Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Journey of Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and his Companions from Florida to the Pacific, 1528-1536

This is a wild adventure story for which Indiana Jones is just a cheap imitation.  It begins with a group of 600 Spanish explorers headed for what is now Tampa Bay in Florida.  After a series of disasters involving the Indians, they kill and eat their horses and make rafts attempting to travel to Mexico.  Somewhere along the Texas coast, this comes to an end for the 80 survivors, who then die by starvation, exposure, or are killed by the natives.  Finally, a few of them are made slaves and learn the local Indian language(s) as well as their manner of survival.

One of Cabeza's duties as a slave is to perform faith healings in the manner of their shamans.  Cabeza makes the sign of the cross, blows on the injury, and soon he is a local hero.  The four remaining companions eventually make their escape and their fame as Charismatic faith healers grows and brings them along their journey, which eventually leads to the Pacific coast of Mexico where Cabeza is able to reconnect with a civilization that he had long ago given up hope of ever seeing again.  

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Anarchy, by Errico Malatesta (1853-1932)

After having used the word 'anarchy' 12,553 times, it would certainly be good to read (i.e. listen to) the original definition.  Errico provides this.

The beginning thesis is that all governments exist solely for the purpose of the powerful to exploit the weak.  The rhetoric is Marxist and the Bourgeoisie are assigned as the primary source of evil, with religion being merely something that was designed by the powerful to oppress the poor.  I think it is safe to say that Malatesta is an atheist.  He asserts that no matter how altruistic a government might appear, it is primarily a vehicle for oppression.  

In the middle of the book, he describes a supernatural revelation that he received from Darwin:  That all animals (e.g. ants) have natural organizational structures provided by evolution.  Taking away government would thus allow this biological determined organization to reassert itself.  We will set aside the fact that survival of the fittest gives a natural advantage to the worst sorts of human character.

So what is this natural system?  Errico gives it the name "solidarity".  This is a system of mutual support based on altruism and caring as much about others as you do about yourself, which he asserts is the natural evolutionary state of mankind.  Summing it up, he says, "This society of free friends would be anarchy".  

The objection was raised that someone must deal with the post office, law and order, and military affairs.  In our day we know that the government isn't needed for a post office, but what of the others?  Errico observes that where there are no police, there is no crime, while most of the crime happens in areas where most of the police are.  Thus, he deduces that police are the cause of crime because they provoke people to criminal behavior!  Similarly, armies provoke war.  

I should admit that I am sympathetic to some of the ideas.  Collective action by interested individuals joining together for a purpose without undo governmental regulation is a core American principle.  Still, that is a long ways from the pure libertarianism that Errico is advocating.  He wants to abolish private property, which has been tried in the decades after his death and failed miserably.  The missing ingredient in all this is "Evil", which is a concept that atheists simply can't come to terms with.  Humans are by nature Evil, even though they might do something good now and then.  Errico ignores this problem by attributing evil to the Bourgeoisie only.

The book ends with a "We shall overcome" prophecy that deserves a smirk as America and Europe experiment with Total Government concepts.  His work finishes with a gem that is certainly appropriate for today:

"How solve this problem of social alchemy: To elect a government of geniuses by the votes of a mass of fools?"

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Jewish State, by Theodore Herzl (1860-1904)

I have the flu, so listening to books is one of the better ways to pass my time as I stay at home to recover.

This book is one of the founding documents of the Zionist movement.  The impetus for its writing was the persecution of Jews around the world, with Eastern Europe being a prime example at the time. He says nothing of conditions of Jews living in Muslim lands. A number of things stand out in this.  For example, he often uses the vocabulary of Proletariat and Bourgeoisie to described classes of Jews, yet his prescriptions are thoroughly Free Market.  The Jewish State is to be the mother of all business ventures.

A corporation is needed to facilitate the transfer of the peoples from all over the world to the new homeland. A specific duty of this corporation, however, is to make sure that drunkards and others who are unfit do not land in the Promised Land.  This is to be a nation of virtue, beginning with hard work and ending with intellectual enterprises.  Hard work, except that there is to be a 7 hour work day.  Very French.  Or is that American?  Certainly this is not Obama's vision of immigration where millions of people are brought in illegally for the  primary purpose of becoming wards of the state and clients to the millions of state funded social workers.

Regarding religion, Herzl wants to have a new Jewish temple high on a hill and visible from all around.  The Dome of the Rock occupies this position at the moment.  His view on religion seems to be a bit conflicted.  On the one hand, a religious focus is something that he sees as an important unifying element in the new people that is to result from this adventure.  Yet at the same time he wants to maintain strict freedom of religion.  Can those goals ever be reconciled?

The government Herzl prefers is an aristocratic one.  He doesn't view the peasant Jews of Eastern Europe as being up to the task of self government, while he often refers to the mediocre intellect of the western Jews.  Democracy isn't suited to them.  In this work Herzl claims that it is inconceivable that the new state would have Hebrew as its language, since it is impossible to buy a train ticket using Hebrew.  A footnote in the work claims that Herzl changed his mind on this point when someone proved to him otherwise.

It is certainly amazing to read this and ponder how this vision was realized, albeit with plenty of adjustments, a half century later.

