Thursday, May 29, 2008

Looks like Marf tagged me ...

1. What was I doing 10 years ago?

I was doing an extended job in Devon and went biking from Tiverton to Dartmoor to check out the scene of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story, The Hound of the Baskervilles. Being a conservation type, I decided to use a bicycle for my transportation during the stay (6 mile one way commute). It turned out to be the rainiest summer in Devon since 1876. Yeh!

2. 5 things on my to do list for today.
  • Take my nephew with his cardboard boat to school for the competition. The boats must carry the kids the length of the 25 meter pool.
  • Get some work done.
  • Swim a mile at Quarry Lakes.
  • Run a quarter marathon on the Alameda Creek Bicycle Trail.
  • Respond to this tag.
3. Snacks I enjoy.

DarkWhite Chocolate.

4. Things I would do if I were a Billionaire.

The Lord has already given me more than enough of what I don't need and my kids are spoiled. Giving away a billion dollars wisely would be a full time job. No more dreams of retirement ...

5. Places I have lived.

Well if I include 2 months or more ... Philadelphia and Pittsburg, PA; Columbus, OH, Knoxville, TN; Placentia, Orange, Anaheim, Newark, Livermore, Fremont, CA; Osaka & Nara Prefecture, Japan; Tiveron, UK; Vert-le-Petit & Sophia Antipolis, France. Hopefully that is enough.

6. Bloggers I want to know about.

The more the better. I will spare the blogging universe by not tagging anyone.

Tacitus, regarding the persecution of Christians under Nero:

"But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the more exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed."

What I find most interesting is that the Christians were convicted for the crime of "hatred against mankind". Having taught the gospel (good news) that Jesus is our sacrifice for sin and we don't need to suffer eternal wrath from God, we are convicted of "hatred against mankind". Indeed, if we poke around the net awhile, we will find that this still seems to be the primary complaint.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

All you need to do is write in your salary and sign at the bottom ...

For the house loan. The additional advice was not to worry that your salary was much less than the minimum threshold for the load, because the bank wasn't going to check. And don't worry about the ethics, because the bank knows everyone does the same thing ...

This little story I heard recently implies that the banks still haven't tightened up their lending practices, in spite of the bankruptcy crisis among homeowners. The reason we got into this mess in the first place was that people were encouraged to take on loans that they couldn't pay back. The eventual massive collapse of an industry was followed by the Fed dumping liquidity into world markets, which have had international consequences in terms of inflation. It strikes me as pretty nasty of the US to try to obtain growth this way. Then when the bubble pops, we export the mess to the rest of the world economy, but that seems to be what we have done.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Hiking near Saratoga Gap.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Treachery and Hillary.

I have a bit of sympathy for Hillary. Perhaps we should call this crocodile empathy to match the usual concept of crocodile tears. Given all of the scandals that turned up during her career, and the faithfulness of the media in supporting her through these events, why turn on her now in her moment of need?

A good portion of the reason is simply that the media now has Obama as their favored candidate. They aren't really turning on Hillary, so much as giving her a more neutral treatment. Now Obama will receive the kind of superhero treatment that the Clintons received. A few days ago, I had heard about an elderly Chineses lady who had been helping both the Clinton and Obama campaigns. The Clinton campaign was mostly elderly ladies having a good time. The Obama campaign was mostly young zealots where even a joke against Obama could not be tolerated. She said that it reminded her of the red guards in China during the cultural revolution. Both groups involved students who were fanatically loyal. Don't know if history is repeating itself, but the media certainly isn't going to be helpful in making decisions.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Grieving in Sichuan.

