Saturday, September 13, 2014

United Nations "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights"

It would be fun to comment on this in the light of having recently watched the latest Planet of the Apes movie, but I will set this aside.

Before commenting on the work of the title, I should note that as a Christian, I am far more interested in Duties than Rights.  In particular, "love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18) and "as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them" (Luke 6:31) are both Duties.  The fixation with Rights turns morality on its head and doesn't form the basis for anything.


Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world ..."

OK, the UN disagrees with me.

"Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind ..."

It seems to me that the symptom is being turned into the cause.  

Besides "freedom of speech and belief" there is also "freedom from fear and want".  I am not sure I entirely have freedom from fear and want.  For example, if I didn't "want" to do this post, I wouldn't be typing it.  And while I am at it, I am a little cautious ("fear"?) lest I put something down that would offend too greatly.  So my sense is that "freedom from fear and want" is something that is only available to those who are dead.

Backing up a moment, I would note that the US Declaration of Independence states that the Rights are "endowed by their Creator", whereas the UN version was a political compromise.  As the UN site says, "At a time when the world was divided into Eastern and Western blocks, finding a common ground on what should make the essence of the document proved to be a colossal task". 

Article 1 begins with an admonition that humans "act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood".  This should highlight to our current age how the document is dated, since we would need to change this to "brotherhood and sisterhood".  Or maybe that is "siblinghood".  Regardless, we must put blinders on regarding Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Esau and Jacob.  

Article 4 bans "slavery  or servitude".  No problem here, except that today feminists are declaring motherhood to be slavery and what to make of student loan debts?  Isn't that servitude?  

Article 5 says that no one shall be subject to "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".  Which rules out the vast majority of punishments.  Pecuniary punishments remain, but as noted earlier, pecuniary punishments can easily corrupt the prosecution.  Then we must keep in mind "degrading treatment" today is likely the expectation that a worker arrive at his post on time and sober each work day.

Article 6: "Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law".  Which sounds great, until you have a group of terrorists who cross a border, massacre a large number of people, and continue killing until subdued.  Then they demand their rights as citizens.  

Article 9 bans "exile", which was popular with the Romans as an alternative to execution.  Other aspects of the declaration almost lead to an open borders requirement.  Somehow I think that Europe is going to regret this.  The US will also, but for different reasons.

Article 10 provides for a formal trial for just about anything.  There must also be available some fair person to inform everyone of their rights.  Good luck.

I will ponder the remaining articles in another post.  My impression is that it is something that is well meaning, but hopelessly naive.  Then there is the cynical part where countries that had no intention at all of abiding by these articles signed the charter anyway, knowing that they would not be accountable for their violations, but happy to have a stick to beat countries which didn't fully comply.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Review(s): Greekpod101 update, ParseGreek, FlashGreek Pro, Anki


I have still been making good use of this and have pushed my way mostly through the roughly 2,000 vocabulary words.  My focus is mainly on vocabulary, but it seems they have been busy updating their lessons.  When I get some time, I should probably take a look.

One gripe with the vocabulary from my last review was the lack of gender, but I may have been mistaken in my earlier review because gender is included now, albeit in small print which is impractical for self-drill.  The vocabulary flashcards web site has generally been stable for many months, providing me a large cumulative number of practice hours.  At the moment there are a bunch of words that lost their sound track which causes me some annoyance when the sound recognition comes up.  Then there are a few words that have been changed in the course of my studies.  For example, the word for "priest" was changed from "παπάς" to "ieréas", which changes the meaning from a Catholic priest or padre to a more generic priest.  It might be nice to get a notification when a word has changed.  Then there was a brief time when the card images were being erroneously flashed before the word. I am still anxiously awaiting the expansion from 2,000 words to 20,000.  What is done well and what is missing should be more apparent from the next three reviews.

First, a note on pronunciation.   Modern Greek pronunciation is very different from Western Academic pronunciation use for classical Greek.  My original interest in Greek was to learn Biblical Greek and perhaps to be able to decipher Attic Greek along with other classical forms.  Any westernized pronunciation of a foreign language grates on my ears, so I am entirely sympathetic with the French who must put up with ignorant Americans who pronounce "garçon" as "gar-kon".  Thus, I would much rather attempt to pronounce words in a way that doesn't offend the locals.  The counter argument is that many of the vowels in modern Greek are indistinguishable by sound, whereas the academic form is more precise in maintaining distinct sounds for each vowel.  The counter-counter argument is that very few Greek students will ever sensibly master the meaning of Greek, but the Greek accent sounds cool while the Americanized Greek sounds dorkish, even if you do understand it better.  Of course neither position is to die for, since my Hebrew professors have already pointed out that the language of Heaven is Hebrew, therefore, Hebrew is the only language that needs to be mastered both in terms of understanding and pronunciation.


