Saturday, August 30, 2008

"Fiscally and socially, I am a conservative."

Palin: "I'm pro-life. I'll do all I can to see every baby is created with a future and potential. The legislature should do all it can to protect human life."

Wow. A Republican who says it straight. Can we just skip this McCain fellow and go straight to a Palin presidency?

Friday, August 29, 2008

What the Palin candidacy takes away from the McCain campaign

Recent polling indicates that the attack that works against Barack Obama is to question his experience. The McCain campaign has been -- to good advantage -- using recycled Clinton ads including ones that echo the "3 a.m." ad.

They can't use those any more. Attacking Obama's experience would be dangerous given that Gov. Palin has far less experience than Obama. Given John McCain's age and medical history, it would be fair game to point out Palin's lack of experience and question whether she's ready to be presidency. Especially since -- statistically -- she's far more likely to ascend to the presidency during the next 4 years than Democrat Joe Biden would be.

Sarah Palin

I have to give them credit: I never thought there could be anything out of the McCain campaign that would generate excitement.

Here in Piedmont North Carolina, there are Obama stickers on lots of cars. Obama signs in front of houses. And people who talk, well, excitedly about Barack Obama.

The McCain signs around here are so few as to be noticeable. Bumper stickers are neatly fastened to the backs of cars that, well, we might expect to have McCain stickers: think Lincolns. And no one talks about John McCain, with either excitement or derision. No one talks about him or his campaign.

Until today. The announcement of Gov. Palin as the vice-presidential nominee even made me -- a confirmed loather of John McCain -- excited about the Republican presidential race.

(Could we just switch places? Palin on the top of the ticket? Please?)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The rainmaker

It's got to be a negative indicator, as the economists would say.

Every time I mention the drought here, we get rain. Lots of rain. I mentioned it yesterday, and today, it's raining cats and dogs here in central North Carolina.

(Should I talk about the rain every day? Couldn't hurt ... : )

Subtitled Chinese movies

OK, here's your puzzle for the day. Watch carefully. You will be tested on this:

Why -- with the movie dubbed into Mandarin -- is it also sub-titled in Chinese?

Is it because the Chinese like to -- as one TV Simpsons episode said -- "read their movies"?

Probably not. The reason it's subtitled is so the same film can be used all over China. Because we talk about "speaking Chinese" when in reality there are over 10 related but mutually unintelligible "Chinese" languages. This preview is dubbed into Mandarin, but the subtitles are so the same film can be shown in Guanzhou or Shanghai.

I had a lot of trouble wrapping my mind around this, but the following helped me.

What's this: "3"?

You answer, "three," but you're wrong. It's really "tres." In other words, almost everyone uses the same system of Arabic numbers, but we pronounce them differently. I look at the same symbol and say it's a "three" while a man in Madrid would say it's a "tres" or one in Munchen would say "drei."

Spoken Chinese is -- putting it charitably -- not closely related to the printed Chinese lettering. Neither are the numbers we -- and they -- use.

All of which is a tiny slice of why languages are so infinitely interesting. And hard.

(An aside: I admire that the producers of this Chinese re-take got speakers who really sound like they match the characters. Especially President Schwartzenegger. The guy sounds like I would expect a President Schwartenegger to sound. If he could legally be president. Schwartzenegger, of course, faces the same legal barrier to becoming president that John McCain faces: the Constitution, Article 2, Section 1).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Rain and the drought

North Carolina remains in the midst of a long (over 2 years now) and tedious drought. Tonight there's a bit of rain falling. It's easy to forget that -- from a natural standpoint -- all that stands between humanity and starvation is a thin layer of soil, and the fact that it rains. And when we forget that, we forget to be thankful, and bless God for the gifts He gives us: food, and rain. As we pray for God to bring more rain, we can thank Him for what we have, and pray for those around our world in far worse conditions than our own.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

'Amazon' by Mark London and Brian Kelly: a review on Amazon

"We hear "Amazon" and think of a broad, forested (jungled?) river basin. (OK, so some of us think of a certain on-line bookseller. But I digress).

