Friday, December 29, 2006

Not Quite the End of Vacation Week

I have not been blogging much this week. My wife took Tuesday through Thursday as vacation days (she automatically got Monday and Friday off) so we could have a whole week of vacation together. She has been getting my time, so I have not done much blogging or e-mail.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 39

These, of old, attained unity:
Heaven attained unity in its clarity.
Earth attained unity in its tranquility.
The angels attained unity in their activity.
The deep attained unity in its fullness.
Creation attained unity in its fruitfulness.
Kings and princes attained unity in ruling by worthy example.
Unity sustains these.
If heaven was no longer clear it would fragment.
If earth was no longer tranquil it would shatter.
If angels were no longer active they would dissipate.
If the deep was no longer full it would be exhausted.
If creation was no longer fruitful it would become extinct.
If kings and princes no longer ruled by worthy example they would fall.
For greatness has the humble as its root.
The exalted is built upon the lowly.
Therefore the kings and princes call themselves orphans with meager inheritances.
They regard the humble as their root!
Too much honor leads to no honor.
Do not shine like jade on display.
Be a lowly foundation, scattered like gravel.

We fulfill our purpose
and maintain our identity
through unity with Yeshua.
In this manner we are useful to others,
and are honored without seeking honor.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 38

Pure virtue does not focus on itself as virtue;
therefore it has virtue.
False "virtue" always asserts itself as virtue;
therefore it has no virtue.
Pure virtue makes no ado and is not self-serving.
False virtues make ado and are self-serving.
Kindness makes ado, but is not self-serving.
Propriety makes ado and is self-serving.
Rituals of etiquette make ado, and not finding response, bares the arms and become aggressive.
After the Way is abandoned, false virtues are asserted.
After false virtues are abandoned, kindness is asserted.
After kindness is abandoned, propriety is asserted.
After propriety is abandoned, rituals of etiquette are asserted.
Rituals of etiquette are the mere husk of loyalty and good faith, and the beginning of disorder.
Knowing what will come is merely fruit of knowing the Way.
Focusing on future trends is the beginning of folly.
Therefore, the mature Saint is concerned with the substance, not the husk.
He focuses on the seed and not the fruit.
He prefers what is within to what is without.

Focus on Yeshua, not virtue.
The more you know Yeshua
the more virtuous you will become.
But focusing on virtue will not
help you get closer to Yeshua.
After people stop focusing on Yeshua
first they design their own morals
then they try offering kindness to everyone
then they invent norms of socially correct behavior
then they become aggressively legalistic
and finally there is chaos.
Those who follow Yeshua
will see this as it happens.
But do not focus on it!
Focus on Yeshua.

A Cute Tiny Bunny

Just because.

More C Stuff

The Chanukah party went very well.

Today I'm finally blogging again, and following the C theme I might as well link to some modified carols for Christmas, and some classic text adventure games for people who need another holiday present.

Today I'm grateful I don't work in retail and have to deal with cheating complainers, nor do I still live in the cold snow. (Although ice rainbows are cool.)

UPDATE: Fake combat machines!

Noka Unmasked

Last Thursday was a day of letter C activities.

My wife and I hosted a Chanukah party that was also a Rosh Chodesh prayer meeting. I had to clean house, clean the bird cage, and bake cookies. I also worked more on my sermon composition, and laundered clothes.

For a short diversion, I read a fascinating article about chocolate.

I had never heard of a chocolatier in Texas named Noka. Apparently they and the chocolate-maker who supplies their couverture form the axis of the unscrupulous of the chocolate world. A reporter from the DallasFood website exposed them. Now they're in trouble.

The Yeti from Pluto?

Irregular Webcomic has another interesting essay: how the Mi-go of H.P. Lovecraft's The Whisperer in Darkness are based on the Tibetan Yeti although not in physical resemblance, and how this relates to the history of Pluto.

Is Linux the Protestantism of Operating Systems?

Heh. Only Steven Den Beste would write about how the cultures of Linux users and Protestants are meaningfully similar. (Warning: his essays have a random anime image at the top of the page which may or may not involve scantily dressed female protagonists.)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Today's Joke: Two Kids Before Surgery

Two little kids are in a hospital waiting room before surgery. The first kid leans over and asks, "What are you here for?"

The second kid says, "My tonsils are coming out. I'm a little nervous."

The first kid says, "Don't worry. I had that done when I was four. They put you to sleep. When you wake up they give you lots of ice cream."

The second kid then asks, "What are you here for?"

The first kid says, "A circumcision."

The second kid replies, "Oh no! I had that done when I was born. Couldn't walk for a year."

Plagarism in Jordan

Here's today's serious political post, about academic plagarism in universities in Jordan.

I have friends who once visited Jordan and encountered an unexpected barrier to philosophical discussions: most of the people they talked to would refused to reason through a line of thought, preferring instead to mentally file it away until brought it to a family or religious leader.

