Monday, December 31, 2007

More of my foggy trip to Rose Peak. The 18 mile route was about half in the clouds. The wind was still and the damping of the sound caused by the fog meant that all I could hear was the sound of my shoes on the ground and my breathing. Outside of Sunol Park, I didn't see anyone else on the Ohlone Wilderness Trail. Thankfully, my knee didn't act up on this trip and I was able to cover it in a lethargic 5 hours, 15 minutes. This picture is about a mile from the summit at around 3,400 foot elevation.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Maybe not so alone. This appears to be the footprint of a coyote. It had a scuffle with a deer here probably a few hours earlier, given what the rain does to footprints.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Alone in the fog.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Economist on Esalen.

I have driven by this place many times, but not quite taken note. This is one icon of the hippy culture that I missed, although the New Age result infects America and has spread to much of the world.

As a Christian how should I characterize New Age? Basically, the concept of the monotheistic religions is that the universe exists for God's purpose. He is therefore the center.

New Age deletes God, but retains the spirituality. What is left then? In the true California style, we have Self at the center now. For those more altruistically minded, we can have the environment or some endangered species, like the whales - which were elevated to such a position in a Star Trek movie. At the beginning of the movement, drugs and sex were the focal point of this spiritual journey. Other ways to view New Age are that it is a mystical atheism, or perhaps a Purpose Driven narcissism.

This movement has had a tremendous influence across American culture. Sadly, it even effects churches as the focus of a worship experience becomes what we get out of it, rather than offering up our praises to God. Even the centrality of God and what Jesus did on the cross is lost when we make environmentalism, social justice, or some other perhaps worthy issue central to the Christian message.

Another annoying feature to this is that New Age is a religion without God, but from a legal standpoint, the absence of God makes it a non-religion and therefore it does not fall under the "separation of church and state" restrictions that Christianity is subject to. Of course, the world is heavily influenced by Judaism/Christianity/Islam with an idea of morality that is revealed by God and is absolute. In fact, our primary notion of right and wrong is based on revelation which we believe comes from God. The New Age religion, however, is completely hostile to this. By denying God, their brand of subjective morality is automatically given a higher legal standing in America.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto is Assassinated. Pray for Pakistan.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Thoughts on the California universal health insurance proposal.

The BBC has engaged in pure journalistic malpractice on this article, so here we go:
"Ms Watanabe - who moved to Los Angeles from the Philippines - was denied a brain scan by her insurance company despite repeated requests from her doctor, only to be diagnosed with a tumor during a family visit to Japan."

So who paid for the brain scan in Japan? When I lived in Japan, we paid for these things ourselves. Watanabe is a Japanese name and Japanese are one of the wealthiest minorities in America. If it is a concern, and the insurance program won't pay, are we really going to forgo a private brain scan paid by ourselves? Of course, the real issue here is the psycho legal system which drives costs through the roof. Also, government interference in the insurance market is running the costs up to the point where no one can get proper treatment, but the only proposal on the table is more government involvement. Lenin would be proud.

"Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles encompasses 50 square blocks of the city and is home to about 800 people sleeping rough.

Some, with no health insurance and no home, were literally dumped there by hospitals because they could not pay the bill."

Yes, LA is a homeless paradise. Free everything so that you can spend your life as a drunk, stoned, deadbeat. They get unlimited free health care to help with their self induced ailments, but what do we do when they wear out their welcome? Should we give them a permanent bed in the emergency room? Should ordinary people (like Ms. Watanabe above) be denied health care in order to treat the addicts (and illegal immigrants)? Should we have a triage system that rejects those with insurance in favor of those without or that prefers those with government insurance over those with private insurance? Changing demographics is set to make this problem skyrocket, as the non-working elderly begin increasing at a rapid rate.

As always, the government is the problem, not the solution. Sadly, those immigrating to California from other countries, along with the rich leftists, and the beggar classes all believe that the way forward is more government. That is what we will probably get.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas. I guess heading up to lake Tahoe and skiing is a bit materialistic for celebrating Christmas.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"World food stocks dwindling rapidly, UN warns" - International Herald Tribune

This article is especially interesting. The reason for the increase in food prices that I have heard is that the bio-fuels sector is expanding at an incredible pace and sucking up most of the grain. This is causing shifts in production away from less profitable food crops to fuel crops and creating the obvious shortages. A secondary problem has been increased demand due to expanding and wealthier populations. Here in California, the big issue is urban sprawl covering over the farmland. Orange County, for example, was once known for its extensive orange groves, but commercial orange growing has been replaced by freeways and houses.

The article, however, puts much of the blame onto decreased yields due to global warming related changes. Of course, farming disasters due to weather changes are as old as Joseph and ancient Egypt, but don't tell that to the UN. The sad thing is that bio-fuel usage probably doesn't save any fossil fuels, but the push for them is causing an all new crisis.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Global Futility?

The UN conference on climate change is proposing a global CO2 tax at the point of emissions. This is probably the best that can be done, but will it be enough? Of course, there are far more emissions sources than fossil carbon production points, so it would seem easier to have a CO2 tax at the production point. The problem is getting Chavez, Putin and OPEC to pay taxes that would then go to the UN. Not a chance. The other trick will be to get China to pay taxes to the UN for their carbon emissions.

The conference proposal is to send the tax receipts to the UN. This would then transfer to the poor countries so that a net, rich-to-poor transfer of global wealth will be achieved. If somehow this actually succeeds, what do you suppose that the poor will do with the new wealth? Might they buy some more goods produced with energy from fossil fuels? How about a car? Perhaps they might jet off for another Hajj ... Somehow it just doesn't seem that any of this is going anywhere productive.
Damn the voters, full steam ahead ...

