Thursday, January 31, 2008

Yeee Haaa! Time to go running with the bulls. The brown one in the middle with the horns is one of them. The other's head is just peeking in from the right. I always wonder if a bull decides to squish me, how many days will it be before my body is found?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hillary's Global Warming Plan.

Unlike Obama, Hillary seems to comprehend what it means to make a plan. She explains this in her commercials:

America must free itself from dependency on foreign oil by investing in:
1) wind power
2) solar
3) biofuels.
She will infest $50 billion which will come from eliminating "tax subsidies" to oil companies.

To put a little perspective on this, a small solar system costs about $25,000, so a $50 billion investment could provide much of the power needs for 2 million houses. Of course, there are businesses too, so figure this investment might allow most of the commercial, residential and government power usage of San Jose to be done via solar. It would do nothing to replace the fuel for the 1 hour commute drives. Much of this money would go to China to supply the solar cells.

In the case of biofuels, we could take $50 billion worth of farmland and endangered species habitat and convert to raising crops for fuel production. This is probably the most politically appealing as it would enrich farmers and others who maintain the biofuels infrastructure, but would probably not help the price of tortillas in Mexico City much. An Indonesian businessman recently discussed with me the prospects of cutting down the rain forest to grow sugarcane for ethanol.

Regarding the funding, Exxon-Mobil has about a $10 billion per quarter profit. Suppose we were to altruistically take $5 billion per quarter by eliminating the "tax subsidies". What would happen? Of course, the p/e ratio (price to earnings) on the stocks would immediately double. p/e ratios are a significant factor in the price of the stock. If they were the only factor, Exxon-Mobil's market capitalization of $380 billion would cut in half to $190 billion with a considerable loss to investors, most of whom are pension funds.

Of course, Hillary is much smarter than this. The additional taxes could easily be averted by a small charitable contribution to the Democratic National Committee. The money will come by making the "rich" pay their "fair share" of the tax burden.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Along the lines of my last post, there is a quick overview of the American presidential election here which is intended to clarify things for confused Europeans.
" " - Barrack Obama, regarding his health care plan.

Since I am being bombarded with campaign adds in anticipation of the upcoming election, I thought I would comment. Only Hillary and Obama have been buying add time. Obama had health care as one of his key concerns, so I thought I would include the above quote from his advertisement regarding what he intended to do about health care. Now before you laugh or think that I have mistyped, there are a number of virtuous attributes to Obama's plan which we must seriously consider:

1) It is concise and easy to memorize, even for an American. Compared to the 1,400 page outline of Hillary Care, this is an amazing achievement.
2) It is extraordinarily difficult to misconstrue his words. No need for a legal/medical dictionary to understand the text.
3) There are no additional outlays of taxpayer money in this plan.
4) Special interest groups have studied the plan in detail and been unable to find anything to object about.
5) It is a bipartisan plan in that it includes the best ideas from both the Republicans and the Democrats.
6) The text is clearly multi-lingual and can be read and comprehended by all of the 122 people groups who live in America and speak 174 different languages.
7) The plan complies with the Paperwork Reduction Act (44 U.S.C. 3501) of 1995 which was signed into law by President Clinton.
8) The language is simple enough that American journalists and educators can comprehend the ideas and explain them to the American people.
More snow in the East Bay Hills. Mission Peak just got a dusting, but nearby Rose Peak got hit pretty hard. Rose Peak is where most of the gnarly old Oaks are, but it is considerably harder to climb.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Philo: "On the Creation"

Philo lived in Alexandria, Egypt from 20BC to 50AD. He is a Jewish rabbi and someone who had been highly esteemed in his time and afterwards, but apparently never a Christian. His works, however, were quite influential and his usage of the word Logos, adapted from the Greek philosophy has raised quite a bit of speculation regarding the usage in John chapter 1 of Logos.

I bought "The Works of Philo" many years ago, but haven't bothered to read the book. Time to get going.