I wonder if these habits are related symptoms of trusting the establishment more than your own power of deduction, or if the plagarism issue is just something that would happen in any academic setting that allowed it.

Cartoons about Politics

Tired of discussing politics? Instead try matching up today's political issues with cartoons!

There's a new microwave gun for the military. Some people are worrying less about catastrophic global warming. More evidence a single meteor wiped out the dinosaurs.

This requires much less time or intelligence than writing witty alternative meanings to government signs.

UPDATE: Another inappropriate pair -- news of less Arab aggression. (I don't read ScrappleFace regularly. I'm glad Mr. Ott's still silly.)

UPDATE: I shouldn't mention global warming, even humorously, without a link to ocean acidification, which a knowledgeable friend of mind suspects will be the most significant part of the story, and which is much more clearly due to humanity.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 37

The Way never makes any ado and yet it does everything.
If the kings and lords would follow the Way then all things would mature naturally.
If, as they develop, desire begins to stir within them then the Way's primal simplicity would influence them.
This alone can subdue people's desires.
Being without desire they would have peace, and All-under-heaven would settle naturally.

God has good plans for all things.
If people would simply let God's plans happen,
we would all prosper in peace and wholeness!

When is a Private Military Contractor not a Mercenary?

Fascinating topic. Completely new to me. But given examples I've learned last term about police departments benefitting from firearms training by private companies, this is not surprising.

Floating Battle Stations

Now and future.

Bill Roggio's Suggestions

Bill Roggio offers some well-reasoned suggestions for America helping Iraq, based on first-hand observations and interviews.

UPDATE: These graphs comparing America's military spending to it's GDP are relevant, even if they end in 2003.

UPDATE: And here's a chart with number of active duty military personnel.

Video: When Will We Become Lebanese?

There's a video on YouTube that directly but politely attacks favoring ethnic/religious identity over national identity. Given the context in both Lebanese and global politics I find this fascinating.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Moving DVDs to iPod, and Casette Tapes to MP3s

Last summer, before traveling to a work conference, my wife got a video iPod. It was both her birthday and anniversary present.

Unfortunately, the software that the Circuit City salesperson recommended for moving DVD movies and shows to the iPod is terrible. It has too many shortcomings to list. There is a free alternative. It may require two steps, but does allow you to do nice things like record any show from a DVD that has more than one show it.

Originally Handbrake is for the Mac OS, and on that platform works well in one step with a nice interface. With Windows XP things are more complicated:
  • Two Simple Steps: First, use Handbrake to change the movie to a nice computer file. The main interface for the Windows XP version (download it here) of Handbrake is still under development, so this produces an AVI file but neglects to put on that extension so you should do that manually. Second, use Videora to change the AVI file to a file type and screen size the iPod likes.
  • One Complicated Step: Use the link above entitled "download it here" to not only find the most current version, but also read about how to use the command line interface to force Handbrake to create an MP4 format file of the desired screen size. This is complicated because command line parameters depend upon the screen size of the original DVD.
I have not done this process in a while, but was reminded of it today when I came across an article about using free software to change casette tapes into MP3 files.

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 36

What you wish to contract, you must first allow to expand.
What you wish to weaken, you must first allow to strengthen.
What you wish to tear down, you must first allow to build up.
What you wish to take, you must first allow to give.
This is wisdom from seeing the subtle: the soft and pliable overcomes the hard and inflexible.
Just as fish should not be taken from the deep, the state's weapons should not be displayed.

Let Adonai own the world.
He has plans for all things
in their proper time
to prosper and recede.
Be part of his plans;
do not try to force the world.

Humility, Frailty, and Strength

Here's an article describing the history of liberal and conservative thought in academia and think-tanks. I assume the article lacks falsehoods, but do not know enough to claim the article is "accurate" since it might lack a sufficiently broad perspective.

In any case, one of its observations made me think about something I had not considered. While discussing a book by Andrew Sullivan, the article's author writes:
Here, fundamentalism violates the central conservative tenet, the admission of universal human frailty, and betrays the Reagan-Goldwater heritage, Sullivan says. In the second half of his book, he outlines a better conservatism, taking the humility of the French essayist Michel de Montaigne and the British philosopher Michael Oakeshott's "radical acceptance of what we cannot know for sure" as the starting point of responsible politics.
I typically think of both liberals and conservatives by comparing them to libertarian philosophy. It's not that I agree with American libertarianism, but as an educator I easily focus on the issues of personal responsibility, efficiency in helpfulness, accountability, and safety.

But now I ponder in what ways liberals and conservatives consider people as frail or having fortitude? As expert decision-makers or humble searchers after wisdom?

How do these latter questions relate to the fundamental axiomatic differences between the general liberal and conservative world-views: are they part of the axiomatic distinctions or corollaries?

Telepathy for Teenagers

I vaguely remember a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon in which Calvin tells Hobbes how important it is to cultivate low expectations about yourself so you won't dissapoint your parents and will more often be judged successful.

