Friday, December 31

Going on Record: 2005

What the heck, I'll jump in with the rest of the crowd and put my reputation "on the line" and try to predict what trends are going to be seen for 2005. Well, first off I'll admit to no expertise in this area, and that a lifetime of marching to a somewhat different beat has not given me any great ability to predict the movements of the rest of humanity.

Let's start with the obvious:
  • The MSM and Democrats will continue picking nits wherever they can, raising baseless and innumerate claims to try to discredit the White House
  • Several sports celebrities will be caught using drugs (performance enhancing or just illegal).
  • We just had a Mom acting as surrogate mother for her granddaughter. Ethical challenges (oddities) presented by the medical community will give us new "wonders" to behold.
  • The left/right split in this country will remain annoying and get more pronounced. Few, if any, will put any effort into understanding the issue preferring to rub salt/worry the wound compounding the problem.

And then I'll go out on a limb:
  • Al Qaeda and the insurgency will dwindle and fail in Iraq. By the end of the year, Iraq will be a different place than today, quiet and optimistic. With few exceptions the MSM and our "loyal opposition" will never say they were wrong, but just dive in on some other "burning issue" and never admit to their mistaken view of the situation.
  • The Iranian mullah's will take a tumble or at least be required to re-trench.
  • Bush will push his SS reform through, but the compromises required will hamstring it so it will be as bad or worse than doing nothing. This hamstringing will be thought by the "loyal opposition" as a moral victory. The idea that bad national policy is not good for anyone will not occur to them.

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Thursday, December 30

An Odd Impression

I'm not a priest and I don't wear a collar, so I've been pretty insulated from the impressions of the public of Christianity. Yesterday in the Native American Heritage Museum there was an exhibit on the Christian influence on the Native American culture (apparently 80% of today's Native American's are Christian). In the display was a crucifix. I overheard a mom explaining to her kid what that was!?

Now, that would not be unusual if the kid wasn't about 12-14 years old. You'd think a kid would have to grow up with his head in the sand in America to not know what a crucifix represented. But perhaps other reason he didn't know what a crucifix represented was that his mother had shielded him. Because while I can't remember her unflattering choice of words she chose to use in describing Christianity I clearly recall the venom in her tone as she related the "message of the cross" to her kid.

Anyhow, I knew that many blue staters didn't think well of Christians, but I wasn't aware that many of them hated us. I would hope it is backlash from a bitter election, but I fear that is more likely not the case.

I guess the real message is that we Christians must do better to spread our message of love, and occasionally use words.

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Wednesday, December 29

Quick Post Tonight

Well, again it's another busy vacation day. My hope is that blogging and (blog viewing) is light all over and things will get back into swing next week. Anyhow, if you want to hear a few comments about my day, click the "more" link, otherwise, I'll try to write something more substantial tomorrow.
  • Trains worked like they're supposed to today.
  • We first visited the new Native American Heritage Museum. I don't know if it was negative influence of following a 8 year old around, or the oppressive (large) crowds, but I was not impressed. I'll write about that more in the next day or so.
  • The Air and Space Museum was a hit with the kids. Big planes, rockets, lunar rocks, and all that work just as well as dinosaurs on the kid in all of us (even little girls).
  • Tomorrow I get my big museum prize. We're going to the new air and space museum and seeing a real live blackbird!! (That would be the SR-71 for those less geeky than myself). I really do hope my girls like it half as much as I will.
  • Leg 3 of our 4 leg trip is tomorrow. We hoof it off to the Pittsburg area to visit with an old college chum.

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Alternatives to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit

Recently, in a series of essays, I've come to the conclusion that one cannot independently discuss right and responsibility. This comes from the assumption that any responsibility given, infers the partner (dual) rights required to carry out that responsibility. That is to say, a "Catch 22" situation is not playing fair. One cannot be required to shoulder responsibilities without the rights and freedoms required in order to carry them out. For example, you cannot make your child responsible for cutting the grass, without giving him the freedom (right) to go outside or use the mower.

Our government is founded upon the principle that all men have certain unalienable rights. Namely we have the right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Now they settled on our form of republican government because they thought that other forms so far enjoined by states had restricted those rights in ways they found avoidable.

But, I am a Christian. As an unapologetic Christian, I don't have to take as my starting point the purely Deistic rights of life, liberty, et al, but should use scripture as my starting point. The Torah defines the Law. I haven't grokked what St. Paul says when he means the "Law" as applies to Christians, so I'll just go with the basics for now and just drop the purity stuff for now. I reserve (of course) the right to revisit this after I've come to a more complete understanding of St. Paul's concepts of law and his (and the gospels) ethics.

The Torah hands down a set of responsibilities, not rights. I have the responsibility to raise my family (in a manner respectful of the Torah and to keep us safe). I also have the responsibility to obey the 10 commandment and to love my neighbor. St. Paul hands us other dicta as we pass on to the New Testament, but I'm going to follow his lead and keep them separate from the state for the nonce. So, the program is now in place. We first follow my strategy and convert those responsibilities to rights (by assuming I have the rights required to shoulder those responsibilities) and then see if I can see clear to a government that would ensure those rights.

Now before I get started on this project (which will get underway in the next essay) I'd like to make a few more comments about what I'm trying to do here. These conjectures on Christian thinking about government were spurred on by reading various comments from people who feared that the religious right were trying to foment a theocracy in this country. Now, while I thought that claim to be largely laughable, it occurred to me I had no idea what sort of government a "theocracy" mean for a Christian. David Koyzis (web site here) has written a book (Political Visions and Illusions) which had skimmed a few months ago. I apologize if I misquote, I'm on the road, and I'm talking about this from memory. But anyhow in that book, he mentions some of the ideals of Christian government which were proposed centuries ago in the lowlands. Now, these ideals of Christian government were not democratic, based more on a top down model of authority (following the non-democratic authority of God). But it seems to me we dwell in a time when the Church has been shattered, where a dizzying array of faiths all more or less Christian are on offer. In that sort of environment, I see it difficult to propose from the start such a government.

In fact, as I'm starting this project, I have no idea where I'll end up. And to be honest, I think that's the right way to proceed. This time out, I'm starting with the premise that possibly the "right to life, et al" is not the correct starting point. After I've figured out what I find what fundamental rights are scripturally sound, then I can try to propose which form of government used in the past (or some new one) might best support those rights.

So, in the next essay in this series, we'll get right to work, establish our "God given" fundamental rights and then try figure out what sort of changes that would wreak on our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Update: Welcome Carnival readers. I have part 2 of this post up tonight (here) if you're so inclined.

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Tuesday, December 28

It's not done

I've got an essay I've been working off an on for almost a week during this vacation. I had a few more ideas for it, but I'm on the run a little bit here on vacation so I'm going to let it slip another day. I'll just offer a few quick pointers on how my day went, don't click more, if you don't want to read about that.

  • We got a late start. Nice breakfast here at the Courtyard in Rockville MD
  • We had astronomically bad luck on the Metro (trains) getting into to the Mall. Our first train had to stop twice, then back up because the train ahead of it had failed (and was stuck on the track).
  • Then the 2nd train we switched to, had engine control problems and we had to detrain
  • At that point, the trip had taken far longer than some of us anticipated, so we left the train and walked 1/2 mile away from the station in search of restrooms
  • Finally, back in motion, we got to the museums, not at 10-11am, but more like 12:45pm.
  • On today's museum menu: Natural History and American Heritage.
  • After a little time, we realized one parent per child worked a lot better (with schedule rendezvous times) than trying to keep the whole clan together.
  • We could spend more than a day in each museum, but since we only have 2 1/2 days, we're doing a little smash and grab, picking and choosing what we see.
  • Tomorrow, we hit the new Native American museum and Air and Space.

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Christian Carnival is up

Christian Carnival is up lickety split. A bang up job done by this week's host, Stacy Harp of MediaSoul.

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Into the Heart of Darkness (part 1)

During the last week, I had been visiting with my parents and my brothers family. Now, they are all died in the wool, knee jerk liberals. This is somewhat unlike my own political bent. I don't think I'll have time to finish this though this morning, being on a strict vacation schedule and all, but this will mark the start of a short series of posts on my amateur attempts at cultural anthropology as I try to delve into the workings of the average liberal mindset. We had only a few political discussions because they often become 'heated' which does not improve the holiday mood, but did have two or three. Some topics discussed included:
  • social security
  • the "Great Society" social programs
  • The debt
  • SUV's and oil consumption
  • Iraq
  • "Bush lied"
As I had indicated prior to Christmas, I'm going to embark on a program known as "critical realism" to try to understand the liberal and conservative mindsets. I'll start by examining some of the stories my parents espouse to support their beliefs.