But the Amazon is so much more than a fabled river area, and this book is the adventure story of 2 guys who -- some 25 years ago -- adventured throughout the Amazon river basin and lived to tell about it. Hear them describe the animals (some folks told them with a straight face that there were 200 feet long snakes and who am I to argue with them?), the people -- natives, immigrants, cowboys, prostitutes, among many others, and river. Like the Mississippi in Huckleberry Finn, the river is a metaphor for life and a lot more and this is a good and well-told story."

Presidential candidates and pay grades

Whatever side you come down on, abortion is one of the premier issues of our time. It has been for the last 40 years. Taking the issue seriously is a prerequisite for taking a candidate seriously. Barack Obama stumbles seriously in this interview. Saying that the question of when human life begins is "above his pay grade" is either a serious mis-step or trivializing. However, Obama's answer is more nuanced than some have made him sound. This is the full answer he gave.

Stop apologizing: It's not always wrong to be a "single-issue" advocate

Joel Belz on the wider implications of "single issue voting."

"It's become an increasingly frequent reminder to us evangelical Christians not to let our cultural identity be framed by 'single issues.'"

World magazine is a bi-weekly magazine of news and analysis, written from a conservative Reformed angle. It's a well-done, thoughtful publication.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Beauty and theology

The purpose of theology isn't to be pretty. Which isn't to say that theology shouldn't be pretty, or worse, that it should be ugly.

I get cranked with those on both sides. We have the ones who will do virtually anything in the Mass if it's "beautiful": no matter how unorthodox or bad the teaching.

Others seem to revel in a sort of semi-puritan ugliness: ugly buildings, ugly music, ugly liturgies, and bare, naked walls.

I use the Authorized Version of the Bible, the KJV. It's usually quite beautiful, even though that's not the reason I use it. But the translation was written for public reading, unlike many of the junkier translations being pumped out by publishers, and it shows in the majesty of the renditions.

The book of Job is a good example of beautiful language in the midst of one of the most compelling stories in the scripture. The end of Job's speech in 3.28 is a good example:

"I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came."

Likewise, Psalm 101:

"I will sing of mercy and judgment: unto thee, O LORD, will I sing.

2 I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way. O when wilt thou come unto me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.

3 I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.

4 A froward heart shall depart from me: I will not know a wicked person.

5 Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off: him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer.

6 Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me: he that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me.

7 He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house: he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight.

8 I will early destroy all the wicked of the land; that I may cut off all wicked doers from the city of the LORD."

If you haven't used a KJV in a while, give it another shot. There are many reasons for using this translation. The beauty of the language isn't sufficient, but the beauty is still compelling to me.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Did WTC 7 fall or not?

3 buildings fell in New York on 9/11. Everyone knows about the 2 -- WTC 1 & 2. Most of us don't remember the 3rd.

It was WTC 7. WTC 7 was a block away from the other buildings, it was unconnected to 1 & 2, it was not hit during the morning's events, and suffered no damage from them. But it fell.

It fell in the same straight-down, demolition-style fall as the other 2 buildings.

And here, a United States senator denies that it fell.

Monday, August 18, 2008

At JFK Airport, Denying Basic Rights Is Just Another Day at the Office

"I was recently stopped by Homeland Security as I was returning from a trip to Syria. What I saw in the hours that followed shocked and disturbed me."

China confiscates Bibles from American Christians

BEIJING - Chinese customs officials confiscated more than 300 Bibles on Sunday from four American Christians who arrived in a southwestern city with plans to distribute them, the group's leader said. More ...

"In the 21st century, nations don't invade other nations": McCain on Russia and Georgia

This would be funny, were the consequences of his lies not so horrible. The US has -- so far -- invaded 2 countries without provocation or cause in the 21st century. 1.25 million dead Iraqis. 4 million Iraqis displaced from their homes. Iraq in ruins because of the US invasion and occupation. John McCain continues to support this war against the nation of Iraq, and vows a 100 year occupation "if it's needed." And functionaries in the current US administration shill for a likewise unprovoked, baseless nuclear attack on Iran. And yet this man who wants to be president claims that this is something nations shouldn't do. This is embarrassing.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Obama Kids

As usual, linguist John McWhorter's commentary is good. Here, he speaks about how children will change America under an Obama administration.