The challenge of learning Greek vocabulary is as much in the memorization of the words as it is in the mastery of the parsing.  ParseGreek is for Biblical (Koine) Greek, so it isn't relevant for modern Greek.  Yet it has proven a great help to me in drilling me over and over on the various transformations that occur to nouns, adjectives, pronouns, etc., depending on whether they are used in the nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, vocative, feminine, masculine, neuter, or whatever form.  My workbooks only have a handful of parsing exercises which have no hope of bringing me to any level of reliably recognizing forms, while the ParseGreek program patiently drills.  And drills.  And drills.  Until I fall asleep.  So far it only seems to have one item that I have objected to, where the parsing of (τις,τι) ("who, what" or "a certain one") was not matching my textbook (Mounce) on one of the two forms of this word.  The other was OK, but I couldn't figure out which one it was.  What this program doesn't have is the ability to go from English to Greek, which would be needed for any modern Greek drill program.  Something I would like to be able to get is a full display of the lexical forms for a particular word.  Now if only there were a ParseHebrew program ...

FlashGreek Pro

This is the vocabulary drill equivalent to ParseGreek.  I really wish I had a choice of getting a modern Greek pronunciation of the words.  The program allows you to go Greek to English or vice versa, but not in the mixed mode that features nicely with GreekPod101.  I would like to have an audio Greek recognition mode also.  What this does well with the nouns is that it has the lexical form of the word, the genitive singular, and the article front and center so that the memorization focuses on what you need to fully parse the nouns.  Adjectives likewise are listed in their masculine, feminine and neuter forms so that the proper endings will be picked up.  Given that the entire New Testament vocabulary is included, it has more words in it than GreekPod101, yet they are not organized with the spaced repetition that has made GreekPod101 so attractive to me.


What can I say?  Anki has it all.  Sumerian.  Ugaritic.  Middle Egyptian.  Taiwanese.  And a gazzilion other things.  And it is free.  And it is customizable.  And it supports spaced repetition.  But I still have some gripes.  The interval choices somehow seem much more sensible with the GreekPod101 setup.  The data sets are also wired to one mode of operation, such as language A to language B, but not vice versa.  I haven't yet figured out how to change the order, but it doesn't look like it can mingle things up easily, which is something I also like from GreekPod101.  Maybe a little more time would make me more comfortable with this system, but I would prefer just to re-program it to my liking.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Struggling to comprehend Scottish Independence

It would be nice if they would simply come up with a short, to the point, declaration of independence like they had done previously (1320AD):

"As long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule.  It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, that we are fighting, but for freedom - for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself".

The current explanation runs to 670 pages, which certainly is impressive but well short of the amount of paperwork needed to become an EU member.

So here are a list of their grievances:

1. The capital of the UK is in London, which isn't in Scotland.  Apparently I have grown complacent in my acceptance of most of the world being governed by out-of-touch political centers that are located somewhere else.  Enough is enough.  I will bring this up at the next California Devolution committee meeting.

2. The Royal Mail was privatised.  It seems a bit quaint to me, but apparently people still mail letters in Scotland rather than using e-mail.  Furthermore, it is some sort of ancient sacrilege for non-governmental fingers to handle letters.

3. Whereas formerly their aims in gaining independence had nothing to do with riches, the new one boldly declares:  "With independence, Scotland will have the tools we need to turn our rich country into a rich society."  Lest there be any doubt of the value placed on this, they continue: "This will require hard work and effort, but the prize is worth it: we can create a more prosperous, sustainable and successful future for our families, our nation and for ourselves."  At least we don't need to put up with those bloody, hypocritical altruistic explanations.  The strategy for achieving this is to increase the national growth rate, which is easily achieved once they have an independent Bureau of National Statistics.

4. There will be no need to support the UK's Defense Budget.  (This currently runs at about 2.3% of GDP.)  I don't know much about Scotland's current aspirations, but it seems to me that the Picts and Scots primarily had an Offense Budget to support raids into Roman territory, so maybe that is the issue.

5. A big issue is the need to reduce "income inequality".  In the US, we usually translate that slogan into expanding the welfare rolls, and paying for it with deficit spending.  Or to put it another way, it sounds to my American ears that the goal of government independence is to increase government dependence.  But perhaps the Scottish phraseology has a different meaning.

6. Scotland has world class universities, corporations etc., etc., therefore it should be independent.  It is a bit arrogant, but it sort-of works.  Now I am wondering how Putin should view the adjacent small countries which don't have world class universities and corporations that share a border with Russia.  Come to think of it, we could solve the never ending problem with Greece's economic failure by just merging it with Germany.

7. The last cry of defiance is this:  "The most important point, however, in considering what an independent Scotland will look like is this: it will look like the kind of Scotland we as a people choose to build."  This apparently tribal rant must be considered in the context of the definition of who the New Scottish people are to be.  Basically anyone who has been hanging out in Scotland and has a mind to be Scottish would qualify.  At the same time, a key part of the independence goal is to insure that the culture and heritage of Scotland is preserved due to its inherent worth, and not merely as a profit making enterprise as is done in the rest of England.  At the same time, we have this: "For example, VisitScotland developed a unique partnership with the Walt Disney Company to make the most of the opportunity of the animated feature Brave to boost tourism in Scotland".  So we loosen  the ties with the culturally careless English and improve ties with the cultural connoisseurs of Walt Disney.  But a New Scotland and a New Scot probably require a New Scottish Culture and Heritage which could be best created by California media entrepreneurs, so I shouldn't be too narrow minded.

