Friday, January 30, 2009

How is your Bank Doing?

Not sure which banks are healthy? Check here.

Surprisingly, that web site says our credit union (Northwest Community) is not doing as well as three of the four small and local banks (Century, Pacific Continental, and Summit).

Cartography Boom

Someone has used Google Maps to make a web page showing the size of a nuclear explosion for seven different historical or current nuclear weapons, centered on any address.

Detonating a B61 in my driveway would cause an explosion that reached the near edge of Buford Park.

If someone detonated a "suitcase bomb" in a big city near you, would you be inside the explosion? Now you can know!

Thursday, January 29, 2009


My house has some mice.

While we were away on vacation in December a family of them moved in. They want to live in the cabinet under the kitchen sink. The sink has an instant near-boiling water spout, and the device underneath stays toasty warm. A mouse sitting underneath it is probably in the warmest place upstairs.

Now, I grew up watching the right Disney movies and know how this is supposed to work. The mice are trying to be polite. They have made no effort to go onto our counters or after our food. But the rules go beyond that. I would be happy to clean out that cabinet, put in shelf paper, and move the kitchen compost bowl from the counter to in there. Then everyone could be happy, and some day they would teach Smiley valuable lessons about courage or friendship.

But the mice are neglecting their part in the arrangement. I cannot trust them unless they start demonstrating proper hygiene and either wear little waistcoats or occasionally break out into song and dance.

I don't want to kill the mice. I already trap and move more than a dozen squirrels each year to protect my wife's garden. Moving a few mice would not be any trouble. So I try using mouse-sized live traps.

But the mice ignore them no matter how much peanut butter I put inside. So I have been using normal snap-traps. These catch the mice even without any bait.

These traps also reveal how much these mice are not the kind I want Smiley to grow up listening to. I have learned to check in that cabinet a few times per day, to notice and remove a trapped mouse before it is discovered by a relative. Instead of bringing a little wreath of flowers or covering a mirror with black cloth, these mice go "Hm, lunchtime."

Counting the County's Homeless

Lane County had about 350,000 people last year. Four-fifths of these were older than 18. 186,000 were potentially part of the workforce.

Last year there were 2,111 homeless people in Lane County at the time their census happened. That works out to six-tenths of a percent of the population, or 1.1% of the potential workforce.

I wonder how that compares to other counties? Despite its small size, Lane County is the second most populous region in the state (after Portland and its suburbs).

Two factors might make this statistic unreliable. First, the county has a substantial transient population: I am not sure whether this causes a fluctuation of dozens or hundreds on any day. Second, the census happens during winter and I would expect it is not quite representative for the rest of the year.

Also note that my calculation of 0.06% is odd because four-fifth of total population is over eighteen years old whereas the homeless population has few children.

(Tangentially, the county's unemployment rate is reported to be 9.5%.)

UPDATE: Curious about how many of the county's homeless are children and how many are chronic homeless, I called Pearl Wolfe at the county Human Services Commission. She will have that information for 2007.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Views on the Stimulus Plan

CNNMoney attempts to impartially review the pros and cons of the stimulus plan.

USNews does not like the plan and provides ten reasons why.

The Wall Street Journal suggests we need more information before we can create the right plan.

A website entitled provides the text, as well as summaries and charts.

UPDATE: Ah, here is a "view" worth noting. Oh my, not choice and freedom!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Costco for Generic Medications?

One of my students asked if this popularly circulating e-mail would be suitable for use in a Math 25 portfolio.

Snopes: Generic Drugs

For the Article Report part of the portfolio this is a great "news article". The table with percent markup contains math relevant to Activity 11B . Is the markup in the table markup calculated as on sale price or markup on cost? Are the percentages correct? How is this table misleading? (The Snopes commentary helps answer this last question.)

As a theme for the Project part of the portfolio a real life "problem" is needed since plain lists of compared prices do not make a very interesting project even if they do use a lot of math. Why not invent a handful of hypothetical elderly people each with one or two different common health issues among the elderly and find the cost of their medications at Costco and second pharmacy? This page describes many health issues common among the elderly, and with a little bit of reading a student could identify many whose treatment includes medication. (For example, high blood pressure, more severe heart issues, insomnia, glaucoma, arthritis, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and depression.)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Crisis Graphs

I last mentioned the Entitlement Crisis in December and the mortgage-liquidity crisis a few days ago. It is finally time to put these two together.

