Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A few months ago, California was $14 billion short. This year it is $20 billion.

Interestingly, a number of major budget cuts have already been made, including 10% to the California public school system.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Paganizing Quakerism.

George Fox in many ways did Christianity a favor in the 17th century by challenging Christians to take Christ's commands seriously and distinguishing between cultural Christianity and true Christian action. What bugged me from my Quaker readings, however, was the mental energy that was put into following the Sermon on the Mount was balanced by a de-emphasizing on certain key elements such as repentance, Christ's work on the cross, and Jesus as Lord and savior. Is it possible to do both?

The Christianity Today article discusses the decline in Quakers recently, which some are trying to counter by making their group more Wiccan friendly. This seems to me to be the logical end of the process that George Fox started, but how sad. Saint Patrick, do you have any advice on how to witness to pagans Quakers?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Chasing the Spring ...
It has been more than a month since I first enjoyed spring in the east bay hills of San Francisco. Moving North on the East coast has been a pleasure as I went in and out of spring going through the mountains and finally took this picture yesterday in western Massachusetts. All kinds of plants are sprouting up from the forest and the leaves are popping out from the trees. It is a beautiful time, but spring is too short.
Polybius on Democracy.

"In the same way a state in which the mass of citizens is free to do whatever it pleases or takes into its head is not a democracy. But where it is both traditional and customary to reverence the gods, to care for our parents, to respect our elders, to obey the laws, and in such a community to ensure that the will of the majority prevails - this situation it is proper to describe as democracy." - from On The Forms of States, book VI of The Rise of the Roman Empire, apparently written before 118 BC because that is when Polybius died.

Democracy in the US drew heavily from classical writers, including Herodotus, Polybius and others. I have been interested in Polybius because of some claims that the book of Acts has many similarities of pattern and style with Polybius. Polybius has many comments on what is required to write a proper history and these seem to be followed by Luke. The main thing, however, is that Polybius outlines the rise of Rome which ends in Palestine. Luke, of course, reverses this pattern with the Kingdom of God beginning in Palestine and ending in Rome.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Massachusetts and Universal Health Care.

Don't expect much reporting on this. The formula involved forcing coverage for everyone by extra taxes, penalties and coercion, along with subsidies for the poor. That part worked. Still, it seems that the free-market / communist hybrid is producing the predictable results: Health care rationing via queues. What I found out on my visit was that there is an income threshold where $1 of additional income results in a complete loss of government supplied health benefits, but you are then legally obliged to pay the health benefits out of your own pocket. This is a great way to kill the enthusiasm for the poor to put in a decent work day.

The other thing I was told is that it is now illegal to purchase health services privately in Massachusetts. Fortunately, much of the state is close to adjacent states where people can legally get treated, but a 5 minute checkup can cost $500 due to the supply/demand distortions.

Interestingly, the article above provides an argument that queues and skyrocketing prices aren't the result of a shortage of doctors and nurses, while admitting that the aging population will require 40% more primary care doctors by 2020. My impression is that next to nothing is being done to train these additional health workers, so like the oil crisis, we are really at the early, preliminary stages of the problem. Falun Gong will do well.
Church hoping in Vermont ...
The nice thing about extended business travel is getting to meet new people from around the country. This is Vernon Advent Church. They were nice and friendly while the worship service had much that was familiar. It started with a praise team with a very wide age range. My ears perked up when I heard "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus", but was badly disappointed when they followed the usual praise team pattern of singing the refrain half a dozen times and skipping the song. Sigh. The memory of
Lilias Trotter's story comes back to me. How appropriate this would have been for the missionary speaker that was on today, but I doubt they knew what they were doing. I cheered up again with "O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing". The hymn phase made me cringe when they chose "O Master Let Me Walk With Thee" by Washington Gladden. Gladden seems to have been a typical universalist. "Master" in the song could refer to Zoroaster, Guru Nanak, or Ann Lee and the song would work just as well. Fortunately the speaker and others clarified that they were talking about Jesus. Time was short and I needed to get back on the road. More clarifications on their theology will need to wait for another time.

