Saturday, November 30, 2013

Friday, November 29, 2013


Getting Cold Feet

I don't know why the expression "Cold Feet" means losing confidence.  The Thanksgiving lake temperature is likely around 54F (12C), which means that it takes about 1 hour to get the feeling back into the feet after doing a 3,000 yard loop.  If I didn't have confidence, I would have stayed in bed and the feet would have been nice and comfy.

Today we did the swim again, and will try one more time tomorrow.  The lake will lose another 3-3.5C as we get to mid-winter, so it is important to acclimate now.  The picture below is of me in the middle of the lake, but I am trailing my two swimming partners.  Today I was timed at 58 minutes for the 3,000 yard loop.  The New Year's Alcatraz swim is more like 2,000 yards, so it looks like I am on track for the usual 40-45 minutes to complete this.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving: It was all for the children

Remembering the Pilgrims, I would like to highlight the primary reason for the endeavor, so that we may properly give Thanks to God today:

"For many of their children, that were of best dispositions and gracious inclinations, haveing lernde to bear the yoake in their youth, and willing to bear parte of their parents burden, were, often times, so oppressed with their hevie labours, that though their minds were free and willing, yet their bodies bowed under the weight of the same, and became decreped in their early youth; the vigor of nature  being consumed in the very budd as it were.  But that which was more lamentable, and of all sorowes most heavie to be borne, was that many of their children, by these occasions, and the great licentiousness of youth in that countrie, and the manifold temptations of the place, were drawne away by evill examples to extravagante and dangerous courses, getting the raines off their neks, and departing from their parents.  Some became souldiers, others tooke upon them farr viages by sea, and other some worse courses, tending to dissolutnes and the danger of their soules, to the great greefe of their parents and dishonour of God.  So that they saw their posteritie would be in danger to degenerate and be corrupted."  - Of Plymouth Plantation, by Governor William Bradford, 1620.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Lausiac History (419-420AD)

A brief interlude from studying gave me the leisure to listen to this delightful work on monks who chose to live in the Egyptian desert and practice extreme austerity throughout their lives.  It would seem to be some inspiration for my self-inflicted pain with the cold open water swims, except that the monks endured hardship in order to renounce the world, whereas I am driven only by vainglory.  The monks also lived continuously in the manner of self denial, whereas I daily retreat back to my comforts.

It is, however, truly exceptional to think that these men and women would go to the most wild extremes in order to avoid temptations.  Often a beautiful young women would lock herself into a tomb in order to not be a source of ill thoughts for the men.  In spite of all this, it seems that most of them spent extraordinary amounts of time wrestling with evil spirits, even as they tried to devote their mind entirely to meditating on God and living in utmost simplicity.

Still, the second command in the Bible is "love your neighbor as your self"and this is a bit tricky to do if you chose to spend 10 years without once seeing or interacting with another person.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Coldology

Since I have signed up for the winter Alcatraz swim in the "skin" category, the science of cold is back as the focus of my transcendental meditations.  For example, when you first jump into the cold water, there is a reflex reaction due to nerves in the face cooling down that causes the heart rate to drop and the breathing rate to significantly increase.  Uncontrolled breathing isn't exactly good when you are trying to swim for your life, so how do you control this?  Especially considering that this event starts with jumping out of a boat into deep water with no immediate way out.  Knowing about the body's physiological responses to cold is a good first step since it will help to alleviate panic.

The last week I had three swims in the cold for 30 to 45 minutes each.  There is still about 7 degrees of adjustment for me to make as the water temperature dips down to 48F (9C).  Last year I gave up swimming for two months after I did a one mile, 9C swim.  The shock was a bit much.  This year I have discovered LoneSwimmer.com, which is giving me a lot of info and inspiration that should help me keep going through the entire winter.  LoneSwimmer has advertised himself as a "coldologist" with a lot of articles that try to understand what happens to the body in cold environments.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Quantifying Religious Experience Part 2

This is a continuation of comments on "The Spiritual Brian: Science and Religious Experience".  The second lecture started out with an effort to define "spiritual" or "religious".  I don't recall the exact wording, but it starts and ends with, "Subjective feelings and thoughts ...  with regard to the sacred".  The caveats around this are stated fairly well:  In forcing a definition, we are to some degree forcing a set of possible conclusions that may or may not preclude an understanding of the phenomenon.  So far so good.

