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.