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Monday, December 27

We Like to Say "It's Really Our Fault"

People commonly like to say that "it's the voters fault that our elected officials are so XXX", where XXX runs the gamut from cowardly, grasping, short-sighted, and so on. That is to say, it is the voters who are really to blame for the quality of our elected officials. This is, of course, just taking the easy way out. It seems to be a theme I'm running up against. A common thesis I've been touting these days (following the venerable John Adams) is that we should never complain about what "might have been", or "what is wrong" without also proposing how to make things better. So, what should we do to fix either the voters or the process to make it more likely that those elected are individuals in which we can take pride?

So we like to point out the failings of our elected officials? Heck, I do it just as much as the next guy. I'm on record on this blog blandly calling our esteemed senators 'that band of chuckleheads'. But it does no real good to complain if we don't also offer a way to improve matters. Now, as a matter of fact, I don't truly believe our elected officials are self-centered greedy cretins. It just seems that way sometimes. In fact, with probably very few exceptions, they are largely honest hard-working intelligent people. In fact, that honesty is what gets them in trouble so much of the time. It's just that they are honestly representing the people who got them elected and fulfilling the promises made (behind closed doors) which got them elected. On the down side many of them, almost certainly, have a superiority complex about their understanding of government, the issues, and "what is best" for the ignorant voters who got them elected.

So, how do we get the elected officials we want? Campaign finance reform was held out as the saving grace which would be the band aid. After all, then those honest officials wouldn't be making promises to special interest groups to get the dollars they needed to run the campaign. It didn't work. It won't work much for the same reason that Christians can't secularize Christmas anymore. Trillions of dollars are at stake. You can't stop a flood of money and the interests of that many people with a few good intentions.

Before you decide how to get the leaders we want, we should agree on what qualities we wish to improve in our leaders. I would contend that the biggest problem with our leaders today is that they are politicians, not statesmen. The deal, the edge, the party, the process, and the short term political gains all outweigh the long term big picture. Nobody cares about 10 years from now, much less two centuries. The great statesmen that penned our Constitution were forced to consider long term posterity, but nobody toady is required to think past the next election cycle. A politician who considers much past that only does so when dreaming (or planning) his own political goals.

So what would I propose, in order to get what we want? As a blogger, and therefore great mover and shaker of public opinion (hah!), I would contend that we not look too closely at the feet of clay our leaders might have. Let's face it, they do. We should support those in office who look to the long term and have shown the character necessary to buck the current of popular opinion. Cut the rest off at the knees, (uhm) I mean not support (or do excoriate) them.

Finally, the media (MSM and bloggers as well) could assist in this effort by resisting the stampede effect. Don't join a stampede on a topic unless you have some original insight to add. Consider if the topic is germane and worthy of attention. Perhaps reflect on how, re-reading that opinion piece 10 years down the road, what you write will support or detract from that high opinion you would like to have of your past self. If it's just a piece of partisan drivel, don't publish. Spare us, and your country, the trouble you'll be stirring. Seek out and encourage our proto-statesmen. Find those men of courage and tell us about them. Find our heroes, tell us about them, but please don't show us that their feet, too, are made of clay for we know that already.

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Traveling again

The second leg (of four) of our 2 weeks of traveling this holiday occurs today. We're leaving my parents house (New Jersey) around noon, and driving down to the DC area so the girls can spend some time at the Smithsonian museums for a few days. The hotel we're staying purports to have internet, so I should have a more reasonable post up tonight. This morning I don't have much time. However I would note that:

  • Joe Carter (Evangelical Outpost) has a thoughtful ID post.
  • Jeremy Pierce (Parableman) has the lowdown on the next Christian Carnival.
  • Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) has many links tracking the tsunami

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Sunday, December 26

Prayer Needed as Well

One the other side of the globe, disaster strikes. Remember the dead, missing, and those suffering in the wake of the Sri Lankan tsunami in your prayers today and this week. Look for updates at the usual blogs.

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Help Wanted: Prophets

There is a popular misunderstanding about the role of the prophet in society. People often think that the job of a prophet was to predict the future, far or near. However, this was not the chief role of the prophet.

A prophet was an independent individual who was a critic of current events. A prophet campaigned for social and cultural reform. He explained how God was working his will in the world and what might come to pass (especially in the near term) if God's message was not heeded.

Bloggers can be viewed as today's secular prophets. For they do indeed provide instant, insistent, and vibrant commentary, complaints and explanations for current events and those in the political arena. Many campaign against injustice and political and cultural reform. Christian bloggers (myself included) by and large do not connect our political commentary with our theological musings in the larger sense. That is to say, we may comment on the theological implications of our support (or lack of it) for policy but we don't comment on current events as evidence of God's hand in the world. This, by and large, is part of our Enlightenment heritage, which provides clearer separation of the religious from the secular than might be wise. We don't interpret actions in the world as motivated by, or requiring interpretation of, the will of the Lord in the world. Of course, one of the main obstacles for today's prophet is the Enlightenment-influenced audience which will greet with much skepticism any explanation of the Lord's will for historical or natural events. Telling Floridians that three hurricanes struck their coast because we are all sinners and straying from the path God has set for us will perhaps rightfully be ignored.

But we have a lot of large-scale events which beg for interpretation in the prophetic manner. We have
  • The Reformation and the shattering of the Church
  • The Industrial and Information Age revolutions
  • Two World Wars
  • The Holocaust and other instances of genocide
  • 9/11 and the current conflict with Islam
  • The four elections of this season, Afghan, US, Ukraine, and (coming up) in Iraq.
  • The failure of Marxism
What part do these events (and others not mentioned) play in the fulfillment of the new covenant? How do they fit into God's plan for our world? What is needed is a prophet to come out and tell us all what this means.

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Friday, December 24

To All: Joy to the World

and Merry Christmas.

For those who read this and do not believe, may peace and joy find your hearts in this holiday season.

For the rest I have the following:
And Mary said:
My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me; holy is his name.

His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.

Down the corridor of about 2000 years we remember the birth of one who changed the world foevermore.

Amen and Alleluia.

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2004: The Year in Review

At the end of the year, it there seems to be a tidal pull on the pen, to both reflect on the year gone by and what might come in the upcoming year. Well, I can no longer resist. So, brace yourselves, for my unstructured thoughts on the year that was 2004.

2004 was certainly in large measure framed by the election. We started the year with a wild and woolly Democratic primary from which Mr Kerry emerged to assume the mantle of his party. Mr Bush was perceived to be vulnerable due to the ongoing war in Iraq. But that was without figuring on the incompetence of Mr Kerry in running a campaign. Through a series of bad strategic decisions (for example a man with a dishonorable discharge framing himself as a Vietnam war hero) and penchant for micromanagment, Mr Kerry managed to turn a winnable horse race, into a dismal failure. While the winners claim "mandate" as they always do, the real outcome of the race is the discovery that the cultural divisions hinted at in former elections are getting more and more pronounced. From my side of the cultural divide, I have difficulty in envisioning the reasoning (and stories) which drive those on the other side. It is my impression that the same failure to understand me occurs for those on the other side.

The two biggest losers, aside from the obvious candidate(s), were the MSM and campaign finance reform. The MSM has been under attack from alternative news sources and analysis for some time. Big blogs like Powerline and company as individuals have the readership and influence to rival many small papers. Collectively their influence by no means neglible and growing. The McCain/Feingold finance "reform" package, while arguably unconstitutional, certainly also proved to be completely unable to effect it's goals. Whether the knuckleheads in DC will act to change things again, we shall have to wait and see.

As for the war in Iraq, it is really hard to know what is happening. With the MSM firmly placing their hopes and dreams on the failure of the coalition to establish democracy in Iraq, it is hard to pierce the fog of their ideological dreams to find any hard strategic facts. Even though, as I claimed above, the MSM is on the wane those replacing them in fact do not have thousands of reporters scraping the planet for news. In fact it seems to me, the strategic picture is not being reported at all. But that may of course not be entirely the fault of the MSM. The strategic situation is indeed muddy because of the nature of the current situation, i.e., it's muddy because it's really muddy. Unlike in WWII there are no clear cut standing armies in the field with anything like defined areas of control. The insurgency is a weak, weakly organized group using guerrilla tactics. The former regime has left Iraq a playground of munitions and explosive supplies, so none in Iraq lack for the means to wage war.

Afghanistan, unlike Iraq, has been coming along more smoothly. Elections have been held, and their leader has been remarkably adept at bringing militant tribesmen to the table, to disarm, and join in building their nation.

Other items of note, the X-Prize was won by Mr Rutan and Spaceship one. That was really cool.

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Thursday, December 23

Thinking Ahead: Energy (part 2)

In my last post on our future, which dealt with energy and specifically oil production and demand, I had failed to express a positive outlook for our future. In fact, I am not alone in this failing. It does far less good to dwell on what might transpire than to concentrate on a vision of what we might desire for the future. Thereby, fixing that vision as a goal, we might actually come to a place we want to be as opposed to a place we dread. In fact, by concentrating our collective will on what we dread, it is more likely to come to pass if we don't hold an alternative vision in mind. Admittedly this is a common theme of mine, for I hate to knock down and criticize without proposing constructive ideas.