A nice graph about the Entitlement Crisis is here, from the Citizen's Guide to the 2007 Financial Report of the U.S. Government (.pdf file).

Two graphs that show the unprecedented level of government spending are here, from a blog named East Coast Economics.

We can combine the themes of these graphs.

Note from the first graph that the historic high for the national debt was 109% of the GDP, which happened during World War II and in 2007 was expected to happen again shortly before 2040.

The current U.S. GDP is 14.4 trillion. The national debt is now 10.6 trillion, or 74% of the GDP. This means the mortgage-liquidity crisis caused us to leap ahead to about 2030 on that first graph's timeline. We are not yet at a record high for the national debt. But we did lose 20 years of preparation for fixing the Entitlement Crisis.

To summarize, people panicking about how much debt our children and grandchildren will have are missing the big picture. That debt is important but our country has previously overcome that problem on an even bigger scale. More important is that our society is currently structured around many kinds of "entitlement programs" (from welfare to social security to pension plans for government employees) that simply cannot continue and we just lost 20 years towards developing a solution.

(Nitpick for other math folks: I realize a one-time expenditure is additive not multiplicative growth. But I expect that the government, having realized it can actually borrow two orders of magnitude more than it previously believed, will not forget that lesson.)

UPDATE: A whole collection of related charts here at the Financial Times.

Catskill Humor

I've been doing too much political blogging lately. Time for some jokes.

Keeping Track of Presidential Promises

I can't quickly find if Florida's St. Petersburg Times is a liberal or conservative newspaper.

In any case, they are known for their website Truth-O-Meter that watches political promises.

Now they have a webpage just for President Obama's campaign promises. After only four weekdays in office he already has five items checked off and fourteen in progress. My past week was not nearly as productive, and my to-do list not nearly as significant.

UPDATE: An interesting article on Cabinet versus czar roles and how President Obama delegates.

Emotional Affair

A few years ago I remember reading about a Catholic cardinal who coined the phrase "emotional adultery". Unfortunately I cannot now locate his name or provide a link.

He had written a book making the assertion that a spouses should be each other's best friends and closest confidants. If a married person ever felt emotionally closer to someone other than his or her spouse that was a warning sign indicating that the marriage relationship needed more time and effort.

One of his most controversial points was that the gender of the "third" person did not matter. A husband who is most comfortable talking about his private life with a male friend at work or at the gym is still committing "emotional adultery" by replacing what should be in the marriage relationship.

This has always seemed good advice to me. My wife and I do follow it. We have friends, but make sure we are always each other's best friend.

Anyway, the phrase "emotional affair" recently popped up in a discussion on Ace's blog. I'm writing this to chip in there.

If anyone knows the name of that cardinal, please remind me!

Four Modern Tales of Evil

Every now and then my wife or I exchange e-mails with SarahK and FrankJ. They also have a gluten-free home, and SarahK is also trying to loose weight to get to 150 pounds.

Lately SarahK has been enjoying the Twilight books but FrankJ is apparently uninterested in them.

So this post is for them. Here is a review of Let the Right One In by James Rummel. This art movie, along with the significantly different and grimmer book it is based upon, was a second and less publicized new take on the vampire myth. From what I know about FrankJ this might be a movie that he and SarahK could enjoy and discuss together, moreso than the Twilight books.

I've never read or watched either, so I cannot provide my own review. But during the two days of early January when I was quite sick and not up for anything I did watch the first few episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the first time, on Hulu.

I enjoy Firefly and wondered if I would enjoy Buffy. Nope. The early episodes were written as an extended metaphor of how dreadful the high school years can be. Those first episodes had themes about the difficulty in fitting in at a new town, when parents are too controlling, how hurtful it can be for a teacher to take advantage of a student, and the lure of a gang mentality. But it was also true that the heroes acted like high school students: they kept secrets from each other, wallowed in teen angst, and often did not use teamwork well. Those early episodes succeeded in metaphorically describing high school as a not-fun place so well that it was not much fun as an adult to watch them. (But I could see how the show would be popular among high schoolers.) As usual with a Joss Whedon show the dialogue was humorous and witty, but not enough to keep me past a few episodes. Surprisingly, some of the commercials were great.

