Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Popular History of France: Final Ponderings

I have finished Guizot's history.  It stopped just short of the French Revolution, so I have started another work, The French Revolution, by Hilaire Belloc.  I will comment on Belloc's work later, but some of what I remember of Guizot's ending is undoubtedly already conflated with Belloc's work.

Guizot's work feels like it was left hanging.  Or perhaps there was a 7th volume to the series that he didn't get around to writing.  What was fascinating was Guizot's description of the circumstances leading up to the French Revolution.  There was the financial problems associated with the war with England that brought about America's birth.  What happened during this period seems to be a systematic engagement in creative finance by the French government as various debt instruments were dreamed up only to explode after they reached their limit.  The result was economic chaos.  To this we add a clueless Louis XVI who might be caricatured as Forest Gump goes to Versailles.  Then there was Marie Antoinette, who like Princess Hillary is socially clueless, but unlike Hillary is simply naive rather than pathologically malevolent.  As was mentioned in the last post, all the smart intellectuals were forever mocking the upper classes and the establishment, which our vastly inferior intellectualoids continue to do today, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they are the upper classes and the establishment.  All this leaves me wondering what will happen if the financial wizardry of today finally blows up on a worldwide basis.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Popular History of France: Nearing the Bitter End

95.5 hours of listening done.  Only 4.5 hours to go.  Francois Guizot's long history of France from the beginnings has been quite a journey.  The part that I had missed in my earlier studies was the immense persecution thrown at the Christians by the Papists.  Multiple wars of extermination were waged over centuries with truces at different times, followed by more treachery from the Romanists.  Something sad was that the attempts to exterminate Christianity were often done side by side with a ban on exiting the country, thus, the Hugenots could be killed for staying and killed for leaving.  This eventually had a critical effect on their colonies, as the determination to maintain Popery as the established religion in Canada precluded a mass emigration of French citizens to this area, which eventually left them too weak to resist the English.

Another more familiar area to me is the era of the "philosophers", meaning Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, and others.  Diderot gets off better, but most of the "philosophers" seem to have been little more than foul mouthed mockers.  It is as if a pack of unruly arsonists should be congratulated as heroes of architecture.  Voltaire comes off a little better when he decides to support some of the persecuted protestants against the papists.  The churlish side of me wants to say that he was probably just using the protestants as a pretext for venting against the catholics, but I should be more generous and not second guess the motives.  The work is now just short of the French revolution, which is where it ends.  I have a few other works on the French Revolution and one on the history of France in the 19th century to finish this ordeal with.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Looking down at San Jose

Just because you are down in the dirt and stuck in the weeds doesn't mean that you can't look down at the world.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Great Courses: The New Testament

If God hadn't intended for men to lie, he wouldn't have given them a brain and a mouth.

The last lecture was on the letters by Paul.  These were written over a period of perhaps two decades to churches and/or individuals under greatly varying circumstances, as were Paul's circumstances.  The lecturer, Bart Ehrman, claims that three of the letters, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus are all forgeries, and cites "differences of language".  He notes that this claim is based on different use of language and a remarkably different attitude towards women.  My main note is that those three letters were written to individuals, along with Philemon.  Philemon also has rather different language use, but it is with regard to reconciling Philemon with an escaped slave.  Since freeing of escaped slaves is not yet politically incorrect, it is not the least bit surprising that modernists consider it to be "genuine".  Thus, we get to the core:  If modernists don't like the message, then they deem it to be a forgery and search relentlessly for "evidence" to prove their point.  But then somehow the note in 1 Corinthians is missed:  "the women should keep silent in the churches.  For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says".  This Paul is claimed to be a different one from the misogynist author of Timothy and Titus.

Today's lecture was on the gospels.  Ehrman notes that the authors of these gospels were highly literate Greeks, for which we agree.  The problem develops when he implies that the gospel message had been pass through about a dozen or more people before finally reaching the author who put it into print.  Is this the way educated Greeks were taught to do their history?  Of course not.  If we go with the gospel of Mark being written 65ADish, then we are faced with the fact of their being apostles still alive and many eye witnesses.  Would the Greek authors really not bother to find someone who knew the story most accurately?  He then spends a lot of time dwelling on minor differences between the accounts, but fails to note that a modern court trial would feature even greater discrepancies among the eye witnesses to something that happened a few days or weeks earlier.  Not to mention some of our politicians who can't remember anything. The easy solution to all this is simply to accept what everyone generally accepted:  That about the time Peter was executed, he had Mark put his memories down on paper.  A similar pattern was followed by Matthew and John.  The evidence conforms to the tradition, thus, why do we fly off and seek a conspiracy theory for which this era provides not a single similar example?  Luke refers to the patterns of the ancient Greeks directly for his history, which Ehrman, being a scholar who undoubtedly knows that this is firmly established, refuses to even mention.  This is what "Great Courses" are made of.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Saturday Afternoon Walk in the Wilds