UPDATE: I just checked and found that that "O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing" is a poem by Charles Wesley in 1739. No wonder I like it so much. There are a number of additional verses here.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Dropping by small town Pennsylvania. The reason, of course, is to check out the rumors of bitter votes. It is spring time here as you can see. I love the old stone houses, which this view doesn't really show well. People are out jogging and golfing as the trees are in full bloom. Bitterness? You won't find much of it, unless you start talking about allergies ...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Not much posting will happen due to being on travel, but this International Herald Tribune article on starvation in Haiti caught my eye. Haiti's problems are many, beginning with chronic corruption, but soaring food prices are having an impact. Can't say less food will cause more misery, however, because only those who are alive experience worldly misery.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"The Rise and Fall of Alexandria, Birthplace of the Modern World", by Pollard and Reid.

Continuing on the last post, one things that struck me was the need for kings to be acknowledged as god-king, or at least descendant of God, but King. Alexander the Great certainly did this while having a historian in his train to record all of his great deeds. His generals broke the empire up and made themselves kings over different portions, but followed in the claims of being descended from deities. The Seleucid Empire followed this pattern with Antiochus Theos Epiphanes (Antiochus IV - "god revealed") being one who embraced this identity. What I didn't know was that the Ptolemies seem to have followed a similar tact, setting up their own deity, Serapis, and claiming they were descended from the gods. Ptolemy V also took up the name Epiphanes, proving that the Seleucids weren't the only ones who could do this. (Just to add to the trivia, John Paul Jones defeated the Serapis in his famous sea battle. That should teach the English to name their ships after an artificial pagan deity!)

In the end, it was the Romans claiming to be deities who broke the Greek empires. The main conflict with both the Christians and the Jews was that they refused to bow to a statue, unlike members of all the other religions. When a pagan philosopher, Celsus, wrote his rebuttal to the Christians he asked why, if Jesus were raised from the dead, that Jesus didn't bother to reveal himself to the philosophers. Everyone thinks they are so important! Jesus reveals himself to the humble and simple. Alexander brought along educated historians to chronicle his deeds. Jesus didn't bother. These other god-kings were all born of wealth and privilege. Jesus was born in a manger. The greatest education possible was provided to the other god-kings with world famous tutors being hired for this one purpose. Jesus trained to be a carpenter. Yes, everything was wrong. At least everything was wrong per the expectations of the philosophers.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

"The Rise and Fall of Alexandria, Birthplace of the Modern World", by Pollard and Reid.

I picked this up at a bookstore at SFO and decided to give it a read while on the airplane. It is a summary book which accumulates various writings. Maybe I will have a few more comments on it, but it has certainly been useful to me to help put the overall context of Alexandria and the Greek philosophers in a context with Philo. There is one little irony in the book of Acts:

"Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way tof the Lord, and he spoke with fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained him the way of God more adequately." - Acts 18:24-26

Priscilla and Aquila appear to be Jewish tradesmen expelled from Rome, while Apollos comes from Alexandria, which was the pinnacle of learning in the ancient world. The nerve of them to teach Apollos! Yet while not denying the learning of Apollos, they set of to explain "the way of God more adequately". Apollos was almost certainly one who had learned from Philo and Pollard and Reid imply that Christianity was derived from the teachings of Philo, as atheistic scholars have insisted. This little tidbit, however, is more than a little bit of a contradiction.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

"It's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations" - Barrack Obama, regarding disappearing jobs in small towns.

This seemed like a comment with generous portions of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

On a general note, small towns around the world are facing changes. In Italy and Japan, the young, in pursuit of jobs, are vacating small towns. A one-child mentality doesn't help. Over in China, a similar problem is vacating the villages.

30 some years ago, I lived near Pittsburgh for a year and rode my bicycle through various grim towns as I wandered the countryside. It was a beautiful place to grow up. There were jobs, but the snows were gray as the soot came out of the sky together with the snowflakes. A decade later, the jobs were gone and the snow was white. The Ugly here is that militant unions were the primary culprits.

But what of bitterness? Bitterness sends people on many different trajectories. Poke around the blogs awhile and you will find that atheism is probably more common as a result than religion. Just about all the afflictions that Obama attributes to bitterness show up in Osama bin Laden. Is that a cause or an effect for him living in a small town in Waziristan or who knows where?

What is bothersome here, however, is that the statement tends to mix up real problems with imaginary problems. Is small town bitterness the reason for homicides in Philadelphia? Are anti-immigrant attitudes a problem? Or opposition to illegal immigration chaos? The phrase "people who aren't like them" usually refers to GBLT's who are anxious to become the moral teachers and judges for the country. Are they bitter? But what of "religion"? Is Jesus the refuge for the bitter? I was raised to believe that Jonah's attitudes of bitterness were wrong, but God cared for him anyway. Most importantly, what right do I have to be bitter when I have sinned against God and others?

