Thursday, October 30, 2008

Back to Blogspot

I gave up on moving my blog from

At the start of October, I wrote about a few of the problems I encountered when moving the blog to my own URL. I never received any reply from my help request about why searching the blog did not work.

But the clincher was when I discovered that all of my blog's permalinks became broken! For some reason Blogger is not smart enough to update the permalinks when the blog's URL is moved. This should be automatic and trivial. Alas.

Since I often link to old blog posts as I compose new ones, having all of those links broken was unacceptable.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

My "Tithe Plus Two" Tax Plan

Why does our nation's president propose a tax plan? That makes no sense to me. It's not in the Constitution.

As Frank J. Fleming has pointed out, no one has the experience ready to be the president. Especially now, when military issues are so crucial, why are we asking our next Commander In Chief to also be our chief economist?

Anyway, even though I know very little about economics I at least know that the economy does not grow from the bottom up. So I should get to write a tax plan too.

I do like Obama's idea of using taxes to distribute welfare. Since we already have "tax credits" as well as tax deductions, and since I am a fan of small government, I would get rid of traditional welfare and only use taxes to handle economic help to the financially needy. (I also would have an overall lower Feredal income tax to move many government functions to the State level where they belong.)

Anyway, here is my plan, which I call the

Tithe Plus Two Tax Plan
Individuals pay 10% of their income, modified by picking two "options". Corporations pay 10% of their positive change in net worth multiplied by the percent of their sales within the U.S., modified by picking two "options".
That's the basics. All the options start with a simple "I statement" and then might be very simple or involve pages of forms. No options can be used twice.

The first two options are identical. Both read:
I want cash back. The government writes me a check for $1,000.
If an individual uses this then his or her tax rate if effectively 10% of their income in excess of $20,000, or tax credit if the individual earns less than $20,000.

All other options must be compared to this baseline: they are sensible when they help someone by more than $1,000. This helps other options to have a clear government purpose.

For example, here is an option to promote saving:
I want to sell investments. My capital gains tax rate will be 8%, not 10%.
This would encourage people to hold onto their investments until they have accumulated $50,000 or more of capital gains (so the 2% is worth more than $1,000).

This option would encourage charity among the wealthy, a tradition that used to be well-entrenched in America but has too much disappeared:
I want to use my wage income charitably. For the past ten years my charitable giving has exceeding my income tax each year. This year my capital gains tax rate on wages will be 8%, not 10%.
This option, like most, would use an attached form similar to the current "Schedules" to defend the ability to use the option and do the resultant tax calculations.

Here is an option to help those with very low income buy food:
I want help with groceries. My income is in the lowest quintile and this year the government will provide me with food stamps.
I will leave it to the experts about how to make the food stamps work. Obviously factors such as family size and regional price of living are important. Other options might help with paying rent, paying medical bills, or other flavors of welfare.

How about saving for college?
I want to see the fruit of saving for college. One or more immediate family members are paying tuition/fees to earn a college degree of a category (professional certification or associate, four-year, or graduate degree) they do not yet have. I will be exempt from capital gains tax on my share of these tuition/fees.

I've never learned about why farmers are taxed differently or how farm subsidies work. Yet it would be easy enough to have an option for farmers.

Why are tips taxed? That makes no sense to me. Another option would not tax tips, which could help someone who earns more than $10,000 of tips each year.

How about this one?
I want the government to honor my ancestors' hard work. My household's net worth is less than the national median income and this year I will be exempt from income tax on inheritance.

Or even more controversial social engineering?
I want help balancing working and parenting. I have a graduate degree and this year I had a child that was more than my second child. This year my income tax rate will be 2%, not 10%.

You can see that the options can be as create and as intricate as desired. The overall plan is simple enough for Congress and voters to understand.

Politicians would undoubtedly try to create special options that favor certain interest groups in ways that make no sense as government policy. But such efforts would be much more transparent.

Notice that corporations would need to avoid having a large increase in net worth due to property appreciation, to avoid having high taxes but low liquid assets. This would affect very few small or medium businesses.

UPDATE: Edited for clarity and to add more examples.

Military Voting Poll for the 2008 Presidential Race

One of these graphs is not like the others...


After switching to Ubuntu, I am using OpenOffice.

The word processor is so far sufficient, although I did have to relearn how to do a replace involving paragraph marks.

The spreadsheet, so far, has one major flaw. When sorting the choice for whether the region to be sorted has a header row is hidden behind a tab, and defaults to "no". I always have a header row. Now I have to make three extra mouse-clicks to sort. Blah.