It is wild flower season, so I took my beloved wife for a little flower hunting at a park near San Jose.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Neurotic Networks and Deep Learning

Part of the fun of working on SkyNet is that we get to hear presentations on the latest technology from experts gathered in from around Silicon Valley and even from other parts of the world.  Today's lecture was from Steve Oberlin of NVidia on "Deep Learning" using Neural networks.  Their graphics hardware is able to process the neural network algorithms some 10X to 100X faster than regular computers, making them a key player as Google, Apple, Facebook, and Baidu all compete to produce the most efficient and accurate algorithms for recognizing images and audio.  

I have been skeptical of artificial intelligence for a long time, and especially neural networks since they are incomprehensible even to the experts who develop them.  Other algorithms have proven to be much better.  But then three years ago there was some sort of major breakthrough for which Steve's explanation only confirmed to me that neural networks are still incomprehensible, but researchers seem to have stumbled onto the right recipe.  The main example he gave was the ability to recognize images in pictures, which Facebook highlights with their ability to recognize faces in uploaded pictures.  The problem is that the machine has to be "trained", or perhaps that should be "brain washed".  A set of 1.5 million pictures was used with 22,000 items that had been identified in the pictures by hand.  This entire set was fed into the machine learning system, so the machine could correctly associate images with items.  Afterwards, it was possible for the machine to recognize images with just over a 95% accuracy, which is about the same as for a human.  On still images.  For audio, the recognition was about 90% for clear voice and 80% if there is background noise.  Not bad, but we are still talking about some fairly heavy duty hardware on two special aspects of human intelligence.  The real challenge is machine learning without all the tiger parenting, which Steve hinted at, but for which the results weren't quite as impressive.  It is still going to be a while before we can design the Terminator.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Popular History of France, by François Guizot

I have about 30 hours remaining of this work out of the total of about 100 hours.  Currently I am on Louis the XIV.  What I have learned is that Louis the XIV was king for 72 years and an absolute monarch for 56 years.  Or to put it another way, he was a dictator for more than half a century.

The part that really stuck out to me is Cardinal Richelieu who at one time clamped down on the protestant Huguenots with all the force he could, but then became lenient to them once his authority was established.  This was completely the opposite of the policies of extermination that were waged against the Protestants by the Catholics elsewhere.  Then there is the bit about the 30 years war and the fact that the Protestants would not have been able to bring this war to a peaceful conclusion without the intervention of Richelieu.  Apparently we Protestants owe are freedom to a Catholic cardinal.  So much to learn.

A peculiarity in all this is how France became the overbearing monster state.  First this was done by the Romanists, and then by the Monarch.  Now, it is the European Union pushing for the super state.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

From Portugal to China: The story of the Jesuit Mission

I am taking a church history class for seminary which required me to do a project of my own choice.  The one I chose involved readings from several books.  The primary source was:

Journey to the East, The Jesuit Mission to China, 1579 - 1724, by Liam Matthew Brockey

Since I am also active in a Chinese church here in California, there was much relevant to the story for me.

There are a number of things that stood in this that reminds me of my life among the Chinese.  For example, the Chinese are one of the most superstitious people on the planet.  This was in many ways to the advantage of the Jesuits, since the superstitions of the Chinese were in many ways just replaced with Catholic superstitions:  Rosaries, veronicas, relics, and the like.  The chant of the Buddhist priest was replaced with a Latin mass.  Yet somewhere in the clutter of Popery and Mariolatry they seem to have found room to also teach about Jesus and what he did for us on the cross.

The Chinese government today doesn't like large, organized religion operating out from under the thumb of the bureaucracy.  The same was true during both the Ming and Qing dynasties, so that organizing small house groups was the norm.  Then there was the complaint of the Jesuits that the Chinese parents would pressure their kids to do their secular academic lessons, while neglecting the spiritual ones.  That I find the most amusing, since the same principle applies today.