So what do we have to work with? Well, oil and petro-chemicals will be scarcer and more expensive. Unless we go "overboard" with nuclear fission, overall power consumption will be lower. It is true that fertilizers owe much to petro-chemicals, but my bet would be that our biological expertise will be able to fill much of that gap in the coming decades. Petro-chemical based packing materials (!) will be a thing of the past of course, and cheap disposable plastic gadgets will be a thing of the past. Perhaps, in general, our disposable culture may be replaced by one which grinds through less crap. One in which the bottles and containers we buy to throw away are replaced by ones which are refilled and re-used.

Can we make a positive vision of a future in which personal travel and many of our durable goods are more expensive? I don't think that's too hard. In a world where commuting 30-90 minutes is not affordable we must instead live closer to our place of employment. In such a world we have to purchase goods with an eye to using it for decades instead of hours or days. Without the disposable buy, use, and toss cycle driving our economy, without that pump driving our economy on a hi-octane growth cycle, lo we might discover to our surprise that stability is not a bad thing. Alas, I can picture in my minds eye what life might be like, without the automobile and cheap airfare, without a flood of cheap southeast Asian goods which last 6 months at best. That future isn't all dark. But I don't have the writing skills to paint that vision. It's different, but perhaps we need real writers, our novelists and futurists, painting visions of a low energy future that isn't a distopian hell. A future vision that is interesting but doesn't include the same levels of power consumption we now enjoy.

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A Look at the Modern Political Landscape

Critical Realism is a historical methodology for examining a culture in a specific way in order to understand a people and their worldview. This methodology had been introduced to me in a book I mentioned in an earlier post that I was reading N.T. Wright's New Testament and the People of God (which I have subsequently finished). At any rate, I mused about how this methodology might be applied to the modern political landscape. After all, it has been apparent to me at the least that the right and left sides of the political aisle have difficulty in discourse. Both sides I think fail to understand the other at a fundamental level. The easiest recourse, often taken, is to dismiss the other side as uninformed, stupid, or evil. This I firmly believe is a wrong conclusion.

Critical Realism is not just a fancy name. It has a definite methodology. Quoting Mr Wright (from the next book in the series Jesus and the Victory of God page 138)
Worldviews are the lenses through which a society looks at the world, the grid upon which are plotted the multiple experiences of life. Worldviews may be studied in terms of four features: characteristic stories; fundamental symbols; habitual praxis; and a set of questions and answers (who are we? where are we? what's wrong? what's the solution? and what time is it?) These features interact with each other in a variety of complex and interesting ways.
He defines a mindset as the worldview held by an individual.

It is clear that at simple level of story, right and left have immediate differences. On the War on Terror, simple economic ideals, affirmative action, and abortion the right and left tell different stories to themselves to explain the situation and how and why the world is like it is.

My quick google (and google scholar) search on "critical realism modern America" turned up nothing interesting. So perhaps the scholars practicing this method aren't particularly interested in modern politics. But "be that as it may", I'm going to take the old "college try" at implementing this method (admittedly dimly understood from the one example) and apply it to the "right" and "left" of today to see if it can shed some light on understanding why, for example, those lefties keep saying the darndest things. :)

Tomorrow, I'll start on the stories told by right and left, followed by symbol, praxis and question.

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Wednesday, December 22

Thinking Ahead: Energy

A frequent commenter, who goes by the nom de plume Dark Syd, has penned a lyrical pessimistic ode about the long predicted oil crash (here). Oil consumption has been on the rise for as many decades as we dare count, the third world is trying their own industrial revolution on for size, and new reserves are not forthcoming. Cheap oil will run out. Fossil fuels probably will not, but shale oil, natural gas, and coal reserves, while vast, are much harder to utilize than "sweet crude". I don't have a single point to make on this issue, but I will take the opportunity to put a few thoughts on "paper".
  • I think it highly likely that when the demand and supply curves cross in the near term (the next decade), the market correction will be severe. Unlike Mr Dark's prediction, I don't see a complete collapse of the American economy and then the dawn of a new dark age as the outcome. I still have faith in our institutions and practices.
  • This crossover of the long term supply and demand curve has been predicted since the '70's. The most recent predictions I saw were for 2007. If I were a betting man, I'd figure that is too soon, but that it will certainly happen by 2020.
  • Making the problem worse, of course, is the current GOP and Democratic party positions in this country. The GOP "party-line" right now, is that the reserves are nothing to worry about for decades to come. The Democratic party line is similar, with the compounding problem that they have the Green movement in their fold which holds that nuclear fission is worse than death. Nuclear fission could indeed hold a major part of the answer, except that the lessons learned from the '70's need to be learned by our politicians. Namely, we need to learn:
    • Economies of scale aren't. Small facilities which can be gotten up and running in a year or 18 months are far better than a mega-facility that takes a decade or more to get on line.
    • Water or heavy water is not the coolant of choice. Water cooled reactors were initially used because those reactors were modeled on those developed by the nuclear submarine push in the late '50's. We've come a long way in reactor design since then. But the environmentalist whackos have enough political clout that nobody will listen yet. Intrinsically safe reactors have been developed. An intrinsically safe reactor is one where if you pull the control rods out and stop the coolant flow it shuts down.
    • Also, with high-level waste disposal and storage. Solutions exist, but the political climate is such that people are not ready to listen.
  • Fission, of course, will become more attractive as oil prices skyrocket. The interim may be interesting times.
  • What is needed are more leaders like Mr Bush. Say what you will about him, but he doesn't lack political courage (unlike his recent political opponent, Mr Kerry). The move to attack Iraq was, in his opinion, the right thing to do. I would claim that attacking Iraq was in nobody's estimation the politically smart or safe move (not even his). We almost never see a politician doing something which he thinks is the right thing to do while thinking it is also politically unsound. My personal view is that those on the right of the aisle are more likely to act on principle than political pragmatism, but those individuals are rare. But again, perhaps I only view those on the left as always acting for their personal political gain, and never on principle, because I don't understand their principles very well.

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Cycling 101: The Time Trial

Cycling is a fringe sport in the States. It's also my sport, and as spring rolls around, and I'm racing two or three times a week, I'll be blogging about it more often. In the winter, I thought I'd write a few background posts for those gentle readers who might want to more about the ins-and-outs of racing bicycles. Today, I'm going to talk about the race of truth, the time trial.In an individual time trial, riders start at 30 second to 2 minute intervals. If a rider is passed, the passing rider is required to pass wide of the other rider and both riders must avoid any drafting. Drafting, if you recall from my earlier posts can reduce power expenditure at a given speed up to 30% over not drafting. Since there is no drafting, therefore no tactics, the race is just man and machine against the course and the wind, the time trial is often called, "the race of truth". Regionally, time trials are often done on the same course as previous years (or earlier in the season). Many time trialists race their last time on that course as much as the other riders.

Time trial bikes are specialized beasts because in a time trial, aerodynamics rule. There is no drafting, and no pack, just the wind. Aerodynamic drag scales with the square of the speed. So a small increase in speed, means a larger increase in drag. Mechanically, bikes are incredibly efficient. It's the wind that slows them down. A time trial bike looks something like this: . Mine is quite similar. Time trial riders wear aerodynamic helmets, skin suits, and ride those funky bikes to get down low and be as aerodynamic as possible. The first few times riding on aero-handlebars you feel like a weeble, wobbling but (hopefully) not falling down. After just a few hundred miles of training, it becomes more of a second nature.

After that is done, what follows next? Well the name of the game is measured effort. You want to finish the race completely exhausted, every last ounce of energy spent on the course. But, if you go out too hard, you "blow up" and have to slow to recover (and never do recover quite as well). This loses time from the ideal case. Of course, if you finish having gone a little slower than your best effort, you didn't finish ideally. How is effort measured. Well, heart rate monitors (HRM) are common. These are chest strap transmitters and a little receiver/computer which acts as a portable EKG. With constant feedback on heart rate, a rider (in his training) learn where his threshold lies. By threshold, I mean that point in effort where you start burning more oxygen than you can take in. Above that threshold you are on borrowed time, that pace is not sustainable. Keep going that fast, and you will blow up. Getting more and more common these days are strain-gauge based power meters. These devices either installed in the crank, bottom bracket, or rear hub directly measure your pedaling force. This can be directly converted to power. Power output is believed to be a better measurement, which is also then used to find your threshold. Finally, besides the HRM and the powermeters, you learn by experience how to gauge your effort. What it feels like when you are riding right at the edge of your threshold.