So that is my initial attempt to understand the situation.  Since I am remote and ill informed on these items, I will be happy to any commentator who can set me straight where I have gone wrong or misunderstood the intent of these proceedings.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

An Essay on Crime and Punishments, commentary by Voltaire

The original work by Cesare Beccaria has a "commentary" attached by Voltaire.  We must use quotes for "commentary", since this is really a separate rant against Christianity, along with a senseless romanticizing of everything non-Christian, especially the former Roman Republic and Empire.  As such, it hardly touches on Cesare's work.  Voltaire begins with an example of a young lady who abandons an illegitimate baby, and is then executed.  The story is a tear jerker, but should remind us that we really haven't solved this problem today, except to introduce a multi-billion dollar per year industry to abort all the unwanted pregnancies.  And we still have plenty of children abandoned, abused, and sometimes killed by their parents.

There is a section on witches that deserves a little comment.  Voltaire's argument is that condemnation of witches was the result of ignorance regarding their powers, which is a popular misunderstanding today.  Plato in his Law's originally condemned witches to death not so much for their supposed powers, but due to the terror they could cause in someone.  The Romans too frowned upon the bloody human sacrifices of the Druids, so it seems to me that the entire argument got skewed somewhere along the way.

Much of the rant is against the severe and inconsistent laws of France which stand in contrast to those of the Roman Code of Justinian.  What is not mentioned here is that France was taken over by a variety of tribes that were quite severe, including the Saxons who liked to exterminate the peoples of the new lands that they wanted to settle.  I don't know why we expect the French to act as if they were descended from the Romans.  Didn't Voltaire read Asterix???

Then there is a long itemization of crimes done by those seeking power or hoping to exterminate potential rivals.  I suppose this is a universal property of power, that the worst of society will do whatever it takes to grab and cling onto power, even if that power is simply the leadership of a Christian parish.  Often the laws are corrupted by one person who simply wants to justify a particular excess.  So the history of Europe's attempt to extricate itself from the power of a Catholic Church gone mad along with all the resulting bloodshed makes for gruesome reading.  But then there was the French Revolution.  And the Paris Commune.  The real issue is the sin nature of man and how to tame it.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

An Essay on Crimes and Punishments, by Cesare Beccaria, final thoughts

Checking the internet, it seems that this work was extremely influential for the development of the US legal system, as well as reforms for many European systems. So here are a few follow up thoughts:

1. On Reason, Science and Education.

 He proceeds with the "Enlightenment" conceit that his was the first generation to encounter "Reason", whereas all former generations had been locked into ignorance and superstition. Thankfully he lived to see the French Revolution, so hopefully he was able to repent of this view before he died. A key part of his view is that science and education would permit the taming of humanity so that rule of law would become more gentle with time.

 2. On Penalties.

"SOME crimes relate to persons others to property. The first ought to be punished corporally. The great and rich should by no means have it in their power to set a price on the security of the weak and indigent ; for then riches, which, under the protection of the laws, are the reward of industry, would become the aliment of tyranny."

A swift beating would be preferable to confiscating someone's property and livelihood. This advice is turned on its head in our era where pecuniary penalties are by far the preferred mode of dealing with those who have property, making corrupt incentives the primary driver of litigation. Add to this the legal costs, and I doubt that Cesare would have much good to say about our current situation. In general, the view is that the legal system should not be designed to encourage others to go searching and/or contriving crimes that they can then prosecute, since this will corrupt the entire society.

3. On Excessive Legislation.

There are remarks about those who would ban water so that people would not drown and fire so that people would not be burnt. He mentions gun control laws, which he characterizes as "disarming those only who are not disposed to commit the crime which the laws mean to prevent". Some arguments never quite go away. Again, we must note that his era didn't include many suicide vests or RPGs.

4. On Juries.

The juries of ones peers is mentioned here, but this is in the context of an aristocratic class and a peasant class.

 5. Pardons.

Pardons are typically done by the chief executive, which he finds to be a conflict of interest. Instead, he would give the power to the legislature. Besides which, he finds that pardons are of little utility in his ideal world, since they are generally used to set aside excessive punishments.

6. On Swift Execution of Justice.

The US now has the slowest system in the history of the universe.  Cesare's complaint against this is that it leaves the accused in a perpetual state of uncertainty making a punishment that is often worse than what would have been meted out by the law.

7. On Torture.

Cesare's complaints against torture are certainly relevant today.  Torturing someone to to get a confession is non-sensical.  Yet his more innocent world didn't have to face suicide terrorism with accomplices.  How would he argue this?