Card on Current Politics

Orson Scott Card, whose picture looks nothing like I imagined, writes about the recent mortgage-focused economic crisis and scolds the mainstream media.

My favorite sentence:
Though why quasi-federal agencies were allowed to do so baffles me. It's as if the Pentagon were allowed to contribute to the political campaigns of Congressmen who support increasing their budget.

Payday Traffic?

Yesterday was a Friday, and there was unusual traffic in the afternoon and early evening.

I wonder if it was a common payday and the traffic was shopping related? Wal-Mart stores have apparently noticed a recent change in shopping habits.

One part of that story was unexpectedly sentimental to me: my mother's parents used to stock up on baby food on payday. Eventually my grandfather's career advanced and he became financially successful. He was a real "American Success Story" and the family has several such memories of how my grandparents started married life very poor.

Little Stove, Big Tank

I just wrote that we had a new Coleman camping stove. It is cute and folds in half.

In the summer it would be handy to use this out on the deck, to avoid heating the house when cooking dinner. But we would want to use the larger, white propane tank we own for our Weber grill.

The least expensive adapter I can find online to hook a Coleman camping stove up to a larger, white propane tank costs more than $20! Does anyone know of a less expensive option?

Recycling Small Propane Cylinders

My family got a new camping stove before our recent camping trips to Silver Falls State Park. While purchasing it we noticed that the small green Coleman propane canisters are now recyclable with a little green plastic "key".

What about our older cylinders? I called the local recycling company and they assured me that any fully drained canister could be put into the recycling bin. The plastic "key" is merely an extra assurance to a recycling company that the cylinder is fully drained: it drains the last of the propane, but no more or less effectively than through other methods.

In fact, steel is valuable enough that they were pleased to have been asked the question!

Gluten-Free Play Dough

Back when I taught preschool I would frequently make play dough. The home-made material is not only easy to make and less expensive, but much easier to clean up.

To make play dough you first mix the few ingredients in a saucepan until smooth. Then turn on the heat to medium-low and keep stirring until the liquid turns into a solid. Knead it, let it cool, and then put it into a plastic bag.

The recipe I fine-tuned back then was:
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
Clearly this is not a gluten safe recipe!

Today I made more play dough for a congregational kids' activity. I tried several gluten-free variations.

The best one is:
  • 1/2 cup tapioca flour
  • 1/2 cup brown rice flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup salt
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp oil

So the lack of gluten wound up requiring twice the salt and one-third the oil. Intriguing!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Painful Refining

At the end of Monday's post about congregational changes I concluded with a teaser:
(And I did not touch on some remarkable personal growth in many members. That will be the subject of a later blog post.)
I cannot share much about these examples of personal growth, since these stories are about other people personally. However, I can share about the common theme. God has been repeating a process of painful refining, and he deserves praise for its successes.

I should preface the tale by sharing that during the past ten years I hear, now and then, of supposedly prophetic warnings stating that God is going to increasingly refine his people. Challenges will teach Yeshua's followers humility, and will separate those growing more like
Yeshua through prayer and repentance from those who fail to learn what God's Spirit tries to teach them.

I've never seen such a thing happen until fairly recently. It has been quite dramatic at Sar Shalom during the past year.

God has systematically worked with everyone in our leadership to teach and test humility, repentance, and teachable-ness.

I've spoken about this a few times within sermons but it still keeps taking congregants by surprise, even though the scenario God used has been moderately consistent.

First, the leader being taught and tested makes some mistakes. Things are said that hurt people: unintentionally, but the leader should still apologize. A couple poor decisions are made, or sometimes valid decisions are made with inappropriate timing. An attitude either
needs changing or needs to be communicated more clearly. None of these problems are huge and a small amount of alertness, humility, and love would make all situations better.

But then the second part of the scenario rushes in. A bunch of misunderstandings appear for which the leader is not responsible and cannot apologize: the leader is strained just to keep track of them! Some false accusations are shot at the leader, threatening to take the leader's attention away from his or her genuine mistakes and tempting the leader to be defensive and self-focused instead of giving and humble.

As I mentioned above, it would be inappropriate on this blog to share the details of how this scenario repeatedly arose. Trust me that the congregation's leaders did all make sets of small mistakes with words, decisions, and attitudes--and then suffer a barrage of misunderstandings and false accusations. First the congregation's rabbi, then its cantor, then its other prominent elder, then myself, and most recently its worship leader (in that list the spouses of the official leaders were also involved, for a couple doing leadership is taught together by God).