Ultimately what this all comes down to, is being able to gauge your effort and then (always the kicker) going out and doing it. By that, you set yourself to putting out that effort and sustaining through the entire ride. After the first few minutes, concentration is crucial. If your mind wanders from the task of carefully monitoring that effort, trying to optimize your form and gearing, then you immediately slow down. I am always surprised at how quickly, the speed starts drifting down as soon as attention wanders. But with practice, like everything else the human animal attempts, improvement comes. There is a certain amount of, uhm, discomfort associated with pushing your body to its limits. But, in the heat of the race and the desire to keep your speed up, you don't concentrate on that, and mostly recall how painful it was after the ride is over.

I hadn't done time trials very much for a few years after I started mass start races (criterium's and road races) but last year, I got a great deal on a bike like the one pictured above. As a result, I entered in a half dozen time trials last year and am looking forward to them again this year. Time trials are a great way for the novice to get started. To measure your fitness and remember, in the end, in a time trial you are mostly racing against yourself and your previous performances.

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Tuesday, December 21

Hell Freezing Over, or Waiting for Real Education Reform

It seems to me, judging the vast political influence I wield since I am now a blogger, I will be waiting until certain diabolical regions freeze solid before my ideas for education reform are enacted. Those reforms were discussed here in detail, but in brief, I called for four things, a canon of texts read by all, freeing up the curriculum only require the canon of texts mentioned and sufficient skill in English and mathematics so as to survive in our modern world, and finally test and verify improvement and competence only in what I termed the "four pillars of education", which essentially boil down to skill in learning. So what is a parent to do? I know how to fix education, but am powerless to help my children with respect to their own education, without abandoning my craft and devoting my life to teaching them.

But I am not entirely powerless. The four pillars of education I have identified are:
  • Reason
  • Diligence
  • Memory
  • Perseverance
A person with these skills is a good learner. The better a person perfects these skills the better prepared for school and life he will be. A person who has improved in these areas, will learn better and faster. These skills can be encouraged by me out of school. I need not depend on the school system to provide them. I just have to devote some time and effort to a program which will improve those skills in myself, my sweet wife, and our children, after all, why leave the adults out? I think I smell a good New Years resolution.

More to come during the week on how I might accomplish this in the coming year.

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Secular Christmas

Christmas is upon us. This year, probably like so many others in the past years, the chattering classes (including the bloggers) have been pontificating on the increased secularization of Christmas. From corporations deciding on high to replace "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays" to avoid "offense". This is just one symptom among others. A few weeks ago, I entreated that the Christians should perhaps abandon the holiday to the secular crowd (here). Joe Carter (Evangelical Outpost) has likewise pondered the same issue with a similar result recently (here). Can we learn from the early church about how to proceed?

As I have mentioned recently, I've been reading N.T. Wright's series Christian Origins and The Question of God. In these books, we learn a great deal about the 1st century worldview. There are similarities in our situation (and differences).

In the early church, Christians were a small persecuted sect. Christmas itself of course was not an issue, but the secular pagan society had the "big stage", much like the secular atheist/deist sector of today's society has the stage. Christianity like then was made up of diverse groups with a plethora of small and large doctrinal differences. Granted, now in America we make up a larger fraction of the whole population, but our cultural impact is proportionally much smaller than our numerical numbers might warrant (the reasons for that might make another essay for a later time). The ACLU and other atheist groups have been campaigning to get rid of all Christian and Christmas symbols from the public square. In the early church, before Christians were bring killed en masse, they were banished from Rome (on grounds of atheism) for their secret and subversive practices.

What did those early Christians do? How might and random early Christian (say St. Paul) advise us to do today about this matter? Ok, Paul is not exactly a random choice, but we have some of his extant writing ;). Paul certainly did not shirk from evangelism. At the same time, he did not confront Caesar directly, although Mr Wright has argued persuasively (here) that he did confront him obliquely in Romans. He spread his ministry at a personal level. He confronted heresy among his brethren.

So here's my advice. If you're asked to say "Happy Holiday's", remove the religious messages from your workplace or community. Do it cheerfully. As Mr Carter suggests, when they want the Merry Christmas removed, take down the nativity scene as well. Pin an Ichthys (sans cross please) to your shirt and,
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

May grace and peace be with all. And Happy Holidays! :)

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Sunday, December 19

Monday's Blogging

I'll be unlikely to get any blogging done monday 12/20. The Pseudo-Polymath clan is driving from Illinois to New Jersey. We'll see how far we make it.

Oh, and happy birthday to me. I'm 43 today.

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They Might Call us Atheists

I've been reading N.T. Wright's The New Testament and the people of God and I've been learning a lot. For instance, last night, I realized that the reason the "blue staters" don't like or trust those Christians in flyoverland, is because see us as atheists. What do I mean by that you might inquire?

Well, here is what I have learned. In the first century, Alexander's Hellenistic empire had been superseded by the Roman one. The Hellenistic culture held Homer's poems the mainstay of their cultural canon and Plato's philosophy guided their thought. However the religious thought in the day was dominated by paganism. Many still worshipped the older Greco/Roman deities, although the intelligentsia were just giving them lip-service. Mithraism had taken hold in the military and nature cults (Isis and Attis) were also worshipped. The Romans also had taken to deifying past rulers and encouraging their worship. For all of these there were a lot of common elements, deification of symbol and commonality of worship methods. The intelligent pagan, seeing this (and with the ease of travel and communications in the (new) Roman rule) found they could assimilate and combine many of their pagan ideals and worship without offending each other or their gods. But, not so with the Jewish (and Christian) worshippers. When Pompey conquered Jerusalem, he was quite surprised to find the Holy of Holies in interior of the Temple, was bare of icon or idol. Their worship practice and beliefs were very different from the rest of the pagan world. In fact their practices and beliefs were so out of step with the rest of the world that they were regarded as atheists.

Today with the post-modernist and worship of diversity taking place in our modern world, Christians again are being set apart. In the 1st and 2nd century we were the "atheists" because we held ourselves apart from the pagan practices. In the eve of the 21st century again, by not validating the beliefs of the pagans, we again set ourselves apart from the deist forces in our midst calling us to validate other's strongly held beliefs, merely because they are strongly held. Just because someone believes strongly that man never went to the moon, doesn't make it a valid idea. So to with other religious beliefs. As a democratic member of a secular democracy, I don't persecute or try to "inflict" my beliefs on others. But that's as far as it goes.

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Saturday, December 18

On Rumsfeld and Socrates

People have been calling for Mr Rumsfeld's head. This list of things which he is accused of screwing up is staggering. I have not (and will not) join them for the following reason. I think that most of those who have called for his head, are either ignorant of the reason I posit, or have a partisan axe to grind.

Socrates was told by the Delphic oracle that he was the wisest man in Athens. He thought this odd, because in his own personal estimation he felt himself to be quite unwise on most matters. So he quested out, and bugged and harassed his neighbors seeking their wisdom. And lo, he found that people, while wise in matters relating to their specialty, had no special wisdom outside their sphere of expertise. In fact he found quite the reverse, they felt their expertise granted them wisdom outside their field, but in fact this confidence was an error in judgment on their part.

What does this have to do with Mr Rumsfeld. Well, none of his detractors I hold have any sort of expertise in the job Mr Rumsfeld is performing. But this does not give them any pause in putting their opinions in print, on the air, and out into the blogosphere. They claim that by merely judging his results they can decide if he was qualified.

People complain about the appropriations and supplies our soldiers in Iraq receive. Well, I can give you a ball of twine, some gum, paper, and a few sticks and direct you to build a spaceship. But I might be out of line, if I complain that you fail. Congress sets appropriations, not Mr Rumsfeld.

So to those complainers, I would ask, what are your qualifications for putting your complaints forward? Are you qualified and knowledgeable enough about Mr Rumsfeld's day to day work and decisions to make a decision? To these questions, I would submit that the answer virtually all of the cases is that the persons complaining are not qualified and not knowledgeable.

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On Solus Christus

Welcome to readers of joining The 2nd Carnival of the Reformation.

Thesis two: Solus Christus

We reaffirm that our salvation is accomplished by the mediatorial work of the historical Christ alone. His sinless life and substitutionary atonement alone are sufficient for our justification and reconciliation to the Father.

We deny that the gospel is preached if Christ's substitutionary work is not declared and faith in Christ and his work is not solicited.
I have to admit I have a problem with this, though not the problem you expect.The problem lies in coming up with any sort of argument against this that is reasonable enough to warrant much discussion.

I start by thinking, well, I could posit that my works are required to justify my reconciliation, after all, (James 2) tells us that faith without works is dead. Therefore might not my works be required? But that is faulty logic. Works are evidence of my faith. My faith in Christ is all that is required, St. Paul re-iterates this only a bazillion times, e.g., (Romans 3:22)This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jess Christ to all how believe.. So that doesn't work. Works are a symptom of faith. Faith is required. Lack of works may indicate weak faith, or just little means to produce works. Faith acquired on a deathbed will produce no works, but we believe is just as good as faith held from the cradle.