The lecture then moves off into the subjective feelings and thoughts of those who have set apart themselves as "scientists" of the evolutionary variety.  Keeping in mind that "sacred" means "set apart", we must note that this really boils down to one religious viewpoint speaking out regarding all the other religions, while refusing to acknowledge its conflict of interest status.

What Andrew dares to do that is rare is to point out that - according to the subjective Darwinist metanarrative - there must have been a strong advantage to religion in order for our brains to develop with a need for religion.  My creationist viewpoint has no such requirement.  Andrew cites one of Richard Dawkins rants against religion, but fails to note the problem:  If Dawkins were true to his convictions, he would need to admit that there is some significant advantage to religion, and conversely an evolutionary disadvantage to atheism.

What I ponder in all this is where the Darwinist metarrative leads.  One possibility is an reaffirming of the atheist line that all religions are alike, or some specious effort to claim that modern atheists have superseded religion.  A different route is possible, however, given that Andrew showed a picture of a fertility type statue and claimed that it was one of the earlier evidence of religion.  Here I can see the atheists finally coming around to admitting that their belief system requires religion to be taken seriously, only to have a fertility type religion with its emphasis on sexual promiscuity, human sacrifice (abortion, etc.), debauchery and superstition being being promoted by the intellectual elites as the evolutionary ideal.  OK, that is what we are doing.  The Judaeo-Christian viewpoint is that the religious celebration of depravity is just a corruption of true worship of God.  As the Bible says:

"Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants."  - Leviticus 18:24-25

Thus, we are led in two mutually exclusive directions.  One claiming an evolutionary advantage to becoming a primitive theocracy based on the worship of Total Depravity.  The other saying that this practice will lead us to being "vomited out" by the land.  

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Quantifying Religious Experience

The lunch time video series has shifted to a new video lecture series:  "The Spiritual Brain: Science and Religious Experience", by Andrew Newberg.  His first lecture starts out with a radical observation:  The earliest evidence of man seems to indicate that religion predates cities.  This is based on neanderthal burial practices, as well as a presumption that early cave paintings also may well have had some religious meaning.  If this is true, the current scientific evolutionary fog explanation of religion needs to be wafted away, so that a new scientific evolutionary fog with a different odor can take its place.   Of course the Bible tells us quite clearly that religion predates civilization, but we won't talk about that.

An admission that drives seems to drive this series of lectures is that humans are wired for religion.  In spite of the power and money that have accrued to atheism during the last century (actually two centuries), there has hardly been a dent made in the prevalence of religion.  This goes directly with the previous observation to indicate that the wiring for religion is something that is in the biological makeup of humans and can't simply be brushed aside.  Again, there is nothing surprising to me in this as a Christian, since this is a basic Christian viewpoint.

The lecture then goes on to discuss brain scans of Franciscan Nuns who were doing "Centered Prayer".  The scans of the inactive brain were different from the active one (duh!), although we only got to see one example.  What this is relevant to isn't explained yet, but we still have more lectures to go.  I would characterize this kind of study as a bit like trying to find out what a computer is doing by monitoring the heat output of different subsystems.  Then there is the question of what "Centered Prayer" has to do with religion.  From my Christian perspective, we have this:

"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." - James 1:27

Maybe there is a connection between "Centered Prayer" and keeping oneself "unstained from the world".  It is fun to see what it is that intellectuals imagine that religion is.

There is part of this lecture that has already been giving me some awkward vibes (can we measure these?):  It is the rhetoric of "science" and "scientist" that reflects a 4th century BC Epicurean concept of science.  These studies are no doubt going to turn up some interesting things to ponder.  And yes, we do have new tools to play with to study the brain, however, these modern devices are currently extremely crude compared to the degree of precision that an ancient astrologer could observe the motions of the heavens.  Perhaps some caution is in order along with a bit less waving of the "science" flag?  Let's just calmly look at the data and see what we have.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

In Defense of ObamaCare

Awhile back I had paid in full for services at a doctor because my insurance didn't cover the particular service.  A few months later, my insurance plan changed and did cover the service.  Someone at the doctor's office then got the bright idea to post date the service and then bill the insurance company.  They then made the mistake of billing me the co-pay, thus broadcasting the fraud to me.  Perhaps I should have reported them or engaged in a bit of extortion, but we managed to come to terms.  We sometimes forget that populist demagogues have been colluding with big insurance and trial lawyers for the last half century to create the monster that cares for our health while maximizing waste and fraud.  The important thing to note, however, is that the monster is viable.  That is, it actually squirms and kicks and periodically even delivers some health care.  I can't imagine anyone defending the current system unless they have their fingers in the cookie jar.

