Monday, July 31, 2006

Paper Rock Scissors

This is a children's game where hand signals for paper, rock or scissors are used. It has a rotational effect where paper beats rock, rock beats scissors, and scissors beats paper.

I was considering this as a analogy for understanding the relationship of the world's three great religions to each other: Christianity, Islam and Liberalism. For example, Liberalism is extremely strong compared to Christianity. As a corruption of Christianity, it generally looks at love and forgiveness and twists this around to licentiousness and corruption. Liberalism's ability to corrode Christianity is boundless. Liberalism compared to Islam, however, is completely ineffectual. Thus, most of the great liberal civilizations of history have been overrun by Islam including most of the Greek world, the middle east, and north africa. Today's attempts by liberal's to negotiate with Islam are treated with contempt, unless their is some clear advantage to gain. Since Liberalism's world view is a corruption of the Christian one, they have no hope of comprehending Islam and not being totally out-smarted.

Only when there is a solidly firm Christian society is their the strength to resist Islam. Islam's weakness is that it doesn't permit the freedom of thought of Christian societies, which dooms them to hopeless poverty. We must acknowledge that it is only through God's grace that Islam has been provided the wealth of oil. Without this, it would be too despised to even consider confronting Christianity.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Some Middle East Thoughts.

"Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever. " - Obadiah 1:10

Now logic tells us that if Jacob is the brother of Esau, then Esau is the brother of Jacob. Profound, eh? After all these generations, it is likely that most of the middle east has the blood of Abraham, via Ishmael, Esau or Jacob. In a real sense, they are cousins to us in terms of genetics or religion.

As the conflicts rage on, what should we make of it? The Left loves to find someone gloating over this and promote him as a fundamentalist Christian. "Thou shalt give false witness" seems to be their only religious command. They too are our cousins, however, as they have gone down the path of Esau to find God.

I will not gloat, but pray for peace. And who am I to presume to understand how God's hand is working through this and what He intends to accomplish?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Something Positive?

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."

Now this would be an amazing week if all of the bloggers of the world united to try to fulfill this verse! Today, some young people from our church took some time to teach a soccer camp to mentally handicapped children. They had a wonderful time. I joined in a bit and had a good time trying to get the children to focus on the ball long enough to kick it. The parents seemed to enjoy the attention their children were receiving also. May the Lord be pleased with this small exercise of caring.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Pro Environment - Anti Environmentalism.

Being an outdoorsy type, I love the environment. Environmentalists, however, are something that I loathe. As the saying goes, the difference between an environmentalist and a developer is that the developer wants to build a cabin in the woods, but the environmentalist already owns a cabin in the woods. Half of the environmental movement is just pure selfish NIMBYism. For example, much of California's power comes from just across the border in Arizona. There is a huge waste shipping the power across the desert, but the environmentalists opposed putting the power plants in California. This kind of stupidity does nothing for the overall environment, but it does make people feel smug that they care.

The other half of the environmental movement is driven by envy. Look at all the wealth the oil companies have! Let's bash them with taxes and regulations! For these people, nothing is acceptable unless it is approved by the Kim Jong Il school of economics: Capitalism is evil! Of course, the alternatives have all been much harsher to the environment, but we won't talk about that!

A logical approach to the environment involves taxes on behavior and minimizes regulation and litigation. My power bill starts at $.11 per kwh and increases to $.27. Without this kind of subsidy, installing solar panels would be far more sensible. Eliminating subsidies for waste is also important. Property taxes should emphasize environmental footprints. The carbon tax is the way to go. Until then, we might as well ignore environmentalism. It does more harm than good.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

A homeowner at the start of the Mount Baldy trail sends mixed messages.

From the top of Mount Baldy

Looking towards Edwards Dry Lake. The southern view of the LA smog was considerably less interesting.

Mount Baldy Pics

My little stroll up Mount Baldy left me out of water with about 5 miles to go back down the mountain. Needless to say, I was quite thirsty and the song, "As the deer panteth for the water so my soul longeth after thee ..." kept going through my head. 5 hours and 30 minutes was the time to go the 13 mile loop up and down . With California suffering under a heat wave, the cool air at the top was nice and I really wanted to linger on, but I had to get back to the hotel and finish a presentation.

Friday, July 21, 2006

"You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?

I took off a day from my business trip in LA to take a gentle stroll up Mount San Antonio (Mt. Baldy). It is always a good omen to begin a hike/run with a meter long black rattlesnake crossing the trail just in front of you. I was surprised at how calm he was. Usually, they are quite happy to move on, but this one wanted to check me out. This gentle stroll was 13 miles long with 5,800 feet of elevation change from the beginning to the top.

Jesus and John the Baptist both critized the religious leaders by comparing them to snakes. The snake's poison, like the religious leader's poison, comes from the mouth. One thing that we are confused about today is that in Bible times, there was no distinction between scholars, intellectuals and religious leaders. Today, we like to make distinctions between these groups and assign the viper like tendencies to one or the other. Actually, we all need to watch out about what harm we do to others with our words.