"On the Creation" is an expanded discussion of the first few verses of Genesis. Some of our traditions about Moses are discussed here as Moses is listed both as a learned Egyptian philosopher and the original author of the book of Genesis. A few things that stand out here:

"For some men, admiring the world itself rather than the Creator of the world, have represented it as existing without any maker, and eternal; and as impiously as falsely have represented God as existing in a state of complete inactivity, while it would have been right on the other hand to marvel at the might of God as the creator and father of all, and to admire the world in a degree not exceeding the bounds of moderation."

This has two of the key elements of modern Darwinism, so it is clear that these notions have been around for thousands of years.

Philo is very much a part of the learning of his times as the four elements are discussed frequently. He finds significance in numbers and these discussions are a bit tedious. One item that jumps out is a statement that a pregnancy lasts 7 months, rather than 9 months as we know it.

The quoted passage above implied that God was "in a state of inactivity". Theistic evolution is popular at the moment which asserts that God "guided evolution", but denies that God actually intelligently designed anything. Someone smarter than me will need to explain the distinction between these two views of God. We also have this passage:

"Now of the atheists, some have only doubted of the existence of God, stating it to be an uncertain thing; but others, who are more audacious, have taken courage, and asserted positively that there is no such thing; but this is affirmed only by men who have darkened the truth with fabulous inventions."

I will only note that it that this is the earliest description I know of regarding the existence of agnostics and atheists.
France Discovers Morality.

In case anyone on the planet is a bit behind on the news, this is French president Nicolas Sarkozy and his mistress, Carla Bruni. Sarkozy recently dumped his wife, wife number 2? or 3?

Of course, French history is full of such affairs, but they have never made the front page. Sarkozy competed with Segolene Royal for the presidency and her private life also seems problematic.

What is interesting, however, is that faced with a conservative elected politician, the French press has decided that the sexual morality of politicians is a subject to be exploited for profit, just like their English neighbors. Here in the US we are always treated to a media campaign to raise morals every time a Republican becomes president. The Left will say it is because the Right is soooo corrupt. The Right will note that the scandals on the front page when a Republican is in office are generally quite minor compared to what shows up later on the back pages when a Democrat is in office. Arnold groped when he was a young man. Bill Clinton, on the other hand, while in office and using his elected position ....

So yes, Sarkozy can join a long list of conservative cads. It is good that the French media has discovered morality. Hopefully they can keep their standards high and consistent, unlike their American counterparts.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Church Discipline per the Wall Street Journal.

This is a very sad topic. It ranges from pastors exploiting their positions for sex to affairs among the leadership and members. Then there are con artists and others who exploit via the church. Robert Lewis Stevenson probably got his idea for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from watching some church members on Sunday and comparing this to how they behaved the rest of the week.

But then there is the gray area of authority. In my experience, there are too many leaders who believe that they have the spiritual gift of dictatorship. Then there are those who criticize the preacher for not tying his shoes. Wars over authority are the most distressing and cause enormous damage to the church. I guess it makes sense to me why Jesus so much emphasizes meekness, humility and service in his teachings and example. These are the most important characteristics to avoid the damage of disputes over authority and keep a church prospering.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Indian Gaming in California.

There they are. California voters now face a series of propositions on Indian casinos. You can check out the pros and cons. Of course, a relative or friend afflicted with a gambling addiction doesn't figure into any of the logic. Although I come from a non-gambling background with non-gambling immediate relatives, I don't need to look very far to find someone who has lost a house due to gambling debts.

A bigger problem is in places like Taiwan where gambling addicts can borrow from organized crime groups. There, the gambling addiction has a way of spilling over to relatives as the criminals look for ways to compel repayment from those connected to the addict.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Gazing at Gaza.

OK, I am a dumb American, but I still wish the best for everyone in the vicinity of Palestine, even if it seems futile.

What I don't understand is why we need a dysfunctional Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip. Couldn't Egypt just annex the area? The 1.4 million Palestinians wouldn't change the racial or religious makeup of Egypt by any meaningful amount. Furthermore, the Palestinians might be able to move around and find some productive work other than manufacturing and firing rockets into Israel.
End of the sidewalk for these New Balance Trail Runners.