8. Adultery and sodomy.

These laws he dislikes, but his argument is especially problematic.  Adultery is supposedly caused by passions given to man (and woman) by nature for the survival of the species, thus, he argues that we shouldn't be criminalizing nature.  Yet anger, greed and ambition are likewise passions given to man by nature for the purpose of the survival of the species, and we put bounds on these as well.

I have reached the end of this little work. What follows is a commentary by Voltaire on the same topic.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Cesare Beccaria, Crimes and Punishments, On Proportionality

This is related in part to a post from Max regarding proportionality in war, which seems to be a selective mantra these days.  So where did the concept of proportionality in retribution originate?  I can't answer this, but can provide a few snippets from history:

"Of the Proportion between Crimes and Punishments.

It is not only the common interest of mankind that, crimes should not be committed, but that crimes of every kind should be less frequent, in proportion to the evil they produce to society.  Therefore the means made use of by the legislature to prevent crimes should be more powerful, in proportion as they are destructive of the public safety and happiness, and as the inducements to commit them are stronger.  Therefore there ought to be a fixed proportion between crimes and punishments."

 - An Essay on Crimes and Punishments, by Cesare Beccaria

So far so good.  The proportionality should be weighed in terms of the overall damage that the crime does and as a deterrent against more such crime.  The proportion needed to cause deterrence is the part that can become really extreme.  Cesare notes that many laws are on the books from ancient times, and the changes to society will necessarily change the proportions of punishment that is needed for deterrence.

At this point it would be appropriate to catalog crimes and punishments throughout history to look at how this is done, which Cesare fails to do.  For example, something from the Roman code of Justinian:

"The penalty for injuries under the law of the Twelve Tables was a limb for a limb, but if only a bone was fractured, pecuniary compensation being exacted proportionate to the great poverty of the times."

The law of the twelve tables was developed about 450BC and according to Livy derives from the earlier Greek legal systems.  This reminds us immediately of the Biblical command:

"If a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him:  fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him." - Leviticus 24:19-20

This is related to injuries whether accidental or done in the passion of a moment.  A problem with this is that those who commit crime in a premeditated manner would immediately realize that if they are caught, the worst that happens is that they must return whatever they took.  But likely they won't be caught, thus, probabilities favor engaging in theft.  Thus, premeditated theft is treated differently in the Bible:

"If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox and four sheep for the sheep." - Exodus 22:1

Thus, proportionality is really what is needed to achieve deterrence when premeditated crime is involved.

The Christian view is that we shouldn't get so hung up on earthly belongings that we are obsessed with retribution.  A few years later and we will be dead and gone, while all our belongings are the property of someone else.

Monday, September 01, 2014

An Essay on Crimes and Punishments, by Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794)

This is a random book listening exercise from  The book mentioned seems to be an argument for reform of the penal system.  I haven't gotten too far into it, but one quote already jumps out at me:

"If the power of interpreting laws be an evil, obscurity in them must be another, as the former is the consequence of the latter.  This evil will be still greater if the laws be written in a language unknown to the people; who, being ignorant of the consequences of their own actions, become necessarily dependent on a few, who are interpreters of the laws, which, instead of being public and general, are thus rendered private and particular.  What must we think of mankind when we reflect, that such is the established custom of the greatest part of our polished and enlightened Europe?  Crimes will be less frequent in proportion as the code of laws is more universally read and understood; for there is no doubt but that the eloquence of the passions is greatly assisted by the ignorance and uncertainty of punishments."

I presume that he is speaking of a time when all the legal codes were written in Latin, but none of the common people of Europe were familiar with the language.  Thus, the population would be utterly dependent on Latin trained lawyers to interact with the courts.  The situation today is no doubt much worse, since the legalese is still a foreign language and we now have thousands of times more regulations to comply with than 18th century Italians.  The last notion strikes me as being utterly naive:  Would crimes really be less frequent if the laws were better known?  Or would the law reader get mugged while he was reading the laws?  The anarchist is happy to know what the laws are so that he can violate them, while the lawyer merrily enriches himself by ignoring the laws that others are obliged to follow given the uncertainties of punishment.

As for me, my impression is that there are so many laws regulating my behavior that I am probably committing some sort of atrocity every time I breathe in or out in a manner that doesn't comply with some obscure government directive.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Engineering a Drought

My wife and I had a few days to drive north through California past the largest reservoirs: Lake Oroville and Lake Shasta.  They are currently at 31% and 30% of total capacity, although they appear much lower per this.  The total amount of water stored is about half of what it normally is at the end of a summer.  This is bad, but there is still a lot of water up there.

A young man showed up at church who had been living in Africa.  He heard all the news about the drought, then was shocked to see all the lawn watering going on.  According to him, a real drought is when you turn the faucet on and nothing comes out.  A water crisis is when a baboon dies and falls into the village water supply.  Only a few central valley areas are facing dry faucets at the moment, so in some sense the drought really hasn't begun for the vast majority of Californians.  Another way we might feel the drought is through water charges.  Some areas of the state until recently were only charged for a water hookup, but not the water used.  A glance at historical water rates shows that this is significantly lagging inflation.