Well I think, how about, proposing (and then shooting down) that it wasn't Christ's death on a cross (substitutionary atonement) but some other act or property of Christ that "did the trick"? Well no, for let's face it, I don't even need to run to biblical exegesis for this. We say the creed in every church service. It states exactly that Christ died to atone for our sins. The creed is pretty much canon, and it beggars belief to find would think the creed does not have sound scriptural provenance.

So I'm stuck in the mud, on this post, because Solus Christus seems just too uncontroversial. There have undoubtedly been heresies in the past may have tried to chip away at Solus Christus, but that's why they're called heresies. Because they are wrong! So gentle reader, I'm sorry if I wasted your time reading this, but while you're here, look around, see if anything I've been writing about catches your fancy. :)

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More Thoughts on Christian Government

In some recent posts, Mr Pierce and I have been going back and forth on the relationship between rights and responsibilities (here, here, here, and here).

I have come to the realization that right and responsibility are dual concepts. What I mean by duality in this context, is an analogy to the mathematical term of the same name. In mathematics two "things" are dual if a transformation carries one to another. For a simple example, in the study of polyhedra, one transformation which can be performed on a polyhedra is the "exchange" of edges and vertices. For example, a cube has 6 faces and 8 vertices. A octohedra has 8 faces and 6 vertices. These two solids are dual, that is under this transformation converting faces to vertices (and vice versa), each transforms into the other. Just for completeness for all of the 5 Platonic solids, that is the tetrahedra, cube, octohedra, icosahedra, and dodecahedra, we find that the cube and octohedra are dual, the icosahedra and dodecahedra are dual and the tetrahedra is self-dual. It transforms into itself having 4 faces and 4 vertices.

I am making the claim, that right and responsibilities have a duality transformation in that if you a granted a right (or given a responsibility) that confers a corresponding responsibility (or right) on you. In general, given a responsibility for something, your must also have the rights required to shoulder that burden. For example, given the right of liberty, I have the responsibility to watch for (and resist) encroachment of my liberties. I cede some of my liberties to the community, and it gains the responsibility to protect them. As a property of this transformation I note, that it seems a more restrictive right corresponds to a less restrictive responsibility. For example, a (larger) responsibility to raise my children rightly, yields less rights or freedoms in how they may be raised. While the less restrictive responsibility of just giving my children three square meals and clothing, yields more rights in how I can raise those kids.

For us modern men, Hobbes initiated the concept of social contract (although Wikipedia indicates that Cicero posited such theory much earlier). In his theory, we cede rights to our government in turn for that government assuming protection of us. In my formulation, we are ceding both right and its paired responsibility to the community which in turn takes up those rights and responsibility upon itself.

What does this mean for Christian government? Well, God has given us many responsibilities, for family, community, and world (patriarchy, love of neighbor, and stewardship). With these responsibilities we have rights, God given and/or unalienable. It may be that many of these responsibilities should naturally be ceded to the government or community. This does not give us as individuals however an "out" with respect to our relationship with God. That is to say, we as Christian still have the duty to see that those responsibilities which we ceded to the community are not shirked. This is yet another reason that the "in but not of the world" tendencies in the Church should be resisted.

Update: In a comment, Mr Pierce raises an interesting point, which I want to clarify. He asks:
There's a further issue that I don't think you've answered. Do you think the reason we have rights is because of other peoples' responsibilities to us? Do you think the reason we have responsibilities is because other people have rights? If you say yes to both, then you haven't explained either. That's circular explanation.
Since I claim that rights can be mapped into responsibilities, (and vice versa) it makes sense to simplify the conversation by talking about only one of them. Thus to restate the question, do I think I have responsibilities because of other peoples responsibilities toward me? Or where is the origin of my responsiblity.

Here's how I see the origin of responsiblity. One man alone, has no responsibilities (or has a right to do anything). Think of him as a Rousseau's noble savage (a lone savage) or Adam or something similar. We enter into social contract with other people (family and community) assuming responsiblities for others and ceding parts of those assumed familial reponsibilities to the community.

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Friday, December 17

A little belated history

Let us not forget, 60 years ago:
Chicago Boyz: St. Vith, Malmedy: 60

On December 16, 1944 at 5:30 on a bitterly cold morning American troops in the Ardennes forest came under a massive artillery barrage, followed by swarms of German armored vehicles clattering out of the fog, and waves of infantry. the German offensive in the Ardennes had begun. It wasn't supposed to happen. The Germans were supposed to be on their last legs. The war was supposedly as good as won. Hitler didn't buy that. He had a grand vision of a drive to Antwerp, splitting the Allied armies in the West. His generals, who had a better grounding in reality, knew this was impossible.
Read the whole thing.

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On Merry Christmas

Mr Lileks (with Mr Reynolds agreeing) have both opined today about the increasing reactions to wishing our fellow travelers in space-time, Merry Christmas.

I don't know if I agree or disagree, but although most of my Christmas shopping has been done on-line, I was traveling this week. I have wished a Merry Christmas to a number of people I traveled alongside, gotten food from, and in general interacted with this week. Only one reacted oddly. The lady taking my payment for the parking at Midway Airport seemed genuinely surprised (and I might add pleased) to hear Merry Christmas from a weary traveler. Her surprise indicates, perhaps it was not what she was hearing in any measure. Perhaps the PC/secular/diversity push to stamp out Christ from Christmas is mostly at a high level big corporation decision level. People haven't had a big sea change in their beliefs in the last few years. Just the knuckleheads making the big diversity decisions at the high levels. My prediction, is that this too will pass. The pendulum will swing back.

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It's For Their Own Good

Mr Pierce has responded to my little essay about my reading into his assertions about a parents moral right to raise children. He has added a update clarifying his position in response to my post. (See his post here, my response here).
I think we're actually in agreement in principle, but our disagreement my be semantic in nature.

In his clarification Mr Pierce states:
  1. Parents have a responsibility to raise their children well
  2. Therefore they can't do whatever they like in raising their children.
  3. This doesn't imply the government should or shouldn't interfere.
  4. I don't have a moral right to raise my children in a bad way
  5. So the right or lack of it with respect to government interference must be grounded on some other principle

I choose to make a distinction between raising my children in a "bad" way and neglecting my responsibility to raise them. Parents have a responsibility to raise their children well. This gives them the moral right to do this. There are two ways to fail in this responsibility, by abrogating it, or by raising the children actively but in a bad way, i.e., in an immoral fashion.

I think the community has a clear moral right and responsibility to interfere when the first situation is at hand. That is to say, when the parents are clearly neglecting to take up their responsibility to raise their children, they lose that right. Putting this ethic into practice will almost certainly be a stickier task than in the abstract. As there the decision made in deciding when a parent is failing to provide, or failing to provide enough is not cut and dry.

However it is a far harder thing to discern in our democratic society exactly when a parent, who is actively raising that child, is raising the child in a way which is harmful. What I as a Christian parent see as harm may not be perceived as harm by someone with different traditions. I'm not clear where my belief that I should "love my neighbor", Levitical concepts of community purity, and the democratic tradition of allowing each citizens their right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" intersects with my perception of harm to the child. This is why I had indicated that, for me, the questions of my ethical responsibilities to my neighbor are complicated enough that I haven't come to any firm conclusions as of yet.

The fact that we find that I must use other principles besides a parents moral right to raise their child in order to intervene, supports the idea that they do indeed have such a right.

Update:Corrected #2. Lost negative (can not) on translating thought to text.

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Thursday, December 16

A Parent's Right to Raise

Mr Pierce, commenting on a recent blog entry over at Left2Right, proposed the following:
Parableman: What gives parents the right to raise children they way they want? I'm just not sure I have such a moral right to choose how I want to raise my children. At the same time, I don't think the government has the right to tell me how to do it or to force me to do it the way they might deem best, but that doesn't mean I have any moral right to choose how to raise my children. I have no right to be doing what I'm doing if it involves raising my children immorally.
I (as a parent) have a few remarks about those thoughts.

Now he admits that he gets much of his ideas about moral right from Plato's Republic. Now, I'll admit too much water has passed under the bridge since I read that, but due to recent events in my life, I'd prefer to get my indication of a parents rights from a different source, that is the Bible.

Genesis following Abram through Israel, can be read in part as God instructing us on the proper role of a Patriarch. As patriarch of the family, I have the responsibility of directing our family as best we can in the world. Deuteronomy 5 (10 commandments) reads:
Honour thy father and thy mother, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee...
If my children are to honor me, by the Lord's command, surely in return I have responsibility to them. If I am given the responsibility for the well being of my family, surely I must have the moral right to lead them where I feel they must tbe lead, i.e., a moral right to raise them.

In the kerfuffle which arose in discussions re the Groningen protocol, I seem to be one of the very few that found the part where the parents were given a limited role in deciding the fate of their child one of the more objectionable facets of the affair.