My heart certainly goes out to these people. With all of the schools built to the same inadequate specification, a generation of children has been lost to the earthquake. The one child rule means that the surviving parents have lost their hope for a family. Thankfully China doesn't have the litigation mentality of the US, but this is still a tragedy that begs for some sort of response. Hopefully the government can take some wise action.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Tacitus, regarding the reasons for a revolt in Britain due to the abuses of the Romans. (Annals XIV)

"Prasutagus, king of the Iceni, famed for his long prosperity, had made the emperor his heir along with his two daughters, under the impression that this token of submission would put his kingdom and his house out of the reach of wrong. But the reverse was the result, so much so that his kingdom was plundered by centurions, his house by slaves, as if they were the spoils of war. First, his wife Boudicea was scourged, and his daughters outraged. ... A temple also erected to the Divine Claudius was ever before their eyes, a citadel, as it seemed, of perpetual tyranny. Men chosen as priests had to squander their whole fortunes under the pretense of a religious ceremonial. ..."

Pondering the California Supreme Court's outrage against the citizens of California, this story comes to mind. We still can be thankful that we haven't experienced the degree of abuse that the Romans committed against Britain. Also keep in mind that this is written by Tacitus who was an apologist for the Romans. We usually think of only Christians who were forced to worship the current Roman emperor or accept death. In this case, the Britains were forced to use all of their wealth to worship a Roman emperor who was already dead, given that this was the time of Nero. The end of their revolt was a great slaughter of the Britains, although it seems that Rome decided it had better chose some better governors.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

FAME: A California publicly funded charter school with an Islamic flavor?

Please don't take this as an accusation, but rather a rumor that I heard. The link is for people to check, see, and decide for yourself. Certainly there are Muslims in many of the schools nearby as the head scarves testify. There are also many with whom I enjoy working and spending time together. That intellectual elites have a much greater respect for Islam than Christianity is also well known, and this is post is to explore a bit of the relative status of these religions as judged by the secular aristocrats.

The emphasis at FAME is on multi-cultural aspects including Arabic. Certainly Arabic is an important language for international business these days. It is also a mandatory part of a madrasah. A feature of Islam is the multitude of rules, which have been implemented over the centuries in patterns so that much of the religion manifests itself in forms that easily fit in the category of "culture". A public charter school could, by emphasizing culture, teach much of Islam. The remainder of the Islamic education can be done outside of school so that a thorough Islamic upbringing could be achieved, but primarily paid for by US taxpayers.

Christianity, on the other hand, is primarily about a relationship with Jesus. There are few rules compared to Islam, and the theology is more along the lines of philosophy. Thus, it is considerably more difficult to try re-packaging Christianity as culture.
But 6 of 7 California Supreme Court appointees were done by Republicans ...

Wikipedia has some stats here. The chief justice and two others were appointed by Pete Wilson. Governor Conan appointed one more. Deukmajian appointed two and Gray Davis appointed one.

Pete Wilson was famous for being a "moderate" Republican who was formerly mayor of San Diego. "Moderate" generally translates to be pro-abortion, systematically socially liberal, but not necessarily opposed to free-market economics. Certainly Schwarzenegger is socially liberal also. That only leaves two appointees by the conservative Deukmejian. The main thing to note about Pete Wilson, however, is that he is the architect of the collapse of the Republican party in California. Republicans have generally been a coalition of economic and social conservatives. By evicting the social conservatives, the Republicans party imploded and hasn't recovered. This implosion looks set to happen nationally since the Bush clan hasn't been economically conservative and the Republican congress has been happy to compromise on both economics and social policy.

The gay marriage ruling of the California Court shares much in common with Roe v. Wade in that with both rulings, the justices invented "rights" based on the personal moral biases and then blatantly lied in the ruling by claiming that they derived them from the constitution through careful reasoning. This works, of course, because there is no agency to hold them accountable in our republic and there are enough other corrupt intellectuals around to back them up.

One commentator I heard noted that the gay 'marriage' advocates had been winning the debate. This is primarily due to the tireless efforts of anti-Christian theologians working from pulpits and seminaries around the country, but also anti-Christian professors and teachers in secular universities and government schools. With some patience, they might have been able to achieve a legitimate democratic ruling. As things stand, the ruling is clearly a monument to intellectual malpractice in the pattern of Roe v. Wade.