... as the politicians embrace the EU constitution anyways. The lust for bureaucracy can never be satisfied.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

It looks like the price of silicon continues to head upwards due to the demand for solar systems. The overall pattern seems to be that coal is mined in Australia to drive silicon mills in China, and the final product is shipped to northern Europe where it is inefficiently used. The question still remains as to whether or not solar is helping or hurting carbon emissions. A continued problem is the solar industry's waffling on power ratings. For example, a dam can produce a lot of power when a reservoir is full, but not much when it is empty. What we really want to now is how much energy it can produce in a year. Solar panels are rated in terms of peak output, which happens for a few seconds per day in the Sahara. How much does it produce over a full year? Then we have creative people who invent new energy units such as GWth to obfuscate things more. Yes, I like thermal and want to buy a system for my house, but let's have a reality check, please!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Monday, December 10, 2007

Ancient Israel, What do we know and how do we know it? by Lester Grabbe. Chapter 5.

This final chapter is much like chapter 4, although the evolution of religion thesis is dropped. There are a few perplexing issues, but most of them are of the sort that we have today: Why did the US attack Iraq to remove WMDs if there weren't any WMDs? Little disputes of this magnitude are routine. A few popular views from a century ago have also been dropped. For example, it was once a popular view that much of the Bible stories were concocted by Josiah to firm up his rule. This isn't mentioned in Grabbe's book at all.

Taken all together, I guess I am left with a bit of awe and much more respect for the archaeological community, even if I still consider the presentation to be essentially minimalist in outlook. This is actually quite helpful since in some ways it probably represents a worst case scenario for the verification of the Bible. I will keep this around as a reference.
Ancient Israel, What do we know and how do we know it? by Lester Grabbe. Chapter 4.

This chapter deals with the period from 900BC to 720BC and is mostly a delight. With inscriptions and literacy now widespread, much of the Biblical narrative is confirmed in archaeological findings from different places. The Biblical "errors" listed are on the order of "Ahab is presented as militarily weak", which is a bit subjective. The primary difference that I see between a fundamentalist Christian and an atheist historian is the interpretation of the data regarding the polytheism. The Biblical narrative claims the polytheism was a corruption of the correct worship of God, whereas the atheist requires monotheism to have evolved later than polytheism. We will need to leave it at that.

Another curious feature is that Grabbe denies the existence of temple prostitution in Israel due to the lack of archaeological findings, but seems to accept the testimony of Herodotus regarding universal temple prostitution in Babylon, without having any archaeological evidence to back that claim either. Perhaps he has a good reason for this, but it does strike me as arbitrarily ranking Herodotus as being a more reliable secondary source than the Bible.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

"While shepherds watched their flocks by night ..."

Every church going kid is supposed to know this part of the story of how Jesus was born. Somewhere along the line, the birth of Jesus was set to December. A preacher recently said at our church that "Jesus couldn't have been born in winter, because the shepherds wouldn't have been watching their sheep by night in winter".

This picture isn't a perfect rebuttal, but it is the best I could do. It is a picture of a calf with two other pairs of eyes in the dark near the top of Mount Allison - about 4 miles from the trail head. The three dots to the left are probably the antenna on Monument Peak. It is December and the winds are strong, but this is a sheltered area. I always like the feeling of seeing the glowing eyes looking back at me when I shine my headlamp out into the dark. Our climate here is nearly identical to the climate around Bethlehem.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Ancient Israel, What do we know and how do we know it? by Lester Grabbe.

Reading chapter 3 is a bit overwhelming. It is much more a review paper than an archaeological description. What is clear is that it would be very difficult to be a player in the scholarly dialog without being full time involved, given the cross linking of so many debates over the interpretation of data. My main interest is to know what to teach young people in church, rather than to contribute to the debate. Thus, I will try to avoid some of the rash claims that are made based on newspaper articles.

The main thing that I feel is important to note is that this book could just have accurately been given the title, "Ancient Israel, What don't we know and why can't we know it?". This would reflect the overall impression of the chapter. For example, a lack of literacy seems to be reflected in the archeology, which explains why there is so little recorded. The scholarly mindset, however, is that if it ain't recorded, then it ain't true. Fine, but at least be honest about your viewpoint. The overall features of the Biblical story, however, are in place: An Israelite kingdom has formed, the Philistines with better technology are entrenched near the coast, and other primitive kingdoms are to the east including Edom, Moab and Ammon. Also, a disorderly confederation is reflected in the archeology which conforms quite nicely to the description of the book of Judges. What more could the fundamentalist ask for from archeology?

The status of Jerusalem is the only other question. It seems that the scholarly consensus is that Jerusalem couldn't have been significant because it was a little village, perhaps like Lee Vining, California - population 488. Admittedly, I am no scholar on these items, but it does seem problematic to perform accurate surveys of Jerusalem regarding this era, given that Jerusalem is today a built over urban area. Even the Bible seems to give the impression that Jerusalem was not a natural capital for the united kingdom, so there really isn't anything new here. Needless to say, I don't find these opinions to be worthy of serious consideration.

One thing I find interesting here is the formal inclusion of anthropology into the Biblical debate. Certainly, some useful insights can come from anthropology, however, it is important to note that anthropology is probably the most explicitly atheistic scholarly subgroup, which gives a good idea of where scholarship is going.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Some thoughts on Romney and Mormonism.

With the noise regarding Romney's religious beliefs being in the news, many thoughts have been going through my mind. First, the US has a long record of presidents with Christian-ish beliefs whose standing as Christians was in doubt. Thomas Jefferson stands out with his Jefferson Bible where he kept the moral teachings of Jesus, but deleted all of the miracles. John Adams, being a Unitarian, cannot be regarded as a Christian at all. Nixon seems to have been nominally a Quaker. In this context, the questions regarding Kennedy's beliefs strike me as odd, since the Quakers seem to have less interest in Jesus as Lord and Savior than the Catholics. The primary issue with the Catholics is their claim to have an exclusive distributorship agreement with heaven rather than the status of Jesus as the Son of God. The Catholics also have a notion of 'grace' being a commodity that can be bought and sold, which is also problematic. (Yes, you can buy and sell indugences on EBay!) An attempt at a list of presidential religious affiliations is here.