Sadly, not all these leaders have passed God's test. Being swamped with misunderstandings and hit with false accusations was (understandably) too much for one couple. Since I have seen in my life how God will repeatedly teach a lesson until I learn it, I personally have much hope that this family will some day be glad to "suffer with Yeshua" (Romans 8:17 Second Corinthians 1:5) and learn to pass the burden of the hurtful misunderstandings and false accusations to our savior while apologizing for the fewer and smaller more genuine mistakes. I am also sad, for I care about this couple and also expect the lesson will be every bit as unpleasant the next time it is taught.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Plum and Apple

Smiley helped us with our back yard fruit harvest.

Since he was recovering from a diaper rash, he did so without clothes on.

He wanted to try a plum.

It was very nice to chew on: tough yet slightly yielding.

But once he finally broke through its skin it was sour!

I had raked the pine needles into a pile before setting out the towels. My wife had piled apples on a pine needle nest to keep them dry and clean. Maybe an apple would be better than a plum.

Since Smiley really likes to try to eat pine needles, we gave him an apple a little bit distant from those.

It was almost as good to chew on as the plum.

However, it soon became frustrating. Its was too hard to be much fun to chew, and he could not break through its skin.

Silver Falls, Trip Two

Smiley was not quite crawling when we went to Silver Falls State Park for the second time. (The first time was blogged here.)

Some of us got ready by loading the car, while others sucked on their toes.

Smiley was outgrowing his swing, so we brought his jumping-thing instead. The weather had turned colder, so he is wearing more clothes in the evening as we unpack into the cabin.

The next day he enjoys being outside. The sleeping bags were still his favorite surface as he was learning to crawl, because he could grab fist-fulls of the fabric to pull himself along.

He again had some time on nicely lush grass.

Mommy likes mushrooms. Here she is by a whole little village of them.

Finally, here is all of us by one of the park's many waterfalls.

Six Months and Standing

Smiley is six months old today. During his fifth month he learned so much.

Now he is crawling.

He often plays with his toys from an almost-sitting posture, leaning on one hand.

He gives kisses; he cannot pucker his lips yet, but he opens his mouth and gently touches it to Mommy's cheek or the Baby-in-the-Mirror.

He picks fruit off our fruit trees and entertains us in the back yard.

He decided to celebrate today by learning how to pull himself up onto his feet. He crawled up to the couch, put his hands up on it, and stood up. We did not get the camcorder going until he had his hands on the couch already, but the video of pulling himself upright is here:
I'm way behind on blogging pictures and video about Smiley. Apologies to family and friends! I can only say that I've been unusually busy and only today had time to find the tools to better process videos. So expect more video updates about Smiley after Yom Kippur.

Better Than Flip's Software

Back in July I wrote about how the Flip Mino camcorder was delightful hardware with abysmal included software.

Now that I am using Ubuntu I needed to find some Linux replacement software. I do not require much video editing ability: only cropping out a segment, renaming it, and saving it in a smaller file size to upload to

Linux has a very easy to use editor named AviDemux to crop and rename files, and a second program OggConvert is quick and simple to change the video size and format.

No more frustration of using the Flip software. Huzzah!


A few months ago I discovered that the domain name was available. So I grabbed it. Now all of my internet activities have a common hub.

I still need to decide upon a layout. For now there is just a simple but pleasing CSS stylesheet.

There are three significant changes to what I am sharing online.

First, my novels are now accessible without a password. I still hope to someday find a publisher for Windsong and The Sandy Isles. But the past few years have proved that the sales of paper copies are not hurt by freely available file copies, so enjoy!

Second, I've mentioned in my blog that I finally have a workable new pencil-and-paper role-playing game designed for two players, to enjoy with my wife in the evenings. It is also now online, although at the moment the example setting's bestiary is only at rough draft stage. Perhaps it will be useful to other couples who enjoy the shared storytelling of a RPG adventure.

Finally, a blog is a terrible place to archive recipes, so I've put my recipes in their own part of the website. These include every recipe from my blog as well as several new ones. Yummy!

So Many Congregational Changes!

The days leading up the the High Holy Days are supposed to be a time when God renews things and helps us more become the way he wants us to be.

This has certainly been true at Sar Shalom. In fact, it has been a bit ridiculous. Let me list the changes that happened during September...

1. The congregation has changed its meeting location. We now meet in the building of Immanuel Lutheran Brethren Church in north Eugene. Compared to our old location, this facility is a better size, is cleaner, has a very nice kitchen.