The limits of orthodoxy

The Creed provides a "skin" for the church.

A skin's a boundary that we live in. So the Creed.

The Creed both widens and narrows the limits of what we can believe. Most of us are wanting to narrow definitions, and limit the true faith to those who believe and teach as we do.

For example, I'm a 6 day creationist. I think this is pretty plainly taught by the Scriptures, both in Genesis and throughout the Old and New Testaments.

However, I can't say that someone who disagrees with me is not a Christian. The Creed is plain: "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth." As long as someone acknowledges that God is the creator, they are in the "skin" of orthodoxy. I might think they are wrong on details. And I can argue with them. What I can't say -- by the Church's definition in the Creed -- is that they are a heretic.

There are a number of things left somewhat open -- and thus "broadening" -- within the Creed: details on the inter-relations between the members of the holy Trinity, details of the creation, the nature of Christ's becoming man, the length and extent of punishment for sin, and the nature of the after-life, among others.

Others are narrowing. I think especially about our acknowledging of "one Baptism for the remission of sins." I think -- given that clause -- it's important to point this out to some of our brethren who "re-baptize" Christians who were baptized as children. Following St. Paul ("one Lord, one faith, one Baptism," Ephesians 4.5), the Creed forces us to acknowledge Trinitarian Baptisms, even when we're not comfortable with the circumstances or timing of the Baptism.

Without our skin, we would die. And without the "skin" of the Creed, the church dies.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

More about Obama and abortion

I hope this is real. However, given Obama's history of hiding his true positions on abortion and other life issues, voters should beware. Politicians lie. Always.

Another good column here on Obama from Pat Buchanan. I don't always agree with Buchanan, but on life issues, we march together.

" If you don't know the Puritans, you don't understand America": a review of Gary North's 'Puritan Economic Experiments' on Amazon

"I don't think my title is extreme. If we don't know and understand the Puritans (not the "Pilgrims" -- though frequently confused, they were 2 separate and distinct groups), much of what has happened in the last 300 years in American history won't make sense.

Gary North is a self-described neo-Puritan, and a Ph.D. in economic history. Both of these facts make him a good one to analyze Puritan life and thought, since he's sympathetic with their religious views (arguably the most important driving force in their culture) he gives a good and concise summary of various experiments in economics that the Puritans made, and how those experiments worked or didn't.

By economics, North means -- following Ludwig von Mises -- the actions people take with scarce resources. Economics thus understood covers a vastly larger area of life than most of us initially think.

Economics can be a fascinating read, given the right author. North is such a man. One doesn't have to agree with him always -- I don't -- to appreciate his insightful and precise analysis."

(Gary North is many things, but he is not a stupid man. He likely knew that the title of this book would not attract many readers. He also probably knew he wasn't going to get rich from it. So, preferring to get readers even if he couldn't get their money, the book is available online here).

"Let's make it a dance": the Montgomery mini-mall TV ad

In case you've been in a cave for the last few years, and haven't seen the Montgomery Mini-Mall TV ad, here it is. A classic.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The presidential candidates and abortion

I've been hard on John McCain with regard to abortion. Somebody needs to be. Because John McCain is fundamentally a pro-abortion candidate who's acting pro-life for the time being in order to fool pro-life voters.

But it's worth remembering that Barack Obama is no friend of life either. This article documents the subterfuge used by Obama in order to make pro-lifers imagine that he might be someone they could work with.

When Obama began to pull ahead earlier this year, I had hopes that he might prove to be a more open, less strident Democrat on the abortion issue. What we've seen in hypocrisy and deception.

The public's seeing it, too: there's a feeling that a public that at one point had hopes that Obama might open up the stench that's held Washington for almost 8 years. We are beginning to see that those hopes were false. Obama is -- like McCain -- just another typical Washington politician.

The problems with Esther

There are many problems (OK, call them "issues") with the book of Esther.

The biggie? God is never mentioned in the book.

