Monday, September 29, 2014

In California, Yes means Yes. Maybe. You Decide.

Having seen some headlines on this latest law out of Sacramento, I decided to take a look at the actual text.   This also references a federal law which is here.  As I understand it, the law is intended to govern what happens when someone passes out during a party with drinking and drugs that almost certainly had sex on the agenda.  It also governs the appropriate behavior for a young fornicating couple that sleeps together regularly.  The law seems to be well written, in that it can involve n-participants of any gender, thus covering most potential relations short of bestiality.  What remains undefined is "sexual activity", "sexual assault", "dating violence" and "stalking".  Perhaps Bill Clinton could be hired as a consultant to refine the text?

The bill doesn't directly cover such behaviors, but only states that four types of California Institutions, independent universities, the community colleges, the California State Universities and the University of California, must provide regulations and procedures that address the specified topics.  Good thinking, since the feminist professors in these institutions are the experts.

What makes this fun is that my wife and I are covered under these same sexual behavior regulations, since I am taking a class with a Christian seminary that has a California branch. Thus, a domestic dispute of a married couple must now be given the same sort of solemn judicial consideration by the school faculty as would formerly have been given only to someone who serially and randomly abducted and raped students walking home from school at night.  Another feature of the college tribunals is that "innocent until proved guilty" is replaced with "guilty until proved innocent" in the academic context.  Since the new campus culture is something that I don't understand, I won't try to make any judgments as to whether males, females or alternative genders are more culpable.  But if the lives of modernist professors are filled with mandatory listening to the petty disputes of the hyper-promiscuous along with a flood of false claims, it will be well deserved.  This is the utopia that they fought for.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

California "Drought" Update

Many of the yards are brown now, like the surrounding hills.  Of course the hills turn brown every year during the dry season, so the normal climate reality is gradually seeping into the life style of the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley rich.  Thankfully the large Fremont public park and golf course are still green, which means that there is plenty of feed for the geese and ducks.

The Alameda Country Water District sent me a mild threat. Actually my water usage is about as low as it can get, given that my yard is a rock garden and I take many showers elsewhere.  The only families more exemplary than us have an empty house and live elsewhere.  Yet the note contained a warning that those using more than certain thresholds would be assessed increased penalties on the added use.  Thus, a larger or extended family would likely be slapped.  Per the usual rules, any solution is worthy of consideration as long as it doesn't involve free market mechanisms.

This article has some of the proposals from elsewhere in our state.    The note I enjoy the most is this:  "In Santa Monica, the City Council passed a first-reading in August of an ordinance that would apply an indoor water allocation of 68 gallons per-person-per-capita for every single-family home with four people, said Gilbert Borboa, water resources manager for the city of Santa Monica".  Wow.  Let's get specific, but ignore the outside water usage.  But apparently in Santa Monica there are multiple per-persons per-capita, or perhaps that is multiple per-capitas per person.  Of maybe per-capita refers to pets?  Or is that cars?  And if a car is washed outside, is it a different water allocation than washing it inside?  What if I take my showers outside?  Fortunately Santa Monica has many lawyers who can assist in sorting this out.  And Hollywood is nearby, so there is no shortage of creative thinking.

California's legal crops seem to be taking a hit.  What would be helpful is to get a read on the number of hectares of marijuana that are under cultivation, and whether that is increasing or decreasing relative to last year.  Then there is the fish happiness index which undoubtedly relates to the amount of water that is flowing from the dams into the Sacramento Delta.  Thus, it is still hard to get a complete read on the impact of the "drought".

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A History of American Christianity: Slavery, etc.

How slavery came about in the US is rather perplexing to me, so it is nice to see some other opinions on this subject.  According to Leonard Bacon, slavery had been opposed on religious grounds from the beginning, but through the conniving of slave traders and other non-religious types, the opposite course of action had been achieved.  There is this note about the beginnings of Georgia:

"The trustees of the charitable colony of Georgia, consciously laying the foundations of many generations, endeavored to provide for the welfare of the nascent State by forbidding at once the importation of negro slaves and of spirituous liquors; but the salutary interdict was soon nullified in the interest of the crops and of the trade with the Indians."

Bacon asserts that up until the year 1833, not a single Christian voice can be found defending slavery in the US, while condemnation after condemnation is the norm.  But then there was a sudden transformation in the south, which became complete beyond anything sensible:

"It was less perilous to hold Protestant opinions in Spain or Austria than to hold, in Carolina or Alabama, the opinions which had but lately been commended to universal acceptance by the unanimous voice of great religious bodies, and proclaimed as undisputed principles by leading statesmen."

and

"How came the Christian public throughout the slave-holding States, which so short a time before had ben unanimous in finding in the Bible the condemnation of their slavery, to find all at once in the Bible the divine sanction and defense of it as a wise, righteous, and permanent institution?"