But to be real, urban Californians only use 20% of the water compared to 80% for the agricultural sector.  Or so it is misleadingly reported.  Actually, the environmental mandates come to almost 50%, with agriculture more like 40% and urban at 10%.  The environmental use is hard to find, but one link is here.  And here.  The documentation stops at 2010, which seems to be just before a bunch of court decisions to increase the environmental share of the water usage.  It is tempting to think that California's policy of being a magnet for illegals, welfare recipients and homeless contributes to this, but I suspect that this is negligible.  

The latest article on the subject is from the Washington Post.  As usual, there is no mention of water usage and environmentalism or marijuana growing.  What is mentioned is groundwater aquifers and global warming.  So we will muddle through as always.  

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Too Many Chiefs, Not Enough Indians

Undoubtedly this corporate slogan is now deemed racist towards American Indians and no sensible person would use it for fear of jeopardizing their career.  Nevertheless, it is still used.  It recently came to my attention that "too many chiefs, not enough Indians" is taking on a new life and a new sense of meaning in the melting pot of Silicon Valley where Vietnamese, Chinese, um Indians and other races all work in the same company and compete for the coveted spot of "Chief".  Regardless, I am just one of the Indians, even though I am a Caucasian.  I will leave it to others to determine whether or not there is an appropriate number of Chiefs and Indians and try to stay out of the debate.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Summer Update

Thankfully I have a few days of break.  The Lake Tahoe swim had to be cancelled, since preparation required swimming 15 to 20 hours a week, and I limited myself to about 10 hours.  The Greek vocabulary drill program has me at "90%", meaning that I have absorbed about 90% of the 2,000 + or - vocabulary words.  The system checks each word randomly three different ways:  Spoken Greek to English, Written Greek to English, and English to Greek.  I am a bit skeptical as to whether learning how to say "chopsticks" and "wombat" in Greek will assist me in my biblical studies.  But then there were many surprises, such as the modern Greek word for "seal" as in "seal an envelope" is basically the same as that for the seven seals in Revelation.  At this point all the words have been committed to memory, so it is just a matter of continuing the much reduced daily schedule of word practice until the program determines my error rate has reduced to near zero.

The formal Biblical Greek classes start today, which means I now have three semesters to continue the Greek program.  A challenge here is that Greek grammar is on the same order of complexity as German, so that grammar is going to be the key point requiring work.  Onward!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Swim Update

21 miles for the week.  Now I am a bit sore.

Today's swim was a 6.3 mile (10 km) adventure in Lake Del Valle which took me 3.5 hours.  That is about 11,000 yards, which is 2,000 yards more than I have done before.  Since I have been doing 5,200 yards per day in the morning, this is 37,000 yards for the week, which is the same as the cross Lake Tahoe swim.  With two months to train, the Tahoe swim certainly looks feasible, but it is still a lot of work.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Polite Notice

All of the politeness here is driving me nuts.  Everywhere I go there are signs declaring polite this or polite that.  Even the GPS gives a "please" before demanding you make a particular turn.  Now I am longing to get back to the land of the rude.

The following pictures include some polite geese, polite rowers, and a polite Thames river flowing through the town of Reading.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Hanging Out With The Dead

I finally arrived, but am too tired to post much.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Buzz Off

That admonition is for me.  Wondering where I will land.  The picture below is from the Albuquerque Botanical Garden, which is certainly worth a visit.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Wedding

Yes, the couple is now happily married.  This is where the wedding was supposed to be, but wind and rain put an end to the outdoor hopes and sent everyone scurrying indoors.  No problem.  Everything worked out fine anyway.  Too bad I don't put relatives' pictures up on my blog.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 review

Greekpod101 is a product of Innovative Language Learning.  From the following review, it should be obvious that I have no affiliation to this company!  In fact I am not peddling any product on this blog that can be bought or sold.

My current language interests are driven by seminary requirements to learn Greek and Hebrew.  Normally pastor students do the minimum they need to check these requirements off, and then forget the languages.  My goal has been to familiarize myself with the modern versions in order to better appreciate the Biblical text as living languages.  Since I am also much interested in classical writings in both Greek and Hebrew, there is an additional incentive to learn.  Finally, unlike many other western languages, much of the vocabulary and grammar of Greek and Hebrew is shared with their ancient versions, thus, this there is a practical angle to this.  Then there is the fact that Hebrew and Greek represent the fifth and sixth languages that I have invested considerable time trying to learn.

What attracted me to this product was the vocabulary learning program.  But before commenting on the vocabulary tools, I will comment on the rest.  And before that, I will note that my favorite tool for language learning so far has been the Pimsleur method.  The Pimsleur system provides a lot of drill on pronunciation and grammar, while slowly introducing vocabulary.  In the case of Greek, however, they only have two of their 30 lesson modules available, so it is really limited, far beyond Pimsleur's usual level of limited.