But I wonder if Esther 8.17 is a clue to the meaning and purpose of the book. (I'm uncomfortable with those who make blanket judgements against this -- or other -- books that have traditionally been considered canonical. I generally go with the idea that it's safer not to mess with the traditions of the church, and this is one of those areas where antiquity gets the deciding vote).

But here's 8.17: "And in every province, and in every city, whithersoever the king's commandment and his decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a good day. And many of the people of the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews fell upon them."

Is Esther -- like Jonah -- ultimately a book about evangelism?

'Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible,' by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: an Amazon review

"This is one of those good books that actually treat the Psalms for what they are: prayers. Many introductions and commentaries neglect this, treating the Psalms as though they were history, instruction or whatever. While history, instruction and a lot else is in the Psalms, their primary purpose is that we may pray after God, speaking His words back to Him.

The best introduction to the Psalms is probably to begin praying them, perhaps with the help of a good prayer book. But if someone's really green, this book will provide an understanding of the different types of Psalms, different human authors within the Psalmnody, and an overview of some of the difficulties we perceive within the Psalms.

My big complaint with the book is Bonhoeffer's occasional over-emphasis on his perceived need to pray (using the Psalms in this case) against an also-perceived wrath of God. This reflects an unfortunate -- in my opinion -- emphasis, one likely stemming from his Lutheran background. But it's a relatively minor issue with the book.

This book is a quick (it could easily be finished in an hour), easy read. The book's also divided into sections which could be used as subjects for daily meditation or for a series of classes."

'Medieval Feudalism,' by Carl Stephenson: an Amazon review

"Although this book is slightly dated (written over 60 years ago) I still found it to be a good, concise, and well-written overview of medieval feudalism.

Stephenson covers such areas as social arrangements, familial, tribal, and civic relationships, titles of honor and authority, and age-marking ceremonies.

Most of us are foggy on the details of how people lived in medieval Europe during the feudal era. This book is a quick read (I finished it easily in 2 days), and helps to flesh out the on-the-ground history of an era that has done much to shape our current history."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Is this repulsive or what?

When we got off the ferry from Ellis Island last Thursday after my daughter got engaged, there were guys there with pythons, charging a buck or 2 to get photographed with them. One of the snakes happened to be yellow. Just like the snake in this video. There is a reason most humans are afraid of snakes. Watch this, and understand why:

Monday, August 11, 2008

Where I've been

OK, so I couldn't alert anyone to where I was going, or even that I'd be gone. It was a family surprise.

You see, my daughter Katie got engaged last Thursday. She and Dustin have been close for some 7 years -- they met when they were 15 -- and they've been planning the wedding, so she knew the formal engagement was coming.

She just didn't know when.

My wife and our 3 youngest went to New York last week to visit my wife's family. And on Wednesday night, Dustin and I flew to NYC.

We stayed with Amy's parents. Amy had told our girls about a doctor's visit her dad had, and Dustin and Amy and I stayed over Wednesday night there. The girls stayed with their aunt.

Dustin and I took the subway in. (Got lost, too, but that's another story). We were to take the 10 a.m. ferry, and Amy and their aunt and the girls were taking the 11 a.m.

The ferry because Dustin proposed on Ellis Island, in the great hall where Amy's grandparents came through when they immigrated from Italy some 100 years ago.

My daughter Alex texted us as to their whereabouts, and when Katie came to the top of the stairs, I announced to the crowd, "Ladies and gentlemen, please pay attention. Dustin Miller has a proposal to make!"

And he did. On bended knee and everything. So where Amy's family came to America a hundred years ago, now a new family -- that of Dustin Miller and Katie Huffman -- officially begins.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Losing a dissertation

My daughter spoke of an acquaintance who had written a thesis. To protect it, she had saved it:

1. in a printed form, which was placed in a zip-loc bag, and stored in the freezer, the place considered safest in a house in the event of a fire, and

2. on a disc, and

3. on a flash drive, and

4. on her university mail server, and

5. finally, on a free email account (Yahoo, or something like that).

Someone who has never written doesn't get this. It seems neurotic. To those who have written an extended paper, a thesis, a book, or whatever, it sounds perfectly normal.