So what to make of the Mormons, who acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior (wonder what that means to them exactly), but think that God's messed up on his first (and second) attempts to establish Christianity and that he chose Joseph Smith for a third try? Certainly this view is bizarre, but it wouldn't be the worst that has occupied the White House.

We should compare Romney's Mormonism to Hillary (United Methodist) and Obama (United Church of Christ). Both of these religious organizations have trended to the modernist limits recently. Whereas Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were firmly committed to traditional Christian morality, the United Methodists and United Church of Christ have abandoned much of the core of Christian morality - particularly involving sexuality. Of course, these modernist churches are rapidly bringing new fads into the morality debate such as environmentalism. I guess the conclusion of all of this is that we probably shouldn't worry that much about Romney's Mormonism in making a decision on who to vote for. No, this is not an endorsement. There are many other issues, so this is just a start.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The weather report said rain, but all I got was a drizzle.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Here is a whole herd of turkeys which apparently survived Thanksgiving. Looks like I need a telephoto lens.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Ancient Israel, by Lester Grabbe.

I picked this up due to a recommendation by Jim West. It will take a while to finish. The main thing that has jumped out to me is the attribution of many of the positions discrediting the earlier Biblical narratives to papers written in the 1970's to 1990's based on recent archaeological data. The big problem is that the conclusions adapted by the researchers follows along the lines of things that are readily available in publications from a century ago. For example, it attributes the development of the narrative of the Patriarchs to the Persian period, which is readily found in a 1910 Encyclopedia Brittanica article on Abraham. This dates from the time of firmly established scholarly hostility to everything in the Bible. As Grabbe admits, researchers tend to choose the explanations that fit most neatly into the world views that they have accepted. Thus, the result here is hardly a surprise.

A key argument here relates to camels that are mentioned in Genesis: "The most recent evidence for the domesticated camel in Palestine, however, seems to be no earlier than the Iron Age, with the concentration of bones at Tell Jemmeh, apparently a caravan center, focusing on the seventh century BCE." The problem here is that the camel is believed to have been domesticated elsewhere in Asia before 2,000BC. Given that a camel can travel 100 miles a day with heavy loads under nasty conditions, it is safe to assume that long haul trucking entrepreneurs would have brought camels through Palestine much earlier. Domesticating a camel is simply too easy and the economic benefits too great to make the leap that camels were available everywhere except Palestine. Anyway, if we move to reputable organizations away from the middle east research, the controversy disappears and the dates for domestication of camels quickly move to 3,000BC or earlier. This mainly points to how preconceptions bias interpretations, a subject which Grabbe admits to, but it is impossible for any of us to fully comprehend the scope of such difficulties.

UPDATE: I should have realized this earlier. According to Deuteronomy 14:7, the camel is an unclean animal. "However, of those that chew the cud or that have a split hoof completely divided you may not eat the camel, the rabbit or the coney. Although they chew the cud, they do not have a split hoof; they are ceremonially unclean for you." In this context, the missing camels in Palestine anomaly is actually indirect evidence for the acceptance of the Pentateuch, not proof against as claimed.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Solar and EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Investment).

I was pondering this a bit and decided to surf around a bit. The solar industry claims that a solar panel will produce 6 to 30 times the amount of energy that is used to produce it. I am always skeptical and found another skeptic here. He claims that the actual rate of return is more like 1 to 1: The amount of energy that a solar system will produce during its lifetime is roughly the same as the amount of energy needed to produce it in the first place.

The reason for this discrepancy is simple. The amount of energy needed to obtain the silicon, build the factory, transport the panels, and the energy for all of the supporting hardware and labor is typically excluded from the optimistic computations. Only the amount of energy needed to operate the solar panel factory is included, which is a tiny fraction of what is needed for a complete, installed system.

One thing that provides a little optimism, however, is the cost of solar systems. Checking out SolarBuzz, it seems that solar systems have only increased a few percent in costs over the past two years, while oil prices have soared. This implies a somewhat improving EROEI situation, but there is still a very long way to go. (Coal has actually declined.) As the former blogger notes, when solar panel factories start using their own solar panels to produce energy, and ethanol producers start powering their facilities with ethanol, then we can suppose that EROEI has reached a sensible point. Otherwise, alternative fuels are as helpful as alternative realities.
It is good to be back on the mountain.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Venezuela ...

Will Venezuela be the first country in history to democratically abandon Democracy in favor of a communist dictatorship? It is sad to see things come to this point no matter what happens. The gamble is that oil wealth will increase faster than communist corruption and incompetence destroys the economy. Not a very good bet.

UPDATE: Presumably much of Venezuela is relieved at the outcome, as well as the reasonable response by President Chavez to the defeat. It still leaves me wondering about the social dynamics in this country that brought things so close to embracing communism.
LA Time Editorial: "CNN: Corrupt News Network"

The title is from the LA Times and not mine. It is rare that I agree with the LA Times, but this article gets things pretty much right on. Immigration isn't really an issue, although illegal immigration is. A sensible question would be of this sort: "Do you think that American citizens should forgo health care while being forced to pay for it anyway in order to provide free benefits to illegal aliens?" This would get to something more substantial.
This article was quite a surprise to me. On the other hand, it does seem to explain much of the political rhetoric flying around the country during the last decade or so. No, I am not happy with Bush, but I view him more as stubborn, a bit naive and a pathetic communicator, rather than the reincarnation of Genghis Khan.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Mission San Jose High School: Ranked #49 in the US.

Not bad for our local, relatively cash-starved high school. There are 18,790 public high schools in the US that were part of the survey. MSJ scored #8 in California and was the top ranked school for the entire San Francisco Bay area.
Justin's Hortatory to the Greeks.