Finally, about when I observe other parents raising their children in an immoral fashion. I think that question is the same as if I see my neighbor acting in an immoral fashion and alas, I haven't come to a conclusion on that question yet.

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Advent Devotions: Week 3 Thursday

Readings given for today: Isaiah 9:18-10:4, Psalm 50, and Matthew 3:1-12

Have you ever wished a story would have a different ending? What if the next show you watched didn't end, it just stopped working 15 minutes before the end of the film, leaving you hanging. Then you had to wait, and wait, and wait for a replacement. Or have you ever read a book, only to find out it was just the first of a series, and the next book hasn't been written yet? Do you ever imagine how the movie will end?

That's how the people of Judea felt. They knew the story of how God created the world, how Adam and Eve had sinned, and then how God had told them how the world was going to be fixed through the convent he made with Abraham. He led them out of Egypt. But now, the story was kind of stuck. They didn't know how the story was going to come out. They were suffering under Romans rule. They were waiting. Then John the Baptist came out of the desert. He told them, your waiting is over. It is no wonder that the crowds of people flocked out to see him, is it?

But we know what came next don't we? That's why we are Christian, for Jesus Christ came. He came and wrote the rest of that story. He wrote and ending nobody had expected.

Let us pray:

Jesus, Please let your Spirit fill our hearts and minds with the understanding of how you wrote the end to the story for the people of Judah so many years ago.

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Christian Carnival is up

Christian Carnival time (here). Mr Pierce did a completely awesome job stringing the entries together. Blogging at its best.

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The Stories We Tell

We recognize that there is a divide running through our culture now. It made for an exiting election a few weeks ago. It drove a long contentious campaign. Few people understand those on the other side of the fence from themselves in any meaningful way. To little avail, reasonable (and not) denigrate, castigate, and otherwise attempt to persuade the other side the rightness of their viewpoint.

I made a surprising discovery last night. I've started reading N.T. Wright's The New Testament and the People of God. I've gotten about a third of the way through the book so far, while on my plane flight, waiting in the airport, and last night I had an hour or two because the internet at my hotel was down and I couldn't blog. At any rate, this was my surprising discovery, to my surprise, historians (post-modern influences notwithstanding) have made advances in their techniques in the last century. This in retrospect shouldn't be a surprise, but it was (and a pleasant one). After all, I was part of a physics community which had been reeling from its surprise that the mathematics community had made great advances in the 60 years or so after having been largely out of touch with them (between the quantum mechanics and relativity revolutions of the early 20th century until the middle 1980's when String Theory took off. Modern Physics is "back in communion" with modern Mathematical study).

Post-modernist "critical" techniques get a lot of press, and I for one am dubious of its claims and methods. I had thought, mistakenly, that was the extent of how historians work these days. I am glad to say I am wrong. Just as Socrates pointed out, our wisdom and expertise only extends to the fields of study that we actually gain expertise in, but that there is a strong (human) inclination to mistakenly generalize our expertise to fields in which we are little or no real knowledge. I, even while knowing this, have fallen into the trap.

The NT and the PoG is the start of a ambitious project to re-align and re-address the New Testament using modern historical methods. He rejects the Enlightenment a priori assumption that there is a sharp distinction to be made between the rational and the supernatural. That is to say, he does not reject it out of hand, but recognizes it as a hypothesis that must be examined and rejected on the basis of evidence just like any other theory. It is on the table as well.

At the start of this book, he begins by describing the methods he will be using. His literary and historical methods of analysis go by the name of critical realism. In these methods, one recognizes that worldview is an driving force behind how people order their action. Worldview is built from story. The stories we tell ourselves to explain the world and what goes on in it comprise our worldview. By understanding story, we can begin to understand what really is going on in a historical setting. The critical realists have build methodologies and techniques for finding and dissecting story to mine it for worldview datum.

This can equally be done our modern red/blue divide. In trying to understand the current electoral and philosophical divide that separates the pro-abortion, anti-Iraq War, socialist left from the anti-abortion, pro-Iraq democracy, capitalist right we must begin by examining the stories that are told to explain what is happening. Only then will come to an understanding of how those on the other side of the divide are coming to their conclusions. And behold, Mr Wright and other historians have developed methodologies for identifying and dissecting story to extract an understanding of worldview.

Now it is almost certainly true that this is not an idea which I am the first to alight. Just as in any other endeavor, it would behoove me before trying to examine the stories told by the left and the right, I should examine what others have already thought and said. I will look. But, gentle readers, if any of you have seen or read any studies using critical realism to analyze the current political situation in the US, leave a comment or drop an e-mail.

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Wednesday, December 15


My apologies to you, gentle readers, but I'm travelling and the hotel's internet is out. I'll try to post something tomorrow morning. Regular blogging will resume tomorrow night.

Posted by Mrs Pseudo-polymath

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Tuesday, December 14

Wednesday: Light Blogging

I'm winging my way to a job-site tomorrow morning. I probably won't get to blog anything until sometime in the evening.

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Voxing about Newsweek

Mr Hewitt has proposed another virtual symposium. This time we ponder what the Newsweek article (here) has told us about the Intellectual Left, aka the MSM. Mr Hewitt also points us to essays by two other blogger/theologians Dr. Roberts and Dr. Mohler on this article.

I found one point of Mr Meachem's article telling. Mr Meachem points out in a discussion about the Virgin birth that, is not a fact but an article of faith. Therein lies in large part of the distinction between the Enlightenment influenced intellectual left and those of us in flyoverland (and the most of our history). The MSM thinks, faith is a belief in things which are not true. However, the rest of us, have a more reasonable definition. We take it that faith is believing things to be true which cannot be proven. There is a not so fine distinction to be made there.

The MSM by forcibly convincing itself that faith is a belief in untrue things, at it's core, really feels childish in it's belief. They feel they must, by force of will, make themselves really believe in Christ. This is much like the stage many children go through in their belief in Santa Claus. You know, when they get a little older and still remember how nice it was believing, but are starting to realize where the gifts on Christmas morning really come from.

What they forget is what St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:18-20):
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.
Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

But then, in my experience, those in the liberal protestant churches don't spend much time reading the Bible. Scripture is not part of their discourse and thought. Faith is something reserved for Sundays (if at all). That way, the rest of the week, they don't have the tension of trying to believe in things that are untrue, which must be exhausting.

updated for clarity by Mrs. Psuedo-polymath

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Faith and Reason

Perhaps the tension we feel today between a life of faith and one of reason is a conceit we owe to the Enlightenment. Certainly it is my experience that the act of studying biblical text while an act requiring an exercise of faith, also fully engages ones reason.

(continued ...)

What I don't get is the intellectual elite sneering down their noses at theological inquiry. They fall into the error pointed out over 2000 years ago by a Greek named Socrates and recorded by his student Plato. Expertise in one field of study or endeavor be it a craft or a science, often leads one to believe he is wise in ways not studied and this is an error. As I have noted before, our fine educational system and technology affords us much, but wisdom in the ways of men, God, and nature is very much less than that of past ages. With google, the internet, and our great libraries at our disposal we count ourselves wiser and smarter than those upon whose shoulders we stand, when in fact more often than not the reverse is the case. Whence comes their intellectual superiority. One reason perhaps, is a failing of our educational culture, which allows a student of Engineering to opt out on studying Philosophy or Theology because "he won't need it" and at the same time, for the student of the "Arts", to disavow learning Mathematics and some "hard sciences".

Those Enlightenment intellectuals also persevere in wishing to keep an "open mind" in all things. N.T. Wright, in his book For All God's Worth quotes G.K. Chesterton who says that the purpose of an "open mind" is to be shut. It is no use to be open always, and seeking even after finding what it seeks. I think this concept has been forgotten (if ever learned) by the lost secular souls of our generation. When what you seek has been found, continuing your search is more than mere folly. The end is not an open mind. It is the starting point. What have you gained, if at your end, your mind has not yet shut on any truths you can hold dear.

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Advent Devotions: Week 3 Tuesday

The readings given for today: Zephaniah 3:1-2, 9-13, Psalm 34:1-8, and Matthew 21:23-32 (Includes last nights reading, which I misread)

Remember those "bad" Pharisees we heard about last night? Jesus it talking about them in today's lesson. He talks of two brothers in his parable. One who talks the talk, but doesn't walk the walk. And another who says he won't do as asked, but does. The Pharisees were a group of people who wanted to reform and correct the direction the people were going in Israel.

Many people think that today, we are going like the Israelites in the wrong direction. That in our daily life we are forgetting God. We are worrying about all the little things that don't really matter. Who are the Pharisees today? Are they the people who complain loudly about everything going wrong? Well, yes. Are they the people who complain loudly about everything the people who are complaining? Also, yes. All of us have our inner Pharisee. How do we stop ourselves from expressing our inner Pharisee? Some would say that we need to stop announcing that others are sinners or witnessing the truth of Christ's message. St. Paul gives us directions. We should witness to others by our example. We should not hesitate to associate with those non-Christians we think of a sinners. Christians who we feel are straying from the path of righteousness are a different matter entirely.