The language lessons in GreekPod101 really provide no drill that I can see so far.  You simple hear, and repeat.  Thus, the key aspects of language, conjugating verbs, adjectives nouns along with choosing articles, etc., are really not possible in this system.  You will need to get that drill somewhere else, but language drill is one of the most important aspects.  Questions and answers are key.  A plus is that they can automatically send you the current lesson to look at.  I have been ignoring these recently, however, since they really aren't that helpful without the drill.  A separate aspect that bugs me with all the language learning products I have worked with recently is the boiler plate at the beginning and ending of each lecture.  This just wastes time.

Another annoying aspect to this system is the way they bombard you with spam, offering various discounts, which really just means that the original price is puffed up all the more.  This is irritating.  Then add to this that some of the early introductory lessons wasted time with too much silliness. There is a series of additional quick propaganda tapes about learning languages that added more annoyance by offering up sales rhetoric under the guise of study advice. 

Anyway, if they didn't have something good, I wouldn't have wasted the time to find out the above.  So far I have been pleased with the vocabulary program.  It does a good job of drilling you on whether you recognize the spoken Greek, the written Greek, or can correctly translate back into Greek from English.  a heavy emphasis on native Greek speakers gives me some confidence that my pronunciation is in the ballpark.  This I have use diligently to the point that I have about 600 vocabulary words I have committed to memory, out of a rumored 2,000 that are stored in the system for Greek.  The time spacing formula is quite effective at reminding you of the words you are weak at while not wasting a lot of time on those that you are familiar with.  If I can keep this going, I should know well over 1,000 words before my Greek semester formally starts.  Hopefully I can get the entire 2,000 words down by the end of the first semester, in addition to what is required by the class.

As much as I like this system, it still has some issues.  For example, the nouns don't quiz gender, which is a very big thing in Greek.  Then there are a few quality check things where the audio for a word is completely different from the printed.  In one case, the audio was left out altogether.  Most of the native Greek readers were using good quality recording equipment, but one did not, making a lot of the audio a bit tricky.  Ideally, the 3 or 4 readers would each do all the vocabulary, so that we could hear different speakers say the same word at random.  A male voice in the mix would be nice.

Separately, I purchased the Innovative Language Learning WordPower Hebrew program for my iPhone.  This is also a vocabulary drill program, but very different from the online version.  There seems to be a large amount of helpful vocabulary built in that is divided up into various categories to ease studying.  What is lacking is the three modes of drill that the online version has along with the spaced repetition.  The only drill I see is from the written to the audio and translation.  This greatly limits the usefulness of the iPhone programs compared to the full subscriptions.  A quality problem jumped out at me on the second usage, since the Hebrew verb "to go" was given audio in a participle form, rather than the usual 3rd masculine singular perfect, which is what the written text used.  

All this leaves me a little hesitant as to whether to recommend or not.  What I really would like is a vocabulary drill bundle for a couple languages, but not at the prices they are currently charging.  If they could provide some specific koine and classical word bundles for Greek, I would be in heaven.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Feel The Heat

The temperature wasn't that bad for a Friday Mission Peak event, but it seemed like I would pass out from heatstroke after the cold water swimming.  For those who are wondering, I am still exercising at least 10 hours per week, and I work a full time job, so blogging will continue to be light.

My weight dropped another 4 pounds this week, which is encouraging.  Losing weight will be harder over the next three weeks due to the wedding, and other interruptions.  There is now some awkwardness with pants and belts, so clearly something tangible is happening.  Thinking of Bible verses to help with this, we have Philippians 4:4 - "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice".  This should be the proper reaction to the disruptions.  Others might want to point me to the next verse, Philippians 4:5 - "Let your reasonableness be known to everyone".  Then we can discuss whether doing three hour workouts on an empty stomach while fasting is reasonable.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Somewhere Under The Rainbow

Yesterday's swim finished with a 1/2 mile leg into the wind, which meant waves slapping in the face the whole way back.  I still can't understand why "water boarding" is considered torture.  The finish point was framed with a beautiful rainbow, as the rain was stopping and the sun rising.  My partner said that was the first time in 19 years he had seen a rainbow marking the finish.

I swam 2.6 miles each morning before work from Monday through Friday.  Tuesday we were treated to the sight of a bald eagle trying to steal a baby gosling while the Canadian goose family was swimming in the lake.  It is good to see someone willing to take action against all the illegal immigrants.

Wednesday and Thursday featured winds coming from the south west, which created diagonal waves across the lake that reflected off the shore into other diagonal waves moving in an opposite direction.  This creates the most annoying effect as the waves splash irregularly on the head and the body is bounced around in a strange manner.  Today we had a three hour swim in the morning, which covered 9,300 yards, or 5.3 miles.  The total for the week is 18.3 miles of swimming.  The Tahoe swim - if I choose to do it - is still a few months off.  The 5.3 mile swim today is close to a quarter of the Tahoe crossing distance.  This left me pretty tired.