These were special high end trail running shoes bought at a New Balance Shop in San Jose. Unfortunately, they only got one chance in the dirt. The shoe has a plastic support in the heel which dug into my biological heel leaving a nasty blister during the first usage. It isn't very friendly towards steep inclines. I used them for walking shoes for the past year, but the plastic insert finally broke through the fabric and left me with another nasty blister as I trudged around Tokyo recently. What a waste. Note that I also almost always use a shoe horn to try to preserve the life of the shoe heel.

This incident is a bit like using a Hummer for a Southern California commute vehicle because it isn't able to get around in the snow and mud.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Livingsword is hereby granted the official Nice Blogger Award.

Note that this award is being granted by a pathological cynic. May the Lord continue to grant you a positive attitude and a beautiful fur coat!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Home Sweet Home.

Monday, January 21, 2008

I have a dream ... of a prospering Black community with stable families and hope for the future. Although many Blacks do enjoy this dream, my dream is still mostly just a dream.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

"He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call." - Psalm 147:9

Some cities are afflicted with pigeons. Tokyo has crows. Countless crows. The memories of them calling to wake me up early in the morning now returned to me. We use to stay often in cheaper hotels away from the big stations where the crows could nest nearby and their cries would not compete with the other traffic noises. For many the crow is some sort of omen. To me, it is a beautiful and intelligent creature that God cares for.

Friday, January 18, 2008

I lost count of the number of Starbucks Coffee shops within 400 meters of Shibuya Station. Yes, Toyota rules in America, but Starbucks rules in Japan. America, hold your head up proudly!
The Great Hanshin Earthquake.

Yesterday was the anniversary of this event in 1995. For me, it is a remembrance of my moving to Japan. I was scheduled to be living in the earthquake zone just next to Kobe, but had my trip delayed and came a week after - with warnings that it wasn't a good idea for me to come and join the refugees. Being an engineer with some interest in earthquake design, I whined about missing The Big One to people who didn't seem that sympathetic.

The damage was incredible and leaves me feeling rather unimpressed with the hysteria over the minor tremors that California usually experiences. The view of buildings, railways and roads ripped apart in the Kobe earthquake, however, were far worse than anything in the photo archives from the Great San Francisco Earthquake. Yes, San Francisco had a big fire, but Kobe also had many city blocks completely burned out from fire. In San Francisco, however, poorly constructed buildings were usually left standing it they weren't burned.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Rhetoric involving toilets and sex usually is evidence that the author is artistically challenged. Curiosity regarding Japan's robotic toilets, however, has caused me to make an exception regarding this device that was located in my hotel room. As you can see, this toilet features several controls to assist in the post-usage cleaning process. No further review will be provided of operational experiences. It should be noted, however, that the new technology introduced does not preclude the use of traditional and/or archaic methods that employ paper or the hand.

The main thing to note is the long list of warning messages on the seat back. You should not put your head into the toilet, nor should you attempt to use this as a jacuzzi. In fact, there are a number of warnings scattered about my room in a way that is quite familiar to our US based liability culture. The Samurai Sword now probably has etched into the blade, "Warning, improper use can cause bodily injury or death".

On a more serious note, the president and three executives of Mitsubishi Motors Corp. were convicted by a court in Yokohama of regarding the death of a driver due to a faulty clutch in a Mitsubishi truck. If this had occurred in the US, I would have to wonder if the president of the company even knew what a clutch was, but it is still difficult to imagine the liability connection here in Japan. In the US, there are probably countless activists who would like to see something similar. On the other hand, the American trial lawyers probably prefer things as they are: vast monetary settlements, but no one is actually held responsible.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Remembering 1993 in Japan.

The LDP party had ruled for 38 years, but disillusionment had set in over the crash of the stock market that still hadn't been sorted out from many years earlier. The Socialist party took over with lots of hopes and/or fears about the changes to happen.