I know of another "fighting the forces of evil" story that has as heroes three high schoolers, two girls and a boy, who have some adult support. I enjoyed it much more than Buffy.

It is a webcomic about two families who have been at odds for generations. One family is supported by evil superhumans. What the conflict looked like or how it endured despite such an unbalanced arrangement is never described. The story begins when both families are in disarray and dysfunctional because some of the normally evil superhumans were raised in caring families, and these did not grow up to be evil. The story's character development is minimal, but the plot is intricate and fun while lessons about forgiveness, trust, and second chances are told with subtle skill. The title is Demonology 101, which certainly does not sound like something a minister would recommend. But the in the story the evil superhumans could have just as easily been aliens, supervillains, or time-travelers: their only "trick" needed for the story is the ability to teleport. They can safely flee the scene while the heroes (and reader) know they will eventually return to make trouble. The heroes fight the evil supervillains with fists, guns and blades, just as if the foes were people. These evil supervillains feel emotional conflicts and want loving relationships. So there is nothing about them but the name similar to scripture's demons. The comic never discusses, let alone doing something harmful like romanticizing, what are actually spiritually evil.

I recommend starting the webcomic here at a bit of well written backstory. It's another tale that SarahK and FrankJ would probably both enjoy and enjoy discussing together.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

High Fructose Corn Syrup

Back in November I mentioned that watching television before the age of two is linked to autism spectrum disorder. Time for another lesson about why kids are in trouble from what scientists know but the media is quiet about. Thanks go to my wife for finding good links.

High fructose corn syrup is evil. (And most kids consume a lot of it.)

Some nutritionists and cooks are trying to get the word out. Here is the more technical explanation.

To start with, it does not cause you to feel full compared to other sweeteners. The science talk is that there is less leptin secretion than otherwise.

It also is turned into fat instead of sugar by your metabolism. The science talk is that it causes lipogenesis instead of glucose release.

High fructose corn syrup also requires more insulin to metabolize than other sweeteners. Over time this can cause insulin resistance: requiring more and more insulin to do the same job.

To summarize, kids who eat too a lot of high fructose corn syrup are eating too much because they are not feeling full, from this food gaining extra body fat (instead of energy), and on their way to developing type 2 diabetes.

Predicting Bush's Legacy

Something I should have expected but which never occurred to me was that this past week people would start predicting what historians would some day call the biggest legacy of George Bush's presidency. What two sentences might appear in a high school history book fifty years from now?

Bill Frist predicts it will be health care, both global and domestic.

This website (which is somewhat rudely has not yet added "Former" to Bush's title) predicts it will be the lack of significant domestic terrorist attacks since 9/11/2001. I certainly hope this does not become something historically notable!

Here is Bush's own estimation in his farewell address.

Here is my guess. Compared to the first four years of the Iraq War, the past two years have really taught our military how to effectively fight terrorism. Although I hope that I am wrong and the lessons our military has learned will not turn out to be of historically prominent importance I fear it this will be true. (Engram has some charts, but what I can't find is a link to any chart of the enemy's losses compared to the number and size of their attacks.)

UPDATE: More on fighting AIDS here.

Following the News Efficiently

I have not been following the news much since the new year. Partly this is due to the election being complete: I no longer need to be an informed voter. Partly this is due to several weeks of vacation and illness, during which I ignored the news.

Today my wife checked and found out that the Peanut Butter Larabars in our pantry were among those recalled because of the recent peanut butter contamination. She was aghast to learn I had not heard of this current news item. So I spent a little time looking for some good links to efficiently stay up to date on important news stories.

The largest local newspaper does not have a nice web page for local news; the best I can do is its web page for stories from the past seven days.

For non-local news, the quickest page I know of to browse is Google News or its alternate interface, NewsMap. I would prefer something in between these two: an interface that filled my screen twice. The Google News page is slightly lengthy even after I customize it, and the NewsMap page is a slightly cramped even after I turn off the categories of sports and entertainment.

Does anyone have other recommendations for news links that are easy to skim?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Geert Wilders

Geert Wilders is a Dutch politician who this week became even more representative of the struggle for free speech in Europe.

A nice introduction to his issues is found here, balanced enough to applaud his stance for free speech while calling some of his rhetoric as "problematic". An example of one of his talks is here.

