Friday, August 29, 2008

A bunch of kids demanded that I take them to Mission Peak this morning to see the sun rise.
Sarah Palin for VP?

Now this should make for an interesting vice presidential debate. I know essentially nothing about Sarah Palin, except for what I have read in the news this morning. What I learned is that she is a mother of 5, which I am certain has an effect on the ability to clearly express an opinion in 30 minutes or less. Joe Biden, on the other hand, is well known for spending most of his allocated speech time meandering about on unnecessary preliminaries, and then needing to ask what the original question was just before his time runs out. (OK, I have done that too.)

It seems to me a valid complaint that she doesn't have too much foreign affairs experience. But would she do worse than has been done already? Jimmy Carter's foreign affairs pronouncements always seem a bit surreal as he invariably denounces common sense and proposes non-sensical alternatives. Reagan brought down the Berlin Wall, but, well, there was a little fiasco in Lebanon. Bush senior seems to have had his act together with the golf war, but sullied his reputation by vomiting on the Japanese prime minister. Rumors of Clinton's foreign affair expertise are probably best left as rumors for the tabloids. Bush Jr. has received far more foreign affairs criticism than all of the previous presidents combined. It is hard to imagine how Sarah would do worse, although being older I am usually cautious about "how could he be worse than ...", because I really don't want to know the answer.

From my perspective, foreign affairs expertise begins with being able to read character and sense truthfulness or deception. There are so many cultures and sub-cultures and character variations within a sub-culture that studying foreign cultures really doesn't provide much advantage - except to highlight to the student of culture which of his own values and traits are culturally derived. On average, women have the skill of being able to judge character more than men, so she might be a very good pick.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"Take two aspirin and call me in the morning"

This caricature of the doctor's prescription is a bit dated today. A modernized version would be "Take 400mg of Motrin and pay your bill by the morning". But would this be effective?

As I have tweaked some Darwinistas recently, we should again note the Dobzhansky principle: "Nothing in biology can be understood except in the light of evolution". The curious thing here is that biology only has a few categories of applications: Food, production of materials such as wood and fiber for cloth, plants and medicine. I think it is clear that someone who plants a seed or harvest a cotton plant is just as effective regardless of whether or not they believe creation or evolution. Most domestic animal breeds were produced by breeding centuries before Darwin was born. But what of medicine? Perhaps we need to conduct some experiments to find out if "take two aspirin and call me in the morning" would be more or less effective based on whether or not the person who uttered the words believed in creation or evolution. If the theory of evolution (as taught in our universities) is true, then "take two aspirin and call me in the morning" should only be effective if the doctor truly believes evolution. Note again, the key thing is the BELIEF. You must BELIEVE evolution, or you can't do biology according to the peer reviewed scholarship and professor Dobzhansky!

What I am still wrestling with is whether or not a belief in evolution would still be effective if someone believed that dogs evolved from something catlike, if in fact cats evolved from somethings that was more dogish. How can a belief in evolution save you if all the specific details that you believe in are either wrong or highly inaccurate? Or is it just the vague fuzzy belief that is so effective?
California's Bullet Train Ballot ...

First, I spent two years commuting between Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya and Tokyo on the Japanese bullet train. This system is amazing, carrying an unbelievable number of passengers efficiently and on time, while juggling local and express trains on the same rails. According to the article, the main Shinkansen line carries 375,000 passengers per day and I was usually covering the 250 miles from Tokyo to Osaka. If you haven't seen this system, you haven't seen a rail system.

I never took a ride on the French TGV, but did see it in action once. I was cruising up the highway from Paris towards Belgium at a leisurely 160km/hour (~100MPH), when I spotted the train in my rear view mirror coming over the hill a kilometer or so back. A few seconds later, it was passing me. A few more seconds, it was disappearing over the hill in front of me. The newer train system of France is even faster than the older Japanese one. On the other hand, the Japanese trains seem much bigger and run more frequently. From London to Paris, the Eurostar needs to cover a distance of 225 or so miles.