Additional Note:  Something that sticks out in reflecting on this book is that there is no reference to God in this entire work. Herzl's world view seems to be strictly atheist:  Whatever is to be achieved is to be done by the Jews own volition and industry.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Slow Blogging

There is too much happening.  Or - more accurately - my mind is just too distracted.  

As for things new and interesting, I have been listening to recordings of the Bible again.  This time in Hebrew, as read by Abraham Shmuelof, who had formerly born in Jerusalem and had been a Rabbi before becoming a Christian.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Agitated Turkeys

They took offense at my presence, then treated me to a rare sight of soaring turkeys.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Why Evil Exists.

This is from our mid-week noon time video series.  The current one is Why Evil Exists? by professor Charles Mathewes at the University of Chicago.  The lecture series has 36 videos, which undoubtedly qualifies as some sort of evil to have to watch them all.

The first real lecture was on the Enuma Elish and the Epic of Gilgamesh, both of which are from ancient Mesopotamia of creation and the flood.  I have also read both of them, so it was quite easy to separate out the mythology of the ancients from the mythology of the modern professors.  It has many parallels with Genesis, yet at the same time is totally different in character.  Prof. Mathewes did note some of this, but missed the fact that character of the Babylonian myths is more of a spoof than the real thing.  In the later part of the lecture Prof. Mathewes tries to come up with some theological generalizations of the view in these stories, but again we have a huge problem:  The Babylonians and Assyrians did not leave us any examples of abstract reasoning.  In fact, there is a major argument that abstract reasoning simply had not, um, evolved at this point in human development.  My assertion is that abstract reasoning first rears its head in the Hebrew scriptures, but I should whisper this lest some academics try to burn my house down.  The problem is that the academic views of Babylonian and Assyrian theology really have their origin with the modern academics. We can argue that the stories are compatible with these modern theological notions, but any effort to do so should be prefaced with a disclaimer noting that the theological notion did not originate with the Mesopotamians, but instead originate in the imaginations of modern academics.  Let's keep the authorship where it belongs.

Moving along, the specific theological notion that prof. Mathewes assigns to these Mesopotamian stories is that of Dualism.  On what evidence?  It is because the gods squabble and bicker and the like.  I suppose all conflicts require two opposing sides.  My usual contrarian nature must then ask whether or not a group of squabbling children constitutes a profound Dualistic theological statement or not.  The group of squabbling children is the example I will use due to the level of the squabbling between the gods in the Enuma Elish and the way the gods are viewed in the Epic of Gilgamesh.  And what profound moral and philosophical concepts do the participants in the squabbling represent?  Or wasn't it really just the case that our clever academics simply made up the assertion that the Enuma Elish was some profound work of Daoist theology rather than an early form of entertainment?

May The Force be with you!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Watch out for Quacks?

Signs of the Times #2

Most people know that when Marco Polo returned from China he introduced the Italians to noodles.  Another little known fact is that he returned on a sea voyage that took him around India and into the various ports.  The result is the following sign, which per Chinese style is read top to bottom and right to left.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Signs of the Times

My Chinese wife often says that there is a reason why God placed the Himalayas between India and China.  

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Life of Pi

Just got through seeing this movie with my family.  Basically it is a Calvin and Hobbes movie with a lot of open water.  What more could I ask for?  

There is a tiger and a young man.  Is the tiger real?  Does the tiger have a separate existence?  Or is the tiger just another version of the main character's persona?  Supposedly it has something to do with God and religion, but what connection isn't clear to me.  But never mind, since I would really rather be out in the ocean enjoying the waves.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Second Semester of Hebrew finally finalized.

Biblical Hebrew likes to reuse the reusage of a verb to emphasize things.  The last bit of work for the class was completed earlier this week.  What a relief!  Just one semester remaining for this Biblical Hebrew sequence which I hope to finish in the summer.  Meanwhile, what to do?  I picked up some Modern Hebrew learning lessons from Pimsleur that I can listen to while commuting.  These seem to be working out quite well.  Much of the grammar and many of the words are the same as for Biblical Hebrew.  My commute takes 30 minutes one way which is the same amount of time as a lesson.  The usefulness of this program is that it forces me to quickly answer questions in Hebrew and work on pronunciation while also reinforcing much of what I already learned.  Learning any language takes a lot of persistence.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Polar Bear Makeup Swim

OK, it is getting seriously cold.  This morning's swim started with a walk over the frozen beach to the water and my legs were truly numb after the 1,600 yard swim.  There was no question of rinsing off afterwards because the shower was frozen.  The other swimmers are bringing warm water to help get feeling back into the body quicker and I will need to start doing this.  Another possibility is to go straight to the car to start warming up before attempting to change.  We will see ...

The last temperature report was a water temperature of 48F (8.9C).  The good news is that this is about as cold as it gets.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Polar Bear Swim ... Yikes!

Well, sadly I missed my swim.  Each New Years Day for many years I have arranged a hike.  If everything had gone perfectly, I would have been able to lead the hike and get over to the other park for the swim. We were 20 minutes delayed on getting the hike started, which was the time I needed to get between parks, so rather than a polar bear swim I spent the time at an Afghan restaurant enjoying kababs and the like while having a great time socializing with some close friends.  What a wimp.  Anyway, I did swim Sunday morning before church in the same lake, plus I plan to continue swimming later this week, so I only missed getting to meet a bunch of new club members.