This work from perhaps 150AD is an argument to those who followed Greek religion to abandon it and turn to Jesus. One thing notable is that there seems to be a strong agreement between Justin and the Greeks regarding the existence of Hell and a judgment. So far, I have not encountered any evidence among early Christian writers of a belief in universalism that now seems to infect mainline theologians.

The most interesting feature to this letter is Justin's insistence that the Greek philosophers and poets had learned of the true God from visiting Egypt. Plato and Homer are specifically mentioned. Certainly this isn't impossible, but the evidence is necessarily weak. Plato visited Egypt, for example, during the Persian period and there is known to have been a Jewish contingent there according to some of my Persian histories I have read (as well as Jeremiah). Justin's arguments would be dismissed as prooftexting today and quickly dismissed.

Another point that Justin makes is of the confusion and corruption of the gaggle of gods that the Greeks worshiped. He cites Socrates as having been the greatest of the learned Greeks, yet Socrates admits to knowing essentially nothing about the gods. Can we seriously establish a religion on this? Instead, Justin points to a more ancient religion that was revealed from God through Moses and other prophets.

Every few decades, a nostalgia for a pre-Christian Europe seems to resurrect itself beginning in the time of the Renaissance, but reappearing in various forms (think Swastika). Justin's work here is a good reminder of how the contrast was originally viewed from those who lived in the era when Greek religion was in decline.

Friday, November 30, 2007

SF Chronicle: Democrats discover Evangelicals.

This follows the same meta-narrative: Christians were once upon a time good Democrats, but due to some conniving trouble makers like Jerry Falwell, they left their natural home. Now is the time for them to return.

The trouble with this meta-narrative is that it is mostly wrong. There are many things that bug Christians about Democrats (and Republicans). Foremost among the Christian gripes are the love for a big, intrusive government combined with a rigid, extra-constitutional "separation of church and state". Under this paradigm, as government expands, the scope for Christian living is automatically reduced. Even Bush gets much of his negative poll ratings from Christians who don't like Big Government.

Other issue are the Democrats embracement of promiscuity and abortion. Hillary is proposing $50 billion to fight AIDS. Sure, let's fight AIDS. The question is this: are we going to fight AIDS with the same old pagan message of "have as much sex as you want, but be sure and use condoms"? Or will it be the Christian message that sex outside of marriage will screw up your life and the life of those you love, but if you insist, as least use a condom? So the question to the Democrats remains: Are you wanting us to abandon our values and vote for you? Or are you going to adjust your policies to accommodate our existence?
Bush's embryonic stem cell victory.

This probably won't bring Bush's popularity up much, but the recent triumph of the adult stem cells over the embryonic ones in the research lab put an end to a hysterical debate. One bit of context we lose here is that the government always has 10's of thousands of proposals coming in for various research items that might improve the quality of life. The vast majority will produce nothing, but every researcher knows how to harness the IQ that allowed him to get a degree in the first place to produce the most persuasive arguments as to why his particular project is the most important for the salvation of mankind. In the case of embryonic stem cell research, the fact that aborted fetuses were the source added another component of irrationality. The Left howled that the Right was stopping research which was a moral imperative. They also accused the Right of being insensitive, morally depraved and systemically deficient in conscience for their stand. The Right tried to point out that there was no ban on stem cell research, just a ban on government funding of embryonic stem cell research, but were shouted down anyway. The embryonic/adult distinction was also lost in all of the howling.

Now that things are quieting down, we still need to ask some questions: Is it more important for the government to pursue stem cell based Franken-medicine, or treatments for malaria and drug resistant tuberculosis? Not that I oppose adult stem cell research. Still, there are a huge number of proposals out there for medical research. What should be the balance? Hopefully no one will suggest that the allocation of medical research spending be based on the hyperbole needs of populist politicians.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, by John Walton.

My reading pile is getting quite high, so I only took a look at the introduction to this one. The first paragraph jumped out at me because it admitted to a period of academic hostility to the Bible, although the start is attributed to Franz Delitzsch in some lectures from 1902. This admission to an era of academic hostility was surprising to me, although unfortunately, he misses the start by more than a century. The beginnings were prior to the French Revolution and shaped much of what happened in Europe in the 19th century. Academics are usually loathe to admit this, because Darwin actually falls in the middle of the period, rather than the beginning. With the corrected history, evolution is seen as just another obvious step in bloody minded hostility to the Bible, rather than something that was compelled by scientific evidence and then initiated a cascade of other criticisms. Sadly, the later view remains what is taught in our government schools.

Reading on, however, I found some things I like very much. Walton goes on to outline the modern methodology where various bits of information from the ancient Near East are taken as a whole to help paint a better picture. We don't use single bits of info, however, either to discredit or definitively support particular modern theories, but rather to try to get a better appreciation of the ancient cultures. This philosophy I find very satisfying. It isn't bloody minded to one extreme or the other, and also provides some common framework where those of differing viewpoints can still work together academically. Although Walton admits to remnants of the academically hostile crowd hanging around, the community as a whole has moved on and become more mature. I only wish that the condemnation of the former era of academic hostility was a bit more public and accurate in scope. The reason for this is that the conclusions of the era of academic hostility have largely been seared into the minds of so many people in the West, and provide much of the fuel for our culture wars. I look forward to having some more time to read over the Christmas holidays.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Presidential debate canceled due to writers strike??? OK, I put the two things together in a way that is a bit out of context, but I couldn't resist. To cancel a debate due to a writers guild strike seems to me as at least symbolic of the low point that American presidential discourse has achieved - for both parties. The days of great oratory in American politics are long gone.
OK, this is the exact point where I stand politically. You can figure out your own beliefs here. My primary authoritarian urges are primarily that I think abortion is almost always wrong and the notion of the loving, committed gay couple is nothing but a bunch of nonsense: The gay community picks up STDs first and fastest with high infection rates due to their hyper-promiscuous lifestyle. The notion that gays are better at forming loving, committed relationships than heterosexuals is a symptom of major reasoning problems. No, the taxpayer and greater society should not be forced to subsidize their sex cruises by recognizing gay marriages. That is what makes me an authoritarian nut these days.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Favorability poll: Clinton beats Obama among African-Americans???