My mother was once horrified by my brother's friends' telephone use. She had been disappointed in my brother when he was a young teenage boy because when he was on the phone with his friends almost all he said was "Huh," "Uhuh," "Cool," "Sounds good," and other variations of affirmative grunting. Wasn't he being rude in not holding up his side of the conversation? Then, one day, my brother invited a bunch of his friends over and my mother observed that they all used the phone in that way. Apparently all those phone calls had almost no information content at all!

I was reminded of that story by my previous post about Maxwell's Equations, brainwave sensing electrodes, and telepathy. We have the technology to build a hat that differentiates between a handful of electrical impulses generated by the brain, and for each sends a signal. If we built two of those hats and added to each a receiver and earbud speaker we could make each of the handfuls of signals correspond to a certain message played to the headset. Would that count as telepathy? Why or why not?

The other time my mother was truly and unexpectedly horrified was when my brother and I rented The Terminator and she watched it with us. In one scene, Arnold gets into a station wagon parked outside a suburban home. "Oh my goodness!" my mother exclaimed. My brother and I had no idea what was alarming, so she explained, "He didn't have to adjust the seat! So there's a 6'2" housewife out there!?" Sigh... talk about interrupting that willing suspension of disbelief.

Would Telepathic Aliens Use Keyboards?

Yesterday I came across two interesting articles. The first was David Morgan-Mar's amazingly eloquent explanation of Maxwell's Equations, which I enjoyed thoroughly. The second was a news story I didn't actually read about the current state of technology for reading brainwaves to control a robot or computer.

A week ago I spent a little while thinking about how a race telepathic aliens would invent computers. (I think I was in line at the grocery store.)

In the science-fiction setting for my RPG, the players are exploring a planet that once had a high-tech civilization but was mysteriously abandoned. I'm considering making that ancient and high-tech alien race telepathic.

How would high-tech machinery from a telepathic alien race work? For many machines language is not an issue. Piloting a vehicle or operating a shop tool are not usually language-dependent procedures.

But computer terminals, whether for a full computer or merely the access panel to open a door or use a computerized dispenser, are all about language.

If the telepathic aliens used a written language they probably would use some sort of "keyboard" appropriate to their appendages. After all, in real life typing is faster than writing even though our current keyboards are designed to slow down typing.

If the telepathic aliens lacked a written language (perhaps they have long lifespans, very long-range telepathy, or even a single global consciousness) then they might never have used keyboards. Then, given a reasonable assumption that their brains alse work using electrons so their telepathy uses some sort of electromagnetic waves, the aliens would probably have input devices that picked these up directly.

Ta da! Those science-fiction thoughts ran through my head. Yesterday I found articles about electromagnetic waves and real-life input devices that pick them up. Now you get a RPG blog post to read.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 35

He who grasps the great Image [the Way] will seem welcoming to All-under-heaven.
Those who flock to him will suffer no harm, but will dwell in peace and unity.
Music and dainties will make a passing stranger pause,
But words uttered about the Way seem stale and flavorless!
Looked at, they are not worth seeing.
Listened to, they are not worth hearing.
But used, they cannot be exhausted!

The life we gain through following Yeshua is attractive.
People recognize how it fills our lives with harmony.
But the same people are not interested
in being taught by or about Yeshua,

because Yeshua's words are only understandable
to those who rely on Adonai.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 34

The great Way is neutral; it may go left or it may go right.
All things depend on it for their existence, and it denies them not.
When a work has been completed, it does not claim the result.
It loves and nourishes all things, but it does not lord this over them.
Thus it may be named with the humblest things.
All things will come before it, but it does not lord this over them.
Thus it may be named with the greatest things.
Because it never asserts its own greatness, therefore its greatness is fully achieved.

Why is Yeshua is worthy of worship?
Through him Adonai created the world.
Also, one day all will kneel before him,
but until that day he is completely humble.

American Generosity

An article about a study showing conservatives are more charitable than liberals ties in with a recent similar but less scholarly report on 20/20.

Here are other articles about how charity helps the economy, and about the mindset of wealthy donors who find the phrase "giving back to society" to be just one more example of a common liberal mindset that wealth is a zero-sum game.

Moreover, now even conservaties can support a higher minimum wage!

More Middle-East Politics

Four quick tidbits, on quite different issues:

(1) In August I commented on Noah Pollak's view that the most significant result of the recent conflict between Israel and Lebanon was showing the "rational actor" Arab states that the U.S. and Israel are happy to favor them when Iran hits the fan. This week's news includes two related incidents.

First, Saudia Arabia has declared support for Iraq. This is a remarkable cooperation of Sunni and Shiite, prompting some speculation that the U.S. is letting Saudia Arabia deal with Iran. (Previously, the U.S. and Israel played "good cop, bad cop" with Iraqi nuclear development. Since Israel's military is a bit over-extended right now, it makes sense that Saudia Arabia might be given a turn.)

