Monday, December 31, 2012

Castle Peak

And a rare photo of Looney.






Happy New Year!

It has been a wonderful year and I certainly owe a word of thanks to all the bloggers and/or commenters who have made it an amusing one.

I will give thanks to God that in all the chaos, there is a good plan that He is working.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Ugaritic and Shalom

Curiosity got the best of me.  During my Hebrew classes there were numerous references to similar words in Ugaritic and Akkadian.  I fetched a book on both with an Amazon gift card.  The Ugaritic book arrived first and I quickly set about making myself some flash cards to memorize the cuneiform syllabary of 30 letters. 

 
The picture shows some of these cards I prepared while the top three spell out sh-l-m which is the Ugaritic equivalent to Shalom (peace) in Hebrew.  Ugaritic doesn't mark vowels, so you have to fill them in.  The book I chose was A Primer on Ugaritic

The Ugaritic language is from the area of Lebanon and was in use from roughly the time of Jacob until the time of Joshua.  About 2/3 of the vocabulary and most of the grammar seem to be very close to Hebrew, thus, getting past the Ugaritic syllabary allows things to make sense rather quickly after studying Hebrew for two semesters.  The reason for studying Ugaritic is that there are many rare words in the Bible which get some additional usage in Ugaritic that have helped clarify meanings.  For those who want to get into the details of Baal worship, there is plenty of literature in this language to read.  I am a novice at all this, so won't try to pretend to any authority.  It is mainly something to amuse myself for the moment.  I hope to take a semester off from the formal classes to read my Hebrew Bible, study Akkadian and Ugaritic a bit, and then jump back in to complete the last semester in the summer.

So what other modern words do we get that were in Ugaritic?  One is the word QBR, which means to bury and goes through Hebrew as qabar, into Arabic, and then made it into English as macabre.  Many other more familiar Hebrew words are the same in Ugaritic, such as "ben" for son, or "yom" as in Yom Kippur for day.  Then there is the familiar "yada yada yada", which I suppose comes from the Hebrew and Ugaritic verb "to know" - yada.  

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve swim

This is a new experience for me since I have never swum in water this cold.  The last temperature report was from a few days ago that the lake was from 50 to 52F (10C-11C).  The cold is definitely getting my attention now.  As we enter in the lake the sensation of walking into ice water doesn't leave much confidence that things will get comfortable.  During the first 10 minutes of swimming, I am not warmed up and need to do considerably more breathing.  This becomes a bit unnerving as I try to mentally wrestle between whether or not my swimming difficulties are due to the warm up or due to the cold.  My hands and feet quickly become numb.  What was new this time was a sensation of pain on my cheeks like I would expect from being outside when it was snowing.  After the first 800 yard crossing, the group of us exchanged greetings to make sure we were all OK.  Then it was pretty much routine moving to the various points, although checking up on each other was a bit more sincere than usual.

We finished the 3,000 yards in about 50 minutes.  When the water temperature was in the upper 50's, I generally didn't feel any need to get out.  Now I am looking forward to the end, getting dry, and finding some way to get warm again.  I missed several days of swimming since my weekday  swim partners were on vacation or suffering from various ailments.  As long as I don't get sick also, the upcoming polar bear swim seems to be doable.  Only eight more days to go!

Some Christmas verses

"Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, 'Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.'" - Luke 2:34-35

That was the priest Simeon prophesying about Jesus.  Later Jesus says:

"Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace but a sword." - Matthew 10:34

The world is certainly in an uproar over what Jesus did 2,000 years ago, down to the level of divided families.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


Hebrew Studies: Nearing end of Semester 2

This has certainly been a productive semester since I now have an ability to understand a considerable amount of Old Testament writing.  On the other hand, two semesters really represents just the completion of the beginner stage.  

The last assignment I am working on is a word study.  In this case, a Hebrew word for blessed or happy ('ashrei' - אשרי) has been chosen for us to pursue. (Note that 'barak' is also a Hebrew word for blessed.)  Our assignment was to located and translate every verse in the Bible which used 'ashrei' and then write an essay on the usage.  This came to 33 separate verses which were mostly in the Psalms.  The translation is done, with only the essay remaining.  Besides this, there is a quick test and one remaining phone call for pronunciation testing.  