Note that Wilders does want the Koran banned, so he is not the best example of someone standing up for free speech. His situation is most notable because he is being held to standards to which his opponents are not held.

Three articles about his upcoming court case are here, here, and here. These three links become increasingly biased in their language but the latter articles also include some worthwhile arguments.

UPDATE: James Rummel reports on a current E.U. effort to ban free speech. Here is the most relevant paragraph:
If you want to see just where the EU is going, then take a look at sections 1205-00 and 1206-00. Both of them say that it is a crime to "insult" the State, the Nation, the symbols of the State or Nation, or representatives of the State/Nation. Does this mean that it is considered a crime if someone writes an op-ed that is disparaging of a politician? Sure sounds like it.

Gluten Free Finger Foods

Back in November I commented that I was having trouble find good finger foods for Smiley. With my wife so sensitive to gluten we cannot have Cheerios in the house and the gluten-free cereals we knew of then had added sugar.

Here is a longer list with the finger foods we have since found and use.

Rice/Cereal - plain cooked rice, Nature's Path fruit juice sweetened corn flakes cereal, Arrowhead Mills puffed rice cereal, infant rice cereal mixed with broth and shaped into balls

Bread/Crackers - injera, OrgraN crackers (Smiley likes the salsa flavor)

Vegetables (cooked, small cubed) - potato, broccoli

Messy Fruit (raw, small cubed) - apple, banana, avocado, pear, berries, infant rice cereal mixed with applesauce and shaped into balls

Neater Fruit (useful out of the house) - Trader Joe's freeze-dried banana or mango pieces, very small pieces of dried fruit

Proteins - cheddar or jack cheese, cooked beans

UPDATE: Heather Young writes about her suggestions.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Inappropriate Inaugural Logic

Jon Favreau wrote President Obama's inaugural address. Just to be clear, this post is about his words, not Obama's presentation of them.

I tend to be a logical person, which is not surprising for a math instructor. Also, since I live in Oregon I had very little emotional involvement with the presidential race since my state's electoral college votes were entirely predictable.

So I read Obama's inaugural address calmly and logically, which is of course not at all how an inaugural address is intended to be heard.

One sentence jumped out as my favorite. It succinctly says something that should be said quite often.
To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.
That statement does not only apply to national leaders, but is a warning for everyone.

I had written earlier about the proposed civilian force. Since that blog post I've decided the proposal, although still scary, is actually brilliant. Since a president can never implement all of his campaign promises this promise provides Obama with an open door to attempt all sorts of things, with no obligation to be successful because, after all, the experiment was crippled since the proposal never was attempted in its entirety. The speech included several paragraphs along these lines:
As we consider the role that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who at this very hour patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are the guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service -- a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves.

And yet at this moment, a moment that will define a generation, it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all. For as much as government can do, and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends -- honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.

What is demanded, then, is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept, but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
Not as alarming as it could have been. We can expect to hear about "service" to the government as part of "finding meaning in something greater than yourself". We can expect to hear about the "responsibility" and "duties to our nation" and "price of citizenship". But the examples given did not involve new programs but typical helpfulness and established virtues. I do not expect Uncle Sam to soon start taking a percentage of my time as well as my income.

I also wrote about using taxes to distribute welfare. Here is where my logical mind most deviated from what Mr. Favreau intended.
The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works -- whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched. But this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control. The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity, on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart -- not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.
Taken literally and logically these paragraphs ask that the government employ as many Americans as possible with nice pay, benefits and retirement--and businesses to exist primarily to provide taxes to support so many government jobs. I'm sure that is not the actual proposal, especially since that plan has been unintentionally troubling Britain since 1997.

I did not like seeing a false claim tucked in those paragraphs: that the mortgage-liquidity crisis is a result of insufficient government oversight. To the contrary, the crisis was primarily a result of government meddling in what should have been normal market forces, although the blame is not quite that simple. It was grievous enough for a media supportive of the Democrats to be quiet about this during 2008; for the new President to repeat the claim after safely winning the election is inexplicable dishonesty. Far preferable would be to remove politicians such as Chris Dodd and Barney Frank, who are largely responsible for the mess, from any role in attempting to fix it.

All 2008 Videos are Up

BlipTV now has all of the 2008 videos of Smiley.