Second, Nancy Pelosi has picked Rep. Silvestre Reyes to chair the House Intelligence Committee. But Reyes does not know whether Al Queda is Sunni or Shiite.

(2) Due to the publication of Carter's biased book, a PDF file is being circulated that points out his bias. The file is simply a summary of a few newspaper articles and other rebuttals to Carter's historical blindness and revisionism. (My own comments back in this post are relevant.)

(3) Regarding airports, Chabad of Seattle learned that making an ill-planned stink about Christmas decorations causes backlash, but manages to save face. Meanwhile, a moderate Muslim in Arizona speaks out against the "flying imams" and their recent episode.

(4) I wrote earlier about honor-shame cultures. Most of these, whether in American workplaces or Arab politics, promote and avoidance of responsibility since with repsonsibility comes an opportunity for failure and blame. (I am reminded of the woman in the 12-minute version of the documentary Obsession who says, at 3:44, "Nothing can be done wrong by Arabs, it always is the West.") Here is an intersting article describing how avoidance of responsibility is handicapping political progress in Iraq.

Happy Chanukah!

Happy Chanukah!

Today I don't have any scheduled appointments. My work is simply to prepare a sermon for tomorrow.

I'm not going to do a lecture-style sermon, but instead prepare a game people will participate in that goes over the events of First Maccabees.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Memorable Monsters

Last night I worked until almost 1am, and this morning I had to get up at 6am. I'm a little behind on sleep and need a break after a workday in which several important things got done.

So I'm going to sit in a recliner, maybe take a nap, and pray about ideas for monsters.

I've recently downloaded kMoria for my PDA. It's fun to play that game again. (Is it sad that an individual's free port of Moria from Unix to the Palm OS works better than a big company's port of Lego Star Wars II from the Xbox to PC?) Moria reminded me of something from my childhood, one thing the old (2nd Edition) D&D game did well: it had memorable yet systematic monsters.

I'll start this discussion with it's set of common humanoid monsters (which it stole from many types of mythology).

These main humanoid monsters could be ordered in increasing toughness. (I probably don't remember correctly, but the ordering was something like: kobold, goblin, hobgoblin, orc, gnoll, lizardman, ogre, minotaur, troll, ettin.) This nice ordering meant the narrator could fine-tune the challenge of an encounter: do the good guys meet five kobolds, or three goblins, or a hobgoblin with two goblin servants?

But equally important was that each kind of humanoid monster had a distinct, if stereotypical, personality and social setting. Orcs were not simply bigger goblins, and goblins were not simply bigger kobolds. Some of these humanoids typically traveled in big groups, others normally did not. Some formed groups of equals, whereas others formed groups with a leader that was abnormally tough. Some of these humanoids used melee weapons, some used ranged weapons, some used both. Some only fought, some also cast spells, whereas some carried and used magical potions. Some would readily flee if outmatched, whereas others would stubbornly fight to the death but perhaps in their futile combat still inflict a lasting disease or curse on the heroes.

The game used this set-up repeatedly. There was a similarly arranged selection of dragons, giants, lycanthropes, and undead. I can't remember the details as well, but the game-play usefulness was identical: within each category of monsters their systematic heirarchy of toughness allowed combats to be precisely as challenging as the situation required, yet the types of creatures were memorable enough that a storm giant was not simply a bigger hill giant.

This is the last component my science-fiction setting needs. Although it is a science-fiction tradition to have the protagonists encounter new aliens that are unknown and thus unpredictable, this cannot be the norm in a role-playing game. The players want to be able to strategize, so they must have at least a rough idea what they are up against.

This does not mean the players are handed a guidebook explaining the newly colonized planet's flora and fauna. Perhaps an early adventure has them rid a recently established settlement of a few Screaming Leapers that have been preying on the colonist's chickens. Then in a later adventure the heroes are traveling when a larger pack of Leapers attacks them. Then in an even later adventure the heroes must explore a cave complex and deport or kill the many Leapers who have made those caves their nest, and in the caves the heroes find out that Leapers at home have atypically large Warriors and a Queen, like ants do.

For now I don't need even one category of alien-monster systematized with memorable distinctions among category-members. I just need a few alien-monsters to use in the first few adventures. I could rely on my own creativity, but as someone who prays I'll first check to see if God has any ideas.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Refusing to be a Victim

Another quick thing from an e-mail, worth pondering.

Someone sent me a link to Bill Maher interviewing Netanyhu on HBO.

I don't own a television, and have never heard of Maher. I've also never seen Netanyahu giving an interview. I'm not sure if this is typical of either of them.

What interested me most was Netanyahu's final point, which I will paraphrase: many Americans are exalting victim-status but since WWII the Jewish people (especially in Israel) are refusing to be victims any longer; thus Israel is treated with unfair harshness and anti-Israel myths are accepted in an emotionally-fueled but factually-incorrect attempt to find a pure victim.