Finally, remember as we prepare ourselves for the celebrations of Christ's birth, the most important thing is your inner and outer life. The important thing is to set your house in order, make sure you act and speak rightly.

Let us pray:

Jesus, help us to bless the Lord at all times so that praise of Him is ever in our mouths. Help us to exalt the Lord with others.

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It's the Little Mistakes

Mrs Pseudo-Polymath and I were (somewhat in jest) ruefully remarking on a child-rearing "mistake" which has been coming back to haunt us. Years ago, when my little girls were really little girls (age 2 and 4), I hit upon a less than clever idea (in retrospect) to stop my kids from "singing" at the dinner table. I invented a short "No singing at the table" song. As the years went on, the irony of singing "no singing at the table" has sunk in (quite gleefully). Now at the age of 8 and 10, this irony is fully appreciated by exuberant girls occasionally alas at equally exuberant decibel levels. Great fun, but at the end of a long day, not what the doctor ordered.

Musing about the future generations of my little clan, it occurred to me, this is how bad ideas get propagated. For almost certainly, my little girls will teach this silly pun to our grandchildren, and then discover it might not be so funny the 400th time.

I'm just hoping to have a different appreciation of this song as a grandparent.

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Credentials for the Masses

Over on the Conspiracy we find that all this blogging is worth something tangible. We get credentialized.

The Volokh Conspiracy -: "A New Phrase for Bloggers?

'Spending Delaware time' (or 'Delawaring') -- spending at least 20 hours a week on one's blog, enough to be treated as a journalist for the Delaware journalist's privilege."
I'm going to have to check up on what sorts of high fallutin privileges that gets me?
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Christianity and Friendship

While proponents of Same Sex Marriage often hold friendship as a model for marriage, the bond of friendship is not in itself a Christian virtue. While I personally feel that friendship is a essential part of marriage, modeling marriage on it cheats marriage. I've tried blogging on that subject, but have failed so far write my thoughts down in any coherent fashion. The very concept of idealizing marriage as friendship renders me speechless. It's just so wrong is so many ways I hardly know where to begin. At any rate, my goal here is to discuss friendship and the Christian life and not marriage.

Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Achilles and Patroclus, Alexander and Bucephalus (oops bad example (or at least a very bad joke)) and so on, are just some of the examples for us from early pagan secular literature celebrating the bond of friendship. The Torah contains just one friend mentioned by name, Judah and Hirah the Hittite (Gen. 38) are friends. David had friends. But rarely is friendship held up as any sort of ideal in the Bible. One's relationships and the responsibilities owed to God and one's family take precedence. On the other hand, Jesus tells us that (John 15:13) Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. But here, I would think he is telling us more out love, than friendship.

Ruth and Naomi are called friends, but there is a bond of family between the two women. While it is clear they are friends, at the stories end, marriage and family certainly take a more important role in their life. And this message is the one that the scriptural tradition is trying to tell us.

Friendship however is important. It is in fact one of the good things that make life worth living. One possible reason that friendship was important, was because the nomadic herding lifestyle was more common. As the Israelites moved into towns and cities, friendship would become more prevalent. St. Augustine in the Confessions in several books mentions how important his friends were to his life and spiritual journey. He sets aside much of his former ways when he found his faith and was baptized. He did not set aside his friends. Make no mistake, one would have to misread the Confessions aggressively to think that his friendships in any way came near to rivaling his relationship with God in his esteem.

So how is a Christian directed to view friendship? He should remember that his God and family are more important. He should be chary of friendships that tend to lead him astray. And with the injunction "to love thy neighbor", friendships should naturally arise with those we have frequent contact. Cherish those friendships, for they are a deepening form of love which we can express with our fellow travelers.

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Monday, December 13

Advent Devotions: Week 3 Monday

Readings given for today are : Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17, Psalm 25:3-8, and Matthew 21:23-27 (Error: I read chapter 23 instead of 21, what I wrote below doesn't make sense for chapter 21).

The Pharisees are all bad guys, right? Jesus said so, right? Well, no. Thinking of those nasty Pharisees as the bad guys is to miss the point. The Pharisees weren't the bad guys. They were good guys, but they had the wrong idea. They saw things wrong with their people and were trying to fix them. Israel was ruled by Rome. Before Rome, had conquered them, they had been ruled by Greeks. Before that, they had been in exile. With all this foreign influence, people were starting to forget that they were God's Chosen people. They were not following the rules that were laid out for them. The Pharisees were frightened that this would mean that God would leave their land. His awaited blessing (the Messiah) might never come. So what did they do, they organized themselves and tried to make sure everyone started following all the rules. So why does Jesus complain about them so?

He complains they were following the letter of the law, by which I mean following everything strictly, but not the spirit. What does it mean to follow the spirit of the law? That means you need to figure out what purpose the laws have and order your actions be aligned with that.

Let us pray:

Jesus, please guide us each day as we await the celebration of your birth. Help us to live by the spirit of the law in our daily life.

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Comments on my School Proposal

So far in the two comments on my school proposal, (here), both asked about how my ideas fit with the education of our special needs children. Both were concerned by the ability of those children to understand, or read my proposed canonical reading list. I'm going to try to fill out and expand on those points they raised.I told Mrs Pseudo-Polymath (the first commenter) that the canonical reading list, should ideally be quite short. The canonical list used by the Classical Greeks was just two poems, the Iliad and Odyssey, served that purpose for them. This sort of story would be accessible at some level by anyone, indeed only the most severely challenged special needs children can't follow a story at some level. A special needs child need not be able write a cogent essay on "Achilles and the Heroic Ideal", but certainly could "know the story" at a level appropriate to their abilities. Now, Homer's poems aren't part of the American canon, but that's what I'm searching for, An American Homer.

I claim we have no such canon today. There is no story or set of stories we can point to that virtually every American knows. Many of the common "classics" most of us read in childhood, are lost and forgotten as adults. Most adults have a vague idea what is written in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. But, I think that most adults haven't read either in quite some time. And neither document forms a good model for establishing the ideals for which we strive.

Film and TV have replaced in a large measure for many the shared symbols and experiences of our culture. But while those waters are plentiful, they don't run deep. I sincerely doubt that 3000 years from now, academics will still be pondering and learning from the deeper messages to be learned from Sabrina the Teenage Witch or The Matrix.

One commenter (Mr Conor, web site here) fears selection of the canon and whether it is a form of indoctrination. Well, yes, in some sense it is indoctrination, in the best sense of the word. It should be a cementing of those values we hold dear in our great land. After all, we American's feel we have something special here in our way of living, in our form of government. Those are lessons we should want every American to learn well. Certainly there is some values that the post-modernist ruffians have left which we can share.

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Sunday, December 12

Advent Devotions: Week 3 Sunday

Readings given for today are: Isaiah 35, Psalm 146, and Matthew 11:2-15.

Today we begin the 3rd week of Advent. We've heard the readings from Matthew before ove the last few days. We know that the Israelites expected different things from Jesus. Their idea of a Messiah was wrong. How many ideas do we have wrong I wonder? Many people have an idea what heaven will be like. I'm pretty certain they (and all of us) are wrong. People read Revelations and make eschatological predictions (Eschatology is a fancy word for the "final things" or what we think about the end). I think that following the example of the Hebrews and the first time Jesus came to us, we can be reasonably certain that it will "come like a thief in the night" (2 Peter 3:10) as Jesus said, and will be nothing like what we expect.

So what should we do? What should we expect? We should keep our hearts and minds open to the Holy Spirit as it works its will in our lives. We should follow the law, love our neighbor, and love and glorify the Lord. As St. Paul said (Romans 12:9-12),
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Let us pray:

Lord Jesus, please let your Spirit sneak into our hearts as we await your coming and inspire us to be the people of God as you desire.


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My Proposal for the Public Schools

In a recent post, I mentioned that I thought the public schools were (uhm) not doing as well as we might like. I thought that in this post, I'd try to pull together my thoughts on public schooling and attempt to make some policy proposals. Note, here I am concentrating on the K-12 levels of education. (This post has turned out to be a longish essay).

First I'll begin by identifying the weaknesses of today's schools. Today's schools are too much driven by curriculum. There is too little diversity in approach and curriculum. Finally, for whatever reason, the schools have too large a logistical tail. Teachers spend too much time is spent pushing paper to satisfy regulations. Staff which are not in front of students for the majority of the day should be minimized. Much of the time, those individuals are higher paid than the teachers, and to what end? The goal is teaching.

Many schools and teachers have lost sight of their purpose. There are just few things our public schools are required to do:
  1. Teach a minimal set of fundamental survival skills.
  2. Help to prepare our students to be good citizens.
  3. Assist the student with his search for a career
  4. Teach the fundamental skills required for success
I will now briefly discuss each of these items in a little more detail.