Regarding the diet, I am down three more pounds.  This isn't as much as I like, but considering that my mother-in-law was here for the week, that is extraordinarily good.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Revenge of the Buddha Belly

As always, the first 20 pounds are easy to lose, but then something happens.  Part of the problem was the increased swimming caused me to have some elbow problems, so I had to back off from 4,600 yards per morning to 3,000 yards.  Then I usually let the diet go during the weekend.  The net result was that I only lost one pound last week.  Part of the fast weight loss earlier was also undoubtedly due to rapidly increasing my swim distance, which put a lot of stress on my body.  Of course the body adjusts, both to the increased effort and the lessened eating.

So the next step is to reduce food intake a bit more, and increase exercise to get things back on track.  Since I am limited on the amount of time I am permitted to swim by the park opening hours and my work schedule, the solution is to add in some trail.  Thus, Saturday I did the Mission Peak climb which I haven't done in a long time.  That means I am good and sore today.  It's all part of the fun.  For those who are into the counting, about 3.5 hours of hard exercise consumes roughly the same calories as a pound of fat.  The Mission Peak effort took 2.5 hours, which followed a 1.5 hour 4,600 yard swim.  If only I didn't have to work.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Facing The Buddha Belly

My two semesters of seminary classes just finished.  The primary thing that I learned from this is how the Buddha got his belly.  He spent too much time in religious studies and scripture reading and completely neglected exercise.  Than we have the fact that eating is a critical part of religion.  Thus, my weight went up to a record 238 pounds.

Now that the classes are done, I am switching to a Greek stoic/military method for bringing things back to a more sensible value.  This is fully appropriate, since my next task starting in the fall is to study Koine (Biblical) Greek.  For the summer semester, however, I will devote my energies to physical discipline and prepping Greek vocabulary.

This last week's exercise was a 2.5 mile swim each morning before work, for a total of 12.5 miles of swimming so far this week.  The other side of the stoic formula is restricting to one meal a day.  Thus, in ten days my weight is down to 225 pounds.  Hopefully I can keep it up.  Tomorrow will be a 2 hour swim, which should be about 3.5 miles.  The difficulty with this method is that it leaves me constantly fatigued and hungry.  Hopefully I can keep the discipline up for another month.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


The person who prepared this was clearly "all wet", since the label for "California" is on the Nevada side.  The mind starts playing tricks when you are a quarter way through the swim.  

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Islam for Jounalists

A copy of this tome is here.  The basic thesis is that 9/11 was a complete surprise to American journalists, and they found themselves knowing nothing about Islam.  Where were they educated??? Thus, a group of journalists and academics decided to put together a guide book explaining all about Islam.  Many claim to have gotten their opinions from having been there witnessing events unfold.  Obviously, only journalists and academics who say the correct things have ever been exposed to Islam.  After going through a third of the book, it appears to largely track the conventional ivory tower story that pre-dated 9/11.  Here are a few gems:

"ONE of the questions that academic specialists of Islam have long explored is: inasmuch as Islam spread over such a vast linguistic and cultural expanse, what held the community of Muslims together? After all, Islam has no pope, and it lacks the centralized ecclesiastical structure (a “church”) that undergirded religious organization in Western and Eastern Christianity. Even with its centralized church structure, Christianity experienced schisms far more regularly than did Islam."

T.E. Lawrence's (yes an exposed academic) comments on the tribal animosity he witnessed should be highlighted here.  This isn't any less abated today, and has led to the catastrophe of the "Arab Spring", which the authors ignore.  There is much, much more that can be said here, but I will need to stop.

"Women also played a central role in Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979, as well as the green movement pressing for reform in Iran today. Religious conservatives in many countries sometimes condemn women’s activism as un-Islamic."

Yes, but they were enjoying a last hurrah as they overthrew the Shah, who permitted them to enjoy life.

I will pass over the ignorance about an Islamic Golden Age, since this ignorance has been addressed in many other places.

"POLITICAL Islam is a set of political movements, founded in the 1920s, that seek to establish an Islamic state."

Yes, but let's not forget the context:  The centuries old Turkish Empire was destroyed, and the West's enthusiasm for colonialism was on the wane.  Thus, this was the first opportunity for any ideology to stake a claim in several centuries.  What pops up first?

"ISLAM is a “revealed” religion, in the tradition of the biblical prophets. Muslims believe that the Qur’an was transmitted to the Prophet Mohammed by the Angel Gabriel during meditation sessions in a cave outside Mecca in what is now Saudi Arabia."

Um, no.  It is not in the tradition of Biblical prophets, because the word of God came directly to Biblical prophets without an angelic intermediary.  Angels were sent to ordinary people at times, but this is to announce what God is doing or to explain a vision.  According to the Biblical standards, Muhammed was not a prophet.

"Qur’an literally means “The Work.” It represents the words of Allah as revealed to Mohammed. This is an important distinction from the Bible, which is a gathering of accounts of events. The Qur’an is said to be God’s own words, not the teaching of the Angel Gabriel or Mohammed."

When the authors of this book are done, I recommend that they spend some time and try to learn something correct about the Bible, classical Judaism, and Christianity.