The Jesuits were renowned for their education and spent much time decoding Chinese and studying classic Chinese works for their apologetics work.  Something curious in Brockey's account is that they spent all their time on Confucianism and almost none on Daoism and Buddhism, even though these two religions were all over the landscape.  There is another work I read recently on Buddhism in China that gave an extreme recommendation of the opposite sort:  That Christian missionaries should know as much as possible about Buddhism to the point that they would master Sanskrit to become familiar with the original works.  The observation I have in this is that, although Buddhism is common in China, the Chinese are almost entirely ignorant of the religion and view it more as an extension of their superstitions.  Thus, it would have been completely unnecessary for the Jesuits to have spent time on Buddhism, but Confucianism did effect the culture to the core.

A last surprising bit for me was to learn that half of the Jesuit missionaries died on the voyage from Portugal to China.  Things were rough then.  Brockey pointed to this journey as a key part of their formation as priests, since they were compelled to minister to the sick and dying through the voyage.  During storms they had to offer prayers and comfort the panicking.  Words of wisdom had to be communicated in spite of every language barrier imaginable.  Sermons needed to be prepared and delivered to the most hostile of the crew, and something had to be said for the dead as they were being committed to the waves.  This book definitely deserves a thumbs up.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

The Great Alcatraz Ferry Controversy

Sometimes we have to be reminded that not everything is peace and harmony in California.  We are mostly aloof from the juvenile political concerns of the rest of the world.  But then there are really times when we must make a stand for what is right.

The issue at stake is the Alcatraz ferry service has a lease that is about to expire and the National Park Service which operates the ferries is thinking about a change.  Rather than berthing them at Fisherman's Wharf, they are considering the possibility of using For Mason.  For those of us on the Alcatraz Swim team, this is clearly a catastrophe, since this puts the Aquatic Park where we swim half way between Fisherman's Wharf and the Alcatraz Ferry terminal, thus, our mostly undiscovered part of the waterfront is going to see a never ending tsunami of tourists and similar vermin.  The other key issue is that the new ferry route would cut across the swim path from Alcatraz to San Francisco, creating hazards beyond whatever else is lurking in the water.  The lease that the NPS is seeking is for 50 years.

In the broader context, global warming means that over the next half century the glaciers are going to melt, the earth is going to be inundated, and as Kevin Costner showed in WaterWorld, those of us who choose to evolve will be the survivors of the human race.  Clearly we need to keep the swim lanes open from Alcatraz to San Francisco.  So there you have it.  Following is what I got in the email this morning:

We need your help!

Stop the National Parks Service from moving Alcatraz Ferries from Pier 39 to Fort Mason and congesting the bay and Aquatic Park

As you may already know, NPS is looking to move the current short lease location for Alcatraz Ferries down to Fort Mason with a longer agreement that may put them coming in and out of Fort Mason for 50 years. This is why all of our Swim With Pedro sessions in the Fall are all at Crissy Field - they will be renovating the railway through Aquatic Park for trams to transport tourists to Fort Mason Alcatraz ferries.
The issues are obvious, with increased bay traffic in the way of our swims, but also congesting Aquatic Park with tourists and tram traffic, making operations for all swim and recreation clubs dangerous and difficult. It also poses new risk to recreational boaters, kayakers, and paddlers by turning this peaceful part of the bay into a ferry and tourist highway.
Submitting comments to the NPS is critical. This NPS web page has a "Comment Now" button on the bottom that folks can use to submit comments.  
David Bennett, a Dolphin Club member, thinks it also helps for people to send comments to local supervisors, Supervisor Mark Farrell of the Marina District (his jurisdiction includes Fort Mason), Supervisor Julie Christensen (she covers the Fisherman's Wharf area and her business community would be hit hard by loss of revenue from tourists that visit there for the ferry) and PelosiFeinstein, and Boxer.
Please join us in encouraging swimmers and other Fort Mason and Aquatic Park users in vocalizing the negative impact it has on local athletic and recreational communities in San Francisco, in addition to businesses that would lose significant revenue if tourists were redirected away. Keep Aquatic Park and the surrounding area safe and accessible to everyone!

Thanks for taking the time to voice your opinion!

Friday, April 03, 2015

Something for Good Friday

Given all the news around the world, I am in an Apocalyptic mood, so here is something from Revelation:

16 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.”

2 So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshipped its image.

3 The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea.

4 The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. 5 And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say,

“Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was,
    for you brought these judgements.
6 For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets,
    and you have given them blood to drink.
It is what they deserve!”
7 And I heard the altar saying,

“Yes, Lord God the Almighty,
    true and just are your judgements!”

8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. 9 They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.

10 The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish 11 and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.