Minimal skill set

The minimal skill set in our society is not so great. One needs competency at English and arithmetic. Practical knowledge of how to find what you need and start a household arguably must be taught at home, but in school one could also cover the basics. A certain amount of current history would be nice too. :)
Good Citizenship

Mr Pierce (web site here) mentioned in a comment to an earlier essay of mine, a very good idea when he insisted that there should be a canonical reading list. His list might be a little longer than I would require. I agree that a canon of shared literature could go well to heal the great divide in worldview seen in our culture by giving us more shared language and symbols.
The fact that the Greeks all read Homer, the Romans Virgil and Cicero went far to cement their culture. What belongs in our canonical list? This certainly wouldn't be the whole list of what any kid would read, but the list of what every student would read.
Here's a proposed list. I insist it isn't my final word. I just wrote down off the cuff, and certainly included things that could be dropped, and missed more that shouldn't have. But I'll put this out to get the ball rolling.
  • Our Political Canon
    • The Declaration of Independence
    • The Constitution
    • The Federalist Papers
    • The Gettysburg Address
  • Our Cultural Canon
    • M. Twain: Huckleberry Finn
    • E. Hemingway: ??
    • JRR Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings.
  • Our philosophical Canon
    • Genesis
    • Some representative selection of Greek thought (Plato, Aristotle, etc)
Some comments on this list follow. The political canon is probably the easiest. I've never read the anti-Federalist Papers, and don't know if they should be included as well. I'm not sure if any 20th century works need inclusion. I'm in general far more impressed with the work of our founders than what came later.

As for the cultural list, I'm not sure Tolkein belongs there, but what I was looking for was a book (or books) that was both epic and also represents the ideals we would wish to espouse. If this book was good enough, it could replace all the books in the canon. After all, recall the Greeks had two poems and that was all they needed.

Finally, my philosophical list is missing something which the natural philosophers like Locke penned which provided the underpinnings for our nation. And my inclusion of Genesis was deliberate. I'm not advocating state religion. I think it should be taught more along the lines of the book Beginning of Wisdom by Mr Kass, which reads Genesis as one would read Plato, that is to say philosophically and not as religious work.

E-mail me with links to your list (or just send me your list) and I'll collect them for a future post.

Search for a Career

We spend so much time at our career and job, that it is a shame whenever a person is "trapped" in a career they don't like. My aphorism for education that I tell my children is to find out what you really like to do, then get good enough to be paid to do it. We often like to do that thing where our talents lie. That is to say, we enjoy doing that which comes easiest for us. One of the chief jobs of a parent is to help the child find their calling in life. Schools certainly can and should assist in this search.

Fundamental Skills

In a prior essay I identified the 4 fundamental skills which schools should teach (see here for more):
  • reasoning Students need to learn how to think. Following lines of reasoning, formulating an argument, and recognizing fallacious arguments are critical to being able to succeed in any endeavor.
  • diligence Careful work, the ability to check for mistakes, and organizational skills are also important.
  • perseverance I've written about this a lot recently. Edison said success was 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Perseverance gives us the ability to pour on the perspiration required.
  • memorization This isn't popular these days especially with the ease of getting facts at the fingertip with tools like Google on the Internet. But I firmly believe that memorization is a key mental skill for success.

Final Thoughts

I think we should, as best we can, eliminate the paperwork and requirements for our schools. Let their curricula vary as they wish. There are thousands of different pathways that can teach the four skills I identified above. I think any gaps in education can be made up quickly by a student who has mastered the "four skills".

I think Mr Bush's idea of testing to prove that educational standards are met ("No Child Left Behind Act") is a good one. But don't test facts. Test for improvement in the "four skills" and let the rest of the cards fall where they may. I admit that testing which is no longer based on a curriculum that isn't standardized is much harder to administer, but remember we did send men to the moon in less than a decade 35 years ago and we are only testing for basic substinance levels in survival skills and improvement in the "four skills". A different style of testing to test improvement in the "four skills" will be required, but I believe we can design methods to do the tests as required if we put our minds to it.

Finally a diversity in teaching methods and curricula should be encouraged. We need to find ways of allowing parents to move their kids into whichever school whose curricula, methods, and competence matches what they feel is best for their child. If a school cannot meet a growing enrollment, it should be expanded or duplicated. That has to be balanced with making public schooling available to every student desiring it. The division between public and private schools should be removed as much as possible. Public schools should be privatized and public funds should be made available to all schools, "public", private, and home.

Update: English correted for clarity. Thanks to the efforts of Mrs Pseudo-Polymath.

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I Found a Theme

It has been noted too many places these last few days to cite, that there is a fundamental gap in understanding between the "left" and the "right". Those on the left, insist that those on the right are stupid, hateful, and intolerant. Those on the right think the left lacks values and patriotism combined with a view of history and the social condition which lacks a strong connection with reality.

Now a lot of this is a fundemental misunderstanding of what has been termed worldview (or what I call one's ethical framework). Now perhaps because of the post-modernist influence on the left, one of my chief frustrations with the left, is their inability to explain where their ethics derive. As far as I know, there is not philosopher or ethicist who has laid out what the ethical beliefs to which many of the liberals in America adhere.

However, in reading some of the more reasonable blogger's essays from the left, I have made one (anthropolgical?) discovery. One of the important leftist core values is "fairness". This drives their rationalization for supporting many (if not most) of their social programming. Now fairness is good, when it means that there is no favoritism, e.g., color-blind. "Life should be fair" seems to be one of the strongest aphorisms (besides their everpresent call for diversity).

Now from the right, fairness is seen as not just wrong when it is used to justify re-dietribution of wealth. In fact fairness is also a little confusing, because when it comes down to it, they don't actually believe it. They will say they want, for example, a fair start for every child. But lo, with respect to their own children, do they want that? Did for example the leaders on the left, Kerry, Gore, et al, send their children to public schools? No. Will they give their children every advantage? Yes. Because deep down, they think fairness is good for public policy but not private. In fact, the inequalities of personal ability and drive coupled with the desire for people to pass on the fruits of their efforts to their children which drives most if not all of the inequality of wealth in the country. It is impossible to fix the first, and immoral to fix the second.

But fairness drives their "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need", rhetoric. One doesn't have to agree with it, but perhaps understanding where they are coming from will help our discourse.

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Saturday, December 11

A Bad Idea from the Left

A new blog, promoted by other bloggers from all walks (from ParableMan to The Debate Link) got me to look at this.

The post goes on like this, and the comments are numerous, but many worth reading.

Left2Right: equality of opportunity: one: "It's not enough to stop handicapping some runners and privileging others. Equality of opportunity seems to depend on some version of equality of starting points. If the son of J. Paul Getty starts life with millions and goes to a fabulous school, and you start life in Watts and go to a 'school' that is mostly about social control, it's worse than facetious to say, 'okay, the two of you now should run the race; ready, set, go!' Yes, it's possible that you'll beat out the wealthy kid. But those of us who are standing on the sidelines betting will require pretty long odds to take you. Head starts in the race aren't fair, either."
Now if this is what passes for smart ideas from our leftist academy, I shudder to think what the less gifted leftist come up with. Explain perchance why I it's a bad idea for me to be allowed to spend my hard earned capital to give every advantage to my children that I see fit. I agree that we don't need to give anyone legal advantages based on class, race, or creed. In fact, I think in almost every case, those legal advantages produce the opposite effect as the one intended. Furthermore that public schooling is a mostly good idea (just that our implementation sucks). But for the rest of it, it is just completely muddy thinking. Life isn't fair. In fact, that's a good thing. We don't want life to be fair. We all want our children to have a head start. And by gum, that's what makes it fun. Why play the game, if it buys you nothing in the end? And to bring out another shopworn phrase, "Indeed the deck is stacked, but if you don't play, you can't win".

And finally, that son of Mr Getty might not come out ahead in the end. Recall what I've been musing about St. Paul's thoughts on character, perseverance, and suffering.

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Advent Devotions: Week 2 Saturday

The readings given for today are: Sirach 48:1-11, Psalm 80:1-3,14-18, and Matthew 17:9-13.

We're going to try something different tonight. Last night we talked about how the people of Israel didn't hear what Jesus and John the Baptist were saying. A big reason for this is that they expected something different. If you expect to hear a large military display and see a lone preacher wandering around preaching and healing. You might listen overmuch because he isn't who you are really waiting for. The other reason, which I talked about last night, was that they probably were just to busy with their frantic lives to stop and listen. So tonight we're going to stop for a little while and listen. Listen and think about what Jesus wants us to do. Now let us pause to reflect for a few minutes.

Let us pray:

Jesus, we thank You for filling our hearts with the joy of Your creation. Help us to keep a right spirit as we prepare to celebrate Your birth.

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