Things I Learn while Catching Up on Email

Interesting. Israel is helping Vietnam's farmers. Apparently this is nothing new.

Let's Say Thanks

This is nifty: Xerox has put up a website that allows you, for free, to send a postcard of thanks to American military personnel serving overseas (all places overseas).

Water Rat vs. Fire Pig

A friend from China told me about all the weddings on 12/6/2006. Apparently days with 2's or 6's are considered auspicious.

Moreover, 2006 is also a popular year for weddings so that children can be born next year. Something I never knew was that the Chinese Zodiac has elements for the years (gold, wood, fire, water, earth) as well as the animals I know from placemats at restaurants. Since the Chinese word for "pig" sounds like the word for "blessings", a child born on the year of the Gold Pig is believed to be born to financial blessing.

Sounds sensible for people who believe in that sort of thing, except that next year is actually a Fire Pig year, not a Gold Pig year as my friend reports many people mistakenly think. Someone was confused, and rumor spread.

I guess I'm a Water Rat, which makes me wonder where Mole, Badger, and Mr. Toad are in this whole scenario.

Jewish Artwork and Exodus 20:4

A friend in Eugene makes Jewish artwork.

This painting, in particular, is an interesting one to discuss because it exemplifies an issue that Jewish art must deal with.

In Exodus 20:4 we are told not to make a "likeness" of anything real.

(A word-for-word translation of the verse reads, "Do not make for yourself a carved image, or all likeness that is in heaven from above or earth from below or water from under the earth." Hebrew grammar works a little differently, allowing the word "all" to mean "any" in this case.)

So most Jewish painting, at least until modern times, avoided any real-life subject matter. What, then, is painted?

The painting I linked to shows one traditional option: using words to make up the subject. In this case, the flames are made of the two Hebrew words Shema Yeshua ("listen to Yeshua"). If you visit a local Judaica shop (or search for the phrases "Jewish calligraphy" or "Jewish Illumination") you can find examples of more complicated pictures made entirely out of words. Here's a fairly simple one. I'm having trouble finding a complicated one using Google.

Another option was to use mythical creatures as decorations. Here's an example.

Using complex geometric shapes or decorations that might be called Celtic or Arabesque by most Americans is also very traditional.

It certainly avoids having to debate whether your church coffee shop should display contemporary art with nude human subjects!

Spirit, Soul, Body, and Heart

I just read an interesting article that talked about one view on how "body" and "spirit" work.

Unfortunately, I do not have an article on the website that discusses this, so I cannot share a link to a nice discussion.

For those interested in doing your own study, I will say the following...

In English, a single person may have many names that differ by each highlighting on of that person's relationships. For example, a woman might be referred to as "Judy", "Mom", "Daughter", "Wife", "Sweetie", and "Boss".

In Biblical Hebrew the same concept applies to the part of us that cannot be touched.

As an abstract thing it is called "soul". The Hebrew word is nefesh, which literally means "thing that breathes". The word is used to apply to most land animals, but not insects and other "swarming creatures" that do not have lungs.

As something in relationship with our body it is called "heart". The Hebrew word is lev, which simply means "heart". As examples, scripture refers to people making decisions with their heart or being tempted by their heart, because of how the body is a factor in these.

As something in contrast with our body it is called "spirit". The Hebrew word is roo-ach, which literally means "wind/breath". This word is used when the soul's lack of tangibility is being emphasized, when highlighting the quality of being alive instead of dead (which also cannot be touched), or when the soul is troubled (or having other feelings) but the body is not.

In regards to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit one scriptural metaphor (of many) is about spoken words being carried by our breath. The Father "breathes" out his Spirit, which bears the "living Word of God". (See Isaiah 55:11 and other verses.)

Monday, December 11, 2006


Well, I've finally finished grading final exams, determining the fair curve for both classes, and entering grades.

Tomorrow I have my first day of "vacation". I have 86 messages in my personal e-mail inbox that need replies. (I caught up with work e-mail as part of procrastinating grading.) Then, if it's not raining too much I might finally make it back to one of Eugene's skate parks. Then I should start this week's sermon.

UPDATE: Heh. After two days I'm down to 23 messages, and no skateboarding.

Cute Pictures

Today's cute pictures: a giraffe licking a squirrel, and teddy bear awaiting a holiday dinner at the food pantry.

Are giraffes a lot quicker than I thought? I can't get that close to a squirrel!

Role Models and Heroes

When I taught elementary school in inner-city Rochester (NY), one of the primary issues was the lack of role models for the students.

Most of those students knew no African-American adults with happy and successful careers, except perhaps their teachers and principal. (And who wants those jobs in the inner-city?) So rap artists and professional wrestlers were the role models for the boys. The girls often had even fewer options. This lack of role models had predictably unhelpful results.

I was reminded of this when I read that some fans of the Firefly television show were treated to most of that show's cast showing up to a cancelled convention. Reading the fan's comments at that last link was very touching.