I still need to write two blog posts providing commentary for November and December. The blog is the best place to share about how Smiley was growing, what milestone was happening, or what made a specific event worth recording for posterity.

But if you are impatient you can see the videos now without any fun and helpful context. Cuteness needs no context!

The Messianic Jewish Vision

It is not difficult to define the phrase Messianic Judaism.

Two organizations, the MJAA and UMJC, coined that term and they define it in complimentary statements on their websites. There are a number of other organizations whose behavior or reputation is sometimes confused with Messianic Judaism (such as J4J and MIA) but these are almost always polite about not calling themselves Messianic Jewish.

Unfortunately, a more fundamental phrase, also coined by the MJAA and UMCJ, is very rarely used: the Messianic Vision.

In the early days of the MJAA this phrase was often used. It referred not to what being a Jewish disciple of Yeshua looked like, but a specific agenda God was working out worldwide.

One reason P'nei Adonai was successful as a congregation from April of 2004 through August of 2007 was that it stayed focus on the Messianic Vision. For example, when I returned from an MJAA conference I would help maintain a sense of God's larger agenda by reporting to congregants about what new things God was doing as part of the big picture, and what old things were done and ended.

(This focus on the Messianic Vision was also the main reason P'nei Adonai was always a small congregation. People wanting to follow a different agenda would quickly see that the congregation understood the Messianic Vision and was not open to being diverted to a different agenda. These people were almost always nice people. A few of them had a genuine God-given agenda. We would enjoy whenever any of them joined us to celebrate the annual holy days. But on a week-to-week level the agendas were clear and different, so the congregation stayed small.)

Even within an official MJAA or UMJC Messianic Jewish congregation not all congregants will be called to the Messianic Vision. Similarly, a person need not be part of a Messianic Jewish congregation to be called to and participating in the Messianic Vision. But a Messianic Jewish congregation that loses its focus on the Messianic Vision soon becomes unable to answer the question "What are we about besides Jews and Gentiles observing Torah together?"

The Messianic Vision never claims to be everything God is doing. Far from it! God is using many plans and agendas to mature his people and prepare the future. The Messianic Vision is only one of many ways that God shows to heaven and earth how his ways and wisdom are the best things even in a broken and sinful world; see Ephesians 3:10:
...through the assembly there might be made known now to the principalities and the authorities in the heavenly places the manifold wisdom of God...
No authoritative definition for the Messianic Vision exists as we start 2009. Neither the MJAA nor the UMJC even define it on their websites anymore.

I can no longer describe it with its current details. Because of a new baby in the home I have not been able to leave my family to attend any MJAA conferences since January of 2008, so I am largely ignorant of what new things God is doing as part of the Messianic Vision. But I remain aware of and called to its fundamentals.

Here are the six foundational parts of the Messianic Vision that do not change.

(Perhaps you will recognize them as a visible part of what God is doing where you worship, even if it is not a Messianic Jewish synagogue. If so, please let me know! I always love to hear stories about what the Messianic Vision currently looks like in different parts of the country and world.)

1. God is calling many of Yeshua's Jewish disciples to participate in synagogues

For about 100 years, from the middle of the 1800s to the 1960s, God worked through a movement called "Hebrew Christians" to help Jewish followers of Yeshua be aware of their Jewish identity and have a Jewish home while also participating in a church.

Since the 1960s many (but not all) Jewish followers of Yeshua have a calling to leave churches and participate in synagogue life. While synagogue attendance rates have been decreasing in most branches of Judaism, they have been rising for Jewish followers of Yeshua, who may try to participate in a local Rabbinic synagogue but usually are forced to form their own synagogues when Rabbinic Judaism does not welcome them.

2. God is starting to restore the first-century roots of discipleship to Yeshua's disciples

To be a disciple as scripture uses that term is a big commitment. We should try to make our lifestyle like Yeshua's. Thus we should study his methods of worshipping, his worldview, and his use of scripture. We should memorize his parables and sayings. We should think twice before differing from his habits and manner of lifestyle.

Since the 1960s there has been a great and continuing increase in more authentic discipleship. As examples, many Gentile churches of diverse denominations are studying Yeshua's first-century identity, learning about the holy days Yeshua observed and hosting Passover seders, and doing worship more like Yeshua did. In general people are still very far from authentic discipleship, but they are interested and getting closer.