The answer Bacon gives relates to the value of the slaves, the fear of uprising, and then the issue of Christians being unable to break fellowship with slave owners, particularly when they knew or believed them to be humane and honorable.  The US was thus launched off onto a period of madness that would leave a big chunk of the population dead and much of the economy destroyed.  A consequence of this:

"Of course the antislavery societies which, under various names, had existed in the South by hundreds were suddenly extinguished, and manumissions, which had been going on at the rate of thousands in a year, almost entirely ceased."

One wonders how Christians who risked extermination for their beliefs in earlier times should now have been so easily bullied into exactly reversing their opinions.  This reminds me of the current wave of madness going over much of what had formerly been known as Christian sects in the name of understanding towards depravity.

An earlier shameful episode happened in the south with the Cherokee Indians.  Christians had for generations reached out to proclaim the gospel to them, resulting in a peaceful, civilized and educated population.  This was all overturned by populists and opportunists:

"Missionaries were arrested and sent to prison for preaching to Cherokees; Cherokees were sentenced to death by Georgia courts and hung by Georgia executioners."

A place where I had enjoyed riding my bicycle when I was young was Missionary Ridge near Chattanooga, Tennessee.  This was the site of a major civil war battle that opened the path into Georgia.  What I did not know about this ridge is included here:

"Thirty years later, when in the battle of Missionary Ridge the chivalry of Georgia went down before the army that represented justice and freedom and the authority of national law, the vanquished and retreating soldiers of a lost cause could not be accused of superstition if they remembered that the scene of their humiliating defeat had received its name for the martyrdom of Christian missionaries at the hands of their fathers."

The current popular story is that the Christians were the ones responsible for all these woes, while the forefathers of the modernists were the ones to lead the opposition.  Bacon's view seems to be that Christians were rarely in a sufficiently numerous position to accomplish their aims in a society that was mainly made up of unbelievers.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A History of American Christianity and the Scottish Election

This is a rather detailed and raw telling of the history of Christianity in the US by Leonard Bacon written in 1898.  I very much enjoy the filling in of a large number of details and anecdotes that I wasn't familiar with.  The earliest part of this work tells of the conquest of America by Spain where he leaves us with this observation:

"The propagation of the gospel in the western hemisphere, under the Spanish rule, illustrated in its public and official aspects far more the principles of Mohammed than those of Jesus.  The triple alternative offered by the Saracen or the Turk - conversion or tribute or the sword - was renewed with aggravations by the Christian conquerors of America."

I guess that is an alternative explanation for why Christians behaved un-Christian-like at times.  Mention is made of Las Casas and his desire for a purer Christianity, but then Bacon notes that Las Casas proposed the usage of African slaves under the belief that they would be better suited to the harsh treatment than the physically more frail Indians.  Mixed in with all this are countless stories of humanity and care for others.

The humanity of the French missionaries is commended for the most part.  But then we have this:

"The missionary became frequently, and sometimes quite undisguisedly, a political agent.  It was from the missions that the horrible murderous forays upon defenseless villages proceeded, which so often marked the frontier line of New England and New York with fire and blood."

This seems to have been driven largely by political factions in France, but we then have this:

"we could wish that the Jesuit historian had not boasted of these atrocities as proceeding from the fine work of his brethren ..."

He then goes on to give thanks that the animosity of this earlier era of factionalism had long disappeared.  These are the early stages.  Lest there be any misunderstanding, the wars between the various Indian tribes were just as fierce, and many of the more gentle and considerate missions to the Indians were exterminated by Indian raids:  Both missionary and converts were killed together.

Another feature to the history is the story of how earlier theocratic colonies gave way to a Christian pluralism.  Some of this was driven by English governors who legally imposed the Church of England onto colonies, thus, uniting all the dissenters.

Some insights on the latest situation in Scotland is perhaps provided by this tidbit:

"Twenty years later the ferocious persecution of the Scottish Covenanters, which was incited by the fears or the bloody vindictiveness of James II after the futile insurrection of Monmouth, furnished a motive for emigration to the best people in North Britain, which was quickly seized and exploited by the operators in Jersey lands."

So there you have it.  The best Scots left Scotland for America long ago, which explains why the current Scotland is so confused.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

California Governor Election: Neel Kashkari

Neel is another Indian American who is running for Governor against Jerry Brown.  He is also running as a New Republican of sorts, with the idea that we can square libertarian and free-market economic and labor principles on the one hand with a theocratic government that worships total depravity on the other hand.   Of course there is the former New Republicans who are socialist, crony capitalists, such as the Bush dynasty and Karl Rove.  I am of the extinct conservative species that is largely libertarian and free-market, but noting that a socially dysfunctional population cannot survive in such an environment, thus, some pressure is needed to maintain functional (i.e. traditional) family arrangements.

On education, Neel is in the voucher + charter school camp, which is certainly a brave and constructive position.  Yet it really amounts to starting up a portable bilge pump on the Titanic.  A quality American Christian education is effectively banned for the majority who want it, as it has been for the last century.  A true voucher system is admittedly not in the cards now, since this would - per current legal rulings - require vouchers for jihadi training camps as well.  Then there is the teacher's union which he doesn't take on.  But all this is masked, because America's tech industry runs on foreign born and educated engineers.

Regarding university education, he seems to be pushing for much more flexible enrollment scenarios.  I would love to be able to sign up for some of the online classes, so this is really a pleasant sound to my ears.  He wants to give special treatment to STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) training, although others have noted that we have a glut of such people now, due to the decline in the portion of the US economy that needs such skills.  Good luck on getting university elites to take computer science more seriously than xeno-gender studies.

On the economy, he targets the sacred cows of the environmentalists first:  Drilling, energy, water, ...  This is going to go nowhere, but it is worth pointing out that the environmentalist are choking the state.  That California's bullet train was pure madness is something we can both agree on.  Then there is the thicket of over regulation that kills business.

My main thought is that if he were elected, the situation would be a lot like what happened with Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The Democratic legislature and government will deliberately vandalize the state finances, while the controller screams.  Then as soon as a Democrat gets back in, they will change the accounting procedures and the budget will miraculously balance again.  So good luck to Mr. Kashkari.  I won't be voting for either of these two governor candidates, due to their anti-family positions.

Local Elections: Ro Khanna

Disclaimer:  As a conservative, I have no one on the upcoming California ballot to vote for, thus, there is a neutrality of a sort when evaluating one candidate relative to another!  Nationally, the upcoming election is pitting the Republican establishment against the Obama Democrats, and the American conservatives are not on the ballot.  Since I am being inundated with fliers and my "no call list" phone number is constantly being bombarded with political calls, I have some motivation to comment.

Ro Khanna is running for the US House of Representatives seat representing Silicon Valley that is currently held by Mike Honda.  They are both leftists.  Ro Khanna is 38 years old compared to Mike Honda at 73, thus the difference between the two is 35.  But we must dig a little deeper and see if anything else catches our eye.

A fun tidbit is that Mike Honda is a Japanese American and Ro Khanna is Indian American.  Ro beat out another Indian American, Vanilla Singh, for the chance to run against Mike Honda.  Mike seems to be a permanent fixture of Bay Area politics with heavy ties into the unions.  Ro is positioning himself as a new energetic face of Leftist politics having been part of the campaigns of Obama and Gore.  A lot of Silicon Valley money has been tossed his way to make the campaign viable.

As a conservative, I am first interested in social issues.  Whether an economy is functional or dysfunctional is largely a function of the society at large and the people that are aggregated into companies and governments, thus, what happens in the bedroom affects everything.  Ro and Mike both disagree.  What stands out, however, is that Ro was a board member for a Planned Parenthood branch, which establishes Ro as a zealot in the social wars.  Ro also uses the more complete acronym, LGBTQ, which is more hip than LGBT.  I prefer the full acronym, LGBTQAI4P, which isn't yet on the radar, but should be soon.

Ro's main rhetorical emphasis is on manufacturing, for which he wrote a book, "Entrepreneurial Nation: Why Manufacturing is Still Key to America's Future".  It isn't fair for me to comment on this, since I haven't bought it and read it.  On the other hand, he is a Stanford Economics professor, so I expect a complete lack of understanding of everything economics related with the usual leftist formulas.  For example, on the social security demographic time bomb, his proposal is to increase taxes and invokes the famous "paying their fair share" rhetoric, as if it is fair for people to pay in orders of magnitude more than they will ever get out.  His solution to medicare is to "cut costs" and "hold health care providers and insurers accountable for reducing fraud and waste".  Clearly the kind of innovative solutions that a Stanford genius would come up with.

Getting to manufacturing, his beliefs seem to be that government is the key to innovation and that none of the major, successful economies have been laissez-faire, starting with the US.  According to those who read his book, the problem he identifies is China which needs to be confronted through the WTO.  As for militant unions, over regulation, runaway litigation costs, over taxation, glacially slow permitting, crony capitalism, pay to play, etc., etc., he is silent, except for some minor tweaks around the edges.  One thing I am familiar with that he mentions is 3-D printing, which is almost entirely a European industry with the US acting as a user for their machines and software.  The US isn't even in the running for this race.  The immigration platform emphasizes skilled workers, but ignores the current policy of open borders with unlimited welfare benefits to entice the world's indigent into becoming wards of the world's most expensive and inefficient social programs.