The cast surely have a lot of integrity, and it may even be fair to call them heroes. They pay attention to these fans from a television show that last aired in 2002. They made a movie in 2005 (Serenity) to wrap up loose ends in the show's plot. They spend some time helping fan websites. Now they visited an unofficial fan gathering that was taking the place of a cancelled official event.

But it's also a bit creepy how much some of those fans who left comments are yearning for heroes. Moreover, these actors have families and careers. I'm guessing that when they signed on to Firefly that they never thought they themselves (not just the characters they would play) would become other people's heroes.

I'm glad my congregants and most of my math students think I do a good job. But if anyone said they were my fan, or I was their hero, I'd be a bit worried. I know of plenty of truer heroes: men and women forsaking their safety, dreams, and economic comfort to bring help to troubled places.

Kudos to those actors from Firefly for filling the shoes heroes wear.

How regrettable it is that today's world has so many unsung heroes.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Spoiling Myself

A few years ago I tried to not act at all on entitlement or spoiling myself.

After all, entitlement is one of the "seven deadly sins". The Latin word avarita has become avarice (greed) but the original meaning of the word is slightly different: more than desiring wealth or power, avarita is desiring anything that we believe is justly ours.

My experiment didn't work. Once I stopped consciously doing anything to spoil myself, I would unconsciously seek that out. My experiment did more harm than good.

Since then I've usually used chocolate and tea to spoil myself. When I want to spoil myself in other ways, it is easy to resist because I do have nice chocolate and tea.

Occasionally, God asks me to fast from these items, besides on Yom Kippur. I am not entitled to them, even if I do normally use them to spoil myself.

Besides being enjoyable, these splurges are inexpensive. My normal dark chocolate is one of the Trader Joe's "Pound Plus" bars. This is quite inexpensive (more than a pound of Belgian 70% cocoa for less than $4). My favorite teas are two "pearl" teas from the Stash Tea Company: Silver Beads and Phoenix Pearl Green. Those appear expensive, but only use 4-5 "pearls" of tea per 2.5 cup mug of tea, so one package makes hundreds of cups of tea.

My brother and father are difficult to shop for. Fun and fancy tea that unrolls as it steeps is a good Chanukah present for them, too.

I'll probably never sit in any of the world's fanciest cars, nor eat the world's most famous fancy meals. But I can regularly and affordably enjoy some of the world's best chocolate and tea.

UPDATE: My kitchen scale tells me 150 "pearls" of tea weigh .15 of an ounce. The scale confirms that a bag contains 3.5 ounces of tea, so there are about 3,500 "pearls" per bag. Thus if I use 5 "pearls"per 2.5 cup mug of tea, I get 700 mugs of tea per bag. That's quite a bit cheaper than most bagged tea!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

In a Post-Diplomatic World

My generation sees a world our parents and grandparents are making increasingly post-this and post-that. We are skeptical about defining ourselves as beyond things past, like a frail old man or dissatisfied out-of-shape cubicle worker. We desire a firmer grounding.

Now there is a new term. The world has become post-diplomatic. (The official term is more respectable: transnational progressivism. But it means the same thing.)

The most important political distinctions are now about ideologies, not nations: Sunni, Shiite, European, Islamicist. In most political discussions, the term American is now about an ideology, not a nationality; the term Christian is about a political ideology, not a religious faith; the term democracy is about an ideology and no longer differentiated from a republic.

Nations can engage in diplomacy with nations, but not with ideologies. Ideologies are not accountable to diplomatic pressure. Thus tyrants say opposite things in different languages while being treated liked honest politicians, the U.N. is ineffective at shaping any nation's policies, and America follows "the Bush Doctrine".

Moreover, you can declare war on a nation, but must fight outside any conventions of war when combatting an ideology to promote other ideologies of democracy and well-being.

So, what should America do in a post-diplomatic world?

If we can no longer rely on support or strength from allies then we simply a single player in a tit-for-tat environment.

How do you beat the tit-for-tat strategy? As the saying goes, behave almost tit-for-tat but with a small and random chance of nuking the moon.

In other words, America needs to:
  • be very clear about describing its vital self-interests and how strongly it will fight to support each of these,
  • otherwise usually behave in a tit-for-tat manner,
  • with each tit-for-tat response have a public, random chance of a dramatic and disproportionate response.
These dramatic and disproportionate responses must be positive or negative, to match the corresponding tit-for-tat response. When offering in a tit-for-tat response, the president would describe the response and then roll some dice in a live broadcast. If dealing positively with an ally, maybe we would grant some special trade status or a lot of bonus foreign aid, just because of randomness. With dealing negatively with an enemy, maybe we would stop all our foreign aid for several years or help a third party conquer them, just because of randomness.

The idea is that tit-for-tat is a nearly optimal strategy, but can be improved by making use of human greed and fear.