3. God is restoring the Messiah's Jewish identity

There is nothing new about scholarly agreement that Yeshua was Jewish. But for centuries Yeshua's followers treated his Jewish identity as something he shed at his ressurection as if it were a set of odd customs he put up with while on earth but "got over" once back in heaven.

Since the mid-1900s, Yeshua's followers have increasingly realized that he still is Jewish: he is the Lion of Judah even in Revelation. This is affecting music and visual art as well as theology and discipleship.

4. God is calling Jews and Gentiles to worship together

For centuries people of Jewish and Gentile ancestry have been wary and distrustful of each other, especially at a house of worship.

Since the 1960s, to a degree beyond what interfaith marriages explain, many synagogues see some Gentiles in their pews and many churches see some Jews in their pews. Also synagogues and churches are increasingly cooperative in interfaith work.

5. God is refining his people in preparation for the Messiah reigning on earth

In synagogues and churches with many Jewish followers of Yeshua the congregants are increasingly finding it awkward to be a bench-warmer. God is actively refining and maturing his people. Those who only want to experience something comfortable each weekend are quickly dissatisfied with congregations in which God is requiring more and depart. Being refined by God (or part of how God refines others) is not easy but it is rewarding.

Part of this refining happens when God challenges individuals. Back in October I wrote about a pattern that could be seen in what God was doing with Sar Shalom.

Part of this refining happens when God uses an entire congregation to challenge another group. I recently wrote about an example of this.

Some non-congregational religious organizations, such as Promise Keepers, have also seen that God tends to do extra refining where Jewish followers of Yeshua gather.

6. God is affirming the state of Israel's right to exist

Finally, God has future plans for not only what scripture calls the faithful remnant of the Jewish people but for all the people of God. Scripture has many prophecies about a great Jewish revival from worldliness to holiness shortly before Messiah reigns on earth. The current nation of Israel, despite the errors and corruption of its leaders, has a right to exist, is blessed by God, and is also part of scriptural prophecy.

To conclude, please keep in mind that the details of the Messianic Vision evolve and change. For example, in the past two years the Joseph Project has become increasing influential in Israel and the TOS March of Life increasing influential in Germany.

A Congregation Suffering with Messiah

Back in October I wrote about how God was refining leaders in Sar Shalom. Most passed the test, but not all did. It was a difficult process but clearly God was in control. Sometimes (usually?) we need to overcome difficulties to grow in maturity; we should be grateful when God carefully arranges the difficulties we meet.

Also last fall the entire congregation, as a group, was used as part of how God tried to do refining with a second group, a church. This is an equally interesting dynamic, and one worth sharing because I think churches and synagogues will experience such things more and more.

I had to delay sharing this story until enough time had passed that I could retell it with a reasonable hope of anonymity for the church. I do not wish to embarrass it or sound like I am scolding it. The church failed two tests. But the fact that God thought it worthwhile to challenge this church makes me confident that God will continue to work with them. They will grow and eventually pass a similar test. The case that would warrant embarrassment would be a group that God has given up on; this isn't that situation.

Sar Shalom was part of how God tested the willingness of a church to be hospitable. The details do not really matter. The church wavered for a while but eventually decided to be inhospitable towards Sar Shalom. Certain of its leaders were too worldly and would repeatedly say phrases such as "this sounds nice in theory, but we are in the real world...". I longed to reply, "You mean 'in the world', rather than 'in the Kingdom of God'," but had prayed enough to know that it was not my place to challenge those leaders. Do not get in the way when God is doing something!

The church tried its best to be polite while not being hospitable. It had defensible excuses for why it felt it could not be hospitable. Helping Sar Shalom would require it to be liable for more things. The church smiled and gave Sar Shalom a useful gift when we parted ways.

Soon after God used an internal issue among that church's members to reveal the extent of its lack of hospitality. That church was challenged to treat its members as family. Would its leaders be willing to experience suffering and risk with some members who were in trouble? Would it be caring and hospitable to the extent scripture urges if the organization might become liable for more things? The church's leaders promptly said no. The members in trouble felt crushed and the entire church suffered.

