Sunday, February 26, 2012

Hebrew progress:  Half way through first semester.

This is an online class with video lectures, lots of homework, and interaction with the professor via email and phone calls to check on my progress.  It started well, but things got a bit ugly when three very busy weeks in a row collided with the studies.  The class front loads a lot of material so that 13 lessons are in the first 7 weeks and an additional 9 lessons are in the remaining 8 weeks.  Hopefully I can breathe a bit easier moving forward.

So far I have had to learn about 200 vocabulary words together with various verb conjugations, along with transformations of adjectives, nouns and particles of various sorts.  The learning is all a bit tenuous because the changes that occur to vowels are numerous and confused with special cases as various words are transformed.

The professor has recorded Genesis chapters 12-16 verse by verse for our practice.  We need to read one verse per day and use the recordings to correct our pronunciation.  Every other week I give him a phone call and he makes me read a passage to check my progress.  So far he has been quite pleased with my pronunciation, which has generally been my strong point on learning foreign languages.  The problem for me is that my vocabulary knowledge tends to saturate early so that I can't improve.

The Hebrew reading was all meaningless sounds at the beginning, with the exception of proper names like Abram (אַבְרָם).  (I am curious if the Hebrew fonts I placed next to Abram show up on other computers, since I have special Hebrew fonts loaded onto my computer.)  My Hebrew Bible prints proper names with a different shade making them easy to pick out.  There are a number of words now that I am recognizing that is starting to give me a false confidence that this project might come to a successful result.

Western Seminary does this as a three semester sequence.  The first two semesters are building the language foundation.  The third semester gets into the text and is one that I would prefer to do at a formal class rather than online.  This class is taught nearby in San Jose, but only in the summer.  Thus, I will need to wait until summer 2013 to do this, or else take the third semester online.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Herodotus:  Contrasting with the book of Esther

My reading of classical books started with Herodotus perhaps a dozen years ago when I was preparing to teach the Bible's Book of Esther.  An atheist scholar blurted that the book of Esther was systematically in conflict with Herodotus, thus, I bough The Histories, read it cover to cover, and started collecting notes.  As usual, the facts were exactly the opposite of what the atheist scholar claimed, thus, it was a real treat to do the comparison and to learn more of the character and deeds of Cyrus, Darius and Xerxes.  Some stories have to be taken with a grain of salt like the story of the ants of India being larger than a fox, but smaller than a dog.

Since I am thinking to teach Esther and Daniel again, I have been listening to the audio version of Herodotus and am now up to book 3 of the 9 books.  It is good to refresh the memory since I am always afraid of getting things scrambled.  So far so good.  A tidbit in passing is the following regarding the usurper king, Smerdis who was killed by Darius:

" ... There was one Otanes the son of Pharnaspes, in birth and in wealth not inferior to any of the Persians. This Otanes was the first who had had suspicion of the Magian, that he was not Smerdis the son of Cyrus but the person that he really was, drawing his inference from these facts, namely that he never went abroad out of the fortress, and that he did not summon into his presence any of the honourable men among the Persians: and having formed a suspicion of him, he proceeded to do as follows:—Cambyses had taken to wife his daughter, whose name was Phaidyme;  ... " - The Histories, III.68

At this point there are clearly a number of parallels to the Book of Esther.  When Cambyses (son of Cyrus) died and Smerdis took the throne, all Cambyses wives and concubines were taken by Smerdis.  Cyrus had another son Smerdis who could rightfully be king, but there was also a Magi named Smerdis who looked similar to the son of Cyrus and Herodotus tells us that Cambyses had his brother secretly killed.  The Magi, Smerdis, however, had had his ears cut off, but Persians all wore their hair long so it wasn't easy to see this.  Otanes is trying to find out which Smerdis is within the palace by means of his daughter and messages are exchanged to accomplish this.  As the exchange proceeds, Phaidyme agrees to do what she is asked to do, but fears for her life:

" ... To this Phaidyme sent an answer saying that, if she should do so, she would run a great risk; for supposing that he should chance not to have his ears, and she were detected feeling for them, she was well assured that he would put her to death; but nevertheless she would do this. ..." - The Histories, III.69

And so Esther said, "If I perish, I perish" - Esther 4:16.    I have a sense that Esther's risk was greater, but the good character of Esther seems present in Phaidyme as well.  The main reason to highlight this is one of Biblical hermeneutics.  If the main lesson we derive from Esther is to honor her good character, than why not treat Herodotus as scripture also?  Of course there are other more important lessons in Esther.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Happiest Place On Earth:  Indonesia

India is second, tied with Mexico.  Having visited Indonesia and become addicted to the related Malaysian style curry, I can readily affirm that this is quite sensible.  The US and Australia are at the top for rich countries, although I think our numbers are being dragged down by the feminists ... the least happy people on Earth.  Well behind us are Saudi Arabia and Britain which have become quite homogeneous due to immigration.  Germany's low ranking is no surprise, but what to make of France?  Is it true that the 30- hour work week has not made the French less gloomy?  Or maybe they spend so much time fussing over which wine to drink that they can't relax and enjoy it.  I don't know much about Italy.  My experiences with Russians seems consistent with the ranking in the survey.  Last place is South Korea.  Given that I have never seen a happy waiter at a Korean restaurant, this would make sense too.  Perhaps it is the result of eating kimchi every day.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Girl Scout Cookies are fund raising for Planned Parenthood?

If the linked article is true, this is a formula that only Hell could devise.