This idea can be implimented through the procedures and rules of our republic. Politicians could determine which massive "carrots" and "sticks" our country would potentially use randomly, and how randomly they would occur, through their campaign platforms and in Congress.

Yes, this idea is deeply offensive to any ideals of fairness. Since World War II ended and significant regions were almost arbitrarily made into non-democratic nations, fairness has not been an option. Fairness is impractical until the U.N. is replaced by a union of only representative governments.

Aren't you glad our president is a cowboy and not a mathematician?

By the time my generation ages into political leadership, please leave us with a nicer political foundation than game theory.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Reasonable Approach to Nuke the Moon

Perhaps the most famous essay at IMAO is entitled "Nuke the Moon".

One of the more recently quoted comments from Little Green Footballs, comparing French and Iraqi ingratitude and troubles, is here (warning: delayed page load and scroll).

Glenn Reylonds is asking for short and pithy paragraphs with a recommendation for the current Iraq situation.

Tomorrow I'll explain the practical wisdom hidden in Frank's essay, and link all three posts.

A Fancy Pen

In an earlier post today I mentioned the idea of a pretty pocket knife as a kind of men's jewelry, and my grandfather's rule that no man should feel guilty about spending money on something he would own for the rest of his life.

I guess I wear four pieces of jewelry. I wear my wedding ring, which looks like two gold bands joined by a small loop of platinum. I wear my engagement ring on my other hand: a silver ring from the Signals catalog that says "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine" in Hebrew. I wear a necklace that was a wedding present from my wife. And I almost always carry my fountain pen.

I started carrying a fountain pen in graduate school. I had a green Waterman Phileas. I thought it odd to spend $20 on a pen, but it wrote very nicely, lasted for ten years, and let me use fun colors of ink.

I learned that if I had an expensive pen I did not lose it. With cheap pens I lost them as often as anyone else.

Eventually, last year, the nib broke and I replaced the pen with a black and gold Namiki Vanishing Point. This is the least expensive gold nib fountain pen, a step up that makes a big difference in how nicely it writes.

Do I write enough that having a gold nib fountain pen is worth the cost? Some days, but not usually. As a pen it's needlessly expensive. But as jewelry its very pretty and not expensive, and men don't get many options for jewelry. Perhaps most importantly, I write more handwritten letters than I otherwise would.

Legos in Comics

A while ago I wrote about getting Lego Star Wars II.

It turned out to be not so great for the PC. The manufacturer did a shoddy job when porting it from the Xbox. The cutscenes are choppy, often move in sloth-like slow motion, and cannot be skipped. There are a few bugs specific to the PC version.

For better entertainment, for those who have teens very fond of legos but only a PC for games, I recommend some comics involving legos.

Shipwrecked with Three Computer Games

A question going around is what three non-internet computer games you would want if they were all the recreation you did for three years.

Admittedly it's a silly question. The answers most people gave on the page I linked to show one reason why: computer games do not offer enough of an outlet for creativity. They have come a long way (warning: link has sound) but this progress has been too often in graphics rather than game depth or breadth.

My choices would all be based on creative outlets:
  • Whichever real-time strategy game has the best scenario editor. I have not done this since I actively played Age of Empires II, so I assume a newer game currently takes this title. (I made nifty edenic and post-apocolyptic maps for that game.)
  • Whichever first-person-shooter game has the best scenario editor. I have not ever done this. A long time ago I played Thief II, and the best part of that game was its fan community and the missions they made, as well as the spillover into an amazing Unreal Tournament mod. (Apparently in the games Thief and Thief III you are not a good guy. In Thief II you were a thief simply burglaring to pay the rent in the first mission, where you discovered about an evil plot to kill all the city's inhabitants. For the rest of the game you were a good guy, being sneaky while trying to save the city.)
  • Whichever computer role-playing game had the best campaign editor. I have not ever done this either, but know some recent games have specialized in this feature. Too bad Ancient Domains of Mystery has no such feature.
Game play itself would get really old after a few months. I'd need to be able to create things to share with friends and family once I returned from isolation.

The Wonders of Technology

Here's more silly news.

My grandmother, Bubba, bought herself a portable DVD player last week.

Now, Bubba has a strange ability to break high-tech gadgets. The one time she tried using my PDA it stopped accepting input until I reset it. My family jokes that the CIA should employ her to visit enemy nations as a tourist and touch their computers.

So she was understandably nervous about using this, even though she can operate her car's CD player without problems.

She tells me about the purchase on the phone, and her plans to keep the DVD player in its box until a friend or relative visits who can show her how to use it.

I tell her a quicker plan: I'll find the manual on the internet and then call her again. With both of us looking at the same manual we can get it working.

So my grandmother goes shopping and gets her first DVD. The next day we talk on the phone as she sorts out which cords she cares about, how to attach and remove the external battery, and how to start, pause, and eject the movie. Everything works great.

When I was young and computers were new, who would have guessed that technology would work this way?

Whee! (Sorry for the pun.)