There is a theory that this ruling is to put an end to gender discrimination. From what I have been reading, however, gender discrimination theory is always in the GLBT (Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgendered) context. Now in case someone doesn't know, a bisexual has sex with both males and females. This means that a minimum of three people are required for a Bisexual 'marriage' and to not allow three would be discriminatory. So where does the discrimination end? Polyamory? Incest? Bestiality? Paedophilia? The same person who advocates gay marriage will generally protest vehemently that she is not supporting pederasty. Why? Is it because society frowns on pederasty? But didn't we just establish that society's standards are trumped by the principal of no discrimination?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Pondering California's Supreme Court ruling on gay 'marriage'.

Sixty years ago, the California Supreme Court ruled that laws restricting mixed race couples from marrying were unconstitutional. The current supreme court ruling relied on this as a precedent. Basically, the argument was that the earlier decision trashed the constitution, therefore, we can also make a ruling which trashes the constitution. I should note that I have a special bias towards interracial marriage. History provides us countless examples of such marriages going back to Ruth and Boaz in the Old Testament. Some will argue that there were laws against interracial marriage in the Old Testament. This is true, however, every Biblical scholar I have ever read has taken these prohibitions as a proxy for religion rather than race. That is why the marriages of Ruth and the earlier one of Rahab are honored in the same literature. Again, we should keep in mind that interracial marriage has been around - and honored - for millenia throughout the world, hence, there is a precedent among civilized beings for accepting it.

Unfortunately, the earlier supreme court could not wait for the democratic process to go through and the laws to change. With American servicemen returning from WWII with Asian wives, this was certainly a problem. By overstepping its authority, however, the supreme court really set a precedent for activist judging that was to be abused and repeated. Having grabbed this authority, it is pretty tough to relinquish it.

The other thing to note is that the ruling regarding gay marriage, unlike interracial marriage, has no precedent in civilization. Even ancient societies which accepted homosexuality, like the Greeks and the Babylonians, did not have a gay marriage concept. The notion of gay marriage seems to be exclusively restricted to modern post-Christian societies. Not even communists have promoted it. When civilization has spoke - such as in Proposition 22 which the supreme court overruled - the answer has always been the same: No!

Ephesians 5:24-25 indicates that the relationship of a husband and wife is a symbol of Christ and the Church. Given this, it seems to me clear that the real reason for gay marriage is to desecrate a symbol of Christ and the Church. Part of the ruling asserts that gay marriages should be accorded the same dignity and respect that other marriages have. We are getting awfully close to the point of demanding all residents of California to actively desecrate Christianity - or be prosecuted for a hate crime. It isn't here yet, but the foundation is being established.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Baking on Mission Peak.
The temperature range was from 95F to 107F according to my gadgets. The wind was fairly consistent, so this wasn't the best conditions for warm temperature acclimation. The picture is from a year or two ago.
California Supreme Court: Depravity is our state religion.

The intellectual elites of the supreme court have done what everyone expected.

Monday, May 12, 2008

McCain on Global Warming.

This speech is in the more-of-the-same category. We need nuclear power plants which will presumably be built somewhere that environmentalists approve of (Mexico?) and the power shipped around the US with all of the costs and low efficiencies that go with that. We need cap and trade systems to cut corporate emissions, which means capping the jobs in the US and trading them out to other places such as China or Vietnam. There was a bit of China bashing in the debate also. Yes, China pollutes like crazy. Are we going to put tariffs on goods from countries that pollute? We could send the entire world economy into a tailspin to prove we are serious about global warming.

Unfortunately, he completely missed the problem: America's urban sprawl. As America's urban centers grow out of control, the paving over of the US guarantees a vast burning of energy just to get basic goods from A to B, along with the energy to build the infrastructure and the energy to build the vehicles. Having lived in big cities elsewhere, I actually like city living, but in America it is frequently too dangerous, especially for children. But ponder this: If there were a major supply disruption and the US were suddenly forced to use 50% less oil, what would happen?