The question for me now is what to do next.  I could just continue signing up for the third semester fall class, but am tempted to give a semester break.  Studying would continue, since I really want to improve my understanding of Hebrew.  One possibility is to get some modern Hebrew materials to work with, while continuing with the study.  Still deciding ...

Friday, December 21, 2012

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sunday, December 16, 2012

More Fog and Jonah

We have been swimming along the shore and then diagonally back recently.  This is due partially to the sunrise direction and partially due to the arrangement of who turns back for shorter swims.  The problem this morning was that the wind blew in a thick fog after we reached the far point, so a diagonal swim back across the center of the lake presented some complication.  I really should start swimming with my watch, since it has a compass.  The solution was to swim along the shore for the return also, which increased the swim length to about 2 miles.

I got an excited email afterwards from our official temperature recorder.  The water temperature had dropped to nearly 54F (12C).

To make the time go quicker, it is always good to have something to meditate on while swimming.  During this swim, my Hebrew studies had me reflecting on the book of Jonah:

"Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish's belly.  And he said:  
'I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, And He answered me.  
Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And you heard my voice.
For You cast me into the deep,  Into the heart of the seas,
And the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me.
Then I said, "I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple."
The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; 
Weeds were wrapped around my head.'" - Jonah 2:1-5

Friday, December 14, 2012

Swimming in the Fog

Yesterday morning the water temperature was 55F (13C) and the air temperature was 36F (2C).  We are having a cold week, so the temperature of the water is finally dropping towards winter conditions.

What was new to me is the heavy fog that was over the lake.  The warm water and cold air were ideal conditions for this.  The other swimmer is very experienced and was quite fearful of the fog.  With no wind or waves, all directional ques are lost once you get into the fog.  Even though our swimming seems fairly straight, this is only because we have visuals to help us correct course every few dozen yards.  The solution was to swim along the shore, which we did without any mishaps.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Anatomy of a Smile

Our Wednesday lectures series featured one on the Anatomy of a Bad Mood.  It gave almost as much attention to the Smile.  The point of Prof. Sapolsky's lecture seems to be that our mental state effects are physical state, and our physical state effects are mental state.  Thus, the process of putting people deliberately into a smile can set off electro-chemical effects that actually promote a happy mood, whereas the reverse is also true.  Perhaps this gives us some more insight into the Joker in Batman.  I personally would like to get a rebuttal lecture from a Vulcan, but that will need to wait for a different series.

But please smile.  It will change your mood.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Pew Survey: The rise of the religiously non-affiliated

The survey is here.  The basic thesis is that as formal Christianity is abandoned, some become agnostics or atheists, but others remain religious but non-affiliated.  Most deny any New Age style religiosity and instead prefer some sort of personal whatever.  I will note a few things of interest.

Definitions:  The Pew survey refers to the non-affiliated as "nones".  What questions they asked to get into this group are unclear.  The distinction between evangelical and mainline is over the term "born again".  An unsurprising statistic is that the growth in the non-affiliated is almost entirely a white phenomenon.  It also seems to be mostly a process of weeding out the marginally committed Christians into a category more clearly distinct from Christianity.

Literal Interpretation of the Bible.  Those who say yes to this have dropped from 38% of the population in 1972 to 31% today.  I am somewhat surprised that this number is still so high, given the countless billions of dollars that have been invested to teach youth otherwise in the government schools and universities, together with immigration from non-Christian societies.

Cognitive Dissonance: The unaffiliated believe that religion is too much about money and power (70%), focus too much on rules (67%) and are too involved in politics (67%).  To be fair, it is politically incorrect to say otherwise these day.  The cognitive dissonance sets in when we see that 63% of the unaffiliated are Democrats.  (75% voted Democrat in 2008.)  The Democrats believe in Salvation by Big Government, so our non-affiliateds support money and power, rules-gone-wile, and over-the-top politics on steroids. Apparently these behaviors are only vices if done by those you disagree with.