So what changed? Exactly nothing. Not only did nothing change, but there wasn't even a proposal that was floated to the public that reflected change. The Socialists quickly lost their position at the top and are now at about 5.5% of the electorate. With change being the hot topic in the US elections, this is a good reminder.
Here is a better view from the 25th floor. Not much has changed since I was here last, except for a very bad infestation of Starbucks. There is one in my hotel, one across the street, and another I saw on the other side of the Shinjuku Station. I haven't yet begun to explore. There is also a ColdStone Creamery below this hotel. Ughh. Why do I need to find US chain stores everywhere here in Japan?

Monday, January 14, 2008

3:10 to Yuma.

Being stuck on a plane for 10 hours means watching movies, unless you can sleep. This movie was one I watched and was a bit surprised at. Hollywood has a knack for projecting current PC themes onto historical movies. What struck me here was the mixed nature of the character Ben Wade. The movie makes light of the Christian beliefs of many of the other characters who seem to toss out everything they learn for whatever racist, greedy and violent streak they have. Ben Wade too has a Christian heritage, although he is a ruthless killer. He is also an artist who loves to draw nature and people in their various settings, which I guess implies a habit of looking at the world and people for what they are, rather than what he can get. Although Ben is the most ruthless of the killers, he is also portrayed as having a heart and he backs off of some of the ruthlessness as a result of the morality that was planted in his mind as a child - not what he learned from his teachers, but what he read in the Bible directly. Christian hypocrisy is there, but also a view of genuine Christianity tempering if only to a minor degree the violence that is everywhere in the movie. The symbol of Jesus dying on the cross placed on the handle of Ben Wade's guns seems to contain a message: Humans are still evil and violent, but with Jesus inescapably in front of us with our every action, we are always reminded of the need to back away from evil and do what is right.

Having taught Sunday School to young people for many years, I always wonder what paths the students will take as they go through life. Will they ever refrain from some evil due to what has been planted in their minds? Will the thought that Jesus died to save them from sin make any difference in their lives? Will they actually try to live as better people, or exploit Christianity for personal gains and cause others to shake their heads and say "hypocrites". I trust the Lord will do something good with it.

"For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." - Hebrews 4:12
Good Morning Tokyo.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Economist: Malaise in the Middle East.

This article talks about a gloomy mood among the Arabs. Apparently this gloom is shifting a bit as circumstances slowly compel things. Certainly the Arab world was a victim for centuries by the Turkish Empire and then later by the Europeans and the Great Game. With the US now the major player, it is perhaps understandable that many viewed the US as just being a continuation of the former abuse and any politician, no matter how inept, would be capable of finding an angle to blame the US for local problems that were under the politician's direct control. Is there any wonder the US has a bad reputation? In the West, leftist idealogues have been in a permanent state of hysterical rage due to the presence of conservatives in the US government. This has also led directly to the manufacture and distribution of anti-American conspiracy theories via the various leftwing media outlets.

This meta-narrative is unraveling a bit now: Can the US really be blamed for the violence in Darfur or the Hamas/Fatah rivalry, or the bombing of markets by al Qaeda? When T. E. Lawrence got involved with the Arab uprising against the Turks in 1918, he was immediately struck with the fact that they could not unify against the Turks because they were too busy fighting each other. If he were writing about Iraq today, I am certain he would simply see the same phenomenon and wonder why the US expected otherwise.

Moving forward, the Democrats are promising that they will improve the reputation of the US in the world. To some extent, this is a prophecy that they are able to enforce, as their news organizations (the BBC, CNN, etc.) will reduce the amount of anti-American propaganda that they are putting out and genuine problems of a leftist administration will be either ignored or blamed on Repubicans. On the Arab side, however, I must really wonder. The religious divide between the Republicans and Democrats has left the Republicans as what the Arabs term "People of the Book", (أهل الكتاب, Ahl al- Kitâb per wikipedia), whereas the Democrats are secular atheists and neo-pagans (all three Democratic presidential candidates are here). Somehow I don't see how al Qaeda will be more comfortable with atheists running the west than Christians, but it will be interesting to see how things play out.