As an engineer, I was involved for a while developing computer models of shock waves developing when high speed trains pass and their relative velocity is more than the speed of sound (i.e. each train is moving at 385MPH or more, but in opposite directions). If this happens in a tunnel, the shock waves will quickly compromise the safety of the structure. Fun stuff.

Thus, as I look at the California proposal to spend $10 billion I begin comparing what this would be like compared to the earlier systems. First, the distance covered from Anaheim to San Francisco will probably be closer to 400 miles. The main reason to use the high speed train is that it is faster than air, especially on short routes of 200ish miles. Once the distances reach 400 miles, however, I would probably drop into Haneda airport and take the plane rather than taking the Shinkansen all the way from Tokyo to Hiroshima.

There isn't much in between Anaheim and San Francisco. Stops could be made at Stockton, Modesto, Fresno and Bakersfield, but now you have added 100 miles to the line along with some delays. More reason to take the plane.

The second issue is that Northern California has 4 major airports (San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and Sacramento), while Southern California has 5 major airports (Los Angeles, Burbank, Orange County, Ontario and San Diego). That makes for 20 possibilities and provides considerable flexibility on minimizing your local drive. It won't be nearly so smooth with the rail.

The third item is the connections. The French system can dump you into massive train networks on either end, which pale in comparison to the Japanese systems. Apparently the new California system will connect with the Disneyland monorail. Sheesh. On the other end, it might connect into San Francisco's BART system with its annoyances. Too slow. Too little parking.

The last item is California's chronic cost overruns. Given a $10 billion initial bond, the final tally will probably come to $40 or $50 billion, which is one full year of California budget and about $1,500 per person in the state. Ouch. Overall, I would rank this as madness. Can I offer proof that it is madness? Certainly: The polling indicates that it is ahead 56% to 30% among Californians.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Democratic convention opens with prayer, gospel hymns and a Torah reading?

Wow! I would never have imagined this happening in my life time. Just wondering what the new atheists are making of all of this. Of course Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals will still tend heavily Republican, but I doubt that the Republican convention will begin with a healing service and a "Turn or Burn" sermon.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Regarding "The Unknown God".

This note is to bring together a few related excerpts on the subject of Paul's visit to Athens in Acts 17:16-34 with a special emphasis on Acts 17:22-23 -

"Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: 'Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.'"

This is familiar to any student of the new testament, but there are some related excerpts that have tweaked my interest and aren't in the usual commentaries:

"The Athenians have another harbour at Mounychia with a temple of Mounychian Artemis, and one at Phaleron, as I said, with Demeter's sanctuary beside it. The Temple Athene Skiras is also here, and one of Zeus further off, and altars of the 'Unknown gods', and of heroes, and the children of Theseus and Phaleros."

This excerpt is from Pausanius, Guide to Greece, Central Greece, section 1.4 (Penguin Classics) writing in the second century AD after the time of Hadrian.

The impression I had on reading Acts when I was younger was that the Athenians were putting up temples all over the place and some joker decided at random to make an altar for the Unkown God. But then I encountered this:

"As for Chrysippus, who is regarded as the craftiest interpreter of the Stoic dreams, he assembles a massive crowd of unknown gods, gods so much beyond our knowing, indeed that we cannot even hazard a guess at their shape, despite the fact that our minds to all appearances are capable of imagining any conceivable thing." - Cicero, The Nature of the Gods, 1.39, Oxford World's Classics. (Cicero died in 43BC)

What I find interesting here is that the unknown god was actually a formal concept and Chrysippus was a very influential philosopher. To complete this exercise in trivia and finish the circle, the Wikipedia article claims the following: "Little is known about Chrysippus' childhood except that he grew up in the neighborhood of Tarsus, where he may have been exposed to philosophical teachings". Paul also came from Tarsus, so it is likely that this episode that appears so random on the surface is quite deliberate. The God that Paul sets out to introduce isn't simply a random, unknown one, but rather one who shares the key characteristics which Chrysippus has outlined: He is beyond our knowing and we cannot even hazard a guess at His shape, and there is much that we can never comprehend even though we imagine ourselves to be capable of imagining anything. This later idea, that there are things which exist but are beyond the bounds of human reason is a most upsetting thought, but one that I think we need to become more comfortable with.
Looking at Mount Diablo ("Devil Mountain") from Mission Peak.