"ISLAM has existed in America since the early days of the colonies. Some evidence suggests that Christopher Columbus was able to make his famous voyage to the U.S. with the help of Muslim navigators. It has been suggested that Muslims had actually arrived in the Americas before Columbus."

I suppose this comes from Washington Irving's secret notes used to prepare his story of Christopher Columbus.

"AS a number of studies have shown, Muslims in the U.S. are no different from any other religious group."

As everyone knows, all religions are alike.  They are social institutions, but don't actually believe anything.  Or at least they don't believe anything that isn't so utterly overwhelmed by other factors of society and life as to become totally meaningless.

"Fundamentalism. This term comes from an analogy with Christian Fundamentalism, a theological movement that also became widespread in the 1920s. Christian Fundamentalism treats the religion’s holy book as literal revelation; by this criterion, almost all Muslims qualify as fundamentalists, not just supporters of “Political Islam.” In recent years, however, some supporters of “Political Islam” have adopted an Arabic translation of the term “fundamentalism,” Usuliyya, from the word “usul” (foundations or fundamentals)."

This is about as good of a definition of Christian Fundamentalism as a modernist would be capable of, although I should emphasize that Fundamentalists take their scriptures seriously, which is more accurately what distinguishes them from non-Fundamentalists.  Of course this begs the question of why there are so many groups calling themselves Christians who reject the Bible, yet claim to honor it nonetheless?  And what would reality look like if religions actually did have distinct fundamentals?

"So-called “honor killings” have no basis in Islamic law, but are customary practices of patriarchal societies with a high sensitivity to shame. In effect, “honor killings” are much like the “unwritten law” that for years permitted Texas husbands to shoot adulterous wives and their lovers."

So am I supposed to deduce that Texas is like Islam?  Or Islam is like Texas.  And when was the last time that a Texas mob rioted and burned down a non-Texan neighborhood over an adulterous wife?  And is there no moral distinction between an adulterous wife/husband compared to Romeo and Juliet?

"Existing religious groups (first Jews and Christians, and later Zoroastrians, Hindus, and others) were given the legitimate status of “people of the book.” This recognition stands in contrast to the lack of any legal protection for non-Christian minorities (in particular, Jews) in Europe before the French Revolution."

Ah, the glorious French Revolution.  I am not a fan of government imposed sectarian warfare, but should we really rejoice that this was replaced by government imposed class warfare?  And what about the all powerful government that sees all sectarianism as pointless given the reality of the totalitarian state?  Then there are fundamental differences in the rule of law of Western countries as compared to Eastern countries.

The introduction to this text talks about Edward Murrow, and lauds him as the patron saint of journalism.  More accurately, he is the patron saint of "drive-by" journalism, not legitimate journalism.  I cannot fault the authors for failing to uphold the standards of their patron saint.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The New Ghetto Music

The old Ghetto Music was typically a big old American car driving along blasting out some sort of rock and roll music.  This got updated to a string of profanity, rage and violence strung together in rapid succession with a rhythm, but not a tune which was designated "rap".  Another variant was the ultra-bass in a car with the windows rolled up.  This acted like a high frequency filter so that the overall sensation of being near the car was not too different from the low frequency thumping of a helicopter flying overhead.  The latest twist on this is some Indians or Pakistanis driving around in an SUV with loud Indian singing and music played at a volume sufficient to entertain everyone within 100 meters.  What is really disturbing about this is that I can't understand the lyrics and have no way to determine whether I should be pleased or offended.  Yes, the times are a-changin'.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Stranger to History part 2

I finished this book and gave it to another young friend of mine who is interested to learn more about the Middle East.  Part of me wanted to hang on to it to mine it for quotes.  The other said it was better to let someone else have a read.

There were a few additional thoughts that jumped out at me.  The first was about how the Muslims who fled what is now India to go to Pakistan at the time of the partition have still not been assimilated to their new homeland, even though most of them were born there.  This reminds me of the Palestinian problem where the refugees in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan haven't been assimilated either.  On the other hand, the non-Muslim Indians who fled Pakistan have been all assimilated, thus, the argument is that this is really a problem stemming from tribalist tendencies of Islam.  Then there is Israel itself, which has assimilated Jews from all over the world.

Another idea is the notion that Islam must be absolutely dominant for its full virtuous effects to be felt.  This was stated by a number of ideologues.  Thus, even as Muslim countries spin economically out of control, there is the never ending hope that all this could be rectified if only a purer religion could be enforced.  This stands in contrast to my view that it is impossible for Christians to be absolutely dominant.  The reason is that as Christianity obtains more power, the top religious posts become far too attractive to closet atheists and the like, thus, precluding Christians from ever being dominant.  Unless God should choose to step in and do something different.  Anyway, the only absolute authority Christians expect is that absolute authority of the anti-Christ.  Then the end times will follow, but that will be God's doing, not ours.

The story of Iran was one where petty rules and lax enforcement resulted in a complete mockery of Islamic law.

A final point was the observation that in the countries Aatish visited, protests and riots were something spontaneous.  Instead, it was a combination of governmental planning and Imams stoking up the faithful.