I wish the entire speech had been published so that we might see if there were any answers in Obama's speech.

The wild flowers are blooming.
Making the foreclosed rich pay their fair share.

I didn't know this, but it seems under certain conditions that if you are foreclosed and your property taken from you and you are thrown out into the street, you may have a problem. If the bank canceled the debt, then you are considered to have received "income" per the amount of debt cancelled and thus are liable for taxes on the "income" which could very well throw you into an upper income bracket. It seems that there are some laws to mitigate this, but this just creates more legal confusion. Mainly I point this out because election season is always the time to howl about making the rich pay their fair share, but when the dust settles the rich who pay always seems to be a different group of individuals from what we commonly think of as rich.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Bridge construction in the modern era ...
Xerxes built a double bridge across the Hellespont around about 482BC. It took perhaps a year to construct the bridge which crossed a mile of water. In 1933, construction began on the Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge which were finished in 1936 and 1937 respectively.
In 2002, a retrofit of the east portion of the Oakland Bay Bridge began - the half that isn't technically challenging. The current
estimated completion date is 2013 for a bridge that will handle the same amount of traffic as the current bridge. Overruns have come to billions of dollars already. Yes, history is being made!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Doctrine of Flat Earthiness?

Now the Flat Earth theory began with Washington Irving and was promoted as genuine history in the 19th century by some scholar/activists who hated the church. This was done tangentially to support the theory of evolution. The church of the middle ages was required to believe a flat earth theory by this meta-narrative, and it was required that the belief be derived from the Bible. Hence a smattering of Biblical bits of hyperbole were invoked as part of the fiction that the church used to believe that the earth was flat and it was claimed that they derived this from the Bible. Most New Atheists are honorable enough to admit that this was all the product of buffoons and move on.

But what of the Biblical Scholar community? No way! They will fight even harder to have these tiny disjoint snippets of rhetoric spun into a formal Doctrine of Flat Earthiness and then insist that this is what the ancient Jews believed up through 1st century Palestine. You can check this out here and here. What the ancient Jews really did believe - or if they believed anything - we will probably never know, given that the geometric vocabulary seems to be lacking. The more important point is that the Biblical scholars have decided huge swaths of scripture were written with the intent of being allegories in the first place. A literal reading of many of the passages thus conflicts with their beliefs about how the Bible was written. The other question is whether or not the methodology that Biblical Scholars use to derive their Doctrine of Flat Earthiness are similar to any other methodology for deriving doctrines. Of course not. It is a methodology created specifically for the purpose of insuring a Doctrine of Flat Earthiness. The reason for all of this is quite simple: Theology is more invested in evolution than science is, and discrediting the ancient Jews is mandatory so that Genesis can be discredited.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

But the US constitution reads "separation of church and state", not "separation of mosque and state"!!!

Another alleged Islamic charter school in a news report. For Christians, of course, we see "separation of church and state" in its modern sophistic incarnation as being something intended specifically to shut up Christians, rather than any kind of high minded ideal. Part of the problem is that religion is inevitable, and there simply isn't a fair and balanced spirit who is competent to referee between God and the other spirits. You are either for Christ or against Him.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Regarding the form of God:

"God is not born, nor made. He is of an ever abiding nature without beginning and without end. He is immortal, perfect, and incomprehensible. Now, when I say that He is "perfect," I mean that there is no defect in Him and that He is not in need of anything. Rather, all things are in need of Him.... He has no name, for everything that has a name is related to created things. He has no form, nor any bodily members... He is neither male nor female. The heavens do not limit him." Aristides.

As Delirious has related some Mormon concepts of God the Father having a human form, I was pondering if there might have been any such views in the early church or in the early Jewish writings. For me, the Bible's insistence on no images being used for God is a key factor in my understanding of who God is and how He is distinguished from other gods (i.e. demons), as well as the religions of other countres. Aristides is a fairly early writer having died roughly at 185AD and would have been not too far removed from the Apostles that all would be forgotten. A number of similar quotes show up from Lactantius who was also deemed a heretic:

"The likeness of a man appears to be necessary at that time when he is far away. ut it will become unnecessary when he is at hand. However, in the case off God, whose spirit and influence are diffused everywhere, and can never be absent, it is plain that an image is always unnecessary."