I am sure that what God initially desired Sar Shalom to suffer through that church's successful growing pains. The church needed to be drawn out of its comfort zone to learn to extend hospitality and accept risk before its second test, which was the important one. It was a bother for Sar Shalom to be part of how God challenged the church. But it was a priviledge to be part of how God tried to build up another part of his Kingdom. I shared many exciting conversations and prayers with Sar Shalom folk or with that church's pastor about how we could see God using Sar Shalom to challenge the church to grow and mature; those days were a blessing that is not diminished because the church failed that test.

Sadly, during those days a few families left Sar Shalom. They wanted a place to worship that had stability and comfort, things Sar Shalom could not offer at that time. Saddest for me were those that left without saying farewell: these families never even got to hear about how the congregation was being used by God, which made the lack of stability and comfort worthwhile.

A List of Cuddles

My wife and I got this book for ourselves as an early Chanukah present before leaving on vacation in December.

It's a nice book with some good ideas for cuddles.

We need a new sofa. Our current one is very old and no longer supportive. It is not conducive for sitting for a while, let along cuddling.

Favorite Completed Webcomics

Finally more blogging this week! It coincides with my wife having recovered from her cold. When taking care of both Smiley and my wife I lacked the mental energy and focus to compose some important posts requiring careful thought and wording.

So earlier this week I re-read two of my favorite completed webcomics.

It occurred to me to list the completed webcomic I've most enjoyed in case anyone wants recommendations. Here we go:

A Miracle of Science
This is an overall great story. The characters are interesting, and their personalities and how they grow fit together more and more as the story progresses. The plot could be used as a textbook case for how to put together a detective story*. The two creators also provide numerous fun links in their commentaries; my favorite two are these.
* a mysterious setup, a tour of different interesting locations to gather information interspersed with scenes of the villain at work, a variety of action and adventure scenes, revelation of which of the villain's acts is the mistake that reveals his identity, revelation of the protagonists' weaknesses, sleuthy progress and preparation once the villain's identity is known, separation of the protagonists by exploiting their weaknesses, and then finally the protagonists being reunited during a climactic encounter with the villain
DM of the Rings
This comic rises to meet a difficult challenge: chronological screen shots are given alternate dialogue to tell a different story. Considering how memorable Tolkien's characters are it is remarkable how quickly the reader gets used to an fond of the alternate personalities.

Get Medieval
A very fun story with nice characters and a ton of historical references. Its readers have very interesting discussions to compliment the comic itself. After the story is over the comic's creator goes through the comic a second time providing her own commentary.

Irregular Webcomic
Several stories told in series, using miniatures or legos.  David Morgan-Mar published an amazing 3,198 comics.  Subsequent entries are short essays about science or his other interests.

Empty Words
A realistic short story about two adults who have trouble talking to older relatives. Their conversations provide each of them in very different ways new motivation to try again and new meaning for the effort.

I've never played Half-Life or its sequels. I still enjoyed this story immensely. Writing a tale about a bumbling idiot that remains engaging is a challenge. Using a computer game's setting to do so is a brilliant idea since the reader becomes totally free to laugh at the idiot since he is only a bunch of pixels. Through careful writing I became both fond of the protagonist and indifferent to his suffering, an almost paradoxical trick necessary for all 200+ pages to stay interesting.

True Villains
Villains you soon grow to love start out definitely evil.  But as the story develops they make less malicious choices while their opposition becomes more wicked.  At the end of the story they barely manage to save the world.  A funny exploration of how someone can be both good and evil at the same time.

Casey and Andy
Very silly and strangely difficult to describe. I find relaxing upbeat stories that have nothing to do with real life, and this in an epitome of such a tale.

Demonology 101
Described in this blog post.

Any comic in which the secret army of Davids plots word domination has merit! I actually have not finished reading this story because for a long time on certain portions were freely available.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Work in Progress

This weekend has been busy! Largely this is due to my wife being sick. I am happy to take care of Smiley and her, yet doing so means I have less time for other things.

I did do one chore that has been on the back burner for a while: learning enough CSS and Javascript to put together a template of a Hebrew flashcards web page. The current draft only knows three words. But even if entering vocabulary is just beginning, the formatting issues are forever solved.

I also edited 25 more videos of Smiley and moved them to There are 47 more to process and then I will be caught up.