Causes:  The article lists several hypotheses for why the non-affiliated have risen and our so leftist in their thinking.  I would note that the hostility between leftists and Christianity is probably two centuries old, thus, the rise of the non-affiliated should be no surprise as the West turns hard left.  The first hypothesis tries to place the blame for non-affiliates being leftists on Christians voting Republican.  This fails to note that the Democrats have been pushing hard to return us to ancient Canaanite worship practices of child sacrifice (abortion) and sex with whatever sponsored by the government.  A more mundane hypothesis is just that the younger generation can't reconcile organized religion with their internet reality, thus, they become unaffiliated.

A last possible theory is that a rise in wealth and worldly security necessarily causes a decline in religious observance, whereas poverty causes people to seek God.  This one I find a bit ironic, as I see president Obama as being one of the unaffiliated who has won reelection on a crass populist message of worldly security obtained by spending money that doesn't exist.  Thus, the unaffiliated are voting to destroy the economy longer term.  Presumably they are also voting to destroy the safety net for their pseudo-religion.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Plato's Gorgias: Truth, Justice and the Greek Way.

It is hard to boil this down to a few sensible quotes.  The discussion is over the "art" of rhetoric.  Socrates is discussing with Gorgias and his followers regarding this topic, with Gorgias being a famous professor of rhetoric.  Gorgias' followers begin by asserting that rhetoric is an art that concerns truth and justice.  After a long dialog, Socrates makes the opposite claim that rhetoric isn't an art, but rather a practice of flattery.  At the same time, Socrates asserts that rhetoric is guaranteed to be popular, since it is the practice of pleasing the ears of the masses, and the masses only look to their self interest, thus, putting rhetoric in a position of hostility towards truth and justice.

This reminds me of Harvard University's emblem with "veritas" - the Latin word for truth.  We are relentlessly taught that scientists pursue truth at the exclusion of all else.  Perhaps this is true, and the professors have, um, evolved after 2,400 years.  On the other hand professors might just be doing exactly what the professors of rhetoric have always done.

It should be noted that Augustine had been a professor of rhetoric before becoming a Christian.  There is one other Latin work by Quintilian that I hope to read (in English translation) to get a better picture of rhetoric in the classical world.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Plato: Gorgias

"At the same time he acknowledges the natural result, which he hardly seeks to avert, that he who speaks the truth to a multitude, regardless of consequences, will probably share the fate of Socrates." - Plato's Gorgias, Introduction, by Benjamin Jowett

In case the reader doesn't know, Socrates was condemned to die by the assembly of Athens and forced to drink poison.  I don't know why professor Jowett feels he needs to be so tedious in his long introduction to this work, but, well, I guess he just has a lot to say.  The introduction has involved 2 hours of listening so far and much of the plot has been given away..  Gorgias talks about pain, evil, and sophistry.  There is also some talk of our condition after death.

Occasionally professor Jowett says something significant, and I suppose the above qualifies as we consider the current political situation in the developed world.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Plato: Meno and Virtue

This dialog is between Meno and Socrates with the topic being virtue.  The question is whether or not virtue can be defined and whether or not virtue can be taught.  Meno thinks he knows what virtue is and gives a list, but after being quizzed by Socrates it is apparent that he cannot come up with any sensible general definition of virtue that applies to all the individual cases.  Several candidate teachers are then proposed, with the Sophists being the only ones who meet all the criteria.  (Sophists believe that there is no such thing as truth, only persuasion.)  This is clearly unacceptable, with the end conclusion that virtue cannot be taught either.  To this Socrates adds that even the most virtuous and wealthy Athenians produce children who show no signs of virtue, and their parents would surely have educated them otherwise if it were possible.

My understanding of their conclusion is that virtue is innate and something provided by the gods, leaving virtue corresponding to what we might call "good character".  There is almost a sense of predestination to the whole thing.  A hole I see in this is that we are not given any idea whether virtue might be improved, or bad character lessened through training.  Another bothersome idea is that Meno and Socrates believe that even those who are evil believe that they will experience some good for their actions. This I am not so sure of.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

December 1st swim.

This morning's swim was 3,000 yards (2.7km) in the lake with a water temperature of 58 F (14.4C).  This is a breakthrough for me, because I can't even tolerate a cold shower.  The others tell me that I have been deprived, however, since the same time last year saw a temperature of 53F (11.7C).  Global warming is clearly taking its toll.