Having failed to grasp the problem, McCain gives us this: "I will not shirk the mantle of leadership that the United States bears." That is why I am terrified of McCain.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Stanford "Dish".
Saturday we went on a short hike to the
Stanford Dish. What is the Stanford Dist? Donno. Probably a communications system for negotiating surrender with space aliens! Meanwhile, before the Earth is destroyed, it is a beautiful area for a walk!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Tacitus - Annals, Book 3.

"This suggests to me a fuller discussion of the origin of law and of the methods by which we have arrived at the present endless multiplicity and variety of our statutes. ... For subsequent enactments, though occasionally directed against evildoers for some crime, were oftener carried by violence amid class dissensions, with a view to obtain honours not as yet conceded, or to banish distinguished citizens or for other base ends. ... And now bills were passed, not only for national objects but for individual cases, and laws were most numerous when the commonwealth was most corrupt. ... Many men's fortunes were ruined, and over all there hung a terror, till Tiberius, to provide a remedy, selected by lot five ex-consults, five ex-praetors, and five senators, by whom most of the legal knots were disentangled and some slight temporary relief afforded."

As the saying goes, those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. Then there is the corollary, that those who learn their history from modern historians are doomed to repeat its mistakes with total confidence.

The above abbreviated discussion from Tacitus regarding classical Rome so much reminds me of today, where a multitude of computer generated laws preclude compliance without also relying on computers. Just a few days ago someone was telling me that businesses needed more regulation to keep them from sinning, as if we did not already have any such regulations. The statement "laws were most numerous when the commonwealth was most corrupt" draws a correlation but says nothing about cause and effect. As laws become more numerous, however, men employ their minds to consider how to minimize the costs of compliance and maximize the benefits within the legal constraints, keeping in mind the probabilities that particular laws and regulations will actually be enforced along with the likelihood and magnitude of penalties. The end result is that there is simply no energy left over for honest people to consider doing honest business. Nor has it occurred to the legalists that such a person should exist; or that if he did exist, such an attitude towards doing business should be considered a virtue. And so we actively encourage a culture of corruption, while we simultaneously demand more and more laws to suppress that corruption.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

$200 per barrel for oil by the end of the year?

From the total logic failure department, we have this Bloomberg article attributing today's record $124 per barrel price to insufficient refinery capacity in the US. Now certainly insufficient refinery capacity will tend to raise the price of gasoline at the pump, but it will also inhibit crude oil purchases and have a net downward pressure on crude oil prices. Increases in crude oil prices are thus being driven by other factors outside of the US.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Introduction to The Annals & The Histories by Tacitus, ~117AD.

"The thousand-year delay before he was widely read, either in his native tongue or in translation, was due in part to his unchurchly disregard for Jews and Christians, which provoked the authorities' controlling wrath throughout the Middle Ages, ..." - introduction by Shelby Foote.

"The apparent insensitivity of the Romans to their greatest historian is an exasperating accident of our faulty tradition or a melancholy commentary upon their civilization. Until the end of the fourth century when Ammianus Marcellinus, an Antiochene Greek, undertood to write a continuation of Tacitus' histories no writer other than his own friend Pliny makes mention of him." - Moses Hadas.

It isn't common to have two introductions in the same book, but his one certainly jumps out due to the mutually exclusive assertions. Shelby blaming the lack of attention to the church per the Dark Ages myth. Moses claiming that the pre-Christian Romans didn't take him seriously, which begs the question of why the monks of the middle ages serving under monarchies would care about the rhetoric of an ancient Republic. The real reason for the resurrection of Tacitus is much more mundane: The invention of the printing press decreased the cost of making and distributing copies of his work, while the laws of supply and demand dictated a much greater interest in his work.
Yikes! I am tagged by LivingSword!