This is silly news: the new Nintendo Wii is not only fun, but for some American kids too much exercise.

Quality Sharp Objects

The P.E. class in Tai Chi which I took at LCC this past term went nicely. Doing Tai Chi is pleasant. I think regularly doing a lot of stretching helped me even more than learning Tai Chi.

As I mentioned before, this past term was the Chen style short form. Next term I am taking the class again, and the topic will change to the Tai Chi Sword form.

Oregon is one of the knife-making capitals of the world. This state makes some beautiful knives. It's like jewelry for men. People who like knives have heard of Benchmade. People who spend a lot of money on knives also know the name William Henry.

So far I have only benefitted from Eugene having an amazing cultery store with employees who are fun to talk with and willing to let me interact with knives way out of my price range.

They also let me hold their swords. Oregon makes few swords; the best in that cutlery store are from Hanwei Forge. Perhaps after completing next term's Tai Chi Sword class I will splurge and get myself a moderately nice one. (At this point I know very little about Tai Chi Sword and cannot make an informed decision about how a real Tai Chi sword is better than a wooden one.)

I could invent an excuse to get myself the Benchmade knive I linked to above, but I won't. I already have a small, very pretty, and sentimental knife on my keychain that helps me open shrink-wrapped packages and such. I have no need of a quality pretty knife, and my belt is already busy with a cell phone and PDA.

My grandfather had a saying that no man should feel guilty about spending money on something he would own for the rest of his life. (Because so very little of our money is spent on anything besides housing, food, clothes, utilities, home maintenance, medical bills, etc. -- and men tend not to buy jewelry.) That is a wise saying. But it is also true that buying something I would seldom use or enjoy is silly.

Back before I was married I owned no kitchen knives. I had a nice, fairly large, folding pocket knife. Why would I need more? I never did while camping! (I also didn't own a scissors. Surprisingly, this only caused any difficulty once or twice a year.)

These days the knife I use most is an inexpensive Joyce Chen cleaver. My wife and I have nicer kitchen knives, but I've found that like using a cleaver for nearly everything, even cutting apples.

UPDATE: I saw that Benchmade Opportunist again today. It did not seem as pretty as the last time I had looked at it. I wonder if one store's copy had a slightly more nice piece of wood than the other, or the wood had a better grain?

The Christmas Season is Starting Early

As a Messianic Jewish minister, I have many discussions in December about religious holidays.

Messianic Judaism does not celebrate Christmas (we have Sukkot to commemorate the Messiah's birth) but teaches that Christians can celebrate that holiday appropriately . Also, Judaism must deal with similar issues about pagan influences in Purim customs.

Today a friend sent me a link to a talk about the pagan roots of Christmas, presented by Rabbi Lawrence Keleman. If you take the time to contrast this talk with the Christmas essay linked above you will see how the talk confused the official stances of religious leaders with the overly revelrous practices of laypeople. For example, it mentions how Christmas was outlawed in much of Puritan New England. But when discussing this bit of history it implies that excess in Christmas revelry was accepted, not fought, by by church leaders in England.

Every religion has such issues. But just because laypeople acted irresponsibly in the name of religion does not mean their religious leaders approved.

I earlier mentioned Purim: most American Jews today are ignorant of how their European ancestors filled that holiday with pagan customs, and would be embarassed if they found out. It is a bit ironic that Yochanan's account of Yeshua's teachings this time of year (during Chanukah) begin with a warning not to throw the first stone.

UPDATE: This article had some information about the history of Christmas trees that was new to me.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The City Does an Online Survey

The city of Eugene is doing a cultural activities survey, trying to gather public opinion about how the city should spend tax dollars to promote cultural activities.

An online survey for this purpose is a pretty interesting idea. After all, we live in a republic, not a democracy, and none of our city government officials ran on a platform involving cultural funding choices: they genuinely do not know how to represent the populace, and are politely asking.

I wonder how well it is being promoted. I only heard of it as an LCC employee. Fellow Eugenians, spread the word and make your voice heard!

Finals Week Finally

Sorry I've been away from the blog (and most non-work-related e-mail) for most of three weeks. The end of the term has been unusually busy. Now it is finals week and I have free time again!

This morning I took some chores to work with me. I had a pile of charitable donations to write checks for and send out. Only two students visited my office hours today, so I got those done then. I also had a pile of letters to write, most of which I finished while proctoring a final exam today. It is nice to be catching up on chores.

(Besides the usual business of teaching, I have had the car fewer days per week than usual. I had not realized how much an extra 30 minutes of commute time each direction adds up! Also, during the past month I have been in the most intense span of my allergy shots. I finally made it to the high-dose bottles of antigens. During the past month I only received one set of shots per week, but three times the sessions left me exhausted: I went to bed early the night of the shots and also needed a nap the next day. That didn't happen last Thursday, so I seem to be past that hurdle. This is happy news since I could really make use of those five or six hours each week I was sleeping extra!)