Monday, July 17, 2006

How beautiful on the mountain are the feet

of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!"

A trail runner's perspective on this verse is a bit different from today's couch potato culture. After a few hours on the mountain, the feet are usually filthy, in spite of today's high-tech foot wear. A few wet cow piles followed by plowing through a muddy creek... How can this possibly be beautiful? In human terms, this is about as sloppy as things get. Go back to ancient times with sandles or less and the feet might be a bit bloody in addition to the mud.

Yet God's message takes the uggliest things that this world has to offer and makes them beautiful. Yes, our God reigns.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Bay Area Views (Click picture for clearer view)

As everyone knows, fundamentalists are always playing with conspiracy theories. For example, the center of evil is UC Berkeley. Most people, however, aren't quite clear on the exact proximity of Berkely to the Devil (Diablo in Spanish). I took a 22 mile run/hike to Rose Peak to take this photo and provide some perspective. Rose Peak is at an elevation of 3,800 feet and is the most remote of the tall mountains in the San Francisco Bay Area. Mount Diablo is almost the same at 3,849 feet and Mount Hamilton is the highest at 4372 feet.

To give you an idea of the remoteness, on a busy weekend you can hike for over an hour without seeing anyone. Within an hour drive of the parking lot, however, there is a population of about 10 million people. What I do see more often is airplanes landing at SFO or Oakland flying overhead. If you are landing in the SF area from the east, you will be over Rose Peak during the last 10 minutes or so before landing.

Finally, there are a couple young people from my church who are enthusiastically involved in campus ministries at UC Berkeley. God's work is being done.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Talent, Ambition and Ethics

This topic is about engineering. Not the ideal kind, but engineering from the trenches. How does the Human Resources (HR) department view engineers?

Talent, ambition and ethics are character traits which God distributes among people in an apparently haphazard way. Thus, we find talented people who aren't ambitious, and we likewise find ambitious people who aren't talented. There was a famous engineering professor by the name of Irons who published a technical book in which he said, "The ability of one engineer compared to another varies by more than 10 to 1 - and you can determine nothing from their resume". As a cynical young engineer, I was surprised to hear someone actually put this in writing, but it didn't surprise me at all from my observations. As I talk with HR people later in life at high tech companies, we learn that this is a fact of life. In fact, the most valuable HR people are those that can see through the character of an applicant and read his true talent from an otherwise worthless resume.

Some who have talent also have ambition, but that ambition is usually directed through their talent. These people see much value in ethics, as it allows them to get more credit for what they accomplish. Still, it is surprising to find out that there are plenty of engineers with talent, but limited ethics. Then there are the others: Those with no talent but plenty of ambition and those with neither talent nor ambition. Unlike those with talent, worldy concerns can reward a lack of ethics. The most dangerous, of course, are those with no talent but plenty of ambition. If they lack ethics also, you can expect that their career will leave mayhem in its wake. After spending a few weeks doing training at Ford and GM, a famous quote was drilled into my head: "An engineer is promoted in proportion to his incompetence". The reason for this should now be obvious: Lacking talent and ethics, but gifted in ambition, an engineer is free to invest all of his efforts into political intrigues and this allows him to rise through the ranks. As the higher managers are playing the same games, their immediate underlings are more valuable based on their ability to scheme rather than their ability to get things done.

It is a sad way to look at the world, but that is what I have seen first hand. The question for any readers is this: Why should it be any different with scholars in universities?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

In Praise of Dan Rather

Dan Rather's career spanned more than 50 years making him one of the most familiar faces in America. Probably the most important thing he accomplished, along with Walter Cronkite and CBS News was to create an American "center".

As a newsman, he always struck me as "not-too-bright", but lets be realistic: The American center is, um, not-too-bright, so the connection was natural. But detractors and admirers alike must admit, he was a kind of glue that helped hold America together.

Of course, there was the Texas Air National Guard forgery that Dan tried to exploit to bring down president Bush. As the right can easily document, CBS News had a long history of drive-by-journalism where conservative figures were smeared and destroyed by innuendo. Walter Cronkite pioneered this and the bad reputation of Joe McCarthy is entirely attributable to these journalistic innovations. Goldwater too was smeared by this journalism machine.

To maintain the illusion of centrism, however, both Walter and Dan needed to come back to the center regularly and behave reasonably. This too toned down the left as they really could sit back, relax and let Dan do the gentle, but steady push of America to the left. Thus, the illusion of a center was achieved and unity of a form was achieved.

The illusion began to come apart most likely during the Clinton scandals as the new Media (i.e. Drudgereport) began bypassing the filter of the main stream media. The holes in Dan's journalism were exposed for anyone to see who cared. The Texas Air National Guard memos were the end for him, but they also represent the burying of something else: Civil discourse in America.

Without the anchor of a solidly left media with a reputation for centrism, the left has morphed into an angry, hysterical group of nutcases who are determined to keep America moving left by escalating the rhetoric until their goals are achieved. The right can largely ignore its drive-by-critics (except for judges doing drive by interpretations of the constitution). Still, they don't seem to have much responsible guiding them. President Bush's complete failure to articulate a vision isn't helping.