Let's now consider the possibility that our president is far more clever than we imagined in coming up with ObamaCare.  Keep in mind that no populist would ever be caught dead advocating dismantling the current socialist-fascist health system unless they were to offer up another socialist-fascist scheme.  Next, consider that ObamaCare is the perfect populist ploy:  A scheme which provides universal first class health care to everyone and does it with decreased costs and no new doctors or nurses.  It also provides unlimited government funded abortion services and abortion inducing drugs without using a penny of taxpayer money and without compelling anyone to violate their religious beliefs.  Clearly no person in their right mind would ever imagine a scheme like ObamaCare to be workable in practice, so we must assume that ObamaCare was really just a tactic intended to achieve some other goal.

So what is that "other goal"?  With 5 million people having lost health insurance, it is all starting to make sense:  These 5 million will be forced, yes FORCED, to actually pay for their medical treatment.  They will approach the doctor as a customer, and pay for a service.  The doctor, on the other hand, will need to explain to the customer how much the service costs and why.  Buyer and seller will actually need to discuss the product and come to terms.  So my theory is that Obama is really a closet capitalist, and ObamaCare is a populist ploy - a bait and switch - to get us back to the only system that we know will really work - Capitalism - by switching a viable socialist-fascist system to a non-viable socialist-fascist scheme that will then die a natural death.  A true genius.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Getting ready for the cold swim.

It is that time of year again.  The water temperature drops, but we keep swimming and gradually adjust.  Soon the lake will be colder than the San Francisco Bay.  I may join in on the New Year Alcatraz swim.  Without a wetsuit.  So I am poking around for advice:

Saturday, November 02, 2013

False Christs vs. False Buddhas vs False Mahdi

An acquaintance of mine got drawn into a cult some years ago.  The leader styled herself as a reincarnation of something or other, which caused me to ponder different views.  Jesus told us this in Mark -

"And then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!', or 'Look, there he is!' do not believe it.  For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.  But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand." - Mark 13:21-23

Thus, Christians tend to bristle when any reference is made to an appearance of Jesus from the ascension until the final return at the end of the age in which Jesus is visible to the whole world simultaneously.  Even charismatic leaders will generate a lot of skepticism.  On the contrary, we do expect lots of anti-Christs:

"Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come." - 1 John 2:18

Where I dissent with many is that I don't believe that Obama is the antichrist.  The problem is that Obamacare isn't anything close to a wonder.  But it is a wonder that Americans should not have not seen through the empty rhetoric.  This isn't scriptural, but I expect the anti-Christ to have an IQ above 100, which rules out just about all current American politicians.  We are living, however, in the Forrest Gump Ages where dumb is admired more than clever, so it would seem that we are still a ways off from the final apocalypse.

For religions that believe in reincarnation, I suppose their founder can appear and reappear many times.  Can he reappear in two different people at the same time?  The only thing perplexing is that the end goal of these religions is annihilation.  If Buddha reached the supreme state, then wasn't he annihilated?  So how is it that he could be reincarnated into a different prophet?  Obviously I am missing something.

Then there is the Islamic concept of a Mahdi, who is some sort of religious leader to lead the final Jihad against the Infidels.  There seems to have been many of them already.

Getting back to the Christian teachings, the Bible lists a few appearances of Jesus after the ascension.  The first is in Acts when Stephen is stoned, and he declares that he sees Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  This is clearly a vision of heaven.  A second is when Saul sees Jesus on the Damascus Road, and the third is the vision of John in the book of Revelation.  In all three cases, however, the vision is of heaven, which is seen from Earth.

As for claims of being a Christ, the only person I am aware of who did this was the founder of the Shakers, Ann Lee.  According to the articles I have read, She claimed that Jesus was the male christ and she was the female christ, which sounds somewhat dualistic.  They seem to have taught a religion of salvation by simplicity, which would make some sense based on Ann's history of having lost everything dear to her.  The Shakers started in 1747, but the sect has completely died off.  Or did it?  I was surprised when the following song was presented in our church service about ten years ago.  I sent a note off to the worship leaders letting them know that it was a Shaker hymn and the Shakers weren't Christians, which set off some wonderful fireworks.