At least we have the abilities to save them in diverse locations. Here's a man who was not (in the late 1940s) able to do so. From Donald Keene's book On Familiar Terms, pages 106-107:

"During the winter vacation in 1948 my rooms in college were to be used by students taking examinations, and I decided to go to Rome, where I knew some people from the ship that had taken me to Europe. I had completed writing my doctoral dissertation, The Battles of Coxinga, while in Cambridge, and I decided to type it in Rome. I went first to Paris, then took an overnight train to Milan. The compartment was stuffy, and I thought I would take advantage of the wait in Milan to get some fresh air. I asked another passenger in the compartment if he would look after my suitcase and typewriter, and I then walked up and down the platform briskly for perhaps five minutes. When I returned to the compartment, there was no man and no suitcase. At first I couldn't believe it. I thought that it must be a nightmare from which I would presently awake. I went to the police, and in my poor Italian explained what had happened. I urged them to look for the man, who must still be in the station, but they laughed at my guilelessness and insisted that I complete a form. Name of father. Name of mother. Names of grandparents. Profession of father. And so on. By this time I was almost hysterical, but there was absolutely nothing I could do. I never saw the manuscript of my dissertation again. I returned to Cambridge with nothing but the few clothes I had bought in Italy."

Such a story is almost unbelievable now but we should remember that even photocopying abilities were extremely primitive then, and not available to most people. Most of us become irritated when we lose a paragraph by neglecting to hit "save." Losing an entire dissertation would be more than most of us could endure.

The case for ending our long national nightmare.

More against Crocs. Read and weep.

Coming over to the Dorc side

I am glad that I'm not the only one who thinks Crocs are ugly and uncomfortable. Here's a take on them:

Monday, August 04, 2008

Wealthy Begin Feeling The Pain In Down Economy

Less Money Allocated For Luxury Goods, Investments And Credit Cards Are Signs That Rich, Too, Getting Squeezed

Baghdad, 5 years later

This is a sad and sobering series of videos.

Why theology books change your life

Or philosophy books. But the point I'm trying to make is that the books that really, really change our lives are ones that deal with ideas and thoughts and direction and focus. Not some of the insipid, "practical" books that most of us read more than anything else.

So here is a theology book that I recommend. Not unreservedly: I have serious issues with some of the methodology and conclusions Jeremias draws. But this is a book that has the capacity to change the way you look at some of the events, teachings, and background of the New Testament.

I disagree with the historical-critical method that Jeremias uses. The reality is that the HCM is almost like a background computer program running behind much of what he says. He assumes the truth of the HCM, and doesn't seem to question it.

Which should come as no surprise for a mainstream New Testament theology book first printed -- in English -- in 1971. The HCM has become something of a rotting carcass in religious studies, but it remains around, and will for a while.

I also disagree with some of Jeremias' work which seeks to posit what would have been the spoken Aramaic which he believes underlies certain New Testament texts. After all, we have a Greek text, but we have no original Hebrew (or Aramaic) texts. (Despite the fact that Origen, Eusebius, Irenaeus and others speak of the gospel of Matthew as having been written in Hebrew, the texts are lost).

So obviously I disagree with huge portions of this book. But I walk away from it with a renewed appreciation for the meaning and depth of God as Father in Jesus' teachings, for the complexity of the post-Easter appearances of Jesus to His disciples, the uniqueness of Jesus' manner of speaking, and the eschatological nature of Jesus' teachings and ministry.

This book is out of print. I hope someone rescues it from the oblivion to which it has fallen. But in the meantime, find a used copy, and enjoy. For that matter, everything I've read by Jeremias is worthwhile.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Don't Talk to Cops, Part 2

So yesterday we heard the lawyer's perspective on why you shouldn't talk to cops. Here's the cop's perspective"

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Never talk to cops

Most of you are probably like me. Fairly nerdy, relatively law-abiding, never murdered anybody, etc. So you imagine it's OK to talk when a cop asks you questions.


Here's why.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Hiroshima and the 9/11 events

This is one of the most disturbing videos I've seen recently about the events of 9/11. I've thought a great deal about various aspects of things that happened that day, but this crucial comparison is one I had not connected: