Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sevastopol, by Tolstoy

Since I haven't gotten enough of Russia yet, I thought this work by Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) would be a good follow on.  It is a story of the Siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War told through the eyes of soldiers.  Since Tolstoy was an officer during this war, he is perhaps one of the best to tell this kind of story.  My main sense is how the thoughts and feelings have some resemblance to what I would expect.  On the other hand, the Christian view of death is everywhere along with a fear of cowardice, which I would not consider to be so universal today.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Empire Of Russia: Peter The Great through the Crimean War

I had to drive for many hours on a trip, and the story of the Empire of Russia was too gripping to let go.  So Poland had a great empire, followed by Sweden, but Peter the Great brought this to an end.  Catherine II was the next truly outstanding leader, but there were also czars who nearly did as much damage as these greater ones achieved.  The fear of anarchy was always in the back of the mind.

Something that stood out to me was the diplomacy of the Napoleonic wars given primarily from the Russian and French perspectives.  Then there was the back and forth wavering of Russia between the various European powers.  In spite of all the persistent efforts of some of the czars to modernize, however, we see that the Russian military is still quite backwards compared to the rest of Europe, which persists from the time of Peter the Great through the Battle of Jena.  The weaponry advanced while the Russian soldier is brave, but training and tactics seem always on the side of Western Europeans.

This book finishes with the Crimean War where the British and French unite with the Turks in an effort to humiliate Russia.  Russia was justifying their actions based on the goal of freeing the Greek Orthodox church, although the expansionist tendencies of Russia were also prominently on display.  Of course the British and French weren't exactly any better, while the Ottomans refrained from conquering only because they were too weak.

I should probably come up with a rating scheme.  If I had one, then this book would likely get a four and a half loons out of five.  The main deficiency being that I can't really know where the original sources were.  But then again, I am not sure I would want to hear large quantities of footnotes read out loud in my audio book.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Got Water?

Today I was driving from Northern California to the Mojave Desert and decided to take a peek at the San Luis Reservoir water level.  You can see my picture below.  We are nearing the end of our annual dry season and the level is 20% of capacity according to the state statistics.  I would have guessed that it was less than 10% from viewing the lake.  This lake controls the flow of irrigation water to much of the central valley and the water is used for agriculture.  San Luis reservoir mostly gets its water pumped in from elsewhere by the California Aqueduct.


Friday, October 24, 2014

The Empire of Russia: From Ivan III

My previous observation that Russia had not had a single constructive interaction with the West changes with the Pope sending the Greek princess Sophia to marry Ivan III.  What happens over the next several decades is a gradual transformation of Russia into a united kingdom with laws.  Under Ivan IV, siege is given to the Mohammedan Tatars of Kazan who are defeated (1552).  According to Dr. Wiki, the Tatars were immediately slaughtered.  According to this history, Ivan tried hard to make peace, but the spiritual need to commit terror caused the population to continually engage in war, thus, he was eventually compelled to convert them, expel them, or let them fight to the death.  Further terror raids would continue for more than a century from other Tatar hordes, thus, leaving much of the adjacent regions of Russia as depopulated wastelands for hundreds of miles.  The success against Kazan, however, allows Russia to expand all the way to the Pacific Ocean, since there wasn't any significant population in Siberia.

For a time it appeared that the Mongols were settling (early 1,300's), becoming civilized, and embracing Christianity.  But then they converted to Islam en masse, and renewed the practice of seeking out any settlement to burn, kill and capture victims for the slave market, which continued into the 18th century.  Eventually Russia gets enough strength to slaughter much of the horde by the Caucasus.  Shortly afterwards, this horde together with the Turks manages to take Moscow, which they pillage, burn and then kill 150,000 or so civilians.  This last episode they termed "revenge", as if this had been some sort of tit for tat fight all along.  The Cossacks make their appearance during this phase as militarized bands who wander the unsettled areas of Russia that were periodically swept by the Tatars.  Their allegiance to the Eastern Orthodox Church would make them a natural enemy of the Tatars.

During this period, Russia is anxious to bring in learning from the West and various craftsmen and artisans were enticed to come to Russia to further this aim.  Trade and friendly relations begin with England and Holland, although clashes with Poland and Sweden are the norm.  Considering the propaganda I was taught growing up, the distinctive here is that all the learning that arrives in Russia is from the West, and it is to the West that Russia turns when it seeks learning.  Another contrasting item is the relatively constructive role of the Russian church.  I suspect that one of the reasons is the rules regarding married clergy in the Russian church.  Whatever the cause, it seems that the Russian clergy were constructively leading their flocks during periods where the Roman clergy were sexually abusing and robbing those who were put into their care.  This is likely the reason that the Reformation was a Western European phenomenon.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Diwali 2014

My wife and I like to take a walk each night.  The lights and candles scattered throughout the neighborhood reminded me of this annual celebration, and checking the net, I see that today is the day.  At least one in ten houses in my neighborhood celebrate this, although it seems to have merged with Halloween decorations in a few cases.  My wife was wondering why the Indian neighbors were so enthusiastic to get Christmas lights going so early.  All is clear now.

The only question in my mind:  Is the arrival of the goddess of wealth and prosperity a blessing or curse in this wealthy land?


Sunday, October 19, 2014

California: Number One For Poverty?

Clearly we are not looking at the world wide rankings.  Only the US ones.  Keeping that in mind, the poverty rate per the census bureau's "supplemental measure" is 23.8%, which is the highest in the nation.  We also have about 12% of the population, given that California is the largest state, meaning that we are a major contributor to the overall US poverty rate.

The reason for the supplemental measure is that the original method for measuring poverty focussed on food only, while the new measure takes into account additional costs.  Medical marijuana?  Anyway, the initial reaction is to wonder how the most pure social justice government in America could manage this.  And even more puzzling, this is a complete non-issue in the upcoming election.  To make things even more fun, the gap between rich and poor as ranked by the Gini index has California at the 7th largest gap, beating out Texas.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Getting back into the Swim

Sickness was my normal state for 6 weeks beginning about September 1st.  The last two weeks have allowed me to get back to a "normal" swim distance, which now is a bit less than 3 kilometers, but will increase to 4.5 kilometers next week.  The park opens at 6:30AM, which allows for a fairly dark start using the stars as guides.  The lake temperature has dropped to 67 degrees, which unfortunately is a level where something is happening in the water that makes me itchy.  This should go away once the lake gets a little cooler, giving me an incentive to look forward to the winter lake with its cleaner water.  My warm weather partners all tell me they will stop mid-week swimming on November 1st.  Thus, I may switch my swims to Lake Del Valle since I can swim where I want with no restrictions there, except that I need to respect the limits of hypothermia.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Empire of Russia: Facing the Horde

The period of two and a half centuries that the Russians faced the Tatars and Mongolians is something that I vaguely know happened, but there are few details.  Listening to the story in more detail is something that makes for a transformation in thinking.  It is a bit like growing up in America and learning only about Patton, D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge, thinking that these were the key events of World War II in Europe, only to learn that more Russians died in the Battle of Moscow than all the American casualties during the entire war.

So there were these trivial skirmishes called the Crusades, but they were as nothing compared to what the Russians experienced from the Horde.  Even the 30 Years War seems tame compared to what Russia went through.  During this time, the Papists were as helpful as could be expected:

"The grand duchy of Lithuania, bordering on Poland, was spread over a region of sixty thousand square miles.  The grand duke, Jaghellon, a burly pagan, had married Hedwige, Queen of Poland, promising, as one of the conditions of this marriage which would unite Lithuania and Poland, to embrace Christianity.  He was married and baptized at Cracow, receiving the Christian name of Ladislaus.  He then ordered the adoption of Christianity throughout Lithuania, and the universal baptism of his subjects.   ...   These converts were received, not into the Greek church, which was dominant in Russia, but to the Romish church, which prevailed in Poland.  Jaghellon became immediately the inveterate foe of the Russians whom he called heretics, ..."  - The Empire of Russia, by John Abbott

Dr. Wiki says that Jaghellon introduced Christianity gradually, which is not what this history says.  Perhaps it would be good to read first sources, but this will need to wait.  After reading listening through 5 centuries of Russian history, it seems that the only constructive dealing with a foreign country was with the Greeks in Constantinople, but Constantinople was conquered by the Turks in 1453, so they are all alone now.  The reign of Ivan III (Ivan the Great) is next.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Empire of Russia: Greek Christianity

The history tells of a ruler named Vlademer (958-1015AD) who invites Christianity into his empire by the strangest stratagem.  As a pagan, he sends his army to send an army to threaten Constantinople.  In the suing for peace, a Christian princess is reluctantly sent to marry Vlademer, who then announces his acceptance of Christianity while receiving a gift of distinguished clergy.  "The ceremony of baptism was immediately performed in the church of St. Basil, in the city of Cherson, and then, at the same hour, the marriage rites with the princess were solemnized.  Vlademer ordered a large church to be built at Cherson in memory of his visit.  He then returned to Kief, taking with him some preachers of distinction ..."  Christians are so easy to fool.

The Greek influence is thus what started Christianity in Russia, but things were not to remain so simple:  "Nearly all the pastors of the churches were Greeks from Constantinople, and Yaroslaf, apprehensive that the Greeks might acquire too much influence in the empire, made great efforts to raise up Russian ecclesiastics, and to place them in the most important posts."  It looks like the Russian Orthodox church is having its foundations laid.

At this point the Russians are twice removed from the Popery of Rome, but Rome finds a pretext through the woes of a ambition crazed prince whose schemes have backfired:  "The banished prince thus disappointed, turned his steps to Rome, and implored the aid of Gregory VII, that renowned pontiff, who was ambitious of universal sovereignty, and who had assumed the title of King of kings.  Ysiaslaf, in his humiliation, was ready to renounce his fidelity to the Greek church, and also the dignity of an independent prince.  He promised, in consideration of the support of the pope, to recognize not only the spiritual power of Rome, but also the temporal authority of the pontiff".  Ysiaslaf (1024-1078) raises another army and gets himself killed.

Having spurned Papism for the moment, I was struck by the Mariolatry, as another genocidal madman, Mstislaf, attacks the city of Novgorod (113x?AD) which was in no mood to surrender themselves to a brutal execution.  To aid in the coming battle, the following event is recorded: "The clergy in procession, bearing the image of the Virgin in their arms, traversed the fortifications of the city, and with prayers, hymns and the most imposing Christian rites, inspired the soldiers with religious enthusiasm".  God granted victory to the city, and the attacking horde perished as it retreated 200 miles back through the desert wasteland they had created.  Which leaves me wondering what image we would carry about our modern fortifications if The Army of Doom were at our borders.  And who would be our honored clergy?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Empire of Russia: Exploring my Russian Roots.

Yes, Russia is part of me.  It is all due to being in the band in high school.  We had to practice Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture until it became part of our genetic makeup.  Thus, I have long had a need to read a history of Russia and this was provided with Librivox's recording of The Empire of Russia from the Remotest Periods to the Present Time, by John Abbott (1805-1877).  I am only about 10% of the way into this work.

What I have learned so far is that my path to becoming Russian is much less brutal than what the Russian people experienced.  The challenge for the ruler of this nation was to be both cunning and ruthless in dealing with the threats that were constantly falling onto the nation, yet tender and wise in managing the people through good Christian leadership.  A short coming in the first area would result in a short reign, while a short coming in the second would be a catastrophe for the people.  Sadly few leaders were able to accomplish this impossible mix.  But it perhaps reflects a bit on Putin and his position as a Russian leader, which is considerably less severe than his ancestors.

And so we have a ruler early on named Sviatoslaf whose mother encouraged him to be a Christian, but he refused until later in life.  His goal was to conquer.  Thus, it says of him:  "He accustomed his body, Spartan-like, to all the fatigues and exposures of war.  He indulged in no luxury of tents or carriages, and ate the flesh of horses and wild beats, which he roasted himself, over the coals.  In his campaigns the ground was his bed, the sky his curtain, his horse blanket his covering, and the saddle his pillow; and he seemed equally regardless of both heat and cold."  Ah, the good old days, when leaders led by example.

For amusement, here is a link to a youth band doing Marche Slave.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Beowulf: Something Light?

Admittedly it is a bit of a struggle for me to listen to poetry.  Add in the older English constructions, and Beowulf is quite a challenge, especially since I am listening to the audio version while I am driving and can't really slow down listening or re-read a few lines.  It is a story of warriors and heroes of old fighting monsters and comes down to us as the oldest work of English literature from a mysterious older time.  Then there is a reference to Middle Earth.  Tolkien wrote an essay on the work and it seems that Beowulf was very much influential for his Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, especially in the naming conventions.  

There isn't much remarkable for me to comment on in this work.  It is a fantasy from an earlier time, with some of the language reflecting Christian themes regarding the Creator and Hell, yet the story is set in a pre-Christian era.  There is an honoring of heroes, along with the funeral rites that provide some peculiar imagery for us today.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Economics: Learning from Etymology

Something I learned from Greek is that Economics is a compound words made of of Oikos = House, and Nomika = Rule.  Thus, Aristotle in his Economics begins his study by considering the house, and from there how it builds into a nation.  An orderly management of the home is presumed to be a foundation for the orderly management of the state.

This reminds me of Paul's instruction on elders:

"But if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?" - 1 Timothy 3:5

Thus, the elder must be able to manage the oikos, although the Greek word for manage is not nomika here.

For our local situation, the latest news is that the local school board was forced to abandon an introduction to pornographic lifestyles textbook, otherwise known as "sex education", which was to be given to all high school freshmen.  The irony here is that the opposition of the conservative Christians was rejected, but the noise from the Indian and Muslim immigrants seems to have forced a reversal.

In terms of the upcoming election, I am still primarily screening those who I vote for as to whether or not they have any regard for the oikos, or whether or not they think an oikos to be less valuable to society than an immoral tryst.  For the Democrats, this question is automatically answered.  Republicans should be clear on this matter, but for whatever reason they are quick to abandon their principals.  

So for California Controller, we have Ashley Swearengin running.  Checking around at her positions, it seems that she views that the oikos is completely and utterly worthless.  This makes the choice easy.

Lieutenant Governor candidate Ron Nehring looks more promising and he is up against Gavin Newsom who has quite a reputation in these matters.  The Secretary of State position has Pete Peterson, who seems somewhat promising to me on many areas.  He is also he only Republican that seems to have a chance of winning in the statewide elections.

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.