And so you can get a bird's eye view of the spiritual situation here in the San Francisco Bay Area: Mount Diablo towers over everything and is one of the most visible landmarks. Coming from the east, it can be seen for more than 100 miles on a clear day. But then there is Mission Peak, a lesser group that stubbornly hangs around and is visible too.
Hope, Change, and Joe Biden.

Note: This is inspired by Obama's choice of Joe Biden for a running mate.

Among Democrats, Biden is one with a long track record and who is generally pleasant. I remember watching him in the Robert Bork hearings which he headed up. Bork was the competent conservative legal scholar who was nominated to the supreme court, but then his reputation was systematically smeared by the left, giving the English language a new verb, "Borked". The lead role in the hysterical slander mongering and hate speech was taken by Ted Kennedy. Kennedy would look down and read a vile script. Biden would make eye contact and talk in a friendly and polite manner. At the time, Bjorn Borg was a famous tennis player and Biden told of a letter he received asking him to be fair towards "Bjorn Bork". If I were forced to choose between Democrats, he left a good impression for reasons of politeness and a sense that he wasn't really malicious.

What leaves me with a little smirk, however, is that Biden has been in the senate since 1973 and if I had a phrase to sum up his choice, it would be "the audacity of the status quo". Ted Kennedy may be an outlyer to the system, but Joe Biden is the system's center of gravity. It is a reminder that the left has been talking about "hope" and "change" since the time of Rousseau and the French Revolution in the 18th century. Every ten years, the mantra starts up again with those in their 20's being sucked along with a percentage of older folks who know better, but have other reasons for joining in. This is also a reminder of what I have been thinking all along: Obama is basically an old school liberal, but one who delivers better than average platitudes and rhetoric.
Surgeon consultation ...

He says that they will drug me up, make three little holes, snip - snip, and then put my knee back together in 5 minutes. About 6 weeks later, it will be as good as new! The only issue: There is a three month backlog on operations.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Persecution of Christians in California ...

In this case, it relates to physicians who refused to perform artificial insemination on lesbians. The California Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of the state sponsored religion of Deprativityism, but against religious freedom and Christianity. I wonder what will be the results for the doctors - and how much all of the litigation and settlement will cost. Perhaps they could move to somewhere which doesn't have a state sponsored religion. Anyway, the Bible promises that they will be rewarded for staying faithful under persecution. Thanks to Jim West for pointing this out.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Yes! The MRI results are in and I have a torn medial meniscus. Unfortunately the MRI cost me $1,120. This is still less than the $3,500 transmission job on my mini-van. The next step is to see if the surgeon can fix it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Getting ready for an MRI on my knee ...

After months of knee pain, I finally have an MRI scheduled for today, but my knee stopped hurting yesterday. What to do? Climb Mission Peak and run down to irritate the knee and hopefully something will show in the MRI. The full moon made for a good start at 5:15AM. A young lady passed me about a mile from the top which meant that I was morally obligated to do some chasing. I passed her while running on the way down, but then she started running too and it was a fast chase for another 1.5 miles. A mile from the end, however, I had to back off to an easy jog and she zoomed off into the distance. Yes, I confess that I am a lazy slacker. 6:55AM and I was back at the parking lot. There is some knee irritation now, but not nearly what I have been experiencing a week earlier. Perhaps I should pray for a full healing of the knee, but I usually pray that the doctor will be able to see some clear evidence of an identifiable and treatable ailment. Time to go to church.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Gender Selection in South Korea.

First, abortion seems to be quite popular in South Korea with the result that there were 113 boys born for every 100 girls. Most of the statistics on these ratios seem to date back to the late 1990's, so I haven't been able to track the original source. In places like China and India, this practice will cause an imbalance of men that amounts to 10's of millions of males who will never find a mate.