I guess there is a big culture gap here. The main news is that although nearly 50% of Americans have a negative view of Hillary, only 10% of American Blacks view her negatively. The primary reason for the negatives is the view that she is ruthless in how she handles everything. Apparently, this is viewed as a plus among Americans Blacks.

On the issues, Blacks are quite different from the Republicans. Being mostly poor, and given our progressive tax system, Blacks pay little in taxes so this isn't a concern for them. Health care, on the other hand, is mostly government provided for them and expanding this is a great concern and something that Hillary is likely to push. Republicans, on the other hand, are currently paying their own health bill (inflated by litigation costs), plus the health bill for the poor, plus the health bill for the illegal aliens. Thus, they have a very different view point.

Regarding terrorism, American Blacks have also tended to concentrate in some of the most violent areas of the US. Just up the road from my house is Oakland, which has had one of the highest murder rates in the country. Perhaps terrorism isn't as scary to those who live much closer to violence.

That was all just some speculation. What is clear is that there is a big culture gap which I would love to see reduced. Multicultural consensus, yes. Multicultural animosity, no.
Massachusetts wants a ban on spanking.

"He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him." - Proverbs 13:24

Spanking children as a means of getting them to obey and especially to help them become a bit less me-focused is one of those universal elements of civilization. In many cases, the alternative is feral young men who become pests to society - always taking, but never giving. Sadly, the problem of feral young men (and women) is a scourge to many poor communities in the US.

Usually the left is the one to accuse the right of a black and white world view, but in this case, it is the opposite. There are those who judiciously spank children a few times in their lives when they went into a tantrum and couldn't be reasoned with. Then there are the sadistic types who maim and torture for the purpose of inflicting a slow death. In the liberal mind, all of this is the same.
Back to Morro Bay.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Heading back north on highway 101, we passed rather close to the recent Malibu fire. The smoke headed off to the north for over 100 miles. Environmental note: I work from my home, so the amount of miles my cars get per year is much less than the California average, in spite of the amount of travel I seem to be doing.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Leaving Joshua Tree, we went to Big Bear Lake. This is a view from Cougar Crest Trail heading down from the PCT. The snow is due to artificial snow making at Snow Summit skit area with a bare San Gorgonio mountain in the background. We passed a group of hikers at least every 5 minutes on the trail. It looks like wilderness, but is much too crowded.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Is Big Labor winning or losing?

Well, here is the score so far:
France: lose.
Australia: win.
Venezuela: waiting

I am not quite sure of the political scene in Australia. It seems that Mr. Howard did get quite a long run in office, so nothing to be ashamed of. Labor has promised to save the world from al Qaeda and global warming. We will see how long this lasts. As with all leftists, unless 99% of the media is controlled by the far left, there is no freedom of thought per their world view.
Finally, we are able to find a bit of peace and quiet in Joshua Tree National Park, although the campgrounds are all full and there are plenty of hikers around. I guess "peace and quiet" is all relative.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Driving out interstate 10 from LA towards the desert.

These are some of the huge windmills at the pass where you cross out of the LA smog into the desert areas of Palm Springs. Looking in other directions, it seems that there are countless windmills through the hills. It makes a very nice poster.

What you don't see in the photo is almost continuous housing from the Pacific Ocean to Indio, California, which is more than half-way to the Arizona border. The urban sprawl is mind boggling. We went from one traffic jam to another. So the windmill should be viewed as a bit of token environmentalism in a sea of environmental waste.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Heading for Los Angeles. This is an orchard next to one of the rest stops on I-5 in the central valley. Things are a bit hazy today. At LA, things were much hazier. The traffic was heavy all the way from San Francisco to southern California.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

First reference to abortion by the church fathers?

This quote is from the "Epistle of Barnabas" that was written perhaps around ~100AD. It says:

"Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born."
Thinking about candidates ...

Well, I am not happy with any of them, whether Republican or Democrat, but I thought I would post some thoughts on Hillary vs. Obama.

Hillary claims to be experienced. Yep, that is right, but not in the sense imagined. Of the numerous scandals that occurred during the Clinton presidency, many had her in the center. White Water was about the pilfering of the funds of a Savings and Loan for which her law firm was at the center. Although many went to jail, she wasn't fingered and the records were all destroyed, so her role is a mystery. There was Filegate and Travelgate. Then there was the cattle futures trading, and several more that I can no longer remember. With the recent mystery around poor Chinese giving big sums to her campaign along with the return of Mark Rich to the news, it just strikes me that she goes from one bizarre event to another. The US isn't the third world, so we expect a little better.

Obama, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have any controversy about him at all. In fact, he has gotten into less trouble than Paris Hilton, who is also popular due to her nice looks and communication skills. To gain experience, you must get your hands dirty and getting your hands dirty means offending someone at one point or another. So what do we make of a politician who doesn't have any controversy in his background but is running for president? Can he lead the US? Can he lead a hungry dog to a bowl full of dog food? How do we know?

Anyway, that is just some extreme rhetoric to emphasize that one has too much experience of the sort that I don't like, and the other doesn't seem to have any experience that I consider credible.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Looking out towards a foggy Eastern Pennsylvania from Kittatinny Ridge in New Jersey.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A link to the Delaware Water Gap route is here.
Dawn at Sunfish pond.