2. The shift to using prayer books instead of PowerPoint for liturgy was supposed to happen months ago, but was delayed until now. (We will still be using PowerPoint for music lyrics.) With the prayer books we have a new order of service that better allows God's Spirit to direct our Shabbat worship.

3. Our worship team was temporarily disbanded. The congregation needed to work on worshiping in unity, and it was too much for any worship leader to focus both on leading the congregants before him or her as well as other musicians beside him or her. Now that growth has happened, and the worship team can come back together.

4. Our website is updated and at a new web hosting company. This was supposed to happen in August but the change met with unexpected complications from both the old and new companies.

5. Our finances are straightened out, thanks to the congregation's new bookkeeper. The old bookkeeper did things very poorly. Deposits of multiple donations were made without note of the individual contributions. Deposits of tax-deductible offerings were mixed with other types of income (such as the cost to attend the Passover seder). Now the books are straight. We have also incorporated so we can use bank accounts under our own identity instead of that of our umbrella organization.

6. Changing our rental agreement prompted us to organizationally "get our house in order". We have almost finished compiling a Policies and Procedures manual, rather than people serving the ministry according to verbally communicated instructions and routines. We also made a few changes, such as deciding we needed an usher during services to be a greeter and also keep an eye on the doors and hallways.

7. Our rabbi took an unplanned but commendable sabbatical. He realized he was not spending enough time with his children. Knowing it would be too difficult to rearrange his schedule while doing all he normally does, he delegated his duties to the other elders for two months. This would not have been tricky if the other six changes were not happening; his sabbatical was forced to include being kept "in the loop" about the progress of these other changes, and he had to be more active than that on a few occasions.

Whew! I am glad God is helping us have more unity and order, while still avoiding legalism or homogeneity.

(And I did not touch on some remarkable personal growth in many members. That will be the subject of a later blog post.)

Another Bible Audiobook Sale

At the end of August I mentioned that the audiobook version of the Jewish New Testament was on sale.

The current sale is even better. Until October 15th the code EAS1 at eStudySource gets 20% off any item.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Electoral College Calculator

I have started paying attention to politics so I can vote responsibly in the upcoming election.

Voting for who will be president is not much of a concern for me. Oregon is almost always Democratic. The only recent exception to this typical trend was ballot measure 36, and in that issue the only surprise was that even in Lane Country the majority supported the measure.

Since my own vote about president has so little chance of mattering I am free to watch the national scene with the calm of a mathematician whose tea cup has recently been refilled.

The WSJ website provides a nice electoral college calculator, and fiddling with it appears to reveal that the McCain-Palin ticket needs only to win one of Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Ohio: an outcome at least as probable as not. My fiddling is of course based upon incomplete information but it seems likely that this presidential election will be quite similar to the last one.

My brother-in-law once described the 2004 election by saying "The Republicans had a well-oiled machine; the Democrats had a contraption." This year it appears the Republicans have a worn but serviceable machine and the Democrats are riding a mainstream-media contraption. Voters are thus even more starkly divided rural versus urban: a scenario which in 2004 resulted in a close popular vote with a Republican electoral college advantage.

Tangentially, if the McCain-Palin ticket does win it will be a mixed blessing for me and many other Oregonians. This state hates the Republican corruption and machinery almost as much as it yearns for small government. The only currently visible hope for a future pro-small-government presidential candidate is Palin. But can Oregon endure four or eight more years of anti-Republican-president vitrol until McCain retires, and could Palin remain distant from the Republican corruption machinery if in Washington?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

New to Ubuntu: Software

I recently switched to an Ubuntu laptop (an Acer Extensa 4620Z).

I wrote about earlier about how having Smiley means I am now recording home videos (with a Flip) and my old computer was lacking in processor power for working with video. I got a laptop because with a small laptop I can maintain frequent eye contact with Smiley while working on the computer and he likes that.

