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.