It was a little frosty this morning before dawn as I started up from the parking lot at Delaware Water Gap. This place is a 90 minute drive from the centers of both New York and Philadelphia, but I didn't see anyone for 3 hours of hiking and running along the Appalachian Trail. If you have a business trip to New York, it should be no trouble to cover 12 miles on the trail and get back for a lunch meeting.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Unions Strike!

Sarkozy could learn a lesson from Reagan: Fire all of the union transport workers and hire new ones. It reminds me of a trip many years ago with my wife on our anniversary to France. We went through the Charles de Gaulle airport when there was a custodians strike. Yuck! Trash was piled everywhere and the carpets were sticky. It was disgusting.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Ignatius and Polycarp.

The Alameda County Library was quite nice to have the collections of writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers. I will be going through this for awhile. The next letters I read included one from Polycarp and several from Ignatius. Both were martyred, but it looks like Ignatius is a generation older than Polycarp. What impressed me about Ignatius was that all of his letters emphasize the humility and wisdom of the bishops and presbyters (elders) and required strict adherence to their rule. At this point, it is clear that the bishop is only one per city, whereas the presbyters are several. Ignatius compares the presbyters to the Jewish Sanhedrin, so that we can presume a number of perhaps 23 or more per city. In the letters of Ignatius, there are only warnings and threats to those who do not adhere to the rule of the bishop, elders and deacons, but nothing admonishing the leaders.

There are shorter and longer forms of most of the letters from Ignatius which have puzzled scholars. I certainly have no where near the knowledge of these scholars, but here is my wild guess: Ignatius wrote the letters as he was traveling to Rome to be fed to the beasts. He wasn't sure how much time he would have to write the letters, so he wrote a short form and then went over them a second time to add in some detail - producing two versions. Hence, the difficulty in determining which was the original and which the modified, together with the fact that all of the letters involved have two forms. Anyway, that is just pontificating based on ignorance.

Ignatius was apparently highly respected as a church father. The reason I say this is that there are a number of "spurious" (i.e. apparent forgeries) attributed to Ignatius which deal with subjects which occurred much later in church history (according to the scholarly introductions - this is not my own observation). My guess is that his name was invoked to lend credibility to particular theological positions at later times when there wasn't such a clear leadership.

The letter from Polycarp is quite different in tone. Unlike Ignatius, he emphasizes the duties of the presbyters and specifically deals with an elder by the name of Valens who seems to have opted out of his elder role, and perhaps opted out of the church completely. This letter I find much more realistic, but this is probably due to my rebellious spirit.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Another tarantula crossing the road.

Five ladies on bicycles were gathered around this critter when I stopped to ask if they needed any help. They pointed out the lovely tarantula and I quickly pulled out my camera to get a photo. One of the lovely ladies' feet is shown in the picture. As I headed off to the south and the ladies headed off to the north, I heard one of them say, "he stopped to take a picture of the tarantula, but didn't take a picture of us". Only Looney could turn a routine spider photo shoot into a spectacle of insensitivity.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Introducing the non-carbon tax "carbon tax".

The idea of a carbon tax is simply to keep adding taxes to the raw fuels that are burned to produce greenhouse gases until people start changing their behavior. At some point, opportunities will kick in so that entrepreneurs can innovate and an industry will take off which produces all kinds of solutions. Government does what it does best - raise taxes, while industry does what it does best - provide solutions. What a carbon tax is not supposed to do is to create regulatory and bureaucratic bloat.

This idea from the Portland, Oregon area is to slap taxes onto all new home construction, but then perhaps reduce those taxes as various energy savings features are implemented. Who determines the features and how do we insure that they are functional? Answer: Government bureaucrats driving around in SUVs. Of course, no one will have much of an incentive to turn the central heating off when they take a two week long winter holiday under this plan.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Regarding the letter of Clement to the Corinthians.

According to the text, this letter was written after Paul and Peter were executed, but the temple of Jerusalem is spoken of as if it is still in existence. Based on this testimony, it would seem to have been written between 64 and 70AD.

The message of the letter is quite relevant to today, as the situation involved the ouster of the Elders from the church of Corinth. Someone from Corinth presumably requested that the church of Rome serve as arbitrators in this dispute and the church of Rome duly passed judgment as soon as they had recovered their organizational structure that had been put to the test during the persecution. The judgment was that the Elders of Corinth had been blameless and those who rose up against them needed to repent and hear the gospel message all over again.

Now I certainly think that sin was undoubtedly at least partially to blame for the behavior of those who promoted the sedition, however, it seems bizarre to attribute the Elders with blamelessness. Also, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6, "Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church!". Certainly the Elders did nothing of the sort in this case - they sought out prestigious judges from far away.

Although the judgment seems one sided, the letter tells us some things which are quite useful. Much of the letter is a rambling of different Biblical topics in a manner of Paul, but treating us to a variety of Old Testament and New Testament quotes. The books of Hebrews, Peter, James and several of the letters of Paul are quoted along with a few from the gospels. The net effect is to give an impression of a fairly well established Bible already at this stage. Of course, the quote regarding the Phoenix from Herodotus doesn't bode well for the scientific expertise of the authors, but we will probably be embarrassed by many things 2,000 years later when our writings are dissected.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Here are some international statistic accumulated on energy usage by the US Department of Energy. Certainly the US and Canada could use less energy. If other parts of the world were to grow and use energy at the level of Singapore (9.3 metric tonnes of CO2 per capita) or Japan, then the total energy usage of the world would soar no matter what the US did.
School vouchers lose in Utah.

This always makes me sad. Regarding public school education, my impression is that the US spends more per child than any other country and gets the worst results in the developed world. The teachers unions complain that the reason for the failure is that we don't spend enough money to insure quality education. The other side complains that no amount of money can result in quality from a socialist/unionized nightmare and vouchers are the only way out.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Actually, I am proud of this rating. Most of my career has been spent working with and engaging in various written communications with non-native English speakers. Of course, this automated rating system can't rate content. It probably only counts numbers of syllables and length of sentences. Keeping it simple is important.
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Economist: A special report on religion and public life.