Friday, January 11, 2008

How to trim the budget by $14.5 billion.

Schwarzenegger has his work cut out for him if he is to reduce the California deficit. The current deficit works out to about $500 per person in the state, but this is just a one year deficit. Given that most families don't pay any income taxes, nor do the filthy rich, I figure my "fair share" is probably about $20,000 per year. It will be fun to see how this all works out.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Note: This is a re-post (and slight mod) of an earlier post in 2006. It is done in honor of Hillary's win in New Hampshire. There is a serious error in this due to the fact that Millie Bush actually occupied the Whitehouse prior to Socks, rather than after as is implied below.

Remembering Socks

Attention spans and revisionism being what they are, I decided to go back and remember Socks, the first cat. While Hillary was engaged in Machiavellian intrigues over the Whitehouse Travel Office and Bill was obsessing over blue dresses, Socks was cool and calm. He was in control.

The dot-com mania was in full swing and I was right in the middle. eStupidity.com was busy hiring up all of the top talent in Silicon Valley at incredible salaries while Intel and IBM couldn't afford to hire entry level engineers. As I moved back into Silicon Valley searching for a rental property, you could see dozens of cars driving by each property like vultures. The couple that rented us a house told us that they had more than 100 rental requests on their answering machine.

Socks had all the answers. The Alternate Minimum Tax was implemented which forced those who bet on the dot-com boom to pay real taxes on virtual income. When things settled down, the federal budget was balanced, the California budget was in the black, and a lot of people found that they had paid out more in taxes than their lifetime income. Republicans lament this latter fact, but they fail to recognize that if the dot-com mania had been allowed to continue, the economic problems caused by the dot-com bust would have been an order-of-magnitude worse. Although Millie and Barney Bush inherited the mess, they still need to credit Socks.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

It is a very rare day that I only make it half way up Mission Peak. Influenza grabbed me about 10 days earlier and has made breathing somewhat difficult. The cough is still with me and shut me down after about a mile of climbing. The Lord is good.

Monday, January 07, 2008

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

In reading this book, memories of the introduction to The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis come back: We need to talk about demons sometimes, but our proper mental focus is on God. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament is a synthetic attempt to compare and contrast the pagan religions of the regions surrounding Israel with what is taught in the Old Testament. The scope of this comparison is breath taking and something quite valuable to those who want to really know the Bible, but it also seems to me that there is a price to pay in focusing to much mental energy on these external religions. Do we really need to know in detail about Baal and the religion of Ugarit which was such a source of Israel's sin and brought down so much judgment from God?

The extent of the comparison includes Mesopotania, Syria, the Hittite lands of Turkey and ancient Egypt. A half century ago, there was a popular scholarly thesis that the monotheism of the old testament was a carry over from Zoroastrianisms taken from Persia. There is no sign of this theory. The form criticism theories of 200 years ago also died: Given the similarities of much of the beginning of Genesis to other old legends from Mesopotamia, it simply isn't plausible that Genesis was constructed by alternately piecing together various former legends of different deities.

An interesting question is how much of our Bible interpretation changes as a result of this? There are some small translation and interpretation issues related to specific verses. We also see that Israel's two great interpreters of dreams, Joseph and Daniel served in Egypt and Babylon. Archeology has turned up dream manuals that were used in both of these countries, but it seems that only in these countries did God grant the power to truly interpret dreams to his people. There is also the comparison of the Garden of Eden to some of the temple descriptions from Mesopotamia which implies that the original Eden was some sort of a temple. Continuing on, there is a long list of contrasts in every aspect of religion between Israel and its neighbors.