Back in July I listed the software I used on my old Windows XP desktop. Here is the new list.
  • Word processor, spreadsheet, slides: OpenOffice
  • Hebrew word processor: DavkaWriter (the only software I use that is not free, it runs great in wine)
  • Web browser: Firefox, with extensions AdBlock Plus, NoScript, and the Ubuntu Firefox Pack
  • E-mail: Gmail (in web browser), CheckGMail and Evolution for backups to the hard drive
  • Bible software: e-Sword (installer is here)
  • Text editing: Bluefish and the Firefox extension LinkChecker
  • File transfer: the Firefox extension FireFTP
  • File bulk renaming: Thunar
  • Photos: gThumb, Picasa2 (installer is here), and Gimp
  • Music: Sound Juicer, EasyTag, mp3Wrap
  • Video: AviDemux to trim Flip videos, AcidRip to rip DVDs to files, VLC to play
  • PDF reading: Adobe Reader (.deb file is here)
Almost all of the laptop's hardware worked without effort. I needed to install the package b43-fwcutter to enable the laptop's wireless modem, and both libdvdcss2 and ubuntu-restricted-extras to enable the DVD player. I needed to install the package msttcorefonts so old documents would paginate properly. I still need to know what package will enable the laptop's card reader.

My printer, scanner, and other peripherals all work fine with Ubuntu.

Blah for FTP-Blogger

Although today was busy, I would have blogged more after dinner except that I was trying to find a way to make blogger less frustrating.

Switching from the URL to a private URL required me to abandon the nice template I had created. The main problem with this for me was my sidebar of links which made my blog a convenient home page for me. So I moved those links and tried it.

Now all sorts of other things are broken.

UPDATE: Ah! I fixed almost every problem.

1. To enable the "Blogger NavBar" and "Quick Edit Links" to work I needed to allow third-party cookies in Firefox.

2. I saw how to edit the third-party code to put labels in the sidebar to make it work.

3. I worked out how to edit the classic template "scribe" to make blog post titles into links.

I still cannot search my blog. I've submitted a help request and will see what happens.

New Humorous Autobiography

Back in July of 2006 I was asked to write an autobiography, with which I could be introduced before presenting a guest lecture.

I have again been asked to do so. Here is the updated version.

David Van Slyke was born in Orange County, California, way back when people could be both Jewish and Republican.

His parents decided that despite their religious differences, all the children would be raised Jewish. His mother was active in the local Reform Jewish community, at different times in her life leading the local Sisterhood, activities at the local Jewish retirement community, or activities at the local Jewish Community Center. His father was from a non-practicing Christian denomination that considered the "two or three gathered in my name" of Matthew 18:20 to be an upper limit, past which religion did more harm than good. Nevertheless, his father was so supportive of the family's Jewish identity that at one point he was asked to head the local synagogue's Ritual Committee.

David is the oldest of three children. His sister married a nice Jewish boy and they have two adorable children. His brother currently works for the California Tax Bureau, gently convincing large companies that certain items their lawyers described as loopholes actually are not. (His brother is well-established and still single, in case you know any nice Jewish young women.)

David's religious journey progressed through his Bar Mitzvah, when he learned to chant Torah and gave an important speech neither he nor anyone else remembers anything about. In college he took several classes in comparative religions, while in different years dating a Mormon and a then Jehovah's Witness.

In graduate school he met C., who would later become his wife. While dating her, through a complex set of experiences, books, and prayers of her friends and family, David discovered that the basics of Christian theology are true. This upset his mother's side of the family greatly but they were polite about it. (They refused to talk about it and bought him a set of Tovia Singer's tapes.) By this time his father had become a Secular Humanist, and was happy to have something new to talk philosophically about.

David and C. moved to Rochester, New York, for the sake of her doctoral work in genetics. There they joined their first Messianic Jewish congregation. David served the congregation in many ways: creating the children's curriculum, overseeing home groups, helping run a food pantry, and eventually as Intern Messianic Rabbi (a title quite similar to Assistant Pastor, but more confusing).

As with most Messianic Jews, David became more biblical in his practice of Judaism as he spent time in the Messianic Jewish movement.

When David and C. moved to Eugene, Oregon, in 2003, David met with the local Messianic Jewish leaders and they agreed that David was called by God to fill one of Eugene's needs: a Messianic Jewish congregation whose Jewish culture more-or-less resembled Reform and Conservative Judaism.

That congregation lasted four years. At the end of the summer of 2007 it merged with a similar congregation that had been started in Springfiled, Oregon. The merged group now meets under the name Sar Shalom.

David is now the househusband raising a five month old baby, Smiley. He also teaches math at Lane Community College, serves as an elder for Sar Shalom, and runs a discipleship ministry that works with local churches to help people better follow Yeshua by worshiping and by understanding the world as he and his earliest disciples did.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

Happy Holy Days!

During the past month many things have been made new, as fits the theme for the weeks preceding Rosh HaShanah. I'll share more in a bunch of upcoming blog posts. But right now Smiley is waking up from a nap.

May your names be inscribed for a good year!