Monday, February 20, 2012

"ICDM - Acknowledgement of Full Paper Submition" - The Secretariat

This email arrived recently due to a professor submitting a paper with my name included as a coauthor.  It is good to know that I am not the only one who has spelling difficulties.  I always wonder at those who believe in the Doctrine of Infallibility of Academics.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Economist regarding Cosmology:  Desperate times require desperate measures.

"More than any other scientific problem the cosmic-expansion conundrum presents scientists with an existential quandary.  'It could be a 22nd-century problem we stumbled upon in the 20th century,' says Dr. Turner.  Some researchers may begin to feel time would be better spent on other scientific pursuits."

The problem isn't quite clearly described. The original big bang notion postulated a constant expansion rate of the universe.  If we extrapolate backwards (using only the permissible terms) than we conclude that the universe is younger than the postulated ages for the stars.  The way to avoid this problem is to assume that things were expanding slower in the past with an accelerating expansion rate.  That requires energy, thus, the term Dark Energy.  All this has been repackaged to try avoiding the impression that cosmology is just a collection of kluges piled one upon another.

The article also notes that to achieve any consistency between the theory and observations that only 4% of the mass can be of the "known" sort, which includes stars, planets (and black holes) and the like.

"The puzzle was that various lines of evidence showed that the universe’s endowment of ordinary matter (the stuff that people, planets and stars are made of) would give it just 4% of that density."

The remaining 96% is called Dark Matter or Dark Energy, since Einstein defined a relation between mass and energy.  In the engineering universe where I live, we usually refer to these terms as "Error", but Dark Chocolate Fudge would satisfy me too.  Sometimes the Error is simply a missing term, but more often than not something was drastically wrong in the first place.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Conscience vs. Religion - Some ponderings on Obama care and government mandated abortion coverage by the Catholic Church.

No that wasn't a typo.  The latest fuss between Obama and the Catholic Church has to do with the government forcing them to cover contraceptives and the governments latest definition of contraceptives includes abortion causing drugs.  This reminds me of the speech Obama gave to congress that was interrupted with the famous "You Lie" from Representative Wilson.  The video snippet is here.  Of course Obamanomics requires employment to be given to illegals, and Obamacare requires health coverage, which now means abortion, thus, Representative Wilson looks to be the one who was correct, although some clever person might draw the distinction between the government paying for something and the government requiring someone to pay for something without a tax collector as an intermediary.

My Librivox catalog just announced a new audio version of Thoreau's Civil Disobedience.  I will give their snippet:

"Civil Disobedience (Resistance to Civil Government) is an essay by American transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau that was first published in 1849. In it, Thoreau argues that individuals should not permit governments to overrule or atrophy their consciences, and that they have a duty to avoid allowing such acquiescence to enable the government to make them the agents of injustice. Thoreau was motivated in part by his disgust with slavery and the Mexican–American War. (Summary by Wikipedia)" - Librivox

Before going further, I will note that abortion coverage is mandated by government in various places, like China, yet there are many Christians there who are loyal people within the People's Republic.  If I go back further, we find God's people serving the homicidal Babylonians as loyal citizens, so I am not one to advocate civil disobedience of any kind.

By now the fuss should be known to the world between Obama and the Catholic Church, but I should highlight the previous famous dispute with the leftists over adaption services.  I haven't been following this, but it seems they are being driven out of one state after another.  It seems to me that the conscience of pederasts counts, but the conscience of Christians does not.

But then there is this commentary in The Economist. It is a bit condescending towards religion, as usual, but the summing up of the attitudes is what I am interested in:

"The bishops, naturally, went berserk, but so did conservatives. Making Americans buy health insurance was bad enough, an encroachment on personal liberty, they thundered. Making Americans pay for something they believe to be morally wrong is utterly beyond reproach. Government overreach had reached its most extreme form."

As with all leftist articles, there seems to be not the slightest concept that someone other than themselves might actually have a conscience.  Or perhaps they view that humans have various intense passions, but they alone possess conscience.  But to go further and link conscience to religion?  I should note that many of the leftists religious organizations do seem to link religion to conscience, although I would claim that their religion is an atheist front for leftist politics.  The alleged compromise involves the Catholic Church handing over health care coverage to insurers who provide abortion coverage, but don't charge the Catholic Church.  Again, this presumes that there is no conscience in the Catholic Church ... or at least no one who is bright enough to see through a tiny bit of smoke and mirrors.

My dilemma is that if I were living in a communist dictatorship, protest would be out of the question and this kind of heavy handed trampling on religious liberties would be expected.  Yet America is supposed to be a land of religious liberty.  It seems to me that the leftist gambit - to claim religious liberty while imposing a dictatorship of conscience - is to divorce conscience from religion.  In this view, religion is only about ritual and faith, but everything regarding human behavior - i.e. conscience - is distinct and the exclusive property of leftists.  I wonder what Thoreau would say.

A related fuss happened here in California recently.  A Susan Komen foundation - which is dedicated to treating breast cancer - recently tried to pull its funding from Planned Parenthood.  A sense of the news is here.  Planned Parenthood is, of course, a slaughter house and America's primary abortion provider.  Mona Charen gives a bit on their credibility regarding breast cancer treatment.  This is going to make everyone in this country even more cynical when a charity that exploits conscience by advertising itself as a promoter of life sends its funds to a group dedicated to death.  If there is anything good that comes of it, perhaps it is to make everyone aware of the smoke and mirrors being used by leftists to cheat people's consciences.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Looney on the Ropes.

It doesn't matter much if old folk die, so why not?  All this takes place about 20 feet off the ground.