I will avoid quoting directly and only paraphrase, given rumors of AP fury at being quoted. What is interesting is that the court is now allowing doctors to report their estimate of the babies gender using ultrasound. The reason for the change is that they claim that gender selection of babies is no longer a problem. The data to back up that decision would be really interesting at this point.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Time for an MRI.

If things keep going, I will need to update my personal photo to include a walking cane or a wheel chair. Sunday afternoon I am scheduled to have my knee looked at via MRI. My theory regarding doctors is that there is little point in visiting them, because the only thing they know in the end is how much you owe. Ah, the advantages of prayer! Looking at the hospital plans recently, it appears that tithing is cheaper than health insurance when you get a little older. My last visit to the doctor was over a year ago, for a knee problem, and the same knee has progressively gotten worse. The doctor prescribed Ibuprofin and gave me some crutches last year. I will pray that God gives the doctor some insight into what is really wrong. The last check a few days ago came to the same conclusion: No identifiable problems. The good news was that my blood pressure was 123/79, which seems to be a good rating for someone in the AARP bracket.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Interview with Creator of the Sims regarding religion in the new game, Spore:

"I think our bigger fear was that we didn't want to offend any religious people; but looking at the discussion that unfolded from this thing, what we had was a good sizeable group of players that we might call militant atheists, and the rest of the players seemed very tolerant, including all of the religious players."

This brings up the important question of whether religious players of video games are more intolerant or atheist gamers are more intolerant ... stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A pond in western Massachusetts.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Regarding human authority - Luke vs. Cicero:

"Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." - Acts 17:11

"Those who seek my personal views on each issue are being unnecessarily inquisitive, for when we engage in argument we must look to the weight of reason rather than authority. Indeed, students who are keen to learn often find the authority of those who claim to be teachers to be an obstacle, for they cease to apply their own judgment and regard as definitive the solution offered by the mentor of whom they approve. I myself tend to disapprove of the alleged practice of the Pythagoreans: the story goes that if they were maintaining some position in argument and were asked why, they would reply: 'The master said so', the master being Pythagoras. Prior judgement exercised such sway that authority prevailed even when unsupported by reason."

- Cicero, The Nature of the Gods, 1.10 written ~40BC.

Cicero is also part of my project to compare Christian views to those of the pagans at the time of the early church. This excerpt I find especially interesting. To find out about the 'gods', there must be some authority and revelation, or there is nothing. Luke (and probably Paul) note that the Bereans are enthusiastic, but also careful in searching the scriptures and not relying on authority alone, even though Paul has great credentials. Likewise, Cicero is asserting that the student must apply his own reason. Keep in mind that the author of Acts, Luke, almost certainly has a classical education which would have included studying classical authors like Cicero.

Christian fundamentalism is a mixed bag on this point, as we have done quite well on making sure that we don't accept whatever academia dishes out as truth, rejecting credentials and demanding a plausible explanation, to the consternation of the intellectuals. Where we fail is when we set up our own set of credentialized teachers whom we blindly follow, forgetting that we need to study and do our own homework. Thus, it is easy to drift off into spiritual slackerism like everyone else. The other failure of Christian fundamentalism is that we need to look at teachers differently: Each one has something to offer, and they all are prone to error. Even the annoying academics frequently raise important questions and direct us to useful materials. Frequently we do need to look at the teachers of competing viewpoints, as Cicero did, for the purpose of sorting out what we truly believe. Having said that, I still believe that the Bible is a source of authority that I can depend on, and the most credible source of authority is what deserve the most time.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

For Beer lovers: A pilgrimage to Samuel Adams grave.

Samuel Adams was smiling in his grave. The recent events surrounding the transfer of ownership of Budweiser from the US to Belgium means that Samuel Adams Beer has a higher standing as America's beer. After all, we are a democracy and have little use for a "King" of Beers.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Another Boston picture. This tower should be the customs house.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Still light posting for awhile. I am busy pondering my future in Boston.