I still haven't finished reading this series of articles. There is much commendable, but the most interesting point so far is the recognition of secularism as just another sect (or more properly, a collection of sects). Fundamentalist Christians have been saying this for about half a century, but the Economist is now openly acknowledging this point. The consequences of this viewpoint change, however, are profound beyond imagination and would warrant an entirely new survey.

A century ago, most of the wealthy elites from around the world sent their children to schools in Europe or America where they received a typical enlightenment education. Ho Chi Minh, who lead Vietnam into communism, was a typical candidate. He came from a well-to-do family and learned his secular communism as a young man in France. Secularism was fashionable throughout the intellectual world of the west.

Today from UC Berkeley to Harvard, there are active and noisy Christian groups of young people who proclaim Christianity in spite of the efforts of the faculty. Of course, many other groups are active too including Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and Wiccans. Things have changed a lot, although the secular left still retains most of the microphones.
This bird looks to be a blue grouse based on the internet search. He let me come to within about 4 or 5 feet before flying off into the trees. It is about the size of a chicken.

Monday, November 05, 2007

This is a view from the start/end point of the hike at about 5,700 foot elevation. It looks like a nice fall day. The valley floor is 3,000 feet lower to the west. The original route plan is stored here, in case someone else wants to do this. They offered me a Hummer at the Spokane airport car rental, but I declined due to the extra fee. A little later in the season and this will be a bargain. Also, wear something bright and leave your antlers at home. There are plenty of hunters here.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Back to Freezeout Ridge. Normally I do these things alone, however, I was very appreciative that my friend was anxious to get out and see the mountains. My area and the Sierra Nevada have distinctively shaped mountains that make navigation fairly easy. This area was a bit more complicated with many similarly looking ridges. We went more than 18 miles without seeing another person. A wrong turn or an injury could have been fatal under the conditions.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Marble Creek shows some ice.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Illegals, Drugs and Mexico.

As blame is allocated for the illegals in the US, it is always good to put things in perspective. The illegals that flood into the US from Mexico are mostly driven by the corruption and economic failure in Mexico. This has always been a problem for Mexico, but the recent shifting of drug trafficking into Mexico has made the problem much worse.

In some way, the problem of illegals in the US is a byproduct of civil liberties concepts in the US. Even at my children's schools, drugs are freely available and everyone knows where to get them. The trouble to law enforcement officials to shut down a drug trader is such that it is impractical to do it. Thus, the trade continues and fuels violence and terrorism abroad. It seems to me that there is a certain selfishness to Americans when they feel that their civil liberties are so important that they must not be compromised, even if it means illegal drugs flowing and chaos in a neighboring country.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Welcome to Freezeout Ridge.

Today's 19 mile loop proved that the above name is quite appropriate. It is November 1st, but most of the ground was frozen hard. Footprints from elk and bear were left in the snow. We tried to shorten things a bit by skipping the climb to Grandmother Mountain, but added another mile as we took a wrong turn to the Delaney Saw Mill. This is my first time to Idaho. My knee is hurting again, but with all of the slipping and sliding on ice, wading through a half frozen river and refusing to stop moving for fear of my body temperature dropping too much, this was an opportunity that simply could not be passed up.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Magnitude 5.6 quake hits near Alum Rock.

Sigh. Here I am in Idaho and I missed the earthquake.

Monday, October 29, 2007

I am off for another exotic trip.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Thoughts on fires and construction.

Having lived in the Orange County area, I was quite familiar with the Santa Ana winds and the wildfires. I used to like the Santa Ana winds because they made for a fast bicycle ride 20 miles downwind and a nasty struggle back home. The conditions for wildfires have always been there and are well known. There are typically multiple wild fires every year from San Diego all the way to the San Francisco area.

The picture shows typical house construction here in California. The walls have a pressed plywood outer layer that is called a shear wall and helps with earthquakes. The metal ties are also required by building code to keep the structure from falling apart during the shaking. This one will have a stucco finish for the outside. The big problem, however, is that the structure is all wood and will easily go up in a fire. So why do we insist on building flammable houses in a fire hazard zone? Most of the construction that I remember from Taiwan and Singapore was reinforced concrete. This will handle earthquake, fire and typhoons. With environmentalist howling about forests being cut down, I can't comprehend why we don't start moving a bit away from wood and towards concrete.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Regarding San Jose's controversy over internet pornography availability at the library.

Apparently the use of public libraries as porn distribution centers is still a controversy. As usual, there is one side insisting that the issue is academic freedom. Given all of the things that academics can pursue, I wonder why they always seem to have a need to pursue porn. With this logic, we could also require porn magazines and videos to be made available to the public via taxpayer funded libraries. It is really hard to set a limit. Hopefully the public can join together in scoffing at those who try to promote moral depravity under the guise of academic freedom.
Total Ice = Snow Fall - Melt?

Global Warming Theory: Total Ice = 0 - Melt.

The news is obsessed with the rate of melting, but seems to have missed something else more important - how the ice got there in the first place. Evaporation puts humidity into the air which eventually condenses and is deposited as snow. Greenland is far enough north and high enough that there is little worry of snow changing to rain most of the year.

The most important missing item is the Saturated Vapor Density. This is the amount of moisture that air can handle and a key factor in determining how much ice is going to be deposited onto the glaciers. Every 10 degrees that the temperature of air rise, the saturated vapor density roughly doubles. Thus, a small temperature increase can have a significant effect on the amount of snow transported to the glaciers. With less sea ice, there will be more evaporation. The actual situation is considerably more complex than what is presented by the alarmist.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Another sacrifice to appease the Litigation gods. One of my favorite springs was closed off on Mission Peak, although this one hasn't yet been affected. In the summer, it is hard to overstate the need for water as we travel long distance along the trails.