Tomorrow will have a lot of cooking, and also dusting and vaccuuming. I'll also get some exercise since Smiley has a new, larger suit to wear over his clothes when we go on a walk in the current mid-40 degree daytime weather. Maybe I'll get all those videos processed, but I doubt it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What Some Family and Friends Are Doing

Note: I could lengthen this post quite a bit, but do not always know what family and friends want shared with the world. Please let me know if you want a mention here.

My stepmother was recently featured in her local newspaper. (This link is about to expire; I'll have to update it when the San Clemente Journal moves the article to its archives and thus provides a permanent link.)

A cousin-in-law is working on a website featuring Boy Scouts living out the Scout Law.

My sister-in-law is busy composing music and having it performed, but her website does not detail the performance information. Another friend is composing music, and received a prize last April for a piece.

Update on Crime in Eugene

At the beginning of December I wrote about a crime spree in Eugene.

It seems to have stopped being newsworthy, which is obviously good news. The background problem is that county jails were expanded a few years ago with bond money but state and local taxes do not suffice to adequately staff them. Even local judges are complaining. While my family was on vacation the problem could have gotten worse as easily as better.

Meanwhile, government money is buying cell phones and television boxes for people.

Speaking of crime, someone recently sent me a link to an article with a curious statistic that I do not know how to go about double checking. It's too "big" to accept as true now (or in 1993) without further research.
The relationship [between single-parent families and crime] is so strong that controlling for family configuration erases the relationship between race and crime and between low income and crime.
- cited by Barbara Whitehead in the Atlantic Monthly in an article from 1993
Is this true? If anyone knows more, please let me know. I also wonder if a gender imbalance could cause such an effect.

Changing a Baby at the Hardware Store

In many ways the local hardware store in South Eugene has a "small town" feel.

Today I got to discover another such detail. I arrived with a baby that needed a diaper change. I know a few of the employees by name, and asked one if the store had a diaper changing area. He said no, but he knew that the women's restroom was being used to store a big box full of facial tissue boxes. The restroom was large but only for one occupant and so the door locked. That would work, right?

It worked quite well: the surface was flat, stable, larger and much more sanitary than a "real" changing table, and also within arm's reach of the sink and trash can. Smiley often has a minor fit on restaurant changing tables but he didn't mind that setup at all.

Many places I go to have a "small town" feel. In the past this has helped not only when Smiley needed a change, but when I needed someone to hold him during my own trip to a restroom. It is nice to know a store or restaurant's employees well enough to trust them with your baby. I suppose other options work in the big city.

Total Commitment

A recent (and not recent) article in Leadership Weekly talked about total commitment to Yeshua. It was good to read.

Two Ancient Greek Quotations

These quotations decorate the doors of other teachers I know...

"Most ideas about teaching are not new, but not everyone knows the old ideas."
-Euclid, ~300 B.C.E.

"The budget should be balanced, the treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance."
-Cicero, 55 B.C.E.

Happy January!

Holiday travels ended quite a few days ago, but I have not had time to do any blogging.

The train trip back up the coast from San Diego to Eugene was even nicer than than the earlier southbound trip. Partly this was because more of the scenic route was traversed during daylight. Partly it was because Smiley was not actively teething and slept better.

After arriving back in Eugene I made two discoveries.

The first was that I was nearly as ready for my math class as I remembered. I thought I had my syllabus printed, copied and ready. I thought the class website was revised for the new term and ready to upload. But neither was true.

Putting together a nice class list spreadsheet takes some time. I also had to revise the homework answers (the partial answer key students receive and the Moodle method of collecting homework) because of changes made to the workbook just before I left town, at the request of a co-worker. So, all in all, what I expected to be a respectable amount of math work to squeeze into a week of unpacking and househusbanding turned out to be a lot of math work. But now it's done.

The second discovery was that lots of folks in Eugene were suffering from and sharing a nasty cold. I caught it last Wednesday. Thursday I got worse. Friday was dreadful. Saturday I was better. Then my wife caught it on Sunday and has been down because of it ever since. Fortunately, little Smiley has so far resisted it.

Yesterday I did most of the postpone-able chores that were waiting since I got home. I also finally got to spend time doing e-mail again. I am feeling much more settled with no bills yet to pay and only three letters in my e-mail inbox.

Expect a backlog of blogging soon...but not many photographs or videos promptly. Vacation was very conducive to taking more photographs and videos, and not at all hospitable about providing time to edit or process them.