This is the "page 161 tag", where we quote a complete sentence from page 161 of something we are reading. Thus, from "The Rise and Fall of Alexandria", we have: "But if Ptolemy thought that assassinating Caesar's enemy would make him Caesar's friend, or that it would encourage the Romans to fight their civil wars elsewhere, he had seriously misunderstood Roman politics."

As with Livingsword's quote from "The Rise and Fall of the British Empire", this is about leadership, but it is much more cynical. Caesar chased Pompey to Alexandria, and Ptolemy, the King of Alexandria, killed Pompey thinking he would gain some favors with the Romans. Instead, Ptolemy provided a pretext for invasion to the Romans. Is there an application to church leadership?

Don't know many to tag, but here are some new victims:


Monday, May 05, 2008

The forest looks a bit thin along the top of Tammany Ridge. The spring is also about two weeks behind here.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Church hopping at Proclamation Presbyterian in Bryn Mawr, PA.

This is a rather wealthy suburb of Philadelphia on the "mainline" - meaning the main railway into the city. I inquired if this usage of mainline had anything to do with the term "mainline churches". The answer was that it was unlikely.

To add to the trivia, Scotland has had a number of great exports of which Presbyterianism is one. About a century ago, the US Presbyterian movement was hijacked by universalist theologians. An off-shoot, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), stayed firm to the teaching of the Bible and the Westminster Confession of 1646 - after being evicted from the denomination by the universalists. Originally they were a small splinter group, while the mainline Presbyterians retained most of the buildings, wealth and membership. In recent decades, however, mainline Presbyterians have seen the pews empty out, while the PCA has grown steadily. If you don't believe anything, why go to church?

Proclamation Presbyterian is a moderate sized and fairly wealthy PCA church which is the Presbyterian counterpart to my conservative Baptist roots. As with all conservative churches, they are racist, so they have a Japanese congregation meeting in the building at the same time and the pastor - a professor at Westminster seminary - just returned from two weeks of teaching "Christianity and Western Philosophy" at a major university in Wuhan, China! They send missionaries to Uganda and elsewhere to round things out.

The service featured a string quartet that had something to do with the Philadelphia Orchestra, so it was of a traditional style and degree of talent that I am not sure that I have ever experienced in a worship service before. The pastor was speaking about how the church is "the body of Christ" and all the members need each other, but he mostly spent his time telling stories of China. I would perhaps find it more entertaining to single out two church members who aren't getting along, invite them to stand up, and give them a scolding. This would stay with the theme of the Bible passage better, but the sermon was good anyway.

Given my earlier post on the Quakers, I found it interesting that the pastor mentioned William Penn, who founded Pennsylvania based on his Quakerism. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" was important to William Penn, and he applied this to his treatment of the American Indians and other Christian sects. Of course Bryn Mawr is also noted for the Quaker founded Bryn Mawr college as well as nearby Swarthmore college, both of which are very liberal and rumored to be extremely hostile to Christianity. What an irony that it seems easier for a class to be given on Christianity and Western Philosophy by a Christian in communist China than at Quaker founded colleges in Pennsylvania!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Here is a view of the Delaware river going through the Delaware Water Gap from Mount Tammany.

Friday, May 02, 2008

California State Budget continued.

The summary is here. It shows the state being about $11 billion short per year on income compared to expenses out of a $130 billion budget ($44 billion for schools). These kind of charts usually have some funny business related to things like pensions. We just got a notice that the University of California tuition will be increasing. This too has some funny business, because there are a number of mandatory fees with the UC system that add up to about the same as the tuition. I suspect taxes will be raised soon, but this is a bit dangerous. Most of the productive parts of the state already have a very high cost-of-living. Property taxes are off limits, unless they want to undo proposition 13. Income taxes for the "rich" (i.e. the middle and upper middle working classes) won't do much for competition and outsourcing. Sales taxes make the most economic sense, but then people see the pain every time they go to the store. In our populist era, the thing to do is to force corporations to pay more, especially oil companies. This makes the least economic sense, but it is what we should probably expect.