For education, he cites himself as being an example of the US public school education system.  His web site gives the usual mantra of "investments in education".  Of course the number one educational challenge is family dysfunction, and elsewhere in his web site he has established himself as militantly anti-family.  What happens in the bedroom affects whether or not the kid can learn the next day more than anything else.  The rest of the reform plan involves doing more or less the same as what the US has been doing for the last half century, but with more money thrown at the problems and a new permutation on the regulations and bureaucracy that suffocate.  And the unions?  America has the worst education in the developed world and Ro offers us nothing but more of the same.

The article on "Defending Equality" is entertaining.  It notes that Caucasians are much less likely to be stopped by law enforcement than minorities.  I will avoid the temptation to comment on Asian drivers.  Classical race baiter?  Check.

But then we have this: "Most recently, Muslim and Hindu Americans have been subjugated for their religious beliefs and practices. ..."  Note that Ro is a lawyer, so I expect that he knows the meaning of "subjugated".  I will highlight this rhetoric lumping together Muslims and Hindus as being jointly "subjugated" within the US as the only thing innovative in his campaign.  Excepting this, I would say that the sum of the differences between Ro Khanna and Mike Honda remains as, um, 35.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

UN "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights", part 2

There were a few criticisms of this document out on the net that alleged that the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights represented "Western Values".  I would say that it represents more of a 1950's Leftist world view.  Aristotle and the other philosophers would likely say that it represents the natural course of degeneration that inevitably afflicts the democratic psyche.  So let's continue:

Article 11 is the usual, "Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial".  Yes, I like this, but it is really only applicable to a society which is driven by a moral code so that disputed penal offences are relatively rare.  The second part deals with retroactive laws, which certainly can prove a gotcha for the innocent.  Yet it also opens the door for all kinds of criminal behavior for which no specific law has yet been conceived, because the harm wasn't anticipated.

Article 12 deals with privacy and defamation.

Article 13 is about the right to move around within a country and across its borders.  This would seem to make prisons and parole laws a violation of human rights.

Article 14 is about political asylum.  The gotcha here is what constitutes "political".

Article 15 is the right to a nationality.  The Devil is in the details here.

Article 16 specified a particular modern notion of marriage.  I am not against the notion, but I have some issue with imposing a particular cultural value on the entire world.  We should also note that many countries have signed this document that have no intention of abiding by this provision.

Article 17 requires property rights.

Article 18 and 19 are about freedom of belief and freedom to change beliefs.  This is another point where most agree in theory but no one does in practice.

Article 20 is about peaceful assembly and lack of coercion.  This isn't even accepted in Western countries where coercion to join unions is the norm and don't even think about peaceful assembly in front of an abortion death camp.

Article 21 is breathtaking  (1) and (3) require democracy.  (2) requires equality of access to public services, which I guess means that all public services are to be available everywhere, all the time.  And what is the range of "public services"?

Article 22 specifies a right to "social security".  Then there are "economic, social and cultural rights  indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality".  That probably means government supplied hallucinogens.

Article 23 is about labor laws.  (1) is the right to work, along with "protection against unemployment".  Of course the government can't guarantee any of this, but who says we can't be generous in dishing out rights?  (2) is the right to equal pay for equal work.  So who makes sure that a Columbian hitman gets the same pay as a Mafia hitman for equal kills?  This is another one where unionists routinely trample the concept.  Abuses of all sorts occur after this so that only God could sort this out.  (3) Requires a comfy wage supplemented by social programs.  Basically it declares that the welfare nanny state is a fundamental human right.  (4) Is about the right of unionists to fulfill there mandate as the SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion (SPECTRE).

Article 24 roughly requires the European work week and holiday schedule.

Article 25 is a formal guarantee of the welfare state.

Article 26 guarantees a "right to education".  The gotcha here is "it shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, ...".  The intent here seems good - to keep from stirring up grudges - yet at the same time it is largely useless as leftists are not in the least restrained from stirring up hate while educators have a mandate to engage in every form of academic malpractice in the name of understanding and tolerance.  (3) "Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children".  But only if you are rich.

Article 27 is another naive declaration regarding culture, arts and science.

Article 28 declares that we have a right to have these rights.  But do we have a right to have a right to have these rights?  They needed to better define the infinite recursion.

Article 29 states that we have the right to have responsibilities, but rights trump responsibilities.  There is no limitation permissible to human nature, except what is specifically determined by law, with the caveat that only certain kinds of laws are deemed permissible.

Article 30 states that there is no right to disagree with the rights of this document.  This technically means that this post is a violation of the document that I am reviewing.

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.

"Preamble

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

GreekPod101

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.

ParseGreek

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.

Anki

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 Librivox.org.  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

Greekpod101.com 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.