I will poke around some more, but the notion that God doesn't have a form seems to be quite uniform among the orthodox Christians, the Jews and the heretics.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Today's award for post-modern intellectual schizophrenia goes to the protesters who put these signs up on the Golden Gate Bridge. Now it may be the right thing morally to allow Tibet to rule itself, but you aren't going to get one world / one dream, out of allowing minority groups to split away, establish its own nation with its own language and its own theocracy.

It should have read: "Many Worlds, Many Dreams, free Tibet". Then the message would at least have been consistent, but perhaps no longer post-modern.
National Science Foundation: Unemployment rate for Intelligent Designers decreased to 2.3% in 2006, down from 3.7% in 2003. Not bad for a profession that is proven not to exist. It also seems that there is no evidence yet of genetic algorithms having an impact on the demand for Intelligent Designers.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Passover And The Kosher Cracker Crisis.

One thing we Christians do during Easter (the Passover, but a month earlier due to different date certifying agencies) is celebrate Jesus by taking bread without yeast - crackers. The meaning of this is profound, but it seems everyone is shy about teaching the meaning. Jesus is, however, the Passover Lamb who died for us and whose blood protects us from destruction, which the Jews seem to have missed.

First, the bread:

' While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." ' - Matthew 26:26

Of course the bread is a symbol of Jesus, and the fact that we can only be saved from our sins by partaking in His death. But why no yeast? Why unleavened bread?

In Matthew 16:5, we have:

' "Be careful," Jesus said to them. "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees." '

Perhaps my interpretation of this is unique, but I look at the Pharisees as bloody minded traditionalists, while the Sadducees were bloody minded modernists. Much of what they taught was true and proper, however, so we can't simply say everything they taught was wrong. Hence, the command was to "be careful". Just when you are getting comfortable with all of the truth they are teaching, something nasty will get mixed in. That is the yeast. It tends to work its way through the entire dough, multiplying and infecting everything as yeast is prone to doing. The same is true for erroneous teachings.

An example of this is the artistic creativity in Jesus Christ Superstar where Mary Magdalene was implied as a girl friend to Jesus. This, of course, blew up with the Da Vinci Code to make sure everything was nicely muddled for those who didn't grow up in the church.

But do those of us who are Christian teachers do this also? What does it mean to give a sermon where we ask WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?), answer this according to our own whims, and then proceed to serve communion with a bread that has no yeast? Didn't we just introduce our own yeast? Is it even possible for me to teach about Jesus without inserting some of my own ideas? Is there not a condemnation for those of us who proceed to twist Jesus for our own purposes while celebrating communion? For me, communion represents multiple things. The need for me to take Jesus as my personal savior. Also the need to make sure that Jesus is presented exactly as He is, without introducing my own subtle twists.

Friday, April 04, 2008

'Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, "A quart of wheat for a day's wages, and three quarts of barley for a day's wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!". ' - Revelation 6:6

It would be difficult to feed a family on that kind of an income.

This was brought to mind by the news regarding price hikes to rice. As the financial times reports, "
The rise in prices - 50 per cent in two weeks - threatens upheaval and has resulted in riots and soldiers overseeing supplies in some emerging countries, where the grain is a staple for about 3 billion people." Another report has corn price at $6 per bushel whereas it was $2.15 per bushel in 2003. I am usually not into the apocalyptic views of dispensationalists, but this doesn't look good.

The next verse isn't about Clint Eastwood:

'I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.' - Revelation 6:8

The news says that ethanol producers are planning to take 30% of the US corn crop in 2009. Given the international market for food, the resources of rich countries compared to poor, and the passion of environmentalists, we could go a long way towards fulfilling this prophecy.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

San Francisco celebrates American Communists who served in the Spanish Civil War?

There is a more detailed writeup here. I won't claim there were any good guys in this war. The sad thing about communists is that they are the best at whitewashing things. Drop into a University of California campus bookstore and you should be able to locate a Che Guevara poster within 5 minutes. Fascist genocide? Unacceptable! Communist genocide? How chic!
Salvation by Solar?
I like to keep up with the solar market. Attached is a graph of the solar module pricing. As you can see, it is pretty flat in terms of US dollars. Much of the prophecies regarding future success of solar is based on the slope of the curve around 2001/2002. My admittedly weak understanding of the situation is that the market at that time was using leftover silicon from the computer chip industry, which meant it was not fully representing the price of the materials. With the growth of the market, the solar industry had to start producing its own crystals, and this completely changed the dynamics. The Euro pricing is currently on a slightly different slope from the US pricing due to the changing exchange rates.