Monday, October 22, 2007

From the news, it seems that all of California is burning. It is a long way from here to the LA area. This is a picture looking over a ridge towards San Francisco with Mount Tamalpais in the background. We have had early rains this year and the grasses are already turning green.

Another flat tire. Time to make some changes.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Looking up at the redwoods. It is hard to get the lens dry.
This is on the descent into the redwoods from Alpine Road. The climb from Palo Alto to the top on Page Mill Road is nasty, so this is the first time I have attempted it in many years. It is still difficult.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Eucharistic theology quiz. Looks like I got a B-.

Eucharistic theology
created with
You scored as Calvin

You are John Calvin. You seek to be faithful to Scripture, and to harmonize difficult sayings. You believe that in the Lord's Supper those who have faith are united to Christ, who is present spiritually, yet in a real way.













James Watson apologizes and embraces syncretism.

Yep, all men (and women) evolved equal.
Monday at the top of Mission Peak. We have been getting some early rains this year.

Poor Sarkozy. I sympathize with someone who must deal with a national crisis and a family crisis simultaneously. Economic modernization will come only by confronting the unions on big issues and the unions always shut the country down even over trivial stuff. I spent one wonderful day in the Charles De Gaulle airport outside of Paris when the custodians had been on strike for a week. It was completely disgusting with trash piled everywhere and a sticky floor. Hopefully Sarkozy will stick to his position for the sake of France. Even better if he pulled what Ronald Reagan did: Start firing all of the transport workers and re-hiring others. With a high unemployment rate, this might be feasible.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Some Canadians, enjoying the good life and exploiting the government supplied benefits south of the border.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Evolution: Syncretism rules!

Back in the good 'ol days, we had the notion of Eugenics. Why on earth would we expect different races to evolve equally? After all, closely related animals can have some widely varying intelligence. Even varieties of dogs have different characteristics. Why not for humans?

Christianity gave us something different: "All men are created equal". This is getting a bit silly today as we expect someone with birth defects to be as successful as someone born perfectly healthy and given more opportunities, but there is a notion of equality that has become the basis of modern thinking that derives straight from Christianity. Today, however, the Christian connection can't be uttered, so we end up with a different paradigm: "All men evolved equal". The result is neither satisfying to the fundamentalist Christian nor to the fundamentalist Darwinista, but is perfect for our post-modern syncretic intellectualism.

Dr. Watson has reopened the can of worms by suggesting the obvious: If mankind evolved, then we certainly didn't evolve equally. Given the history of Eugenics, however, this viewpoint is equally unpalatable. The easiest way to handle things is to tell him to shut up.
Armenian Genocide: Pragmatism vs. Principals.

Moral grandstanding is always so much fun. After WW2, the West stood in horror at the holocaust and condemned the evil. War criminals were hunted for decades. Why can't we have the same kind of justice for the Armenians?

The sad answer is that Germany was utterly defeated after WWII. It is easy to look down your holy nose at someone when they are in a position of total defeat. The Turks were defeated at the end of WWI, but not to the level of Germany after WWII. Americans know little of history and the fact that Turkey was once the greatest empire in the world is almost completely unknown. Turkey still has a great influence and its pride is great. To get along in the world, we simply must put down our principals and work together with others, in spite of the flaws that are apparent and unapologized for. This is life on both a global scale and within a family.

A similar problem occurs with Japan. This country committed countless atrocities throughout China, Korea and the Pacific. After WWII, however, we needed Japan to recover quickly and this took precedence over the moral posturing. Thus, there remains animosity continuing to this day.

Christian forgiveness is something that would really help. In fact, I think it is good to also forgive those who refuse to confess and do not want to be forgiven. As Jesus said while dying on the cross, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do".

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Church, State and the Democrats.

With Bush and the Republicans constantly being bashed for trying to establish a theocracy, this article is something to provide some balance. The sad part of this is that conservative Christians are fairly well trained about the need to distinguish between the Kingdom of God and the government. Liberals, on the other hand, don't seem even capable of making this distinction.

Monday, October 15, 2007

With the bike in the shop and too much energy to burn, I decided to do a 7 miler on Mission Peak. The knee seems OK, but I won't be doing more than one of these per week for awhile.

The spoke repair is easy by itself, but the bike still won't be safe for high speed descents off of mountains. Thus, I make sure the bike shop trues and re-tensions all of the spokes.
English Teeth Decaying?

We will need that new Airbus A380 to get patients to dentists in America.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A broken spoke stopped me 3 miles from the top of Mount Hamilton Saturday. This new bike has some strange aerodynamic spokes. Given the limited spoke count, it wasn't safe to simply remove a spoke and re-true the wheel before making the fast, windy descent. I will carry a few extra spokes and the proper tool from now on.

I bummed a ride down the mountain and called my wife. Just to make this trip stranger than fiction, the minivan that I bummed a ride from was being driven by Chris Marrou, the television news anchor from KENS 5 Eyewitness News, San Antonio Texas. His brother, Andre Marrou had been the Libertarian candidate for the US Presidency. (He didn't win - sigh.) Chris was driving across the country with two friends and they made a pilgrimage to Lick Observatory as a last stop. Y'all have a nice trip back to Texas, and thanks for the ride.

The words "Mom" and "Dad" are banned from California public schools.

Apparently Schwarzenegger signed the bill that the gays have been pushing. It is basically designed to eliminate any traditional concept of gender and firmly puts the most mentally disturbed transsexuals in charge of the moral education required by the state. Boys are now permitted to use the girls lavatories whenever they want and vice versa. Thus, in successfully resisting becoming a Christian theocracy, we have managed to become a theocracy of depravity.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Fall is in the air. The rains of last night have definitely changed the smells on Mount Hamilton. This is around about the 3,000 foot level.