America is badly divided. Sometimes it makes me look nostalgically for the flawed era with the illusion of a center.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Gender Gap in Universities

This subject is revisited in this article. The basic issue is that the overall enrollment in higher education is 42% male to 58% female. With the exception of the technical fields, women dominate in just about everything else.

There are certainly a large number of factors at play in this cultural change. The one factor that seems common to all of this is the lack of discipline for young men. For some more insight on this, we can turn to Dr. Benjamin Spock. His teachings brought about a revolution in child care in the west based on having a more caring, individualistic relationship with children. His detractors dissed it as permissiveness.

Are the effects of this new thinking now having their full impact? The failure of men relative to women is often due to the failure of discipline, rather than intelligence. Perhaps it is the men who are needing the discipline badly, but our culture has dumped this concept.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Why I Am Not A Creationist

Ah, but all fundamenalists are creationists, aren't they? Well, yes and no. Creationism for me represents the primary problem with fundamenalism. Fundamentalists almost never check their sources. They quote a book written by a "scholar" and their scholars quote other scholars in an interminable cycle. When some garbage gets into the loop, it is passed on far too long. This isn't to say that Creationists are liars, just that they don't do basic fact checking.

What would happen if the Creationists ever win the Darwinism/Creation debate? It would be a disastor as those who have limited training in the science-of-the-here-and-now make proclamations about what happened long ago. The Darwinists would helpfully throw their support to the most confused of the Creationists. Creationists are far better at throwing stones from the periphery than leading a new science curriculum.

The other reason is that the entire paradigm of Science has been re-written by Darwinist theologians. While everyone knows that origins werenever part of the scientific revolution, the intellectuals worked systematically to make themselves the center. For those of us who work and live in science, the paradigm of Science that is presented to our children is ludicrous. Peer reviewed research that steadily progresses towards truth and tosses out falsehood? Give me a break. Creationists, however, are just as naievly invested into this Darwinist paradigm and it is from this paradigm that they attempt to criticize the Darwinists.

So where should we be going? This I am not at all clear on, but there is one first step. The science-of-the-here-and-now needs to be disjoined from the science-of-origins in the curriculum. Darwinists are heavily invested in conflating the two. Darwins genious was in choosing the ambiguous term "evolution", which covers everything and allows scientists to randomly switching meanings mid-sentence to cover everything from basic change due to genetic recombination to creative acts by brilliant inventors. Creationists want to stick with this conflation of concepts and switch the origins part to God as the creator. The problem is that biology is what it is and origins aren't relevant.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Esther and the Church of Esau

The book of Esther really looks like a simple good guy / bad guy story. If we consider it at this level, then why not read Robert Louis Stevenson instead? The Bible, however, is both allegory and history. As we look at Esther, some of the subtle connections are what we want to pursue in some detail.

Most scholars observe the key connects: Mordecai is descended from Shimei and Kish. Haman is descended from Agag. The scholars note that this looks like perhaps Kish, the father of Saul, and Agag, the king who Saul executed. Then they shrug their shoulders and move on. Let's pursue the Haman thread with a little more tenacity.

Agag was king of the Amalekites, who were descended from Amalek, who was the grandson of Esau, the brother of Jacob. Thus both Haman and Mordecai are part of the same family of Abraham. There is a reference to the "land of the Amalekites" in Genesis before Esau, however, this is a geographic reference for a later audience, so we should be clear that the Amalekites all are descendents of Abraham.

The Amalekites appear over and over in the Bible, first as they attack the Israelites when they are departing Egypt, followed by the conflicts of Judges. Things intensify again as Saul and David fight with them. Saul is ordered to kill all of the Amalekites but DON'T TOUCH THE PLUNDER. He proceeds to touch the plunder and is eventually killed by an Amalekite. In the new testament, we have King(s) Herod who is descended from the Idumaeans, who are descended from the line of Esau. Conflict again happens as John the Baptist confronts Herod over sexual immorality and loses his head.

With this same repeated pattern, someone might eventually want to ask what gives? The hint being from Hebrews 12:16: "See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son." Of course, the descendants of Jacob also struggled horribly with sexual immorality and suffered as a result. But there is still a major difference in Jacob and Esau.

My primary contention is that the book of Esther is an allegory. It is an incident in the never ending fight over the inheritance of Abraham. Who is it that gets the promise of God? Those who initially had the inheritance seem to be so quick to trade everything to indulge their human desires. The older is usually the first, as the Catholic Church embraced licentiousness during the Renaissance and the reformed churches walked away with the inheritance. Now the mainline reformed churches are themselves claiming the banner of licentiousness, while the independents take up the inheritance.

This is an allegory for today. The battles over licentiousness and gay marriage being just the latest skirmish. What is clear to the Church of Esau, however, is that this is a winner takes all battle. There can be nothing left of conservatism in the minds of the Church of Esau. Every conservative must be eliminated and their churches plundered. The Church of Jacob is less likely to understand this. The allegory of the book of Esther tells how this battle should be handled. How should we respond?