The bigger question the book raises is how can there be so much similarity, but also so many opposites? It seems, one culture or the other ended up systematically negating the other although there was much that seems to have started in common. As a Christian, the answer to this seems quite clear. It also seems to me that much of the agitated ideology of change driving our country forward at the moment is also based on this negation of Christianity paradigm. Is there anything new under the Sun?
Another candidate for best oak tree. These things are just naturally photogenic, unlike Redwoods and Giant Sequoias.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

With the rains pouring over the San Francisco Bay Area, this sign from yesterday morning was a bit of an anomaly. It went up during a heat wave last summer, but there doesn't seem to be enough park personnel to take it back down.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

With Livingsword posting about sacred oak trees, I went to find the best candidate I could this morning. We are just between rain storms so the conditions weren't the best. God's creation is amazing, but trees are given to us to enjoy and/or use, not to worship. Hopefully we will do this wisely as we preserve them for future generations.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Some more scenery from last week's Rose Peak trip.
Obama's Church: Trinity United Church of Christ.

According to this, Barrack Obama has some association with the Trinity United Church of Christ, although I don't want to imply that a lot should be deduced from this. There is usually a wide spectrum of beliefs under any church roof, so this is really a critique of the Trinity UCC.

A key emphasis of the Trinity UCC web site is their African-American status. Now I should note that I am part of a Chinese-American church where most of the older members were born in Taiwan, Hong-Kong or China. The second generation quickly loses their Chinese identity. What should we say of an n-th generation African-American church based on this comparison? Swahili features in the T-UCC web site, but Swahili is an East African language and most of the American slaves were brought in from West Africa. Of course, I am a European American, but my roots mostly trace to England, not Russia. Obama genuinely is second generation African (actually Kenyan) American and has a legitimate claim to such an identity. The church overall, however, strikes me as being culturally confused. Note that this isn't a sin and I have been just as confused about my culture at times.

A tidbit which isn't hard to find on the T-UCC web site is the "Same Gender Loving" under the "Ministries" section. Sexual immorality is one of the most regularly condemned sins in the Bible and the choice of monogamy was one of the hallmarks of Christianity as it swept through the Roman Empire. The early Christian writers also wrote constantly against homosexuality. With marriage also given as a symbol of Christ's relationship with the church, there is a major problem with the UCC's treatment of homosexuals. My main point is that one cannot condone homosexuality without eventually trashing the entire concept of sexual morality as well as desecrating the institution of marriage and its symbolism. Sexual immorality leads to a number of other social ills, all the way to enslavement of sex workers such as is done by organized crime in Europe. It wouldn't be fair to project all of that onto Mr. Obama, but it would be nice to know where he stands on these things. If all I hear is that someone supports loving same-sex marriage, then I presume that his moral comprehension is hopelessly syncretic and confused.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Iowa: Obama and Huckabee.

This is probably known in New Guinea by now. If I had to choose between Obama, Hillary and Edwards for the president, I would vote for Obama. His acceptance speech was non-stop ridiculous platitudes, but what do you expect given the context? Is he really going to fix the US health care mess? Is he going to give the middle class a sense of security? Does he even have a clue how economics works? Still, this is better than the alternatives, because there is at least a chance that he will take advice from someone who understands economics.

The ideal Republican is based on the pattern of Reagan: Firm on our historical Christian moral standards, firm on small government, competent as a leader and communicator, and at least having a basic understanding of how the rest of the world functions. Huckabee is firm on the moral standards and a good communicator, but not much more. All of the other Republican candidates are seriously flawed at several points. Guiliani's 6th place finish behind Ron Paul says a lot for where the socially liberal wing of the Republican party stands.

Everyone was talking about change. Sadly, the only change that is in the winds is exactly the change that the two Bush's have brought us: Ever increasing bureaucracy, a nanny-state, increasing regulation, and living in fear of trial lawyers. No, we will continue in our madness.

Hillary mentioned about bringing the troops home soon if she is president. I would guess that a large majority of Americans would be happy to see this. It seems that there is a hope for this from the recent news. There is a reduction in terrorism in Iraq due at least partially to less Iranian support for insurgents, but is this correlated with a change in assessments of the Iranian nuclear program? Even an amateur conspiracy monger could connect the two. I will just be thankful for the current reduction in killing and put thoughts of a Faustian bargain out of my head.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Squirreling things away for the new year.