays things almost exclusively as an effort to placate a power crazed imperial Germany, without recognizing Germany's problems beyond mentioning a strike.

That Russia's military and economy were too weak seems true, but there is something missing:  Before the October Revolution started, Russia's factories and military were already thoroughly compromised by social revolutionaries and anarchists, as Trotsky informs us.  So we are left to wonder whether the failure of the Russian military-industrial complex was the inevitable result of an incompetent Tsar and a costly war, or was it the result of deliberate sabotage by the social revolutionaries, or some combination?  From the later histories of Trotsky, we see that his pacifist rhetoric in this work is replaced by a ruthless use of military power.

A final observation is the fury that is directed towards the fellow social revolutionaries who share ideology, but not necessarily methods and power structures.  In spite of the rhetoric of a government by the working classes, it is clear that only His government of the working classes is acceptable.  Compromised be damned.  Literally.  The end of this work is some hope in the future.  The inefficiencies resulting from duplicate production will be removed, and a central planned economy will determine what is to be produced and who will get what.  The proletariat of the imperial burgoie powers will rise up and overthrow the tyrants.  The future is full of hope.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

From October to Brest Litovsk, by Trotsky (continued)

Since I just listened to an earlier Russian history, my impression is that the Russian revolution is simply a repeat of the earlier episodes in Russian history where a disputed monarchy resulted in lots of princes appealing to the masses and then leading armies to stake their claim.  It was always "for the people", whether it be a leader from a thousand years ago or a modern leftist politician who spends his time on the golf course and hobnobbing with billionaires.  So the Proletariat leadership were all from the Bourgeoisie.  Since this work was written in 1919, Trotsky is still sticking clearly to the "for the people" text.  To do otherwise would not have been possible at that time.

There is some awkwardness to the "for the people" slogan that should be noted.  Trotsky proclaims that the Soviets were the only legitimate democratic institutions since they were most connected to the masses.  Of course democracy was never their intent, and the entire episode of this book is dedicated to the crushing of a more pluralistic system.  Trotsky gives us this little treat: "We issued our first decree, abolishing the death penalty ..."  Which sounds like one thing on the surface, but perhaps the real meaning was that they abolished the legal proceedings on the death penalty, thus, eliminating an annoyance regarding carrying the death penalty out.  We can ask the descendants of the Tsar if there is any doubt on this matter.  He whines a bit about the efforts of the Bolsheviks being sabotaged, as if that hadn't been exactly what the Bolsheviks were doing to the central government.  The "Bourgeois Press" is forever criticized for stating that the Bolsheviks were for armed overthrow, as if this wasn't what they were for.  So Trotsky continues: "In civil war, more than in any other, victory can be insured only by a determined and persistent course.  There must be no vacillation.  To engage in parleys is dangerous; merely to mark time is suicidal.  ...  And only by these means of aggressive charges can victory be achieved ..."  That probably gets closer to Trotsky's true sentiments.

As an American, I generally admire our procedure to independence.  We declared independence.  We fought the war.  When things finally settled down, we established the government in a more calm and thoughtful atmosphere.  The Russian revolution of 1917 was entirely to the opposite.  In the middle of a war with economic collapse, the Bolsheviks determined that their bloody minded course of action was the only one that was acceptable.  The part that I wonder about still is the manner in which the Bourgeois Bolshevik leadership managed to communicate with the peasants and persuade them to give them their souls.  Trotsky presents it as a spontaneous uprising, which I don't believe.  In the US, the education system along with much of the media and half the clergy are dedicated to feeding this propaganda to the masses.

And so I will conclude with this:  "The vigilance of the Red Guards was beyond all praise.  They stood on watch about small camp fires, rifle in hand, hours at a time.  The sight of these young armed workmen by the camp fires in the snow was the best symbol of the proletarian revolution."  What did they think they were fighting for?  And how did they come to believe it?  Trotsky provides us no answers to the most important questions.  According to my Google stats, there are a number of Russian and Ukrainian observers to this blog.  I am wondering if any of them might be able to provide anymore insight.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

From October to Brest Litovsk: Remedial Work

The discussion of late 19th century / early 20th century socialist movements involves numerous characters, technical terms, events, and publications so that having a working knowledge would take quite a time investment.  Trotsky mentions the Zimmerwald Conference, which I had never heard of, so this became the starting point.  Ostensibly, this was to oppose World War 1, and their conference resulted in the Zimmerwald Manifesto.  WW1 was certainly a good starting point, since even, I after looking at the history multiple times, view it as an utterly pointless war for the sake of having a war.  There weren't even any implausible pretexts.  So here is the evaluation of the cause per the socialists:

"The ruling forces of Capitalist society, in whose hands were the destinies of the nations, the monarchical and the Republican Governments, secret diplomacy, the vast employers' organizations, the middle-class parties, the Capitalist Press, the Church - all these forces must bear the full weight of responsibility for this war, which has been produced by the social order nourishing them and protecting them and which is being carried on for the sake of their interests."

Blame everybody.  The workers alone remain untainted in this, which is where the problem lies:  How many tradesman were at the Zimmerwald Conference?  Almost certainly zero.  (Peter the Great was the only Russian tradesman to have achieved power.)  And what do the socialists have on offer to replace the list of evil institutions above?  Democracy as a means to social unity had already lost its luster due to the challenges of reality.  With economic collapse and despair on offer, the socialist apparently just offered up Revolution! as the final answer.  Just throw out the bums, and we will give you "hope and change".  What this fails to recognize is that whoever ends up in power after the revolution is just the next tyrant, and he will not be able to govern without establishing a new ruling class.

Another elephant in the Zimmerwald room was that of nationalities.  The Ukrainians being a typical example.  As long as social revolution was in its pre-revolt position, appealing to tribal instincts was in their interest.  As soon as power was achieved, the opposite sentiment took hold, culminating in the Ukrainian famine.  Which brings us to the point of recognizing that the socialists aren't any different then what went before.  They just exploited the gullibility of the uneducated classes.